Natural Family Planning is a privation


Kat drew my attention to this recent article from the New York Times.  As a young Protestant married couple, Sam Torode and Bethany Patchin embraced NFP, welcomed four children in six years, and authored the book, “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception”. In 2006, they recanted their praise of NFP. In 2009, they divorced. Both now attend liberal Protestant churches.

In 2002, in their book, they wrote:

Procreation is “the umbrella under which the other aspects of marriage are nurtured,” they wrote. Sex is “a joyous song of praise to the Creator,” and “having children (or adopting them) brings husbands and wives closer together and expands the community of love.”

They concluded succinctly: “When we should be saying ‘I do,’ contraception says, ‘I do not.’ ”

By 2006, they wrote in an open letter:

“Wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this.”… And it is “a theological attack on women to always require that abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.”

The Torodes were right that marital desires are good. But it does not follow that these desires must always be satisfied. Periodic abstinence is not supposed to be easy. The practice of NFP is not a good in and of itself, it is a privation. We are depriving ourselves of something good (marital desire and union, and possible conception) for something temporarily even more important (such as mom’s healing or caring for the other children). And all within the context of charity and chastity.

Their language suggests that they tasted the truth, but the reality of openness to life with periodic abstinence was just too difficult for them to practice.

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  • Kat

    JM, I appreciate your point that “the practice of NFP is not a good in and of itself, it is a privation. We are depriving ourselves of something good…for something temporarily even more important…” This is a beautiful way to think about the practice of NFP, because it allows us to view it as a positive act of charity that the couple is making together.u00a0nI am reminded of the importance of supporting my married friends, and of trying to foster a community of encouragement and practical support for those of us who are “in the trenches” of young family life.

  • Marcy Klatt

    I think this is a topic that does need to be discussed in a culture that nothing ever can be denied you if it deals with sexuality.u00a0 Our culture, including most Catholics culture, makes it hard to have several children and abstaining when fertile is just not understood by many as an option.u00a0 We are taught we should have sexual pleasure whenever we want it and because of the contraceptive mentality we take it for granted that fertility can be ignored, even when no more children are wanted or when we say “not now.”u00a0 As someone who practices NFP and has a non Catholic husband who wants no more children because of his age, this is a difficult topic.u00a0 But it would be much more difficult if I had a young husband who did not want many kids.u00a0 That could really put severe strain on the marriage if both were not FIRMLY grounded and understood internally the Church’s teaching.u00a0 The authors of the book did not have the support of their protestant church’s teaching to back them up, and probably did not have much support from fellow churchgoers either.u00a0 I’m surprised they even tried at all.n.n

  • Mary Alice

    Many married couples go through periods of abstinence for a variety of reasons, emotional, physical, etc, so a good marriage is going to have to be able to get through that.u00a0 I think that couples with young children using NFP probably have as much, or more, sex, than couples using contraception, and also have more conversations about sex life and emotional relationship, both of which are healthy in marriage. u00a0 nnI like to think of the times in NFP which require abstinence as important times to practice making small sacrifices for the sake of my family.u00a0 I also try to offer them for those who are tempted by physical affection but need restraint, such as teenagers.n

  • Kat

    MA, these are great points, and I am encouraged by your practice of offering up sacrifices during times of abstinence. Thank you for sharing.

  • JMB

    I think the “no restraint” culture is present in a lot of different areas of people’s lives – with food, drink, entertainment, spending money as well as sex.u00a0 I am constantly telling my children that there is nothing wrong with being a little hungry.u00a0 I want them to understand that they can survive a little physical hardship.u00a0 I work hard at maintaining my weight and I’m tired of this notion that it’s genetic or it’s easy to stay slim.u00a0 It’s not.u00a0 Nothing in life that is worthwhile is easy and that goes for NFP as well.u00a0 Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it.u00a0 I do, though, roll my eyes a little bit on the oft-repeated stance that NFP makes your marriage stronger.u00a0

  • Jurismater

    Ditto, JMB, NFP makes your marriage stronger than contracepting, but complete openness to children is the bomb.

  • Jurismater

    As a former Protestant, I also think there’s a strain in Protestantism of “sex is bad and dirty before marriage and then marriage is a license for guilt-free, unlimited sex”. Being formed in that thinking can be produce destructive attitudes toward true chastity and self-donation. Kat, as you say, we should be thinking of chastity as a positive thing, before and during marriage, and marital love as a gift and never an entitlement.

