Fertility Awareness isn’t just about pregnancy and women’s health; it’s about equality.

It’s Natural Family Planning Awareness week - which means you may see a lot of women promoting NFP because “my body isn’t broken,” “children are a gift,” and “cycles are part of being a woman.”

Maybe you agree with those things. Maybe you don’t.

If you’re a feminist, maybe it doesn’t matter; because those arguments are all missing the point.

Feminism by definition is “the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

What does NFP have to do with equality?

Well, the main ‘difference’ between men and women is that women carry and bear children, and the way our body is designed and functions is largely oriented around this capacity.

Oh, and sex has different ramifications for women. MAJORLY different ramifications.

So it’s not surprising that feminists have so consistently been focused on women’s health and reproductive rights. These issues are rooted in the most significant difference between the sexes, and therefore, the most common starting point for sexism and oppression of women.

The increasing forms and prevalence of birth control have seemingly enabled women to live and work side-by-side with men in all the same ways, without having to worry about or make accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and everything that comes with it, like breastfeeding.

But there’s a problem.

This apparent state of “equality” for women still hinges on us censoring our difference - our capacity to get pregnant.

This apparent state of “equality” for women still hinges on us censoring our difference - our capacity to get pregnant.

Oh and sometimes, birth control fails. So then women’s equality actually hinges not on birth control, but on abortion. Anne Bailey, who works as a field organizer for NARAL, affirmed: “we can never have gender equality if we don’t have access to legal and affordable abortion care.”

You know why most women get abortions? Because having a baby would dramatically change their life. A sentiment often due to lack of support from men ( whether financial, day to day support for work / school, or state in life, such as that of a single mom).

So even with birth control, and abortion, women are left to deal with fertility on their own.

That doesn’t sound like equality to me.

NFP isn’t feminist because it allows women to embrace their motherhood.

Or have more babies.

Or preserve their femininity.

Or even know their body better (although this is a close second).

These can be good things. But they're not the fundamental point here.

NFP is feminist because it invites men into the conversation on fertility.

NFP invites men to be equally aware, and responsible, of what can happen when you have sex. And equally intentional about their actions.

It's not just the day to day awareness of whether or not it's a “fertile day.” The process of learning NFP requires men to learn how a woman's body functions, and how different it is from their own.

That knowledge is powerful. Just ask any man who's learned it.

Not to mention, learning NFP is oriented around educating people on how women work. Honestly, how often can we say that's the case elsewhere?

NFP sets the tone that sex is different for women, and it serves as a constant reminder to both men and women that it includes a kind of vulnerability for women, that sex doesn't require from men.

NFP sets the tone that sex is different for women, and it serves as a constant reminder to both men and women that it includes a kind of vulnerability for women, that sex doesn't require from men.

Now, some of you might be wondering - can't all this be true with birth control, too?

Not quite.

Because NFP is not just “catholic approved” birth control - and that is a really important distinction.

People may try to use NFP methods as just a “natural” contraceptive, but without discernment - that's not actually NFP.

The purpose and power in NFP is the constant discernment and conversation between spouses. Saint Pope John Paul II puts it like this:

“In deciding whether or not to have a child, [spouses] must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary. However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms. One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be 'violated' by artificial interference.”

To summarize - whether you want to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, you need to discern it, discuss it, and then consciously choose your actions accordingly.

Which is why if you use NFP but aren’t communicating, or your husband resents or blames you for your cycle - something needs to change. Because that’s not mutually taking responsibility, it’s still the woman bearing the burden of fertility by herself.

But don’t be discouraged! Using a natural method is half the battle, because in my experience, out of necessity it prompts a lot of the discernment conversations you need to be having. It really forces you to confront what you or your husband said you’ve discerned, and just how seriously you’ve discerned it.

Those conversations aren’t easy. But, to really follow NFP and receive its fruits, you have to dive in, and face the feelings, fears, and frustrations you’re both having. I promise you’ll grow closer in the process. Be not afraid.

In the tough times especially, I think a lot of women start feeling like a “burden” to their husbands and their marriage. That’s a dangerous lie - because it’s still rooted in this idea that woman alone is responsible for fertility. But it takes two; and through NFP, we need to invite and allow men to step up to their proper, equal role.  

The more men learn about NFP, the more empowered they are, too. Because they can see for themselves how cycles are changing, what today’s forecast is, and what to expect based on what you’ve both discussed. They can also better support women through their erratic cycles, PMS, or challenges conceiving. But they need the knowledge to do so.

For too long, men’s bodies and the way they work has been upheld as the “gold standard.”

For too long, men’s bodies and the way they work has been upheld as the “gold standard.”

Birth control sustains this idea by providing women “equality” through attempting to conform their bodies to this “standard.” Which leaves women alone as responsible to control their fertility, and deal with the ramifications of it.

True equality requires that we first acknowledge how women’s bodies work. And then that we invite men to be equally aware of how fertility works as a couple. That’s what NFP does.

It’s time we stop underestimating men.

It’s time we ask more of men.

It’s time for equality.

But ladies, we are in control. It’s time to invite men into this part of ourselves, of our lives, of our relationships.

Be not afraid.

Samantha Povlock

Founder, CEO, and Editor in Chief, 2015-present

Samantha Povlock is the Founder, CEO, and Editor in Chief of FemCatholic. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in business and theology, she started her career in Chicago working in consulting and project management. She currently lives in Greater Philadelphia with her husband, Matt, and three kids.

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