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Looking at fertility awareness methods

On the 54th anniversary of the publishing of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, Dr Antonia Braithwaite takes a look at fertility awareness methods.

On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae was promulgated. This encyclical lays out Catholic beliefs regarding human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood.

In this encyclical Pope Paul articulates why contraception use is not compatible with the nature and purpose of married love, and therefore can never be morally acceptable. Pope Paul explains that married couples are called to be generous in welcoming new life into their family and this is one of the main purposes of married life. However, couples who have just and serious reasons for postponing a pregnancy may use methods of natural family planning to do so (‘natural family planning methods’ are also known as ‘fertility awareness methods’).

These methods of fertility awareness work by teaching a woman to identify the window of time during each menstrual cycle when she is fertile and could become pregnant. Outside of these fertile days pregnancy is not possible. She learns how to notice and record certain biological markers which change throughout her cycle giving her a day-by-day picture of her fertility.

If a couple discern that for just and serious reasons they are unable to accept a pregnancy, they abstain from martial intimacy during this fertile time. Conversely, the knowledge gained about fertility can also help a couple to achieve pregnancy; timing intimacy to the fertile time will increase the chance of conception each cycle.

 Fertility awareness methods are not contraceptive as, unlike contraception, they do not separate the procreative aspects of marital intimacy from the unitive, and so do not prevent the conjugal act from being a complete act of self-giving between the husband and wife, as it is meant to be. The couple are simply working with a woman’s normal biology, choosing not to be intimate during the fertile time of her cycle. When the couple is then intimate, either before and after the fertile time, both the unitive and the procreative elements are respected.

Apart from being morally permissible, these methods are also effective; numerous studies show that the method itself is 99% reliable at postponing pregnancy.

If you are interested in learning more about fertility awareness methods, or have any further questions or comments, please contact Dr Antonia Braithwaite on famc.eastanglia@rcdea.org.uk

More information is also available on this website:   www.rcdea.org.uk/fertility-awareness-methods