What’s the big difference between natural and artificial contraception?
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a fertility awareness that allows a couple to read and understand the body’s signs. It’s a scientific approach that can be tailored to an individual and can be used to both achieve and avoid pregnancy.
There are at least four enormous differences between NFP and artificial contraception. The first is the morality of the act; the second deals with the fact that some contraceptives work by causing abortions; the third issue pertains to adverse side effects caused by contraceptives; and the last issue deals with the fruits of NFP.
Suppose that a married couple is using contraceptives for the same reason another couple is practicing NFP. Both couples already have children and hope to have more. But for good reasons they need to space the next birth by a couple of years. Both have the intent to regulate births, and an important part of responsible parenthood allows couples not to have more children than they can care for.
However, the good intent of a couple is not sufficient to determine the morality of their act. For example, if two people wanted to avoid becoming overweight, one might go on a diet, and the other might binge and purge (bulimia). Both may stay slim, but one exercises the virtue of temperance, while the other resorts to unnatural, unhealthy behaviours.
Similarly, the Church’s stance on contraception does not imply that the couple has bad intentions but that they are using a means that is unnatural and unhealthy. Married couples are free to have intercourse (or to agree to abstain from it) on any given day, regardless of the wife’s fertility. But when they do join as one flesh, they should do so in a way that promotes their marriage vows; to be freely given (not forced), in a faithful (exclusively to their spouse), full and fruitful (not sterile) union, to not hold back part of oneself, recognising God will bring vitality from such a union. To use artificial contraception is to remove the fullness of the one flesh union.
The reason the Church denounces contraception is not because it is artificial. After all, the Church allows the use of countless artificial drugs and other technological advances that medicine can offer man. However, these are to be used to heal dysfunction and promote the proper functioning of the body as God designed it. Contraception does the opposite: it prevents the natural functioning of the body.
Therefore, the moral difference between NFP and contraception is that contraception deliberately interrupts, sterilizes, and works against (contra) conception, while NFP respects the way God ordained conception to occur. In no way does NFP interrupt or sterilize an act of intercourse. NFP couples are not acting against the way God has designed fertility but are working with it.
Another major difference between NFP and contraceptives is that some birth control methods work by causing abortions. For example, the birth control pill, the morning-after pill, the patch, the intrauterine device (IUD), and Depo-Provera (the shot) sometimes work by preventing a newly conceived child from attaching to the uterus. This causes a first trimester abortion to occur – without the mother even knowing it. Click here for information on this.
All contraceptives have potential adverse side effects, most of which affect the woman. Often contraception is sold as an easy solution, one that doesn’t harm anybody and lets you do whatever you want, but often the reality is often very unhealthy for women. Ingesting or inserting chemicals into our bodies to stop them functioning as they are supposed to isn’t good for us. And the science is now starting to show this.
In other articles on the Chastity Project website on the various forms of birth control, we go into detail regarding the side effects of contraceptives. Here we will simply point out that depending on the method used, these may include a heightened risk of breast cancer, a greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, migraine headaches, high blood pressure, fatal blood clots, increased foetal abnormalities, and toxic shock syndrome.
Fruits of NFP
Finally, consider the implications of the fact that couples who use NFP have a divorce rate of 1 to 3 percent. In one study there were zero divorces out of fourteen hundred NFP couples. Keep in mind that more than half of all marriages end in divorce. The striking correlation between NFP and strong marriages is an important indication of the close relationship between NFP and the way God designed marriage and sex to work.
Also, NFP offers benefits that contraceptives cannot. Couples using NFP have an understanding of how to time intercourse to achieve pregnancy. Because they track the woman’s fertility cycles so closely, they’ll also become aware of fertility related health problems that would otherwise be masked under the effects of contraception.
Further, NFP couples are in a much better position to teach their children about sexual self-control. A couple should not expect their children to follow the Church’s teachings on sexuality outside of marriage if they as parents are not willing to follow the Church’s teachings on sexuality within marriage. It would be like a parent saying to their child, “You need to obey God and abstain from sex for about a decade, but I won’t obey God and abstain for a week.”
Despite all these differences between contraception and NFP, it can be abused. Because NFP is so effective in regulating births, a couple could take on a contraceptive mentality and close themselves off from the gift of life. Therefore, it must be practiced responsibly and only when there is just reason to do so.
When we consider the positive impact of NFP on a marriage and the potential dangers of contraception, the most loving option becomes obvious.
 What’s Wrong with Contraception? (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Couple to Couple League International); Mercedes Arzú Wilson, “The Practice of Natural Family Planning Versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control: Family, Sexual, and Moral Issues,” Catholic Social Science Review 7 (November 2002).
 Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2000), 179.