NFP part 3- Interest and use

January 8, 2006 | 46 comments
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Natural family planning (NFP)
Part 3- Interest and use

NFP is a method that requires shared responsibility and cooperation of both partners. It is suited for faithful marriages. With appropriate choice of an NFP method, women with any kind of cycles or no cycles, breastfeeding, or entering menopause, can use NFP.

In the United States, currently only about 1-3% of couples currently use pure NFP to avoid pregnancy. There are no statistics on the use of NFP to conceive or on the use of FACM. However, population-based surveys that I conducted in Missouri and Utah suggest that up to 25% of women of reproductive age would be interested in using NFP or FACM to avoid pregnancy, and up to 33% to conceive. In Utah, men had similar interest. These surveys also suggest that the use of FACM is much higher than pure NFP. Our population-based study in Utah found that while 3% of couples were using pure NFP, 13% were using some kind of fertility awareness combined with condoms or other barriers.

Why don’t more couples use NFP (or FACM)?
1) Most couples don’t know someone else who uses it.
2) The number of qualified NFP teachers available varies geographically, but is still limited in most places.
3) Insurance companies do not reimburse couples for professional health services related to NFP to the extent that they do for contraception or sterilization.
4) Physicians and health professionals are widely uninformed (or misinformed) about modern NFP, and usually they do not even discuss the option with patients. Most medical schools and continuing medical education programs lack adequate and accurate information about NFP.

Why do some LDS couples use NFP?
Couples who use NFP have told me the following (all adapted from written statements provided directly to me by LDS couples).
1) It improved their relationship in all aspects.
2) They gained a sense of freedom and control over their powers of procreation.
3) They experienced a greatly increased appreciation and higher priority for sexual activity once the fertile days are over.
4) They talked about sex more, and talk about other things more.
5) The woman had increased respect for her husband because of his willingness to abstain during the fertile days for her sake.
6) Days of no intercourse were replaced with other loving activities. This enhanced their sexual life.
7) They had an increased understanding and appreciation for their bodies, and felt their expressions and feelings of love were deeper when they made love.
8) They gave God even greater reverence for the gift of procreation.
9) They felt more prepared to teach their children about reproduction, both medical facts and respect for the process.
10) The abstinence required made teaching children about the sacredness of sexuality more believable.

These advantages should not be interpreted to mean that the use of NFP is always easy. Almost all of these couples also indicated that they struggled with learning and applying NFP in their lives for some period of time (usually at least a month or more typically, several months) before they began noticing these benefits. NFP is a way of life or a lifestyle that is quite different from other methods of family planning that are promoted in the world around us.

For more religious and moral perspectives on NFP from a variety of viewpoints, including LDS, visit

http://www.aafcp.org/

click on LINKS, and scroll to “moral and religious perspectives�

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46 Responses to NFP part 3- Interest and use

  1. JKS on January 8, 2006 at 3:01 am

    All of your information seems informative and thorough, except I think you left out a disadvantage to NFP for some couples. When a woman’s reproductive cycle has effects such as increasing sexual enjoyment during “fertile days” she might hesitate to give that up.
    But you also left out an advantage for some couples. Some couples do not like the other birth control choices because of side effects, medical restrictions, cost, or ease of use.

  2. JKS on January 8, 2006 at 3:08 am

    I should also like to point out that I don’t find it hard to believe that couples who stick with it have lots of positive things to say about it. I think that couples who try it and find that they hate it, or that it is damaging to their marriage, or that it causes problems in the bedroom, are more likely to abandon it and make another birth control choice.

  3. Andermom on January 8, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    “Physicians and health professionals are widely uninformed (or misinformed) about modern NFP, and usually they do not even discuss the option with patients.”

    When I asked my ObGYN about NFP at my appointment before I got married he got out a calander and said “It works this way: if you mentruate this week, then you should abstain during these two weeks.” That’s about all he had to say about it. I later bought a textbook and taught myself, and currently use FACM.

    Anyhow, an interesting point that no-one has mentioned is: “how does one prepare a ‘year’s supply’ of family planning?” I would suggest that this might be a good reason for couples to gain a basic understanding of NFP even if they don’t want to use it right now. There are too many scriptures about how unfortunate it will be for pregnant women in the last days for us to ignore the possibility that we may be left without any method of preventing pregnancy other than what we know.

  4. Julie M. Smith on January 8, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    To my knowledge, the only time the issue of specific methods of birth control (as opposed to birth control per se) has been addressed in any official capacity is in this Ensign article (it is from the “I Have A Question� section which is not supposed to be considered ‘official,’ but note that this article was, according to the new bio of SWK, written at his request and with his consent):

    “If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method you use to determine how many months or years there are between children—discounting possible medical or physical effects—makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.�

    Note that what is here called NFP he correctly calls ‘abstinence,’ and he suggests the potential negative impacts of its use. I’d like to elaborate on that a little. The consensus of my Girlfriend Grapevine is that women are most interested in intimacy when they are ovulating (not too surprising, when you think about it). Hence, we aren’t talking about just abstaining for any 9 days. In some cases, given the notorious problem of lack of interest in sex among young mothers, we may be talking about the only interest they have. The True to the Faith entry on birth control notes, “sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose.â€? Use of NFP would, in many cases, prohibit these approved functions of the sexual relationship. This is why I disagree with Joe’s advocacy of NFP, especially as it stands in his First Things article, where he comes perilously close to suggesting that NFP should be the preferred form of family planning for Saints. This is false doctrine and it is dangerous to the health of marriages.

