Whether it is an offshoot of the growing trend among young adults to “go green” and be more conscious of the environment, more young couples are keeping an open mind about using Natural Family Planning (NFP) in their marriages, those teaching NFP across the Archdiocese of New Orleans say.
At the very least, the level of resistance among couples preparing for marriage has subsided in recent years as women and men understand more about what contraceptives can do to a woman’s body.
Gayle Rizzo, who began teaching NFP to couples about 20 years ago, said the concept of using the highly reliable sympto-thermal method of NFP was not embraced in the same way it is now.
“Very definitely, in the beginning, for me personally, it was a very difficult area to minister in the church because it was fairly universally rejected,” said Rizzo, who has taught NFP since 1992 and now is involved in training certified NFP teachers. “We know that the teaching was rejected, so it has been a climb up from people not even giving it a second look to now.
“Whether it’s from the health standpoint or the ecological standpoint, people are giving this a look. What gives me the greatest hope is that they are looking at it as good for marriage and the love between a man and a woman.”
Tired of same old, same old
Young couples have witnessed the failure of marriages within their own families and seen how the culture treats sexual relations as a purely physical act, Rizzo said.
“Our culture has been so affected by that split between love and life that there are many couples looking to hear a message that helps them appreciate the real meaning of the marital act and the love and unity that are to be established in a marriage,” Rizzo said. “I find that when I start teaching this in class – not just the method itself – their eyes open up because they can now make the decisions themselves about their own fertility. It puts them in the driver’s seat and also expands the vision of what God designed. It gives them a renewed hope for marriage and for a committed love that lasts a lifetime.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans offers eight to 10 NFP workshops a year, and soon it will offer NFP classes to Hispanic couples. Most of the participants are engaged couples who have been asked to attend by the priest or deacon preparing them for marriage, and the others are married couples interested in no longer using contraceptives.
Rizzo said when she first started teaching NFP, more women than men were open to the idea.
Much more openness to NFP
“What has changed, to me, is that I see more openness and desire on the part of the men who want the best for their wives and who think (using contraceptives is) unhealthy and not good, and they see it as a way to love and protect their wives,” Rizzo said. “To me, that’s a major change, that in whatever is going on in our culture, these men have seen the negative effects that contraception has caused and they are desiring more from their relationship. They want to be able to be real husbands who really, truly love their wives.”
About five years ago, Rizzo helped train Caroline Cleveland Sholl as an NFP teacher, and Sholl now teaches many classes throughout the year. Sholl said the increased openness to using NFP is rooted in the idea that it is “a green method of family planning.”
“Even outside of the moral draw, it’s compatible with the ‘Whole Foods’ way of life,” Sholl said. “Most of the students who take the classes are required to be there, but for those who end up using NFP, the main draw is that it is good for your body. It seems simple to the women who buy hormone-free chicken. They realize the irony when they’re putting hormones into their body every day to shut down a part of the body that is working properly.”
The classes consist of four, 90-minute sessions over the course if two months.
Sholl said NFP is not a “magic bullet” that will keep marriages together, and she even said it can bring some tension that the couple needs to work through together.
“Initially, it was a great source of tension,” Sholl said. “I kind of resented that God gives women their greatest desire during the time when she is most fertile. In the end, that ended up benefitting us because it required that we grow up. Once my husband and I decided to grow up and cooperate with God’s plan for our family – even though the thought was terrifying when we wondered if we were going to be the next Duggars with 19 kids – we started realizing this was for our family’s ultimate good and it strengthened our marriage. But if your marriage is in trouble, NFP is not going to save it.”
Sholl and her husband Brian have four children.
“But don’t panic,” Caroline Sholl said. “That doesn’t mean that NFP didn’t work. We knew exactly what we were doing.”
Rizzo said the sympto-thermal method “statistically has the higher effectiveness rate as far as avoiding pregnancy.” But the real benefit, Rizzo said, is the shared cooperation and unity that NFP requires the couple to commit to.
“There’s something about the change in focus that begins to happen that makes all the difference,” Rizzo said. “I sometimes say if you try to explain what chocolate ice cream tastes like if you’ve never had it, how do you do that? If a couple truly comes to live this with an open heart to God and each other, it makes all the difference in how they love each other.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.