Modern Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods were developed during the 1960s in the midst of the sexual revolution. Although NFP brought a new understanding of love, sexuality, gender roles, fertility appreciation, openness to life and intimacy, it did not have a language to articulate these benefits to the culture. Dr. Mary Shivanandan says St. John Paul II’s landmark work on the Theology of the Body (TOB) provides a new voice and a new language for Natural Family Planning. In her article Natural Family Planning and the Theology of the Body: A New Discourse for Married Couples she explains how TOB gives NFP a voice to communicate the beauty and richness of the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life to a contracepting culture.
Dr. Shivanandan contrasts the culture of contracepted sex with natural family planning:
Comparison of Contraception and NFP
Family Planning Method
|Evaluation of effectiveness||Ability to prevent pregnancy||Ability to achieve pregnancy and enhance relationship|
|Focus of method||Remove all obstacles to sexual pleasure||Discern God’s will and plan for the family|
|Expected or unexpected outcome of method||Reduces the person to an object for meeting selfish sexual desires||Raises the dignity of the whole person through the “freedom of the gift” by focusing on the other|
|Social effects||Exploitation of women by men; epidemic in teenage and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, venereal diseases, divorces, AIDS; increase in cohabitation and decrease in marriage rates||Stronger marriages and families…“children are a gift and blessing”|
A New Voice and a New Language
The language of sexual liberalism is that all obstacles to sexual pleasure must be removed or the person is repressed. In contrast, St. John Paul II in TOB speaks a language of self-determination for self-governance that leads to self-possession in order to become a gift to the other.
He states that chastity is a requirement of the person and that chastity must be conditioned by love. This principle excludes treating the other person as an object. Chastity liberates the person both exteriorly and in the depth of the will. It ensures that loving kindness takes precedence over pleasure. In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (the future St. John Paul II) states “only the chaste man and woman are capable of true love.”
St. John Paul II stresses the innocence of the body. Concupiscence, or lust of the body, threatens self-mastery. It is not sinful in and of itself, only when the will consents to it. Self-mastery through practice of the virtues and the gift of purity from the Holy Spirit gives man the power to “control his body in holiness and honor” (1 Thes 4:3-5).
Eros and Ethos
St, John Paul II sees eros as vital in the conjugal relationship, aiding the total self-gift of the spouses when combined with ethos. Passion undergoes a radical transformation when it is combined with the ethos of redemption. Eros is an interior creative force that “attracts man to what is true, good and beautiful.”
Masculinity, Femininity, and the Language of the Body
“Marriage,” says St. John Paul II, “corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it reflects the love which Christ the Bridegroom gives the Church his Bride.” Ephesians 5:21-33 says Christ initiates love for His Bride the Church by giving Himself up for her and the Church as the feminine bride in turn responds to this love. This analogy shows man and woman how they are to love each other in marriage. Husband and wife are called to mutual submission to each other out of love of Christ. Their love for each other images the Trinity.
Procreation and the Language of the Body
Love is designed to be fruitful. Husband and wife, in the mutual total gift of self, image the divine community of the Trinity. Procreation is an intrinsic dimension of the body-person. Fertility is a blessing given by God and is a sharing in God’s creative power. The marital act has a twofold significance, the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative nature of the act. To contracept the marital act is to speak a lie with the body.
St. John Paul II in Theology of the Body says that motherhood is the fulfillment of what it means to be a woman. “The mystery of femininity is manifested and revealed completely by the means of motherhood.” He attributes to motherhood “from the beginning a special openness to the new person…linked to the personal structure of the woman.”
Falsification of the Language of the Body
St. John Paul II says that falsification of the language of the body occurs when a couple deliberately refuses commitment by engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage or withholds the gift of fertility. Fornication and adultery fail to speak the language of the body. While verbally professing unconditional love, their bodies belie their actions. Sexual promiscuity is the norm of our society; only conversion of heart can free people from its destructive grip. Those who practice NFP have transformed themselves and their marital relationship.
 Published in the The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly \ Spring 2003
 Janet E. Smith, Humanae Vitae: A Challenge to Love, 5-6.
 Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 163, 169.
 John Paul II, Theology of the Body, November 5, 1980.
 Ibid., August 18, 1982.
 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 28.
 Theology of the Body, July 11, 1984.
 Ibid., March 12, 1980.
 John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, 18.
 Shivanandan, Crossing the Threshold of Love, 267.