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Natural Family Planning: Our Journey from Cultural to Natural

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

If you have been a reader of Engaged Marriage for a while, you know that Natural Family Planning is a topic that has been discussed several times.  The reason is simple: it has been a very important part of my own marriage and I want everyone to know about it.

I want to clarify that my goal is to raise awareness of Natural Family Planning.  While I’d love for everyone to try it, I know that’s not realistic and it is never my aim.  I simply want there to be a general understanding of NFP as a viable option to artificial birth control.

If you missed it, I’ve previously written posts discussing what Natural Family Planning is and how it benefits marriage.

I was also proud to host an incredible post by Katheen Quiring of Project M called “An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning” and I guest posted on her site to answer some frequently asked questions about NFP.

However, I have never discussed our story as it relates to Natural Family Planning.

Before I begin, I want to say that our story includes a lot of religious influence, especially early on.  However, if that’s not your thing, I’d encourage you to go ahead and read with an open mind. And keep an eye out for a future post where I explain why NFP is relevant for a wide variety of lifestyles (non-religious included).

But for now, this is our story.

Our Long Path To Natural Family Planning Starts On the Pill

My wife Bethany grew up in the Catholic Church (I did not, not even close actually. But I joined in my college years). She knew as a teen that the church taught that birth control was wrong, but didn’t know why or what to do about it. As a young teenager, even though she wasn’t yet sexually active, Bethany went on the Pill to regulate her irregular and painful menstrual cycles.

When we got married, we continued to use artificial contraception to make sure we did not get pregnant for the first 3 ½ years of our marriage. At this point, we understood that the Pill could act as an abortifacient, so we actually tried to avoid any kind of pregnancy by using condoms as “extra protection.” Yeah, we were doubling-up on our birth control methods. 🙂

During this time, we were “uncomfortable” using our methods of birth control because we knew that the Church didn’t approve.  However, we didn’t understand the reasons why and everyone we knew used contraceptives. We were honestly unaware of any alternatives for planning our family. So, we decided to go ahead and continue using artificial birth control.

A Fateful Homily in Rural Illinois

Several years into our marriage, we went on a camping trip and visited the local Catholic church one Sunday morning.  It was here that we heard a serious homily (think fire and brimstone) about contraception that made us seriously question the moral consequences of the Pill. The homily explained the gravity of the sin of using birth control in very certain terms to the point that we questioned even receiving Holy Communion that Sunday.

At this time, we didn’t fully understand all of the reasons why the Church taught that contraception was wrong, but our experience in church that morning certainly made us want to seek out advice. We decided to talk to our priest when we returned home.

Father Doesn’t Know Best

Frankly, our priest at the time did not offer much help. He told us that since we weren’t using the Pill primarily as a means to not get pregnant, we were okay. After all, Bethany presumably would still have painful periods should she stop taking it.

We still didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing (as it turns out, his advice was way off-base). Through our own research, we were beginning to better understand the Church’s teachings on why contraception was wrong, but we still had no other alternatives.

Engineer Meet Teacher: Planners Delight

Happily, at this point, we decided that we wanted to start a family. In hindsight, this sure seems a lot like a call from God on our lives, though we didn’t see it that way at the time.

We are planners (that’s the engineer and teacher part) that like to research things, so we went looking for effective ways to achieve pregnancy in an effort to help us better time our baby’s birth.  We found some information on the latest methods of fertility care on the Internet and in particular something called “Natural Family Planning” or NFP.

From there, we were able to learn enough to help us get pregnant within the first month or two of trying.

Natural Family Planning, Officially

After our son was born, we then took an official NFP class to learn how to avoid pregnancy using the same scientific knowledge. Now that we knew NFP existed, it was effective, and we fully understood the Church’s teachings, there was no going back.

Although the published studies say that it is 97-99% effective, it still took a lot of trust in each other and in God to use Natural Family Planning when we wanted to avoid pregnancy. However, the benefits in our marriage are where we’ve really seen NFP impact our lives.

