Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  Culture of Death,  NFP,  Pornography,  Sex,  Theology of the Body

Are we all a little over-sexed?

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.

I’m wondering if some of the very real dissatisfaction in the sexual realm arises because we’re simply having too much of it.

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.

oversexed

90 Comments

  • Fred

    Very interesting perspective. You might be on to something.

    Curious as to “Papa’s” response to Mama’s idea.

    Overall, though, I like the concept of saving up for a special meal vs on-demand buffets (perhaps its time to cancel cable TV or some similar DVR metaphor for sex – maybe that also explains the popularity of Internet porno for both sexes).

    • sandy

      Jenny-great post. You are correct in suggesting that our modern culture has forgotten what real love is and has fallen for the physical only substitute. After reading about what marriage is designed to be in the Catechism or in writings of St. John Paul II, its no wonder we are in the mess we are in. And NO one wants to talk about the joy of a self-giving marriage–because this requires self-control and sacrifice. Men rise to the challenge and will be considerate and caring husbands if we expect them to be. Maybe with all this discussion it will come to light. There are so many ways to express your love for your husband or wife, its not all about sex. When you look at a couple who has been married 50 or 60 years, is that what comes to mind….? think about it, what really makes a strong relationship….respect, consideration, doing the small things every day, appreciation, enjoying family together, growing together spiritually, being there in tough times, listening, unexpected gifts, commitment…
      keep writing. You are very inspiring and it doesn’t matter if you are young and in a young marriage….

      • Jenny Uebbing

        So true, it’s not something we talk about, the sacrifice and the beauty of the sacrifice. (And you’re right, nobody looks at couples on their 50th/60th anniversaries and thinks about how much sex they must be having, and yet it’s something that elicits a collective sigh of deep longing and admiration to read a news story or see a photo of a marriage that has “made it.”)

    • Suzanne

      Very well spoken my friend! My husband and I have been married for 21 years. We contracepted for the first 10 years of our marriage. We began using NFP in 2004. I now teach CrMS and have a great passion for telling anyone who will listen. My marriage is so much stronger now than it was during our contraceptive years. You have much wisdom for someone in the infancy stage of marriage.

      • chrisr

        Suzanne – My husband and I have been married for 13 years and contracepted for about half of it. We had his vasectomy reversed last year. Oh, the graces that have poured out since then. Graces that have not come without suffering. I recently miscarried our post reversal baby. This isn’t the place to go into intimate detail about this different kind of love that has been infused into our marriage. I just wanted to say that I relate to your statement about your marriage being stronger now. Thanks for sharing. God bless!

    • Rod

      Great perspective in this article. I think Sex is over exposed, over sold and over marketed, all over the place today. This, in the long run causes so much sorrow and deformed personalities. Teens are not getting formed right because of too much porno marketed at them. I’ve been around the block, and far from perfect, but it’s clear this stuff is poison for all, and especially the young people developing. Americans are too worried about being labelled or criticized – I was in Iceland, and those people don’t care what the world thinks, they live their own way, and interestingly, they’ve seen the negative effects of porn and are working to outlaw it from their countries internet. They don’t care what the “Evolved” high european culture says – Icelanders are saying, we know it’s about money, and it’s not healthy – so keep your crap away from our people. Americans should be so fearless.

  • Natalie

    Great thoughts here, Jenny. Loved reading this. You and I might not see eye to eye on everything 😉 but I think you’ve REALLY hit a sweet spot in terms of finding a really common ground with all sides here. My friend and I were talking last night about the Fifty Shades of Grey/Magic Mike series/movie/overall train wreck and how it plays into the bigger picture. In the case of Fifty Shades, aside from being a horribly written book (an entirely separate issue), the FSG machine made tens of millions (between book sales, the movie, the soundtrack, etc.) As my parents always said, “follow the money.” Exploiting humans and our most intimate, sacred act to turn a profit is what it’s allllll about up in here. Not saying I’m perfect…I read part of that book thinking that it was “no big deal” and ended up feeling pretty disgusted with both myself and the story line. But I kind of think that’s part of the deal, too. There’s so much shame wrapped up in it…it’s like the whole purpose is to make people feel ashamed. When sex is really all about having a beautiful connection with your spouse. Sex isn’t about shame. It’s about love.

    Exploiting human sexuality the way we do with the purpose of turning a profit is a really special kind of sickening. We are trading our precious human dignity so that someone can ultimately make money. It’s really, really gross. I use Fifty Shades because it has been (unfortunately) so popular recently, but this discussion bleeds into other arenas .. pornography, the exploitation of women (and men…) etc.

    • Cami

      If you saw any of the interviews with the FSG actors to promote the movie, they seemed really uncomfortable. My theory (having not read the book or seen the film, with no plans to) is that they feel a lot of shame and embarrassment for making the movie. But they were contractually obligated to “promote” it. Hence the awkward, quiet interviews. Just my thoughts. If they did indeed feel shame, then there’s hope for them!

      • Natalie

        It’s disturbing because these notions are becoming “normal” and “mainstream.” I’m no saint but when these images are up in my grill all the time, it frankly gets exhausting. Is this the narrative that we are supposed to be living up to? Sex on demand, sex for sex’s sake, sex even if it is borderline abusive? Scary. I will have to watch those interviews, though. Body language conveys a lot.

        • Cami

          It is scary. And it’s even more disturbing that 10 or more years ago, I probably would have read the book and seen the movie and been a part of that world, desensitized to the unhealthy nature of such images and missing the sacredness of the marital embrace. I thank God for intervening in my life so I could learn truth before meeting my husband.

  • Marie

    Wow! You put into words what I have thought for a long time. I hope, no I will pray that all married couples and those preparing for marriage read this.

  • Jose C

    Simply wow I would have thought to see more comments by man in here but it hurts to be the first. I know first hand the difficulty of a perfect marriage and society showing you how easy and perfect it would be to have a “buffet” in bed. But it is much more magical and special to have the “rewards” of the of the office especially when you least expect it. We as society have too much of a liberal view but when it comes to teaching youth, nobody wants to do it and we put a very strong conservative belt on the issue. Something has to change.

  • Carolyn

    Wow. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now but this is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment. I am so intrigued by this idea. It def lines up with my thoughts and musings on sex in marriage, and I look forward to being able to discuss it with my husband. Keep up the great blogging!

