In 2018, over 160,000 couples were married in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Yet only about 4,000 took a course in Natural Family Planning.
In our opinion, this is:
- A major missed opportunity
We’ll explain why below.
But we’re not pessimists.
In fact, we’re extremely optimistic about the future of NFP education. It’s not too late to change things. By the end of this article, we hope you’ll agree with us.
Let’s get started.
It’s crazy that NFP isn’t a standard part of Pre-Cana (yet)
In our 12 years as NFP instructors, we’ve noticed a major misconception about Natural Family Planning.
Most people assume that only the most committed Catholic couples are interested in NFP. This line of thinking treats NFP as a very advanced step, not suitable for novices.
We think the opposite is true.
Marital sexuality is important to EVERY married couple. And, NFP has profound worldly benefits, for everyone.
That’s why, in our opinion, NFP should be one of the FIRST points of engagement for young couples, especially those who may not have a strong connection to their faith.
Remember, the vast majority of couples, even Catholic couples, don’t understand Church teachings on marital sexuality. Because they don’t understand it, they question it. The dominant secular culture encourages them to do so.
But when couples study NFP, they see the benefit of Church teaching. They see the beauty of God’s plan, and His wisdom in the creation of woman and man.
And – this might be the most important part – they see that NFP is the best method of family planning by any standards.
We’ve seen this happen time and time again.
Pre-Cana is probably the best opportunity to educate couples about Natural Family Planning – yet in most parishes, NFP isn’t part of the curriculum.
It’s crazy. And it’s a tragedy.
Why the prevailing ignorance of NFP is a tragedy
The majority of couples today use some form of family planning.
This usually means contraception.
Most Catholic couples know that the Church prohibits modern contraception. However, they are generally unaware of the harm that contraception causes, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Both researchers and theologians have documented the damage caused by modern birth control, including:
- Serious health side effects, including infertility, increased risk of complications in pregnancy, and even death
- Reduced attraction to the opposite sex
- Normalizing abortion and out-of-wedlock births
This list could be much longer. However, most couples consider family planning to be a necessity, and are willing to ignore these risks (if they are aware of them at all).
Natural Family Planning is just as effective as modern contraception, without the attendant risks and harms. Indeed, NFP actually provides significant health benefits.
Yet many couples continue to use contraception out of sheer ignorance.
That’s a tragedy, as well as a lost opportunity.
The missed opportunity of NFP education
The discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage and family planning tends to focus on the negative.
Here’s what we mean by that:
Almost everyone, even non Catholics, is aware that the Church considers contraception to be sinful.
Yet very few, even among Catholics, are familiar with Natural Family Planning. Fewer still have studied NFP in enough depth to practice it in their marriage.
To focus on the prohibition of contraception, without teaching and promoting NFP as a healthy, fulfilling, life-giving option, is a strategy that is bound to fail. To even call it a “strategy” is probably incorrect – we don’t know why the discussion is so focused on the negative. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
We return to the statistic we referenced at the beginning of this post: over 150,000 Catholic couples each year marry without sufficient knowledge to follow Church teaching in their marriage. The consequences are predictable: these couples often use contraception, and experience the harmful consequences and side effects.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why Pre-Cana is the best opportunity to teach NFP
While there is increased discussion of non-contraceptive family planning methods, within both religious and secular communities, the Catholic Church is still the world’s leading advocate for NFP.
Furthermore, millions of couples are already connected to the Church. This represents an extraordinary opportunity for the Church to share knowledge that provides both spiritual and worldly benefit.
We suggest the easiest place to start is in pre-Cana courses, for several reasons:
Helping women avoid contraception
There is increasing criticism of contraception, as well as positive discussion of Natural Family Planning, from a wide variety of perspectives, including mainstream media outlets like the The Guardian, Time, and the The Atlantic.
Many, many women would like to stop taking hormonal contraception.
However, women often don’t know of another reliable method of family planning.
No one ever taught them.
In Pre-Cana, the Church has an extraordinary opportunity to share vital knowledge with women and couples. This knowledge can help them improve their health, their marriage – and can even help them to start a family.
Helping couples start families
Couples who plan to marry in the Church are highly motivated to prepare for marriage. They are probably already thinking seriously about starting a family.
NFP is extremely valuable for couples who are trying to conceive – especially among couples who have some difficulty in achieving pregnancy. Couples who are trained in NFP are much more likely to conceive, within the first few months of trying.
NFP is especially useful for couples who are diagnosed as subfertile; these couples about twice as likely to conceive using NFP techniques.
Giving couples the knowledge to follow Church teaching
Most couples are at least somewhat aware of Church teachings on contraception.
However, they may not understand it.
And if they have never learned Natural Family Planning, they may consider Church teachings onerous, incompatible with their lives, and impossible to follow.
In our observation, many, many couples choose not to follow Church teachings on contraception simply due to a lack of knowledge about Natural Family Planning as an option.
As we said before: this is crazy.
On the other hand, couples who are trained in NFP are equipped to see the wisdom and benefits of Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.
And they find it much, much easier to obey Church teachings within their marriage – indeed, they find immense benefits in doing so.
This is what we should strive for.
The Church can’t afford to ignore this opportunity any longer.
We believe NFP should be included in every Pre-Cana course, in every parish.
We’d go so far as to say that Catholic couples have a right to learn NFP, and the Church has a responsibility to teach them.
Some parishes don’t have access to trained NFP educators. In this case, online programs are a good option. Our own online NFP course is one of the most affordable comprehensive courses available.
If you’re wondering how to make NFP education more accessible in your community, please contact us to discuss options for your parish community.
Do you have any ideas about how to make NFP education more accessible? If you do, please let us know in the comments below!
If you’d like to access the first few lessons of our NFP course for free, please click below: