Habits You Can Start Now to Prepare for Married Intimacy

 

Reserving the gift of the sexual embrace for the one person you commit your life to in the sacrament of matrimony is a gift of self. A gift which embodies chastity, freedom, and self-control; virtues which continue to grow throughout married life—no longer by withholding, but precisely through physical intimacy. 

Teachings of the Catholic Church surrounding sex and marriage are not a set of rules to control our personal lives or for the sake of abstinence alone. Rather, these are beautiful teachings of the Church to emphasize authentic love through a freely given gift of self, with an openness toward creating life. In this way, we embody the love of God.

Physical intimacy is offered as a chaste gift is when it parallels the gift of Christ to his bride, the Church. Sex makes visible the glorious vows offered and received on the wedding altar. 

Conversations surrounding sex and marriage are not just about sex. The dialogue is rooted in reverence for the human person and virtue of the human heart. Regardless of our relationship status, we are all called to grow in reverence and virtue. 

Our actions involving sexuality are some of the most important ways we can fulfill the universal call of holiness. Yet there are many ways we can grow in chastity, experience collaboration with God, and offer a profound gift of self prior to or outside of intimacy with a partner. 

Receive the Eucharist 

Receiving the Eucharist in the liturgy of the Mass is the epitome of intimacy with God. This is the moment when God proclaims his love and desire for intimate union with his children. Receiving the Eucharist with a pure heart is the greatest experience of physical and spiritual intimacy with God. 

When God offers his body, blood, soul and divinity and we receive him through our mouth and into our body, we experience the fullest reverence, virtue, chastity, and gift that we can experience on this side of heaven. The Eucharist is an image of the embrace between bride and groom; images of infinite union, which God prepares in heaven for every person. 

Bringing your desires, longings and aches to the father in the Eucharist is the most holy place we can turn to for healing and strength. He knows what it means to experience the ache of the human heart and he desires to pull us into deeper and more chaste relationship with him and with others. 

Feasting and Fasting 

Scripture affirms “prayer with fasting is good.” Fasting, most often associated with the season of Lent, is an opportunity for the faithful to prayerfully give something up to elicit an experience of longing. When we abstain from a tangible or consumable good and experience the ache of desire, our hearts yearn for more. That deep emotional encounter is a moment we can turn to God in prayer and ask him to fill the void in our hearts, bodies, and souls. 

There is nothing on earth, including sex (even sex within marriage), that can completely fill our hearts’ longings. Saint Augustine understood this perpetual ache when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

Establishing a practice of regular fasting opens the heart to experience a deeper longing, raises our awareness of our hearts desires, and provides opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. Consider something small; for example, giving up fancy coffee drinks once a week as a prayer to experience desire, to grow in virtue and to understand freedom of saying “no.”

Relationships with the Saints

The saints are holy men and women who received understanding of God’s will for their lives and fulfilled it through their time on Earth. They are made available to us as spiritual—and very real—friends, mentors, and guides through prayer and devotion. 

Maybe the saints all feel like strangers to you, yet you desire some kind of mentor along this journey of chastity and self-control. Ask God to deliver you a holy friend and keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity to dive into a new relationship with a saint. Perhaps there is a saint who has recently become more prevalent in your life. If you sense they are seeking your attention, turn to them in a novena or devotion for guidance along this journey toward holiness.  

Delayed Gratification 

In a culture where we can acquire information and products almost immediately through modern technology, delayed gratification is an underappreciated skill. Through delayed gratification, practice withholding a desire with a confident hope of acquiring it in the future. As a small example, delay how quickly after dinner you indulge in dessert. The time of waiting is an opportunity to grow in patience and self-control.

As you train these muscles of your head and your heart, you build a muscle memory which will be a strength if or when you are tempted to engage in sexual intimacy in an unchaste way. Practice saying “no” through the freedom of your self-control for something small so you can experience the fullest joys—the fulest yes—for something truly divine.

NFP = Nervous Family Planning? The Joys and Struggles.

KATE THIBODEAU

 

You’re newly engaged; glowing with happiness, showing off your glimmering left hand and so excited to start this new journey with your fiancé. You’ve met with your priest, set the date, and expect marriage preparation will be a wonderful experience. One in which you’ll grow as a couple on this adventure to heaven together. Everything sounds like the fairy tale you’d always dreamed of.