  • Emily

    This is an interesting idea. I happen to disagree, as a married Catholic woman and mother of three beautiful children.
    1) I think that sex is an important part of marriage and that in different circumstances, it is very hard to practice NFP and still have sex consistently. My husband was in the military and now he travels for work. Adding in separate schedules make NFP VERY hard to work with at times. It is also very hard if you are one of those couples who are just super fertile. You can do everything you’re supposed to with NFP and still get pregnant.
    2) Sex is not about just satisfying, but it sometimes about just being there for one another and being close without the need for words. I realize that other physical contact can do that too, but I am never as vulnerable with my husband as I am when we are having sex. That’s just biology.
    3) Sometimes those “pesky children” are avoided for a variety of reasons that are GOOD REASONS. A mother or father being at her breaking point for taking care of young children (like having three children under the age of two). A family going through any crisis, particularly ones that can be linked to stress, like marriage issues, alcoholism, depression etc. These are excellent reasons to not have a child at that moment. And if you are in a situation dealing with other circumstances too (see point number 1), then does that mean you shouldn’t have sex? Because sometimes, that is what it would come down to.
    4) I have three awesome children. I want them to have a happily married mother and father, go to Catholic school, and be raised in a happy healthy home. Having another child so soon would truly prove that impossible, at least for a few years, at least for my family. I believe that God wants me to be happy and healthy and so He understands if we’re avoiding pregnancy. And that means doing something other than NFP.

    I do appreciate your thoughts. I do believe that our culture is both sex starved and over sexualized all at once because it seems that lots of people miss the deeper part of sex in their haste for immediate gratification. I just think that to generalize sex within a marriage is unfair and judgemental.

    • Katie

      Hi Emily,
      I’m going to charitably challenge something you said in point number three. You made the statement “does that mean you shouldn’t have sex? Because sometimes, that is what it would come down to.” And that might not always be a bad thing, I have lived through this scenario, and lived to tell the tale. My husband and I, after our last baby, felt like there was a real need to avoid another pregnancy for the foreseeable future. Problem was …postpartum fertility is tricky. We met with NFP instructors, charted, etc. but we ended up having to go through 9 months of postpartum abstinence. And now, we still have relatively long periods of abstinence and the “open” windows are few. It has been hard – and at times hard on our marriage. There have been times I’ve wanted to say “this is just too much trouble! Let’s just have another baby!” But my husband felt strongly that I needed a break. So we waited. And this painful period has been so, so good for us. We have dealt with so much and grown so much in the past year of our marriage. The cross has been there for sure, but so much grace. I would do it all again. I’m so grateful to my husband especially, who really pushed me to discern this and concerned himself so much with what was good for me. We are in a really good place right now, and I really hope that God has some additional family members in store for us in the future.

    • Sarah

      I am sure that it is difficult to comment in disagreement in here Emily, so I am impressed with your bravery.

      I am curious as to why, or maybe how, you know that “God understands” if you need to use something besides NFP to avoid a pregnancy.

      As Catholics, we believe in Christ and the Church He established here on earth. We are called to form our conscience in conjunction with the truths taught by our Church. It is not up to us to determine whether something is right or wrong regarding a question of morality. The teaching of Christ (and His Church) is clear regarding contraception so how can it be possible that God’s way is wrong for some couples? Or that we, as fallen sinful humans (I am including myself here!), could know better than God regarding our marriage and fertility. Even when we have licit ends (i.e. there are reasons to avoid a pregnancy) we cannot use illicit means and be justified.

    • Coraline

      I agree with Emily in her points 1 and 2, and point 3 up until using something aside from NFP to avoid pregnancy.

      NFP has not been a real cross in my own marriage thus far; I consider myself fortunate for that. But I know and hear from MANY women for whom it is an immensely difficult cross. Not just difficult, but has actually been BAD for their marriage. They are at a point where, though some of them would LOVE more babies, another pregnancy could inflict serious psychological, financial, or physical harm; for one that I know, it could actually kill the mother or the baby. So sex isn’t just annoyingly infrequent, it almost never happens. Yes, in ages past, complete abstinence was the only option. I think nowadays we look back on that and think, “Well, our ancestors did it, so what’s the big deal?” We don’t know how it affected our ancestors. It could have caused serious marital harm back then, too…why do we assume they were all fine with it?

      You yourself stated in a recent piece that “we ought to be encouraging and enthusiastic in our presentation of the Church’s beautiful teachings on sex and marriage,” though also admitting that we should be honest about the difficulties. Well, for some couples, the difficulties put a huge strain on their marriage. And it’s not necessarily because they are having marital difficulties or don’t understand TOB. Some of them are actually pretty well-versed in self-denial and being selfless, and yet it still poses an immense difficulty. For example, some of them just have extremely high drives, and so the cross of abstinence would be, for them, more like not eating anything for a week vs. simply passing up that cookie for dessert.

      I’m personally a faithful, devout Catholic, and my husband and I personally would never use anything besides NFP to avoid pregnancy. But it’s really hard for people having difficulties with NFP to essentially be told, “You’re not holy enough. If you were more virtuous, you wouldn’t even be having these struggles to begin with,” because saying, “Our culture has too much sex nowadays anyway,” that’s basically what you’re implying. It seems to invalidate the struggle that countless Catholic couples–some of them very devout, virtuous couples–are going through.

      Most of the people I see who are super enthusiastic about NFP are either 1) subfertile, or 2) never really use it anyway; they can either accept children as they come without needing to avoid or space pregnancies at all, or they just need a few months of spacing here and there before they go on to start trying to conceive again. I think you, Jenny, are more REAL than many Catholic bloggers are about NFP, and I thank you for that. But I think perhaps your lack of living their experience might prevent you from seeing just how bone-crushing it has been for them. It’s why I think there needs to be more support from the Church, and why I wish the Synod had addressed NFP more extensively.

      Sex isn’t the be-all, end-all of married life, but it’s a really important part of it. And some couples need to avoid pregnancy. Our Church agrees with this … some families have just, well-grounded reasons to avoid pregnancy, and as long as the means to avoid pregnancy is morally licit (i.e. with NFP) then it’s perfectly acceptable for them to do that. But when the only option is extended abstinence, it can lead to many difficulties. I mean, the Saints all had difficulties that they needed to overcome, too…and perhaps that’s all you’re trying to say here. Basically, we are all called to be Saints, so we have to take up our cross–even our extremely heavy cross–and follow Jesus. But what these couples are asked to undergo is HEROIC, it really is. And that’s why I think they need a little more support from the Church, or at the very least some validation and acknowledgement of the fight.

      • Sarah

        I don’t think anyone here, and definitely not jenny if you read other stuff she has written, is disagreeing with your point about it being hard. It is hard for some, easy for others, and truly painful and difficult for even more still, for lots of reasons. But that still doesn’t mean we can commit intrinsically evil acts.