    That same Ensign article I cited above includes this:

    “As a physician I am often required to treat social-emotional symptoms related to various aspects of living. In doing so I have always been impressed that our prophets past and present have never stipulated that bearing children was the only function of the marriage relationship. Prophets have taught that physical intimacy is a strong force in strengthening the love bond in marriage, enhancing and reinforcing marital unity. Indeed, it is the rightful gift of God to the married. As the Apostle Paul says,

    “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and like wise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.’ Paul continues, ‘Depart ye not one from the other [this phrase in italics in the original], except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.� (JST, 1 Cor. 7:4–5,). Abstinence in marriage, Paul says, can cause unnecessary temptations and tensions, which are certainly harmful side effects.�

    In other words, if we evaluate birth control options from a theological perspective, NFP is, far from being preferred, somewhat suspect!

    Two post scripts:

    (1) I have nothing but the highest respect for my Catholic and Evangelical Christian friends who use NFP because of their beliefs prohibiting artificial birth control. I admire them almost as much as I disdain Saints who would confuse our doctrine with theirs.
    (2) I suspect that some LDS couples might choose to use NFP because of the side effects that can be associated with other forms of birth control (I personally know at least a half-dozen women who have gotten fat, pregnant, depressed, or all three, on the pill) and I have no opinion about this; what I’ve written above is strictly to address the heresy that NFP is the theologically preferred method of birth control for the Saints.

  5. jjohnsen on January 8, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    “Anyhow, an interesting point that no-one has mentioned is: “how does one prepare a ‘year’s supply’ of family planning?â€? I would suggest that this might be a good reason for couples to gain a basic understanding of NFP even if they don’t want to use it right now.”

    Is there some law against keeping ‘year’s supply’ of birth control or condoms that I don’t know about? I don’t see why this is a problem. I know when my wife was on birth control she didn’t have to get a refill every month.

    I have to agree with Julie, the time when my wife is most “in the mood” is the time we wouldn’t be having sex under these guidelines. So sex would mainly be reserved for when I wanted it. This doesn’t sound like a way to use intimacy to bring us together.

  6. JKS on January 8, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    jjohnson,
    I realize my comment was waaayyyy back at #1 and you might not have time to read it, but I can’t help feeling overlooked. Couldn’t you have said you agreed with Julie AND jks?

  7. Otto on January 8, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    As one who has expressed considerable concern and apprehension about Bro. Stanford’s positions on this thread, I nonetheless wish to thank him for providing this valuable information so that the discussion might be informed by correct information and understanding. Although my basic position has not changed, I have had to abandon some misconceptions about a number of details.

    One piece of data I’m curious about: are there statistics regarding how many children, on average, those who practice NFP (LDS or otherwise) end up having? My real question is: do Mormons who practice NFP the ones interested in having more kids anyway? (Apologies if this information appeared already, and I overlooked it.)

  8. Andermom on January 8, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Julie,
    I think it’s interesting that the NFP textbook I have cites 1 Cor 7:4-5 as Paul *advocating* NFP. I’m not saying that your reading is wrong, but I just thought it was humorous.

    About the years supply thing, when I was taking birth control pills, I’m pretty sure the pharmacy wouldn’t have given me a years supply. They wouldn’t even give me two months, I had to go back every month. Maybe it was the type of pills, or maybe I just didn’t ask right. I was just thinking that to practice NFP one doesn’t need things that can expire, go bad, or need to be stockpiled. Also if condoms are your method of choice, knowing some NFP basics can help you know when they aren’t necessary, which could make the same amount last longer. It’s valuable knowledge, even if it’s not your method of choice.

  9. jjohnsen on January 8, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    Apologies JKS. If it makes you feel better your #2 post made a very good point. The only person I personally know that used NFP quit doing it after a few years because she and her husband started to feel the schedule was in charge of their lives. Almost to the point that they were trying to force themselves to feel ‘in the mood’ when the time was right instead of just letting it come naturally.

  10. JKS on January 8, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    Why, thanks, jjohnson. If I was a sideways smiley person, I would type one right now!

  11. Mike Parker on January 8, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Other reasons why couples don’t use NFP:

    1) It requires a certain level of faithfulness in keeping a calendar; i.e., there is organization and record-keeping required. Yes, it’s not a lot of work, but it can be seen as “high maintenance.”

    2) Because of #1, some of the spontaneity is taken out of the sexual relationship; couples just can’t “do it” when the passion strikes.

    3) Some women’s cycles aren’t regular enough to predict the fertile/infertile envelope reliably (unless you cut your sexual contact down to 5 days a month).

    My wife and I used to use rhythm to predict “safe” days and condoms on “unsafe” days. Two of our three children are the result of miscalculating the safe/unsafe boundary — we thought we were “good” for a few more days, but it turned out we were wrong.

