Investigating NFP: Preface

Recently, all hell broke loose (At least, that’s what I call 100+ comments on a small-time blog like mine!) when one of my contributors wrote a post questioning the Church’s position on NFP. Rather than taking the more common stance that NFP puts undue burden on couples and artificial contraception should be permitted, Lightwave seemed to be suggesting that NFP is on a moral plane with certain artificial methods of birth control. I found myself siding with Lightwave, if not with the same tone or delivery, at least with similar sentiment. Neither of us could not understand how NFP does not frustrate "the procreative potential of the marriage act". Furthermore, the arguments that NFP is somehow not a contraceptive because it is natural and involves the omission of an act, rather than the commission of one, seemed spurious. In order to alleviate my ignorance, I’ve decided to find out what the learned teachers and evangelizers of NFP had to say in defense of the practice. I began with Couple to Couple League International (CCLI). They seemed as competitent in this area as any organization I could find. They are well-known and well-respected.

"The Couple to Couple League (CCL) is an international, interfaith, non-profit organization dedicated to teaching Natural Family Planning (NFP) to married and engaged couples. It is essentially a volunteer organization because services are provided by professionally-trained volunteers who are supported by a relatively small staff at the international headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Local Chapters of the organization consist mainly of certified Teaching Couples and Promoters, along with other supportive members."

"When Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching against unnatural forms of birth control in 1968 through the encyclical Humanae Vitae, he recommended that married couples help other married couples with Natural Family Planning. In response, John and Sheila Kippley founded the Couple to Couple League in 1971…"

CCLI, which publishes "The Art of Natural Family Planning" by John and Sheila Kippley, has the following on a page on their site called "Morality of Natural Family Planing".

"First, we believe that God is the Author of nature; He is the one who put together in the marriage act what we call ‘making love’ and ‘making babies.’ It is God who in His providence has allowed us to learn in the late 20th century about woman’s alternating fertility and infertility — and about Natural Family Planning — at the same time that other medical advances greatly increased the population survival rate. NFP allows couples to prudently regulate births without recourse to unnatural, immoral methods of birth control that interfere with the way God designed our fertility."

"As astonishing as this statement may seem, throughout history natural methods have never been less effective than the unnatural, non-surgical methods. (Moral methods may not be as convenient, and they do require self-control, but that is a wonderful and rewarding virtue to acquire, as many NFP couples will attest.) In the 1930s the Ogino-Knaus Rhythm Method of NFP was as effective as the most effective "new" contraceptive barrier methods. In the 1960s, when the Pill launched the Sexual Revolution, the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP (as taught by CCL today) was as effective as the Pill."

It is worth noting that the dialectic is not NFP vs birth control, but natural versus artificial birth control.  "Birth control" is just another way of saying "contraception".  This would seem to indicate that to at least CCLI, contraception is not objectively immoral, but artificial contraception is. They wiggle out of the notion of NFP being a method of contraception on their page "NFP vs. Contraception" by defining "contraceptive" narrowly.

"‘Isn’t NFP the same as contraception if a married couple is using it to postpone or avoid a pregnancy that they are not ready for?’"

"The short answer is ‘No.’ The reason is, contraception involves the deliberate frustration of the marriage act; NFP does not. In some ways, that may seem like a small difference, but in reality, the difference is huge and very important."

That’s not how I’d define contraception. Here’s how the American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, via Dictionary.com, defines contraception:

"Intentional prevention of conception or impregnation through the use of various devices, agents, drugs, sexual practices, or surgical procedures."

This seems like a valid definition to me. NFP is clearly a contraceptive method that utilizes sexual practices to achieve its goal. I propose that if one wishes to meaningfully classify NFP separately from artificial methods, we need to speak of "contraception by omission" and "contraception by commission". In the former, conception is avoided by abstaining from intercourse during potentially fertile periods in women’s menstrual cycles. In the latter, the purpose of fertile periods is violated by putting barriers, chemicals, devices, or surgical procedures between gametes so that they cannot meet and/or join. More on this later. CCLI continues:

"Traditionally, the Catholic Church has always taught that married couples have the right to ‘plan’ their families, provided this is done in a responsible and just manner, and is done with the proper motivation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:"

"2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of births. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. (emphasis in original text)"

"So, it is not ‘birth regulation’ that the Church opposes, but selfishness and any immoral means of accomplishing that."