        • Coraline

          I think I tried to make EXTREMELY clear that I do NOT under any circumstances advocate intrinsically evil acts.

          I’m asking that we acknowledge the difficulty and offer more support and encouragement. Just because I mention that does NOT mean I think going against Church teaching is ever ok. It’s not.

        • Coraline

          My point–unlike some other people who comment on these posts–isn’t that I think the Church should change her teaching, or that it should be ok for couples to use contraception — that’s not what I believe at all.

          But, for example, I think NFP should have been addressed more extensively at the Synod, and it’s a real shame that it wasn’t. How many parishes are offering support for couples adhering to Church teaching in regard to NFP? Some parishes offer NFP classes, sure – but those are few. And even THOSE parishes often have instructors who sugarcoat NFP, so when couples with crazy cycles and very serious–sometimes life-threatening–reasons to avoid pregnancy have difficulties, they just get a shrug and are pushed aside. “Those cases aren’t the norm,” we’re told via NFP promoters, as though these people somehow don’t matter because they’re not the majority of couples. They DO matter. Every soul matters, every marriage matters, and when these people are doing the hard stuff and actually FOLLOWING Church teaching–when plenty of other Catholics put their hands up and decide to resort to sinful methods of artificial birth control–they’re left with no support, no encouragement, and made to feel like they’re inferior, shameful, and less virtuous for simply wanting to have sex with their spouse. That kind of stuff needs to change, in my humble opinion.

          I haven’t experienced these difficulties myself, but just seeing other women and men whom I care about dealing with these problems…my heart breaks for them. It goes beyond “they aren’t virtuous enough…they’re just too influenced by our over-sexed culture.” Because many of them are very holy couples who are an inspiration to me.

          Perhaps the Church, via the Synod, should address the fact that the Church’s teaching on birth control has been widely rejected, particularly in this country. Perhaps each diocese and parish should be given guidelines on how to bring the flock into the fold on this teaching. Perhaps funds from the Church as a whole should be directed to developing and perfecting NFP methods so that couples with unusual cycles could finally confidently identify infertile days which they could use. There are some brilliant minds in the Church who could posit solutions to these problems.

          All I’m saying is that we should get together and acknowledge that this is something that needs to be done.

          • Anonymous

            I think people underestimate God’s grace when we pursue (albeit painfully) virtue. We are highly fertile with nearly no infertile time after childbirth. We have 2 toddlers and an infant. My husband happens to be a sex addict. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s like any other addiction where a trauma is at the root of it and a person has learned to self-medicate through sexual acts. It releases a chemical “high” of sorts, hence the medicating. It can range from masturbation to pornography use to picking up willing strangers, to hiring prostitutes, to molesting or assaulting unwilling parties. I didn’t find out until after we were married. I can tell you that in 5 years, a lot has improved. We are faithful, obedient Catholics and we use NFP. My husband knows and strives for self mastery and has been very patient with our need for abstinence. He hardly resembles the out of control man he was years ago. Sure, temptation strikes but I believe God has given him a lot of grace to fight with. Even if you wrestle with what’s right and wrong, going to confession can really gather graces for clarity and strength against that sin. We have been truly blessed and healed in many ways through TOB and NFP. Believe me, our life is hard and full of sacrifice. But God has really tried to equip us for the struggle and honor our desire for a virtuous life. We really are called to heroic virtue so it’s not going to be easy but it will be fruitful.

          • AthenaC

            Exactly. This is honestly why I use ABC; because of a variety of personal factors, right now I choose a good marriage and a happy family over NFP.

            Just to clarify, I’m not saying that I shouldn’t be using NFP or that I am currently living the best-case scenario, but I do reject the dichotomy of pure and holy NFP on the one hand, and on the other hand EVIL EVIL BURN EVIL EVIL.

          • Jenny Uebbing

            Gosh, I really hope nothing I’ve ever written here made you think EVIL EVIL BURN BURN…I kind of like to think people can still debate clearly and with charity, even on the internet.

            That being said, what I blog about is what the Catholic Church actually teaches – not what I wish she would teach, or what I’ve interpreted those teachings to mean, or what I’m hoping she’ll recant on. Just what She actually says to her children, with their best interests and happiness – in this life AND in the next – at heart. That’s all. It’s certainly nobody’s business to point out “thus and such sin is more grave/less serious than his or her struggle…” but I don’t think we need to say that of ourselves, either. I’m not about to list out and then justify and explain all my (many, many) sins and shortcomings. I keep working on them, keep submitting the most difficult teachings of Christ for me, personally, to His Holy Spirit for clarification and strength, and then I hit the confessional. Repeat cycle.

            I hope everybody feels welcome to continue participating in this discussion, because a huge reason we’re here at all, culturally speaking, is because we didn’t do enough to share/discuss/clarify for the past 3 generations. And so now we have this mess.

            More talking, more prayer and more openness to the Holy Spirit – that’s what the New Evangelization is about.

          • AthenaC

            @Jenny –

            No, you didn’t make me feel like EVIL EVIL BURN; I’m sorry I implied that. I have been reading a lot of NFP commentary lately and of course one encounters a lack of charity frequently. Unfortunately some of that was fresh in my mind, which of course is partially my fault for putting my personal business out there, but whatever.

            “a huge reason we’re here at all, culturally speaking, is because we didn’t do enough to share/discuss/clarify for the past 3 generations. And so now we have this mess.”

            Thank you for making me (and all of us) feel welcome, and I completely agree with this. What was so frustrating to me was 15+ years ago I looked everywhere I could and asked everyone I knew for help (which frankly made some people uncomfortable but I was desperate). Nothing. The answers I got was that the lockdown of info was good for me.

            I neglected to mention earlier that I do appreciate the suggestion of changing the messaging of chastity to more of a life-long project rather than the current system of smug married people telling teens “just don’t do it.” And also seeing sex within marriage as a “grace of the office.” I think that pretty well describes our attitude already and why we don’t get resentful when we have to abstain; but because we already have to abstain so much, adding NFP abstinence to the mix really scares me.

            But I did get some good suggestions today from some people and some direction as to where to look for info and resources, so I’ll have to talk to my husband and see what we can do.

      • Jenny Uebbing

        Yes, absolutely, there are unique and sometimes devastatingly difficult hardships associated with marriage and sex and abstinence. And I freely acknowledge that I haven’t lived long enough to experience much of the difficult side of the equation, aside from very severe postpartum depression necessitating lots of abstinence and medical support, and extremely high fertility. So no, I can’t speak specifically to every situation.