  12. b bell on January 9, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    I want to elaborate on Mike P’s #3 comments above.

    My wifes period is so irregular that we actually have no idea when her next menstration will occur. To me this makes NFP a complete gamble and not worth the risk. I am looking for control over the spacing of Children. (I lost this spacing battle in 2004 with a unplanned birth of twins with a 19 month old and a just turned 4 year old)

    I also like Julies comment number 4. I am seeing NFP as being a form of BC and fail to see the difference between using NFP and other methods of BC. The idea of a 5 day to 14 day no sex period seems odd to me and SWK comments ring true. Previous Church concerns pre the 1980′s about BC were about limiting family size not the actual method of BC.

    I want to make the following point…. I have never heard in my life a teaching from the pulpit or a church publication teaching the idea that NFP is the prefered method of BC for the LDS. Its OK to use NFP for personal reasons but its not OK to advocate that NFP is the preferred method of BC for the Saints based on LDS doctrine. If a gospel doctrine or SS teacher was advocating this on Sunday in my ward it would be INMHO correct for the bishop to step in and correct false doctrine.

  13. Rosalynde Welch on January 9, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    In my view there’s no need for language like “false doctrine,” “heresy,” “disdain” and so forth, which comes perilously close to insulting or, worse, accusing Brother Stanford, a guest in this forum. He’s made it clear on a number of occasions that he is in no way claiming to speak authoritatively on LDS doctrine or commenting on other Saints’ choices; nor, indeed, has any other commenter made such a claim on behalf of NFP. This sort of strident response to Joseph Stanford suggests to me both the remarkable extent of the effect of widely available artificial contraceptives on assumptions about marriage and sex in just thirty years and, I must say, a bit of unwarranted defensiveness.

    It seems to me that the sort of intellectual work Joseph Stanford is doing—that is, exploring the resonances of Mormon thought for other areas of human intellectual endeavor in a philosophical (that is, non-authoritative) vein—should be applauded, whether or not one agrees with the implications of his work. This kind of thinking is crucial to the health of Mormon studies generally, which has often been stunted by shrill—and unnecessary—invocations of orthodoxy and authority. There are good reasons why general authorities don’t often engage in this sort of intellectual work in their priesthood capacities, reasons including the nature of priesthood office and the difficulty, unique perhaps to LDS, of undoing articulated doctrine. But this does not mean that other Saints can’t or oughtn’t undertake it.

    That said, I tend to agree with those commenters who have pointed out that NFP would negatively affect the quality of the wife’s sexual experience. Of course, women’s sexual experience has been negatively affected—disastrously so, in fact—by worldly attitudes toward sex, as well, many of which have been faciliated by, precisely, artificial contraception.

  14. Ginny on January 9, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Andersmom (#8) – I had similar experiences with getting BCP refills – for quite some time I was on them continuously (ie. skipping the sugar pill week and going right on to the next pack, for medical reasons). It took many, many phone calls between my doctor, the pharmacy, and the insurance company for them to give me more than one pack at a time; I had to sign some sort of form, as well, stating that I was getting them for medical reasons and not to distribute on my own.

    This series of articles has been very timely for me, as I have just stopped taking OCPs to transition to NFP. For us, the decision was made because we’re getting ready to have children – we want to get my system “clean” from all of the years of artificial birth control, but aren’t 100% ready to jump into parenthood just yet. NFP is the best alternative for us, because we’ll be using the same type of planning when we do try to get pregnant – charting ovulation and what not. And the somewhat higher “risk” isn’t an issue, either – if we do end up pregnant unintentionally, we’ll still be happy, if a little suprised!

    I have found, in the month or so since taking my last OCP, I have felt much more at peace with myself in a variety of ways, and my relationship with my husband has improved. I am a definite proponent (is that a word?) of birth control – as I mentioned earlier it pretty much salvaged my ability to have children after a medically damaging miscarriage – but will have to consider whether or not to go back on it after we’re done having children, or if we will “take our chances”.

  15. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    I agree with Rosalynde W. My views on these subjects are under-developed, so I appreciate what Dr. Stanford is diong here. Trying to figure out an approach that ihe thinks is right with LDS doctrine, without condemning everyone else.

    My understanding of the current church position is murky, but as best I can tell its that the church isn’t going to articulate a position for us, we have to carefully and through study come up with a position on our own as couples. That sounds like what Dr. Stanford is doing and its helpful to my wife and I in our own attempt to do what’s right to read what he has to say and think it over.

  16. Ginny on January 9, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Also – #7 Otto – naturally I can’t speak for all (or even most) NFP-ing Mormons, but we’re only planning to have one child.

  17. Julie M. Smith on January 9, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    RW–

    While Joe has been very circumspect here, it was reading his First Things article that led me to use–and continue to stand by–the idea that he is perilously close to false doctrine. He selectively quotes church authorities in that article to create the impression that the Church discourages bc except for NFP. He does not include the newer and authoritiative statements from True to the Faith or the GHI. He also uses phrasing such as (forgive my paraphrase, can’t find the link right now) that he only shares NFP with those who “are ready for it,” which suggests that he considers it a ‘higher’ or ‘better’ alternative that most of us lesser Saints aren’t ready to hear. This kind of language, of course, is extremely loaded for an LDS audience. He also implies there that NFP is the logical and necessary result of church teachings about the body, sexuality, families, etc. If he were to explore these ideas in, say, a paper in Dialogue, where one assumes that the audience is familiar with the Church’s position, I would agree with what you say about theological exploration. However, he comes close to the line of misrepresenting the issue to a non-member audience who presumably is not familiar with Church teachings. Can anyone find me any shred of evidence that the Church encourages NFP as opposed to other forms of bc?