You’re set to take your Natural Family Planning course, eager to prepare for becoming a responsible and pro-life Catholic family. You can totally tackle NFP! A mix of science, faith, and marital self-sacrifice: what could be a more simple, practical, and generous method in which to grow a fine and faithful Catholic family?

Those feelings and emotions are all good, beautiful, and true. NFP is an enormous gift to the families who desire to be prudent and selfless, cooperating with God to bring children into the world.

However, after taking my NFP course during engagement, and then after actually following it as a married woman, I found that the glamorous reports of success I’d heard took me by surprise. Instead,I found myself struggling--failing, even--to learn and practice it..

 Thanks to my mother, I grew up well aware of my body’s fertility signs and familiar with NFP since I was a little girl. When trying to learn it four months prior to my upcoming wedding, I started with typical complaints, particularly taking my temperature each morning at 6 A.M, even on days when I could have slept in. Early wakeups became a daily cross. I became aware of my  daily routines that needed to be changed. I quickly realized the inconveniences of this new, constant awareness of my own body and of sharing my findings with my husband.

Conversations before marriage about NFP don’t always illuminate the little mistakes and troubles found along the way: forgetting to take your temperature, inconsistencies rooted in  stress, an inability to understand your fertility symptoms and record them correctly, a lack of full understanding. I realized there was a myriad of ways in which I personally could fail in the practice, not just the idea, of NFP--ways I was unaware of in the past, when my knowledge was more limited.

I found myself disheartened, especially when listening to other couples tell me of their great successes. I felt like a failure for being unable to clearly read my fertility signs, and felt the weight of guilt when I opted to switch to a different method. I doubted my ability to enter into a self-giving marriage with my husband, where we would be responsible in the task given to us as future parents.

It took several months, a loving and supportive husband, and God’s severest of mercies on my beginner’s errors to find peace in my mostly complicated relationship with the amazing gift of Natural Family Planning. Here are my takeaways, from much trial and error:

Be patient with yourself!

NFP is not supposed to a one time victory, but many monthly victories that allow you to know your body and your spouse better with each cycle. Don’t allow stress or fear of failure to dampen your resolve. I found the stress of learning NFP greatly affected my fertility, which made it all the more difficult to track. Had I more patience and forgiveness with myself, my learning curve might have been more even-keeled.

Comparison is the greatest fiend of self confidence, and I found it took a toll on my process.

I was too busy shaming myself for my struggles and comparing them with my peers’ successes to see the benefits of NFP. The method you choose and your discernment is dependent on you, your spouse, and God. Ask--and trust in--Christ to guide  your instincts.

Every woman’s body is different, just as every couple expresses love in different ways. Allow your couple friends to empower and encourage you in your quest, but do not succumb to self-doubt from comparison. I found sharing in vulnerability allowed me to see how pointless my tendency to compare really was. 

NFP is ultimately a blessing and a sacrifice.

NFP is truly a fruitful way to work with God and your spouse to determine when you are called to bring forth children. It is difficult in practice, but its fruits include a more valued intimacy and understanding with my husband, a sacrificial death to desire, and a dependence on God’s timing. We are grateful for the work and frustration, as well as the unity we have found through this journey together. We’ve been able to love each other better, knowing we’re in support of God’s will for our future family.

 I’ll continue to sing the praises of NFP even in my vulnerability and perceived failures. To all brides who are struggling, know you are not alone!

 Have patience with yourself, seek out support, and ultimately trust in God’s mercy. Natural Family Planning should not be a cause for anxiety or stress concerning perfection, but a gift to you and your husband as holy and responsible parents. You--with God--have got this!


About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. With an English degree from Benedictine College, she strives to live in the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.

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He Invites Us: Developing a Healthy Attitude Towards Chastity

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

I spent my engagement on a year of service, speaking about chastity to middle and high school students. It was...a time of paradox.