        But what can be said to those couples for whom it is so devastatingly difficult, so crushing to their marriages? Yes, they need to be supported and listened to and helped along in whatever way the uniquely heroic suffering of their situation demands, but beyond that, I’m not sure what can be done.

        But I am sure that extending an invitation to use contraception or to look the other way is neither loving nor life giving to their marriages or their souls. (And I’m not saying that’s what you’re suggesting, at all, but that is frequently the party line in such discussions.)

        The Church needs to support her couples who are faithfully living the Church’s teachings, but we also have to recognize that nothing about the Christian life is easy. There’s still a yoke and a burden, however He may choose to lighten it for us. And, of course, just as there are varying levels of catechesis and conversion among we the laity, we don’t all have amazing, understanding priests who proclaim the truth of the Gospel with clarity and charity. I know that was the case in the parish I grew up in, where my parents were repeatedly urged by our pastor to use birth control. Not exactly the support a couple with 7 children who are trying to be faithful are looking for. But we live in a fallen world and we are members of a Church who, while protected ultimately from the gates of Hell, is filled with fallen, confused, and flawed human beings. In the pews and behind the lectern.

        And I DO hope the ordinary Synod will discuss NFP and contraception at length, rather than focusing on the hijacked pseudo crises of communion for whomever and inclusive whatever…My constant prayer for October is that the struggling children of the Church will find real support from a Mother who sees and hears and loves them, and that we will be able to look beyond whatever narrative the media will be selling and see what is actually being proposed and debated. Because I think it will be a very different Synod from what Fox/NBC/CNN will present.

          • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

            Coraline, very well said!

            Emily, I’m trying to find a way to phrase my question to avoid sounding snarky and insincere, but I can’t come up with anything. Please know I mean this with respect and charity. My question: Why is it important to you to send your children to a Catholic school when an important teaching of the Catholic faith isn’t being lived out in their home? If the school is a faithful Catholic school, they will eventually learn about the immorality of contraception. Speaking from personal experience, they will realize that mom and dad don’t really care THAT much about what the Church teaches because they themselves don’t practice the faith as they ought. And Catholicism becomes just one option among many and they will feel entitled to pick and choose the teachings they wish to accept and which they can reject.

            You are not alone in this, I realize that many couples who send their kids to Catholic school contracept. I just can’t help but think that they aren’t noticing the irony of spending thousands of dollars for their children to learn the Catholic faith while undermining their own efforts the entire time by not “playing by the rules.”

          • AthenaC

            @Kaitlin –

            I can’t answer for Emily, but I can answer for me.

            I do use ABC, but what is probably more obvious to my children is that my husband and I lived together and conceived their baby brother before we were married in the Church. While we were waiting for all the paperwork to go through, we still went to Church (most of the time), I abstained from Communion, took them to Faith Formation classes, and even taught the second grade Faith Formation class.

            The takeaway that I think (hope?) my kids will get from this is that there is teaching and it is meant to be lived, but we all fall short. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep striving for perfection, but in the meantime one has to do what works.

            I do reject the dichotomy that seems to exist regarding NFP of 100% holy NFP vs. 100% evil ABC; it is a dichotomy that exists in few other aspects of Catholic life.

        • AthenaC

          “rather than focusing on the hijacked pseudo crises of communion for whomever and inclusive whatever”

          I agree with you on the importance of addressing NFP and, I would add overall marriage support at the synod. But I do think the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics (I assume that is what you are referring to) is also a big deal. I abstained from Communion for YEARS while I got my situation sorted out, and let me tell you, being the only one in your pew not going to Communion gets awkward. Even when you try to plan for the awkwardness and sit on the end, because what happens (if you make the effort to get to Mass ON TIME like I do) is that you invariably get shoved to the middle of the pew, so you have to get up to let everyone out to go to Communion, then you have to get back up to let everyone come back for Communion. I’ll admit that for a while I just didn’t go to Mass because I dreaded the awkward that much. Plus no one else abstains (even if they are supposed to) so EVERYONE is looking at you.

          I think allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion (if they went that route) would be a tacit acknowledgement that there are far more less-than-sacramental marriages than any number of annulment tribunals could address, which would probably be accurate but would not really fix the underlying issue of widespread marriage issues.

          But that’s a topic for another post (I assume).

          • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

            Thanks for your answer ATHENAC.

            I can certainly understand how you see that dichotomy in Catholic circles. This is something I’ve not put a lot of thought into before, but what first comes to mind is this: Choosing to take ABC is a deliberate decision to go against Church teachings for an indefinite time. If a couple struggled with a different sin (pornagraphy for example, please don’t mistake me for making comparisons among sins. I’m only trying to make a point.) that couple would be TRYING to stop that sin. They would confess it and try harder after confession. They might fall many, many times. But they would keep trying to rid their marriage of that sin. But with ABC, a couple can’t confess that sin if they plan on taking the pill again the next morning or using a condom again that night. And unrepentant sin is serious, serious stuff. Very different from struggling with sin and constantly failing. Am I making any sense? I’m not advocating for calling ABC users EVIL EVIL EVIL, but I do think there is a distinct difference in choosing to go against the Church’s teaching and struggling with other aspects of morality while frequenting confession to help overcome them.

          • AthenaC

            @Kaitlyn –

            “Choosing to take ABC is a deliberate decision to go against Church teachings for an indefinite time. ”

            That is very true and it is a difficult cycle to break. Even if I were to stop right this second and start charting myself, I would have a lot of bad data while everything flushes out of my system and I don’t know how long it would take to figure myself out. Frankly, I strongly suspect that I am one of those people that would end up abstaining for months / years just because of what I DO know about my body and how incorrigible it can be.

            If Google had been around when I was in high school, I would have started my charting then just to try to understand my wildly irregular cycles, but that is water LONG under the bridge at this point.

            So for the moment I don’t really know what to do. My husband and I end up abstaining for various lengths of time for other reasons, so it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of opportunities to practice temperance and what-not.

  • Amanda

    Thank you. I have been trying to find a way to communicate my wish to transition from BC to NFP for some time now. This article has given me the words to express how my growing relationship with God (which has totally been making my marriage rock, including the sex) has been changing the way I feel about sex and how we have our children.

