Investigating NFP: Sidebar on Definitions

In response to a debate in the comments to my first investigative post about NFP, I’ve decided to query my readers for their opinions.  Please consider answering these surveys. I’d like Catholics and non-Catholics alike to participate.

Survey link: Do you believe that "birth control" and "contraceptive" are synonymous?
Survey link: Do you believe that NFP/FAM is a method of contraception?

Comments 19

  1. Elena wrote:

    My answer would be no to both

    Posted 08 Mar 2006 at 5:18 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    Click the links, please. 🙂

    Posted 08 Mar 2006 at 5:39 pm
  3. edey wrote:

    if you make nfp and fam the same thing, there is a problem because one (fam) allows for barrier use during fertile times and the other (nfp) does not. so – independent of what you call nfp – fam is contraception if you are using that barrier during fertile times….or at least it is during said fertile times.

    Posted 08 Mar 2006 at 5:47 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    FAM permits but does not require barrier methods. The sympto-thermo methodology is the same.

    Posted 08 Mar 2006 at 5:50 pm
  5. howard wrote:

    I just looked up the definition of “contraception” — which makes me wonder if the definition you’d use would be different. (and no, I will not go read those guideline posts…)

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:11 am
  6. howard wrote:

    Ooops — I meant to leave a link to the Merriam-Webster definition:

    http://www.webster.com/dictionary/contraception

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:13 am
  7. Funky Dung wrote:

    Dictionary.com definiton:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=contraception

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 7:58 am
  8. Catholic Writer wrote:

    “I just looked up the definition of ‘contraception’ which makes me wonder if the definition youd use would be different. (and no, I will not go read those guideline posts)”

    Reading the guideline posts does help one to understand Funky’s position better. Using the definition that Howard suggested, one can still say that abstinence from sex during the fertile period constitutes a prevention of conception or pregnancy.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 11:31 am
  9. Stuff wrote:

    Wasn’t sure where else this would fit – just as an FYI, while the sympto-thermal method is most popular and well-known (promoted by CCLI, etc.), I suggest looking at the Creighton Model/NAPRO literature. My own OB/GYN is in the process of being certified to practice using these methods. In addition to allowing for “birth control” in the sense of responsible child spacing, and aiding in conception for those couples who desire it (just like current methods for NFP), it can be used as a diagnostic tool for recognizing potential diseases/abnormalities AND can actually be used in treatment of such findings.

    Now, I ask you, what other “contraceptive/birth control” method can do all that? 😉

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 12:29 pm
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    I’m sure it won’t be long before there’s a version of the Creighton Method “packaged” for non-Catholics. 😉

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 2:04 pm
  11. Dr. Gregory Popcak wrote:

    Okay. First off, Catholic NFP of any kind forbids the use of barrier methods. If you are using barrier methods (or, for that matter, withdrawal) during the fertile phase, you are not doing NFP. You are, in fact, using contraception.

    Let’s see if, despite my–ahem–“flawed logic” 😉 (No offense taken, Grasshopper) I can make this a little clearer.

    To be contraception, an action would have to be taken “against” possible “conception” (the literal, latin meaning of “Contraception). The use of the pill and barrier methods during phase II (the fertile phase) is a willful act opposing conception–therefore it is contraception. (By contrast, the use of the Pill or barrier methods, etc, during phase III isn’t contraceptive, it is just, well, stupid, because a woman can’t conceive if she isn’t fertile.)

    Now, as I mentioned above, a woman can’t conceive during the infertile phase, so sex during the infertile phase is not contraceptive because their is no “cept” to “contra” if you get my drift. Cappice?

    Okay, now let’s play out your logic to its ultimate extreme. If what you say is true, then a couple would be “guilty” of “contraception” (as you are loosely defining it) ANY time a couple has sex when pregnancy is not potentially possible. THEREFORE, according to your own argument, the only licit time for a couple to ever have sex is during the fertile phase of a woman’s cycle (and not at all during arrested fertility of the post-partum/nursing phase, or after menopause.)

    There are, of course, some people who make this argument. But those people are wrong–according to the Church.

    The bottom line is that Church teaching distinguishes between NFP and contraception. That is Church teaching. To require either more or less of ourselves than the Church herself requires can often lead to heresy. Struggling to understand her teaching is important, but staking out a claim that is in opposition to church teaching and defending it is dangerous. By all means, ask hard questions. Just be careful how much you fall in love with your own answers.

    Peace,
    Dr.P.

