On babymaking

conception3A British philosopher, and former faculty member at my alma mater, published a small paper recently that argued that practitioners of natural family planning cause "massive" early embryonic death. Incendiary! So I guess I should not be surprised that major media are picking up on the study. Philosopher Luc Bovens' theory requires acceptance of a few assumptions. Here's how he describes the third assumption:

[T]here is a greater chance that a conception will lead to a viable embryo if it occurs in the centre interval of the fertile period than if it occurs on the tail ends of the fertile period. This assumption is not backed up by empirical evidence, but does have a certain plausibility.

Emphasis mine. Kudos to Bovens for admitting the assumption is not supported by data. Amanda Schaffer has an interesting piece in The New York Times that analyzes the merits or lack thereof of Bovens' theory. But I had to point something out from her story:

Dr. Bovens uses the term rhythm method to refer to any approach that allows couples to predict the woman's most fertile time of month, so that they can abstain from sex during that time. Traditionally, the term referred more narrowly to a strategy of counting calendar days from the woman's menstrual period, to estimate ovulation.

Natural family planning is the more widely used, contemporary term for the broad range of techniques aimed at helping women to predict fertile days so they can avoid having sex then.

Emphasis again mine. I have many, many friends who use natural family planning. And saying that it is used to predict fertile days so couples can avoid having sex is just not telling the whole story. Many couples use natural family planning to ensure that they do get pregnant.

Frequently I hear jokes such as, "What do you call a couple who uses natural family planning? Parents!" Oh how these jokes annoy me. It is considered a failure of natural family planning if a couple gets pregnant -- even though that is precisely why it is used by many!

An obstetrician friend of mine says that many couples' problems with conceiving are caused by not having enough sex and consequently not having sex at the right time. It is a sad fact that many women and many men have no idea how or when conception is most likely to occur. A little more education about the process could not hurt. To that end, Schaffer's article that explains a bit about when women are most fertile is a good thing.

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