    Teaching that NFP is the preferred form of bc for the Saints (which he comes close to–if not doing outright–in the FT article) is a heresy, and I do have disdain for the effort to mingle the philosophies of men with scripture. Because my language his focused on his ideas, not his person, and is not snarky or sarcastic, I think it is entirely appropriate to call a spade a spade. Again, his posts here don’t warrant this language, but his FT article does.

    Adam, what do you find murky? I see no murk. (ByuNewsNet published an article quoting a Provo OB stating that 80% of the engaged women attending BYU who see him ask for the Pill. Do you think if this were a problem it would escape the notice of those in a position to counsel otherwise?)

  18. Andermom on January 9, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Ginny mentioned something that I haven’t seen, (or noticed) Dr. Stanford address. The NFP book I have recommends being off of the pill for at least 3 months before trying to concieve. Is this good advice, and if so why aren’t more ObGYNs telling their patients when they write the Rx? I know at least two couples that went off the pill and were pregnant immediately without even one menstruation. I would have told them about the advice to wait 3 months but I wasn’t very sure of the accuracy of the information and they were sharing this info with me while they were still pregnant (so it would come across as “You idiot! your baby is going to be deformed because you didn’t wait!”).

  19. jjohnsen on January 9, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    Andermom. I don’t know if this is the reason, but there are lingering effects from the pill that can make a woman more likely to have a miscarriage. This is according to my wife’s OB. We had a miscarriage about 4 months after taking the pill for years, and his explanation was that it could build up making pregnancy more difficult until it was fully gone. Of course a sister-in-law had a miscarriage and was never on the pill, so I’m not sure how accurate that is.

    I find some of the reasons to use NFP laughable. Improving relationships? Talking about sex more? Greater reverance for procreation? If all the reasons he lists were applicable only to NFP I’d wonder why the church DIDN”T counsel all of us to use it.

    My wife and I enjoy sex, are frank and open about it with each other, and our sexual relationship continues to develop and improve. Somehow we manage to do this while using the pill. And I’ve never taken procreation lightly just because we can prevent it with a simple pill.

  20. Heather Bigley on January 9, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    Reason 10 is the one that gets me: “The abstinence required made teaching children about the sacredness of sexuality more believable.”
    Abstinence before marriage and faithfulness to your spouse during marriage testify greatly to the sacredness of sex and procreation, if you ask me. Why on earth do we need more than that? Why are we so filled with doubt when we enjoy our bodies? Good word—I had hoped the long, empty nights would end once I got married…

  21. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2006 at 8:57 pm

    “He does not include the newer and authoritiative statements from True to the Faith or the GHI.”

    This is what i find murky. The almost total absence of any discussion one way or the other from the pulpit, and the fact that everybody relies on the General Handbook of Instructions, which isn’t generally available and wasn’t meant to be.

  22. LisaB on January 9, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    I agree w/ Rosalynde, too. I appreciate the info Dr. Stanford is providing here. Of course he is speaking from his own experience and beliefs, as we all do. It’s not necessary to insult in order to put forth a different view with more current church sources or simply based on personal experience or ideas.

  23. Julie M. Smith on January 9, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    OK, Adam, we can leave the GHI out of it and focus on True to the Faith, which is supposed to be in the hands of every youth, young adult, new convert, etc. It has a very clear entry on birth control.

    LisaB, have you read his First Things article? If all it was was Joe’s personal experience and beliefs, I wouldn’t have said anything. I think there is definitely room to say, “NFP has some advantages that the Saints should consider” and I’d never label that in a negative way. But I read it as promoting the idea that NFP is the most theologically preferred method of bc for the Saints and that’s false doctrine.

  24. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    (ByuNewsNet published an article quoting a Provo OB stating that 80% of the engaged women attending BYU who see him ask for the Pill. Do you think if this were a problem it would escape the notice of those in a position to counsel otherwise?)

    To your question I say ‘maybe.’ But there are also two or three assumptions in it that I think are dubious: that BYU bishops and so on are in a position to make authoritative statements on these subjects, think much about it themselves, or even that whenever there’s a problem (or, conversely, a higher law), and the actual authorities know about it, they will know its a problem (or, conversely, a higher law) and they will speak to us clearly about it. None of these are certain.

    The real problem here, I think, is that you’re not willing to face up to your position. You want simultaneously to say that the church doesn’t bind us to any position on family planning and birth control while criticizing folks like Dr. Stanford who take a position you dislike.

    Now, as it turns out, I don’t have a solid position on birth control (just like the church). I prefer that people like Dr. Stanford feel free to explain their position without getting called out for borderline apostasy, because they give me something to think about.