What qualify as "just reasons"? I think this question accounts for much of the discussion in the comments on the previous NFP post. People need clear guidelines and the Church does not seem to be providing them. Under the Old Law, rabbis spoke of putting hedges around the law, that is, setting boundaries stricter than the law itself so that crossing the boundary does not necessarily mean one has transgressed against the Law. Clearly, this can be taken too far, and the Pharisees did just that (Matthew 23:4).  True, as Christians we are no longer under the Law.  However, as St. Paul pointed out, not being under the Law does not give one free license (Galatians 5).  We still need behavioral guidelines to follow.  In modern civil and criminal law, a concept analogous to setting up hedges is a "bright line rule". My wife and I, and other faithful Catholic couples, have found ourselves in a quandry as to where NFP’s bright line is. Are our reasons for avoiding conceiving just? CCLI continues:

"The Church teaches us that it was God who made us male and female, and therefore, it was by His design that the marriage act has the dual purposes of the procreation of offspring and the nurturing of love between the spouses. These purposes, designed into the marriage act, must always be respected in order to follow God’s will. When a couple deliberately frustrates the procreative potential of the marriage act through contraception, they are acting against God’s plan and design for marital love. On the other hand, when a couple who have a ‘just reason’ for avoiding pregnancy choose instead to abstain from the marriage act during the fertile time of the cycle, they are not acting in violation of God’s design."

I’m confused. How is NFP not deliberate frustration on the procreative potential of the marriage? By not having sex during fertile times, one gets the pleasures of intercourse with very low likelihood of major consequences, i.e. the responsibilities of parenthood. It’s the "free lunch" that isn’t supposed to exist. NFP is, by its evangelists’ own admission, a very effective means of avoiding conception. If marital sexual intercourse is to be both procreative and unitive, and one deliberately frustrates the procreative aspect, how is that not a desecration of the marital act? How is that "not acting in violation of God’s design"? CCLI attempts to explain:

"Abstaining from the marriage act does nothing to deliberately change the procreative potential of the marriage act because there is no act. Again, it is not a sin to postpone or avoid conception for a just reason, but how a couple postpones or avoids conception can be sinful or it can be virtuous."

True, the individual act is not violated, however, I fail to see how the act in toto is not violated. The pleasurable aspects are enjoyed with no strings attached. It seems to me there would have to be very grave mitigating circumstances indeed for that to not be selfish.

"Author Christopher West addresses the difference between contraception and NFP in his book, Good News About Sex & Marriage:"

"Suppose there were a religious person, a nonreligious person, and an antireligious person walking past a church. What might each do?"

"Let’s say the religious person goes inside and prays, the nonreligious person walks by and does nothing, and the antireligious person goes inside the church and desecrates it. (I’m framing an analogy, of course, but these are reasonable behaviors to expect.) Which of these three persons did something that is always, under every circumstance, wrong? The last, of course."

"Husbands and wives are called to be procreative. If they have a good reason to avoid pregnancy, they are free to be non-procreative. But it’s a contradiction of the deepest essence of the sacrament of marriage to be anti-procreative."

I think this analogy is deeply flawed. Here’s the analogy I’d give.

Suppose that there were three people who are called as witnesses in a criminal case. The first person tells "the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth". The second lies by omitting facts, thereby not telling the whole truth. The third lies by deliberately telling untruths. Which one of these persons did something that is always, under every circumstance, wrong? The last one, of course. I’m inclined to believe that the second person is also wrong always, and under every circumstance wrong, though.  However, lest someone should triumphantly wave an extreme example in my face in which omitting information under oath is objectively moral, I’ll not press that inclination.  I feel safe in saying that, at the very least, one ought to have very grave reasons for ommitting requested information under oath. Should not similar criteria be applied to contraception by omission?

"To put it another way, the Church calls spouses to love each other as they were created in the image and likeness of God. When a couple contracepts, they are deliberately acting to change the way one or both of them were created; i.e., their actions are saying to God, ‘We don’t like your design and have a better idea.’ When a couple uses NFP and abstains during the fertile time, they are respecting God’s design and honoring it by waiting for the infertile time."

