Natural Family Planning and contraception are “profoundly different"
Natural Family Planning and contraception are “profoundly different,” as the Church has declared (Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, 2.6).
Contraception involves carrying out the sexual act while taking measures in the course of that act to deliberately avoid conception: “Any action which either before, at the moment of, or after marital intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means” is contraceptive (Humanæ Vitae, 14).
Natural Family Planning (NFP), on the other hand, involves abstinence from the sexual act during fertile periods, rather than the deliberate sterilization of the act itself (whether through physical or chemical means). The Church also requires that NFP be used only with sufficient cause. It is the practice of faithful couples who “live their intimacy only in the unfruitful periods, when they are led to this course by serious motives of responsible parenthood” (Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, 2.6).
A married couple must remain faithful to their obligation to bring new life into the world: “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters” (Gaudium et Spes, 50).
The Church teaches that NFP is not to be used for the selfish purposes of the couple, but must be discerned by the couple with a serious commitment to their responsibilities as parents: “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2368).
“The Catholic Church, then, teaches that children are a great good and it teaches that all couples have a moral obligation to be open to having children,” says Dr. Janet Smith (Moral Use of Natural Family Planning). “Nevertheless, it teaches that there may be good reasons for spouses not to pursue the good of children at a certain time.”
Contrary to contraception, which seeks to separate the sexual act from its natural end and to enable its enjoyment apart from any responsibility, NFP – when used appropriately – requires the practice of self-restraint and growth in virtue for the good of the whole family.