Talking to five classes a day about reserving sexual intimacy for marriage while being tempted to do the opposite. Advising seventh graders to draw physical boundaries at simple kisses while navigating the more complicated boundaries of being in a serious, yet chaste relationship in your twenties. A crucible of formation and prayer wracked with frequent attacks. Awaiting my wedding, a day I was pretty sure would be among the happiest of my life, while coming to terms with the awareness that even the most beautiful earthly gifts can be idols, just a flicker when compared to the fire of divine ones.

It felt good, in a way I hoped wasn’t prideful or self-glorifying, to share my story of having stuck around too long in the wrong relationship for me, one in which I let myself be used, of writing stacks of letters to my future husband, and finding even my biggest dreams insufficient to the reality of the man I would marry; someone so sacrificial, self-giving, and pure of heart. The girls I spoke to sometimes cheered when I revealed all the letters I’d written would be a surprise for my husband-to-be in a matter of months. “And then,” said one student, “you’ll be married and you won’t have to worry about chastity anymore.”

I paused. Her words, though clearly rooted in a place of innocence and good will, didn’t sit right. But I couldn’t immediately explain why. I bumbled through an explanation that chastity doesn’t end in marriage, feeling the frustration of what seemed like a missed opportunity. On the drive home, I challenged myself to better articulate exactly why it doesn’t.

If chastity is not defined as mere abstinence, not just a list of no's but as sexual self-control for the sake of freedom and authentic love, so that your yes can be truly meaningful, of course it doesn’t end at the altar. Chastity embodies love that is free, faithful, total, and life-giving, so much so that the self-discipline and disposition to being a living gift--in whatever way that looks like, to your spouse and to others--spills over in the best way possible, changing not just your sex life, but your outlook on life in its entirety. Practically speaking, what’s the best way to do this, throughout engagement and on into marriage?

It’s natural, and so good, to anticipate the fullest physical expression of your love within marriage. Yet my thoughts on that drive home, and in the months and years since, have emphasized to me the importance of viewing that anticipation in a healthy way. I realized the notion of abandoning chaste love after marriage could easily encourage a white-knuckle attitude of just “making it through” times of abstinence, could make an idol of sex, and could become a crutch enabling a lack of self-control.

I wanted something more for my relationship: true freedom to give of myself instead of license to do whatever I wanted, a healthy perspective and respect for the gift of our sexuality instead of elevating it out of proportion as a highest, pleasure-focused good.

If, like I did, you find yourself still refining your view of abstinence, chastity, and anticipation during engagement, I encourage you to pray for a spirit of reverence in your physical relationship. Don’t feel discouraged if you recognize the need for a shift in perspective, but fortified and resolved. Authentic love and freedom aren’t a destination, but a long path. One on which we still might stumble, yet one far more exhilarating and alive than any other journey.

Your walk up the aisle is, quite literally, a walk toward Calvary: the image of a life poured out and given without reservation, for the sake of pure love. Ask for the grace to give of your own life in the same way; to imitate and embody the love of the Cross. Christ gave entirely, and invites us to do the same. His Passion and love are just that: not a milestone to reach and then move on from, but a constant outpouring of self. An invitation. He awaits us, and our yes, always.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Chastity and the Battle to Let Love Conquer Lust

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

If you ever imagined and prayed once your finger held an engagement ring, your relationship and spiritual life would soar to the heights and become less complicated, only to learn the truth sometimes more resembles the opposite, you aren’t alone. The love of man and wife is transformative and real, life-giving, with the power to transcend and change this world. It’s obvious why the enemy constantly snaps at the the heels of something so good, so beautiful, so much more powerful than death.

During my own engagement, I was suddenly more aware of spiritual warfare than ever before. In times past, to be honest, I’d always considered attacks from Satan more of a superstition than a reality, yet here came a hurricane of self-doubt, anxiety about the future, and particularly for my fiancé and I, battles with purity. At the time, I was serving a mission year as a chastity speaker, and my boss told us to expect a battle.

Photography:    Petite Fleur Studios

As I began my mission, and as my husband-to-be and I embarked on thirteen months of long-distance dating and engagement, we struggled constantly, spending our rare visits arguing about wedding matters and staying up too late, too physically close--sex was a line we were resolved not to cross, yet we’d inch closer to that line than we’d intended, all the same. The deeper I fell in love with him, the more I wanted to express that love fully.  