I don’t see how NFP doesn’t reject God’s design. When you deliberately avoid having sex during fertile periods, you are, IMHO, effectively saying, "During fertile periods, the human body behaves in undesirable ways. Therefore, I will avoid employing the sexual aspects of that design during times when its natural functions might produce undesireable results." That’s like avoiding the use of your TV or radio during certain hours because there’s too much static. The TV and radio are only doing what they "naturally" do, receive signals in a manner compliant with FCC regulations, but we find that functionality irritating when static is received.

Before I get too worked up over how CCLI presents NFP, I should acknowledge that they are not the only source of information on this topic, and probably are not the best.  In order to better understand why the Church teaches what she teaches, I’ve decided go back to the relevant papal encyclicals and discover what they have to say. Then we shall see where the fault lies – the unversal Church, the Church in America, lay representatives (including CCLI), or me.

To that end, I will be posting a series of analyses. The first will focus on the thoughts of Popes Pius XI, and second on Pius XII. The third will be dedicated to Paul VI’s landmark encyclical Humane Vitae. The fourth will look at the teachings of Pope John Paul II. The fifth and final installment will examine the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the USCCB, and various lay organizations, and reexamine CCLI’s statements. This post will serve as a clearinghouse for the others. It will be updated with a link to each post as it is completed. Feel free to comment on what I’ve already said, but please bear in mind that my investigation of the matter is incomplete and that I’m in the midst of "thinking out loud".

    Investigating NFP

  1. Pius XI
  2. Pius XII
  3. Paul VI
  4. John Paul II
  5. Current Presentations

Comments 30

  1. Sain't wrote:

    Hmm.. I notice in one of ur comments u mention that this issue is causing u & ur wife stress. If u’ve not already done it, perhaps u may wanna explore why u’re feeling stressed, or what u’re feeling stressed over.

    I also get the impression that u are for the view that God’s plan for marriage is parenthood. Based on this, perhaps ur arguments may make a lot of sense. However, I will beg to disagree here.

    Marriage & family life isn’t just about children. A couple gives to each other the gift of themselves, & are thus, also for each other. In this light, sexual intercourse is as much a pleasurable sharing of intimacy as a means of procreation. Sometimes, it is perhaps out of love that a couple discerns that the conditions are not right for a/another child, how then can the couple give to each other in the most intimate way? Perhaps, as one commentator mentioned, God has allowed for that in the fertility cycle. I’d imagine that if total abstinence is to be observed if a couple doesn’t want a child, it makes no difference if a woman is fertile in cycles or all year round. Perhaps it is God’s gift to couples to enjoy the pleasure of sharing each other, at the same time still allowing us free will over how we want to organise our family. Can it be possible that God’s will be for this is a gift to be enjoyed?

    On the flip side, how about looking at NFP from this perspective – it also allows couples who want to conceive to try during the period of fertility.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 9:43 am
  2. Spacemouse wrote:

    One can lie by commission or lie by omission. Either way youíre lying. Contraception profanes the sexual act. One can contracept by commission or contracept by omission.

    Off topic, but if this is how you think morality works with regard to lying, you need to go back and read a Ligourian ethics text on the subject of “mental reservations.” Concealing the truth by “omission” is a strict mental reservation, not a lie, and mental reservations ARE permissable under some conditions.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 11:15 am
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    Out of curiosity, how many and how common are these permissable conditions? From the post:

    “Suppose that there were three people who are called as witnesses in a criminal case. The first person tells “the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. The second lies by omitting facts, thereby not telling the whole truth. The third lies by deliberately telling untruths. Which one of these persons did something that is always, under every circumstance, wrong? The last one, of course. Iím inclined to believe that the second person is also wrong always, and under every circumstance wrong, though. However, lest someone should triumphantly wave an extreme example in my face in which omitting information under oath is objectively moral, Iíll not press that inclination. I feel safe in saying that, at the very least, one ought to have very grave reasons for ommitting requested information under oath. Should not similar criteria be applied to contraception by omission?”

