Sometimes myths can teach the good as in stories where virtues are learned. And, other times myths can cause harm since they distort reality.
In NFP education we find that several misconceptions regarding the principles and practice of NFP continue to exist. On this page, we provide information to bust the myths!
Please note, the USCCB provides this content in a brochure for purchase. Please see below to order.
For a more detailed overview of the philosophy, science, and method categories of NFP, read the Introduction to NFP.
Natural Family Planning Myth & Reality
Myth #1: NFP is based on guesswork: it's what people used before modern science developed contraception.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not based on folktales!
NFP is a general title for the methods of family planning that are science-based, accurate, natural, healthy, reliable, and moral. There are many NFP methods and all can be used to achieve, or to postpone, a pregnancy naturally.
NFP is based on scientific research about women's cycles of fertility. Over a century ago, scientists discovered cyclic changes in cervical mucus and their relation to ovulation. In the 1920s, scientists identified the temperature rise that signals ovulation. But it wasn't until the 1950s, that scientists developed programs to teach others how to observe and interpret these fertility signs.
NFP methods are grouped according to which signs of fertility are being observed and charted. They are as follows: the basal body temperature method (BBT) monitors changes in a woman's temperature when she wakes up each morning; the cervical mucus method ( more commonly called "Ovulation Method" or "OM") monitors changes in a woman's cervical mucus; the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) combines observations of temperature and cervical mucus with other indicators, such as changes in the cervix and secondary fertility signs; and the Sympto-Hormonal Method (SHM), which is similar to the STM, includes the self-detection of reproductive hormones in the urine with the assistance of an ovulation predictor kit or fertility monitor.
Myth #2: NFP can be used only by women with regular cycles.
NFP works with menstrual cycles of any length and any degree of irregularity. NFP does not depend on a woman having regular menstrual cycles. NFP treats each woman and each cycle as unique. These methods rely on daily observations of the woman's signs of fertility.
NFP can be used during breastfeeding, just before menopause, and in other special circumstances. NFP allows a woman to understand the physical signals her body gives her to tell her when she is most likely to become pregnant (around the time of ovulation). Once the woman understands this information, she and her husband can use the information according to their family planning intentions (i.e., to either achieve or postpone pregnancy).
Instruction in NFP provides women with information about their bodies that is specific and observable. The natural methods can be used throughout a woman's reproductive life. These methods teach couples to monitor current, daily fertility signs of the woman's menstrual cycle. When special circumstances occur, (e.g., stress, illness, breastfeeding, post-miscarriage, perimenopause, etc.), NFP instructors can provide additional guidance in interpreting signs of fertility.
Myth #3: NFP is too complicated to be used by most people.
NFP can be used by anyone who learns the method and is motivated to apply the guidelines.
NFP information is easy to learn. In fact, the methods have been successfully adapted to suit the needs of people and cultures all around the world. The key to using NFP effectively is for couples to learn together the information about their combined fertility, and to change their behavior, applying the guidelines according to whether they wish to achieve or postpone pregnancy. This process is learned in NFP education, where the couple can practice observing and charting the wife's signs of fertility. This is not hard to learn but will take effort. NFP couples say that NFP is worth the effort because many benefits will be gained, including stronger communication, mutual responsibility, and greater respect for each other.
Myth #4: NFP is not a reliable method of family planning.
NFP is not only reliable, but it is the only authentic method of family planning.
Since NFP methods are not contraception, their effectiveness works both ways—for achieving and postponing pregnancy. When couples wish to achieve a pregnancy they can time sexual intercourse to the fertile window of the menstrual cycle, thereby optimizing the possibility of becoming pregnant. When wishing to avoid pregnancy, studies show that couples who follow their NFP method's guidelines correctly, and all the time, achieve effectiveness rates of 97-99%. Others, who are unclear about their family planning intention (i.e., spacing or limiting pregnancy) or are less motivated, will not consistently follow the method's guidelines and have a lower effectiveness rate of 80-90%.
Effectiveness of Natural Family Planning in Avoiding Pregnancy
- Couples who carefully follow all the rules for avoiding pregnancy all the time: 97%-99%
- Couples who do not follow all the rules for avoiding pregnancy all the time: 80%-90%
*Note: these percentages represent the range of effectiveness provided by NFP studies. They are based on the number of pregnancies among 100 couples in one year of NFP method use.
Myth #5: There is no difference between NFP and contraception.
NFP methods are different from and better than contraception.