  25. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    “NFP is the most theologically preferred method of bc for the Saints and that’s false doctrine.”

    Why is that false? It would be wrong if he said the Mormon church currently advocates natural family planning. But why is it wrong for him to think through the theological issues and conclude that its the theologically preferred method?

    “OK, Adam, we can leave the GHI out of it and focus on True to the Faith, which is supposed to be in the hands of every youth, young adult, new convert, etc.”

    Into which categories I do not fall. If there’s a clear church position on birth control out there, why not just say so? Which leaves the church’s position murky to me.

  26. JKS on January 9, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    I have never consulted a physician who gave ALL the details about any disease, or any medication. I’m the type to research and read, so before I tried to get pregnant, I was fully aware that some experts recommend going off the pill for 6 months before trying to get pregnant. I understood the pill could slightly increase risk factors, but there are so many things that increase risks, no doctor really ever tells you all of them.

  27. Russell Arben Fox on January 9, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    I have to go along with Adam, Julie, in at least thinking I’m not sure what it is you must be meaning by use of the word “preferred.” Consider: “On the basis of my reading of the scriptures and the prophets, I have come to the conclusion that some version of socialism is to be preferred as a socio-economic structure for Latter-day Saints.” Have I just spoken false doctrine? I don’t think so. I think I have said what I think follows. Perhaps it’s spectacularly wrong. But heretical? For it to be heretical, there would have to be current, binding, canonized statements to the effect that such an economic structure is, in fact, positively not the preferred option for Latter-day Saints. While there are plenty of statements which approach that standard, I am unaware of any that actually meet it. Similarly, while it is–as you have shown–quite clear that a great many local and general leaders of the church have absolutely no problems with various modern methods of birth control, I’m doubtful that such a lack of problems equals a positive standard against NFP which Joe is telling us to ignore.

    Of course, it is entirely possible that NFP as Joe has described is simply unsustainable outside a theological context that treats bodily creation as part of natural whole in a manner rather foreign to our way of thinking of the relationship between God and His children. If, in essence, Joe is arguing that sexual intercourse between Mormon couples ought to adhere to Catholic natural law principles, then that would be heretical. But Joe hasn’t gone that far….and more crucially, there are more than a few church leaders who already talk about certain issues (gay marriage, anyone?) in exactly this way. So, whether we like it or not (I myself am of mixed feelings on the issue), we may be seeing some evolution of doctrine here. Perhaps Joe’s “heresy”–if in fact that is what it is (and I repeat that I have not seen anything in his arguments that persuades me that he has gone that far)–is to merely be ahead of the curve.

  28. Julie M. Smith on January 9, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    “The real problem here, I think, is that you’re not willing to face up to your position. You want simultaneously to say that the church doesn’t bind us to any position on family planning and birth control while criticizing folks like Dr. Stanford who take a position you dislike”

    Adam, I think we’ve combined two separate issues:

    (1) whether using bc (as opposed to making no effort at all to affect one’s fertility) is OK. This is the conversation that I am having with you about whether the Church’s position is ‘muddy.’ (To add to that . . . forget the bishops! If BYUNewsnet ran an article stating that 80% of BYU men were looking at porn online, think we might hear something about that from SLC?)

    (2) once a couple has decided to (for, we are presuming, legitimate and God-approved reasons) delay their next child, whether their method for delaying that child is or is not theologically preferable. I think we can agree to leave abortion off the table, but once we do that, the position of the Church (which, I will admit, does not get often discussed, but was once with SWK’s blessing and, I maintain, would be discussed if what the Saints were doing was a problem) is that there is not a theologically preferable method–but that abstinence poses some real dangers to the marriage. I have argued (but I will freely admit one cannot find this said boldly in church publications, save the one Ensign I references) that inasmuch as one of the legitimate functions of married sexuality is the bonding of the couple, NFP is contraindicated.

    To further clarify, if Joe had said, “NFP is an option you should consider” I wouldn’t have said anything. But that isn’t what he did in the FT article: he argued that it was the most theologically correct (if you will) form. There is nothing in LDS thought to support that position and several pieces of evidence to counter it. An analogy: the church is neutral on homeschooling; I’m as free to practice that as Joe is his NFP. But when I start arguin that the best educational option for the Saints is homeschooling, you should call me on the carpet because I’ve gone beyond the position of the church. And that’s what I’m doing to Joe.

    Further, you may not be in the target audience for TTTF, but if you were bothered enough by the ‘murkiness’ of the church’s stance on birth control to try to find out more, you might go to your bishop, and what you hear from him should mirror the GHI. Or, you might pick up TTTF, knowing that it has nice little pithy explanations of things. So these sources might not jump out and find you, but you wouldn’t have to make too much of an effort to find them.

