Re-Branding NFP

I’ve been really blessed by participating in the Quick Takes every Friday in that I’ve gotten to know a number of Catholic and almost-Catholic young women. They’ve been able to teach me things and I’ve been able to be an older person who has “been there/done that” who can give advice when asked. One of them, Katie of NFP and Me, has a question:

I read an article about the HHS mandate debate and about Catholic women and contraception that was just fantastic. It mentions lots of things that I think we need to be talking about, most importantly: Why aren’t women using NFP and instead turning to artificial contraception?

We run this fine line of trying to tell people about the beautiful teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality and what blessings children are to a marriage and then screaming “BUT IT”S 99.6% EFFECTIVE AT PREVENTING PREGNANCIES JUST LIKE BIRTH CONTROL!!”

We’re like crazy schizophrenics trying to compete with a contraceptive society. Natural Family Planning isn’t hormonal birth control and if we try to advertise it like it is one of two things will happen:

1) We’re going to lose the competition.
2) We’re going to compromise our morals.

Birth control companies and Planned Parenthood are selling sex, which is one of the easiest things to sell. NFP is selling love and self sacrifice.

… [insert images of what one finds when one googles “NFP” and “Planned Parenthood”]

So my question to you is how to we find a happy medium? How do we sell our holy sex? Because the way we’re doing it isn’t working.

So here’s our chance. The stage has been set and we have the perfect opportunity to show the world what exactly NFP is and why we use it.

So my question to you is what can we do? What would have made it more appealing to you? If you don’t use NFP, what would make it more appealing? If you have an opinion on this please leave me a comment. I’m thinking about doing something to help advertise in a more modern way so any suggestions would be great. Thanks all!! πŸ™‚

Katie, I do have an opinion on this but rather than take up your combox, I’m going to answer it in an entry. This way, I can also write and re-write things until I can word them in an appropriate manner.

OK… first of all, let me say that I don’t have a problem with contraception. My tiny little Lutheran denomination might be pro-life but they don’t have a problem with contraception. (I checked — we have a major statement on abortion but nothing on the Pill.) If hearing about NFP and how to market it is going to piss you off (as I know it will for some of my readers), you have my permission to skip this post. Really… I won’t be offended.

OK… now that we’ve established that, these are my thoughts on why the current method isn’t working. For those who want to give me the “you-aren’t-Catholic-so-why-do-you-have-a-right-to-speak” argument, I have a B.A. with Honors in Religious Studies and my senior comp paper was on conversion in the Celtic Christian church. To write it, I had to read a large amount of theology and teach myself ecclesiastical Latin. I’m also a convert to Christianity. In other words, I know something about marketing a viewpoint.

01.) It’s difficult to find information that explains it clearly. I’ve checked out the Couple-to-Couple League website and it was really difficult for me to understand until I played with the site a little bit. They do have a home study program but it’s still not totally intuitive to someone like me who was randomly googling it. I’ve also had to look up terms like “Billings”, “Creighton”, and “sympto-thermal method” on Wikipedia and that makes it even muddier.

02.) The thought of testing one’s cervical mucus grosses some people out. I’m not going to lie — I’d rather have abdominal surgery DAILY than do anything gynecological. (This is a personal hang-up.) Still, the idea of taking inventory of my cervix and cervical mucus grosses me out and I know I’m not the only one. I can get behind taking my basal temperature and charting my cycles on the calendar (the latter being what I did to figure out fertility when we were trying to conceive with Daniel) but anything beyond that is too much.

03.) It’s a whole lot more convenient to take a pill every day. I went back on the Pill after having Daniel because my PMS was hellish at best and I was having hot flashes at the age of 29. The Pill (or at least Levlen, the one I used) didn’t give me any side effects and I was on it for 2 1/2 years. At the time, I had a preemie and was trying to balance work and home, dealing with my husband interviewing for another parish, and was dealing with my own problems recovering from my emergency c-section. If my life had been different, I might have gotten a referral to an ob/gyn in Great Falls and we could have parsed my symptoms. At the time, it was easier to just take a pill in the morning with my other meds. Having to take my temperature, check my cervical mucus, and chart everything would have been ONE MORE THING and I just could not deal with it at the time. (I’m saying this at a time when I’ve got a developmentally-delayed child with autism that I’m home with every day and somehow have to take care of the house, take care of Daniel, manage all his medical needs, coordinate his transition to the school district for services, and somehow take care of myself. Did I mention that I also have fibromyalgia which kills 80% of my energy?)

04.) After the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, talking about the moral underpinnings of a method doesn’t work. I’m not advocating for pre-marital sex nor am I saying that I agree with the idea of free love and no responsibility. I’m simply stating that we are in a completely different time than we were in 1968 with Pope Paul VI. If you want to promote Natural Family Planning, you’re going to have to take religion out of it because the second people hear the word “moral”, the first reaction is “judgemental!”