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 11:20 am
  4. Catholic Writer wrote:

    “Suppose you are given a gift. Suppose that during certain phases of the moon, that gift does undesirable things. These undesirable behaviors might be OK under different circumstances, but right now theyíre not. To avoid encountering these behaviors, you donít make use of the gift during certain phases of the moon.

    Arenít you demonstrating dissatisfaction with the gift by not using it when it does undesirable things? Granted, itís not as strong a dissatisfication as modifying the gift yourself would indicate, but it still seems like dissatisfaction with the design to me.”

    That’s not demonstrating dissatisfaction with the gift. On the contrary, it is respecting the fact that these undesirable periods come with the gift. And perhaps, there’s a reason why these undesirable periods come with the gift – perhaps to serve another purpose.

    I can’t think of a real example of a gift that varies from different moon phases, so unless you can provide a concrete example, I shall use the gift of Holy Communion.

    Under normal circumstances, a Catholic can and should receive Holy Communion as frequently as possible.

    But any Catholic commits serious sins from time to time. Of course a Catholic who receives Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin causes undesirable effects as well. At such periods, is it not better for him to abstain from receiving Holy Communion?

    In saying so, a Catholic demonstrates great respect and reverence for Holy Communion when he abstains from it when in the state of grave sin. Likewise, a Catholic demonstrates great respect and reverence for sex (that sacred gift) when s/he abstains from it in periods where the consequences are undesirable.

    P.S.: I wouldn’t normally use this analogy, but I am trying to go along with your understanding rather than imposing mine on you. Please suggest a concrete example that we can use to illustrate your point. Thanks!

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 11:22 am
  5. BV wrote:

    Arenít you demonstrating dissatisfaction with the gift by not using it when it does undesirable things? [Funky comment 48]

    Lying is offense to truth. One can lie by commission or lie by omission. Either way youíre lying. Contraception profanes the sexual act. One can contracept by commission or contracept by omission. [Funky comment 49]

    Both of these comments seem to imply that there’s a requirement to have sex at every “conceivable moment”. (pun intended) ūüôā And that somehow anything less would be showing “dissatisfaction with a gift” or “lying by omission”.

    I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t seem to make sense. We show appreciation for a gift by using it wisely, not by using it unceasingly. And when we abstain from a good thing for a good reason, we are not profaning anything.

    Your “lying by omission” anlaogy doesn’t quite work. Lying by omission is abtaining from speaking for a bad reason. It’s not lying to abstain from speaking for a good reason (for example, refraining from telling a damaging story about someone without just cause). It’s the intent that makes the abstinence lying, not the abstinence itself.

    Likewise, abstaining from sex for a good reason is not immoral. Abstaining from sex for a bad reason is immoral. And it’s immoral not because it’s an offense against sex (as contraceptive drugs/barriers are), but because it’s an offense against the procreative end of marriage.

    Bottom line: if you remove the requirement that sex must be had at every “conceivable moment”, your objections go away. That’s an absolute law which isn’t true. The truth is, if you have sex, you better not profane it. But if you don’t have sex, you better not be doing it for selfish reasons.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:13 pm
  6. BV wrote:

    Elaboration of the last paragraph for clarification:

    The truth is, if you have sex, you better not profane it (and thus contradict the act). But if you don’t have sex, you better not be doing it for selfish reasons (and thus contradict your marriage).

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:16 pm
  7. Funky Dung wrote:

    There’s a different between not having sex every conceivable moment and deliberately not having sex when it would be fertile. The latter is a subset of the situations represented by the former, for which, as you’ve pointed out, you’d better have a good reason.

    As for my lying by omission analogy being weak, I chose a courtroom scene quite deliberately. In such a scenario, a lie of omission would be the violation of an oath. Vows (including wedding vows) are a form of oats. Outside of an obligatory scenario like a courtroom, there are indeed many good reasons to not volunteer a truth.

    On a side note, I proabably could have avoided a lot of this subtopic conversation by not being so hard on Christopher West’s analogy. ūüėČ

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:22 pm
  8. BV wrote:

    Thereís a difference between not having sex at every conceivable moment and deliberately not having sex when it would be fertile. [Funky comment 55]

    I should have been clearer here: I’m using the phrase “conceivable moment” to mean exactly that–those times when it would be fertile. There is no requirement to have sex at those times when it would be fertile.