My Feelings on Why Natural Family Planning Matters For Us

Once we started practicing Natural Family Planning,we quickly realized that its benefits went way beyond family planning.  Outside of the bedroom, our communication is more open, the bond between us is incredible, and we have developed an appreciation of true intimacy that we didn’t realize was there before.  I’d encourage you to click that last link for more on these aspects.

Of course, Natural Family Planning has a big role in the bedroom as well.  For me, the difference in our actual lovemaking when we were using contraceptives and now that we use NFP is profound.  Every time we engage in sex, we are truly saying “I trust you” and “I trust God.”

There are no barriers between us whether they be chemical, physical or emotional.  When I make love to Bethany, we are experiencing everything that God hopes for us, and we have nothing to feel ashamed about and nothing to hold us back.  Sex has become an incredible gift from God, and we praise him every time we share his gift with each other.

Simply put, our use of Natural Family Planning and our realization that God wants us to have great sex are the best things that have happened to our marriage.

What’s the Takeaway Here?

Again, I don’t expect you to read our story and immediately go seek out a class on NFP.  However, I hope that the next time you hear the term Natural Family Planning, you remember our story, our struggle and our passion for the impact that this counter-cultural means of planning a family has had on our lives.

And I hope it doesn’t take another young couple years of confusion and uncomfortableness to discover that there are safe, natural and effective means of family planning.  If you meet one and they have questions, please send them my way.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Kathleen at Project M.  I strongly encourage, even challenge, you to read this post.  I was seriously moved by Kathleen’s honesty and candidness.  But most of all I was inspired by her willingness to keep an open mind about a subject that flies in the face of what our culture teaches us all about sexuality.  We’re different in a lot of ways, but Kathleen has certainly earned my deepest respect.  Plus, she’s funny.

I am an educated, fanArtsy Fartsy and Natural Family Plannning?cy-pants, trendy individual. I have two completely useless liberal-arts degrees to prove it. So of course, like other liberal-arts-educated and trendy individuals, I am drawn to the word “natural.” It makes us organic-eating tree-huggers think of healthy bodies, uncorrupted oceans and virginal rainforests.

But like other fancy-pants, artistic types, I’m less enthusiastic about the word “planning.” It makes us think of boring charts, legal documents and architectural blueprints. Who wants to plan? I prefer the idea of being able to spontaneously decide, “I would like to eat a bagel today,” or “I want to have a baby.” So I’ve always had mixed feelings about “natural family planning.” The first part makes me go “Yay!” and the last part makes me go “Boooooo.”

I’ve also never known much about natural family planning. I always just had this vague idea that it was this Catholic thing that was supposed to prevent unwanted pregnancies but didn’t work very well. That is, I believed this until I came across Engaged Marriage.

My Mind Opens

Not only was I incredibly impressed by the blog overall, but I was also intrigued by its informative coverage of NFP. It didn’t take long before I was thinking to myself, “I really need to rethink some of my opinions on natural family planning.” After reading everything Dustin had written on the subject, I began to go beyond his blog to do other internet searches and learn more. And I was continually impressed by what I learned. I started to feel that everyone needed to be exposed to this really cool but highly misunderstood phenomenon.

So I had Dustin tell me and my readers more about NFP. I grilled him with my most pressing questions about NFP, and even asked a couple of my friends for their questions, too.

Dustin kindly answered all my questions, and let me post them on my blog. I was incredibly pleased with everything he had to say. Here are a couple of my responses and reactions to what I learned from him.

(As a note, though, in case you are new to my writing, I am currently trying to get pregnant, so I’m not switching to NFP at the moment).

