The Super Suckage of NFP

*Like any post about NFP, you might encounter terrifying words like “cervix”, “mucus” and “vagina” should you choose to continue reading. Fair warning.

Let’s talk about NFP, and how it sucks.

Image via the wonderful Katie

I know, I can hear the furious clicking as my faithful followers abandon my blog in droves. But look, y’all, I have to be honest here, because honesty is kind of a thing with me. It’s like a tic or something; deep in my subconscious, there’s an inner Dalek shouting “HON-ES-TY” instead of “EX-TER-MIN-ATE.” Know what I mean? (If you don’t know what I mean because you’re not a total sci-fi geek, well then, I’m sorry and I hope you find something in life that makes you as happy as Doctor Who makes me.)

With the HHS mandate drama, the floodgates have opened and discussion about contraception hath poured forth. Everyone is talking about it, even WaPo. Dear, wonderful Janet Smith, the woman who I can only hope to be like if ever I grow up, has asked us to talk about it, and the blogosphere has responded with people talking about it.

I have been mostly silent, except for wearing a snarky T-shirt and offending the Duggar-hating underbelly of the interwebs.

Part of my unwillingness to post about NFP has been due to my own internal inconsistencies. I agree with every single one of the posts I linked to above, and they all basically disagree with each other. It’s kind of hard to write a coherent post about NFP when everything I read makes me say, “Yes! That!” But mostly I haven’t brought it up because quite a few people seem really keen on “re-branding” NFP. Making it hip. Showing that it works, that it’s simple, that it makes our lives so much better, that we freaks who use it don’t have sixty bazillion children all dressed in matching denim jumpers, and even picking up on the vernacular du jour and telling the world how green NFP is. And frankly, that’s not a bandwagon I can jump on without lying through my teeth. But I also don’t want to write a post about how NFP is, in the words of Darwin, “some sort of Bataan death march of marital suffering.”

So what’s a blogger to do? Stick to my strengths, I guess, and just tell it like it is for me.

I don’t use artificial birth control because five years ago this August I swore to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. I don’t use birth control because I think the Pill is a very dangerous carcinogenic. I don’t use birth control even though, as my favorite OB/GYN ever so helpfully points out when I see him, my hormone-induced migraines qualify me (maybe) for an exemption from the Church’s moratorium on the Pill, I believe that the Church knows what she’s talking about. The explanations make sense to me. The rules make sense to me. Seeing the rapid free-fall into moral decay that our society has plunged into since the Pill was approved gives me empirical evidence to support the arguments laid out in Humanae Vitae

I don’t use artificial birth control because I believe it fundamentally damages the relationship of a husband and wife and consequently undermines the fabric of society. My husband is dearer to me than anyone else on this earth. The worst times in our married life have been times when something has driven a wedge between us. Using contraception would be the mother of all wedges, and I couldn’t live like that. Neither could he.

But I also don’t walk around touting the magical wonders of NFP. As far as I can see, NFP has no magical wonders except for the magical ability to confuse and frustrate the hell out of  me. We’ve gone through two methods now. The first, the Sympto-Thermal Method, was ridiculous on its face. The “thermal” part of it measures your basal body temperature, which requires you to wake up at the exact same time every morning, go to sleep at the exact same time every night, never have a cold, and most horrifically, never drink alcohol. It seems to me that the creators of this method never actually realized that it might be used by human mothers as opposed to the robotic variety, but there it is. I never go to sleep at the same time, nor do I set an alarm clock (because I have these loud things called children), someone always has a cold that inevitably ends up all over me, and I love wine. So my basal body temperature is all over the map, all the time.

The Sympto-Thermal Method also requires its users to *ahem* check their own cervix.

I know, kid, that’s how I feel too

Here’s the thing about that: Blue Cross Blue Shield and I pay highly-trained professionals good money to do that for me, and while I’m sure they’re doing an excellent job, those annual exams are an annual rite of torture. I am not about to go voluntarily spelunking around inside my own vagina on a daily basis until I figure out where my cervix is and what its various positions can tell me about my fertility. Because that’s gross, and quite frankly it sounds terribly uncomfortable. Count me out of the “internal examination” camp, for the foreseeable ever.

