Before posting on natural family planning (NFP) or any other family planning methods specifically, I think it is worthwhile to consider a more general question: What would you consider the features of an ideal method of family planning? I am talking here about features, not about any specific method. For reasons that may become apparent below, I prefer the broader term “family planning” to the terms “birth control” or “contraception.”
First, here are some features of an ideal method of family planning that various colleagues have expressed to me, and that can easily be found in the writings of family planning advocates, not necessarily in priority order:
1) Highest possible effectiveness to avoid pregnancy.
2) Requires little or no thought or effort to use.
3) Is “forgiving”- if you make a mistake and forget to use it, it still works.
4) Can be used by women in any reproductive situation, including irregular cycles, breastfeeding, premenopause.
5) For teenagers or other “high-risk” groups, can be applied in such a way that it is difficult NOT to use it.
6) Can be used up to several days after the fact (after intercourse), if you forgot to use it before.
7) Can be used by the woman even if the man doesn’t want her to, or without the man knowing.
8) Prevents sexually transmitted infection as well as pregnancy.
9) Low cost.
10) Is reversible. If pregnancy is sought, there is no “left over” inhibition of fertility.
11) Has no side effects, whether minor or serious.
12) Has medical benefits apart from the family planning effects.
Second, here is my list of an ideal method of family planning, based not only on personal experience, but that of many friends and patients, not necessarily in priority order:
1) Does not interrupt early human development; i.e., does not cause a loss of an embryo after conception (fertilization).
2) Use requires the mutual commitment, communication, and cooperation of the woman and the man.
3) Highest possible effectiveness to avoid pregnancy.
4) Highest possible effectiveness to conceive; including assistance for those having difficulty conceiving.
5) Helps women and men understand and respect their bodies, sexuality, and fertility.
6) Can be used by women in any reproductive situation, including irregular cycles, breastfeeding, premenopause.
7) Enhances marital intimacy.
8) Encourages faithfulness and chastity.
9) If pregnancy is sought, there is no “left over” inhibition of fertility.
10) Has no side effects, whether minor or serious.
11) Has medical benefits apart from the family planning effects.
These are not purely academic questions. Multiple surveys and studies show that a majority of women and men are dissatisfied with their current method of family planning, and high percentages switch methods in search of something that suits them better. In considering what the ideal features of a family planning method would be, it may be useful for some folks to say what they see as advantages and disadvantages of specific methods. Obviously, some ideals are unattainable in reality. However, I would like to encourage everyone to not be unduly bound by what you know about specific methods. If medical science could come up with a great breakthrough and the (nearly) perfect family planning method for you, what would its features be?