    As for my lying by omission analogy being weak, I chose a courtroom scene quite deliberately. In such a scenario, a lie of omission would be the violation of an oath. Vows (including wedding vows) are a form of oaths. [Funky comment 55]

    And that’s my point–the oath in a courtroom compels you to speak the truth. The marriage vows do not establish a compulsion to have sex at every “conceivable moment” (i.e. those times when it would be fertile). This is an incorrect understanding of the procreative end of marriage.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 3:05 pm
  9. Funky Dung wrote:

    A clarification: I am proposing that it may be that while there is no moral imperative to have sex every time the wife is fertile, one may have a moral imperitive to not avoid sex because she is fertile. That’s one of the big points that I’m hoping my investigations will clear up. Just how serious/grave do the serious/grace reasons have to be to eleviate that moral imperative?

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 3:25 pm
  10. BV wrote:

    Huh? Did we change gears? I thought we were examining whether NFP is contraception. Are we now focusing on what constitutes a just reason for NFP?

    In response to your comment 57:

    Whether or not your wife is fertile has no bearing on the morality of contraceptive drugs/barriers or NFP.

    It’s equally immoral to use a condom whether or not your wife is fertile or infertile. That’s because condoms (and other contraceptive drugs/barriers) are objectively immoral. (I think you’ve agreed to this point before, though I’m not certain.)

    Likewise it’s equally moral to abstain whether or not your wife is infertile. That’s because the morality of abstinence is determined by your intent (is it selfish or just?).

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 6:27 pm
  11. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Huh? Did we change gears? I thought we were examining whether NFP is contraception. Are we now focusing on what constitutes a just reason for NFP?”

    I’m interested in both because I think they’re intertwined issues.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 6:37 pm
  12. Anonimoos wrote:

    http://www.geocities.com/nfpboard

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 7:36 pm
  13. BV wrote:

    Dear Funky,

    I guess I have not been of much help to you. ūüôĀ My apologies. God speed in your search.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 11:03 pm
  14. Catholic Writer wrote:

    From Christopher West’s “Good News About Sex & Marriage”, pg 118.

    12. So what would be just reasons for a married couple to use NFP to avoid pregnancy?

    First we need to look at the general disposition a couple has toward children. A contracepting culture tends to see children as a burden to be resisted, rather than a gift to be welcomed; an obstacle to material wealth, rather than a contribution to family health; a drain on the world’s resources, rather than a benefit to society. Within this mulieu, couples often often enter marriage with an approach tochildren that ssumes they won’t have them unless or until they wanted them. After the alloted two, it seems a couple would have to find justification for having any more.

    Without thinking anything of it, couples who take this approach simply look for the most expedient way to carry out their plan. From this perspective, NFP is just seen as another choice on the long list of methods of avoiding “unwanted” children, and a very undesirable method at that. While it’s just as effective at avoiding pregnancy as any contraceptive method, it takes far too much sacrifice to practice.

    But suppose a couple did use NFP. Their negative mentality toward children is already contrary to what they pledged at the altar. Regardless of the fact that they’re not intentionally sterilizing their acts of intercourse, they would be guilty of violating their vows “in their hearts”.

    [The next two paragraphs use the wedding invitation analogy. If you’ve not heard of it or read it before, let me know.]

    To return to the wedding invitation analogy, it’s not that such a couple is sending a “dis-invitation” but that their withholding an invitation is not based on a just reason. It’s based on an attitude that God’s presence in their union would not be welcome.

    This is still an obvious breach of relationship. (How would you feel if a close friend didn’t invite you to his wedding without good reason?) So before all else, we need a deep conversion of our hearts to the meaning of sex and the true blessing of children in order to understnad the just use of NFP in a marriage.

    Every married couple is called to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:28). This is the starting point. Children are not something tacked on to married love, but are the crowing glory of married love. Thus, insead of avoiding children, the general disposition should be one of receiving children as they come, unless a couple has good reason not to.

