I have never, ever been a conspiracy theorist. I like to go through life blindly trusting in the benevolence of “Big Brother” – hey he probably watches me just to make sure I am brushing my teeth, eating right, and paying my taxes for the greater good. However, there is one topic that I have come across far too many times on the internet where the government provides absolutely incorrect information to the public. This topic is Natural Family Planning (NFP). Now, since I am generally a chronic optimist, I am going to still assume the best of these government sites and chalk it up to simple ignorance. But, I must admit, there are still times when I find myself clutching my chart and stamps to my chest, fighting the temptation to embarrass myself on a street corner, shouting about NFP, contraception, and the Pope’s thoughts on your sex life. Am I the only one that has dealt with this? Okay, never mind. I am glad to hear you are all normal, socially-aware individuals. As for me, I decided today to take my annoyance with the ignorance on display all over the internet, and, instead of embarrassing myself on a street corner, I created a list of 5 common myths about NFP and the plain ol’ misinformation out there that has led me to distrust the government:
Fact: There are plenty of people who are planning their family without using contraception. And to get technical, every single ‘planned pregnancy’ is by definition achieved without using contraception! Couples that contracept usually discontinue their current method of birth control for some amount of time to achieve a pregnancy, and then may begin using it again postpartum. So why is it that when you look up information about family planning, you are automatically directed to links that share the effectiveness of contraceptives at avoiding pregnancy? With our current knowledge base regarding fertility, why do we still live in a world where the term ‘family planning’ includes any and all of our attempts to avoid pregnancy, but when it is time to achieve, we throw it all to the wind and rely on “random acts of intercourse”? Refer to my post regarding contraceptive language in our culture if you want to read more about how the culture is slowly making us terrified of babies. Now let’s get real… ‘Family planning’ should include avoiding and achieving pregnancy. Currently, the best, evidence-based way to do this with a single method is by learning modern NFP.
Myth #2: NFP is a method of contraception and can therefore be compared side-by-side with these other family planning methods.
Fact: Similar to myth 1, it is completely illogical to compare NFP with methods of contraception, because the methodology of the studies usually doesn’t control for the principle that people can continue to ‘use’ their NFP method and can get pregnant! ”Woohoo! NFP really helped us get pregnant!” The statistics often report how many people got pregnant out of, let’s say 100 women, within the first year. This report makes sense for contraception, because the only action of contraception in regards to family planning is to avoid pregnancy. But that just is not the case when it comes to NFP. Each type of NFP has different levels of effectiveness at avoiding pregnancy. So if that is your biggest concern, I encourage you to look at comparisons of varying methods to find one that meets your needs. Don’t look at these ridiculous charts that lump all “Fertility-Awareness Based Methods” together and say, “Guess what? It didn’t work for 25 out of 100 women!”
Myth #3: One drawback of NFP is that “your partner must agree and cooperate.”
Fact: Whoa. I don’t even know where to start with this one. I like to think that we live in a world where, every time two people engage in some sort of sexual relationship, they are at least on the same page beforehand! Even for contracepting couples, I assume that there is some sort of understanding before sex, such as, “Hey, I’m going to wear a condom.” Or, “Yep, I took my pill today.” Since when is it a drawback that two people must mutually agree upon their intentions for their sexual relationship? Isn’t this one of the biggest breakdowns in our society, that too often, one partner or the other gets burned by dishonesty or distrust within their sex life? With NFP, the method is effective at avoiding and achieving pregnancy when each partner understands the other’s intentions AND how to implement those intentions. I say we sing the praises of a method that encourages agreement and cooperation.
Myth #4: NFP is much more difficult to use or is less effective if a woman has irregular cycles.
Fact: Many methods of NFP have included women with irregular cycles or who are breastfeeding within their studies on effectiveness at avoiding pregnancy. All modern methods are going to be capable of determining a woman’s true window of fertility based on fertile signs and symptoms. The methods that do not consider that a woman may have an irregular cycle are not the modern and currently taught methods! I wouldn’t say to someone, “contraception doesn’t effectively avoid pregnancy,” and then show the statistics representing one of these old school methods of birth control. That is constructing a straw-man argument. And with that, let’s just transition to the next myth…
Fact: The Rhythm/Calendar Method is one of the original forms of NFP. So, although I tip my hat to the creators of the method for pioneering the way for more modern methods of NFP, I do not want to compare it to the method that I personally use that has invested in scientifically evaluating tens of thousands of women’s cycles and has developed solutions for women that are breastfeeding, perimenopausal, or regularly irregular in their cycles. Modern NFP relies on charting signs and symptoms each day to determine if a woman is fertile or infertile that given day; in this way, it is very ‘reactive’ to the current circumstances. The rhythm method relies on predicting when a woman is fertile. The keyword here is that it is ‘predictive.’ Once a woman identifies that she has started her period (as if it is something subtle that you may not notice while your internal organs try to fight their way out!), she counts ahead a given number of days to estimate when she is fertile by comparing it to previous cycles. The obvious flaw here is that, for a woman with an irregular cycle, this prediction may not be very accurate. So if my first biggest frustration is the unfair comparison of NFP to contraception, my second biggest frustration is comparing modern NFP to its predecessor.
With that, I will wrap up this long-winded vent. I think that before I begin to wear an aluminum hat, stockpile my crops, and transfer my money to off-shore accounts, I make another attempt to teach people more about the many benefits of NFP and about the common misinformation that they may come across on the topic. I don’t think that the government is actively working to stop couples from using NFP. I just think that it is time that they research methods used on this side of the turn of the century.