Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Since NFP is so unreliable, why not give people another option?

In grade 12 bio class we talked about contraception and birth control. NFP is the only form of this that is in line with the Catholic Church, which originally made sense. But then we were told that the failure rate was almost 20%, meaning that if 100 families use NFP for a year 20 will end up with a pregnancy. That caught me by surprise, because that sure doesn't seem like a very practical way for families who can't afford to have another child to keep themselves out of that situation, especially because the success rate for families trying to get pregnant is only about 25%. It seems like at that point, its no longer just a chance thing where God is saying "no just trust me and do this, there's a reason why its happening", but more so a given and almost expected. Someone brought up Andrew Greeley, because he was one who said that they Church should change its policies that were created back before population control was an issue, and if he'd stopped there I'd almost be able to see where he's coming from. It just seems like the Church isn't really giving people a practical option.... unless I've been misinformed somehow?


The 20% stat is inaccurate. According to a recent study by the Chinese gov, a group that is definitely pro population control and definitely opposed to the Catholic Church, the Billings method of NFP had a failure rate at 0.5%, as opposed to IUD's which had a 2% failure rate. http://www.woomb.org/omrrca/bulletin/vol27/no4/chinaEvaluation.html

I've seen other studies that indicate that the failure rate for condoms over the course of a year is 16%. (Only 2% if it is a brand new condom and used perfectly, but that is not the conditions most people use it in!)

The problem with NFP is that it incorporates a number of methods, including the long discredited rhythm method. The rhythm method assumed that women have a 28 day cycle, and so based on that assumption, couples would abstain from sex about 14 days after the woman's period. Decent logic, but deeply flawed because many (if not most) women have irregular cycles. So the failure rate with that method was quite high!

Educated people know that there are more advanced methods, and if you took an NFP course in Catholic Circles today it would almost certainly be Billings or Serena- no one teaches the rhythm method! Billings and Serena require the woman to chart when their period happens, and pay attention to biological factors like temperature, and the viscosity of their mucus, etc. (Maybe not something you want to bring up in grade 12 bio, but anyway...) These biological indicators are very strong indicators of whether a woman is fertile or not!

Like condom use, the failure rate may be higher due to human error... or lack of will power! It is true that a woman's sex drive is most powerful when she is fertile- that she will enjoy sex most- and that she sends of pheromones which make her more sexually attractive. And that the more she enjoys sex (if she climaxes) the likelihood of pregnancy is increased. I would argue though that all of this seems to indicate a reality- That God wants sex to be enjoyable, and wants it to be open to life! If the best sex is the most likely to result in babies... seems logical to me!

The thing is, once you are practicing NFP, and you have the urge to have sex, each time you want to have sex you have to ask yourself "Is she fertile?" and "do we want a baby right now?". You may have to discipline yourself and say no, but it will also shift your interior attitude to make you more open to life! Catholicism is not about a whole bunch of external rules, though people always try to reduce us to that. It is about an interior conversion. All of the rules should reflect an interior reality.

For Catholics, sex is an act of love that is open to life. So every sexual act should be loving and open to life. And Catholics definitely believe that self control should be used in sexuality! The assumption of our culture is that sex is primarily for pleasure (they may not say so, but you will notice that this is true) and that all of life is about pleasure, and so, why should people who are married ever abstain from sex? Thus all the forms of birth control, etc. It should be noted too that the legalization of the Pill in the 1960's was the catalyst for the sexual revolution, which resulted in the rise of divorce (which resulted in the breakdown of the family and the rise of crime and poverty), the rise of STDs (STIs), the porn industry, homosexuality, and a host of perversions and fetishes. Even the Catholic Church fell victim to this shift, as the vast majority of priests implicated in the sex abuse scandals committed their misdeeds at the height of the sexual revolution, when an attitude that sex for pleasure was the dominant cultural attitude.

Sigmund Freud once said something to the effect that separation of sex from procreation is the most basic of perversions. I don't like much of what he said, but I think he nailed it there. Chesterton actually predicted the sexual revolution as most of it's outcomes as early as the 1930's, when the Anglican Church reversed their policies on Birth Control. Until then all Christians were opposed to Birth Control!

This brings me to yet another tangent. If Catholics were to, like many other religions, change their standpoint on Birth Control, this would indicate that the Church could reverse their standpoint on other moral issues, which would indicate that she might be wrong, in which case morals would be reduced to everybodies best guess. The Church would not longer have any moral authority. Interestingly, the Church has never changed any of it's morals on anything!

To criticize the Church's teaching on contraception is somewhat like saying "The Catholic Church thinks that if you want to maintain a healthy body, you should eat well and exercise, but they are opposed to bulimia." Instead of indulging yourself but making sure that you don't get the things that the good thing you're indulging in was intended for, you practice discipline, and only indulge in measured ways which result in the desired end. Neither sex nor food are intended for pleasure alone, and the Church never condones self indulgence the way our culture does. Our culture is so steeped in hedonism that any number of church teachings, from sexual morality to fasting, are completely counter intuitive. We need to recognize that we are not created to maximize our own pleasure, but rather we are created for love, and within that context if you ask the question what is more loving? To have sex to satisfy your desire but deny the possibility of children, or to discipline yourself and develop and attitude that every sexual act is a full gift to the other and is open to life? Catholic logic plays out beautifully!

I think when people debate the Catholic rules of morality, they need to look at the underlying assumptions. Since we do not agree with our culture that the purpose of life is to have pleasure and get stuff.... we end up drawing all kinds of different conclusions!