    • Betty

      I don’t think anyone is minimizing the difficulties of abstaining for long periods if not indefinitely. However, chastity in marriage is just as important as chastity outside of marriage. Take the same-sex attracted – we do not say, “well, you really have an appetite for it and chastity is an undue hardship, so God will give you a pass.” No, because ignorance will not protect his soul, we have to inform him that God’s plan for his life does not include sodomy, or extramarital relations, or even lustful relations with one’s spouse. It’s not an easy path we’ve chosen, but it’s the right one! And we must trust that God’s will is best for us, even when sometimes it may seem too much.

  • Chelsea Clarkson

    Jenny, girl. (Don’t be offended here, girl is the word I’m in the habit of using with my very best besties.)
    Girl, this was on point. And I don’t know who these commenatators were who dismissed your writing (I missed that drama), but please be assured that your writing is immensely helpful and that you are enough. For real, you clearly have enough experience (and intelligence) to speak to these issues. Keep at it, mama.

  • S

    Take it from this “old” mom of 6 – you are a wise woman. (I don’t have 35 years married yet though, so maybe I am still dumb.) 😉

    Blessings to you!

  • Jack

    Absolutely brilliant insight! Thank you for the courage and honesty to write this very vulnerable piece. I am sure that society or is it pop culture or both has sent us so many mixed messages and completely distorted messages that the entire view of the vocation and who we ought to be or how we ought to behave in marriage with our sexuality has been often lost to us. How are we to prepare, how much of your insight is taught in pre-marriage classes within our own church? I hope that many newlyweds will read this article and that many pre-cana instructors will read this article. This is the true perspective all married couples should understand about how the vocation really works before they march down the aisle. I wish I had read this when my wife and I got married 22 years ago, instead almost figuring it out on our own after all these years. Thanks, keep the insights coming till you publish the book and start the speaking tour!

  • Michelle

    Loved what you wrote and truly believe in it. Unfortunately it is women who voice this out and hardly any men who voice this and set that example. It’s almost (sadly) like the problems a family faces today… Strong maternal guidance and lack of the Fatherly examples. It’s rare a man would listen to this saying – this is how women see it since they don’t need sex as much as men do.

  • Michelle

    Also lot of good men do talk about chastity before marriage and bless them it has done wonders. But what about after marriage?

  • John Bridges

    Well said young lady! Peace Be With You. Sex is just another gift from God. We tend to debase it with our egos…that can never be satisfied.

  • Amy

    Oh man. I just breathed a huge sigh of relief. Does that make any sense? Well…there’s not much else to say without sharing way too much TMI about my own sex life, but brava.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      That’s an interesting statement. Do you mean it literally? Like my celibate pastor is having sex? And my widowed grandmother? And my 4 year old? And my chaste 20-year old sister?

      I think the culture may be swaying your perspective on this one.

  • Katarina

    Jenny, your writing is such a blessing for a modern era Church. You articulate and explain the truths of our faith in shuch simple, yet straight forward and deep manner. Being a wife and a mother for three years now, I must say that I hardheartedly agree with everything you write here. We have been using NFP due to the economical reasons, we were abstaining during my pregnancy when I was put to bed-rest and we are using NFP at this very moment due to my heath issues. Using NFP for us means that most of the month we get to live in the purity and are not having sex.

    I have got a condition that gravely endangers my life during the pregnancy. My condition also prevents me from using hormone based BC. I have been so thankful to the Church for giving my means and methods that have kept me out of pill and thus saved my life. Have I not been faithful Catholic, I could have used hormone based BC before I knew of my condition which could be fatal for me. The Church and its teaching have really proven to be a good mother for me in this case.

    I have been practicing, faithful Catholic when I met my husband who was pagan Catholic. Everything was OK and acceptable for him. With time, as he begun to get to know the truths of our faith and the beauty and richness of Church teaching on sex and TOB, he started changing his views and opinions. We lived in purity when we were engaged and used NPF for most of our marriage. I feel the way we live is completely counter cultural, but gives true dignity to us as a couple and to both of us separately (as husband and as a wife).

    I also think that Satan has two very powerful allies: money and sexuality. It all and always comes down to one of these two things. That is why I am very grateful to the Church for being wise in things in which I can not always be wise.

    So yes, the absolute truth is that modern day culture is having too much sex and is giving sex too much of importance. Change of mentality in my husbands head and heart from “I should have what I want, when I want” which happened guided by the teaching of our Mother Church is now (and for the rest of our lives) keeping my alive in such a beautiful and dignified way. I feel trully blessed to have a Mother who outlined this teaching for me and is fighting to keep it alive and for having Divine Father how gave this teaching to Her.

  • Becky

    Thanks for posting this. I bet I have seen some of the same articles and blog posts floating around that you have, some even under a “Catholic” banner and I have just been mad and felt somewhat alone. I have found myself wondering I am just a young mother of two who is naive like these people say or is this the truth. If I have the truth, how do I know and learn it so well that I can defend it in not only with logic but also in its beauty to this sexually destroyed culture. Do you have any book/CD/dvd recommendations? I feel like most of my ToB information I have comes from articles, retreats (from high school), and practicing the truth. I need to go deeper though especially with the culture further decaying. Or you could just write me a book… 😉

  • Ellen

    This is such a beautiful truth, Jenny. It seems very familiar to me possibly because of my upbringing. Both my and my husband’s parents heard about TOB from us as we learned it through college and smiled and said, “we’ve been living that for years. ” I know we are blessed to have had such good formation in the faith especially about sex. Now, thanks to our parent’s example and teaching, we are very naturally able to approach married love as a holy, beautiful privilege, much as you describe. I ponder often how we escaped the brokenness and bitterness that so many young, or not, catholic couples live with regarding sex and nfp. I know it is a great grace, but i also wonder if it is not more usual than we think. Maybe happy people just don’t talk about their happy sex lives much? I just love how our Church gives us so much room to discern and decide on these matters. My husband and I read Greg Popcack’s “Holy Sex” recently and thought he gave very good guidance both on understanding the theology of sexuality for married couples, and practically for getting through some of the hard times. We especially appreciated his “one rule”.

    And I’m not sure why people would yell at you for writting on these topics. They must not be Irish at all. My dad says that lack of knowledge never stops an Irishman from speaking authoritatively on any topic. (Though in all seriousness, I can tell that you go to great lengths to learn as much as you can on the subjects you cover.) Please keep writing.

