Natural Family Planning FAQs

Welcome to the Diocese of Lansing NFP Frequently Asked Questions Page.  These are common questions that we get from people who are exploring the use of NFP.  If you do not find the answer that you are looking for, then please contact Jenny Ingles.

What is NFP?

"Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies.

NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.

Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God's design for married love!" - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

FABM vs NFP?

What is the difference between a Fertility Awareness Based Method (FABM) and Natural Family Planning (NFP)? On the surface, FABM's and NFP Methods look very similar. Both use the natural biological markers of a woman's cycle to allow a couple to plan their behavior to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. There certainly is a tendency to use the terms interchangeably even in NFP communities. This stems from a desire of the NFP Methods to distance themselves from the outdated, rarely used Rhythm Method of NFP (discussed below) which only prevented pregnancy about 70% of the time. 

Although FABM's and NFP look similar and are used interchangeably, there are some notable differences. While both reject the use of hormonal contraceptives, FABM's are often secular methods that will advocate for the use of barrier methods of contraceptives (i.e. condoms) and sterilization (i.e tubes tied). Both of these forms of contraceptives are firmly rejected by the Catholic Church and are intrinsically evil. 

In addition, FABM's are secular and do not recognize that a crucial aspect of family planning is the relationship that husband and wife have with God and their active, prayerful discernment of if God is calling them to have children at that time or not. Natural Family Planning recognizes that God is not an optional aspect of family planning and seeks to assist couples in the prayerful discernment of their family size.

Theoretical Use vs Actual Use Effectiveness

All forms of family planning (including contraceptives) have two use-effectiveness rates. For the purposes of this discussion, when we talk about use effectiveness it is for avoiding pregnancy. The Theoretical Use Effectiveness (sometimes referred to as Perfect Use Effectiveness) means that if you use the method of family planning as directed perfectly, how effective is it at preventing pregnancy. The Theoretical Use Effectiveness (and the one touted in advertisements) of almost all mainstream methods of contraceptives and NFP is 99% (or more) effective.  The problem with this is that the use of common prescription and over-the-counter medications and lifestyle choices can lower this effectiveness rate. For example, the use of antibiotics lowers the effectiveness rate of the birth control pill and irregular waking patterns lowers the effectiveness rate of the Sympto-Thermal Method. Because almost all individuals use or do something that lowers the effectiveness rate of their family planning method, scientists use another effectiveness rate to compensate for normal use. This is called the Actual Use Effectiveness (sometimes referred to as Typical Use Effectiveness) which means that despite all of the ways that this contraceptive or NFP method is typically used outside of perfect use, how effective is it at preventing pregnancy? The birth control pill, for example, has an Actual Use Effectiveness of between 90 and 92%. The various methods of NFP range from 90 to 96.8% Actual Use Effectiveness depending on the method. When comparing NFP methods, the Actual Use Effectiveness Rate is the one that should be used.

I was searching the Internet about which method of birth control is the most effective and I read that the effectiveness of NFP is only 75%.  Why does the Internet say NFP effectiveness is so low and you say it is so high?

As discussed above there are two ways to measure the effectiveness of a family planning method.  Most Internet searches will tout the Theoretical Use Effectiveness of contraceptives (which is not the effectiveness rate a couple can expect) and then compare those rates with skewed Actual Use Effectiveness rates of NFP.

The reason that the Actual Use Effectiveness rate of NFP on the Internet (and some government websites) is skewed is that the data being analyzed includes the "Rhythm" method of natural family planning which, as mentioned below, is not very effective (about 70%) and is rarely used in America.  The combined Theoretical Use Effectiveness for the four methods of NFP (Billings, Creighton, Marquette and Sympto-thermal ) we recommend in the Diocese of Lansing is 99% while the combined Actual Use Effectiveness of the four is a little over 94%.  This is more effective than many contraceptive methods including the popular pill, patch, ring and condom.

I have irregular cycles or another medical condition that requires the birth control pill to manage. Can I still use NFP?

Yes! You absolutely can use NFP with irregular cycles, dry cycles, long and short cycles, anovulatory and oligoovulatory cycles and other reproductive medical issues.  If you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, then please visit our PCOS page for information on NFP programs that will work for you.  If you have other cycle issues or any reproductive medical conditions, then please visit our Creighton Model FertilityCare System page for more information. 

Why does my Parish/Diocese require NFP as part of Marriage Prep?

In his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, St. Pope Paul VI, greatly details how contraception, through its abortifactive (causes abortion) nature and by it's blocking of the unitive act of marriage, is immoral and destructive to a marriage.  

That statement then begs the question, how is contraception immoral and destructive to marriage?  The primary misconception about contraception is that it frees the couple from the possibility of pregnancy and thus enables them to enjoy sexual encounters without fear. This way of thinking inherently states that pregnancy (or fertility) is something to be feared. It says to the spouse that "part of you (or me) is dangerous and if we love each other, then we need to protect ourselves from that danger."  This idea is clearly established when, through the use of female contraceptives (i.e. the pill), the woman's fertility is shut off, thus removing the "danger" of pregnancy. Likewise, the act of using a male condom "protects" the wife from the "danger" of conception.  This attitude toward fertility is contrary to true love because it says to the other "I want you, but not all of you." 

Where contraception is contrary to true love because it rejects part of the person (his/her fertility), Natural Family Planning is concordant with true love. It says to the beloved, "I love all of you.  Let me show you how." The use of NFP builds stronger, healthier marriages and promotes dialog between spouses by helping couples understand their God-given gift of fertility. Your Parish/Diocese is requiring this educational course as part of Marriage Prep so that you can plan the size of your family without the use of contraceptives. 