So that leaves the (sorry, everyone) mucus thing. The Sympto-Thermal Method does a bad job of explaining that particular sign of fertility. The Creighton Method, which is very magical and amazing when you’re taking the classes, does an excellent good job of explaining how to recognize and identify cervical mucus, and even provides you with an encyclopedia of color photographs to clarify and make you vomit. Here’s my big problem with Creighton, though: it’s equally as unrealistic in its own way as the basal body temperature nonsense.

Creighton requires that you “check your signs” each time you use the bathroom, both before and after, and before and after showering. Theoretically, that’s totally doable, right?

Right. 50% of my bathroom breaks usually come to an abrupt end when Sienna comes rushing in to tell me that “Liam has broken a dish/eaten out of the sugar bowl/pulled out all the knives/swan-dived off the bookshelf/gotten wet and turned into a Gremlin right on the kitchen floor!” Can you guess how many times I’ve responded with, “Oh, okay, I’ll come save his life, right after I check my signs?”

Uh-huh. Like I said, the creators of these methods seem to forget that they’re being used by human mothers with at least partially human children. If you miss checking, even just once, you could miss THE SIGN that tells you that if you throw yourself into your husband’s arms tonight, four months later you’ll be writing a blog post about how NFP sucks while sucking on anti-nausea Preggie Pop Drops. 

The Marquette method holds promise, I think, particularly because it doesn’t require absolute faithfulness in checking temperatures or signs. One of my readers left a comment about a method that she developed that I will be trying in about six months. It’s basically the Marquette method minus the expensive monitor, and it sounds quite intriguing.

But the point is, I’m not interested in re-branding NFP. I can understand why some people want to do that, but I personally don’t use NFP because it works or because it’s green or because I love finding out about how neat my body is (I don’t…it’s neat, let’s leave it at that). I use NFP (or more accurately, fail to use it) because I believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and because I believe that artificial contraception is wrong. Period.

I think it’s a little dishonest to try and convince people to give NFP a try for any reason other than the one that matters. It isn’t fun to try and guess if you’re fertile or not. It’s not a pleasant bonding experience or a return to an “engaged state” when you haven’t had sex with your husband for three months because you cannot, for the life of you, figure out what the hell your mucus is telling you. It’s hard. It sucks. It hurts to have to say “not tonight, and I don’t know when.” It hurts to have to turn away from the one you love when you’re both stressed and weary and you really just want to seek the comfort of each others’ arms. It’s frightening to find yourself pregnant yet again when you don’t know where you’ll be living in six months or if you’ll have insurance or even a job. It requires faith. It requires trust. It requires an absolute commitment to attempting to live a virtuous life. Anything less, and you’ll find yourself cursing Humanae Vitae and wavering in your faith. I still find my faith wavering sometimes in the face of those two pink lines. But God has blessed me with a faithful husband and faithful friends who remind me that what I’m doing is right and good, that things will work out, and that even if they don’t work out, following Christ is worth suffering for.

I love the Catholic faith because it is beautiful, magical and wondrous. Not using artificial contraception is an integral part of that. It shows a deep respect for the dignity of both woman and man that I have never found elsewhere. But living that faith is not easy, and we ought not try to “re-brand” or re-package Catholicism to make it look more attractive. We don’t practice our faith because it’s attractive, we practice it because it’s true. The same can be said of NFP. Yes, the manuals are woefully dated and off-putting. Yes, we could use new and more practical methods based on the latest scientific innovations. I’m all for addressing those concerns. But I don’t think we should white-wash why it is that we chose this road, nor the difficulties that we face. It is fundamentally more difficult to practice NFP than it is to pop a pill or use a condom. It’s also a fundamentally better choice for humanity. That should be our message…not that NFP is easy, or fun, or green, but that it’s right.   

  • tanya

    This is the BEST article I have ever read about NFP. EVER. And I have read alot. I agree with you 100% about every thing you said in this article. Awesome.

  • Chasity Short

    Wow… notice how you aave 50 comments on quote of the day and only 1 here? That means you’re doing something right— telling the truth. You pretty much just sumarized my feelings on NFP. It sucks, I hate it, but we’re faithful to The Church that Jesus made. Good job with this one!