Some Candid Reactions to This NFP Thing

1. At first I was surprised (and a little skeptical) to hear that NFP has about a 99% success rate, but when I learned more about it I understood why it was so reliable. And I became a lot less scared of it. See, one reason I had never really considered NFP was because my menstrual cycles are so irregular. Like reeeeally irregular – completely unpredictable. My instinctive response was, “It sounds cool, but it won’t work for me because I’m a freak.” I thought it was only for “normal,” 28-day women. But not only did Dustin explain to me that it works for irregular cycles too, because it tracks your fertility through your bodily signs rather than by a calendar, but he explained that his wife was just as irregular as I am. And NFP worked for them! Phew! Maybe it can work for me, too.

And, anyways, I’ve come to learn that the Pill isn’t nearly as reliable as people think it is. We’re always told that the Pill is 99% effective. What we don’t hear is that the given number is only true if the woman taking it never makes any mistakes, and doesn’t take anything that interferes with its effectiveness.

I swear to you, I personally know three women who have gotten pregnant while on the Pill. I’m not sure if they missed a pill or took it too late one day or whatever, but they definitely have babies when they did not intend to have them. The point is, people make mistakes, and as a result the Pill often fails, too. The fact that NFP isn’t 100% effective shouldn’t make us any more nervous than the Pill does, because it also isn’t 100%. They’re very comparable. NFP is only ineffective if its practitioners don’t do it right . . . which is the same problem as with the Pill!

2. I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not sure how strongly I feel about the possibly-abortifacient nature of the Pill (I probably should feel stronger about it because I’m pro-life), but I am still pretty convinced, now, that NFP is the best birth control option out there.

Dustin pointed out that there are two other problems with the Pill, besides the commonly-identified religious ones. But I think they’re both very relevant to all spiritual people.

The first is health: I, like most Christians, believe that our bodies are our temples, and that we are responsible for taking the best care of them we can. If the Pill compromises our health, we should reconsider its merit.

The second is the environment: I believe God made us stewards of this earth, and we are responsible for its health, too. Polluting our water with artificial hormones (which in turn influences our health) and filling our landfills with condoms does not sound like responsible stewardship, especially if there are known alternatives like NFP.

A third reason I am beginning to protest against the Pill, though, is its cost. Again, this has to do with stewardship. God made me responsible for taking care of my material resources. And you’re telling me that there is an absolutely FREE method of birth control out there, but I’ve been paying for potentially-harmful pills to do the same thing for the last four years of my life? Man! How irresponsible of me! I could have been using that cash to make the world a better place. Think of all the money that we could all save if we stopped taking the Pill!

3. I thought Dustin made an excellent point when he said that the reason people don’t hear about NFP is because there’s no money in it. What a good friggin’ point! All of a sudden, the Pill has a sinister side to it that I never before acknowledged. Of course doctors and pharmacists are going to push the Pill: it’s profitable! NFP will never be profitable because there’s nothing to sell. Of course the people on top are not going to waste their time explaining to you that you could get the same thing for free.

If I had no other reason, I think I would still want to promote NFP at this point just to stick it to the Man. Down with Big Pharma! Down with greedy, corporate America! Viva la revolución! Who’s with me? Sorry, that was my liberal-arts education getting the best of me again.

4. Since learning about NFP from Dustin and others, I have had to start changing the question from “Why not take the Pill?” to “Why take the Pill?” And I am coming up short of good answers.

I think Brian Killian, from Nuptial Mystery, says it well when he says this: “Contraception was invented for a single purpose, to maximize the possibility of indulgence while minimizing the consequences.” How true. The Pill is essentially just designed as an easy way out. (You Catholic readers have probably heard all of this stuff already. But most of us Gen Y evangelicals have never given it a moment’s thought before).

So, then, why use the Pill? Because I want to be able to indulge every urge we have, whenever we want, without having to think about it? That sounds lazy and selfish. If I go off the Pill, that just means I have to start paying attention to my body, and communicating with my husband about my body, and deciding together with him what we want in life. If I stop using the Pill, my husband and I will have to talk about whether fulfilling a particular urge at a particular moment will bring us closer to getting the things we both want in life. These all sound like good things, not bad things. Why have I been avoiding them for the last four years?

