Ajb, in comments to my post “Is Taking the Pill the Same as NFP?“, argues that NFP* is rightly called a form of contraception, “according to the generally accepted use of the term.” His evidence for this is dictionary definitions, which he provides in his comment dated March 22, 2013 at 13:13, on “Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany” (where our discussion originated).
So as not to derail that discussion, which was on a different topic, I didn’t argue the point other than to say that I personally don’t consider NFP to be contraception. Now I will argue it.
The essence of NFP is abstaining from intercourse during the woman’s fertile periods. The rest of it is teaching people how to know when the woman is in a fertile period.
Abstaining from intercourse can’t be called contraception by any stretch. So there it is: NFP is not contraception.
Some may argue that NFP also involves having intercourse during the woman’s infertile periods. But it doesn’t. NFP doesn’t require having intercourse at any time whatsoever. Having intercourse is not part of avoiding pregnancy. How could it be?
Nota bene: When you have intercourse during an infertile period, you are doing nothing that you wouldn’t do if you were not practicing NFP.
The only thing you do in NFP that you would not do otherwise, is deliberately abstain from sex during fertile periods. And again, abstaining from sex is not contraception by any stretch.
Ergo, NFP is not contraception.
A word about dictionary definitions: Modern dictionaries do not purport to be authoritative in the sense of saying how a word must be used. They merely say how words are commonly used. A word being commonly used in a certain way, does not comprise a requirement that it be used in that way. All kinds of things are commonly done for erroneous or ill-conceived reasons. Lumping NFP together with condoms, IUDs and the Pill, in my view, is such a thing — I mean on the part of dictionary authors, not necessarily the common people.
Because in fact, I believe the vast majority of people, when they think of contraception, think of having intercourse while taking, or having taken, an additional step to block its natural outcome, conception. Having intercourse is not contraception. Contraception is something you do in addition to having intercourse.
But having intercourse during an infertile period has no natural outcome to be blocked. And if it happens that you miscalculated, and the woman is actually fertile when you thought she wasn’t, you have taken no steps to block the natural outcome.
Ergo again, NFP is not contraception.
* Natural Family Planning