  • Chasity Short

    uhhh, just saw you have 74 comments. So, never mind. Still, great post :)

  • Megan

    Thank you for writing an article about NFP that’s realistic. Before I got married I was all starry-eyed about the Church’s sugar-coated version of NFP. Who’s idea was it that it builds communication skills? I’ve never had my husband hand me a thermometer or touch my chart. Oh, and he works overnight, so being together at the “end of the day when the woman goes to bed” is not happening. It’s a constant struggle but is advertised like it’s rainbows and butterflies.

  • Jane Hartman

    You make it sound like hell.

  • Annie

    But how is abstaining for months at a time being “open to life?” I could argue that using the pull-out method after having sex during ovulation is more “open to life” than abstaining, since the pull-out method is not 100% effective. Also, if NFP works for you and your marriage, that’s great. And acknowledging that the only good reason to use it is you own faith is also totally right-on. Since you can communicate, be green (after all, creating another American consumer is decidedly NOT good for the environment), and have a wonderful, loving marriage with NFP. I would know, since using a reliable method of birth control has been great for my own marriage. If it’s bad for yours, then by all means don’t use it!
    PS alcohol, engine exhaust, mineral oils, paint, and UV rays are also carcinogens but I assume you use these things. from

  • Annie

    oops, I meant withOUT NFP.
    *Since you can communicate, be green, and have a wonderful, loving marraige without NFP

  • SG

    Im engaged and recently started NFP, and am having a HORRIBLE time with it. I feel degraded and like a science experiment or elite breeding animal with the checking and charting…and Im in an abstinent relationship already so I dont even have to deal with the “saying no” part of it yet. I was looking forward to starting it for our marriage prep and now Im heartbroken and crying every day while I deal with the chart because I feel dehumanized. My fiance is angry because he doesnt understand why it makes me so upset. Has anyone else had this problem? Ive tried to talk to people about it and other Catholic women look at me like I have three heads. My mother told me I needed “to ask God for a conversion”. Please help?

    • Rose

      SG, I felt exactly the same way when my fiance and I were taking Creighton classes before we got married. I had almost constant mucous, which meant almost an entire month’s worth of red baby stickers, which really started to get my fiance worked up about what the heck we were getting ourselves into. We were not sleeping together either, but we were certainly looking forward to it, and here was this middle-aged stranger telling us that, basically, it wasn’t gonna happen all that much. It felt very much like an invasion of privacy and like we weren’t adults. What helped me was teaching myself on the side using a secular guide to the sympto-thermal method called “Taking Charge of your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. I appreciated her humorous and down-to-earth approach and I felt like temperature was a much more reliable guide to my ovulation than cervical mucous.
      7 years and almost 3 kids later, we have sort of worked out our own system of me paying attention to some signs and winging it, but I’m thinking after this next kid we’ll go with an ovulation monitor to be stricter about things. I just wanted to let you know that I feel for you, and to stick with NFP, but maybe change your method to something that stresses you out a little less, if only because stress messes with your cycle and could make it all even harder!

      • SG

        Thank you for your reply, Rose. Part of what I am worried about is that I will be so afraid of getting pregnant that I wont be able to enjoy having sex, or will be so careful that we’ll have barely any sex at all (I also have fertile mucus nearly all the time). I cant have a baby the first few years we are married due to career concerns (I’m a paramedic so I cant work while I’m pregnant, its too dangerous). Did you have any constraints like this that really prevented you from having kids at first? Im afraid to “wing it”, as you say. This is why we’re doing Creighton, because it looks to be the most accurate, if also the most labor intensive .

    • Nemo


      My wife and I went through a lot of the same problems when we first started taking NFP classes. You are not alone. I don’t know if it will help, but maybe our story can offer a little encouragement.

      My wife found the classes humiliating. Furthermore, the charting was quite frustrating. Our charts looked NOTHING like the perfect ones they show in the book. At least for us, there might be only one or two clear days per month, or none at all.

      But things did get better. What we found is that, after charting for a year, you really start to get an understanding of the patterns of your own body, which goes beyond the set of rules for whatever method you’re using. We still have to abstain for a week or two at a time, but that is much, much more bearable. My wife tells me that the checking becomes much less of a pain once you’ve done it for a while. She even says she now finds NFP empowering.