Lastly: I’ve come to see that NFP actually allows you to be more spontaneous with your procreative choices. You can decide to go for it at any time, because NFP is easily reversible. With the Pill, on the other hand, you often have to wait several months to get the hormones out of your system. I wanted to use the Pill because I thought it gave me more control over my reproduction, but I have learned that it actually gives me less control. OK, this isn’t true for everybody: some lucky buggers [*ahem* – Dustin and his wife] can still get pregnant the second they go off the Pill [*sigh*]; but for the rest of us, saying No to the Pill from the get-go looks more like a blessing.

Am I Sold on Natural Family Planning?

OK, I have to admit, there are some really nice things about being on the Pill. The most important one for me is what it did for my skin. I am a rather vain person, and I have struggled with acne since I was eleven. So I was thrilled that Diane-35, which I used for both my acne and for contraceptive purposes, made it a lot better. Since going off of it, my skin has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. This makes me very sad. Honestly, I cry about it regularly. But like I said – it’s a matter of vanity, and I don’t think I ought to compromise my health and my integrity for my looks. But dang, it’s hard.

Second, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve always had crazy-irregular menstrual cycles. The Pill made it so much more regular. It was nice to be able to expect my period just by looking at how many pills I had left in the pack. But if it takes chemicals and foreign hormones to get that regularity, I don’t think it’s worth it. I’ll just have to learn about my body better so I can better identify the signs of oncoming menstruation, and be prepared for it at all times.

Ultimately, though, I think the bad things about the Pill outweigh the good, and the opposite is true for NFP. Someday, when I’m trying to not have kids again, I am going to very seriously consider NFP. Thanks, Dustin, for teaching me about it!

Photo by jenny downing

Got Questions About Natural Family Planning? My Guest Post at Project M

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

I am excited to announce that Kathleen at Project M has graciously published a guest post of mine today.  Project M is a really cool site written from the perspective of a cool gal who shares her experiences in the early years of marriage.  Kathleen is candid, funny and offers a refreshing perspective on this crazy thing we call marriage.

Kathleen approached me with some questions about Natural Family Planning, and we decided it would be cool to create a frequently asked questions of sorts on the topic.  So, Kathleen sent me some questions written in her own open style, and I provided candid (and sometimes personal) responses.  I think the end result is a fantastic resource that everyone (both NFP-inclined and not so much) should take a look at to learn more.

The article is entitled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Natural Family Planning” and I would really appreciate it if could take a minute to visit Kathleen’s site and read the post.  It would mean a great deal to me if you could show your support in this way, and we would both love to hear from you in the comments section!

Welcome to the Readers of Project M !

If you are a visitor from Project M, I would like to welcome you to Engaged Marriage and say Thank You for taking the time to come over for a look.  While you are here, I’d encourage you to check out the “About” page to get a feel for the idea behind the site, and please take a tour through some of the categories along the right side of the site and check out some posts.

If you like what you see, please Don’t Miss a Thing! and take a moment to sign up to get updates by email or subscribe via RSS.  I also love to interact with new friends through the Engaged Marriage Facebook Page.

The mission of Engaged Marriage basically boils down to this: I want to help good people achieve the extraordinary in marriage and in life!

As a starting point, I recommend checking out these posts to get a flavor for the content here:

Take 15 Minutes Each Day to Just be a Couple

Write an Awesome Romantic Love Letter: The Simple “5R” Approach

37 Family Things to Do at Home on a Rainy Sunday

Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage

And please check back soon for a post here at Engaged Marriage that will feature Kathleen’s honest reaction to my Natural Family Planning answers.  I have a feeling that it will be an informative and entertaining read!

I am Thankful for Sexuality

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Gotta Love Sexuality

It seems that blog posts describing all the things we are thankful for are all the rage right now.  ‘Tis the season to reflect on how blessed we really are and to share our appreciation with others.  So, I took some time today to think about it for myself.

