This is the final blog in the four part series Her Body.
In conversations with your teen about their body, sex, and chastity, finding the words to convey your message in a positive way is one of parenting’s biggest challenges. We want our teens to feel confident about their maturing bodies rather than confused or embarrassed. We want to reveal the beauty of sex without making them too eager to experience it. We want to encourage them to practice chastity and convey that it is actually achievable. To my surprise, the one thing that has most prepared me for these crucial conversations is learning and practicing Natural Family Planning in my own marriage. I was once skeptical myself so if you wish you’d never heard the letters NFP, hear me out from a different perspective now that you’re a parent of a teen.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an elaborate term for understanding the fertile and infertile times in a woman’s cycle – fertility awareness. Having knowledge of the signs and symptoms that distinguish fertile times helps women understand our own bodies better. I was resistant to learning NFP because I fully believed it would never work with my wildly irregular cycles. When God slowly opened my heart, I discovered NFP actually helped me predict the irregularity I thought would make it not work. Understanding our own body better can help in explaining cycles to our daughters (and our sons) in a way that helps them appreciate God’s design. Rather than have your daughter be disgusted by discharge, what if you could describe to her the exact reasons God gave girls cervical mucus and how much it can tell her about her body? Rather than let your son be thankful he doesn’t have to endure the mortifying changes that happen to girls, help him realize the relationship of cycles to fertility and begin growing his respect for his potential future wife.
When a teen or pre-teen first learn about sex, they may think of it as strange or even gross. As teens get older, media and culture quickly enlighten them that sex is pleasurable. What they need to hear from their parents is that God designed sex to be the “one flesh” physical joining of spouses and it spiritually reflects the love between Christ and His church. The teachings of NFP help us view sexual intimacy between husband and wife as a mirror for how God loves us freely, unselfishly, totally, permanently, and fruitfully. With this knowledge, we can help our teens see that God intends sex to be both unitive and procreative and only within marriage. The language NFP gives us to explain sex turns it from gross or indulgent to beautiful and meaningful, and our teens should be provided the same view.
We teach teens that chastity means refraining from sex before marriage. But chastity is not a selective decree God levies only on teenagers. He requires chastity as a virtue for all people in all walks of life. Chastity is the act of living a sexually pure life and is not just for the unmarried. Married men and women are called to be sexually pure by saving all intimate thoughts only for each other and giving sex to their spouse in a manner that reflects Christ’s love. NFP teaches us this means being open to new life in every sexual act. If we are not hoping to conceive a new child, we refrain from sex during the time it could potentially produce a baby. Practicing NFP in our marriage, and talking to our teens about why we do, models chastity, and shows the sacrifices even married couples make to strengthen our marriages and our relationship with Christ.
Natural Family Planning taught me more than I ever expected about my own body and provided valuable knowledge for my husband and I to pass on to our children. It gives us the words to help explain sexual intimacy between husbands and wives as the gift God created it to be to unite them in a way that reflects Christ’s love for us. It allows us to describe and model chastity so our children don’t view it as an excessively lofty and unfair goal only for teens. During our marriage, my husband and I have been surprised by how NFP helped us grow closer to each other, improve communication, and grow in our faith. Now that our oldest child is a tween, we can add yet another benefit to the list: aiding those crucial conversations.