Don't misunderstand me. Desire for your beloved is good and it’s holy, but of course, its fullness is ordered toward marriage. Before engagement, our physical relationship was something I was proud of. The degree of purity my fiancé and I had preserved had deeply healed me from a past relationship, and I could honestly say I'd never felt lustful towards him, never felt the desire to overpower, to take from him, or to reduce the truth of who he was.

But the human heart is a battlefield between love and lust. When authentic love is what you prize and when you’re able to rise above the culture’s message that being lusted after is desirable, you still might find yourself sliding into habits of lust and use without even meaning to, and find yourself wondering if you’re worthy of your vocation. That’s a lie.

When I was with my fiancé--and even when I wasn’t--I couldn't get the enemy off my back.  Between my engagement and my work, I was determined to be pure in my thoughts, words, and actions, to become ever more free and fully alive. Yet I found myself constantly going back to confession for what felt like the same old sins, and there were a few times I just broke down with anxiety.  

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when Our Lady's conception crushed the head of evil, I was consumed with anxiety about my worth as a woman. Rather than looking to Mary as a perfect model of faith, beauty, and purity, I saw her as an unattainable ideal whom I could never come close to imitating. How could I--so imperfect and so unworthy--be a real bride when it was her who was the real one, the one seeking the will of the Father in all things and embodying a perfectly integrated sexuality? It became increasingly difficult to not view my marriage as a finish line I couldn't wait to just stagger across, when the whole fight would presumably be over and I could stop feeling so fake, keeping my battles a secret. Another lie whispered in my ear: if only they knew.

The world wonders why, if chastity is such a fight, not to just give in and plant a white flag in the sand. But I knew I wasn't just following the rules. I was so internally convicted of the right path, knowing it was the best way to show my love.

So live in encouragement. Live in the tension of awaiting the full expression of your love for one another on the day you become man and wife--become one.

Believe with your whole heart you are good. You are worthy. You are also human, and the Lord delights in our humanity, flaws and all. Looking back, I'm sure now that through every attack on my purity, I was receiving graces I didn't even know about. Ask for the grace to refuse your temptations, to silence the part of you that feels unworthy, and to endure whatever trials your relationship is going through. Run to his mercy as many times as you need to, and be renewed. The Father is so loving and so gentle with us. Remember to be that with yourself, too.

A Benedictine monk told me once to combat spiritual warfare by standing between the pillars of Our Lady and the Eucharist. He said when we recognize darkness, say, Evil, I reject you. I claim victory. I claim the Cross. 

I made a consecration to Our Lady in college. Sometimes I forget that behind every perfectly worn chain or Miraculous Medal is a very imperfect woman. I am inadequate, strengthened only by grace. These devotionals aren’t so much a desperate tether to stay close to her, I’ve realized, as much as a reminder that she has also chained herself to me. A loving mother never gives up on her children. Rest in her loving mantle, cling to her son, and even while storms rage and the battle continues, you will know peace.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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What to Do if You're Nervous about the Wedding Night

 

CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY 

Real talk: one of the things I was most stressed about during my engagement was the wedding night. While I was thankful that Kristian and I had (by the grace of God and the virtue of chastity) saved sex for marriage, I was also freaked out by the fact that in a few short months, I would finally be giving myself, body and soul, to the man I love.

I realize now that so many of my nerves were completely normal, and that most women (and men) who wait to make love until their wedding night have a similar experience. We all want our first night as a married couple to be beautiful and romantic and intimate...but what if it isn’t? What if it’s awkward, uncomfortable, or even physically painful?

To some extent, it’s impossible to dispel all of the pre-wedding night jitters. Even laid-back brides find that their wedding day can be emotionally exhausting (in a good way), and the pressure to have the perfect wedding night can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be!

The Lord created us in such a way that sexual union between husband and wife naturally unfolds (yes, even the first time), and he established marriage as a lifelong union between spouses, meaning that your first time together on the wedding night is only the beginning of a lifetime of learning to love each other in this intimate way.

Hopefully, you have a married woman (or two) in your life who will help assuage any irrational fears you may have about the wedding night, but if you don’t (or are just too shy to ask), here are a few tips I found helpful:

Photography:    Avenue Creative

Photography: Avenue Creative

Ask your fiancé to prepare in advance.

It’s no secret that men and women have different needs when it comes to foreplay and making love, but your husband-to-be may need to get some pointers from married friends (preferably Catholic ones) on how to best navigate these differences. The more he knows about how women work, the more smoothly your wedding night will go.

Relaxation is key.

At the end of your wedding day, you will probably be a strange mix of totally wired and completely exhausted. Regardless of where you are on the emotional spectrum, there’s a good chance you will need some relaxation time before you’re ready to make love. Talk to your fiancé about this before your wedding so that he’ll be prepared to wait a bit longer, and have some relaxation supplies (champagne, bubble bath, massage oils) ready at the honeymoon suite.   The more relaxed you are, the more enjoyable (physically and emotionally) love-making will be.

Pray beforehand.

It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out, but a simple, heartfelt prayer asking the Lord to bless your first night together will bring peace to both of your hearts and prepare you spiritually to consummate your marriage. If you're at a loss for words, consider making Tobias and Sarah's prayer (Tobit 8:4-8) your own. 

Talk honestly and openly about your experience the next morning.

The only way a couple can grow together sexually is by openly communicating their needs to one another. As awkward as it may feel at first, talking about your love making is essential to establishing a healthy, happy, mutually satisfying marital life together.

Don’t be afraid to wait a day (or two).

One of the reasons why so many women are nervous about the wedding night is because they have it in their heads that they must have incredible sex with their husbands on the first night of their marriage...or else. That’s simply not the case! Some couples decide to wait until the next morning so that they are more rested. Some are practicing NFP to avoid pregnancy and choose to delay consummation until after the woman’s fertile period is over. Regardless of what you and your husband decide to do, it is best to discuss it before you get to your honeymoon suite.

Be patient.

It’s okay if your first time making love isn’t amazing. Like anything important in marriage, it takes time and practice to learn what works and what doesn’t work for you as a couple. Be patient with yourself and with your husband, and remember that your first time won’t be your last time (even if you get pregnant right away, you can still make love throughout pregnancy). That said, if you experience any serious physical complications during love-making that make it difficult for you to give yourself fully to your husband, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

One final note: if the thought of making love with your husband absolutely terrifies you due to wounds or trauma from your past, please consider going to therapy before you get married. Marital sex is supposed to be a beautiful expression of the love between spouses, not a source of fear or intense anxiety. Therapy can help you work through your past wounds so that you have peace about making love with your husband.


About the Author: Christina Dehan Jaloway is Spoken Bride's Associate Editor. She is the author of the blog The EvangelistaRead more

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NFP: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Is a Blessing to Married Couples

CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY 

It is NFP Awareness Week worldwide, and here at Spoken Bride, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to share the beauty of the Church's teaching on marriage, sexuality, and openness to life. We hope this post will be a helpful introduction or refresher for those of you are preparing for marriage, especially if your diocese or parish does not require an extensive course in NFP. Note that this is NOT an exhaustive resource on the Church's teaching or NFP. Please feel free to email us if you'd like any more information or want to hear about our personal experiences with NFP.

One of the most maligned and misunderstood teachings of the Church is her teaching on sexuality and chastity, specifically within the context of marriage. Some Catholics are under the impression that the Church requires everyone to have as many children as possible; some balk at the prohibition against contraception because it seems so unreasonable in the modern world; and some assume that since chastity is required before marriage, it must no longer be needed after a couple says, “I do.”

These misconceptions are completely understandable considering our current cultural climate, and the confusion that surrounds sexuality in general. The Church seems like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness of secular society, and it's often difficult for couples to hear that voice in the midst of the craziness of wedding planning. 

Erik Bello Photography.

Erik Bello Photography.

The Church’s teaching on marital sexuality

In reality, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is both beautiful and challenging--just like the Christian life in general. According to the Church, all men and women, regardless of their state in life, are called to practice the virtue of chastity. Chastity is the virtue (spiritual strength) that helps us to integrate our sexuality into the entirety of our being, in order to  truthfully love those we are sexually attracted to instead of using them.