    To answer your question in #25, it is false because enhancing the closeness of the couple is one function of sexuality and if NFP is going to prevent that 30% of the time, then it is an obstacle to a couple’s proper use of sexuality. That’s why it is not theologically preferred (across the board, that is; just like individuals can be inspired to do all sorts of things contra the standard operating procedure, I’d have no problem with a Saint telling me that s/he felt that NFP was God’s will _for them_, as long as they don’t confuse their personal inspiration with counsel for the rest of the Saints)

    Russell, you’ll notice that I’ve been careful to say that Joe is coming close to false doctrine, or ‘if he is arguing X, then that is false doctrine.’ So we’d need to reword your socialism example for it to work. We’d mostly need to take out the “I” language, because what I got from the FT article was that Joe, writing to an audience unfamiliar with LDS belief, has left the impression that LDS thought prefers NFP. Again, if this were in Dialogue, where everyone knows the score and it was clear that this was his own theological experiment, that would be another ball of wax. But in context, I think he came close to misrepresenting the church’s position. To answer the end of your first paragraph, I think the cautions about (admittedly, not a stance against) NFP come from, as I said above, the fact that NFP interferes with a legitimate function of married sexuality.

  29. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2006 at 11:41 am

    Julie in S.,

    I don’t feel you’ve said anything that I haven’t already addressed. I continue to think that you have an unwarranted belief that your own doctrines on the subject are the Church’s. I’m an agnostic on birth control, but I find Dr. Stanford’s method of advocating what he thinks is the better position without suggesting that his opponents are close to apostasy and falsehood much preferable to yours.

  30. Julie M. Smith on January 10, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    “I continue to think that you have an unwarranted belief that your own doctrines on the subject are the Church’s”

    Show me where what I have suggested about bc departs from established church teachings and I’ll happily cede this point.

    “I find Dr. Stanford’s method of advocating what he thinks is the better position without suggesting that his opponents are close to apostasy”

    This would be persuasive if Joe hadn’t, in the FT article, (1) described some of his patients as “not ready to hear” about NFP and (2) described opponents of NFP (which I’m not) as mostly zero-growthers instead of people who are concerned about BOTH of the purposes for married sexuality that are legitimate and (3) come close to (again, didn’t, but came close to) suggesting that NFP is most in harmony with a number of Church teachings.

  31. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    –“I continue to think that you have an unwarranted belief that your own doctrines on the subject are the Church’sâ€?

    “Show me where what I have suggested about bc departs from established church teachings and I’ll happily cede this point.”

    Julie in S., I don’t think your beliefs on birth control, sex, etc., are contrary to the Church. The Church has deliberately left blanks and you filled them in. But its *you* filling them in, not the Church.

  32. Julie M. Smith on January 10, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Adam, I admit that I am filling in blanks. But I think those blanks are there not because the policy is murky, but because explicit discussion of condoms, the Pill, IUDs, etc., isn’t deemed appropriate for General Conference, etc. If I were to write on this topic for the Ensign, I’d use the same euphemistic language they do.

    We’ve probably reached the land of Agreeing to Disagree here: I am filling in blanks, but the reason is (perceived) propriety, not doctrinal extension.

  33. Kingsley on January 10, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Mm, how delicious. The Church is silent about [pet belief X], not because there is no final revelation on the subject, but because the Brethren are too fond of euphemisms.

  34. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Oh, dear, Kingsley. I had managed to avoid any unfortunate mental images reading Julie M. Smith’s comments, but after your addendum I caught a glimpse of, well, I won’t say what. The Spirit is whispering that I’m already pushing my 1000-year quota of hellfire.

    Julie in A,.
    I think I agree with Kingsley that the Brethren’s reticence isn’t sufficient reason to think that you’re right. On the other hand, I think I agree with you that we have done what logic and reason can do and we’re now in agree-to-disagree territory. What the Church has said on the subject can be interpreted both your way and mine.

  35. smb on January 10, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Just a vote of support for Julie M. Smith for her thoughtful comments.

    Reading the First Things testimonial on organized abstinence reminded me of a few things.

    First and foremost was an area in my mission where (if memory serves me right) all the members of the branch presidency were distributors for an herbal remedies company, eagerly proselytizing investigators and converts to the “true” Word of Wisdom. Tears welling in their eyes, and conviction emanating from the fibers of their being, they let me know of the benefits of living the Lord’s true plan.

    Second are the Oneida perfectionists with their coitus interruptus. Weirds me out about the same way organized abstinence does.

    Third was the big heresy of that CES teacher who got disciplined for having BYU students go up the canyons of the Wasatch and pray for a personal relationship with Christ. (One of you will have a better sense for it than I do–it was mentioned in one of the McConkie talks).

    Fourth are the intermittent ponzi schemes, investment groups, and occasional frauds that are reported in the press, centering in the Wasatch Front. These are often undergirded by the potent testimony of a believing Mormon who sees God’s hand in his machinations (or at times cravenly pretends to).

    In cases 1, 3, & 4, a private, personal vision of ulta-orthodoxy is taken to an extreme and advanced in a way that makes people like Julie (and me) feel that the ultra-orthodox are trying to squeeze us out of the community. I believe that is the sentiment to which Julie is responding, and I agree with her that we ought to be careful in deploying the aegis of the general authorities for our own private causes. My instinctive response to the First Things piece is that this has occurred.

    In deference to Adam, it is tempting to make the same error in responding. Many if not most of us feel that our private understandings of these issues are in line with revealed doctrine, and we clearly have different understandings. There are a variety of visions I have for which I would like to invoke the authority of the church, but I try to abstain from doing so. Sometimes I fail. I say things about Christ’s homelessness, Benjamin’s welfare stance, the anti-affluence position of early Christianity, and I labor to prove these from the scriptures, etc.

