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Words Matter

There are a few words I will not use when communicating with my NFP clients. They are commonly used by my clients, but in my responses, I always change the verbiage.

What are they and why do I care so much? Am I just being overly particular?

"Safe" day is at the top of the list. This comes in the form of a question such as, “Is today a safe day?”

I will not use the term “safe” day when working with clients for a few reasons.

First, giving yourself to another in physical intimacy isn’t "safe." Safe means protected from or not exposed to danger or risk. You are always making yourself vulnerable in sex which requires risk. There is a gift of self which could potentially be rejected. Sex isn’t a guarantee, a given, or an entitlement. It isn’t a transaction.

Note: I am NOT saying it is okay for sex to feel unsafe or dangerous. If anything, careless use of the word "safe" (to just mean infertile) minimizes the urgency when sex is truly unsafe or dangerous.

I have jumped out of an airplane. It is an inherently unsafe activity. I was strapped to an experienced jumper, I was informed about the details of the jump, and I gave consent. I felt secure. You absolutely should feel secure and safe with the person with whom you are intimate. Full stop. Consent is vital. That’s the beauty of a sex in the proper context: it allows us to be 100% vulnerable yet secure in a place that would be otherwise unsafe with someone else.

At the same time— sex itself is vulnerable and comes with risk. When we expect that it doesn’t, we are underestimating the level of vulnerability, the power of intimacy, and the strength of the bond it can form between two people.

In order to make it feel “safe,” we (as a society) sterilize it, we reduce it to a casual pastime, and we deny truth about its effects on our brain, body, and relationships. This doesn’t actually make it safe. It dupes us into using each other with something designed to be an ultimate expression of vulnerable, risky self-gift and love.

Calling it “safe” minimizes the inherent vulnerability always present- and simultaneously sees a baby as a dangerous threat from which one must be kept “safe.”

Are there situations in which a mother's health could be in danger with another pregnancy? Absolutely.

Can we acknowledge that and still reject the language and mindset that views children as threats and problems to be avoided at all costs? Yes.

The miracle of new life is not a threat to be feared. Many couples have valid reasons to seek to avoid pregnancy. Those valid reasons do not make another human the enemy from which we must be kept safe.

We have a lot of misconceptions about marital intimacy and the purpose and goodness of sex. The terms we use to talk about it matter.

Instead, of "safe day," I will use “fertile” or “infertile” day.

Or “potentially fertile” or “likely infertile” day— if there’s some confusion or gray area.

This is objective and clear information that informs the couple about their fertility status, and then they can assume responsibility for their actions and choices.

"Can we use this day?" This is another common question-- and my response is usually something to the effect of "You are adults and married. You can use whatever day you want. My job is to help you know which days are fertile or infertile so you can decide how to proceed."

It is not an NFP instructor's job to be the arbiter of your sex life. We are not gate keepers.

Using NFP per the specified protocols is always a CHOICE.

I will never tell my clients if they can/should/can't/shouldn't have intercourse on a particular day. That is 100% their decision. I WILL inform them if that day is likely fertile or not and what the protocol would advise, if they have specific goals and want to maximize the protocols efficacy by following the instructions, so they can make their choice as a couple.

These words and statements are probably "not a big deal" in most people's eyes. You may be reading this rolling your eyes thinking "you know what your clients mean; just answer their questions!"

Yet, words matter.

Our words inform and can reveal our thoughts. Thinking of intimacy with our spouse in terms of "safe" and "unsafe" simply based on fertility status (which also minimizes situations that are TRULY unsafe and need to be addressed swiftly and seriously), viewing potential children as threats or "failures," or expecting that an NFP instructor or method dictates our sex life is going to limit the joy, love, and responsibility within this sacred marital act.

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