Monday, July 25, 2011

One Couple's "Evolving View of Natural Family Planning"

The following is excerpted from a thoughtful New York Times piece by Mark Oppenheimer.

. . . In [their book ] Open Embrace, [Sam and Bethany] Torodes endorsed natural family planning — tracking a woman’s ovulation and limiting intercourse to days when she is not fertile — but rejected all forms of artificial contraception, including the pill and condoms. The book sold 7,000 copies after its publication in 2002 and was celebrated in the anti-contraception movement, which remains largely Roman Catholic but has a growing conservative Protestant wing. As young Protestants who conceived their first child on their honeymoon, the Torodes made perfect evangelists.

That was then, this is now.

In 2006, the Torodes wrote on the Web that they no longer believed natural family planning was the best method of birth control. They divorced in 2009.

. . . The book [they] wrote two years into their marriage is quite short and quite sweet, an earnest work whose hopefulness one badly wants to share. Procreation is “the umbrella under which the other aspects of marriage are nurtured,” they wrote. Sex is “a joyous song of praise to the Creator,” and “having children (or adopting them) brings husbands and wives closer together and expands the community of love.”

They concluded succinctly: “When we should be saying ‘I do,’ contraception says, ‘I do not.’ ”

Open Embrace also embraced the view that children stabilize marriage, for “with each child a couple has, their chances of divorce are significantly reduced.” So what went wrong for the Torodes, whose children now range in age from 4 to 9?

Among other challenges, [Bethany], now 30, had unplanned pregnancies. “I got pregnant nursing twice,” she told me. “So my first two kids are 15 months apart, then there is a three-year break, then the younger two are a year and a half apart. That was intense. Beyond hormonally intense, it was relationally intense. It was nothing I would ever want anyone else to have to experience.”

In their 2006 statement on the Web, the couple wrote that natural family planning could harm a marriage, even when it worked.

“Wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this,” the Torodes wrote. And it is “a theological attack on women to always require that abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.”

. . . This year, [Sam Torode's book] The Dirty Parts of the Bible, which Publishers Weekly called “rich and soulful,” passed Open Embrace in sales. “That was a big deal for me,” Mr. Torode said. Last year, he asked the publisher Eerdmans to stop printing copies of Open Embrace. He promises there will be no Kindle version.

“I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do,” Mr. Torode said. “I am out of that business for good.”

— Mark Oppenheimer
"An Evolving View on Natural Family Planning"
The New York Times
July 8, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Rethinking a Classic from the Conservative Contraception Canon – Sarah Morice-Brubaker (The Huffington Post, July 22, 2011).
About That Times Column on Open Embrace – Terry Mattingly (, July 12, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth
The Pope's Latest Condom Remarks
Pope Embraces an Acceptable Form of Relativism

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