The practice of this virtue looks different depending on one’s state of life. For married couples, chastity means respecting the reality of sex and sexuality: that God designed sexual intercourse to be a unitive and procreative expression of love between a husband and wife. Marital love should be freely given, faithful (emotionally and sexually exclusive), total (the gift of one’s entire self, including fertility), and fruitful (open to having biological children, if able, and adopting/making marriage fruitful in some other way if biological children are not a possibility). Chastity for married people also means avoiding any lustful thoughts or actions: using others (even their wife/husband) as a means of getting sexual pleasure.

This means that anything that thwarts either the unitive or procreative aspects of marital love-making is contrary to God’s design for marriage and sex, and must be avoided. Contraception (both hormonal contraceptives and barrier methods), pornography, adultery, and the like all fall into the “sins against chastity within marriage” category.


Most people can see why pornography and adultery are on the list...but contraception? Isn’t this the 21st century? Doesn’t contraception help marriages by giving couples and easy way to avoid having a child if it wouldn’t be convenient or good for the family to do so? How can the Church expect so much of couples?

The Church can ask married couples to be open to life for the same reason she can ask us to love our enemies, or care for the poor, or put the needs of others before our own: Christ entrusted the Church with the ability to dispense divine life (grace) via the Sacraments, and marriage is a Sacrament.

God never leaves us alone in our attempts to follow his will--he always provides us with the grace to grow in virtue and practice self-control.

Yes, it is easier (in some ways) to take a birth control pill or have an IUD inserted or use a condom each time you have sex than it is to practice Natural Family Planning, in which couples prayerfully discern whether or not to avoid or postpone pregnancy by abstaining from sex during the wife's fertile cycle. But the Christian life is not about what is easy, it’s about what is true, good, and beautiful. And once the physiological and spiritual differences between avoiding pregnancy via contraception and avoiding pregnancy based on Natural Family Planning methods becomes clear, it is evident that the Church, like any good mother, only wants what’s best for her children.

If this is the first time you’re learning this information, you (or your fiancé) may have some questions, which is great! The first step to trusting Christ and the Church is to be open to learning the reasons behind Catholic teaching. Below are the answers to several frequently asked questions (based on my experience as a theology teacher, RCIA instructor, and marriage prep catechist).

Erik Bello Photography.

Erik Bello Photography.

Frequently Asked Questions about NFP

I heard NFP is the rhythm method, and that the rhythm method isn’t reliable. Is that true?

No! NFP is not the rhythm method. You may have heard that it is because many of our parents and grandparents grew up thinking that was the only “natural” way to space children. Unfortunately, the rhythm method was based on the (faulty) idea that all women ovulate on day 14 of their cycle, which is not the case. Modern Natural Family Planning methods can be used by the majority of women, regardless of the regularity of their cycles, and are scientifically proven to be as effective as birth control when used correctly, because they are based on the observable signs of a woman’s fertility each month. Scroll down for a list of resources if you want to learn more about the different methods of NFP and which one would be best for you.

Isn’t NFP just “natural contraception”?

NFP can be used as a natural form of contraception, but that is not how the Church asks couples to use it. The Church teaches that couples must exercise prayerful and prudential judgment regarding avoiding/spacing pregnancy in each season of their marital life. This means that if a couple has a serious reason to avoid pregnancy or space your pregnancies, they may do so by not having sex during the fertile period of your cycle. It does not mean that Catholic couples may use NFP to indefinitely postpone/avoid pregnancy or avoid pregnancy for selfish reasons.

When is it okay to avoid/space your pregnancies?

The Church teaches that spouses should practice responsible parenting, meaning if a couple discerns that it is not the right time to have another child, the couple may avoid having sex during your fertile time until said problem is resolved. There is no obligation for couples to have sex during a woman’s fertile period each month. Therefore, it is not necessarily sinful to avoid pregnancy or space your pregnancies using NFP. However, it is essential that married couples prayerfully discern these decisions together, and, if need be, with a competent spiritual director.

What if I don’t want ten kids?

