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.

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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


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. >>However, the benefits in our marriage are where we’ve really seen NFP impact our lives.

    I would like to see this item elaborated on a little more other than removing barriers to lovemaking. It sort of cuts off. I’d like to see how it impacts your life outside of the bedroom.

    Good work, Dustin. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I did some editing late last night, and you are right that I left things hanging a bit there. I just went back and clarified the “outside of the bedroom” stuff a little better. 🙂

      Thanks for your support!

  2. Awesome post, Dustin. I loved it! Stories are THE BEST.

    We are currently using NFP to try to achieve pregnancy (after having used the Pill), and it definitely transforms the experience of sex. I can imagine that it changes things when you use it to avoid pregnancy, too. And like you, we’ll never go back, now that we’ve experienced natural, healthy birth control. Like you, we can’t believe that more people don’t know about this. I, too, am passionate now about raising awareness about NFP. More people need to know that this exists!
    .-= Kathleen Quiring´s last blog ..Confessions of a Married Girl Who Knows Nothing About Divorce =-.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! You are doing a great job raising awareness of Natural Family Planning (and the more secular Fertility Awareness Method). Your post describing your experiences with NFP remains one of the most popular on Engaged Marriage…and for good reason!

      Stories are fun, effective and connecting. I suppose I need to spend more time telling personal stories.

  3. Thanks for sharing this! NFP is one of those things that really needs better PR! I know when I first became Catholic and announced to my friends and family that I would not be using birth control; ever; they were all shocked and bluntly told me I would change my mind when I had fifteen kids! But after many conversations and gentle explanations, most have come around to acknowledge that it’s a good thing that I am aware of my female cycle and that we don’t have to rely on hormonal birth control or condoms. Also, everyone is in love with our daughter and they realize she would not be here if we had delayed having a baby! Again, thanks for sharing, especially the personal aspect. It takes courage to share your mistakes.

    1. Thank *you* Kayleen for your kind words and wonderful enthusiasm! I totally agree that NFP needs better PR and a real campaign to snuff out all of the misinformation that exists. I will write more posts to that effect, but for anyone reading this, please know two things:

      (1) NFP is NOT the Rhythm or Calendar Method that your parents may have used
      (2) NFP is NOT just a “Catholic Thing.”

      And yes, I hate that people assume that if you NFP, you’ll have 15 kids (although I don’t see the problem with that if it’s what you desire). We have a 5 year-old, a 3 year-old and one on the way in July. All three have been “planned” (to the extent that we have any control) within a few months of when we hoped using NFP. This is not a statement to brag in any way, but I do want skeptics to understand this stuff works! 🙂

      1. Hi Dustin. I also wanted to clarify, after writing that “it takes courage to admit your mistakes” I realized that sounds kind of harsh. It sounds like you were badly misinformed by various people and so it wasn’t really an active decision on your guys’ part to disobey the Church’s teaching. So, I should elaborated by saying I think it takes courage to share your personal story about your journey! Everyone loves to talk about sex in our society – but never about the serious side of it!

        P.S. I didn’t know you had three blessings! That’s wonderful!

        1. No offense was taken at all, Kayleen. And I totally agree with you about our culture’s approach to sex…purely about recreation and entertainment. We can’t seem to get past junior high in our sexual maturity as a society. 🙂

  4. Dustin – thanks for sharing. I have appreciated your posts about NFP. I am not Catholic and had a lot of misconceptions and will admit negative impressions about the churches stand on birth control and NFP. You have helped to clear up some of those misconceptions (I have since done a lot more reading about it) and I feel like I understand the churches stand and some of my friends a little better. I think it is important to understand why others believe what they do…it makes me a better friend if I understand their core beliefs and values. Your posts prompted me to look into it more, so thank you for that!

    1. Thanks so much, Jen! I totally agree with you that it is important to take a little time to understand *why* people or institutions believe the way they do. It doesn’t mean that you have to adopt those same beliefs, but I think it helps you grow while greatly benefiting your friendship. I have a friend who is Muslim, and you can bet I ask him a lot of questions and seek to understand his point-of-view even though I’m a devout Christian.

      Thanks for having an open and inquisitive mind!

  5. my husband and I enroled for NFP classes as soon as we got engaged. My husband is from a pentecostal protestant background, so had all sorts of misconceptions about it. There are lots of jokes in his family about “Catholic Roulette”. However, his parents have twice as many children as my parents, and i know for a fact that his mother was on the pill when she conceived my husband. So i find it rather ironic that the will mock NFP when obviously artificial birth control wasn’t that effective for them.

