I grew up reading Asterix and Obelix comic books, which depicted the humorous adventures of a small village in Gaulle (France in the Roman times) that offered the last standing resistance against the Roman occupation. Their independence and freedom came from their steadfast refusal to abide by Roman rule. A magic potion provided by their druid gave them extraordinary physical force needed to safeguard their independence.
In the past 50 years, the concepts and experience of romantic and physical relationships in America have changed tremendously, some say for the worse. Could it be that the still-small community which practices fertility awareness and natural family planning is the last stand for wholesome sex? If so, how could fertility awareness be the “magic potion” to fight that battle?
Cheap sex and its dissatisfied consumers
The most dramatic sign of a “sex crisis” can be found in Japan, where romantic relationships among young people are seeing a remarkable downfall. A survey of Japanese aged 18 to 34 found that nearly 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship. These numbers were respectively 48.6 percent and 39.5 percent in 1987: a 20-point decline. Nearly 42 percent of the men and 44.2 percent of the women admitted they were virgins, increasing by six points in only five years. About a quarter of these young people were not looking for a relationship.
The situation in America is different yet related. “Sex has become cheap,” writes sociologist Mark Regnerus, reporting how a sexual experience with no or little strings attached is much more accessible to young men and women than before. It is having an impact on the overall satisfaction of sexual intimacy and male-female relationships. His groundbreaking book Cheap Sex is based on his 2014 Relationships in America survey project, which interviewed nearly 15,000 Americans age 18-60, to assess the “modern mating market in America and the sexual ideas, habits and relationships of Americans.”
What did he find? A number of trends showing a dramatic transformation of the dynamics that lead people to date and eventually join in committed relationships.
While “sexual satisfaction is a big deal today,” writes Regnerus, to the point that it has become a value in itself, the actual experience and satisfaction outcomes of sexual intercourse are not measuring up:
- There is an increase of the percentage of sexual inactivity among married couples (12% report no sex activity in past 3 months)
- There is a decrease in the percentage of men and women content with the amount of sex they are having, with 44% reporting wanting more than they get.
How does this compares with couples who practice natural family planning (NFP)? Based on the 2017 study(Unseld, Rotzer et al) of 2,600 individuals using the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning:
- Less than 8% were in a sexually inactive relationship, compared to 12% for the general population
- Only 23% of women and 27% of men were dissatisfied with the frequency of sexual intercourse, compared to 33% for women and 53% for men in the Relationships in America survey project.
Granted that the survey modalities are different, the differential is significant, especially among men, where it’s almost double. Moreover, nearly two-thirds (62%) of the respondents reported that since using NFP, they found their sex life more joyful and enjoyable.
The dynamics of sexuality are complex and I highly recommend to all our readers a full read of Regnerus’ book to gain a better understanding of what is happening in our society. My point here is that there is something special and unique about fertility awareness and natural family planning that can lead to a more fulfilling sexual relationship.
To be objective, this is not always the case as 1% of women and 11% of men said that NFP had not made their sex life more enjoyable. The 10-point difference between men and women is noticeable, and can be explained in part by the fact that using NFP limits the time when intercourse is possible if partners want to avoid pregnancy, which is usually harder for men than for women (see below). As Jorge, a married man shares in our introductory video about NFP: “It’s more difficult… It’s not whenever we want, we have to wait…but when it’s that time when you can, it’s more special, it’s just a lot of emotions…it’s like a bunch of honeymoons.”
Hookups, porn and the death of desire
It is helpful to understand the factors that made possible the mass transformation of romantic relationships in the US upon which to base our comparison. To quote Regnerus, “Cheaper sex has been facilitated by three distinctive technological achievements: (1) the wide uptake of the Pill as well as the mentality stemming from it that sex is ‘naturally’ infertile, (2) Mass-produced high-quality pornography, and (3) the advent and evolution of online dating/meeting services.”
Men and women have different expectations of what a fulfilled sexual relationship means and the data presented by Regnerus makes a powerful case for it: frequency of intercourse is a major factor for men, while being in a relationship is paramount for women. Men are able and willing to commit but they don’t because they don’t have to (technology made the barriers to access lower). Women want long-term, committed relationships and are the gate keepers for access to sex. On the other hand, their ability to access material independence through increased job opportunities mean they don’t need men as much for financial security anymore.
The Japanese crisis offers a good illustration. In the words of young Japanese females interviewed in this BBC video: “I think a lot of men just cannot be bothered,” says a young actress. “They can watch porn on the internet and get sexual satisfaction that way.” A young female professional declares: “Sex is something I don’t need nor desire. A boyfriend would limit my freedom and I don’t need that.”
At a micro level, experiences of sexual relationships are of course anything but uniform. For instance, Regnerus found that 20% or so of all men and women are deeply involved in a “hook-up” type of culture, and on the other end of the spectrum, about 6% of all Americans didn’t have sex until they married and reported only one life partner.
Men in the hookup culture may register high in happiness levels because of the easiness in which they access sex. It is not the case for women, as their reported sexual satisfaction increased linearly based on the length of the relationship (11% experienced orgasm in 1st hookup experience, 67% did in their most recent sexual event in relationship lasting over six months).
Five ways fertility awareness helps
Here is how I believe fertility awareness and natural family planning may help change the dynamic of sexual relationships in a positive way:
1. From the outset, it helps women who use charting increase the cost and value of sexuality, making them better gate-keepers and less likely to engage in the hookup culture. As I wrote in an earlier article in this series, women who are self-aware through charting are more likely to resist peer pressure. With good information, they’re also more likely to be aware of the meaning and value of their fertility and of the relationship between sex and reproduction. They will more likely seek a partner who values them that way.
2. Conversely, women on the Pill risk choosing the “wrong partner.” Because of the way pheromones influence them subconsciously, women on contraceptives will be drawn towards men whom they might not have otherwise picked, and may find themselves less attracted to them once they stop contracepting. It could affect their sexual intimacy in the long-term.
3. Using FABMs/NFP instead of being on the Pill decreases the risk of low libido for women. In a recent survey of 3,600 French women, 70% reported they had dropped the Pill because it affected their sex drive and/or enjoyment, a side-effect of hormonal contraceptives that has also been demonstrated in several medical studies.
4. Partners who are using FABMs or NFP with the goal of avoiding pregnancy have to be more committed to each other because it is a condition of effectiveness. By his adoption of the method, the male partner demonstrates his commitment, which in turns creates a context that leads to more sexual fulfillment for a woman.
5. As discussed above, a deeper relationship is a condition of more fulfilling sex for women. I believe it is also the case for most men, but in a different way. That’s where FABMs/NFP make a huge difference. In the study of NFP users mentioned above[v], 65% of women and 74% of men reported that NFP had helped develop their relationship. There are actually many ways NFP can enhance and deepen the relationship between men and women, and we presented 10 of them in this article. Just to name a few, they include improved communication, mutual respect, shared responsibility of family planning, gender equality, and ability to show love in non-physical ways. All of which foster deeper intimacy and lead to better sex.
I won’t argue that we’re going to see a massive switch to using non-contraceptive methods of planning pregnancies in the near term, nor that it would be an insurance of the restoration of more fulfilled romantic relationships at a large scale. In fact, Regnerus ends his book with prediction of what the future holds for relationships in America in the next decade, and there is no major change on the horizon (though FABMs/NFP are not part of his analysis).
However, at the micro-level, that of a couple, those who practice FABMs/NFP, like Asterix and Obelix hold a “magic potion,” which, if used well, may protect them from some of the negative factors affecting sex relationships in America today. That’s why we do what we do.
Gerard Migeon is the founder and CEO of Natural Womanhood, a website dedicated to natural methods of fertility regulation and a MercatorNet partner site. This article is the last of a five-part series “Five unexpected reasons Fertility Awareness is urgently needed”, and is reproduced here with permission.