Updated: Apr 30, 2019
Ok, Catholic friends. Single. Married. Clergy. Future mothers-in-law. Grab a drink and let’s chat.
A few weeks ago, our GodTeens came to our weekly meeting and informed us “Fr. _____ told us you can use NFP with a contraceptive mentality, and it has the same moral implications as the pill or an IUD.”
Cue: fire from this NFP instructor’s ears.
Contraceptive mentality. This term is too often misunderstood and incorrectly defined in Catholic circles. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of condemnation. Occasionally, it’s a term used to cut down fellow Christians with judgment masked as false piety. Regardless of how or why, it’s time to set the record straight because we all know how kindly Jesus took to the Pharisees when they put extra burdensome loads on the shoulders of others. (Matthew 23. He wasn’t happy.)
Contraception. How do we define it?
It is widely understood that the Catholic Church is against contraception, but many misunderstand how the Church defines contraception.
CCC 2370: ...every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.(Emphasis added)
Contraception. noun. “the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.“
Any action that artificially disrupts the natural consequences of intercourse— whether before, during, or after the act itself— is a disrespect to God’s design. THIS is the criteria by which the Church identifies and forbids contraceptive actions.
Let’s look at a different, commonly used definition.
Contraception: "to avoid pregnancy."
This definition is NOT what the Church uses for contraception.
Society does. Medical professionals do. Well-meaning fertility awareness proponents, too.
As a result, many lay faithful and clergy use these definitions interchangeably, leading to a confusion and pain amongst NFP couples.
Recently, a friend showed me her examination of conscience booklet.
“Have I refused to be open to conception, without just cause?”
This caused her to (rightly) question her intent and motives behind her actions. This can (wrongly) lead to condemnation as she, and many others, assumed this defines “contraceptive mentality.”
So is contraceptive mentality even a thing?
Absolutely. I had a contraceptive mentality when I was using contraception to avoid pregnancy.
Contraception separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. Similarly, contraceptive mentality is the idea that sex is solely for pleasure and natural consequences can (and should) be eliminated.
On the other hand, a couple using NFP is keeping the unitive and procreative attributes of sex intact. They are not seeking to disrupt the consequences of intercourse; they are respecting human biology and ordering their actions accordingly.
Can a couple using NFP have sex without the intention of conceiving?
Yes. And from the Catechism itself, that is morally permissible.
CCC 2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.
Desiring to space children or seek to avoid pregnancy is not an action that meets the Church’s criteria for “contraception.”
Additionally, the Catechism leaves plenty of room for discernment within “responsible fatherhood and motherhood.”
CCC 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.
Can a couple use NFP to avoid pregnancy for selfish reasons?
Sure. And it’s not a good thing nor will it lead to a deepening of love and respect in the relationship.
But selfishness is different than contraception.
Jesus may be asking a couple, currently using NFP to avoid pregnancy, to be open to another child. And perhaps out of fear, being overwhelmed with small children already at home, or selfishness, they cannot trust Him. He gets that. He knows their heart better than you or me. Continued support and prayer is the best way to help the couple identify what is holding them back and move to a “yes” rooted in trustful co-creation.
NFP isn’t easy!
Couples want to have sex. Abstaining for 10-14 days per month is not an “easy” way to avoid pregnancy. You add in breastfeeding or perimenopause hormone craziness, and it’s even more challenging.
I have yet to meet a couple who is flippantly practicing NFP because they want a second home in Hawaii rather than more kids.
Please. Let’s stop tossing around the term “NFP with a contraceptive mentality,” especially when its accompanied with the charge of being as sinful as contraception. As soon as we drop this shameful assumption, there’s so much more room for the Holy Spirit to move, heal, and free couples to choose openness to love and life within the context of responsible, sacrificial parenthood