      One thing that really helped us, and might help in your case, was seeking out a different instructor. Some NFP instructors are super understanding, and bring a grandmotherly sort of serenity to the classes. With other instructors, though, it feels like being scolded by your grouchy third-grade teacher. In the Creighton model classes which we took, it is sometimes a problem that the instructors are more concerned with preserving the model’s 95-99% effective statistic than on working to adapt the model to your individual needs.

      But in the end, we found that what the whole Catholic community had been telling us all along really is true: NFP really is healthy for your marriage. But what they neglect to mention in their eagerness to sell people on NFP, is that its not a magic cure-all. Instead, It’s good for your marriage in a similar way that training for a marathon is good for your body: At first, it feels like its killing you.

      • SG

        Thanks for sharing Nemo. Can you tell me what the source of your wife’s humiliation was with NFP? Was she just uncomfortable talking about her sexuality with someone else, or was she having a hard time with the philosophy of the method? For me its the latter: Im in the medical field so I am very comfortable discussing the physical/health aspects, but I feel like the constant vigilance and charting completely separates the woman’s body and emotions. Did you all struggle with feeling like you have to have “sex on a schedule” or did she feel a sense of obligation to you even when she wasnt in the mood? I feel like NFP doesnt address these problems for women at all. :(

        • SG

          Just to clarify, since Im not sure if Im expressing myself correctly, the charting would not be a problem for me if, say, I had a health reason to really know my cycle inside out and backward. But in this case, my reason for charting is to put limits on my physical relationship with my husband, and thats a harder pill to swallow, especially because it only allows us to have sex when women tend not to feel like it. Im terrified of having that strain on a marriage, and I dont feel at liberty to be more lax about the charting because I have career and safety constraints against getting pregnant for the first few years of our marriage.

    • Nemo

      You raise so many good points, and they all deserve a better discussion than I can give. All I’ve got is our experience, and a little note-comparing with a few friends, but I’ll give it my best shot.

      I think my wife’s unhappiness with the classes had mostly to do with being frustrated that the method wasn’t working as advertised, and also with an instructor who, because we were having difficulties and frustrations applying the model, treated her like there was something WRONG with her and her body. You see, we have the same issue you describe, having fertile mucus pretty much all the time. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

      Sex on a schedule (and, during post-peak, when a woman’s desire is lower): When we were engaged, I worried that this would be a problem for us, but it really hasn’t turned out that way. If we only had one or two isolated green days in a month, we both had so much pent-up energy by that point that…well…lets say those days were very satisfying. And if you have green period which is even a little bit longer, like even one week out of the month, that gives you a lot more flexibility

      Unable to enjoy sex at all for fear of conceiving: Again, when we were engaged I worried that this would be a problem, but it just hasn’t turned out that way. It helps that, when you start out, deep down in your heart its hard to really believe that all this NFP stuff actually works. You start to get more confidence after a couple months.

      I think you gather by this point, the biggest difficulty has been in the NOT having sex. And I won’t argue, that is really, really difficult. But you can do it, if you are both in it together. And if you aren’t sure if you are in it together, then comes what for us has been the greatest grace of NFP: That it MAKES us talk about these things. It makes us ask questions: Is this really what we are decided on together, or is one of us being the gate-keeper? Why are we so afraid of having children? What changes or preparations or plans could we make so that, even if we intend to delay children longer, we wouldn’t be so fearful of a surprise pregnancy? What’s our approximate timeline for growing our family? What needs to change, which would let us feel ready for children? Would we really be ready if all those preconditions were met tomorrow, or are there more subtle issues? And most important of all: What are ways other than sex that I can show you how much I love you?

      We’ve had arguments sometimes in the course of these discussions. And that’s alright. It’s so much better to have those arguments now, when its merely “hard”, then to have those unaddressed disagreements stew for months that turn into years. I think that if you are having these discussions, you already have a huge advantage over most engaged couples out there.

