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From independent studies published in reputable, peer-reviewed secular medical journals

“I thought NFP was very unreliable…”

You may be referring to the Rhythm method, a calendar-based method developed in 1930 which does
have a high failure rate, and as a result is largely obsolete.
Perhaps you are not aware of more modern symptom-based methods of Natural Family Planning: the
Basal Body Temperature method (1930s), the Billings Ovulation method (1960s), and the Sympto-
thermal method (1971) (see
These methods use a combination of indicators of a woman's fertility and do not assume a regular
cycle. Secular medical studies show that, when used properly, these methods are as effective as the
contraceptive pill:
“Researchers have found that a method of natural family planning that uses two indicators to
identify the fertile phase in a woman’s menstrual cycle is as effective as the contraceptive pill for
avoiding unplanned pregnancies if used correctly, according to a report published online in
Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction today.”
(European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, February 21, 2007,, summary:
Because NFP methods are effective, virtually free and have no drug-related side-effects, there is
growing interest from non-Catholic couples. Sympto-thermal:

“Aren’t effective methods of NFP complicated & costly? The poor and illiterate are out of luck!”
Untrue! Symptom-based NFP methods have been successfully taught on a large-scale to the poor and
The Missionaries of Charity received expert training in the Ovulation method and how to train others
to use them effectively. Over the past 40 years, they have taught it to tens of thousands of women (for
the most part poor and illiterate) in West Bengal, India using agricultural images.
R.E.J. Ryder did a study of these women in 1993, and found a very low pregnancy rate. In his article
he also cites a 1981 WHO study of 869 women of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds:
“Regardless of culture and education, 93% of the women recorded an interpretable ovulatory mucus
pattern. Of the El Salvador women, 48.1% were illiterate and yet recognised the mucus symptoms.”
He concludes his article: “It might be argued that natural family planning being cheap, effective,
without side effects, and potentially particularly effective and acceptable in areas of poverty may be
the family planning method of choice for the Third World. The case for and against this may be argued
and debated, but whatever the standpoint there is no doubt that it would be more efficient for the
ongoing world debate on overpopulation, resources, environment, poverty, and health to be conducted
against a background of truth rather than fallacy. It is therefore important that the misconception that
Catholicism is synonymous with ineffective birth control is laid to rest.
Understanding the simple facts about the signs of fertility confers considerable power to couples to
control their fertility, for achieving as well as preventing conception. The widespread dissemination of
these simple facts would be useful everywhere but might be of particular value in the Third World.”
(Ryder, R.E.J. (1993). Natural family planning: Effective birth control supported by the Catholic church. British
Medical Journal, 307, 723-726.

Catholic Moral Decision-Making 1 5.4 – NFP: The Facts – Handout