    For me, I do feel that the First Things testimonial transgresses the boundaries I’ve mentioned before. I do too occasionally, as noted. At this point I can’t decide whether I’d rather have a world where we hash this stuff out by being public about it (ie Joe and I both keep on ranting and raving and people keep correcting us) or it’s better to keep silence in settings like this.

    As much as I disagree with his vision, I do admire Joe for his sticking with his beliefs despite what I am sure is considerable pressure from his colleagues and bosses (he’s right that organized abstinence is a contemporary medical heresy).

  36. smb on January 10, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Separate thoughts from prior post, hence separated.

    I have to say that I was a little surprised to see that a licensed MD was refusing to provide requested medical care to patients on the basis of his personal convictions and being quite public about it. I think I understand the occasional refusal of an anti-abortion obstetrician to perform an abortion on the basis of personal convictions, but to extend it further, all the way to contraception, strikes me as meddling in patient’s personal lives in a way that isn’t really fair to them (it is after all a decision made on the basis of the doctor’s religious beliefs rather than the medical evidence, medical practice, or the patient’s religious beliefs). The bioethics are complicated I suspect, and I’m in no rush to be dogmatic, but I have to say I’m a little surprised to see such an open avowal of this practice.

    I understand that there is a cultural war underway, and I understand that language about the non-judgmental physician is difficult to disentangle from what opponents see as an assiduous and malign cultural and moral relativism.

    I’m not sure where the line can safely be drawn for a physician. Physicians are asked to do things that no one else would ever do, and people trust them with their bodies and their health and assume that they are accessing a standard of care that will not exploit them or proselytize them or take advantage of their weakness.

    Many physicians have found at least one day where it was a struggle to provide compassionate care to a heroin addicts or alcoholics. there is certainly a moral code that would reject “facilitating” their addictions by prolonging their lives and treating the complications of their disease. But we toil on to care for everyone, even if they refuse to comply with our moral vision.

    The problem with denying standard medical care on the basis of personal convictions (I agree there’s a spectrum and the lines can be tough to draw and I’m less critical of those who don’t perform abortions regardless of whether I agree with them) is that the physician is thereby exploiting a relationship of unequal power that is unrelated to their personal convictions. Patient comes to trusted physician, now asks for oral contraception. Physician explains that he (the medical authority) does not accept that, though “other” physicians certainly do. The physician thereby stuns the patient intellectually and uses the opportunity to present his own fringe practice (regardless of what we think of organized abstinence, it is a fringe practice and will be for quite some time). I feel unsettled by this, though again, I find it hard to be dogmatic.

  37. Julie M. Smith on January 10, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Kingsley, there is precisely one discussion (that I know of at least; Anyone? Anyone?) of which birth control method is best for a couple to be found in official sources: it is the Ensign article that I reference above. It is quite a stretch to call my position ‘pet belief X’ when the only source out there agrees with me.

    I’m also choking on the irony that Joe comes close in the FT article to advocating NFP as the theologically correct method of bc for the Saints but _I’m_ the one with the pet belief because I point out that that position is not consonant with the teachings of the church.

  38. Otto on January 10, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Adam said:

    I think I agree with Kingsley that the Brethren’s reticence isn’t sufficient reason to think that you’re right.

    But I think that Julie’s point is that the Brethren’s reticence suggests that it’s erroneous for anyone to think that their position is theologically preferred. It seems to me that Julie’s argument isn’t for a particular method, but rather against the idea that anyone who arrives at their position should claim ecclesiastical endorsement, implied or otherwise. Seems to me that Julie is simply echoing the words of Hugh B. Brown: “Do not have the temerity to dogmatize about issues on which the Lord has seen fit to remain silent.” Advocacy for a position is fine; advocacy for a position based on ecclesiastical inferences, when those in authority have conspicuously avoided articulating a dogma, is an entirely different matter.

  39. Julie M. Smith on January 10, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Gee, Otto, can I hire you to blog for me? You explained what I was thinking much better than I did.

  40. Francie on January 10, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Otto has put his professional blogging days behind him. Hey, look at our faux pas – I just used the same quote he did in another comment. Can you tell we’re married? Boy, is my face red.

  41. Adam Greenwood on January 11, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Otto,
    I think you and Julie misunderstand what we’re disagreeing about.
    You and she take the Brethren’s reticence on the subject to mean that, in essence, we should also be reticent on the subject. Dr. Stanford takes it to mean that we are left to be agents in ourselves and discover the truth on our own. I don’t see how we can conclusively reason from the fact of reticence to either position. Which means that I’m much more comfortable with Dr. Stanford, who advocates his position without condemning others, than I am with you or Julie, who keep suggesting that Dr. Stanford is going against the Church in some way.

  42. Ariel on January 14, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Am I the only one who would like to see an “NFP part 4″ detailing why ~Dr. Stanford~ believes that it is the preferred method of BC for LDS people?