    I knew that NFP existed, but i didn’t know much about how it worked until i took the class. There are no trainers in our town, but one travels up from a nearby town to do classes as necessary. Although, I went to a Catholic school, i learnt nothing about it there. The first time i realised it even existed was when i joined a Young Adults group after i finished school, that had a young married couple in it, who had spent the first 3 years of their marriage travelling the world, and they always promoted the effectiveness of NFP. I really wish I had learnt more about NFP earlier. I think even as a single person, just that understanding of fertility would have been so helpful. I would have much rather learn about that at school that a one off class about contraceptives because the teachers ‘understood’ that we’d never abstain. That’s what they told us, at 15.

    I was very disappointed with myself because i don’t take the opportunity to promote NFP like i should. Just the other day someone asked me if we were trying to have children yet, and i said no, and they made a joke about me continuing to take the pill, and i just let it slide, even though it was the perfect opportunity to educate someone about it.

    That’s probably another downfall, is that no one really discusses it with their friends. Even though I am friends with other young Catholic Couples, and i would realy love to be able to talk about it with others, I don’t, because i worry that if its not something they practice, that I might sound judgemental and self-righteous, because i’m following Church teaching and they aren’t. I really have no idea what they do.

    I think i must write the longest comments in history sometimes.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from my mother-in-law who, soon after i got engaged to her son, told me that she’d be a grandmother in no time because i’m a “good Catholic girl, so won’t use contraception, and has to put out whenever the husband says so”. LOL
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..Felicia is Red! =-.

    1. Mary, don’t be afraid to talk to people about it. Educate yourself more, so you are more comfortable talking about it. Remind yourself of what a gift it is to know about NFP and what a gift it would be to others, even if you may get bashed sometimes for sharing it. Remember how hard it can be for the average Catholic or non-Catholic to get access to good info. on NFP/Church teaching on sexuality/contraception, and hold themselves to that teaching (even if they are well-formed) in our culture (which so heavily promotes contraception and sexual gratification). Remember that people are not held accountable for sin if they were not aware it is a sin. Most people I talk to are completely transformed when they hear about NFP in a way that is non-judgemental–focuses on effectiveness/health and marital benefits/risks of contraceptives/then the Church teaching.

      I’m preparing promotional materials for NFP promoters in my diocese–I’m trying to get well-informed promoters in every parish. Maybe Dustin will let me give a guest post on promoting?!

      1. Batrice – Bring it on! 🙂

        I’d love to have you share some of your wisdom through a guest post. You always do such a great job helping people in the comments, I can’t wait to see what you can do with a whole post.

    2. Thanks, Mary. I can totally relate to what you are saying. Even though we are vocal promoters of NFP in marriage preparation courses and marriage retreats through the Church (where we have a “captive” audience) AND I write openly and enthusiastically about it here, we still have times where we miss the opportunity to speak up. In most cases, it’s exactly as you’ve described where we feel like our friends will see us as judgmental.

      I am actually hearing about several friends NFP practice for the first time in these very comments! And trust me, that helps me feel more like talking about it in social settings.

  6. Great job, Dustin! I don’t think I’ve asked you your NFP/ Conversion story. What really stuck with me is the impact that our spiritual leaders have on us. Man, priests are so malformed when it comes to this issue, but thank God for the courageous ones who are well formed. So many priests are afraid to preach on this because they don’t want to upset people, but what about the opposite? Think of how much happier and holier marriages could be? Good for you!
    .-= NFPworks´s last blog ..Childishness About Children =-.

    1. Thank you so much, Jessica! You stand as a testament to the power of being vocal and standing up for the goodness of NFP. I am amazed by the ignorance of many priests and other spiritual leaders on this topic.

      It does seem to be much better among the younger priests, though, presumably because they had Theology of the Body as part of their formation. I’ve also seen a much more mainstream inclusion of NFP/Church teachings on sexuality in our church programs over the past several years. I think the word is getting out there!

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  8. It is really unfortunate that most health professionals are not aware of the excellent alternatives to hormonal contraceptives for treating common womens’ health problems. For more info., go here:

    My own personal story is that I was raised Catholic, knew enough about Church teaching to know that NFP would be an important part of our marriage prep., and that was all we would use for family planning. But, it was not until we heard a talk by popular speaker Christopher West and started our NFP class that we began to learn about the beauty of sexuality and the joy we are called to in marriage. Needless to say, we had made negative decisions before that that were hard to give up and heal from. I really wish my parents had talked to me about it and that I would have had opportunities in a youth group or similar outlet, so I would have had some accountability. If I had been striving for a know good, it would have been easier. All I knew was that it was wrong to have sex before marriage, but I did not know why. My husband was raised protestant and also had misconceptions, but after hearing what the Church taught, was transformed. He respected the teaching on sexuality so much that he was open to the rest of Catholic Church teaching, and now is coming into the Church this Easter. We used NFP for the first 3.5 years of our marriage to avoid pregnancy–we were both in grad. school and living on loans. The Church has a beautiful teaching regarding responsible parenting. We did not feel at the time that we had time to commit to a baby or the financial means. We used NFP to achieve pregnancy 3 months after we both finished school, got new jobs and bought a house. We achieved on our second cycle trying!!