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 4:14 pm
  12. Funky Dung wrote:

    Welcome back, Doc. 🙂

    “Okay, now lets play out your logic to its ultimate extreme. If what you say is true, then a couple would be ‘guilty’ of ‘contraception’ (as you are loosely defining it) ANY time a couple has sex when pregnancy is not potentially possible. THEREFORE, according to your own argument, the only licit time for a couple to ever have sex is during the fertile phase of a womans cycle (and not at all during arrested fertility of the post-partum/nursing phase, or after menopause.)”

    I wasn’t 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. Let’s 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. Let’s 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 won’t 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 people’s heads spin with probabilities? Well, what if it’s God’s 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. I’m not convinced that it’s natural at all. The only truely natural spacing of births is that that which occurs due to random processes. Contrary to Albert Einstein, I’m proposing that God does indeed play dice, or at the very least, He lets us play with them. 😉

    There are, of course, some people who make this argument. But those people are wrongaccording to the Church.

    Agreed.

    “By all means, ask hard questions. Just be careful how much you fall in love with your own answers.”

    Point well taken. I’ll keep that in mind as I proceed. 🙂

    Posted 09 Mar 2006 at 4:39 pm
  13. Sean wrote:

    Well, what if its Gods intention that the infertile periods not be used to deliberately avoid conception, but used implicitly through random sexual activity?

    So we have stumble through Creation determining what features of it we can purposefully use and what ones we have to put intellectual blinders on and pretend that we don’t understand so if we make use of it, its only “by accident”… randomly? 🙂

    I have a hard time swallowing that one. I understand there’s a bit of a fine line between between actively contracepting and passively not doing something when conception might happen. But the Church does draw that line, however fine.

    But I think there’s also a bit “letter of the law” vs. “spirit of the law” here, too. If someone is using NFP just as they’d use condoms, to prevent conception… for no good reason… or for any minor reason you’d care to name… Well, I’m not sure this is what the Church intends by its teaching either. I thought there had to be a very serious reason for using NFP.

    But I haven’t seriously looked into it. I’m single with no immediate threats on the marriage radar. So its not something I’ve had to worry about.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 11:36 am
  14. Funky Dung wrote:

    “But I think theres also a bit ‘letter of the law’ vs. ‘spirit of the law’ here, too. If someone is using NFP just as theyd use condoms, to prevent conception for no good reason or for any minor reason youd care to name Well, Im not sure this is what the Church intends by its teaching either. I thought there had to be a very serious reason for using NFP.”

    Well, I’m not looking for excuses so more people can licitly periodically abstain. I’m trying to look at the grey areas to determine how grey they really are. What I’ve seen so far is that popularizers of NFP have wimpier definitions of “serious” and “grave” reasons than popes.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 11:48 am
  15. Donna Marie Lewis wrote:

    I skipped the surveys because neither answer was detailed enough for me.
    I believe that NFP is the only true ‘birth control’, as it can be used to avoid a pregnancy and to achieve a pregnancy. Contraceptive methods can only do the former. Anytime the latter occurs, it is either because contraceptives were not used, or because of ‘contraceptive failure’.
    Unfortunately, the words ‘birth control’ have been co-opted by the contraceptive industry for close to a century, and reclaiming them for NFP would probably confuse people.
    It would be rather like saying that one is ‘pro-choice’- then explaining that the choice is whether or not to have sexual intercourse, not choice to kill a conceived child or not. Technically, one would be right- but it would be misleading to a lot of people, and would probably more trouble than it would be worth.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 2:29 pm
  16. Funky Dung wrote:

    That’s a really interesting point. I’ll have to mull that one over for a while. Thanks for your refreshingly different pint of view. 🙂

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 2:30 pm
  17. Catholic Writer wrote:

    Indeed, Donna. That certainly is an interesting insight. Thank you for sharing.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 7:09 pm
  18. Lightwave wrote:

    As the other said, facinating point. I thought it might be good to go back to the method Funky used earlier. Dictionary.com has this definition for Birth Control:

    1. Voluntary limitation or control of the number of children conceived, especially by planned use of contraceptive techniques.

    2. A contraceptive technique.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Donna.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 8:58 pm
  19. advogado de diabo wrote:

    I voted for contraception and birth control as synonymous, but after some though I’d have to say abortion can be used as a form of birth control, however by definition it occurs after conception so it cannot be considered a form of contraception. Therefore birth control is a broader term and contraception is a subset of birth control.

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 7:05 pm

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