      There is another point: Even if you keep avoiding, the extremely limited sex doesn’t last forever. It’s partly that after a year or so my wife just got really good at practicing the method, and we stopped having those, “I don’t know exactly what I saw but lets be on the safe side” kinds of days. Also,(Please forgive me for jumping into Creighton Model Lingo) The implementation of the model which they teach you at first is calibrated so that it can work for women with very little mucus. Some women will see just two days of 6C followed by one of 10C, and that’s all the hint they get that they’re ovulating. For others, that might just be background noise, and ovulation is indicated by multiple days with 10K and 10L and 10KL. If, after a number of months of NFP, you consistently fall into the second category, your instructor will probably introduce you to a variation of the yellow stamp rule, which is calibrated for women with more mucus. To be clear, I don’t think this is a matter of compromising the method. Its more a matter of following it with a correct calibration for your own body.

      I very much agree with you in wishing that, within our Catholic community in general and marriage prep in particular, there were better opportunities to talk about sexuality in the context of NFP, and not just treat NFP as an abstract technical discipline.

      I don’t know if that’s any help. God bless on the upcoming wedding!

      • SG

        Thanks, Nemo, that does help a lot. I don’t really feel a whole lot better about using NFP (I’m a tough customer), but its extremely comforting to know other people had the same concerns and it turned out well for them. Interestingly enough, its also good to hear these things from the husbands side, since a lot of my worries concern my husband being disappointed and having that put pressure on me (even though he would never want this to be the case). Thanks so much for your time replying, and God bless!


    • Michele

      You are not weird at all! I’ve been married for almost four years but I remember when I first starting charting during marriage prep…and I pretty much remember feeling a lot like you (but wasn’t as articulate about it). You don’t need a conversion…you just need time. And marriage. Because time makes it seem less weird (and more funny…especially once you have other friends who practice nfp and you can make jokes about how ridiculous mucus charting can feel at times) and marriage makes it make sense. Once you’re married and not abstinent, you’ll be a lot more comfortable with that part of your body. So don’t be hard on yourself! Give yourself time to adjust and know that, for most people, it takes a long time to feel comfortable with nfp! There’s no sin in that! Just keep with it, and I promise it will get better. Or at least funnier. :-)

    • Jessica

      I am a Creighton Model user and have been for about 7 years now, and also learned the method when engaged. I was lucky in some ways that my husband (at that time fiance) lived too far away to participate in the NFP meetings–it is AWKWARD to have someone asking you some pretty embarrassing questions about how you do your observations, etc. Even now, when we really should do a follow-up to get more stamps, I don’t want to schedule one because I hate going through all the technical questions.
      That said, I can finally say that I am GLAD we use NFP and feel that the Creighton Model is the best method for us. It has taken me a long time to get there, though. I also am a yellow-stamp user–I observe mucus almost every single day, but after the first few months, and then increasingly so afterwards, I got to know my body’s typical signs through the month. In addition, during those times we 0felt that we really really needed to be careful to avoid, we have purchased an ovulation monitor (called Ovacue) that helps me with my confidence (granted that’s not really part of the Creighton model and technically the Ovacue is designed to help couples achieve fertility, plus it is extra time spent doing observations–I sometimes feel like my whole day centers around deciding if I am fertile or not). Just know that it will get easier too when you and your spouse are more comfortable with each other and can use abbreviated lingo to fill each other in on what’s going on; I can often mention that I had a 10c day to my husband early in the evening so that he doesn’t have any expectations after the kids go you bed.
      NFP is definitely NOT easy, and it is a little deceptive to hear all those selling points, because I think that using NFP is like any other attempt to grow in virtue–it is not always easy to say no to other temptations either. Especially when we, for the most part, have all grown up in a society hearing that sex should be when and how we want it, all for our own pleasure. Using NFP has slowly but surely helped me (and continues to help me) change my understanding of sex. And this is coming from a cradle Catholic, who also read all the “right” books and teachings before marriage. I think another big trap is to use it while still clinging to the contraceptive mentality. I know that one way that I try to avoid that is considering the fact that even though we are trying to avoid, prayerfully asking God to my heart open to his will. Using NFP is one way that I feel that I continually must seek God’s will.
      As for worrying so much about conceiving that you can’t enjoy sex–I hope you can come to a peace within your marriage and yourself. I have never felt that, although there have definitely been times in our marriage when I thought “We for SURE don’t want to get pregnant this month!” And during one of those times is when my first son was conceived. It was a difficult time to be sure, and looking back I wouldn’t want to go through the anxiety again (my son was born while my husband was deployed to Iraq), I am forever grateful for the lessons it taught me and of course for my beautiful boy whom I love dearly and can’t imagine life without.
      And one more thing–there have definitely been periods in my married life when I have thought, “how ridiculously unfair it is that I am most in the mood during the times I am fertile!” And in fact, that is one way that I can usually tell that I have ovulated–by how antsy I feel during the fertile mucous, and then by day 4 I sometimes feel like a nice bath and a good book would be a more enjoyable evening. However, I have most definitely learned that there are seasons–sometimes you and your spouse will be in synch, and sometimes not, and there is no need to be hard on either of yourselves. That being said, things always come around (sometimes months or years– pregnancy, breastfeeding, and life in general can all mess with how smooth things run!) and most often, even though I can tell a difference in my hormone levels, I still look forward to the intimacy of day 4!
      Things will get easier. It is hard to feel scrutinized and to feel like your chart “should” look a certain way….but try to remember that there is a method and rules for standardization, but my bet is that most women’s charts vary greatly and you will learn how yours is “supposed” to look.
      As other users have said, gaining a familiarity with your own signs and also for sure getting some experience in marriage, will both definitely help. It will probably not ever be easy, but it will get better!!

