Most people know that Catholics are not allowed artificial contraceptives. Of course, whether this is an outright ban or guidelines is up for debate. However, Catholics are encouraged to use Natural Family Planning to prevent pregnancy. NFP or Fertility Awareness Methods as they are sometimes called, involves closely and diligently tracking your menstrual cycle, to figure out when you are likely to ovulate. Now, women only ovulate a couple days each month, however, sperm can live in a woman's body for five days, so that means a week of not having sex. There are many different methods of tracking fertility, from taking your temperature, charting your cycle on a calendar, or checking fluids for differences. This is OK. However, typical use rates being 75% effective, noting that a lot of the sources I heard from were theologians, and knowing people who use it who have five or more kids didn't inspire a vote of confidence in me.
Yet, when I was reading Planned Parenthood's information, they noted that the effectiveness of Fertility Awareness is dependent on some factors. One, yes, your cycle needs to be regular. Two, it's better if you use multiple methods (taking your temp AND checking fluids AND charting on a calendar) but that also requires an extreme amount of diligence and cooperation from both partners (it helps if you're also monogamous :)). Three, the low effectiveness rate is due to lack of diligence more than anything and, if a combination of methods is used, effectiveness can be up to 99.6% (Phew!!!!). Four, things like breastfeeding can change your ability to read signs but at the same time, exclusive nursing for six months actually helps suppress fertility. Five, you have to be either disciplined enough to abstain for about ten days a month or be OK with using barrier methods (condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, etc). Six, to actually learn these methods, both partners should take a class. All of this information can be found here.
I cannot tell you how relieved this made me. It's one thing to read from Catholic sources but they do have to say that. To hear this from doctors and professionals who are committed to affirming all women's choices gives me a huge vote of confidence. I had been a fan of it before but I at least wanted to use barriers as a back up. Of course, that choice is still up to me (hey, we do have a conscience clause, right?) but to know that I can use it and it can work by itself, so long as I'm diligent and committed helps me a lot. Obviously, I'd have to be extremely committed and my partner would have to be, but it's nice to know that I can prevent pregnancy and follow my faith's tenets at the same time.
It does bother me that many Catholics have so much animosity towards PP. They are not the type to simply push abortions and pills on women. They also encourage abstinence, obviously have information on NFP/FAM (and even recommend couples go to Catholic hospitals and churches to learn it), have information on body image and actually do help women who choose to raise kids or place them for adoption. Yes, like other organizations and institutions, they have their failings and coverups (which they do rectify) but, as Catholics, I'd like to think we'd understand something about that.
So, thanks again, Planned Parenthood! Thanks for affirming everyone's right to choose. And thanks for making it easier for me to be Catholic!