July 23 marks the beginning of Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week in the United States. In this article Gerard Migeon, founder and CEO of Natural Womanhood, takes a look at some recent research on fertility awareness based methods and sets out 10 ways in which fertility awareness can improve a couple’s relationship.
When I first tell young couples that Fertility Awareness Based Methods improve sex and relationships, I sense a subtle skepticism in the room: “Wait, you’re saying that we have to abstain from sex eight days a month? How is that going to make our relationship better?”
But at the end of the talk, they say the strongest argument for fertility awareness comes from hearing the testimony of couples who have been practicing a method for several years and watching them interact: they can see the peace, the complicity, the passion they display. So what’s the difference and how does it play out?
These methods teach women to recognize the signs of their natural cycle so they will know when they are fertile and not fertile, usually, a six-day window per monthly cycle. With that information, they can work their partner to avoid or to achieve pregnancy effectively.
What studies say about fertility awareness and relationships
While more research needs to be done, several studies strongly suggest that FABMs often improve couples’ relationships.
A study co-authored by the Couple to Couple League and published this year in the journal Frontiers in Public Health was conducted online with 2,560 respondents who were using the Sympto-Thermal Method, referred to as NFP (natural family planning) in the report. These couples lived in several countries in Western Europe and in the US. The abstract of the study reported that:
“95% of women and 55% of men said using NFP has helped them to know their body better. Large majorities of men (74%) and women (64%) felt NFP helped to improve their relationship while less than 10% felt use of NFP had harmed their relationship. Most women (53%) and men (63%) felt using NFP improved their sex life while 32% of women and 24% of men felt it was unchanged from before they used NFP. 75% of women and 73% of men said they are either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their frequency of sexual intercourse.”
In a 2004 study published by the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, designed to gauge the effect of natural family planning on marital relationships, asked married couples practicing these methods a series of open-ended questions to. “Of the 2,287 coded comments, 1,765 (74%) were positive,” indicating that the majority of those practicing natural methods of family planning believed it had had a positive influence on their marriage.
10 ways fertility awareness improves your relationship
The second study mentioned above reviewed the key reasons why people reported that FABMs improved their relationship. It is in great part the source of the content below along with other research.
You know yourself and become a better you. Most psychologists will tell you that good relationships with others start with a good relationship with yourself. As we have written here and here, it’s more difficult to be oneself on the pill; the practice of charting allows women to know themselves better and gain self-confidence. We even found that “cycle mindfulness” helped teen girls become less influenced by peers and better able to plan their life: they became more mature and self–directed, they moved “from being victims of their hormones to being in control,” were more able to think ahead and to make decisions ahead of crisis.
Your partner knows you better. When you practice FABM, your man gets to know where you are in your cycle: post-period and not ovulating yet, getting close to ovulation, past ovulation. Each phase usually corresponds to different levels of energy for you: medium, higher energy, lower energy. A considerate man can then pay attention to these phases to adjust his expectations of how much activity the couple can tackle and the needs for rest.
You have better, deeper communication. Here is the test of your communication level right now: how often do you talk about your sex life as a couple? If you can talk about sex with one another you can talk about anything. Discussing sexual intercourse, fertility and starting or adding to a family are integral to using FABM successfully. Couples who use FABM become more open to talking about difficult topics and they are more in touch with each other’s feelings.
You show each other love in different ways. Users of FABMs are often led to understand their love relationship in a broader way: how can I love this person better rather than “what I am getting out of this?” It shows especially during the time of abstinence, as they are both challenged to go back to “dating time,” when they found creative ways to show love for each other in a non-sexual way.
You have a deeper relationship: for all the reasons above, FABMs creates a stronger bond including feeling less selfish and more sensitive to the spouse/partner’s needs, feeling greater love and more understanding of one another.
You have a better libido. The suppression of women’s libido by hormonal contraceptives is fairly common. You can have sex anytime when you’re on the pill, but many women report feeling emotionally flat and less interested in sex. Science shows that hormonal contraceptives affect the level of testosterone in women, which is the hormone responsible for sexual desire and arousal in women. While the woman’s drive to have sex is usually highest during the abstinence time (welcome to man’s world, which feels like that all or most of the time!), her enjoyment of sex can be just as high after ovulation. It all depends on your attitude.
You enjoy monthly honeymoons. The couple intending to avoid pregnancy has to wait to avoid sex during the fertile time. This is called periodic abstinence. Couples report that the time of waiting enhances their anticipation, thus increasing their enjoyment. As we mentioned above, that “dating period” also prepares them for the time they can have intercourse, which becomes the sequel of their romantic love, not simply a response to a personal physical need.
You have greater respect for one another. Because of the need for closer dialog about when sex happens, women report feeling more respected and less used by their spouse/partner. In turn, they also feel a greater respect for and pride in him for his ability to abstain and his self-control.
You experience gender equality. If a couple is avoiding pregnancy, they both have to know what days they’re taking a break from sex, and what day they can — happily — get back to it. It is no longer only the woman’s responsibility to avoid pregnancy. As a man, I think this is very important and value the idea that the choice to become pregnant or not is something that is the fruit of a partnership. It is too easy to forget about that crucial dimension of the relationship when relying on the pill. Not with FABMs.
You are better prepared for life’s unpredictable twists. Because of all the reasons listed above, couples are much better equipped to deal with serious incidents in their life. Friends of ours had the misfortune of losing a child, which very often leads to a separation or serious relationship difficulties. In their case, they reported that the relationship grew closer and they believed they were there for one another in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Fertility awareness changes your life as a couple
Practicing fertility awareness is not just using another method of birth control. It’s a shift in the way a couple thinks of their sex life. Suddenly, there is a rhythm to it, not “just whenever you want” (which is often when the man wants: the pill makes the woman always available for sex, which is unnatural for her).
It is crucial that couples who decide to use a FABM as a way to avoid pregnancy are aware of that change, and have a frank discussion about what they’re committing to. In the end, they will most often find it was worth it, but the change may take some work if they had a different approach before. Realistically, couples are already abstinent most of the time, as on average, they only have intercourse less than twice a week. However, a good understanding of expectations makes for a happy partnership.
They need to go into it with eyes wide open.
Gerard Migeon is the founder and CEO of Natural Womanhood, a MercatorNet partner site. The above article is a slightly abridged version of the original article published at Natural Womanhood.