The Church does not teach that a woman must have as many children as her body can bear. Some couples are called to have large families, but not all. The important thing is, like in all aspects of the Christian life, to be open to the Lord’s plan being different from our plan. I know couples who desperately wanted to have large families and for whatever reason, have not been able to conceive or “only” have two or three kids. I know couples who never saw themselves having big families, but now have six, seven, or eight kids. Regardless of how many children a couple is blessed with, there will be crosses and difficulties and stressful situations. But there will also be the unspeakable joy that only comes when we let go of our plans and ideas and allow the Lord to take over.

WIll NFP ruin our sex life?

Using NFP to avoid pregnancy involves mutual sacrifice on the part of the husband and wife; it’s not easy to abstain from making love when a woman is fertile, nor is it easy to accept a child when he or she wasn’t “planned.” But it also involves increased communication between husband and wife, which can result in more intimacy, not less. The Church maintains that God would not ask something of us without giving us the grace to do it, which is one of the reasons why marriage is a Sacrament. That said, couples who practice NFP need the support and encouragement of like-minded couples, which is why building Catholic community in the local parish (or even online) is so important.

Do I have to learn/practice NFP?

Some couples have a “come what may” philosophy when it comes to family planning. They don’t learn or practice NFP (or use contraception). That is something that each couple must discern. However, it is a good idea to learn an NFP method in case you need it in the future to 1) become pregnant (this is actually one of the primary reasons why many couples practice NFP) or 2) avoid pregnancy should an issue arise later in your marriage. It’s also incredibly helpful for both husband and wife to understand and appreciate a woman’s cycle, especially if it is irregular. So many potential fertility issues can be resolved by practicing basic fertility awareness using NFP, and seeking out an NFP-only OB/GYN to address those issues.

Personally, I’m grateful that I began charting my cycle long before I met my husband, because I discovered that I have a progesterone deficiency, which can lead to difficulties becoming and/or staying pregnant. Thanks to NFP and my progesterone supplements, we are pregnant with our first child, and it only took us two cycles to conceive.

The bottom line:

Our perennial temptation as fallen human beings is to make idols. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we want to be our own gods, to make our own rules, and to live life on our terms. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know how destructive that way of life is, even though it may seem easier in the short term. What Christ and the Church ask of us isn’t easy: surrender never is. But we’re not surrendering to a capricious God who wants us as his slaves; we’re surrendering to a loving Father who loves us as his children. Choosing to say “yes” to the Church’s teachings on marital chastity is not easy, but because God is the author of marriage and sex, following His commandments is the only true, good, and beautiful way to live out this vocation.

Resource List:

Books

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II)

Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (not Catholic, but a good resource on fertility awareness)

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

Articles/Blog posts:

Contraception: Why Not? By Dr. Janet Smith

Why not just use birth control? Some possible right answers. & NFP in real life: hard, but worth it. (both by Jenny Uebbing of Mama Needs Coffee)

When Natural Family Planning doesn’t go according to your plan (by Christy Isinger of Fountains of Home)

NFP should be a part of parish life (by Haley Stewart of Carrots for Michaelmas)

Dear Newlywed: you’re probably worried about the wrong thing. (by Kendra Tierney of Catholic All Year)

Podcast: Uncharted Territory: Getting Real about Natural Family Planning (Jenny Uebbing, Haley Stewart, and Christy Isinger)

General fertility education:

Natural Womanhood

Indy Fertility Care Blog

In Touch Fertility

NFP Methods:

The Couple to Couple League (Sympto-thermal NFP)

The Billings Method of NFP

The Creighton Method of NFP

The Marquette Method of NFP

NFP-friendly Medical Providers:

The Guiding Star Project (holistic women’s health clinics)

NaProTECHNOLOGY Practitioners in the United States

 

About the Author: Christina Dehan Jaloway is Spoken Bride's Associate Editor. She is the author of the blog The EvangelistaRead more

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Not for the Perfect: How I Came to Accept, and Value, NFP.

CLAIRE WATSON

 

I love being Catholic. My husband loves being Catholic. But unfortunately we aren’t always the pearly white beacons of holiness we aspire to be. Sometimes we curse at our phones when they don't work. Last time I went to Adoration, I ended up texting someone to come relieve me after an hour. Often, we are that brassy Catholic family that talks too loud and drinks green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day.