    [Now here’s the part that you’re most interested in, but the parts above are not irrelevant, otherwise I wouldn’t have typed them out. ^_^]

    The Church readily recognizes, especially in our day and age, that many couples do have good reason not to receive children as they come at certain times of their married life. The Second Vatican Council offers the following guidelines for spouses in planning their family size: “[Spouses should] thoughtfully take into account both theri own welfare and that of children, those already born, and those that the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born, and those that the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and spiritual conditions fo the times as well as their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgement in the sight of God.”

    The Cathecism states that it’s the duty of parents to “make certain that their desire [to space births] is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.”

    Let’s return, once again, to the couple who truly understands the meaning of sex. They have a proper attitude towards children. God is always welcome in their sexual union. Yet, they have discerned before God, based on the above principles, that they should avoid another pregnancy, at least for the time being.

    Such a couple is not concerned with the amount of sacrifice necessary to be faithful to their vows, so they learn how to use NFP and abstain from sexual activity during the fertile time of the cycle. That is, with good reasons, they refrain from inviting God to create a new life. Such a couple acts justly, responsibly, and in full accord with the commitment they made at the altar.

    [So after reading this, what are your thoughts?]

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 5:41 am
  15. Funky Dung wrote:

    “I guess I have not been of much help to you. ūüôĀ My apologies. God speed in your search.”

    Why do you say that? Am I that much thicker than Lightwave that you’d give up on me more quickly? ūüėČ

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 7:50 am
  16. Funky Dung wrote:

    What are my thoughts? Well, the principles are still incredibly vague, but there is good material there that I’ll use in the last post of the series. The thing that continues to frustrate me is just how much latitude seems to be given. I’m still in the process of reading papal writings for this series, but so far the latitude given by Pius XI and XII seems to be pretty narrow, much narrower than West implies.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 8:06 am
  17. Funky Dung wrote:

    BV, you should come over to the discussion at my “sidebar on definitions” post.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 8:45 am
  18. Spacemouse wrote:

    Out of curiosity, how many and how common are these permissable conditions?

    To be honest, I think theologians differed on this. Ligouri was more permissive than many. The Church (i.e. the Magisterium) never, so far as I know, offered its own clear “bright line” on the subject, because that’s not the Church’s business. That’s the business of moral theologians.

    But if you’re trying to suggest that because the valid reasons for abstaining from telling the truth under oath are very rare, it must follow that the valid reasons for abstaining from sex during a woman’s fertile time are correspondingly rare, then I’d just have to say that you’re pushing the analogy too far.

    But since you’ve started a new installment, I’ll stop commenting here.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 11:27 am
  19. BV wrote:

    Why do you say that? Am I that much thicker than Lightwave that youíd give up on me more quickly? [Funky comment 65]

    I just got the impression you weren’t interested in continuing our dialogue. I posted comment 57, which you didn’t address and moved to a different topic in comment 58. I then tried to respond to your new topic in comment 59, and you didn’t address my observations in your comment 60 either. It seemed like the points I was raising weren’t helping.

    Thank you for your invitation to the “definition” post, but I think I’ll just read.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 11:29 pm
  20. Funky Dung wrote:

    [Comment 57] “And thatís my pointĖthe oath in a courtroom compels you to speak the truth. The marriage vows do not establish a compulsion to have sex at every ‘conceivable moment’ (i.e. those times when it would be fertile). This is an incorrect understanding of the procreative end of marriage.”

    I wasnít aiming for that extreme. My proposition (which I suppose I should display in a post), is that perhaps one should look at the menstrual cycle in probabilistic terms (binomial distributions, for instance). On any given cycle day, there is a probability, p, of conceiving. Letís call p[i] the probability of conceiving on cycle day i. Based on previous cycles, we can estimate p[i] for each day of a new cycle. Letís also assign a probability of 0.0 for having sex during menstruation and a probability s[i] that a couple will have sex on a non-menstrual day based on either a uniform distribution (not ideal) or a distribution based on prior cycles (ideal). The prior probability of conceiving on any particular day is then p[i]*s[i]. I wonít go into the math, but one could calculate the estimated prior probability that one will conceive a child during a particular cycle. That probability will be significantly smaller than 1.0 (100% chance of conception).

