If you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth,” you’ve probably never thought to apply it to your method of Family Planning (or contraception). However, when you look at the real meaning of the phrase, contraception can easily be seen as looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Let’s look at the original meaning of the phrase: when someone gives you a gift, don’t question the quality of the gift; just accept it thankfully. The phrase comes from the fact that you can look in a horse’s mouth, at his teeth, to determine how old he is. Therefore, if someone gave you a horse, and you looked in his mouth, you were insulting the giver, instead of just saying “Thank You,” and taking the horse.
God wants to give us a Gift, too – the gift of life! He gave us the gift of sexuality, and placed it appropriately in the context of a loving Marriage; for pleasure, to unite husband and wife, and also to allow us to participate in His Creative process. However, when we use contraception, we are saying, “I’ll take the pleasure and unitive aspects, but No Thank You, I don’t want Your gift of life.” We are saying that we know better than God if we should or should not have a child right now. This can be expanded to genetic testing. If we test the baby to find out if he might have an abnormality, now we are saying, “I want to find out if your gift is good enough for me. If it’s not good enough, we’ll try again for a perfect baby.” However, if God used our love to make that baby, He had a plan for him, and for us. Who knows better what is best for us than God does? Many of the best gifts we receive are because of “unanswered prayers.”
No, you don’t have to have ten or twenty kids; just be responsible with your use of God’s gift of sexuality, in keeping with His plan for your life. Using contraception closes off the Marital Act to new life. NFP leaves it open, but allows us to postpone pregnancy, if desired. Some people consider NFP “Catholic Birth Control,” but it is really just responsible parenthood. NFP uses the couple’s awareness of the woman’s fertility to determine if they need to abstain from lovemaking, if they are trying to postpone a pregnancy. This is very different than using contraception to avoid a pregnancy. When using contraception, we take advantage of the pleasure and unitive aspects of God’s gift of sexuality, while holding back the life-giving aspect. However, when we abstain during the fertile time, we are not rejecting God’s life-giving gift; we are still leaving each act of lovemaking open to God’s Creative process, if He chooses to use that act in that way. He has given us about 70% of the woman’s cycle when she is not fertile, and still allows us to enjoy the pleasure and unitive aspects of the Marital Act during that time. It is simply a matter of learning the signs our bodies give us to recognize that time.
Many people believe NFP is not effective. This is not the old “calendar rhythm method.” With an effectiveness rate of about 99%, it is just as effective as barrier and hormonal methods of contraception, if not more so. Maybe we know someone for whom NFP “didn’t work,” and they had a “surprise” pregnancy. Most likely, if we look at the situation, they were not following the rules, and were most likely leaving the decision to God, even though they were supposedly trying to postpone a pregnancy. Is it hard to abstain during the fertile time? Of course! After all, God gave us our spouse to enjoy! However, it is even more pleasurable knowing that we are giving ourselves completely to our spouse, instead of holding back a part of ourselves – our fertility. My husband and I thank God every day for the Gift of our love, and our two wonderful children (both conceived because we “slacked” on following the rules, knowing we were “taking a chance”), who we could not imagine being without. Learn NFP, allow yourself to trust God, and you will never look back!