That being said, I do try to honor the faith. First and foremost, I follow my conscience. I don’t ascribe to blind acceptance of dogma, but I do give the Church a running start and try to understand her teachings, even when I initially disagree.

Before I got married I was a virgin, and I was pretty proud of that accomplishment (I know; pride ain’t pretty). So when I got engaged and started learning about chastity within marriage, I was miffed. I thought,

I’ve waited 28 years to have sex. Now you’re telling me that I have to wait even more if I don’t want to pop a bun in this oven?! Not fair. And what about the fact that the time that I am most … amorous… is the time that I’m most fertile and therefore won’t be able to have sex with my husband? How is that okay? How is that not sexist and a barrier between spouses?!

With that mindset, I promised, despite my irritation, that I would give the Church’s position a fighting chance. My fiancé was on board, and we agreed we would read the Church’s reasoning, talk with couples that practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP), and come to a thoughtful decision before our wedding night.

As we trudged through thinking, reading, and praying, something weird happened. I started getting mad at other institutions instead of the Church: why have so many feminists decided disfiguring the female pattern celebrates womanhood? Why do we throw 14 year old girls on hormones but buy organic hamburgers (the risks of the Pill speak for themselves)? After I started asking questions, specifically about the Pill’s shortcomings, my heart was softened to the Church’s reasoning for avoiding artificial birth control. The Church’s reasoning seemed sound, but what made it stick for me was something else; something not typically associated with birth control.

The Catholic Church cares about sex. A lot. NFP is not about putting the kibosh on your sex life. It’s simply telling you to not separate sex and the possibility of fertility. NFP recognizes that God built a pretty amazing pattern into women--even if you’re not sold on NFP just yet, at least check out the science for the sake of nerding out. Women’s cycles have a pattern of natural, fairly predictable times of higher and lower fertility. Because it’s part of a woman’s design, recognizing it and using it is not a perversion of that design.

The Church encourages husbands and wives to prayerfully consider their lives and means before attempting to conceive. However, this also calls couples to recognize that sex is always a potentially creative act. NFP seeks to “reflect the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving nature of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.” And while I couldn’t possibly get into all the ways I think NFP has helped our marriage, I will say NFP has made me feel incredibly empowered. It keeps our lines of communication open and keeps our sex about sex--it makes me feel so icky when I hear sitcoms joke about sex as a bargaining chip.

Now then, on to the thing that made it all click for me. Something that may turn you off. Something that would probably irritate a lot of your Facebook friends. Stay with me…

Life is neither to be refused nor demanded.

I was already pro-life, and I was tenuously coming around on the birth control issue, but honestly, I had never thought of the “life demanded” part of the issue. The Church denounces In vitro fertilization for the same reason it denounces artificial birth control: because it separates sex and fertility. This matter includes everyone from gay couples who desire a child to traditional couples who mourn an inability to naturally conceive.

And my heart goes out to them. I cannot sweepingly, callously announce to you that every person engaging in IVF is simply stomping their feet and demanding a baby. If anything, the teaching that there are moral limits to achieving pregnancy is harder to swallow than the teaching that there are moral limits to avoiding pregnancy. Sex and fertility are connected, and they’re important.

As a teen, a poem from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet about the relationship between children and adults really stuck with me. Gibran explained that if children are arrows, parents are not archers; they are the bow. In my youth I pondered how this meant parents shouldn’t try to control their children’s destinies. But Gibran’s words come back to me when I now consider adults seeking to become parents: 

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you...

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…

In short, we do not own our children and cannot command or deny their existence. This is the basis for both sides of the NFP spectrum. God intended for sex and conception to go hand in hand. To separate the two, either for achieving or avoiding pregnancy, corrupts his creation and intention. If one’s body is injured or has a defect, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to cure the body so that it can conceive--that is in line with design. But separating sex and conception rejects that design.

Though my body is my own, my temple was built by God. And even while sometimes I’d love to change some things about my body, it is beautifully designed. The fact that God gifted me with fertility and breaks from fertility is something I no longer take for granted. It turned out all the Church needed was that running start and open mind.


Claire Watson daylights as an attorney in West Virginia and side hustles as a photographer. She and her husband run their parish youth group.

CLAIRE WATSON PHOTO | INSTAGRAM