When you’re first jumping into the world of Fertility Awareness, you’ll encounter a lot of acronyms. TTC, BFP, DH, DTD and DPO to name a few. People frequently say they are using “Natural Family Planning” or “The Rhythm Method” or “Fertility Awareness Method” and they use those terms interchangeably. Since there is no fertility bureau (not yet anyhow!) or body of authority on how to use these terms, they tend to take on a life of their own. Is FAM the same thing as NFP? Here’s the way I see it.
The term Natural Family Planning (NFP) has origins in the Catholic church, but you will also find NFP in Islam and other religious practices as well. In 1935, Fr. Wilhelm Hillebrand, a German Catholic priest, along with his brother, set out on a mission to provide Catholic families with a way to space children that was also in line with church teaching. They dedicated 24 years to studying temperature rises and their relationship to ovulation.
The idea behind Natural Family Planning is that a couple abstains from all sexual activity during fertile periods if they wish to avoid pregnancy. Thus, the term “Natural Family Planning” usually refers to not just fertility charting, but also an ideology behind it. This ideology usually includes abstaining from sex until marriage, denounces use of barrier methods and does not endorse abortion. NFP does not refer to a specific method of fertility charting, but rather is used as an umbrella term for all methods/couples that stick to this philosophy. Some organizations that stem from NFP ideology are Creighton, Couple to Couple league, and Billings Ovulation Method. Of course you don't have to ascribe to the ideology to take a class from any of these organizations! But it's good to know where they come from.
The term Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), on the other hand, has no relationship to an ideology. It is simply the practice of being aware of your fertility. In general, FAM refers to sympto thermal, the method that uses Basal Body Temperature and cervical fluid. But that is probably because all of the certified FAM methods that currently exist use a sympto thermal model. The term Fertility Awareness Based Method (FABM) is often used as the umbrella term for all methods of cycle charting - yes, even the rhythm method. I know, it's confusing!
Since there are no moral principles tied to FAM, you may find couples using barrier methods or not. Organizations like Grace of the Moon and Justisse promote FAM.
NFP is a subset of FABM, but official NFP organizations were generally established before FAM ones.
However, long before any organizations were formed, and any scientific studies were going on in German lab rooms, you can be sure that woman were aware of cervical fluid, menstruation, and cyclical changes throughout the month. Puhlease. Cervical fluid was not discovered in a lab room. So while the official organization dates are interesting, they don't mean that people weren't using the methods in an unofficial setting.
I use NFP. But I would never push that on someone who didn’t align with it. It can seem like a radical lifestyle and a couple has to really be on the same page. I think FAM has far too many benefits for women to throw the baby out with the bath water, as they say. Our goal here at Appleseed is to show that FAM and NFP can live in harmony and we can (and should!) bridge the gap. But I do think it's important for people to understand the distinguishing differences that accompany these somewhat loaded terms. In other words, it's important to know what you're signing up for! Katinka and I have trained under very different programs but we embrace the differences and look forward to continued conversations around Fertility Awareness.
What confused you about the terms when you first dug into the fertility charting world?