People use NFP for a couple of reasons; a), because of fertility issues, and b) because of a religious understanding. The second reason tends to be found among Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox and Orthodox Jews.
For those who use NFP because of God’s Truth, it surely must be tied into a relationship with Him. And, surely that should mean a respectful marital relationship. But, just occasionally – and thankfully, it is just occasionally – I come across a situation in which the “rules” are being more or less obeyed, but the commandment to love isn’t.
It is sad, but even in otherwise Christ centred marriages the toxicity of the culture can leave it’s mark. There are stories of people using NFP for selfish reasons. I personally haven’t come across this, but the culture affects all of us, no matter how hard we try to keep it at bay, so I wouldn’t be surprised to know there’s a lot of such stories. The Catholic Church teaches that couples can use NFP to avoid pregnancy for ‘just reasons’ (iusta causa HV 16) but there’s been some unfortunate retranslations that use the word “grave” instead of “just” and on the opposite side “any” seems to have replaced the word “just”. In both extremes it’s the toxic culture that has made things tilt wrongly.
One effect of this toxicity is that couples are often very unsure about when to be open to a new child, and when to use NFP to avoid a pregnancy. The “Is this a serious enough reason…?” questions get asked for often than “Should I be avoiding for this..?” end of questions, but there are issues on both ends of the scale.
But now, I have come across a couple of incidents in which I think the “a man must have sex whenever he likes” side of the culture has crept into the good Catholic bedroom.
The first case I came across was some years ago. A woman in what came across as a very abusive marriage asked if she could use contraception to avoid pregnancy because her husband was ignoring her desperate pleas to not get pregnant again. She had a number of young children and was both physically and mentally unwell. She was so desperate she had moved into another bedroom but he was forcing himself on her anyway. I have to admit being very angry that the official response she received was that contraception is a sin so she must use NFP if she had serious reason…blah blah. Not at all helpful for her awful situation.
Then recently I’ve heard a husband complaining that his wife is using contraception to avoid pregnancy and he wants to follow the Church: all very commendable, but then he said in passing that they’d had two unplanned babies and that his wife is very ill during pregnancy and that he didn’t mind having another one. So he is quite happy for another whoops-baby even though he knows his wife will be made very ill! No wonder she’s taken to contraception.
Whenever the Big Names blog about NFP, the row in the combox starts. On the one side are those who have had to use NFP, on the opposite are those who’ve never needed it and can’t believe anyone ever does. In the middle are those who can’t get pregnant, with those who have had problems with pregnancy avoidance, and finally those who don’t give a fig what Jesus wants, they’ll do what they want thanks a lot.
But underlying a lot of the ranting is the culture’s insistence that having sex whenever you like is vitally important. So there are those who go along with this, or who react to extremely against it, they fall off the other side of the raft.
There’s a reason the Church hasn’t handed us a list of “just causes” to avoid pregnancy. It’s because She thinks we are supposed to be grownups when we marry. An adult marriage means proper love for one another with Christ in the centre and if things get genuinely difficult your PP should have some advice (and that’s another problem, but I won’t tackle it now).
We are supposed to consider the children we have and each other in a decision to have another baby or avoid pregnancy. In doing so a lot of prayer has to be said and in difficult cases a wise spiritual adviser can help.
Contraception is always grave matter because it separates the life giving aspects of the sexual act. Sex is for marriage and children. It’s why it’s grave matter to have sex outside of marriage. But just as deliberately refusing the life God would give you, willfully, is a mortal sin; deliberately ignoring the health of your spouse, just because you want sex and don’t care about the consequences is also a sin, and an attack on the Covenant bond.
It’s not easy to love someone else. If it was, God wouldn’t have had to make a command of it. But if we follow the Golden Rule and Love God first, loving the other isn’t as hard. As St. Augustine was supposed to have said, “Love God, and do as you like.” That is, IF you love God, you will like doing things His way.