Question on Natural Family Planning

Forgive me if this is the wrong place to post this question but it seemed like the most appropriate area.

I have been debating this question with my roommate for the last few days and have made now progress on it so I thought it may be worth posting to see if someone can set me straight.

A few days ago, my roommate and I were having a discussion on contraception and we agreed that the main reason contraception was bad was that it prohibited life, hence it was not a pro-life action. As we understand it, it is the position of the Church that sexual acts must result in the possibility of fertility, hence why acts like oral sex may be appropriate for foreplay but not on their own. Is this right so far?

Now the question we discussed is how does Natural Family Planning fit into this. On a physical level, it seems it could make sense because you are not doing anything unnatural which could prevent procreation. However, what I struggle with is the intent. It seems to me that the intent of contraception and natural family planning is the same…to prevent life. I just don’t understand, therefore, how it could be permitted or under what circumstances it would be permitted. It sounds like doing a good act with the wrong intention.

*As for the intent, it is true that NFP can be used to do “a good act with the wrong intention,” for example, if a couple uses NFP to avoid pregnancy simply because they like their orderly life and their social circle more than caring for God’s little gifts. But if it is used to avoid pregnancy for a good reason (as only the couple using God’s grace can tell), such as lacking proper financial or personal resources to properly care for new children, then it is permissible.

Also, it is important to note that NFP can also be used to acheive pregnancy, not avoid it, so some folks who are using it are not trying to prevent conception at all.

I hope this helps.

The intention not to have a child in a particular cycle is not immoral in and of itself. The whole Church teaching against contraception swings on the objective nature of the *means. *Artificial contraception=objectively evil means. NFP=objectively indifferent means.


Very close, but not entirely right. The marriage act should not be altered, but if pregnancy is not possible, the husband and wife may still engage in it, (for example a woman who is already pregnant or who had a hysterectomy because of cancer) The problem with the other acts relates both to the way such act prohibit life and the way they alter the act to such a way that it is no longer the marriage act but something else. (Hence a former US President didn’t even consider such acts “sex”.) Such acts may involve sexual organs, but they use them in ways that God did not design those organs to be used. Even when reproduction is not possible, the reproductive organs should be used only the way in which God designed them.

The couples’ intention matters. The Church writes that couples should have "just’ or “grave” or “serious” (it depends on the document and how one translates the Latin) for avoiding pregnancy. People often neglect that part of the Church teachings–that’s a pet peeve of mine. The Church does not give free reign to use NFP for avoiding more children. Children are blessings, and people should have serious reason before avoiding pregnancy or more children. Here’s a quote from section 16 of Humanae Vitae:[/FONT]

If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.

See, that is where I have my disagreement, but it may just be the way I see the world. I don’t think you can judge any action solely by that action but rather you must look at the action and the intent. For instance, I do not believe it is the same thing to kill someone by shooting them or to kill them by trying to do CPR and having something go wrong. Technically, you may kill them either way, but the intention is very different. Likewise, there are many parables in the Bible which show the importance of intention…one that comes to my mind is the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had in a collection, and while her gift was small, it was greater than the gifts of the Pharasees, you know?

Do you see why I am saying intention is important? Now, looking at NFP, it has the same intention as contraception which is to prevent life, hence it is not a pro-life outlook. You say “The intention not to have a child in a particular cycle is not immoral in and of itself.” but isn’t it in a way playing God? You are, in a way, determining when you will have children.

I don’t know, maybe I am reading too much into the intention, but it just seems to me like that can’t be right. The first response sounds more like how I view it.

I don’t mean to condemn your view Scottgun, I am just having trouble understanding how it fits. It isn’t just you, I have been having this debate with my roommate and I think I have just about driven him nuts.

It’s not soley my view. Your problem is with the Church, not with me because this is Moral Reasoning 101 straight out of the Catechism:

1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

  • the object chosen;
  • the end in view or the intention;
  • the circumstances of the action.
    The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.
    1751 The *object *chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience.
    1752 In contrast to the object, the *intention *resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it.
    1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39
    1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.
    1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).
    The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil. 1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

Using what you quoted, I still don’t see your side, and here is why (perhaps you can point me to where you are seeing it, i did read it all). Okay, so a good act requires goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances. The “end” of using NFP to prevent contraception outside of the proper circumstances (say if it is for convenience) seems to me to be wrong because it is working against the creation of life. It is playing God because you are saying that you know the right time to have a child or not. Do you disagree? I just am not seeing your point based on the evidence cited, but I promise to be openminded if you point it out to me.

Scott, look at the CCC points you quoted, particularly 1752 "Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. "

While a good intention won’t make an immoral act (such as contraception) moral, a *bad *intention may make a morally neutral act immoral. Monitoring a woman’s fertility is morally neutral. Monitoring a woman’s fertility with abstinence during her fertile period to avoid pregnancy might be a very loving act–say if another pregnancy poses great risk to the woman’s life. But fertility monitoring might also be a very selfish act–say the husband just doesn’t want his wife to put on weight and risk stretch marks. The catechism clearly points out that intention matters in determining the morality of an act.

I think I am being misunderstood. I never meant to suggest intention is not part of moral considerations. It very much is. But the Church unambiguously teaches that couples may use natural means to avoid pregnancy with a serious reason. Therefore, the intention to avoid children cannot be a bad intention in and of itself. Thus, if a couple has a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, they may use moral means to acheive this. Now, I may have misunderstood you, but my aim was to head off the idea among some Catholics that NFP is morally equivalent to artificial means, which it ain’t.


Okay, now I am with you :). Sorry about that!

Irish, I disagree with what you wrote here. There seems to be two sides of the argument that, frankly, are both heresy. One side says that NFP for the purposes of avoiding pregnancy is *always *licit; the other side says that NFP for avoiding pregnancy is never licit.

The problem with your argument that NFP is “playing God” is that the Church doesn’t teach that. The Church leaves it up to couples to discern with God. If couples fail to consult Him in prayer when they use NFP, then they are probably *misusing *NFP. If they are praying and open to God’s will for their life, then maybe NFP is part of God’s plan for their family. Some on the other hand say NFP is always licit, but they also neglect portions of the Church teachings.

Here’s a couple of Catechism references regarding marriage and children.

1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory."162
]Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: “It is not good that man should be alone,” and “from the beginning [he] made them male and female”; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words:"Be fruitful and multiply*."** Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.163[/LIST]2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:
When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.156

2373 Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.163

Well put in your usual generous way. :thumbsup: But I did want to clarify this one statement for the OP because this used to be confusing for me. The knowledge that comes from NFP is always licit. We can chart from onset of menses through menopause. It is deliberate abstinence that Church teachings address, not the knowledge of fertility.

It can be just as wrong for a couple with no knowledge of fertility to stop having sex completely just to avoid children. Those couples are the ones who have told me that “NFP is just like contraception.” Drives me nuts! (One couple even used it to conceive and still call it contraception!) I think they are contributors to the problem the OP is discussing.

To the OP, basically what the Church teaches (and what Gardenswithkids addresses well) is that our entire sexuality is to be used prayerfully. Whether we have knowledge of fertility or not, when we purposefully engage or abstain, it needs to always be about God’s will for our family.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit