Natural forms of birth control are often discounted because of the tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding that exists in both the medical community and in the general population. Mention “natural birth control,” and jokes about the rhythm method or “Vatican roulette” come to mind. Yet taking another look at natural birth control today reveals that modern forms are as effective as any hormonal or barrier method on the market. Studies on these methods have been done in China, Europe (Germany and Belgium), Mexico, India, and Africa, as well as the United States, and all show an effectiveness rate of 95 percent or greater. Not only that, couples who use natural birth control often describe it as if a magic wand has been waved over them, enhancing their relationship and creating more individual joy.
Natural methods of birth control revolve around teaching couples to identify the fertile window, the five days during a woman’s cycle when pregnancy can occur. Scientists have discovered that a woman’s body produces a fluid from the cervix in the days leading up to ovulation that acts as a valve that is open around ovulation and closed during the rest of a woman’s cycle. If this fluid is present, the valve is open and pregnancy is possible. If the fluid is absent, even if a woman is ovulating, pregnancy is impossible. In fact, the decreased production of this fluid is a cause of infertility. In addition to identifying the days of cervical fluid production, women can also use basal body temperature shifts, ovulation test kits, or monitors that check for increases in estrogen in the urine or increases in the electrical resistance of saliva as confirmation that ovulation has taken place and the fertile window is over. Abstaining during the fertile window is the most effective way of avoiding pregnancy.
Couples who use these natural methods often start for health reasons. In particular, many women do not like the minor side effects of hormonal contraceptives and their male partners want to help them avoid ongoing exposure to synthetic hormones. What they often discover is that charting a woman’s cycle and understanding the underlying hormonal changes taking place increases intimacy, cooperation, and communication between partners. But the change is often deeper than that.
Couples talk about how different sex is when they discontinue the pill or condoms and begin “trying for a baby.” They report having a deeper connection, because their physical relationship has brought them in touch with their potential for fatherhood and motherhood. Lovemaking takes on a transcendent quality because it becomes about something that will last far beyond the pleasure experienced in the act itself. When using a natural form of birth control, a couple is more aware of this lasting potential of sex, even when they are using the method to avoid pregnancy. Seeing each other and themselves as “potential mother and father” is enriching to life and the couples’ relationship.
The biggest surprise of natural birth control is what is often seen as one of the main negatives: periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy. If the couple decides to abstain from sex during the fertile window, they are given the opportunity to practice self-possession in the area of the sexual appetite — our most powerful internal drive. Studies in positive psychology, the “science of happiness,” show that by practicing such temperance and courage with regard to the sexual appetite, we grow in self-possession. This growth lays the foundation for an increase in wisdom, justice, humanity, love, and ultimately, transcendence.
We cannot underestimate the effects of what we do with our bodies on our minds, and spirits. Fertility is an intricate part of ourselves. It is tied to our own origin and the potential for the legacy we leave behind in our children. The sexual appetite can either narrow our vision or lead to greater transcendence. Taking another look at how we deal with this basic biological function can profoundly impact our psychological well-being and help us discover an untapped potential for spiritual growth.
To learn more about natural birth control, visit the Marquette school of Nursing online at nfp.marquette.edu or Fertility Care Centers of America at fertilitycare.org.