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How Is Natural Family Planning Different from Contraception?

Patrick Coffin explains the main differences between natural family planning and artificial contraception, comparing the difference to that between dieting and bulimia.


Host: Let’s go to Dave in Nebraska, listening on Sirius XM. Dave, welcome to Catholic Answers Live.

Caller: Hello, thank you Patrick, thank you for taking my question. So my question here about this whole thing is: we know when the optimal time is for conception, but if we avoid that time, isn’t that still contraception?

Host: This is the thousand dollar question here, Patrick. Why is NFP not contraception?

Patrick: Because every act of contraception is an act, it’s an action. It’s “sex plus something else,” and that something else is designed with one purpose in mind, and that’s to sterilize an otherwise fertile act. When you avoid intercourse on a day that’s fertile, you’re loving in a different way. You’re playing Scrabble; you’re going for a walk on the beach; you’re going for a movie. Whatever. You’re not thwarting anything. You’re not performing any sex act.

So if natural family planning is contraceptive, then the celibate life is also contraceptive, because you are vowing to never marry. But we know that’s not true. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who never had relations with her her husband Joseph, is the ultimate mother because she gave birth to Life Himself.

And so contraception is “sex plus an anti-life will” that’s designed to thwart and sabotage the act in which God has vowed, promised, to bless us with new human life. That’s really the answer to that objection.

Host: You devote a whole chapter to this in your book, don’t you, Patrick?

Patrick: Yeah, I’ve nicknamed it “ABC vs. NFP.” I’m kind of tweaking the artificial birth control thing, that I’ve already explained why we probably shouldn’t use it.

Yeah, I give five analogies that help people see the difference. Because a lot of people, Chris, get tripped up here. They can’t see the difference. And this is something that predates even Casti Connubii. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1927 of the “strange mental confusion” that surrounds this issue. Well, if that was true in England, 1927, it’s certainly true in America and Canada in 2018.

One of my favorite analogies–briefly here, because I think it resonates with people–I’m not sure who came up with this, but it made sense to me when I first encountered it, and that’s dieting. When you diet, you have a number of options open to you through which you’ll lose weight. On the one hand, you can cut down on sugar and carbs and you can exercise. You will lose weight, especially if you eat less. Or you can eat whatever you want and put a spoon down your throat and vomit the excess food that you don’t want. Well, that’s called an eating disorder. You know, anorexia, nervosa, or bulimia.

So the ends not only don’t justify the means, but they don’t homogenize the means. So natural family planning would be like the couple who abstains, if you will, from the thing that will make them overweight; whereas the the contracepting couple are like the person who wants to vomit and continue the same eating patterns. So under that analogy, contraception is a sexual disorder.


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