    1. There are some excellent talks that can be listened to for free online for continued formation on Church teaching about sexuality/contraception, the moral difference between contraception and the use of NFP, the benefits of periodic abstinence on a marriage, and other practical benefits, such as how the discipline of sexual self control and the communication required extends to other areas of the marriage.

      Try some of these:
      1. The Birth Control Pill: Concerns for Christian Women
      by Dr. Martha Garza, M.D. (OB/Gyn and Reproductive Endocrinologist)
      2. Holy Scripture: What Does it teach us About Contraception
      by Steven Habisohn (Founder of The GIFT Foundation)
      3. Natural Family Planning: God’s Plan For Life and Love
      by Eric Scheidler (Personal Witness)–this couple was interested for health reasons, the man goes on to explain how the discipline he developed in regard to sexual self control helped him to eliminate negative addictions in his life.

      The above can all be accessed at: http://www.giftfoundation.org/products_planning.cfm

      Christopher West: “Theology of the Body: A Bold, Biblical Response to the Sexual Revolution”
      Access at http://theologyofthebody.com/download/category/19

      Greg Popcak: “When NFP is Too Hard”
      Focuses on the benefits of periodic abstinence.
      Access at http://ccli.org/resources/podcasts/conventiontalks.php

    2. I LOVE your story Batrice, especially the powerful testimony that it was the Church’s teachings on sexuality that connected and impressed your husband enough that he decided to join the Catholic faith. I wish you guys a very happy Holy Saturday celebration! I remember mine being over two hours long, but it was the most spiritual experience of my life…I was baptized, confirmed and received Holy Eucharist for the first time all on that night.

  9. The pill really sapped my energy, and as a young mommy, I need all the energy I can get! With NFP, we have achieved pregnancy on the first cycle each time we tried, with the exception of our first child when I had just ceased using the pill. I just wanted to let people know that a) we are not Catholic and are in the company of many non-Catholics who reap the benefits of NFP and b)NFP really isn’t rocket science–it takes commitment, but the execution is not complex or confusing. My husband doesn’t know and prefers not to know every detail of my cycle/body, but we have enough communication to know when achieving/avoiding pregnancy is and is not likely.

    I just wish more people knew how easy this is, and especially women who wonder why they are walking around in a haze on the pill.

    1. Thanks, Wendy! I had no idea you guys practiced NFP. That’s so awesome! I’d love to talk to you offline sometime about how you learned about it and how those “non-Catholics” you know learned to embrace NFP (like is NFP related to your faith or is it purely a secular practice). I know it’s not a “Catholic thing” and I take every opportunity to stress that point, but I also don’t see much out there in the way of NFP promotion and training for non-Catholic folks.

      And I definitely want to write more about the health benefits of NFP/dis-benefits of the Pill.

      1. Every so often, I will see an article in the media regarding NFP’s effectiveness, alternately called the symptothermal method. I have seen the 99% cited as well, and more than once. As we’ve never taken a class in this method, I’m not sure if I’ve got the details down perfectly, but obviously well enough to be effective for us. I do know there is more to avoiding pregnancy than simply doing the opposite of what you would do to achieve it.

        We’ve never taken a class, and it (NFP) is not something taught by our church. There are a spectrum of opinions on this topic. Abortion and related drugs are obviously spoken against as we believe the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. Some will see fertility as something that should be completely given over to God with no effort to avoid conception on our part. Others, like us, see fertility as a gift of which we are stewards, and must hold this gift reverently, asking God to help us in decisions that may result in another child in our home. The women I know who use NFP would probably most commonly cite their favorite things about NFP being related to how healthy they feel off the pill, and just generally being pleased with not taking a drug into their bodies when there is a fairly easy yet effective alternative.

        I have used the minipill for 5-6 months while nursing my children from 6 mos-1 year old, because my temps and other signs are too erratic. So, I’m not an NFP purist, but I am very happy when I’m able to use it!

        Yes, we can talk offline, too! I think I’ve talked to Bethany about it a couple of times; seems like we started NFP about the same month you guys did way back when!

