Why I Don’t Refer to Fertility Awareness as Contraception

Yesterday, I saw that today is World Contraception Day. I had no idea that was a thing until I saw it on several fertility awareness accounts I follow. 

On the one hand, it’s heartening to see fertility awareness (FA) enter the conversation since hormonal birth control (HBC) has done so much harm to women’s bodies. On the other hand, FA is not contraception. So, today, I thought I’d explain why I don’t refer to FA as such. 

Now, of course, I’m a Catholic, so I’m against contraception in general. But when I was going through marriage prep, NFP as FA is known in Catholic circles, was sold essentially as contraception. The practice was primarily emphasized as a means to avoid pregnancy that was equally as effective as HBC. I experienced first hand the harm that is done when fertility awareness is sold as contraception, and I know I am not alone in that. I could make my argument against calling FA contraception using my faith, but I don’t have to. 

Fertility awareness is not about *birth* control. It is about *self* control, self-mastery achieved through self-knowledge. Each method is simply a system by which women can learn their fertility, nothing more. It requires discipline, and it requires that the information is shared with one’s partner. It debunks the idea entrenched in our minds by birth control that fertility is a woman’s problem to deal with. FA forces men and women to reconcile with the fact that fertility is a shared responsibility, as men (unless there is an issue) are always fertile. 

Now, the knowledge acquired with FA can be used as a highly effective means to avoid pregnancy. But since it is simply identifying fertility, it is also a highly effective means of achieving pregnancy. Further, it gives women a diagnostic tool to understand the root causes for issues ranging from cyclical mood swings, to heavy and painful periods, to why she may have difficulty achieving or sustaining a pregnancy. 

It is not about controlling birth. It is about understanding the way one’s body works, and working with that, not against it. It’s effectiveness at preventing pregnancy is solely a result of abstaining during fertile times, a practice that does not by extension make it contraception, rather a powerful testimony of self-sacrificial love. Not having sex is not contraception. It is possible to use non-hormonal contraceptive measures (ie condoms, diaphragms, withdrawal, etc) during fertile times in conjunction with FA, but that is contraception. 

FA is not intrinsically against conception. In fact, learning to understand our fertility as God designed it is very much “for” conception, in the sense that it helps us understand what the purpose of our fertility is. That understanding leads to a deeper respect and awe of our fertility, which in turn leads to a deep distaste for its abuse. 

The truth is ovulation occurs in order to make a baby. Ovulation is the result of a symphony of hormones that in turn only function as the result of a healthy system – an in-tune symphony, if you will. Thanks to the science of fertility awareness, we know that ovulation is a sign of health, and the menstrual cycle functioning properly has vitally important health benefits for every woman. In FA, women learn their fertility is a gift, and even the source of their strength as women.

Hormonal birth control does the exact opposite of FA. HBC introduces synthetic hormones into a woman’s body, effectively shutting off communication between her brain and her ovaries, suppressing ovulation and the health benefits of a healthy cycle. Its side effects range from loss of libido, to mood swings, to depression and anxiety, and an increased risk of cancer and heart diseases. It teaches a woman that her fertility is something to be feared, a hindrance to her success, a burden not an asset. 

To set FA on the same plane as HBC is to do it a gross injustice. It not only sells its users short, it gives them a false set of expectations. HBC is as simple as popping a pill or inserting a device, and is often fully covered by insurance. FA, by contrast, is not easy, and it is not free. It requires that we retrain our brains with regards to our fertility. In the beginning particularly, it is a deeply rigorous intellectual, emotional, and sometimes financial investment. It can often present challenges within relationships that couples are not always equipped to deal with. Again, it is because it is not about control, but rather understanding, and the learning process can be messy.

FA empowers women to advocate for themselves everywhere from the doctor’s office to the bedroom. Women are armed with practical tools to adapt to their daily life based on the knowledge of their cycles, everything from understanding that cervical mucus is a healthy and normal bodily fluid, to recognizing that it’s normal to feel energetic and creative leading up to ovulation, but feel more inclined to rest immediately following. 

Once a woman learns her fertility, that is knowledge no one can take from her. Though certainly not easy, most women who practice FA can attest to the fact that the work is worth it.