I am thankful for sexuality.  Yes, sexuality.  Now, please don’t confuse this with sex.  I’m certainly thankful for that too (!), but that’s not where I’m going here.

So What Exactly Do You Mean, Then?

I am thankful for the gift of unique sexuality that we are all blessed to possess.  I’m talking masculinity and femininity here.  Male and female.  Man and woman.

After all, it’s the inherent attraction between masculinity and femininity that has brought us together in marriage.  It is the basis for sexual attraction, and it is what makes us fit together and complement our spouses both physically and emotionally.  Sexuality is the reason we are able to leave our individual families and become “one” as a married couple.

Sounds a lot Like Sex to Me…

Well, yes, sex itself is obviously based in sexuality and the attraction we feel to the opposite sex.  That’s the way we are used to thinking about it within the context of marriage.  But it goes way beyond that….bear with me for a moment.

Think about what you admire(d) about your grandfather if you were fortunate enough to see him grow into old age.  For me, it was the strong paternal spirit that remained until he passed away.  It was the fact that he liked fishing and playing cards with the guys, and he could fix my bike.  And it was the way he still provided for my grandmother and looked over her with a protective spirit.  It was his enduring masculinity.

My grandma loved to cook and give hugs.  She was a petite lady that supported my grandfather in a caring way even when he didn’t deserve it.  And she retained a strong, but feminine, spirit until the day that she died.  You could see her femininity in the glow of her eyes.

I see it in our children as well.  Our son is all boy, and our little girl is beautifully feminine.  The roughhouser and the princess.  Mama’s boy and Daddy’s girl.  He loves his baby niece and she is crazy for her grandpa.

The attraction between males and females is there even when the relationship is not “sexual” at all.

OK, I Get It.  Why Should I Care?

You ask such great questions. 🙂  You should care because when you realize the power of sexuality in your life, you see your relationships, your tendencies, your thoughts, your concerns, your strengths, your weaknesses and so much more in a new and healthy way.[quote]

Men and women are different.  They just are. It’s built into our brain structures, our physical build and our hormones.

Men prefer to communicate their emotions through action (sex, building stuff, punching inanimate objects).  Women prefer to talk and be held close.  Men inherently have shorter attention spans and are quicker to jump to action with decisiveness.  Women like to ask for directions first.  Men tend to make decisions based on facts and previous experience.  Women rely more heavily on emotional responses and empathy.

Does any of this sound familiar in your marriage? Obviously, there are exceptions because all men have a limited number of feminine traits, and the same holds true for the ladies.  But, in general, guys are masculine and women are feminine no matter how much society would like try convince us otherwise.

The sooner you realize that this is just the nature of things and affirm those sexual traits in your spouse rather than fight against them, the sooner you can start to build an extraordinary marriage.

I Am Thankful for This Knowledge

This is obviously not rocket science.  You knew this stuff before you read this post.  But did you realize the depth to which our masculine and feminine traits influence our marriage and really our entire world?

I only came to this realization lately.  And I am thankful for the knowledge.  I look at my wife as a beautifully feminine mate, and I understand why she doesn’t always think and react the same way that I do (thank God).  And she can forgive my shortcomings a lot easier when she realizes that I am not being obstinate or difficult…I just have inherent differences in the way that I see the world.

After all, I’m just a boy at heart.

Photo by Mo Kaiwen 莫楷文

How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage?

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Natural Family Planning Benefits Marriage

As you know if you have read my previous post describing what Natural Family Planning is and watched the NFP Informational Video, my wife and I are big proponents of Natural Family Planning.  I often cite NFP as one of the best things that has happened to our marriage, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a summary of the marriage benefits of Natural Family Planning to give you more insight into why we feel this way.

