It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried.Don't worry; this isn't going to be a political post, at least in the traditional sense. But I want to talk about some more problems with how people promote Natural Family Planning, and this quote seems to capture exactly the point I want to make: Rather than emphasizing what's great about NFP, some NFP advocates seem to spend more time talking about what's horrible about every other kind of birth control method.
-Sir Winston Churchill
It's as if one should use NFP not because there's anything particularly good about it, but because every other option is so horrible that it's the only option left. Eek!
Here are a few reasons I think this is a terrible approach:
Scare tactics don't work
If there's one thing social science research tells us pretty consistently, it's that trying to scare people into changing their behavior is one of the least effective approaches you can use. People simply don't believe that the worst-case scenario will ever happen to them, which is why there are still people who don't use seat belts or helmets. Everyone generally believes that they're the exception, that those horrible experiences happen to other people, not them. So why take this kind of approach with birth control? For the people I know who changed from some form of artificial contraception to Natural Family Planning, they did so out of a desire to be more in tune with their bodies, or eliminate added hormones in their body, or simply be more "natural," or remove a barrier between themselves and their partner... not out of a fear of the worst-case scenario. It was the benefits of NFP, not the fear/guilt about their current method of birth control, that was the primary motivation for switching.
You don't convince anyone by rejecting their personal experiences
A lot of the anti-contraception rhetoric I see focuses on the very worst possible side effects one could experience from taking hormonal contraceptives or having an IUD (intra-uterine device), which, as I said above, is intended to scare people away from wanting to use them. But what about all the people who are using artificial contraception and having only minor, or no, problems with it? Talking about the most extreme problems is going to seem to many people to be a vast exaggeration at best, and an outright lie at worst. Why would anyone want to listen to whatever you're "selling" if you start out by telling them all about problems they are supposedly having with their current method of birth control?
It denies people's autonomy to make informed decisions
If Natural Family Planning is truly the best choice -- and I don't necessarily think that it is for everyone, but certainly for many more people than are currently using it -- then people should be able to come to that conclusion on their own, given enough information about the various options and opportunities to have their questions answered. There is already a lot of information out there about oral contraceptives and condoms, and many people already have personal experience with some form of artificial contraception. But many people aren't even aware of NFP/FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) as a viable option, or believe it to be synonymous with the ineffective Rhythm Method of years past.
As I said in my post on motivational interviewing, the best place to start is with understanding other people's needs, goals, priorities, etc. A message that comes off as "You need to use NFP because the Pill kills babies and condoms are ineffective" is a combative stance that denies people's ability to make an informed choice for themselves, by suggesting that there's only one correct option and they're ignorant and wrong for not already choosing it. A more effective approach might be, "Are you concerned about the side effects of the Pill? Did you know there's another birth control option that doesn't require you to introduce extra hormones into your body? Let me tell you about how it works and some of the benefits so you can decide if this is right for you..."
It creates more negative associations for NFP
Natural Family Planning, among those who are aware of it but don't know much about it, already seems to have a not-so-great reputation. Artificial birth control is the cultural default, at least in America, so NFP is "abnormal" -- that thing that people do because they're hippies afraid of putting anything unnatural into their body, or because they're Catholics with a misguided fear of birth control beat into their heads. It's confused with the Rhythm Method, about which most people know nothing except that it's ineffective. So hearing seemingly normal people talk about why they love NFP and how it benefits their body and their relationship? Totally intriguing. But hearing NFP promoters talk about how the Pill is evil, or feminism has destroyed women's relationships with their bodies, or how the use of birth control normalizes abortion? Yup, definitely a bunch of crazy weirdos...
There are already plenty of negative associations with NFP -- let's work to create more positive ones!
Reiterating the point of Wednesday's post on abstinence, if you practice NFP and love it (I do!), then shout to the heavens about how happy you are and why you love it so much. This does not require putting down anyone else's current form of birth control. There's already enough work to be done just letting more people know that NFP exists, educating women about how their monthly cycles work, and talking about all the personal and relational benefits that come from using NFP.
What do you think? What one's thing you'd like to hear more NFP advocates talk about?