  • Holly

    Jenny this was so good and interesting! I have never heard anything from this viewpoint before, but I do think it is spot-on. I also think of our ancestors who lived in much smaller houses with little sound insulation – how much sex could they possibly be having with a passel of kids ten feet away? But, on the flip side, I do find that sex is so important for our marriage – and that we are closest and strongest when we are having frequent time together (2ish times a week). Is this a weakness on our part or part of God’s design? I also think of those Protestant pastors who encouraged couples to have sex nightly for a month – it was all over the news a few years ago. Even at the time, I kind of rolled my eyes at that – sometimes it’s nice to just watch tv on the couch 😉

  • Holly

    Have you read Simcha Fisher’s NFP book? We actually don’t have to practice nfp due to really long periods of nursing infertility, but up to that point I had never understood why using it to postpone pregnancy could be a good thing. I always thought it was a “lesser good” than being completely open to life. Anyway, she makes the argument that God may be calling us to generosity with life at one point, but then prudence just a few years later. It’s such a great read – even if you are not using NFP.

  • Maria

    A very realistic view on NFP and the martial act in general. It’s rare to see, (or read in this case!), thankyou!

  • Hazel

    We have been married for 43 years. Through thick and thin.
    Wonderful writing. I love your phrasing. If just brings the words to life.
    Thank you.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Congratulations! (and can I just say as a very pregnant woman still debating over baby names, I may have floated “Hazel” at the breakfast table after reading your comment this morning. Love your name.)

  • Jessica

    Dr. Greg Popcak posted yesterday/today on this topic, as well, and his most recent post ended perfectly:

    “Maybe we can never learn to love NFP. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe, if we can embrace the cross that comes with it, we can learn the real point of NFP, which is that NFP doesn’t exist so we can love it for its own sake. Rather it exists so that we can learn to love our spouse for his or her own sake, and not for what we can get out of them. If we can do that, then we can finally start to receive the gift that the Church is trying to give couples through NFP. A truly authentic, honest and real experience of love without use.”

    (I just recently read his book on the subject (Holy Sex!), and although I don’t love how the Popcaks’ books sometimes feel a little gimmicky, they DO make the beauty of the Church’s teachings really sink in and feel practical and practicable. I’d definitely recommend it.)

    And the two pieces of marriage advice your friend received both contradict that spirit of NFP, of learning to love your spouse without using them. According to that advice, the wife’s role is simply to be the tool her husband uses to satisfy his urges, no matter her feelings or desires or their mutual readiness to conceive. And in turn she is being told that her husband is basically an animal with no self-control of his own–so sex becomes degrading to both of them, and instead of drawing them closer and becoming a source of comfort and strength, it will create more stress within their marriage. Ugh. Our culture is so messed up.

  • Jenny

    I couldn’t agree more. And the particular Protestant perspective you mention was exactly the milieu in which I prepared for and lived the first 5 years of my marriage (we just came into the Church this Easter). Rings on, bets off is pretty much the perfect summation of it. It’s ALL on the table.
    Needless to say, none of this teaching helped our marriage. NFP and Theology of the Body has. So thankful for the Catholic Church’s consistent, coherent teaching on sexuality.

  • Paula

    I think you are sadly confused as to what feminism actually means. Taking responsibility for the success or lack thereof of a man’s interest and/or fidelity is the antithesis of feminism. It’s not the sexism of feminism, it’s just straight up sexism. You’re right when you say it’s his job to say no to porn and that it’s not s woman’s job to compete for his attention. It’s the same advice that’s been pedaled since the 50’s with the stereotype of the “good wife”. It’s garbage and has absolutely NOTHING to do with feminism.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Yeah, agreed, but here’s the thing, I hear plenty of feminist apologetics for the “freedom” of porn and “liberated” women who are sexually promiscuous because it’s empowering somehow. Real, authentic feminism looks very little like the cultural feminism we’ve inherited from our mother’s and grandmother’s generations.

      • Paula

        Real authentic feminism looks like taking responsibility for your choices no matter what they are and having the freedom to make those choices and letting others take responsibility for their freedom of choices. This is true for BOTH men and women. Trying to pigeon-hole feminism inside a box of what any one person thinks is morally correct is the same oppression that has always existed.

  • Ari

    Jenny – You don’t have to be an “expert” to contribute to the conversation. You represent young mothers, and that’s a voice that needs to be heard. We all have our own experience. I represent young married people who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy at the moment. I was raised Protestant, and anti-abortion, but birth control was expected to be used. Not “if” but “which method” was expected. In recent years, the hipster Protestant pastors have taken to the “do it every night” and “be constantly available to your husband” line as the way to marital bliss. It’s sexism at its worst and seen as a form of wives properly submitting in marriage. I was taught “as long as you’re married” that basically anything goes, as a Protestant. Thank God, I found Catholicism and Theology of the Body before marrying because that line of teaching is just another form of objectifying your spouse and dressing it up in religious language. It is VERY harmful and surprisingly prevalent among Protestants. NFP sucks. It’s hard. I hate it sometimes, but I am grateful for it. It has made my life exponentially harder, but I think that it has made our marriage better than if we used contraception. We face opposition from our non-Christian and non-Catholic friends, and we face a total lack of community among our Catholic friends when it comes to KNOWING anyone who practices NFP as a married couple. Our church during marriage prep never mentioned NFP (neither did my RCIA class, if I recall). The extent of NFP training in our church is a dated poster that says “love…naturally.” However, Catholicism is the only religion that truly teaches chastity as a virtue and has multiple examples of people LIVING it. However, I wish the church were much better about educating people on NFP. Not only that, as far as marriage and family goes, the church needs to make marriage/weddings easier on couples and more affordable as a community. (I believe preparation is key, but that wedding shouldn’t be the financial burden that they often are.) Once families have children, we must make raising them easier, more affordable, and provide a sense of community that I see sorely lacking in Catholic circles. If it weren’t for the fact that I love and believe the teachings of the Catholic Church, I would return to Protestantism, simply for the community and fellowship they do so well. Thirdly, NFP remains largely the responsibility and the arena of women…for obvious reasons. It’s lame to say that the man writes down the temperature or does the charting. That’s great…but, let’s be honest, it’s the women who must become familiar with the signs, the charting, the method, etc. MUCH more than men. I think both men and women need formation, encouragement, and community when it comes to NFP – even those who are practicing it. We need encouragement that, yes, it’s hard. We need reminders of WHY we do this. And, we need an ever-deepening understanding of the human person.