    There comes a point where the discussion boils down to some saying “well I think he means NFP is what God wants all of us to use” and others saying “well I think he means that there are advantages to NFP that make it the best choice for most people.” I’d like to know what Dr. Stanford is really saying about the rightness of NFP and whether its use is promoted or merely accepted by God.

  43. Joseph Stanford on January 16, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Thanks to all for the careful and fervent reactions to my post.
    #1- You are correct that in fact one of the main reasons couples decide to try NFP is that they are dissatisfied with the side effects and experiences with other methods.
    #2- No doubt there is some self-selection for those who continue versus those who don’t, but it is of interest that most NFP studies show high continuation rates (70-90%) of those who started use.
    #1 and others. It’s interesting to me that one of the objections commonly raised against NFP is that women are biologically more interested in sex around the time of ovulation. Hormonal methods, such as oral contraceptives, usually suppress ovulation. One of the well-established side effects of hormonal contraception is decreased libido. Is it better to lose the hormonal surge altogether in order to avoid pregnancy? I suppose if this is the driving concern, you may choose barrier methods. But I think it misses the bigger point that the major sex organ in humans is the brain, by which I mean that our interactions and relationships and choices have a lot more to do with our sexual attraction and arousal than does pure biological drive. Most NFP couples will tell you that they have no trouble finding the desire when the “time is right” for their procreative intentions.
    #4- and others. I am not so sure that the caution in some quasi-church statements against abstinence as harmful can be equated with NFP. Arguably, it may apply to couples who have decided that complete abstinence (verus the periodic abstinence of NFP) is their only option to avoid pregnancy. There are no statistics on this practice, but it is not unheard of. Joseph F. Smith made a statement years ago that *complete* abstinence is the only moral option for couples who have serious reasons to practice birth control, and I am aware that there are members that still have that viewpoint, which I do not. It seems to me more likely that the caution implied in TTTF is directed against this idea and the related idea that sex is to engaged in only directly for the purpose of getting pregnant.
    In my opinion, any sexually mature couple (whether or not they use NFP) comes to the understanding that there are times that abstinence “for a time” is necessary and beneficial, for all kinds of reasons- illness, separation, and others. In an elders’ quorum some years ago, a brother testified of the increased spiritual intimacy he and his wife experienced during the months they had to avoid intercourse on medical advice because of the danger of premature birth during her pregnancy. He had discovered something that NFP couples discover in other contexts.
    #11 and 12- with all due respect for your experience, calendar rhythm methods are not as reliable as modern methods of NFP based on the biomarkers of mucus and temperature. I can guarantee you that it is possible to find a modern NFP method that will “work” for you (be reliable) if you wish to do so. See
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2831
    #19-20 are you deriding the experiences and perceptions of couples who actually use NFP? Those 10 statements are not something I came up with. They are taken directly from statements couples gave me. I have told LDS couples over the years that I wanted to write on NFP and asked them to write about how the use of NFP had affected them- positively and negatively. These 10 statements are a brief summary from many longer statements. I did summarize them, but they were generated independently of me.

  44. Joseph Stanford on January 16, 2006 at 11:56 am

    jjohnson, andersmom, ginny, thank you for posting about your (or friends’) experiences with actual use of NFP. I think there is a lot of speculation from people who haven’t actually used a modern NFP method with good instruction.

    #14 and others- This is another common reason that women start using NFP. I have always find it interesting that women want to go off the birth control pill and get it out of their system. It is conventional medical wisdom and is probably true that, on the average, getting pregnant within a couple of cycles of being on the pill increases the chance of miscarriage. To me, this says something about the wisdom of the pill in the first place, especially since the pregnancy rates in typical use (with missed pills and so on) are in the range of 8% per year.

  45. Joseph Stanford on January 16, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    I apologize for the interruption in the last post. I hit the send button by accident when I was toggling between windows. I wasn’t signing as Rosalynde [admin note: that's fixed now], I was addressing a comment:

    Rosalynde and Adam and Russell,
    Thank you for the defense against the charges of heresy. Julie, I appreciate your concerns, but I will assure you, if I can, that I am not trying to say that the Church has endorsed NFP. I have made a long study of this issue from many angles, professional and personal, and come to an understanding that I present purely as my own. I am sorry if anyone read my FT article as a statement of official LDS position, though I doubt very many people have. Whenever I am asked by my Catholic friends (or anyone else that asks it, but usually only the Catholics care to ask) what the LDS Church position is on birth control, I always start by saying there is no official LDS Church position for or against any particular birth control method, excepting abortion.
    One of my key concerns about family planning or birth control is consistency with relevant gospel principles. In my own personal judgment of the relevant issues, NFP fits the bill. Ariel asked for a part 4 detailing why. I gave a brief outline in the FT article. I might try to expand on this, but I don’t know whether I will have time before my guest blogging time is up. At any rate, I find my conclusions supported by the experiences of those I am privileged to serve and associate with. Over and over again, I hear from couples (LDS and other faiths) who are newcomers to NFP, why didn’t we hear about this before? We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble. The travesty is that many LDS couples are out there making these choices without knowing all their options. I am trying to do my part to get the message out so that people have at least heard about it and have an opportunity to know something beyond the myth and hearsay on this topic.

  46. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks, Dr. Stanford. We appreciate it.