    Why am I making peopleís heads spin with probabilities? Well, what if itís Godís intention that the infertile periods not be used to deliberately avoid conception, but used implicitly through random sexual activity? Much is made of the naturalness of periodic abstinence. Iím not convinced that itís natural at all. The only truely natural spacing of births is that that which occurs due to random processes. Contrary to Albert Einstein, Iím proposing that God does indeed play dice, or at the very least, He lets us play with them. ūüėČ

    [Comment 59] “Likewise itís equally moral to abstain whether or not your wife is infertile. Thatís because the morality of abstinence is determined by your intent (is it selfish or just?).”

    I mostly agree without that. However, refer to my above response to #57 to see why I wonder if the means might be immoral as well (except under extreme conditions). IOW, what’s so natural about natural family planning? To me truly natural family planning would not require any knowledge of the menstrual cycle, though such knowledge may serve other purposes (medical, etc).

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 8:50 am
  21. Tom Smith wrote:

    I don’t feel like reading all the comments now. But I have a few questions; forgive me if they’ve already been answered.

    “NFP is clearly a contraceptive method that utilizes sexual practices to achieve its goal.”

    I don’t know the gory details of natural family planning, but I understand that it works by *avoiding* sexual practices at certain periods. How is that utilizing “sexual practices to achieve its goal?”

    “Neither of us could not understand how NFP does not frustrate ‘the procreative potential of the marriage act’.

    Marriage act = sex, right? If the sex isn’t there, then the accidental features of the sex, particularly procreative potential, cannot be present, because there is no essence for them to indwell. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that anything can be done to the procreative potential of sex that isn’t occurring. Non-existent things cannot be altered.

    “Furthermore, the arguments that NFP is somehow not a contraceptive because it is natural and involves the omission of an act, rather than the commission of one, seemed spurious.”

    What about them seemed spurious? Can you point out a flaw?

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 10:28 pm
  22. Tom Smith wrote:

    I think a halfway-decent analogy of one of the points I just made is this:

    Imagine sex as a large boulder atop a cliff. That’s potential energy. Sex is engaged in when the boulder is pushed off the cliff, resulting in kinetic energy. Contraception is a huge net that shoots out and catches the boulder, preventing it from hitting the ground of procreative potential, which is what it would do unimpeded. Now, if you don’t push the boulder from the precipice in the first place, all you have is potential sex, a far cry from the boulder hitting the ground/real procreative potential, which is a result of the kinetic energy/actual intercourse. So, again I ask, how does one go about frustrating the procreative potential of sex without the presence of sex?

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 10:43 pm
  23. Tom Smith wrote:

    One last thing.

    “I propose that if one wishes to meaningfully classify NFP separately from artificial methods, we need to speak of “contraception by omission” and “contraception by commission”. In the former, conception is avoided by abstaining from intercourse during potentially fertile periods in womenís menstrual cycles.”

    That’s kinda goofy, because by your standards, I’m practicing contraception by omission right now.

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 10:50 pm
  24. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Thatís kinda goofy, because by your standards, Iím practicing contraception by omission right now.”

    Tom, that’s like saying that by taking a vow of silence one is lying by omission. A speech act has to be expected in order to be omitted. Likewise, a sex act has to be expected in order to be omitted.

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 11:41 pm
  25. Funky Dung wrote:

    “I donít know the gory details of natural family planning, but I understand that it works by *avoiding* sexual practices at certain periods. How is that utilizing ‘sexual practices to achieve its goal?'”

    Deciding in advance that certain days are undesirable for sex is itself a sexual practice, at least that’s how I see it.

    “Marriage act = sex, right? If the sex isnít there, then the accidental features of the sex, particularly procreative potential, cannot be present, because there is no essence for them to indwell. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that anything can be done to the procreative potential of sex that isnít occurring. Non-existent things cannot be altered.”

    *Buzzz* Wrong. Once can profane an act by performing it at inappropraite times or failing to perform it at expected times.

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 11:47 pm
  26. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Imagine sex as a large boulder atop a cliff. Thatís potential energy. Sex is engaged in when the boulder is pushed off the cliff, resulting in kinetic energy. Contraception is a huge net that shoots out and catches the boulder, preventing it from hitting the ground of procreative potential, which is what it would do unimpeded. Now, if you donít push the boulder from the precipice in the first place, all you have is potential sex, a far cry from the boulder hitting the ground/real procreative potential, which is a result of the kinetic energy/actual intercourse. So, again I ask, how does one go about frustrating the procreative potential of sex without the presence of sex?”

