Natural Family Planning: Separating myth from fact

We all know how difficult it is to separate myth from fact about many issues, and natural family planning is no different. Here are the four most common myths about NFP and the scientific research, which disproves them:

Myth No. 1: NFP is not as effective as contraception in avoiding pregnancy. 

Fact: When used correctly, natural family planning is as effective as oral contraceptives in preventing pregnancy.

Researchers have confirmed that the sympto-thermal method (STM) of natural family planning is as effective as the contraceptive pill for avoiding unplanned pregnancies if used correctly, according to a 2007 report published online in Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction. The sympto-thermal method (STM) is a form of natural family planning (NFP) that enables couples to identify accurately the time of the woman’s fertile phase by interpreting changes in cervical mucus and basal body temperature. In the largest prospective study of STM, the researchers found that if the couples abstained from sex during the fertile period, the rate of unplanned pregnancies per year was 0.4 percent. The lead author of the report, Petra Frank-Herrmann, assistant professor and managing director of the natural fertility section in the Department of Gynaecological Endocrinology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, said: “For a contraceptive method to be rated as highly efficient as the hormonal pill, there should be less than one pregnancy per 100 women per year when the method is used correctly. The pregnancy rate for women who used the STM method correctly in our study was 0.4 percent, which can be interpreted as one pregnancy occurring per 250 women per year. Therefore, we maintain that the effectiveness of STM is comparable to the effectiveness of modern contraceptive methods such as oral contraceptives, and is an effective and acceptable method of family planning.” — Source: European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (2007, Feb. 21). “Natural Family Planning Method As Effective As Contraceptive Pill, New Research Finds.” Available at  www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070221065200.htm.

Myth No. 2:  Couples who use NFP have sexual relations less frequently than do couples who use contraception.

Fact: Couples who use NFP have sex as often as couples who use contraception — they just time it differently.

A 2005 study conducted by the Georgetown University Institute for Reproductive Health found that “couples using natural family planning have intercourse just as frequently as couples using other methods,” noted Institute for Reproductive Health Director Victoria Jennings, Ph.D. Jennings is an anthropologist who studies health behavior and culture change and is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Use of fertility-based awareness methods strongly influences the timing of sexual activity, reported study authors Irit Sinai, Ph.D. and Marcos Arevalo, M.D., both assistant professors of obstetrics and gynecology. They found that couples who use fertility awareness-based methods of family planning to prevent pregnancy engage in more frequent sexual relations before and after the fertile time. Frequency of intercourse over the course of the women’s cycle is comparable to that of couples using other methods of family planning. “It’s important that the healthcare community let women know that these methods are available, growing in popularity, and that users continue to be satisfied with them. If couples using fertility-awareness based family planning methods were having less sex, this would probably not be the case,” said Dr. Arevalo, the institute’s director of biomedical research. — Source: Georgetown University Medical Center (2005, Oct. 12). It’s All In The Timing. ScienceDaily. Available at www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2005/10/051012084603.htm.

Myth No. 3: NFP can only be used by women with regular cycles.

Fact: NFP can be used by women with irregular cycles, and can even help detect, diagnose and treat gynecological problems, including infertility.

It is important to realize that the “rhythm” or calendar method relied on previous menstrual cycles to predict ovulation, which in practice often proved inaccurate, even for women with regular menstrual cycles, let alone for women whose cycles are not regular. In contrast, modern methods of NFP are based on a day-by-day observation and interpretation of the biomarkers of fertility and infertility in a woman’s body, regardless of whether her cycle is regular. This knowledge enables a couple to identify on a daily basis whether or not conception is possible on that particular day. Besides equipping a couple either to achieve or to avoid a pregnancy, this knowledge enables a woman to monitor her gynecological health and identify any abnormalities. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System (CrMS) is a natural family planning system that is particularly designed to detect and diagnose abnormalities in the menstrual cycle. By applying the new women’s health science of NaProTECHNOLOGY, the CrMS is able to effectively treat and in many cases, correct, conditions such as irregular or abnormal bleeding, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome, PMS, infertility, repeat miscarriages, premature delivery and post-partum depression. NaProTECHNOLOGY is nearly three times more successful than IVF in assisting infertile couples to conceive, and is completely in accord with Catholic moral principles.

Myth No 4: NFP is complicated and difficult to use.

Fact: Illiterate couples in the Third World use NFP successfully.

In 1976, the World Health Organization conducted a prospective study of the ovulation method of NFP in five different countries. The purpose of the study was to determine the proportion of women who are capable of recognizing the changes in cervical mucus during the menstrual cycle as well as the use-effectiveness of the method in fertility control. In Bangalore, India, couples were drawn from both urban and rural areas and were mostly illiterate or semiliterate. None of the women had used the ovulation method before. In the cycle following instruction, understanding of the method was evaluated as “excellent or good” in 96.6 percent of the cases; in the second and third cycles, the figure rose to 97 percent with regard to interpretable mucus pattern. The method-failure rate was 0 in Bangalore, while the user-effectiveness of the method in Bangalore was 96 percent in over 7,514 cycles of observation. The World Health Organization recommended that the ovulation method be used in India. — Source citation: Bangalore, India, WHO, (1980). 5 p.

For more information or to locate an NFP class near you, visit www.diocesefwsb.org/Natural-Family-Planning or call 574-234-0687.

Posted on July 21, 2015, to: