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If you’ve been reading my blog or engaging in real-life conversation with me in the last couple of months, you know that I’ve been reading, thinking, writing, and even starting to practice Natural Family Planning (NFP). You know that I came across the idea when I came across Engaged Marriage, and after having Dustin tell me more about it, I began writing about it myself.

If you didn’t know that, well, now you do. (And if you don’t know what NFP is, I recommend clicking on the link above where Dustin explains it to me).

I have been learning SO MUCH about the subject, thanks largely to the NFP-loving community who has shared all kinds of wisdom with me in the comments to my posts. I also recently purchased Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and almost had an explosion in my brain from all the learning.

Just a few short months ago, I was a complete dummy on the subject, and now I have become slightly less dumb!

A complication began to arise, however, because Weschler calls it Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), whereas Dustin and all the other cool Catholics I talked to call it Natural Family Planning (NFP). I started using both terms interchangeably, particularly in this post, and it started to get confusing.

They are not quite the same thing although they share the same basic principles.

So I’m going to do you a favour. I’m going to outline the (very simple) differences between FAM and NFP (for those of you who don’t already know), and tell you which term I’m planning to settle on for good, and explain why I’m settling on it.

Here goes.

Similarities: Both NFP and FAM are examples of sympto-thermo methods of birth control. This means that both are methods of controlling your fertility through awareness of the female reproductive cycle. They both rely on observing cervical fluid and taking your basal body temperature, and tracking both of them on a chart, to help you determine when to have sex (depending on what you’re aiming for). Both can be used either to achieve or avoid pregnancy.

Difference: FAM allows the option of using a barrier (i.e. a condom) during the fertile phase to prevent pregnancy, whereas those who practice NFP choose to abstain during fertile periods if they don’t want to get pregnant.

I guess this means there is a slight difference in the viewpoints underpinning the two methods: NFP-users usually believe that all forms of contraception are morally wrong, whereas FAM-users do not. FAM-users thus permit their occasional use.

But FAM-users agree with NFP-users that contraception is problematic for a variety of reasons, including its negative effects on health, the environment, and sexual enjoyment, not to mention its political implications, and should at least be minimized if not completely rejected.

I’m currently on the fence about whether or not I think all contraception use is morally wrong. Brian Killian’s remarkable blog is having a strong influence on my perspective, and I encourage you to check it out.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this blog, I have decided to stick with the term “Fertility Awareness Method” when discussing the subject.

Here’s why:

  • I like the emphasis on “awareness.” This term highlights the fact that all it takes to control your reproduction is an attentiveness to what’s going on in your body. You just need to open your eyes to the natural processes already happening in your body and you can begin to take control.

One of the problems I have with contraceptives is that they rob us of this power by encouraging us to be ignorant. Contraception disempowers us. Fertility awareness empowers us. Yay for awareness.

  • I like that FAM does not have religious connections. NFP is commonly associated with religious people. This is unfair but true. Many of FAM’s proponents, on the other hand, are completely secular (including Toni Weschler, as far as I can see).

Now, as you all know, I am a deeply spiritual person. I do not try to hide my religiosity. But FAM can benefit everyone, not just religious people, and I don’t want to ostracize non-religious people. By using a non-religious term, I hope to emphasize what we have in common (a concern for the wellbeing of human beings and the planet) and a de-emphasize what we do not share (a belief in God). If we are open-minded I think we can all agree that there are benefits to FAM.

  • I like that FAM provides more options, and can include NFP. FAM only teaches that you can use barriers during fertile phases if you want to; you don’t have to. Weschler actually discourages it because it’s less reliable. So you can use plain ol’ abstinence during these periods if you prefer. It’s up to you.
  • I’d rather see people use occasional contraceptives, just during fertile phases, than reject FAM altogether in favour of the Pill. I understand that for some people, the 10-or-so-day period of abstinence each month may seem like too much of a stretch. I wouldn’t want someone to reject FAM out-of-hand just because of this. I would rather see couples choose FAM and use the occasional condom than completely reject the whole shebang. Maybe once they try FAM this way for a while and grow to appreciate it, they will more willingly consider the all-natural method.

So there you have it. From now on, I’m going with “Fertility Awareness Method.” I’ve even added it to the Category title “Sex and Fertility Awareness” (in the column on the right). But I am still unspeakably grateful to the NFP community for introducing me to such a wonderful system for controlling my fertility, and wholeheartedly support NFP.

You guys are the bomb!

Which term do you prefer, or which one do you use? Why? Which sounds more appealing to you?

What do you think, experts? Have I dealth with the similarities and differences accurately?

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I’m taking a break from my somber “What’s the Point of Marriage?” series to bring you a stupid and rather pointless story. It is also a scandalous story. So, siblings, parents, or other easily-scandalized friends: you may want to redirect your browsers away from this page rather than reading on at this point. If you ignore my warning and go ahead, and as a consequence get the jibblies, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

* * *

This Christmas both sets of parents – that is, Ben’s parents and my parents – pooled their money so that Ben and I could get ourselves a couch as a Christmas gift. We needed it. Ben and I have a long, narrow, empty room in our house on the main floor that hasn’t had any furniture in it since we moved in two years ago. We refer to this empty room as our “gallery.” It makes it seem not-so-purposeless-and-weird. The walls are bedecked with framed Pre-Raphaelite paintings (prints, of course), medieval weaponry (OK, one sword) and a few of my own medieval-inspired drawings. Ben and I went to a few furniture stores to find the right couch and, with the money from the folks, picked out a sleek, mocha-coloured leather sofa that would fit in with the décor. Me likee.

We picked up the couch from the furniture store in Ben’s truck a couple days before Christmas. We unwrapped the plastic and cardboard coverings and set it up in our gallery. We then proceeded to test it out, with him seated normally and me sprawled out across the length of the couch with my legs over his knees. It felt so nice and cozy. We were both very happy.

“It’s long enough to lie down on!” I said happily.

“You know,” he said slowly, “We could totally have sex on this couch.”

I rolled my eyes. Of course that was the first thing he thought of when we were testing out our brand new couch in the gallery. He could turn anything into a love bed if he put his mind to it.

“We could also have sex under the Christmas tree,” I pointed out, motioning to the glimmering gold wonder in the corner. It was the only other substantial thing in the room.

Inexplicably, his eyes widened as if I had just made an outrageous request – as if I was being very foxy and seductive. He liked it. He was obviously totally misunderstanding me. I protested.

“I’m just saying! We – or anyone – could technically do it anywhere! There’s nothing especially sexy about this couch!”  I wanted to be clear: I was not making a request, I was making an observation. You can do it anywhere, technically, is what I was trying to say.

But he had already decided how to interpret my words.

It didn’t come up again (I swear!) until a few days later when we were at our friends’ house with a bunch of other married couples.  Ben and I were sitting on the floor next to their Christmas tree, and a couple of guys were sitting together on the couch nearby.

“You know, the Christmas tree here and you guys on the couch over there make me think of something Kathy said to me the other day,” Ben began.

This is where I began to wish my husband had a mute button.

He retold our conversation on the couch, repeating my words in a liquidy voice, dripping with lust: “We could also have sex under the Christmas tree.”

The room filled with hoots and whistles. Above the noise I tried to holler, “I so didn’t say it like that!!”

When the room finally quieted down I was able to shout, “You are so completely twisting the way I said that! I was just making a point that all it takes is a horizontal surface.”

That was only met with multiple objections – “Not technically!” – and a few more winks and understanding nods.

“No . . . you guys . . .” was all I could muster. “I’m just sayin’!”

But it was no use. Of course. There was no changing the thoughts happening in the room. Ben and I were now the sex-crazed couple of the bunch, and I was apparently the more adventurous of the two. Not a word more could be said about couches or Christmas trees without knowing nods in my direction.

“I don’t know why you had to tell them that,” I whined to my husband in frustration after the third reference to me and Christmas trees that night.

“Hey, if Ben hadn’t told us the story, you would have eventually written about it in your blog,” one friend argued.

“Why would I ever do that?” I shot back.

* * *

I tried really hard, but I couldn’t come up with a life lesson or anything for this story. I really want to be a good blogger with lots of good life lessons but it is difficult.

The only “lesson” I learned from this very annoying episode is that no matter what I like to think, I will never have any real amount of control over my husband. He is his own person. This incident was a vivid reminder that Ben and I can be totally united in so many ways, and yet his mind and his mouth are his own. I will never possess a mute button for him or anyone else I love.

And I guess it’s a good thing. It can be irritating, realizing we can’t control our loved ones, but it is also the reason we are able to have relationships: because we are two distinct people with our own thoughts, each bringing our own unique ideas to the table. Er . . . couch. If we really could control or predict what the other was going to say all the time there would be no room for a relationship. It keeps things . . . interesting.

I guess I could also point out that married life is far from boring, and that hanging out with other married couples can be way more scandalous than you’d think.

I’m not sure if that counts as a life lesson but that’s all I’m giving you. It’s the weekend and my brain is tired from all the “What’s the Point of Marriage?” stuff.

Just to inform you, though, we have not AND WILL NOT ever use either of the aforementioned pieces of furniture (if you can call a Christmas tree a piece of furniture) for the aforementioned purposes. Although my friends would love to convince you otherwise, you have no reason to ever feel weird or ickified if you find yourself seated in our brown leather couch in the Quiring gallery.

I PROMISE YOU THIS.

Stay tuned next week for the final installment of “What is the Point of Marriage? To Fulfill Basic Human Needs.”

For a comment, feel free to tell me story about your spouse saying something completely embarrassing in front of your friends. It will make me feel better.

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If you’ve been sticking with me for the last week or so, I’ve been exploring the purposes of marriage. So far, I’ve explained that I think they are (a) not to achieve happiness; (b) to grow us up; and (c) to teach us about God.  Another purpose of marriage, I believe, is (d) to teach us what it means to be human.

Let me explain.

# 1. Being human is about acknowledging and balancing our “composite nature” – in other words, the fact that we are both material and spiritual.

I, along with the majority of humanity throughout history, believe that human beings are somehow both earthly and celestial; both mortal and immortal; both carnal and divine. Aristotle called human beings “rational animals,” highlighting our paradoxical nature. Philip Yancey elegantly describes us as “angels wallowing in mud, mammals attempting to fly”[i]. He elaborates: “Although our cells may carry traces of stardust, we also bear the image of the God who made those stars”[ii]. We are a mysterious blend of earth and heaven.

I believe that marriage allows us to see this fact most clearly.

The sexual union which takes place in marriage is both the most animalistic and the most transcendent of human experiences. On the one hand it is merely biological – the meeting of organs and bodily fluids. It is an act we share in common with toads, cats and antelope. But on the other hand, it is one of the most personal and intimate of acts between two people.  In human sexual expression, souls touch.

We know that sex is different for humans than it is for animals because no other species on the planet makes such a big deal out of sex. No other creature seeks privacy in copulation. No other animal seeks exclusivity so intensely, and expresses such rage and sorrow at having that exclusivity intruded upon (Just think of how passionate lovers feel when they find out their partners have had an affair). No other species makes jokes and feels embarrassed about sex, as if it were somehow unnatural. Only humans recognize that there is something profound and otherworldly about sex.

No other act makes humans more aware that they are a strange and mysterious blend of the earthly and the divine.

Moreover, the experience of purposefully spending a lifetime with a single human being also teaches us how paradoxical we are, as we must take care of one another’s most basic, physical necessities at the same that we must consider each other’s highest emotional needs. We are an odd species indeed.

#2. Being human is about living in community and learning that we need one another.

Homo sapiens are a communal species. We are social by nature. Yet, we are eternally plagued by a desire to be selfish, to serve our own needs at the expense of others, and to pull away from one another when we experience conflict.  A part of us wants to be individual, to be special, to be above one another. In these times, we fight against our nature, as we fight to be separate from and better than one another.

Life by ourselves makes us less human. Life with other people makes us more human.

One of the most basic and natural ways in which we humans forge community is through marriage – through falling in love, making commitments to one another, living together, and creating families.

One of the most natural pulls we humans have to one another is that of sexual attraction and desire. That attraction and desire brings us to do all kinds of unnatural (or, one might say, transcendental) things, like swearing to remain loyal to a single human being for the rest of our lives. That powerful, instinctive drive for a sexual partner ensures that we seek out communion with another human being, even when we would often not choose to.  The instinct for marriage draws us into community.

The instinct for marriage, in short, keeps us human.

#3. Being human is about making sacrifices for one another and finding out that we’re better off for having done it.

Commenters on my previous posts have already pointed out that marriage creates an atmosphere where you need to make sacrifices to one another, and in doing so you become more like the person God wants you to be. Jesus and experience teach us that when we willingly sacrifice ourselves to others, instead of losing ourselves we actually gain.

Again, I think that no relationship exemplifies this fact like marriage. We have to surrender our time, our comfort, our desires, and our energy to make our relationship work – day after day after day.  And in the end, we win. In the process we get a constant lifelong companion who makes all kinds of personal sacrifices for our sakes, too.

As C. S. Lewis puts it, “one of the first things Eros [which he defines as “being in love”] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving”[iii]. When you are in love, giving and receiving become identical. When in love, you delight in giving good things to your beloved so much that it is like giving yourself a gift.

The same is with sex: when you give your body to your beloved an act of supreme vulnerability, you win.

Marriage, then, teaches us the truth about giving and about the nature of humanity.

In these ways, then, I believe marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

What do you think? Do you think marriage helps us to understand what being human is all about? Does my second point, especially the last part, even make sense to you? (My husband wasn’t so sure). Am I overlooking any other very important aspects of being human, or marriage?

*Note: For my next post, I think I’m going to take a break from all this heavy philosophizing and tell you a dumb story about my husband, and what he said to my friends to make me wish he had a mute button. It is a teensy bit very scandalous.

Then I want to finish my series with What is the Point of Marriage? Part 5: To Fulfill Basic Human Needs

Also: Yes, that’s me and my husband on our wedding day in the photo. Is it cheesy to post my own wedding pics on my blog?? I’m nervous about taking other ones from the internet and inadvertently breaking the law.


[i] Yancey, Philip. Rumours of Another World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 38.

[ii] ibid., 39.

[iii] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.

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