  • Erica

    I love what you have to say. We have struggled with infertility, God has given us one child and I am so grateful. But still I look back on the year and a half I spent on birth control and wonder what if? Now the thought of trying to prevent a pregnancy seems ridiculous with a pill seems absurd, why would someone want to prevent the thing that we long for so much? I know there is another side of it, which looks like a baby being born every couple of years for some folks, but the whole thing has helped me realize that God has a plan for sex and a plan for families and that the pill has taken sex and fertility and put them into two totally different conversations where they were never meant to be.
    It does seem these days that our culture is waving around sex as being the ultimate goal. Good sex and you will be satisfied, sexual freedom and you will feel really good about yourself. And of course it will never prove true.
    Beyond what you have said if anyone needs proof of the oversexualization of our culture, all you need do is walk into a gas station with a three year old, and follow them as they accidentally wander into the section of dirty magazines, answer their questions as they ask why the lady on the sign has her whole stomach showing, and then ask what the romance novels are all about. It is everywhere and it is really frightening to raise a child in the midst of it. Thanks for your thoughts

  • Erin@Humble Handmaid

    You are brave. 😉

    There are all these good-hearted women out there killing ourselves emotionally (and sometimes it’s the husbands dishing it out passive aggressively!) about whether we are having enough sex. We stress and pray and AGONIZE over how many times a month is “healthy,” “holy,” and “good for our marriage” (read: enough so that our husbands or us don’t feel like we are lagging behind the Norm and complain or pout). How do we stop hurting each other? How do we gain right hearts on this? I read some steps in the right direction here. Thank you!;)

  • Abby

    We may never love chastity, and we may never love NFP, but we may fall in love with the Cross that it accompanies, and the Man who died upon it.

  • Julie

    On-point as always, Jenny. I’ve never given much thought to this topic in terms of married life, but I sure as heck have regarding single life. The outsized expectations of society re: sex, whenever and with whomever, makes it a million times harder for the single person trying to live a chaste life than it already is. To be looked at as strange for not having a sex life, to have difficulty finding a partner who isn’t driven by his sexual desires – this compounds the loneliness, even alienation, one already feels from watching “everyone” around them couple up.

    • Anonymous

      Julie, if you are indeed living the single, chaste life right now, press on, Friend! I found it helpful to spend most of my time with like-minded people. God pruned out the unhealthy friendships anyway. It certainly isn’t easy. However, keep in mind… Not only are you doing good for your own soul, but despite the twisted faces of others scratching their heads in confusion at your lifestyle, you can be sure you’re sparking some curiosity and making a few of them reflect on their choices. One of my favorite conversations is when a younger woman tells me she’s living with her boyfriend. There is usually some drama attached to the comment. Then I explain that moving in together reduces the probability that they will ever marry or stay married. I tell them that there is research to show this. I encourage them to save the good stuff for marriage and tell them my story with my husband. Stats on the relationship survival rates with influence of moral/immoral choices can be found in Jason Evert’s “If You Really Loved Me”.

  • Ellen

    I really just felt the need to comment after reading some of the comments, specifically about what a challenge abstinence can be and how it seems that many of the people excited about NFP are “sub-fertile” (I really hate that term) or just accept children willingly, no matter the number.

    I would just like to point out that we all have our own crosses to bear. Abstinence is not a hard thing for my husband or me. But we have been trying for over a year, almost a year and a half, to have another child. I am going to doctors and have been on progesterone and now I am starting to hear words like “Clomid” and “secondary infertility.” I have prayed novenas, made a pilgrimage, prayed rosaries, gone to Adoration, begged God for another child. The side effects from the progesterone alone are difficult enough for me, I know that the other medications (the ones approved by the Church) are even harder on you emotionally and physically. This is my cross right now.

    I get that the concern of another child before you are physically, emotionally, or financially ready can be devastating. I get that and am not arguing that one bit. I just wanted to say, if NFP is easier for some people than for others, know that there are other things that those people are struggling with. Maybe it’s not NFP, but I guarantee you the struggle is just as bitter.

  • Tia

    I think you’re right that sex is sort of oversold and promoted nowadays, but I don’t actually think that meant more people were having less, or more temperate sex, in the past. I think you’re forgetting that fertility looked very very different historically and in the environment in which humans evolved. Hunter gatherers can have maybe five children in their lifetime. Their dietary needs mean that they don’t ovulate till 18, and their need to breastfeed for primary nutrition for longer means the average spacing between children is 3 to 4 years. Some of those children, sadly, did not make it to adulthood. So humans evolved in a society where sex and marriage certainly brought a lot of heartbreak and peril, but I don’t think abstaining for long periods was ever something that people consciously felt a need to do. It was only with the advent of the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago that women began to be able to have more than five or six children tops in their lifetime, because grains allowed them to sexually mature earlier and they had more acceptable “weaning foods,” and could return to fertility sooner. Even then, the number of children that lived to adulthood was maybe half of what it is now. Only in the last 150 years have we managed to both feed everyone adequately, improve childbirth conditions and treat childhood diseases to an extent that people can easily have 8,10,12 children if they don’t attempt to stop them coming. So I think in modern day, we have managed to largely avoid the suffering of dietary uncertainty and the devastating losses of children in early infancy, but in exchange, we have to practice a greater degree of temperance and chastity in the sexual arena than was previously required of us. That’s not a bad thing; each age has its own characteristic sufferings, struggles and moral dilemmas. But I think its not correct to say historically people hardly ever had sex or anything like that.

  • Elizabeth

    I want to give this a hearty “Amen” because I get what you’re saying. I grew up Protestant and have heard more than enough of the (very disturbing) rhetoric you described.
    At the same time, though, I feel like we don’t make *enough* of sex. It’s not just a consolation — it’s the sign of our sacrament. Although periodic abstinence is sometimes necessary, husband and wife aren’t supposed to be living as celibates. My husband is in the military, and frequently deployed airmen are stationed in locations without a Catholic chaplain. They go months without the reception of the Sacraments. Is it possible to live a holy, virtuous life without the Eucharist? Of course, but to say they suffer for lack of the Sacrament doesn’t begin to describe the void which can only be filled by Christ’s real Presence. In a similar way, I feel like the times we’ve had to practice abstinence in our marriage weren’t hard just because we had to buck up and practice self-control, but because we lacked the wordless unity of becoming one flesh. Does that make sense?

    • Kelsey

      I’m a bit late to the party here, but YES. I completely agree with you. I agree with the article’s basic message, but I also find it a bit disheartening that there seems to be a “everyone else uses contraception, Catholics use NFP” theme. What about simply loving your spouse freely without worrying? I know that many couples have good reason to use NFP. I’m not talking to specific situations. I’m just saying that this other option – the one without pills, devices, charts, monitors – is almost totally neglected today, at least in my experience. Furthermore, while I can see how periods of abstinence can be sanctified to purify spousal love, I don’t think we’re having too much sex. I think that holy sex – not use, but mutual self-giving, the most profound sign of marriage – can’t possibly happen too often.

