Because I write often about reproductive ethics, I knew Bethany Patchin's story long before Mark Oppenheimer wrote about it in last weekend's New York Times. Bethany and Sam Torode divorced in 2009 after nine years of marriage, during which they had four children. Early in their marriage, the couple wrote a book called Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, in which they argued that natural family planning (NFP) is the healthiest, most spiritually enriching contraceptive approach for Christians.
NFP, the only contraceptive method approved by the Catholic Church, requires couples to track the woman's fertility by detailed observation of body temperature and cervical mucus. Couples can then avoid intercourse on the wife's fertile days if they wish to avoid pregnancy, and plan intercourse if they want to become pregnant.
The Torodes, as other NFP supporters do, argued in their book and here at Christianity Today that not only is NFP as effective as medical forms of birth control when done correctly (which admittedly requires knowledge and practice), but also makes for healthier marriages that more closely align with God's purposes for husbands and wives. They believe NFP honors our God-given bodies and fertility cycles rather than manipulating them to suit our preferences. It makes each act of intercourse truly open to God's procreative purpose for marriage. It allows spouses to fully embrace each other, body and soul, without any barrier. It enhances marital intimacy and interdependence by teaching couples to constrain their sexual urges in service to a greater goal.
The Torodes' marriage did not last. But even before they divorced, they renounced NFP in a 2006 statement. They said that NFP can lead to guilt ...1
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