NFP: Graphic Sex Version
January 30, 2007 § 23 Comments
(Update: see this post also).
It occurred to me after our discussion a few days ago that when it comes to NFP, people appreciate graphical charts. So I’ve tried to summarize my view graphically in this post.
I am assuming that the reason for using NFP is a mutually agreed reason and that the couple intends to avoid pregnancy. I’ve also tried to clarify the difference between periodic abstinence and temporary abstinence in the lower graph. (It should be noted that – except in cases where a person has taken a vow of perpetual continence – all intentional abstinences from sex, including priestly celibacy and the continence of the unmarried, are temporary in the sense meant here).
You can see from the chart that NFP as a means to avoid pregnancy is superfluous in the sense that it is never morally obligatory. There is always a different licit option – temporary abstinence – available to the couple. If the reasons for using NFP are not grave enough then it shouldn’t be used. If the reasons are too grave then using it would be imprudent and thus morally wrong. Temporary abstinence doesn’t suffer from any of these weaknesses, and in fact is the better way in all cases if the couple can bring themselves to accept it willingly and lovingly.
Another thing you can see from the chart – and perhaps the most controversial bit – is the issue of just how wide the “bump” in which NFP is justified happens to be, and even the extent to which and precise manner in which it exists at all.
In my view NFP is a mercy, provided in response to human weakness. It is not “the best way” to carry out God’s plan for marriage. It is medicine, not food. And it is dysfunctional to treat medicine as food.
There is a caveat in here about temporary abstinence as well. Married couples have a positive obligation to bring children into the world. It isn’t an absolute obligation: indeed, Josephite marriage can be a very holy state in its own right. But frivolously failing to fulfill the obligation to be fruitful would be wrong, even if the means used were temporary abstinence (as opposed to periodic abstinence). The point though is that there is no positive obligation to engage in sex with some particular frequency.
All, of course, in my own view. My own view isn’t ex cathedra, but it is consistent with what the Magisterium has taught about NFP as far as I can tell; and more triumphalist views of NFP do not seem to be consistent with what the Magisterium has taught about NFP.
Note: Simply put, periodic abstinence is abstinence during the fertile periods. Temporary abstinence is abstinence until the reason for avoiding pregnancy comes to an end.