First of all, I need to let you know that some of the best benefits that NFP has provided for our relationship have really been intangible.  My wife and I have a great deal of peace about our sex life both from an intimacy standpoint and on the moral/religious/spiritual front.  And trust me, that’s saying a lot for a young Catholic couple trying to do the right thing. 🙂

When we found Natural Family Planning and started using it, we no longer had any of the lingering, often back-of-mind, worries about whether we were harming her health, marginalizing our intimacy, or reducing our sex life to something less than it should be.  From the outside, especially from a guy’s perspective, NFP can seem daunting and quite confining.  After all, it does require some periods of abstinence and we men aren’t the biggest fans of that idea.  Well, I’m here to tell you that after five years of using it, Natural Family Planning represents incredible freedom for our relationship.

Now for some of the more tangible benefits.

Five Benefits of Natural Family Planning for Marriage

1. A Stronger Bond. My wife and I have always been close and shared a special bond.  After all, we got married and have been a happy couple for many years.  However, when we started learning about Natural Family Planning and then started to put it into practice together, we grew closer on a level that I never knew was there previously.

When you can talk about the intricacies of your wife’s fertility signs (because you’ve bothered to learn them) and interpret those signs by her side (because you really care), you have a good bond.  And when you do this day-after-day and month-after-month through challenging times and in the face of cynical friends (and even family), you have an incredibly close bond that only you can share.  And when you come to the realization that sex truly is intended to be a religious experience (and you have experienced that way), you have formed a bond that you actually didn’t know was possible.  You just don’t get that from a condom.

2. Open Communication.  Listen, I have talked to my wife routinely about basal body temperatures and cervical mucus.  And not in the super sexy, erotic way that you must be thinking (that was a joke, just to be clear).  No, I am confident that I have more knowledge of the female fertility cycle than five generations of my forefathers combined.

Who cares?  My wife.  She knows that I care about her body, her sexuality and her soul because we routinely communicate about it.  You cannot effectively practice Natural Family Planning without improving the level of communication in your marriage.  It’s part and parcel, and it is one of the sweetest benefits of the process.

I simply cannot imagine a more intimate and sacred topic of conversation than that of fertility and the willingness to accept children (or not).  My wife and I have these discussions on a regular basis, and it has made us excellent communicators in all aspects of our marriage.

3. Mutual Decision Making.  When we decide if we are going to have sex during the “transitional” times between fertility phases, it is a complete and total mutual decision.  It really cannot be one-sided and it requires open communication.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times throughout each month where total spontaneity are possible…and fantastic.  But there are those times where we have to think together and reach important mutual decisions.  For us, this ability to make decisions together has enhanced everything from our finances to our parenting skills.

4. Raises Appreciation of Intimacy.  This one rocks.  We used birth control for the first four years of our marriage, and we thought we were getting all that we could out of our sex life.  We were wrong.

With the introduction of Natural Family Planning, the intimacy in our marriage (both inside and outside of the bedroom) achieved entirely new levels.  It wasn’t that things were all that different physically, but they were worlds better emotionally and spiritually.  Through our decision to try NFP, our NFP training and especially in our daily use of Natural Family Planning, we have definitely learned an entirely different appreciation for sex and intimacy.

Oh, and the “honeymoon effect” after the brief periods of abstinence each month is pretty sweet, too.

5. Marriage Insurance.  I think this term really sums up the value of all the other benefits in a very real and tangible way.  I’ll let the statistics speak for themselves:

The divorce rate for couples practicing Natural Family Planning is less than 5%. For the general population, it is nearly 50%.

‘Nuff said.

I hope this post helps to provide some insight into why I am so comfortable telling others that Natural Family Planning is the best thing that has happened to our marriage.  There is much more to this story, and we’ll get there with time.

For now, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  Do you practice NFP?  Have you even heard of it before this post (or before finding Engaged Marriage)?  What problems/challenges do you think you would have if you tried it?  This topic is a passion of mine, and I really want to hear from you.

Photo by pedrosimoes7