It has been suggested to me by certain commenters that I not write or speak about NFP or marriage because woman, know your place, and maybe when you’ve lived it for 35 years you’ll have something worthwhile to contribute. So I tread lightly on forbidden ground here.
But then again, when I think about all the brilliant stuff I’ve read by St. JPII, and as I mentally replay the life-changing lectures I’ve heard by Dr. Janet Smith, I am reassured by the simple fact that you don’t have to have exhaustively experienced a thing firsthand – or in some cases, even at all – to be able to speak truth about it.
(In fact, in the case of the two aforementioned giants of the intellectual persuasion, perhaps a little bit of distance only enhanced the genius. Certainly seems to have been the case.)
So now drop your expectations nice and low because I’m neither a genius nor a theologian, but I’ve been thinking about the whole messy matter of modern sexual ethics and comparing it to those geniuses, and I keep coming up against this crazy idea that I hope you’ll hear me out on:
I think we’re having too much sex.
More to the point, I think our appetites and our expectations for sex have outstripped reality.
When I say reality, I mean how sex was designed and how we were made, not how “far” we’ve come, technologically, that it is now possible and commonplace to chemically or mechanically sterilize sex to a moderate level of effectiveness in preventing pesky procreative side effects.
I’ve read a few real head scratchers this past week having to do with gay “marriage,” marriage in general, NFP, and what the Church has failed so miserably to communicate to her members.
And with each paragraph consumed, I have become increasingly convinced that we are living in the midst of the most sexually over-satiated and lifeless culture that has ever existed.
We’re all products of this same culture, because each of us, to some extent, have been influenced by the contraceptive mentality of our age, whether through media consumption, personal experience, or education: namely, that sex is primarily about consenting adults getting what’s theirs, and as an afterthought, sometimes babies.
This holds true even among Christians. Even among practicing Catholics who use NFP and pledge allegiance to TOB.
It’s inescapable, to a certain degree. Because we live in the world and yeah, we’re trying not to live of the world, but it’s awfully hard to prevent cross contamination in the digital age.
Or, rather, that we’re expecting to be having a whole lot more of it than is realistic. Or even good for us.
I was reading this fascinating piece from 2012 by Elizabeth Scalia that posits the idea of marriage as an office to which some of us – the majority, perhaps – are called, and that certain privileges are afforded to the office of marriage as consolations, sex being the foremost of those privileges.
And by privileges she means those naturally-occuring “graces of office,” if you will, not the popular understanding of privileges as “what I want, when I want it, because I’m entitled to it.”
All these thoughts were rolling about in my insomniac brain last night while I did XL barrel rolls trying to find a comfortable position for my expansive belly, and I remembered a conversation from years ago with a friend whose sister, a high-church Protestant, was preparing for marriage.
Her bridal shower had been held the previous weekend and my friend was recounting the advice doled out by some of the married ladies in attendance. The two main points were as follows:
First, costumes/role play/kinky lingerie: so he doesn’t get bored/tempted. I think the actual wording was “you need to keep things surprising and have him feel like he’s going to be with a different woman from time to time. If you’re his pinup girl, he won’t be tempted by porn.”
I found that…disturbing.
Especially considering the couple being showered were virgins in their young 20’s, and had been maintaining a chaste relationship before marriage. I guess the thought was, rings on, bets off?
Don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely splurge on pretty bed clothes and look hot for your husband, but if the point of costuming is to “trick” the imagination into pretending there’s another woman in his bed entirely, something is very, very wrong. And sexy little pinup wives don’t prevent pornography use: virtuous masculinity does. Chastity and temperance and self mastery does.
Saying no to porn is his job, not yours. You don’t have to compete for his attention, and it’s certainly not your “fault” if the hapless bloke strays. #thesexismoffeminism #punchme
and the second piece of helpful information imparted to the blushing bride to be?
A vow of “whenever, wherever” makes for a happy, healthy marriage and a satisfied man.
This was my first introduction into a now familiar concept, and it is one that hinges absolutely on a highly reliable form of contraception or a uterus of steel and an openness to life that rivals that of St. Catherine of Siena’s parents.
Because if you’re going to solemnly vow to say yes to sex whenever he initiates, no matter how sick/tired/angry/stressed/fertile you are, you’d better have a backup plan for all those double pink lines, to either prevent them or to upgrade your vehicle with real regularity.
But what’s the alternative? Sad, broken marriages with sex in the single digits each month?
Sexually frustrated husbands who turn to prostitutes?
What if, instead, it is our expectations and our appetites that are completely out of proportion with reality?
What if sex, rather than being an adult entitlement, is an immense privilege and a gift? What if we’re actually not entitled to as much of it as we might want?
And what if our past lifestyle choices or sins or the simple pressure of living in a contraceptive culture where everyone else is queuing up in the buffet line has left us with a disproportionate appetite – or at the least, an unrealistic expectation – for sex, period?
What if sex isn’t the be-all, end-all that our culture posits it to be, but a beautiful, consoling, mysterious communion that we are privileged to partake in on the terms of the Author of sex, rather than our own?
Would that help alleviate some of the tension in NFP-using marriages, I wonder?
Would that be a more helpful message to send to young people preparing for marriage, challenging them to rise to the occasion and get real, real good at practicing temperance and self-denial and selfless love now, during their dating and engaged lives, rather than urging them to grit their teeth and run for the nuptial finish line?
And would it perhaps be a better selling point to couples looking to practice NFP in their marriages to admit that yes, it is challenging and requires continuous growth in virtue and selflessness and self control…and that coincidentally, so does marriage.And that it’s so worth it to have a marriage that counters our sick culture.
I speak as a woman and a wife with an imperfect and ordinary marriage which is very much in its infancy. And as a flawed and fallen human being who is, most days, far from capable of the kind of sanctity it daily demands of me.
But I see something worth striving for in this vocation, and I believe utterly that it is I who must adapt to the challenges of this office I have been called to, and not the other way around.