But if NFP is not substantively a contraceptive, why then do many people feel that it is?

Perhaps we can point at the anti-baby milieu in which we live.  In a culture that extols acquisitions the Child is not one of the 5 Cs.   On the contrary, decades of institutional denial and rejection of babies has created the mindset that children are accidents and unwanted burdens at worst, or optional extras or even cures for infertility at best.

Not only does contraception violate the procreative meaning of intercourse but also its unitive meaning, as it disfigures the sexuality of husband and wife and obstructs the total self-giving that is characteristic of love[3].

People below 50 years of age are born into this culture, with a condom in the mouth, to borrow the idiom of the silver spoon.   And women may now need to work outside the home without alternative opportunities for child care, particularly during financial reversals, which erodes their biological roles as mother and home-maker.

Adulterated by contraception, sex itself has been de-linked from procreation and is now little to do with babies. There is more and more sex without babies and more and more babies without sex.

And even when we have sexual relations using NFP, we may use it as a contraceptive. The words we use betray us. We ‘prevent’ pregnancy rather than ‘postpone’ one;  we ‘make babies’ or ‘reproduce’ rather than ‘procreate’. And we may even greet a surprise pregnancy with, “Oh no” instead of “Thank God for the gift”.

Choosing life is choosing love for people over things, where children are more precious than the things they replace.   So we need to cultivate or re-cultivate within ourselves a willingness to co-operate with God to accept fertility and children as gifts we value and protect instead of diseases we are afraid of and need to control.

NFP is good in itself because it accommodates God’s design for procreation, but it is no different from a contraceptive if the goals for using it are illicit e.g. having sex using NFP to have no children at all could be illicit.  Used as a contraceptive, NFP would be a contraceptive and would then – and only then – merit the accusation, “NFP is the same as Contraception.”

Clearly then the formation of conscience is essential, as Pope John Paul II advised on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, 1988, “Another way of weakening the spouses’ sense of responsibility with regard to their conjugal love is that of spreading information about natural methods without accompanying it with adequate formation of conscience.”

If these principles are followed, marital sex will unite physical loving with fecundity, and spouses will be able to develop a fine balance between the two aims of marital sexuality, i.e. marital intimacy and children.

In summary, NFP modifies sexual behaviour to suit fertility while contraception suppresses fertility to suit behaviour.They take opposite paths, and adopting one, either one, means to develop the habits and culture that go with that practice and to turn one’s back on the other – usually with far reaching consequences.

[3] Inner beauty does not depend on recognition by the beholder but on fidelity to God’s design.  The husband who recognizes the inner beauty of his wife is the fortunate one.  In a sense, he is seeing God.