Marriage Matters

5 Reasons Fertility Apps Cannot Replace a Natural Family Planning (NFP) Course

Technology is amazing, isn’t it? Phone apps are making life so much more convenient. There are even apps that can take some of the pain out of recording and interpreting your NFP charts. Some couples, faced with the cost and rigor of going through an NFP course, might even be tempted to skip NFP instruction altogether and just rely on an app. Here are 5 reasons to take the course anyway.

Reason 1: Knowledge is Power 

There is a major ingredient to women’s health that our culture is missing – women having knowledge over their own bodies. There is so much emphasis on women having “control” over their bodies. But control without knowledge isn’t true control. God’s plan for us is two-fold. First – and this may surprise some people – He designed us to have true control over our lives. God created humanity with an intellect and a free will so we could know the truth and freely choose the greatest good. Second, God wants us to use our freedom to give ourselves in total, generous love. 

So instead of giving us superficial control over our bodies (like contraception does), Natural Family Planning gives us the knowledge we need to make truly informed choices about how we use our bodies and keep them healthy. Apps can help us track and interpret signs of fertility. But they can’t replace true knowledge of our bodies.

The knowledge gained in a Natural Family Planning course also empowers us in the area of health. By knowing your fertility system and what its patterns mean, you are more likely to be aware when something goes wrong. People who are knowledgeable about NFP are more likely to be able to talk intelligently with their doctors, and therefore to get better medical care. 

Reason 2: NFP is Couple Fertility

Probably the most common complaint about any family planning method is that the burden seems to always fall on the woman. This is especially true with contraception. It can also be true with a fertility tracking app. Whose phone is the app on? Probably hers. 

A good Natural Family Planning course stresses that NFP is a couple’s method of family planning. It gives the man an opportunity to be more intimately involved in the couple’s fertility decisions. True, there are no guarantees that NFP will really be a couple-method (except for cooperation in abstinence if pregnancy is being avoided or spaced). Some men are just not comfortable with the intimate details of fertility. But what happens when one member of the family remains completely unaware of the family finances? If finances are not a shared responsibility, the family lacks the cooperation necessary to carry out an effective financial plan (especially a budget). The same is true with family planning. A couple needs to work together in order to be most effective. And family planning is a much more sacred project than finances. NFP instruction opens the door where technological solutions don’t.

Reason 3: The Personal Touch

One of the greatest benefits of NFP instruction is access to a properly trained NFP instructor. In a good NFP program, the instructor isn’t just an overseer for the course itself but becomes a constant advisor who is available throughout your marriage.

Most couples complete an NFP class pretty secure in their ability to apply the method-defined rules to their current cycles. But once they start a family, face post-partum cycles, enter pre-menopause, or run into any number of other life changes that can affect fertility patterns, that confidence can be shaken a bit. “I remember learning a rule for this, but I can’t remember how to apply it.” Or you lay NFP aside to participate in generous love and build a family, but then you decide you need to start using NFP again to space your children and discern God’s will. It’s been a few years since the class and you’re not quite sure you remember everything. Being able to contact a supportive instructor for a refresher or for guidance whenever you need it is a great help.

Reason 4: Apps Can’t Always Handle Exceptions

One scientifically supported boasts of modern NFP methods is that they are effective for any woman in any cycle. While that doesn’t mean the methods are easy for every woman in every cycle, method-defined rules can be applied to any cycle. The reason for this flexibility is that NFP relies on real people observing what is really happening in a cycle and using their judgment to apply the appropriate rules according to the signs of fertility. 

Technology, like fertility monitoring apps, is wonderful. But all technology is built around a set of assumptions. These assumptions don’t always take into account the intricacies of life. Having a stressful month? Guess what? Your stress is going to affect your fertility signs. Will your app know the changes are caused by stress? Probably not. So the interpretation you get may wrongly assume the change in fertile signs indicates a change in fertility.

Having knowledge about things like how stress, alcohol, medication, etc. may affect your signs of fertility is very important for the most accurate interpretation of the signs and application of the method-defined rules.

Reason 5: It Doesn’t Have to Be Either-Or

So are we telling you to take a class in Natural Family Planning and to not use fertility monitoring apps at all? Absolutely not! A good fertility tracking app can be a great tool for family planning. But it will be a truly effective tool only when it is used with the knowledge and insight you gain by taking a Natural Family Planning course with a qualified instructor. 

So the good news is that it doesn’t have to be either-or. You can enjoy the ease and convenience of a good fertility app AND the knowledge and insight of a good NFP course. Together these will give you the greatest preparation for making wise, prayerful and fully informed family planning decisions.

In both cases, be sure that you are making the best choice. You need to be aware that not every fertility tracking app is designed for full family planning. Many of them are designed to help couples conceive new life. So they’ll tell you when you are most likely to be fertile, but they aren’t accurate enough to tell you when to avoid pregnancy if you are avoiding or spacing pregnancy. If you’re hoping to use a fertility app for your complete family planning, make sure to do your research and choose on that tracks all of the signs for your chosen method.

Likewise, not all NFP courses are created equal. Each NFP method and NFP course is usually designed for couples in specific situations. Some are very simple, designed for people who are into simplicity or are less literate. Some are much more complex and offer a medically-oriented insight into the fertility cycle. Many are in between. So again – do your research and make sure the method and course you choose will meet your needs. 

One criterion to definitely look for is access to a real live instructor who will follow up with you and be available to you even beyond the course.

If you’re interested in taking an NFP course, the Diocese of LaCrosse supports a few excellent methods and courses. Visit the NFP site to learn more about the different NFP methods and to register for a course with a qualified instructor.

You can contact Jeff at jarrowood@diolc.org.

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