        1. Thanks again Wendy for sharing your experiences. I love hearing other perspectives on NFP!

          Our Church (and our personal beliefs) are more in line with your idea that fertility is a gift from God that we are asked to steward responsibly. Our moral issues come up whenever we decide to go ahead and use sex for the unitive (and pleasurable) purpose while blocking out the procreative purpose (through contraception). When done prayerfully and for good reason, there is nothing wrong with abstaining from sex. However, we see it as sinful to go ahead and have sex while keeping God out of the equation. We also recognize the abortifacient potential of BC Pills, so that’s another reason our Church doesn’t go there.

          I’m impressed that you guys have been so successful without taking a class in NFP. Of course, like you said, it’s fairly straightforward stuff but the classes are great for helping you with special situations. Your experiences with NFP while nursing is a perfect example of the the type of material that we learned in our course. We now have a big book called “The Art of Natural Family Planning” that we’ve referenced from time-to-time when we had questions about Bethany’s fertility signs.

          Thanks again!

  10. While my wife and I never consciously made the “conversion” to NFP, we similarly decided that what will be will be in terms of pregnancies. As you mention, the closeness this attitude provides in a marriage is something I would wish for every married couple. Something you may wish to (or perhaps already have?) discuss is the physical toll “the pill” has on a woman’s body. We used to joke that the contraceptive affect of the pill comes in the woman’s decreased libido!

    I am personally looking forward to more NFP blogs; especially when you further discuss NFP outside of religious practice (NFP for the rest of us).

    Also, could you post resources in terms of the efficacy of NFP? 99% is an extraordinary claim, indeed.

    1. Thanks so much, Scott! If I’m hearing you right, you take more of a “whatever happens, happens” approach to fertility. That’s awesome, but it’s different than my understanding of NFP wherein you actively track the woman’s fertility cycle and make conscious decisions about the possibilities of pregnancy.

      Regardless, I love your counter-cultural and open approach to your sexuality in your marriage!

      Like I noted with Wendy above, there is much more to cover on this topic, and health issues is obviously a very critical aspect. Along with environmental concerns, I’d say health must be the number one “secular” motivation for using Natural Family Planning (or nothing at all).

      Of course, the effectiveness rate is dependent upon how strictly you practice the “rules” of NFP, and this is true also of contraceptives. I hope that Jessica from www.NFPWorksBlog.com or Batrice will chime in with specific studies. I only know that every reference I see quotes 97-99% effectiveness when used properly. It’s been 100% for us so far in both postponing and achieving pregnancy. 🙂

      For starters, I stole this from Jessica’s FAQ section on her fabulous blog (and I’m sure you can elaborate much more):

      How effective is NFP?

      For Achieving a Pregnancy: According to the Paul VI Institute, those using the ovulation method (Creighton Model) and having normal fertility 76% will achieve pregnancy after 3 cycles. Those rates go up to 90% after 3 cycles and 98% after six cycles. For those with “compromised fertility” 20-40% will become pregnant within six to twelve months of use by charting alone. When couples receive medical treatment along with charting, their pregnancy rate up to 80%. Numbers may vary with the different methods.

      For Postponing Pregnancy: Overall the rate is as high as or higher than any contraception systems–97%-99% method-effectiveness! No, really. It’s THAT good. Plus, the continuation rate of NFP (people who love it and keep on loving it) is around 93%. The rate for contraception ranges from 43% to 72%. (See Jason Evert’s Love, Sex & Babies, page 2. Copyright Catholic Answers, 2004.)

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  12. @Scott-I’m a bit late to the game, but if you & your wife want to read up on NFP, specifically on the Fertility Awareness Method, just read the “bible” of FAM, “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. It’s extremely detailed, with photos and multiple scenarios, whether you’re trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. The author and founder of FAM is secular, though, so FAM does allow for use of barrier contraceptives during the wife’s fertile phase, whereas NFP does not (which is the only difference). Ms. Weschler points out, though, that if you opt for barrier methods during the fertile phase, you’re swapping the 97%-99% effectiveness rate of NFP w/ whatever the effectiveness rate of the barrier method is, which kind of defeats the purpose.

    I would highly recommend to any woman who plans to TTC to get off the pill ASAP, because it can take up to a year for your cycles to regulate. I’ve been using NFP for about 5 months now & am so glad I got off the pill, b/c my cycle chart still doesn’t look ideal. Fortunately, DH & I aren’t planning to TTC until late this year/early next year, so we have some time.

    1. Thank you so much for your contribution, Bonnie! I agree with your thoughts, and I really appreciate you taking the time to offer your insights.

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  15. Great post and many great comments! There is also an entire market to use NFP to conceive. I think NFP centers could easily match up wit fertility care centers. Look at this article from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223743

    I yogizing for fertility is marketable, I am sure the charting would be a slam dunk.

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