05.) We’re in an age where drug companies can advertise on TV. I really wish that this was not the case because most people are not savvy enough to research a medication before going to their doctor and demanding to be put on it. Remember how much Yaz was advertised? We’re now seeing commercials from personal injury lawyers wanting to recruit people for a class-action suit against the makers because people have suffered heart attack, stroke, DVT, pulmonary embolism, blood clots, abnormal heart rhythm, gall bladder injury, pancreatitis and death. (Source.) My doctor in Montana (who put me on Levlen) required me to come in for a pelvic exam, told me about all the risks, and told me what the conditions were for her to refill the prescription. (My subsequent doctors have just called in the refills with no questions asked.)

06.) We’re in an age when doctors are dealing with too many patients and can’t spend the necessary time with each one. When I worked at a rural health clinic in Montana, everyone and their mother demanded to see the doctor that was the chief of medicine. I heard the words “but I’m Dr. X’s established patient!” at least 10 times daily when people called for appointments — her NURSE had to make appointments for her because the reception staff didn’t know the intimate details of who needed to be seen and who needed to be seen RIGHT. THIS. VERY. MINUTE!!!!! Her appointments were scheduled at 15 minute increments and she was always running behind. I’ve seen this to be the case with most doctors with whom I’ve dealt and I think part of our problems with lawsuits over medications is that they don’t have adequate time to deal with every patient who wants to go on Yaz, Ocella, Seasonale, Ortho-Cyclen, Ortho-Evra patch, or any of the other iterations of the Pill. (Getting an IUD is a little more involved process and the mere thought of the insertion process makes me want to cross my legs perpetually.)

07.) Catechesis has been sub-par. Before all you “Theology of the Body” fans lynch me, I’ve found that there are a number of Catholics who are not aware of what their Church actually teaches. The teaching was either done poorly, not done at all, or done in such a way as to turn people off of their faith. The sub-par catechesis of the late 60’s to present means that those teaching about marriage for Engagement Encounters really don’t know anything about NFP and aren’t in a good position to communicate that part of marriage training.

OK… now that I’ve told you why NFP isn’t popular, here are my thoughts on how to market it.

01.) Go with the Green approach. One of the selling points that the #iuseNFP people on Twitter have been touting is that it doesn’t mess with the environment the way the Pill does. (There are studies done on the damage of estrogens and progesterones being leaked into the water supply. Google them.) There are plenty of people outside of the Catholic Church that would be chill with it if you went from that angle.

02.) If you want to make it more widely accepted, find secular ways to explain NFP to people. If you don’t care about it being accepted in the secular world, still find more neutral ways to ground it. I love Psalm 139 but I run with people who would be turned off by it because they’re a.) not religious or b.) would prefer that religion stay out of their bedroom. The term “moral underpinnings” (taken from the Couple-to-Couple League website) could be better stated as “ethical basis” for example.

03.) Locate the material in a central place which can be found easily in a Google search. I didn’t even know what Creighton entailed until I read it on Catholic and Crunchy. (*waves to Stacy*) The domain names NaturalFamilyPlanning.Com and NaturalFamilyPlanning.Org happen to be available. (I checked.) It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the USCCB, the SCOBA (the Orthodox bishops), the LDS, and some conservative Protestant denominations to pool their funds and buy one of those. Even if it was just the USCCB, there are enough web-savvy people in the Catholic blogosphere and social media groups to put together a halfway decent site. Examples: Brandon Vogt, Pat Padley, Nick Padley, Marc Barnes, as well as the two teachers that I know of in the blogs I read. If the site spelled out exactly what each method entailed and gave a list of NFP-friendly ob/gyn’s and teachers, you’d likely experience an upsurge in use. Those teaching Engagement Encounters and pre-Cana conferences could simply point to a URL. I think that it would benefit a lot of us to know the breadth of what NFP entails and the methods. It might even put a stop to the “Catholic roulette” jokes. (I heard them in one of my classes in college.)

04.) Find a way to communicate the faith issues with using contraception in such a way that doesn’t make people run the opposite direction. I’m not going to argue whether or not the faith issues involved with contraception are valid — it’s not my place to do that. However, telling people that they are in grave mortal sin and must rush to the nearest confessional (as I’ve seen stated on a few blogs in the Quick Takes) is not the best approach, true as it may be. Find a middle ground. You’re a big blogosphere and social media community — there has to be somebody who can come up with a tactful way to do it. There are also going to be people who say “screw it, it’s my body” and take the Pill. Refrain from judging — that’s God’s job, not yours and it’s between them and their confessor.

05.) Accept that this is not a competition between you and Planned Parenthood. Seriously, I can count on two hands the number of people I know who actually went to Planned Parenthood in college for their contraception and their pelvic exams because the university provided them for cheap. They do serve a purpose for those without health insurance who need their Pap smears. If you want to disregard that part of my advice and compete with them, put your money where your mouth is and fund a community clinic that is not in a nasty part of town to give people some options. (For the record, I know of very few Planned Parenthood clinics that are in decent neighborhoods. The ones I’ve seen are in the ghetto because they serve the women who don’t have health insurance and live below the poverty line.) And for the love of all things holy, do not refer to them as “Planned Barrenhood” — it looks and sounds lame.

Hopefully, this will answer your question Katie. πŸ™‚ I’m closing comments on this entry because they really belong on Katie’s (incredibly nifty) blog.