Dear Natural Family Planning Users

Dear Natural Family Planning Users,

All five people who use Natural Family Planning have read and drawn attention to my “Dear Planned Parenthood” application. Your Church group seems to be unsatisfied with my description of your beloved guess and check system. Please allow me to elaborate.

Natural Family Planning methods are based on the grade school reproductive system fact that fertilization is most likely to occur around the time of ovulation. If you’re interested in “most likely” avoiding unwanted pregnancy, this may be the system for you! Intercourse is avoided during times when a woman is fertile, thus preventing conception. Although sexually active lifestyles that require sexual inactivity are counter-productive, at least you’re not on hormones… you’re just suppressing your own.

Since the exact time of ovulation cannot be predicted, two to three days of abstinence are added to the beginning and the end of the fertile time. A woman’s “unsafe days” compromise about one-third of the month. Another way to become abstinent for one-third of the month is to move in with your parents.

An “advantage” of Natural Family Planning is that it is acceptable for couples with religious concerns about contraception. Advocates boast that couples who use this method are more likely to stay together. This is because they have kids together, and/or are too religious to get divorced anyway.

Another advantage to this plan is that it is inexpensive, a quality that should not be a factor in anything health and/or safety related. Natural Family Planning does not require the use of artificial devices and has no harmful side-effects… except that couples who use this method improperly are more likely to get pregnant than those who misuse artificial methods. The marketing campaign can go something like this, “No icky side effects, except maybe pregnancy!”

The system has evolved from the calendar/pull-out-and-pray/rhythm methods. To use a small piece of science, Natural Family Planning boasts the Sympto-Thermal Method. This symptoms using temperature concept tries to determine fertile time based on a woman’s basal body temperature and by recording fertility cues of mood and cervical secretions. Tools for this are a mood ring, dip stick and thermometer. Very sophisticated.

Taking time, temperature and cervical mucus measurements invites a significant margin of human error. However, for the Sympto-Thermal system to function properly, the measurements must be precise, which necessarily requires frequent data collection that further increases the risk of human error.  Of course, even if a user adheres strictly and carefully to all of the requirements of they Sympto-Thermal system, faulty equipment could still lead to an undesired result.

Sure Natural Family Planning is organic (everyone’s favorite buzz word) and certainly better than nothing, but it’s a flawed system. The most prominent problem with Natural Family Planning is that it does not take into account menstrual cycle fluctuations. There are many circumstances in everyday life which can influence the rhythm of the cycle, making reliable calculation of the fertile and infertile days impossible. These factors include, but are not limited to: stress, illness, lack of sleep, oversleeping, drinking, unaccustomed physical exertion and time zone changes, travel, inconsistent schedules, breastfeeding, and other regularly occurring situations.

With the knowledge, information and birth control methods that are available, there should be as few accidental pregnancies as possible. Doctors are reluctant to recommend natural methods. You Natural Family Planners probably assume that doctors don’t recommend the system because they can’t make money off it, but that’s ridiculous. Doctors make plenty of money, until they lose their license by telling patients to use a system that can be easily thrown off by plenty of external factors.

Here are a few of your comments I’d like to respond to more specifically:

YOU: I just wanted to say that Natural Family Planning (or NFP) is completely different from the rhythm method.

ME: The rhythm method is a form of birth control that relies on knowledge of a woman’s ovulation cycle in order to avoid pregnancy. That sounds a lot like Natural Family Planning 101 to me.

YOU: Let’s stop treating pregnancy like a disease and start seeing it as a blessing.

ME: It’s a disease if it’s unwanted. It’s a blessing if you’re religious and ready, willing and able to accept the responsibilities of parenting.

YOU: My husband and I are proud, college educated, middle class NFP users.

ME: A degree does not at all qualify you as smart. Any idiot can go to college. As a matter of fact, the whole community can go.

YOU: For comparison, the pill has a perfect use rate of 99% but a typical use rate of 92%. Condoms have a perfect use of 98% and a typical use rate of 85%. Various NFP methods have perfect use rates of 99% and variable typical use rates.

ME: Comparing substantial numbers to the idea that your method varies in its typical rate success. That’s an impressive argument. By the way, there’s a 99% chance you pulled that perfect use rate out of the hole you can’t get pregnant from.

YOU: The biologist in me likes nature. If I’m on the pill, I”m urinating difficult-to-degrade artificial hormones that harm fish and probably frogs too.

ME: I’m sure you’re harming the fish and frogs in more ways than you know…

Good luck Natural Family Planners, you’re going to need it.

Rachel L. Arbeit


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For NFP to prove themselves valid, they’ll need to get more serious scientific studies done on it. There’s not a lot of real research that has been done on NFP to prove or disprove common claims about this method of birth control.

  2. Good points. The system is simply too complex for most people to do correctly. Even the pill, one easy step per day, is forgotten or taken off time at least once per month. Though Natural Family Planning has developed into a decent system, it’s more involved than most are willing to dedicate themselves to and without perfect use, it is guess and check.

  3. NFP is better than nothing, and a terrific option if your body isn’t receptive to hormonal contraceptives. But I guess you didn’t include that because it’s pretty obvious.

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