"Open Embrace" no longer quite so open?

Originally celebrated by some as champions of the anti-contraception argument, Sam and Bethany Torode have experienced a reversal of opinion. Originally they were big proponents of NFP. But after using NFP for five years (and intentionally having three children during that same period of time) they now see something I have always claimed was a problem with NFP - that is, it is unnatural and quite burdensome. It demands that a couple abstain during the time when the desire to have marital relations is often the strongest.

The Torodes now have no problem with any non-abortifacient method of contraception. In short, this high profile couple who were champions of NFP have joined the ranks of your garden variety "anti-abortifacient" contraceptors. Personally, I never found their book to be something I'd recommend to anyone in the first place.
While they made some valuable points, their ultimate position was never truly anti-contraception, mainly being an apologetic for NFP as the best means of family planning. They were not Roman Catholic and did not hold, as the Roman Catholic Church does, that NFP is only for extraordinary circumstances. In any case, here's the Torodes' new (2006) position from the main page of their web site [no longer online as of 4/1/2009] -


Five years down the road from writing Open Embrace, we’ve inevitably changed somewhat. Since we still get letters from people assuming that we haven’t changed at all, we wanted to give a brief update. We've become parents of three children, and experienced many joys and struggles (from postpartum depression to whooping cough). While we still believe in the importance of family, we're more mellow about encouraging others to have more children.

Our personal experience in the past five years has shown that we had a lot to learn about NFP, and that there is a dark side we weren’t aware of. Though Open Embrace said that it only involves a short period of abstinence, we didn’t know that during breastfeeding cycles it often involves month-long periods of abstinence and dehabilitating [sic] stress. During such times (as well as during menopause and stressful life seasons), strict NFP reaches a point where it is more harmful for a marriage than good.


Rebekah said...

As a friend of mine observed when we discussed this development a while back: sounds like the Torodes discovered life is hard.

Polly said...

We've used a very loose NFP throughout our 20 year marriage. Perhaps I should say we've devolved into a calendar/sympto method - no temps. During that time I've had 4 children and 3 miscarriages, and a lot of extended breastfeeding.
The ecological breasfeeding that NFP endorses is really wonderful, and results in long anovulatory periods in most people.

Now that I"m in my 40s, I wonder what the premenopausal years will bring......probably a lot of uncertainty.

At the same time, I hate that we're too weak to just go with the flow. Such is life on this side of heaven.

Rev. Robert Franck said...

You may want to change the post a bit. The picture is no longer showing up, and the link at the bottom leads to a new web site with no relation to the previous site.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thanks for the heads up! Sorry.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Update #2: The Torodes are now divorced as well, and Bethany is no longer even a Christian. In 2010, Sam actually asked the publisher Eerdmans to stop printing copies of “Open Embrace.” He promises there will be no Kindle version.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Just in case that article disappears from the Internet as well, here it is:

New York Times
July 8, 2011

An Evolving View of Natural Family Planning

In August 1999, Bethany Patchin, an 18-year-old college sophomore from Wisconsin, wrote in an article for Boundless, an evangelical Web magazine, that Christians should not kiss before marriage. Sam Torode, a 23-year-old Chicagoan, replied in a letter to the editor that Ms. Patchin’s piece could not help but “drive young Christian men mad with desire.”

The two began corresponding by e-mail, met in January 2000 and were married that November. Nine months later, Ms. Torode (she took her husband’s name) gave birth to a son, Gideon. Over the next six years, the Torodes had four more progeny: another son, two daughters and a book, “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception.”

In “Open Embrace,” the Torodes endorsed natural family planning — tracking a woman’s ovulation and limiting intercourse to days when she is not fertile — but rejected all forms of artificial contraception, including the pill and condoms. The book sold 7,000 copies after its publication in 2002 and was celebrated in the anticontraception movement, which remains largely Roman Catholic but has a growing conservative Protestant wing. As young Protestants who conceived their first child on their honeymoon, the Torodes made perfect evangelists.

That was then, this is now.

In 2006, the Torodes wrote on the Web that they no longer believed natural family planning was the best method of birth control. They divorced in 2009. Both now attend liberal churches. Ms. Patchin — that is her name once again — now says she uses birth control, and she even voted for Barack Obama for president.

“I was 19 when we got married,” Ms. Patchin said by telephone from Nashville, where she and her former husband live and share custody of their four children. “And I was 20 when we had Gideon. My parents weren’t anti-birth-control; they were pretty middle-ground evangelicals. So I kind of rebelled by being more conservative. That was my identity.”

The book she and Mr. Torode wrote two years into their marriage is quite short and quite sweet, an earnest work whose hopefulness one badly wants to share. Procreation is “the umbrella under which the other aspects of marriage are nurtured,” they wrote. Sex is “a joyous song of praise to the Creator,” and “having children (or adopting them) brings husbands and wives closer together and expands the community of love.”

They concluded succinctly: “When we should be saying ‘I do,’ contraception says, ‘I do not.’ ”

“Open Embrace” also embraced the view that children stabilize marriage, for “with each child a couple has, their chances of divorce are significantly reduced.” So what went wrong for the Torodes, whose children now range in age from 4 to 9?

continued in next comment...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Among other challenges, Ms. Patchin, now 30, had unplanned pregnancies. “I got pregnant nursing twice,” she told me. “So my first two kids are 15 months apart, then there is a three-year break, then the younger two are a year and a half apart. That was intense. Beyond hormonally intense, it was relationally intense. It was nothing I would ever want anyone else to have to experience.”

In their 2006 statement on the Web, the couple wrote that natural family planning could harm a marriage, even when it worked.

“Wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this,” the Torodes wrote. And it is “a theological attack on women to always require that abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.”

The couple left Wisconsin for Nashville in 2007, after Ms. Patchin had what she called an “intuition.” Every time the song “Tennessee” by Mindy Smith came on the radio, she started crying. “I said to Sam, ‘I think we need to move to Nashville.’ I wanted to be somewhere warm.”

They divorced two years later, and this year Ms. Patchin filed for bankruptcy “because of the divorce and some medical bills,” she said.

Today, neither Ms. Patchin nor Mr. Torode is part of the anticontraception community, nor conservative Christianity. In Nashville, Ms. Patchin, who does accounting work from home, attends a church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the most liberal of the Presbyterian denominations in the United States. Mr. Torode attends an Episcopal church with a female priest.

“Where I’m at now, it’s confusing,” Ms. Patchin said. “One day I am like, ‘Sure, God exists and loves all of us,’ and the next day I am like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I think that’s healthy. Agnosticism is a healthy part of any good faith.

“I feel like I’m a secular Christian the way you can be a secular Jew,” she continued. “I appreciate my Christian roots, but I think all the ways humanity has developed are good things. Freedom is a good thing.”

Mr. Torode, who lives minutes away, is a book designer and now writes only fiction.

“I was always primarily more of a comedy writer,” Mr. Torode said when reached by telephone. “It’s unfortunate that I went through this serious period of trying to write theological works. I wrote a comedy novel called ‘The Dirty Parts of the Bible.’ ”

This year, “The Dirty Parts of the Bible,” which Publishers Weekly called “rich and soulful,” passed “Open Embrace” in sales. “That was a big deal for me,” Mr. Torode said. Last year, he asked the publisher Eerdmans to stop printing copies of “Open Embrace.” He promises there will be no Kindle version.

“I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do,” Mr. Torode said. “I am out of that business for good.”

MarkOppenheimer.com; twitter/markopp1