To begin this essay I will first explain what Natural Family Planning is and I will then turn to take a look at the essay written by Joseph W. Koterski entitled Theological Reflections on Natural Family Planning. Natural Family Planning ‘is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies. Methods of Natural Family Planning depend on the observation paid to the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The main idea behind Natural Family Planning is that no methods of artificial contraception are used. Such methods of artificial contraception include drugs, devices or surgical procedures which are used to avoid pregnancy.
The first question Koterski asks is ‘Can the use of Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy be morally justi?ed? He then goes on to state that many discussions come to the conclusion that Natural Family Planning is acceptable providing one does not have a ‘contraceptive mentality. The writer agrees with this statement, however one finds themselves asking does the whole idea of Natural Family Planning not have a somewhat contraceptive mentality to it also? The article then puts across the idea that procreation is good within marriage however if a couple do have a contraceptive mentality it should be for a moral reason such as ‘spacing births a bit for the good of the mother’s health, or caring better for the sake of one’s existing children, or for the good of the marriage in a time of great pressures of some sort If these scenarios do come into a couples lives who use Natural Family Planning they are still remaining open to having children at these times however they are just hoping they will not until these scenarios have sorted themselves out.
It appears that throughout the article the writer continually relates back to the subject about having a contraceptive mentality. He says on a frequent basis that if the reason for a couple having a contraceptive mentality is morally for the right reasons then it is okay while still using Natural Family Planning. Compared to using contraception where the act itself is morally objectionable whether the intentions are good or bad, there does not seem to be anything intrinsically objectionable to a couple deciding whether or not to have intercourse at a particular time during the womans menstrual cycle. If the couple have a good knowledge of Natural family Planning and are trying to avoid having more children then nothing should change about their actions during sexual relations apart from the time at which they have them and knowing when not to have intercourse. The author seems to be saying there is nothing wrong with this approach, however many a person would say this is having a contraceptive mentality.
The writer then poses two questions aimed especially at those religious people who do not believe in intercourse unless between a couple for procreative reasons:
1. Are we morally required to have all the children possible for us, given our current understanding of the natural rhythms of fertility?
2. Are we morally required to refrain from intercourse when we know as a couple that we are infertile?
These questions open up quite a strong argument for those sceptical about the idea that intercourse should only be for procreative purposes. These would possibly argue that sexual intercourse is also for unifying purposes between a couple and therefore this would prevent a couple from growing closer. John Murray also states that it is not the woman’s fault that she is naturally infertile therefore why should she have to abstain from intercourse:
If you were naturally blind, you could not do anything further to make yourself blind. So: when a woman is naturally infertile [and knows it] she cannot do anything to make her acts of sexual intercourse infertile [due to her natural infertility]
The point is not that she may not do so; she cannot do so.
The facts and figures of the matter according to Jack Dominian are ‘currently ninety-nine percent of sexual activity is knowingly and deliberately non-procreative. Dominian then continues on with his argument stating the majority ‘need only a few sexual acts to achieve their desired family size. It appears Dominion is saying therefore that contraceptive methods are the easiest way of controlling family size.
The writings of Paul Quay S.J. Then continue on the essay. Quay mentions how estrus is a sign of fertility in the female species of animals and the male species can pick up on this. Humans are different however and the only way for us to know is by knowing how to ‘read the cycles of temperature and cervical fluid as signs of fertility and infertility. The article continues on to mention the whole symbolism around sexual intercourse. When a couple have intercourse it is almost like a language between them that only they can understand. Koterski uses Quays argument to say that the physical union of intercourse symbolises the union of persons in marriage. The whole idea of nakedness between a couple having intercourse is to symbolize their openness and vulnerability to one another. The whole point of this argument appears to be this is the reason why only when married should one engage in intercourse. If relating back to Natural Family Planning and not having a contraceptive mentality ‘Traditionally the reason given is that sex is linked to procreation and that the fruit of this, children, need two parents to look after them and give them legitimacy and status.
As we carry on through the document and take a look at the application of Quay’s understanding to Natural Family Planning we see how it states the Church should have as many children as possible. The task seems to be to ‘bring all of these who are naturally born to be reborn of the water and the Holy Spirit of the womb of the church by baptism. The document continues on to focus more towards the Church and how even though one may be born to Christian parents this does not mean one is a Christian. It is only through water and the Holy Spirit that we can be brought from this world of sin into the Christian community and the Church. It is only through God however that these children should be brought into this world and not as items of property, therefore conception should be one hundred per cent natural and not through in vitro fertilisation or any such procedures.
The authors final few points are quite valid when he states the the infertile period for a couple who are using the method of Natural Family Planning is a period for the woman’s body to rest before releasing the next ovum. Natural family planning should also allow the woman’s body to rest during the natural spacing of pregnancies. In this sense by abstaining from intercourse it is an expression of love on the man’s behalf as he is caring for his wife. The main point the author is trying to get across is that some of the time, even though intercourse is a way of expressing love, abstinence can sometimes be for the greater good of the family and the relationship.
To conclude, this essay states what Natural Family Planning is and the many different aspects to it. As with everything it has its pros and cons however if practised properly it allows a couple to do as the Church teaches and ‘make a decision about how many children to have in a wise and loving manner – trying to bear in mind various needs, such as health, their existing children, society’s needs, etc.’13 The whole idea about making Natural Family Planning successful is not to have a contraceptive mentality. This however is a mentality that the majority have and as stated by Jack Dominion ‘ninety-nine per cent of sexual activity is knowingly and deliberately non-procreative.
Dominian, Jack, ‘Masterbation and Premarital Sexual Intercourse’ , God Sex and Love (London: SCM Press, 1989),
Koterski, Joseph W. Theological Reflections on Natural Family Planning, http://www.nvjournal.net/images/stories/SampleArticles/6.4.pdf
Murray, John, Lecture notes.