  • Kathleen

    I read the very sad disillusionment of Bethany in that article and I couldn’t help, but think these people took a bold stand in a big battle front, but couldn’t persevere because these protestant brothers and sisters u00a0of ours miss out on so much sacramental grace given through both confession and most especially the Holy Eucharist. Catholics who frequently receive these beautiful sacraments, regardless of our state in life–single, dating, consecrated, or married– have a massive amount of grace poured into their souls to live the demands of love through chastity required by their particular state. u00a0A marriage with the Eucharist at the center can persevere, because they “can do all things in Christ who strengthens.” u00a0u00a0And that’s not just true for couples who have to use NFP but also for those that are open to having large families. u00a0To the outside world a family over 3 or 4 might seem insane, and I would say without grace it would be! u00a0 Anyway, my heart goes out to that couple, Bethany certainly didn’t seem at peace or settled. u00a0Her tone–in my opinion–was resignation. u00a0I pray that they have a conversion. u00a0

  • I wonder if at the root of their rejection of NFP while staying protestant is a misunderstanding of the nature of family.u00a0 There’s not a protestant version of Familiaris Consortio.u00a0 Anyway, there’s a grain of truth in the trials of NFP.u00a0 Did you all see this from Ms. Bean-u00a0 It isn’t a panacea, but it is an important tool for some couples in living christian marriage and family life.

  • Red

    The very long periods of abstinence often required of those practicing NFP are very difficult.u00a0 I think we need to support those working to make NFP more effective (with less abstaining for those with cycle irregularities or during times of breastfeeding), and I hope and pray the technology will be there to support this at some point.u00a0 The reason the Torodes ditched NFP to begin with–those long periods of abstinence while breastfeeding.u00a0 Their experience was not atypical, and Danielle Bean points that out in her piece as well (although I will mention here that I found her piece to be really discouraging, offering no assurances to those struggling with a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, or those struggling in general with the Church’s teaching).u00a0 Unfortunately, the answer for everyone isn’t just openness to more children.u00a0 For certain families, NFP not working well results in severe emotional instability and medically complicated lives.u00a0 nnWhile our culture has a general issue with generousity when it comes to children, there are many families that would love to be more generous but serious health or emotional issues prevent it.u00a0 These couples need NFP to work, and as a Catholic culture we need to support them in every possible way.u00a0 While I didn’t like the overall tone and message of her article, I think Danielle Bean is right when she points out that the NFP culture is often not supportive.u00a0 Obviously, the Torodes were operating in a Protestant culture, so they received even less support.u00a0 The results were obviously disastrous.

  • Amy B

    Thanks for your response Red!u00a0 I was very discouraged after reading Danielle’s article, but encouraged by the points you have made!u00a0

  • I wasn’t trying to discount the fact that NFP is necessary and vital for some families.u00a0 I guess my point was that it is very difficult for some people at some times for different reasons and sometimes that difficulty gets discounted by various NFPu00a0instructors.u00a0 u00a0I didn’t think the point of the Bean article was to argue for the church’s teaching but instead to be realistic about the struggles living the church’s teaching entails (sort of a preaching to the choir thing).u00a0 Iu00a0admit I am always a little uncomfortable with the NFP promoters who are always touting NFP effectiveness and how well it works and the whole idea of generousity as the default position sort of gets lost.u00a0 Of course, there are very serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and I am happy to see the technology expand (I have directed many a struggling friend to the Marquette method b/c it seems to work for a lot of people having troubles during breastfeeding.).u00a0 Just like there are families who are have serious reasons to postpone, even indefinitely, there are families that don’t.u00a0 And it can kind of feel lonely when the NFP ministries tout how important NFP is and how it is VITAL for marriage etc.u00a0u00a0 Overall though I thought Danielle’s article was important for those that struggle with “Not loving” NFP.u00a0 There are a lot of people who want to do the right thing and don’t see much in terms of the fact that it IS hard and difficult.u00a0 That is where I saw the Torodes story come in. I wonder if they were blindsided by the level of sacrifice being open to life entailed, because even a family using NFP to postpone children indefinitely is STILL open to life.u00a0 That is what sets NFP apart.u00a0 Anyway, I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I don’t support families struggling to do the right thing or those trying to improve NFP technology.u00a0 Thanks for the discussion.

  • Red

    Well, you will be happy to know that I am an NFP instructor (with my husband), and we do not discount the difficulty ;-)u00a0 The recent issue of CCL magazine focused on abstinence, but one magazine issue isn’t nearly enough.u00a0 It is hard, period.u00a0 And I think that many instructors just push aside the abstinence struggles of different couples.n

  • Walkerpercy

    I was saddened by the Torode’s rejection of NFP and their divorce in 2008. Bethany Torode’s- now Bethany Patchett’s- blog is a very disturbing litany of bitterness and cynicism (in which among othernthings she accused her ex- husband of marital rape.). By the way, the Torodes converted to Antiochian Orthodoxy then Greek Orthodoxy, so they did have access to the sacraments.nOn anothe note, I think some people here are overstating NFP’s difficulty. Some people have a lot of trouble with the abstinence, but by no means everybody- and I say that as someone who both uses and has taught NFP.n

  • Katy

    I believe that Bethany was actually raped by her husband, regardless of how bitter her blog is. She definitely has a lot of issues to works out. She seems to still advocate NFP but it definitely seems that her husband was not operating with respect for their marital bed and her fertility in mind. I feel very sorry for her if this was actually the case and sad that NFP is getting dragged through the mud with their marriage when it seems clear that NFP wasn’t ever the problem to begin. Marriages don’t end with one person saying rape for no reason. We also need to take into account that she was 18 when she got married. I suspect that she and her husband were more concerned with getting married TO have sex rather getting married out of mutual love and respect for one another. The whole thing is very sad and the NYT article really glosses over a lot and throws NFP under the bus. Sad.