    Now imagine that you were expected to push the rock off the cliff at a certain time and did not. Or, more appropriately, you are instructed to not worry too much about how often you push boulders off the cliff. Sure, you need to watch out for people below who might get squished, but that’s a pretty rare scenario. Thus, you are expected (by the fella that asked you to push boulders) to be pretty free with boulder-pushing. However, contrary to his command to “be fruitful and produce lots of rubble”, you make your boulder-pushing periodic so that you only push one if it won’t shatter when it lands (however that might happen).

    The point I’m trying to make with my silly adaptation of your analogy is that if the probability of intercourse is expected to be independent of fertility, i.e. you do it whenever you want (in a mutually-loving, personhood-respecting manner, of course), restricting intercourse would be a violation of expected behavior.

    NOTA BENE: 1) I do not know that God intended sex to be independent of fertile phases. I’m just wonder if that’s the case. 2) Even if that is the case, there may still be room for periodic continence in extreme cases. 3) From what I have read thus far of Pius XI and Pius XII (the latter’s post is in the works), the conditions would need to be far more extreme than most NFP evangelists seem to indicate.

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 12:05 am
  27. Tom Smith wrote:

    “Tom, thatís like saying that by taking a vow of silence one is lying by omission. A speech act has to be expected in order to be omitted.”

    Yes, it is, which is why your definition of “contraception by omission” should be changed.

    “*Buzzz* Wrong. Once can profane an act by performing it at inappropraite times…”

    still with you…

    “…or failing to perform it at expected times.”

    What is your reasoning here?

    (Again, if you’ve already answered these questions, I’m sorry.)

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 2:05 am
  28. Tom Smith wrote:

    “The point Iím trying to make with my silly adaptation of your analogy is that if the probability of intercourse is expected to be independent of fertility, i.e. you do it whenever you want (in a mutually-loving, personhood-respecting manner, of course), restricting intercourse would be a violation of expected behavior.”

    I agree. So I guess the debate really isn’t about procreative potential or the deformation of sex itself, so much as the morality of periodic marital abstinence.

    I still maintain that the sex act is itself not profaned by abstinence, as it is when contraceptives are employed. This does not mean that I think marital abstinence is a-okay, however, only that sex

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 2:21 am
  29. Spacemouse wrote:

    1) I do not know that God intended sex to be independent of fertile phases. Iím just wonder if thatís the case.

    Rereading the Old Testament should clear this up: whatever marital sex is intended to be, it doesn’t have to be random or evenly distributed throughout a month. God, after all, commanded the Israelites to abstain from intercourse at some times of their cycle. This abstinence wasn’t a method of birth control, of course, but the opposite: waiting until seven days after the end of a woman’s perioud would often (but not always) have meant that sexual relations tended to occur more most frequently during the fertile time. While for some women, mid-cycle bleeding or early ovulation would mean that they missed their most fertile time each month, marital sex would certainly NOT have occured independantly of the fertility cycle, but rather in sync with it.

    Based on this, I could see why someone might argue that NFP is unbiblical in that it inverts the pattern of intercourse the Israelites were commanded to follow, but I don’t see how you can reasonably see periodic abstinence itself -choosing to abstain for a considerable length of time the same part of the cycle each month- as unbiblical, since God Himself wanted His chosen people to abstain for what could be as much as 2 weeks every month. It should be clear from the Levitical Law that there was no implicit command to push the boulder at frequent intervals throughout the month without regard to the calendar.

    Posted 14 Mar 2006 at 12:18 pm
  30. ginamonster wrote:

    I really appreciate how objective you are when looking at this issue. How you site references and give both sides of this issue as well as your own commentary into the matter without allowing it to look like an arguement or accusation. I will continue to read the article as you write it, as many of the points you bring up are also points that have occurred to me. Although I do believe in artificial birth control, I also understand that for some people the idea is morally reprehensible.

    I will also post a link to it on my site. It really is interesting, I loko forward to reading more.

    Posted 23 Feb 2007 at 2:07 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 7

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