  • fRED

    “Are we a little over-sexed?”
    .
    “I’m wondering if some of the very real dissatisfaction in the sexual realm arises because we’re simply having too much of it. Or, rather, that we’re expecting to be having a whole lot more of it than is realistic. Or even good for us.”
    .
    Since my adult life is about 35 years I think I can offer a unique perspective due to experiencing the cusp of V2.
    .
    When I was growing up in the 60s (Before ABC), our family prayed the morning offering: “Oh Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, and sufferings of the day; for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart and in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, and in particular for the general intention recommended this month.”
    .
    My mother’s response to any whining was to “offer it up.”
    .
    Maybe we are over-sexed today or not but we definitely seem to have lost the discipline of “offering it up.”
    .
    In John’s gospel, Jesus frequently proclaims he is here to do the will of the (Father) One who sent him.
    .
    I think we have lost our faith in God and replaced it with our own will. We have become spreadsheet managers of our faith: Maximize the return on our efforts. Let’s not take any chances on God giving us more (children) than we can handle.

    How much is too much? There are a lot of rational answers (excuses) but God usually likes to skew the odds (check with Gideon).
    .
    Before ABC, when couples married there was great expectation and joy for pregnancy and children. Such blessings. Today, children are viewed as a bother or an accoutrement or a pet. Now children are a hindrance to one’s career.

    And NFP is a bother. It is seen as Catholic BC. Read the comments above. Many RCs havent read the fine print in the CCC and think that ABC is fine because its easier and more convenient that NFP. NFP is seen by many as just “green” BC.
    .
    Perhaps we can give God the glory by trusting in His grace. (I know that many will object but look where we are today-besides who wants to argue with God? I can tell you from experience God has the upper hand). His ways can be mystifying (ask Job) but we need to relearn how to trust in Providence.

  • Krystle

    First off, I just want to say I loved this post (as almost every post). I’m fairly new to your blog and have been delving into the archives frequently–I love your explanations of the Catholic doctrines surrounding birth control and openness to life, Theology of the Body, etc.
    However, can I just put in a hand and say not all Protestants have the attitudes toward sex in marriage and birth control mentioned above? I’ve only very rarely run into that and have grown up in a Protestant community my entire life. Our attitudes towards sex and marriage and birth control very closely align with those explained as Catholic here. I realize this is a Catholic blog to a Catholic audience, and I very much enjoy what I’ve been reading, as many of these doctrines are not so well explained in our communities as they are in the Catholic Church! I just wanted to stick up for us Protestants a little and say that many of us don’t agree with those stereotypes of “rings on, bets off” sort of thing and would be horrified at some of the advice that has been given at that bridal shower! 🙂

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Great, great contribution, thanks Krystle! I was hoping this was a limited perspective on sex, and I’m glad to hear it’s not an across the board attitude! (p.s. one of my bff’s is southern baptist, so I’m definitely not a papist snob, haha) Welcome to the conversation 🙂

  • Suzi Whitford

    “What if, instead, it is our expectations and our appetites that are completely out of proportion with reality?” Oh so good! Coming from a Protestant background, the advice of ‘be the sexy, dressed up wifey’ and ‘have sex all the time’ still resonates with me. It is still what my family preaches as the only guard against a failed marriage. “If there is steak at home, why would he go out for burgers?” Catholicism sees sex in a whole DIFFERENT way! It’s a beautiful act, a sacred act, and one that needs to be cherished. I wrote a post on this a few months ago, but never tied in that our society is ‘over sexed’, you made a fantastic point!

  • Lin

    While good points are made within the article itself, I question how this can truly be the case when NFP, in and of itself, requires so much abstention? We are told that NFP’ers enjoy even MORE intimacy. REALLY? Given menses and the fertile period, if a couple has reason to avoid pregnancy, this leaves only 7-10 days or so at the end of the woman’s cycle. If a couple has more intimacy yet within such a brief period of time each month, doesn’t this almost turn into lustful behavior, which is what we are to avoid in the first place? If intimacy is spread out, likely less intimacy (which would be expected) would be closer to the norm. Experience with normal use of NFP, in my experience, seems to be almost a starvation of intimacy within marriage. Contrary to many of the posts here, I found nothing positive with it in my many years of usage, and truly feel that I lost years of intimacy. The Church rarely addresses NFP except for the glowingest of terms. We desperately need honest and open dialogue from ALL who practice it, not just for the rare 3-5% who have embraced it. There’s a reason why so few use it. Perhaps the constant abstention is more of a curse than the blessing than we have been led to believe. Stop sugarcoating it and offer desperately needed support (as I believe Coraline mentioned earlier; in my own church, I asked an NFP speaker about a support group and was just given an odd look). Yes, we live in an overs*xed society, but NFP can easily threaten to zap a lot of intimacy right out of a marriage, ending up with just the opposite effect. How is this good or healthy, when NFP can actually damage a marriage (and contrary to the Popcak’s view, maybe it DOESN’T necessarily mean that there is something wrong with the couple themselves). Finally, with the advent of apps that can take the guesswork out of a women’s cycle, it would be nice to see the Church throw $ and support behind that to further help couples live NFP just a little bit easier. It has been beyond disappointing to see this happening in the secular world when it’s the Church that should have ~ and needs to be ~ at the forefront of this. There’s a reason so few follow this teaching. If the Church is really concerned about this, then the Church needs to engage in dialogue from ALL couples (whether they agree with/like NFP or not). Suppressing open dialogue with those who struggle with and/or don’t agree with them only makes a bad situation worse. There is a lot about this teaching that the Church needs to improve upon to bring more couples on board. Honesty about the difficulties associated with it, authentic support groups, and updating of methods through current technology (apps, etc.) would be a good start. Not silencing their critics without at least listening to what they have to say (and responding to honestly) would be another. Making healthy and moral choices within marriage is important; starving a marriage of intimacy does much more harm than good, even to Catholic marriages.

  • Lin

    (Correction to last sentence of previous post) ~ Making healthy and moral choices within marriage is important, especially when trying to live within the confines of Church teaching. However, while our overs*xed culture is definitely not a good thing and is contrary to how we are called to live, the other extreme is not healthy, either. Starving a marriage of intimacy, due to the frequent and high rate of abstention that NFP frequently calls us to live, has the potential of doing more harm than good, even to the strongest of Catholic marriages. This is something that the Church needs to look at and address. Open and hosest dialogue with struggling couples (as well as the implementation and usage of updated technology to bring NFP into the 21st century) is greatly needed.

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