Trustworthy instruction for couples preparing for,
or living, Catholic Marriage
About the Authors & Why they created this course
Dr Byron & Francine Pirola are the coauthors of the SmartLoving series. They are also the past president of the Australian Council of Natural Family Planning, a national association responsible for the provision of SymptoThermal Method instruction.
“Twenty years ago we wrote ‘A Total Gift of Self’ – a short booklet designed to pitch the case for FAMs to Catholic couples. We later developed this into a series consisting of the booklet, a 33min DVD and educator resources. As a Total Gift of Self is method agnostic (ie it promotes all morally sound FAM methods) it has been very popular. Around 70,000 copies of the booklet have been distributed through marriage preparation courses in Australia, NZ, UK and USA and many thousands have also accessed the online DVD.
A Total Gift of Self is also part of the SmartLoving Engaged Course which has prepared tens of thousands for Catholic marriage in the last decade. When we analysed the feedback from graduates on the SL Engaged Online course we were stunned to discover that 62% were planning to or already learning FAMs and a further 32% were open to it in the future. Only 5% said they wouldn’t use FAMs.
Our graduates live all over the world so it became obvious that offering an online course to learn how to use FAMs was needed so that we could offer prompt and effective follow up. SmartFertility is our response.”
There’s an App for that!
In recent years, there has been an explosion in popularity of fertility apps which have been downloaded by tens of millions of users. While some function as simple period trackers based on calendar calculations, some also track basal body temperature, cervical secretions, ovulation tests and other indicators. Many of these also employ sophisticated algorithms to interpret the biodata so that the user doesn’t even need to understand her fertility to use it.
Importantly, most of these apps operate from a completely secular worldview most evident in their indifference to using barriers or withdrawal during the fertile window. Some also record artificial insemination among the ‘sex’ options to note on the record.
A SmartFertility app is in the planning stages and when launched will offer Catholic couples a convenient way to track their fertility in a morally supportive environment.
SmartFertility has adopted a number of language conventions which promote important ideas and mentality:
- FAMs (rather than NFP) to avoid the misunderstanding that the methods are approved by the church simply because they are ‘natural’ as opposed to artificial.
- Ovulation Cycle (rather than Menstrual Cycle) to emphasise that the key event is ovulation.
- Cervical Fluid (rather than Cervical Mucus) which is a little more palatable to sensitive dispositions.
- Conscious Parenthood (rather than Responsible Parenthood) following the translation of Humanae Vitae by Dr Janet Smith (original Latin: paternitas conscia, HV n10). Responsible Parenthood implies a default position of limitation on procreation whereas ‘Conscious’ parenthood is more neutral and more accurate to the original text.
- Lovemaking (rather than sex, or intercourse) to emphasise that sex between husband and wife is about love, and has theological meaning (God being the source of all Love).
- Intentional Lovemaking is used to describe timing ‘Lovemaking’ to express one’s pregnancy (or procreative) intention.
- Restraint (rather than abstinence) to counter the association of something being absent or in deficit during ‘abstinent’ periods. Restraint sounds less prudish and more about self-mastery and is discussed in the course as a virtue with value in all areas of our life.
SmartFertility has the following features
Unlike many of the secular options, and even Catholic backed methods which are ethically consistent with Catholic teaching but keep their presentation of the method clinical, SmartFertility incorporates the theology and lifestyle discussions into the learning process. We are not targeting the general public so all our presentations assume a Catholic lifestyle.
Consistent with our broader relationship apostolate, the course includes discussion questions to assist the couple in developing a deeper understanding of each other, and engage both husband and wife (or both fiances) in the learning process.
Conscious Parenthood Discernment
Built in to the SmartFertility method is the Couple Check In – a simple framework for the couple to use each cycle to assist them in discerning their pregnancy intention. Most other methods assume that the couple has already made their pregnancy intention decision, and the responsibility of the method is to simply instruct the couple in how to implement it. This approach leaves these methods open to being used with a contraceptive mentality. The Couple Check in a 3 step discernment that draws inspiration from HV 10 which calls couples to ‘recognise their duties toward God, toward themselves, toward the family and toward human society, .. [in] a correct set of priorities”.
We make a clear distinction between ‘genital contact’ and sexual contact, the former being very specifically defined for the management of pregnancy intention. Sexual contact on the other hand is essential for the health of the marital relationship and should be part of their relationship every day including days of restraint from genital contact. One of the spiritual exercises we have long promoted through the SmartLoving marriage retreats is the practice of Skin-to-Skin – 15-20 minutes daily in naked, mutual contemplation and loving presence; a kind of adoration of the presence of God in the body of our beloved. This spiritual practice is transformative for couples and one which beautifully compliments FAM requirements for periods of restraint from genital activity. [NB we were very pleased to see that the Creighton Method literature also makes the distinction between genital and sexual contact and affirms the need for couples to maintain sexual contact on every day of the ovulation cycle].