  • adelfa

    Well, I find it pretty easy to tell when I’m fertile and not, using mostly mucus. I’m pretty regular, cycle wise. We’ve been doing NFP for 8 years. And guess what? It’s easy, green, AND I HATE IT TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY. We only use the luteal (post-ovulatory) phase in fear of having an early ovulation (happened as early as day 11 for me one cycle). My cycles are short. That means my non-fertile, post-ov phase that we can have sex in is, at most, about 7 days. We have 3 kids–they get sick as kids do. We both work. Hubby travels 1 week out of every month. Guess how often we are able to actually have sex? About once a month IF WE ARE LUCKY enough. How many nights have we both lain there, aroused and miserable, wishing we could just enjoy marital relations? How many times do we avoid touching or hugging each other in order not to “start something” we know we cannot finish?

    Why not just have another kid? Well, I had severe PPD with my third. We have no family nearby. I nearly died at my own hand after baby #3 because of the PPD. I’m all better now, totally healthy mentally and physically, but I can never ever ever go back and do that again. They tell me PPD has an 80% recurrance rate. I guess a non-open-to-life mom is better than a dead mom….

    So we do NFP because we believe the Church is right. We want to do the right thing. But DOING IT (not the method, but the compliance with it) is MISERABLE and a cross we bear every single day. I hate those sugar-coated magazines and articles. I just want to scream–how about those of us who find this SUCKY and HARD? Minister to us! Tell us we are not alone! Enourage us to keep going!

    thanks for writing this!

  • Lillian

    Dear SG, you said that you “feel…like a science experiment or elite breeding animal with the checking and charting”. I am engaged and a little bit of that same feeling has led me and my fiance to settle on what one blogger calls “Awesome Family Planning” (

    I also like to call it NO family planning. I am not charting anything and I am happy that I do not have to. I never intend to chart unless some severe health reason makes it necessary. Or if we struggle to get pregnant. I would consider using NFP to achieve pregnancy, but not to prevent it.

    Oh yes, and my fiance and I are 23 and not wealthy. We are ridiculously excited for lots and lots of babies, and we know that we will always be poor but the Gospels tell us that it is the rich man who struggles to reach Heaven, not the poor man. We Americans often forget that message. We know our “no family planning” can be done because my parents never used NFP or any other method of pregnancy prevention. They had 7 beautiful children and I can’t imagine life without my healthy, happy, holy siblings.

    My thoughts here are not intended as a condemnation, or even a suggestion — you mentioned that you are a paramedic and so you have to avoid pregnancy for professional reasons. I get that, and I sympathize. Best of luck to you and your fiance. But I have heard that a couple who KNOWS that they cannot afford (for professional or other reasons) to have children within 2-3 years of marriage should probably delay marriage a year or two. Because no method of pregnancy prevention is 100% effective. Again, I do not mean to condemn but merely to offer you some food for thought.

    God bless!