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I listened to a Christoper West audio recordings where he explains the theology of the body of JP2 writings.

He keeps on saying how important it is to be open to new life within the marital act(sex). Using contraception is prohibited because it violates the very act of love.

I noticed though among Catholics who practice NFP (natural family planning) that they solely use it to prevent new life. I'm talking about people who have no problem to conceive a child. I never hear them saying we are trying to conceive a baby. I only see the announcements how they 'again' got pregnant unexpectedly. Probably because they made a mistake in calculations or couldn't abstain.

My question is: Doesn't this set NFP to the same level as contraception? Does the child always need to be expected?

I know there is nothing wrong to have an unexpected baby or to postpone having a baby. Don't the couples' always trying to avoid pregnancy changing the meaning of NFP use? Didn't it become to be 'open to new life but always try to prevent it'?

  • Don't think so. My wife and I used it specifically when trying to conceive; and I know a number of people who do the same thing. Doesn't mean people can't use it wrongly, though. – Matt Gutting Jun 18 '15 at 14:34
  • @MattGutting, so all your children were planned? – Grasper Jun 18 '15 at 14:36
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    It turns out that we are infertile; but we found out more certainly, and sooner, using NFP. – Matt Gutting Jun 18 '15 at 14:37
  • @MattGutting, well, I was more talking about people who have no problem to have a baby. – Grasper Jun 18 '15 at 14:40
  • Understood. This is turning into a chat; if you want to discuss in chat I'll be glad to. Perhaps I shouldn't have posted my initial comment. – Matt Gutting Jun 18 '15 at 14:43
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This sounds like a great question to ask on Catholic Culture but since that's not up, I'll give it a shot here.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

Bl. Pope Paul VI Humane Vitae p16

So, you've got good cause to be concerned. However, I don't think one ought to level a blanket judgement on any couples motives for using NFP until one gets to know them! And in getting to know them one can suggest a deep-dive reading into the purpose of the marital act as unitive and procreative. If at that point you want to "council the ignorant" then, by all means go for it, you'll probably get a better reaction than if they used other forms of contraception!

Dr. Janet Smith says in Contraception Why Not that it is the conversation that couples have each time they make love which makes NFP different. The conversation around love making and the openness to children each time makes a world of difference. The conversation can include reasons you don't want to have kids right now, reasons you do want them, differences of opinion. But there's no inherent barrier to baby making, I think that's openness and living in accord with God's plan for your family.

Then, each act is not a question of whether or not to use a condom, but whether or not it prudent to have a baby. And prudence, oddly enough, is the chief of the Cardinal Virtues.

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Doesn't this set NFP to the same level as contraception?

To the question "Whether it is a mortal sin for a man to have knowledge of his wife, with the intention not of a marriage good* but merely of pleasure?," St. Thomas Aquinas answered:

…if pleasure be sought in such a way as to exclude the honesty of marriage, so that, to wit, it is not as a wife but as a woman that a man treats his wife, and that he is ready to use her in the same way if she were not his wife, it is a mortal sin; wherefore such a man is said to be too ardent a lover of his wife, because his ardor carries him away from the goods of marriage. If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin.

*The marriage goods are children, fidelity, and sacrament.


Does the child always need to be expected?

Yes, it is unjust for the child who could be conceived if one was not prepared to support him.

This is also the reason acts of adultery or fornication are sinful; it's not because the sexual act is bad (on the contrary, it's good and can even be virtuous/meritorious), but because it is unjust for the child who could be conceived. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest doctor and theologian of the Church, says this in Summa Theologica II-II q. 154 a. 2 ad 4:

Simple fornication is contrary to the love of our neighbor, because it is opposed to the good of the child to be born, as we have shown, since it is an act of generation accomplished in a manner disadvantageous to the future child.

Also, a child can be conceived even while contracepting; no contraception method is perfect at preventing conception.


I know there is nothing wrong to have an unexpected baby or to postpone having a baby.

It is "disadvantageous to the future child" either way, even the latter; postponing means you are going to be older parents, and that can be as "disadvantageous to the future child" as not being prepared to raise an unexpected baby can be.


Don't the couples' always trying to avoid pregnancy changing the meaning of NFP use? Didn't it become to be 'open to new life but always try to prevent it'?

Yes, recourse to infertile times as a means of lessening the chance of conception must only be used for grave reasons. For example, if the husband demands payment of the marriage debt and the wife has a disease that would make being pregnant life-threatening or the husband threatens to commit adultery.

  • to have a child because the husband threatens to commit adultery? That is indeed 'good' reason. – Grasper Jun 19 '15 at 12:32
  • @Grasper: No, the husband threatening to commit adultery might be a grave reason for having recourse to infertile times. Having a child is a great good, regardless the circumstances, and committing adultery a great evil. – Geremia Jun 19 '15 at 14:39

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