- have no harmful side effects
- are environmentally friendly
- are virtually cost-free
- cooperate with, rather than suppress, a couple's fertility
- can be used both to achieve and avoid pregnancy
- call for shared responsibility and cooperation by husband and wife
- require mutual communication
- foster respect for and acceptance of the total person
- encourage maturity and the virtue of chastity
- value the child
- honor and safeguard the unitive and procreative meanings of married love.
In other words, there is a big difference between NFP and contraception. NFP, as opposed to contraception, does not deliberately frustrate the procreative potential of sex. So, NFP is morally acceptable while contraception is actually sinful and never morally right. NFP is unique because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. Fertility is viewed as a gift and reality to live, not a problem to be solved. Ultimately, NFP respects God's design for married love.
Myth #6: NFP does not allow for sexual spontaneity.
Most of the time, "spontaneity" in sex is itself a myth!
Modern culture is awash in sexual messages. This may fool us into thinking that "everyone" is having sex as often as possible and always "spontaneously!" Even married couples may fall into this trap. Or, they may think that their sex lives would be more spontaneous "if only" their spouse wanted sex at the same time they did. The reality is that most marital sexual encounters are planned, or at least happen in situations favorable to love-making that are set up by agreement regardless of the family planning method used. Otherwise, in the press of daily life with jobs, household chores, social commitments, children's demands, etc., a husband and wife would rarely have sex!
It's not necessarily bad news that married couples often plan on a time to have sexual relations. A loving invitation given in advance means a time of healthy anticipation for both husband and wife. For NFP couples who are trying to postpone a pregnancy, such an invitation in the days of sexual abstinence can mean living a "chaste courtship" that will be followed by a "mini-honeymoon." NFP couples often talk about how the times of sexual abstinence have helped them deepen their expressions of love for each other through loving gestures, "date nights," significant conversations, and so forth. This is not to say that the times of abstinence are not challenging. They can be! With a positive attitude and living through it together, husband and wife can use periodic sexual abstinence to grow individually and as a couple. Such self-mastery fosters authentic freedom where one's desires are put in service to the other—a necessary ingredient for marriage! Real sexual spontaneity depends upon real freedom—and NFP fosters such freedom.
Myth #7: Couples who use NFP have sex less often than couples who use contraception.
The frequency of sexual intercourse is based on a couple's intention and desire, not on the family planning method.
NFP couples have sex as much as other married couples. They just have it on a different schedule according to whether they wish to avoid pregnancy or not. When spacing births, they would abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile time of the woman's menstrual cycle. Keeping in mind that every woman is unique and every cycle is unique, the days of sexual abstinence will vary. But it's important to ask if the "frequency" of sexual intercourse is the right measure of fulfillment in a marital relationship. Most married couples would say that it is more important for their sexual relationship to reflect the quality of their marriage, that is, healthy, loving, intimate, and respectful. NFP can be a great help to couples who are interested in building a strong marriage because NFP supports the gift of one's spouse, the gift of life, and God's design for married love!
Myth #8: The Catholic Church wants people to have as many babies as possible.
In fact, the Catholic Church encourages people to be both generous and responsible stewards over their fertility.
In this view of "responsible parenthood" married couples carefully think about the just reasons they may have to postpone pregnancy. When making decisions about the number and spacing of children in their family, they weigh their responsibilities to God, each other, the children they already have, and the world in which they live.
Responsible parenthood is lived within the structures that God has established in human nature. The nature of sexual intercourse, which is both life-giving (procreative) and love-giving (unitive), reflects a Divine plan. That is why the Church teaches that husband and wife must not actively intervene to separate their fertility from their bodily union. NFP methods respect the Divine plan and are at the service of authentic married love.
Myth #9: The Catholic Church does not want married couples to have sex just for pleasure.
The Catholic Church wants married couples to have the best sex possible!
Sexual pleasure in marriage is good. Pleasure is a part of intercourse, however, not its sole focus. There is, after all, a difference between simply "having sex," which includes actions aimed at one's own pleasure, and "making love," which involves giving oneself to another. Put another way, there is a difference between "self-taking" and "self-giving."
"Making love" as God planned it for marriage, means that husband and wife offer themselves to each other as a gift. This sexual gift is faithful and exclusive. It rejoices in the other person, is respectful of God's design, and welcomes a child who may come from their union. It thus has the potential to build the family. In expressing the mutual love and commitments of husband and wife, sexual intercourse becomes a lasting source of joy in their marital relationship.
The above questions with their answers are available in a brochure called "NFP, Myth and Reality," (English and Spanish). To order, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; or call toll free at 1-866-582-0943. Ask for publication #9522 for English and #9523 for Spanish. Also available to order via the USCCB Store.