Wait!?! In order to avoid a pregnancy, we have to abstain from sex?  We're about to get married and now we can't have sex whenever we want?

One of the great blessings of marriage is the full giving of ones-self to his or her spouse.  It is up to the couple (and their collaboration with God) to decide if it is a good time to welcome a new life that would come from their union.  If the couple decides that it would not be a good time to have a baby, then they would collectively decide to abstain from sex and genital activity during the 5-11 days of fertility.  So, in short, yes you would abstain from sex during those days of fertility if you are not ready to have a child.

On a practical note; however, there are many times in married life where sex and genital activity are not possible or practical.  Here are some instances in which spouses commonly choose to abstain from sex and genital activity:

  • One spouse is traveling out of town without the other
  • One or both spouses are sick with the flu or other such illness
  • Pregnancy complications that require the wife to be on "pelvic rest"
  • The first 6 weeks after the birth of a child
  • After surgery
  • Disability
  • Company visiting from out of town or the couple visiting friends/relatives 

​Short periods of abstinence benefit the couple by allowing them to express their love for each other in non-sexual ways.  These periods also serve to prepare the couple for times in their lives when extended or permanent abstinence may be required.

My Grandmother/Great-Aunt/Older Relative used NFP and had several unplanned pregnancies. Why would I want to do that?

The method of Natural Family Planning that was used just three generations ago was based on a woman having a 28 day cycle and/or ovulating at the same time in each cycle.  This method was referred to as the "Rhythm" Method.  While this method worked very well for some women, in many situations it didn't. It is now recognized that most women do not have 28-day cycles nor do they ovulate at the same time in each cycle. It has also been discovered that many women have fluctuating cycle lengths and that stress can delay ovulation. Both of these factors make the Rhythm method less effective.  

Scientific discoveries that have emerged in response to St. Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae have enabled couples to pinpoint their specific days of fertility by using their bio-markers. This has made modern methods of NFP 99% effective (theoretical use). 

I have a serious medical problem.  If I get pregnant, then I could die.  Isn't NFP too risky for me?

There are no methods of contraception, sterilization or NFP (other than permanent abstinence) that are 100% effective for avoiding pregnancy.  NFP methods are as effective, or in many cases more effective, than contraception.  If a couple truly needs to avoid pregnancy for health purposes, then the Creighton Model FertilityCare System offers an NFP blood draw that can show ovulation has occurred and that the couple is no longer fertile for the remainder of the cycle.  If this is of interest to you, then speak with your Creighton Practitioner about it.

A friend told me that she used NFP instead of IVF.  How is that possible?

The Creighton Model FertilityCare System of NFP was expanded into a field called NaProTECHNOLOGY.  This technology uses the biomarkers of a women's cycle to help specially trained doctors determine the underlying causes of infertility.  Infertility treatments using NaPro are successful 40 to 80% of the time; which is more effective than IVF.  For more information about this, click here

There are other methods of NFP out there.  How come you only talk about four of them?

It is the right of every person to fully know and understand their fertility.  Each couple has the right to decide, with God, how to use their fertility for each other and any future children. Because of this, we want each couple to have access to the very best fertility education. There are many different FABM's and "Apps" emerging that are based on the old "Rhythm" (AKA Calendar and Rhythm Calendar) method of NFP which, as stated above, is not very effective. We feel that it is a disservice to our couples to promote methods that could result in unintended pregnancies.  

In addition to the methods we have in our diocese and the methods approved by the USCCB, there are other Sympto-Hormonal, Ovulation and Hybrid methods available. Theoretically speaking, these methods should be just as effective as the methods we promote. However, we currently don't offer programs in these methods because we either do not have instructors in our area or the methods do not have scientific research of their own to prove their actual use effectiveness rates.  

If you have questions about a specific method that you are interested in learning, then please contact Jenny Ingles

Isn't NFP just another form of contraception?

No!  NFP is not contraception, it is an exercise of responsible parenthood.

St. Pope Paul VI addresses "Responsible Parenthood" in Humanae Vitae by stating that "[in] regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time."  

God made human women in a way that there are natural times when she can get pregnant and natural times when she cannot get pregnant. Indeed, every act of intercourse does not automatically result in a conception even if it was timed to facilitate a conception. Couples who choose to use NFP are working with God's good design of human fertility regardless of if they are intentionally trying to achieve pregnancy or avoid it. This cooperation with God is the essential component of being open to life (Humanae Vitae Section 11). It is also important to recognize that it is not sinful to avoid sexual intercourse during times of fertility. There are many reasons a couple may choose to do this besides avoiding pregnancy (ex. the husband or wife is ill or is taking care of someone else in the family who is ill).

Where NFP Cooperates with God's good design, contraception seeks to disrupt and frustrate his Good design. The use of contraceptives intentionally thwarts God's desing while the use of NFP cooperates with God's plan. 

I am single/a religious sister, why would I need NFP?

Over the years of developing methods of Natural Family Planning, dedicated doctors and researchers have discovered that NFP can help women in many ways other than planning pregnancy.  Through the use of NFP, a woman can monitor her health and help reverse or alleviate PMS, acne, painful periods, endometriosis and other cycle related problems.  NFP can also help in early cancer detection for certain types of cancer.  For more information, visit our NFP for Health page.

Which NFP Method should I choose?

We are not here to tell couples which methods of NFP will work for them, but rather to help couples prayerfully decide what their individual needs are and which method caters to those needs.  We have developed an overview of each method that we support.  The overview lists the pros and cons of each method and provides links to Method Instructors/Method Classes in the area and Online.