  • I wanted to add something positive to the conversation. NFPu00a0has come a long, long way in only 30 years and this is something we shouldn’t forget to be grateful for.u00a0nnSure, NFP still needs to improve but the methods (Creighton, Billings etc) are much more sophisticated and reliable than what was available in the 80’s. nnI remember the struggles my own mother went through with her large Catholic brood and I am sorry she didn’t have access to what Catholic women of my generation do.u00a0u00a0nnAs an aside,u00a0In the same way that the positives of periodic abstinence are some times exaggerated,u00a0NFP (especially the Creighton Method) is often touted as a sort of a miracle cure for infertility. It isn’t. There are some things that no amount of charting will fix. And when it doesn’t work, no other options are offered by the NFP community. nn

  • Mrs. C, have you looked into Napro?u00a0 It is a legitimate option for Catholics trying to fix infertility!u00a0 Goole up Dr. Hilgers.

  • Red

    Mrs. C,nnI love your blog and your thoughts here about Creighton/Napro and how it doesn’t fix every issue.u00a0 Working to improve and understand the bodies God gave us is really important, and can often solve many of our health problems, but it doesn’t solve everything.u00a0 I think this is the same reason that NFP works so beautifully for many couples, but for others there are real struggles to read their fertility signs.u00a0 Even with proper diet, nutrition, and proper training, it can be difficult. u00a0u00a0 nnSo glad you are commenting!u00a0 God Bless you and your beautiful family.

  • Mrsf

    this is really bad speculation… Considering everything I know- I have not heard her voice whatever accusations she wants to make about her husband. She tends to dance around them with enough vagueness to imply to her ‘fans’ that she was abused– but with the help of her “good therapist” I could believe that was convinced that her life of NFP was abuse in itself. What happened in their marriage we will never know- but there are definite lessons we can gleam without speculating too deeply.nnnnI have real compassion for both of them.. they became something of a poster couple for NFP- but without being Catholic they were just missing the support of the community..a safe place to grow, to fail, to ask questions, to work on *becoming* …which is what we are all doing in our marital vocations…nnNow that that’s been said- I think one of the most overlooked and under talked about issues with NFP has to do with the woman’s sex drive. One of the big question ‘B’ had seemed to be this: Can a woman have a fulfilling sex life if she is in a state of using NFP to space and thus is avoiding sex during her fertile period? nThere is a whole other world of thought out there who say “why should I, as a woman, have to avoid sex when I want it most and find it palatable?”. Thus contraception enters a marriage. nnAs women we need to address that yes- we do WANT sex when we are fertile. The easiest time for our teens to be swayed from chastity is this fertile time, this is how our crisis pregnancies happen- sex during fertile time (even with contraception that fails!). We need to talk and think about how fundamentally *sex is good*. That means it is good *outside of that magically fertile window*. Nfp can teach women how to rise above their passions, just as it can teach men to do the same. Don’t live being ruled by passions or hormones. In NFP you can learn to really enjoy sex—this is what makes us stand out from people tied to contraception and why NFPrs have been shown to have more active sex lives than contraceptors. nnI just wanted this floating around on the internet.

