More and more women are turning away from traditional hormonal contraceptive methods because they are associated with significant health risks for women. Natural Conception Regulation (NCR), known internationally as Natural Family Planning (NFP), is a hormone-free and natural alternative, which can even surpass the safety of conventional contraceptives when used properly. In the meantime, a small community of NCR speakers and users has developed and is constantly growing.
In today’s IFamNews interview, we talk to Elisabeth Rötzer, daughter of the late Prof. Josef Rötzer, MD, who invented the NCR method.
IFamNews: Ms. Rötzer, you are the director of the Institute for Natural Family Planning and carry on the legacy of your father, who discovered method together with his wife. More generally, what is NCR and how did your father come to develop it?
Elisabeth Rötzer: NCR is based on the scientific fact that fertile and infertile days in a woman’s cycle can be identified with reliability, and we pass this knowledge on to all interested parties: if there is a desire to have children, the couple knows about the possible fertile days, if pregnancy is to be avoided, they know about the infertile period.
My parents, as a believing couple, wanted to live their marriage according to God’s will from the beginning of their marriage, and they also wanted to adhere to church teachings. In 1945, however, there was still very little practical information on the subject of “conception regulation”. My parents’ life’s work1 began in 1951, when they received an A5 sheet of paper from a woman’s thermometer, which stated that the fertile period is at the low point of a woman’s temperature, and the infertile period is at the high point. Together they began to record the cycle: my father drew cycle tables, set up the thermometer and handed it to his wife to measure in the morning, and he entered the values in the table. My mother performed the measurement of the waking temperature. And it is thanks to her attention that she observed differences in the course of her cycle: she had a strong pain in the lower abdomen and a kind of mucous secretion on some days of the cycle. My father researched both in the medical literature: the pain in the lower abdomen is the so-called “middle pain”, the intermittent secretion is the cervical mucus that marks the fertile period. Observing various cycle signs–symptoms–and measuring the waking temperature also explains the name “Sympto-thermal method.”
From the beginning, my father had to think about how the observations of the woman on the one hand and the scientific findings on the other hand can be put into such clear evaluation rules that the NCR can be lived by more and more women and married couples with a high degree of reliability. This was the beginning of my father’s life’s work, who developed the most reliable form of NCR, the Sympto-thermal method.
IFamNews: A common argument against natural family planning is that it cannot prevent unwanted pregnancies and is too unsafe. How is this method different from other natural methods?
Elisabeth Rötzer: May I start by clarifying that? NCR is not a contraceptive, but knowledge transfer, and this knowledge is used–as I already mentioned–both when you are trying to get pregnant and when avoiding conception. Contraception, on the other hand, means “sexual intercourse intentionally rendered infertile.”
If you search the internet, you will find many “natural methods”, some based on recording bleeding only, on calculations, cervical mucus observation alone, or temperature-only methods.
The originality of Rötzer’s work lies in the realization that for the most reliable procedure of NCR it is necessary to make the evaluation of the measurement of the waking temperature dependent on the woman’s self-observation, which is the first real Sympto-thermal method.
IFamNews: How safe is NCR for preventing pregnancy, even compared to other natural or conventional hormonal contraceptives?
Elisabeth Rötzer: The reliability of Rötzer’s Sympto-thermal method consists in the fact that Rötzer succeeded in developing very clear rules to determine with certainty the infertile time in the woman’s cycle, which is in the established temperature peak. This certainty has been verified in international studies, and also cited in gynecology textbooks (literature available from us).2 Although not entirely accurate, the so-called Pearl Index (PI) gives us a clue–how many women will become pregnant if 100 women practice a method for one year? The 2011 German Medical Journal cites a PI of 0.3 for contraceptives, such as the ovulation inhibitor, for perfect use, but a PI of 8 for typical use.
The overall Pearl Index (PI) for Rötzer’s method is 0 for perfect use and 0.8 for typical use (in everyday life).
IFamNews: Can any woman or couple use NCR or are there certain conditions that preclude its use?
Elisabeth Rötzer: Basically, every woman should get to know her personal cycle, and that is possible for every woman. Prerequisites for reliable NCR use are a good knowledge of the cycle process, training, whether through the book Natural Contraception3 and/or through a course, consistent cycle charting and, of course, strict adherence to the rules.
IFamNews: When is the best time for women and couples to start NCR and cycle charting, respectively?
Elisabeth Rötzer: Our vision is that girls start observing their bodies and charting their cycles at menarche (first period) or even before, in order to acquire expertise about their own cycle. For this purpose, there are separate girls’ tables and a special book.4
It is helpful for couples to be able to understand the woman’s cycle together and evaluate it together even before seeking their first pregnancy.
IFamNews: It seems that the safe use of NCR already requires some practice. Where can readers learn NCR and what is the cost of the method?
Elisabeth Rötzer: Yes, it is our task as an Institute to assist anyone who wishes to learn NCR: for this purpose, we offer the textbook Natural Conception Regulation,3 which is suitable for self-study, as well training (www.iner.org), and there is always the possibility of a personal counseling interview, for which there is a counseling network in the entire German-speaking area.
IFamNews: Why is it important to you to make NCR known and what should every reader know about this method?
Elisabeth Rötzer: Every woman goes through this cycle of fertile and infertile days. But for me as a Christian, this means much more–NCR is grounded in God’s creation plan for marriage, it is His gift to all married couples to be able to live responsible parenthood in His order. This way is not always easy to live, especially the organization of the abstinent times in the conjugal life. But it is with His help that NCR is the way that makes love for each other grow deeper and deeper, especially in going through difficult times together. I encourage all readers: Begin this life journey of NCR trusting in God’s help!
IFamNews: Readers can reach Ms. Rötzer at [email protected] and get more information at www.iner.org.
- Elisabeth Rötzer (ed.), A Doctor in Responsibility before God. Josef Franz Rötzer. ehefamiliebuch 1st ed. 2020.
- Physician information brochure, available from INER.
- Josef Rötzer/Elisabeth Rötzer, Natural Contraception. The sympto-thermal method – healthy, safe, partnership. 1st updated (48). Edition 2021, Herder Publishing House.
- Eisl Maria and Heinrich, Discovering the Language of the Body. From Adolescent to Adult can be ordered at: www.tiefverwurzelt.at.
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