I have been on both ends of the NFP ministry spectrum. Just a few years ago, I was the woman who took artificial birth control with no intention of stopping. Today, I am a natural family planning (NFP) instructor who stands in front of engaged couples during their pre-Cana retreat, hoping and praying that at least one of them decides to use the beautiful tool given to them in NFP.

Since I have been a part of both groups, I draw from personal experience when I say that members of the Church could do much more in getting women and men to choose NFP.

I see the decision to choose NFP as somewhat similar to the decision to carry a pregnancy to term, rather than have an abortion. In crisis pregnancy centers, woman with an unplanned, crisis, or unwanted pregnancy need to be given hope and confidence in their ability to raise a child. If the Church is serious about promoting NFP, then women also need to be given hope and confidence in their ability to understand their bodies and their fertility.

If the Church is serious about promoting NFP, then women also need to be given hope and confidence in their ability to understand their bodies and their fertility.

We live in a time where our female bodies are a complete mystery to us. I love my mother and credit my feminism to her, but her explanation of my period when I came of age was brief and gave me no information about the science or facts. I don’t remember anything I learned in my sex education class and, even if I did, whatever I learned was probably incorrect, misleading, or both. And even though period tracking apps are ever more popular, the science behind the technology is rarely understood. For example, when I tell my non-Catholic friends that I’m a fertility awareness educator, nearly all of them mention that they love tracking their cycle on their iPhone app. It takes all I have to not shake them and scream that these apps are not the same thing as fertility awareness.

Given the importance of NFP and the current, widespread ignorance about fertility and the female body, why do we wait to educate men and women about NFP until they are engaged or married, if we educate them at all?

I’m fortunate enough to be in a diocese that requires engaged couples to take an NFP course before they can get married. I applaud my diocese for this requirement because it at least means that every couples has to hear about NFP. At the same time, teaching engaged couples about NFP during their marriage preparation is far too late.

More often that not, this requirement is one of the last boxes to be checked off, which means that too many women learn their fertility signs within a month or two of their wedding night. This is not at all the ideal amount of time to practice NFP before using it for family planning. Ask any fertility awareness instructor and they’ll tell you that it’s wise to wait at least three to six months before really getting the hang of NFP.

[T]oo many women learn their fertility signs within a month or two of their wedding night. . . . Ask any fertility awareness instructor and they’ll tell you that it’s wise to wait at least three to six months before really getting the hang of NFP.

By waiting until a woman is engaged to teach NFP to her and her fiancé, we’re essentially saying, “I want you to use this amazing product, but I’m not going to explain how it works or how you’re supposed to use it. You just have to figure it out on your own when you’re already stressed and frazzled about the million other life changes going on in your life. Cool?

No, it’s not cool. Because of this implicit message, couples are left discouraged if they discern that getting pregnant right after the wedding isn’t best for them or their future family. The woman in particular might be afraid that she doesn’t understand her body well enough to use NFP effectively. This stems from a world that tells women that their fertility is uncontrollable and that they need to keep it in check with hormones. Since an unexpected pregnancy occurs in the woman’s body, maybe there is even a fear that any internal or external “blame” for an unexpected pregnancy would fall more on her shoulders than on her husband’s shoulders.

So, what is a holy, faithful woman to do when she isn’t confident in her ability to use NFP? Nearly all of the information in the world paints artificial birth control as a good thing, so our pro-contraception culture will make that woman feel like there is no other way to relieve her fears but to take the Pill, get an implant, insert an IUD, or use any number of other options that contradict Church teaching.

Nearly all of the information in the world paints artificial birth control as a good thing, so our pro-contraception culture will make that woman feel like there is no other way to relieve her fears

And I haven’t even touched on the lack of community in the Church if a woman does decide to learn and use NFP. There are no supportive environments (like La Leche League) with monthly meetings for charting. Can you imagine how great it would be to have regular, in-person meetings with general fertility topic discussions and a safe space to ask questions or share challenges? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a group of experienced NFP users offering suggestions from their own experience to newbies? I can only hope that this is the sort of environment my future daughter gets to be a part of in the Church - and ladies, we have the opportunity today to start creating this environment.

Since I’m so new to both the Church and NFP, I don’t want to give the impression that I know what’s best. What I would like to see most is us to start having open and honest conversations about how we can improve NFP education in the Church. I am desperately hungry for these kinds of discussions. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and resources so that we can empower women to be confident in the choices related to their bodies and fertility.

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Johnna Wilford

Body Section Editor (Interim)

Johnna Wilford is an administrative assistant by day, and a fitness coach and fertility awareness instructor by night. With a bachelor’s in Cultural Studies and Body Politics, a master’s in Medical Anthropology, and numerous certifications (RRCA, AFAA, Fitour, SymptoPro, FEMM), Johnna’s work taps into multiple areas of expertise. This allows her to focus on the concept of health and wellbeing as a holistic experience that is unique to each woman. She is a Catholic convert, and both researching the Church’s teachings on hormonal contraceptives and finding FemCatholic were two of the most influential things in her conversion.

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