  • BMM

    Sorry for how all over the map this is……nnJust want to echo that yes, when abstinence is required, it is hard (particularly during the breastfeeding transition) and that I think many NFP teachers gloss over this point when trying to highlight the “beneifts” of NFP -u00a0glad to seeu00a0Red is keeping it real! ;)u00a0(as an aside, I really like the term Fertility Awareness SO MUCH BETTER.u00a0 At its core that’s what we’re talking about – gathering information about our bodies and using that information in a way that we think – after lots of prayers and spousal discussion-u00a0conforms to God’s will for our marriage and family at a certain time in life).nu00a0nThat said, while I really love this post and the previous post by Danielle Bean, I want to add something.u00a0 Reading these posts made be very uneasy….almost fearful of the “hard” periods of abstinence and I’m an experienced NFP user! I know that was not the intent, by any means, and we have to be real when talking about all aspects of NFP.u00a0 Managing expectations is a huge part of successful use of NFP.u00a0u00a0nu00a0nButu00a0I want to add something for all you readers out there – single or married-who have not had reason to practice NFP yet,u00a0who may not haveu00a0been called to actively avoid pregnancy yet, but may someday, or who are just doubtful about NFP.u00a0 Wanting to be united to your spouse in marital intimacy is good.u00a0 Forgoing that good, even for the best reasons, is hard.u00a0 BUT, in the words of my very wise husband, the practice of NFP – whether used to avoid or achieve pregnancy – must be taken ONE DAY AT A TIME.u00a0 God grants grace to manage the circumstance in life as they come – thoughts of future privations and struggles are overwhelming and anxiety-provokingu00a0precisely because we have not received the grace to manage them yet.u00a0 So yes, understand the potential difficulties of NFP, but also know that if you are truly seeking God’s will you will have the grace to “get through” the hard parts when they are before you.u00a0 .u00a0 nu00a0nAbstaining ain’t no picnic.u00a0But I want to say this (and, I say this in all seriousness, without any starry eyed naivety or intending to be hyperbolic) the spiritual benefits (unfortunately often only seen in retrospect) of practice of NFPu00a0are/can beu00a0astounding.u00a0nnMy husband and I prefer to call it “fasting” and try to work out specific intentions to offer up.u00a0 I love your idea MA.u00a0 Just as a final note, the practice of NFP has given me a much greater appreciation for the Church’s focus on small mortifications and developing the habits of denying our human whims.u00a0 I try to focus on these, especially during the periods were abstinence is not required, offering them up for my regular intentions, but also for my marriage and the proper use of NFP.nnOh wants to second the Marquette Method (use of monitor with mucus observations…..).

  • Thanks mjdmom. I’ve done the NAPRO training, charting and consultations.u00a0I’ve had the operations and the hormones. We’ve pretty much looked into every available option open to Catholics.nnNAPRO is very good for when there are problems on the woman’s side. But it’s not so great for fixing problems that exist on the man’s side. Or for odd things like semen allergies. Sorry, way TMI. lol.u00a0n

  • Thanks Red! The admiration is mutual!u00a0nnWe should meet up next time you’re in NYC to visit Mrs G.u00a0nnI think that it is important for the NFP teaching community to admit (even if just privately) that it won’t always work as a solution for infertility and to encourage those particular couples to look into adoption.u00a0n

  • Jurismater

    So well said, BMM. Thank you!!

  • Dan Guy

    Sam and Bethany became Eastern Orthodox for a time, I believe.u00a0 I wish they had come into full communion with the Church.u00a0 I pray they find peace.

  • Walkerpercy

    Nobody knows the truth of what happened in the Torode marriage except Sam and Bethany Torode.u00a0 With that said, after having spent an unpleasant evening wading through the self-pity and mean-spiritedness of her blog, I have the impression that marriage to her was no treat, and that she is prone to exageration and/or misrepresentation.nOn another note, is it true that the NFPers here believe that the fertile window is always the time that women want sex the most?u00a0 This is disputed in the medical literature: *some* women experience peak libido around ovulation, but many other women want sex the most post-peak or during menses, or have fairly constant libido throughout the cycle.u00a0 Unlike animals who go through estrous, human females are wired to want sex at any time of the cycle.u00a0

  • Dan Guy

    Bethany has said that her therapist told her that having four children in five years was, in itself, abuse.u00a0 So, given how vague she has been with the details, I take all hints of abuse with a HUGE grain of salt.

  • KT

    Red–nI wondered if you could expound on the thoughts of a medical reason not to get pregnant and using NFP.u00a0 I had a complicated last pregnancy that included a placental abruption and I am going to be meeting with my doctors soon to discuss my future risks.u00a0 I want to use NFP and be open to more children, but I worry about the an accidental pregnancy that could put both my child and myself at risk.u00a0 Thanks so much.u00a0 I am a lifelong Catholic but your blog as well as understanding the miracle of having children has really opened my heart to NFP and I would like to make it work on my husband and my life.

  • Katy

    With all due respect, I don’t see how it’s bad speculation to believe someone who says they were abused. Enough women DON’T say anything when they have been. It is the duty of the married couple together to make NFP work, not just the wife. I think compassion is in order here.

  • I loved this quote:u00a0 God grants grace to manage the circumstance in life as they come – thoughts of future privations and struggles are overwhelming and anxiety-provoking precisely because we have not received the grace to manage them yetnnThat same mindset can be used in any catholic marriage and family when it comes to accepting or postponing more children.u00a0 We have GRACE!

  • Kj_marshill

    I read her blog, too. It is very blaming toward Sam. I went to college with Sam; he is an upstanding man and Bethany entered into marriage willingly with him, wrote a book willingly with him, and has suffered severe PPD, not rape. She has made him out to be evil when he is not. nShe is divorced and using birth control now with her boyfriend (see the article) and she despises NFP. She calls herself a secular Christian and agnostic.u00a0