Couples the world over are adopting Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs – what used to be called Natural Family Planning) with new vigour as they access them via smartphone apps. And it’s not only conservative Catholics and alternative lifestyle naturalists doing so – ordinary couples who just want a reliable, chemical free alternative are the keenest converts.
Why are natural methods so attractive? Not only do these methods help couples plan their families reliably, they connect the couple in a profound way with the essence of their masculinity and femininity. Couples like being more in touch with their bodies’ natural rhythms and functions, because this enhances the sensuality of their sexual intimacy.
How do natural methods work? In a nutshell, FAMs help couples to identify and monitor their changing fertile patterns so that they can time intercourse according their fertility intentions. Different methods will integrate different bodily indicators to determine the couple’s fertile status. For couples hoping to conceive, natural methods help them identify their most fertile days. For couples wishing to avoid conception, the methods identify days of low or no fertility. The couple can then time their lovemaking according to their fertility intentions.
The key distinction between natural methods and contraceptives is that the fertility of both husband and wife remains intact and the sexual expression of their love remains pure. There is no interruption to love making, no devices, no chemicals, no surgery.
Natural fertility methods are pro-relationship. Although today’s natural methods have similar effectiveness to contraceptives like the Pill, their power lies in the impact it has on the couple relationship. Natural methods engage both husband and wife in cooperative planning that encourages deeper communication and connection.
By providing a reliable, co-responsible method for managing their fertility, couples can build a sense of team commitment to and collaboration in their joint responsibility. This greatly reduces a risk factor we see in many marriages; a woman’s fear of pregnancy. This fear extends well beyond just the pregnancy itself to the fear of being alone and abandoned – literally ‘left holding the baby’.
Female fertility suppression methods can embed this fear of being abandoned as they communicate to the woman that she is responsible for ‘making sure they don’t get pregnant’. Natural fertility methods mitigate this marital breakdown risk factor through the active and ongoing engagement of the husband in the fertility decisions.
Natural fertility methods reframe the perception of pregnancy. Natural methods can alleviate the fear of pregnancy by drawing the couple more deeply into the experience of their role as co-operators with the natural order; in Catholic spirituality, we call this being co-creators with God. As the couple grows in deeper awareness of the mystery of their fertility and love making, their confidence in God’s benevolence also grows. With this, the conception of a child (even an unplanned one) comes to be experienced as an unexpected blessing rather than an ‘accident’ or ‘method failure’.
Natural methods are more than simply an alternative birth control method. They are a lifestyle that reconnects the couple with essential nature of their humanity – the complementarity of their masculinity and femininity.