Changing our Minds

When my husband and I were married about five and a half years ago, we were of the belief that contraception was God’s gift to married couples, so we used barrier method contraception for the first four years of our marriage. Some would say it was not very successfully done, since we had three children in the span of those four years, all surprises!

After I found out that I was expecting our third child, I began to worry that we needed to find a better system for postponing pregnancies.  Obviously, condoms were none too reliable at preventing pregnancy, yet I opposed the use of any kind of birth control which could act as a possible abortifacient. 

I had been perusing a couple of mommy blogs and was intrigued to read about NFP.  Maybe this is the answer for our situation, I thought.  It can’t hurt to research, anyway. 

The results of my research were surprising.  First, I had always heard that NFP was just a new and fancy name for “rhythm method.”  Even my OB-GYN had said so; but only a bit of perusal on sites like showed me that this was an incorrect notion.  The methods mentioned were more sophisticated, more tailored to each woman’s individual cycles (regardless of length or regularity), and had effectiveness rates comparable with those of birth control pills and implants. 

Sounds great!  What’s not to like?  Why doesn’t everyone do this? I wondered. 

Then I realized that NFP also recommended that if a couple is seeking to avoid pregnancy, it means more than simply abstaining from intercourse during fertile times: it also means abstaining from genital contact of any kind.  My husband and I were shocked: now those other ways of “having fun together” were going to be off-limits!  We were married—how could any opportunity to have mutual sexual gratification with each other not be okay?

I began to modify my thinking.  Well, okay, so it will be an adjustment.  But I’m sure there will only be a week or so of days we’ll have to avoid intercourse and all of the things we used to replace it. 

As we took classes and got educated about the signs of fertility, the “days off” grew more numerous when we took both possibly and certainly fertile days into account.  Suddenly, between fertility and menstruation, we were looking at a minority of “available days” within a cycle.  We went from having nearly any day available to a limited number. 

Here we really had to question whether or not we would follow the NFP guidelines as they were laid out.  It seemed unfair to us, and even immoral.  If the God-given gift of sex unifies us, then why not allow sex play or other non-fecund positions?  Wasn’t it essential to our real unity as a couple? 

It’s been a thorny and tough road to walk together, but my husband and I have come to believe that partaking in “sexy time” with no intention of intercourse is analogous to sexual bulimia.  A bulimic wants the physical—and perhaps emotional— gratification of eating whatever types and quantities of food he or she desires without having to deal with the natural consequence of gaining weight.  A bulimic binges and then purges, whether through vomiting, over-exercising, or abusing laxatives, and thus is prevented from gaining the weight that would come with binge-eating.

Similarly, we saw that we had wanted the physical and emotional gratification of sex without the natural consequences of children.  I don’t know of any sane person who advocates bulimia, even occasionally, as a healthy way to live.  Yet our society applauds and even promotes this sort of sexual bulimia: get the fun with none of the consequences.  Just as bulimia wreaks havoc on your body and psyche to the point of becoming a fatal addiction, so too with sex. 

We have come to believe that sex is optional and that it is not the highest form of love, even for married people.  We used to think that Christians only needed to abstain until they were married, and then our marital life would be a no-holds-barred sexual smorgasbord; now we believe that if there’s a good reason to avoid adding a child to the family, then restraint and self-control are appropriate responses, not simply looking for ways to get “release.” 

Has it been easy?  No.  Have we discovered things about ourselves and our marriage that have been highly uncomfortable?  Oh yeah.  Are we more convinced with each passing cycle that this is the right way to plan our family?  You’d better believe it!

In fact, for a while it had been our plan to start trying when our youngest turned one, but after discussing it for a few cycles as his first birthday drew nearer, we realized that financially we just aren’t ready for another child.  Our 500 sq. ft. home and our stuffed-to-the-gills compact car (and our current inability to upgrade either) are pretty good indicators of this!  Truthfully, we admitted that we had been ready to “start trying” mostly because we were getting tired of the extra self-control required to avoid. 

But now we’ve had some practice with abstaining and found out that:

  1. the world did not end
  2. my husband did not fall into a pit of testosterone overload induced depression
  3. our marriage did not lose its validity, unity, or intimacy
  4. on the last point, the marriage has gained intimacy: as my NFP instructor likes to say, if you can talk about mucus, you can talk about anything

Having discovered these things experientially, we feel empowered to stay the course until God changes our circumstances and clears our way.  We’d like to have more kids, but now isn’t the time, and in the year of practicing NFP we’ve gained the maturity to see that it can be done as well as the conviction that it ought to be done.  I think it has even improved the quality of our lovemaking.  The whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” thing has proven true for us, and we now give it a higher value rather than just a way to “have a good time.”  It is more meaningful.

Last but not least, I feel more secure now about our ability to plan pregnancies than when we were using contraception.  Hey, it’s like the “purity campaigns” constantly tell us: only abstinence is 100% effective.  And contrary to what others may report or how it may feel, NFP doesn’t require you to abstain 100% of the time.  The more you learn your body’s signs, the more flexibility you can have with deciding which days you’ll engage in sex.  You as a couple decide how much you’d like to “play it safe.”

In conclusion, I’m so thankful that my husband and I took the NFP class at Northwest Family Services.  We learned a lot and Lauren was a great teacher, always willing to follow up and answer questions.  I hope that our story will serve as food for thought for others who are thinking about practicing NFP and will be an encouragement that this is an adjustment that can be made.