Patent Medicine from Dr. Popcak

I should probably stop writing about our buddy Dr. Popcak.  He's really not that important in the grand scheme of things.  Still, there is something about him that really rubs me the wrong way, especially when he talks about birth control.  What bothers me is not that I think he is wrong when he talks about NFP; I certainly think he is wrong, but that's not what bothers me.  What bothers me is that I think he is deliberately misleading people when he talks about the topic.  He is so committed to the notion that NFP is the only way to go that he seems willing to twist any evidence or circumstances into an argument supporting his position.

That, combined with his incessant pimping of his books, makes me think this guy is basically a huckster--a version of the old patent medicine sellers.  Like patent medicine, real people can suffer real consequences from swallowing Popcak's medicine.  He has an obligation to be truthful about what he is selling. I don't believe he is.  That bothers me.

Take for instance his recent post, entitled "CNN (!?!?) Loves NFP."  Every single thing about this post is disingenuous.  One click to the CNN article reveals that the piece is actually about the Fertility Awareness Method, or FAM.  FAM utilizes the superstructure of NFP--the charts, the taking body temperature, the mucus analysis, etc.--to determine the peak fertile and non-fertile periods, just like NFP.  However, and this is important, when a FAM practitioner reaches those days of maximum fertility (presuming she doesn't want to get pregnant), there is no requirement, as NFP has, that the couple abstain during the fertile periods.

Don't take my word for it.  Let's read the FAQ of the "Fertility Awareness Center," whose director is quoted extensively in the piece (emphasis mine):

Is Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) the same as Natural Family Planning (NFP)?

There are many similarities between FAM & NFP. Both are based on the premise that a woman can know where she is in her cycle by observing the signs that her body gives her. Fertility Awareness in fact was derived from NFP. However, FAM is a secular practice, whereas NFP is generally taught and practiced within a religious (typically Catholic) context. Thus, an NFP class may be offered only to married or engaged couples, whereas a FAM class will likely be open to anyone, regardless of relationship status or sexuality. Moreover, NFP generally insists on "abstinence" during the fertile time, whereas FAM users may choose to incorporate one or more barriers during the fertile time or to enjoy forms of sexual expression other than intercourse. FAM also supports the use of condoms for disease prevention.

In other words, when FAM tells the couple they are in a fertile period, the assumption is that the couple will use a condom, or have oral sex (presumably to ejaculation for the man, contra Popcak's One Rule), or whatever--all of which is considered to be morally unacceptable to the Catholic Church.  Widespread adoption of FAM by couples would not advance the ball at all from the perspective of those who hold to the Humanae Vitae line.  FAM is simply about advocating one basket of (Catholic Church prohibited) artificial birth control methods in favor of a different basket.

To be clear, I have no particular water to carry for hormonal birth control.  I can absolutely see why a woman would be uneasy mucking around with her biochemistry.  If my wife or someone else I was with preferred to use something like FAM to avoid taking hormones, that's fine (with the caveat that I would be concerned about effectiveness--notice that the doctor they interviewed express deep skepticism on that front).  If it works for a particular couple, great.

But none of that has anything to do with NFP.  NFP is not about opposition to hormonal birth control; it's about opposition to all forms of artificial birth control, and if Dr. Popcak's book is a fair indication, a whole lots else besides.  To conflate FAM with NFP is to attempt to sneak all of that other stuff--especially the part about extended periods not being able to have sex--through in the fine print.

It is a bait-and-switch, and it's is fundamentally dishonest.  It's patent medicine, once again.


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