I started to make this one post and realized there is a lot here! So I’m going to post this in parts. The short story is this: Going from a contraceptive mindset to a Catholic one is tough! But it’s worth it and it’s something I want to prepare you for, because NFP practices a patience that really is representative of your entire life. Here are the parts I’m going to be posting: The back story and my definitions, problems with day to day NFP when your history is less than holy, what successful couples do to make NFP work, how to prepare your kids for NFP, and why NFP is worth all the trouble even if no one else believes you.
Part 1: Backstory and definitions
So I’ve not been blogging long, and as a result, there’s not a lot about me here, yet. Since I’m blogging primarily for my own sanity and to pass something on to my kids, this would presumably present little problem. We both know me quite well…however, when it comes to the actual practicing of NFP, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s up beside my DH and I so I may have to give a little backstory. However, I promise not to pull a How I Met Your Mother and do that thing where he basically tells his kids about all the sex he had with other people…that’s weird. Kids, you might ask why I even touch this sensitive topic at all given you don’t want to hear about it, but the thing is, I can’t find anyone to commiserate on this with and I guess I want to leave you at least a shred of proof that your possible experience with NFP is valid. I don’t want you thinking you’re weird or just less holy!
Let’s start with the back story. Your dad and I began our relationship in a very sinful way. We did not follow church teachings. Without getting too scandalous, I will simply point out that which is public record. We bought and moved into our house a full seven months before we married…Furthermore, prior to 2006, we used artificial birth control (aka the pill or ABC). Between 2006 and 2008, it is safe to say we did not completely follow the church teachings on sex. It wasn’t until Jan. of 2008 that we started to embrace Church teaching in that arena.
So as we met in 1998, began a physical relationship in 1999, didn’t start practicing Church teaching until 2008, and I’m blogging this in 2013, it is imperative to understand that we practiced secular sex for 9 years and Holy sex for 5. Furthermore, as is evidenced by your spacing, we didn’t practice NFP at all until 2012. So we’re not typical NFP practitioners.
What is typical? Well, the movement to get Catholics on track says there is no typical. I think that’s fair, but I think the reality that I’ve seen is more NFPers are “from the start” NFPers, not “switched mid-marriage” NFPers. I think this reality is important to notice when working at sticking with it. People who start their relationship with NFP have no sexual history. Even if they had sex prior to that relationship, they are starting clean with their forever partner. This is an important point. If you start, from the get-go, communicating your needs, seeing sex as a unitive and procreative act, your relationship should flourish. That doesn’t mean there won’t be struggles. I just think the struggles look very different (do not read this as less!). When you embrace the world of secular sex, though, when you’ve opened up your relationship to the act of intercourse which divorces the unitive and procreative aspects from it, and then you try to put things back into Pandora’s box so to speak, your potential problems are numerous. This is where we are.
We attended our first NFP class (Creighton Model) sometime during the summer of 2012. Sweet Sis was just starting to chunk up and we were feeling our way out of the fog of her birth. We wanted to have more children, but not until the C-section scar was very healed and my chances for a Vbac were highest (18 months was the hope). Seeing as our previous history had me pregnant right before or after first birthdays, we didn’t have much time to learn. Right away we were thrown into turmoil. In order for the method to work, we needed to wait four weeks to have intercourse. So, you might say? That doesn’t sound hard. Well…to this day, your father and I have never abstained from sex for that long. Pretty sure about that. Add to that the rules that, if avoiding pregnancy, you’ll spend about 10-14 days a month abstaining and you have one heck of a cross.
But why is it a cross? Why is it so hard to abstain? It’s just a short time. After all, people do it all the time. Heck, we expect unmarried people to do it indefinitely. It seems just a minor inconvenience for a married couple who knows they’re going to get to eventually, to have to abstain. Right?
For us the answer continues to be: Wrong! I tried looking for help and looking for guidance. After all, lots of Catholics are committed to the faith and as a result, have embraced NFP. At times it seems those willing to talk about NFP have had such an overwhelmingly positive experience that they don’t have any real negatives to share (not all true–here are some others: one man’s story, reality check?, and Simcha Fisher.). And I will definitely share my positive stories someday I hope. Right now I’m in the throws of the negative and I think it’s only honest to acknowledge them. The simple fact is that embracing the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage is hard. Additionally, it is a struggle and a cross. I fully embrace them and I’m so sure the Church is right on all points that I do this gratefully, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is hard.
The real problem, of course, is the secular view of sex. It is supposed to be an option at all times (especially if you’re married), it is supposed to be incredibly pleasurable, and it is supposed to be no strings attached mutual release. Reality hits somewhere a bit far from this. The beauty of the Church’s teachings on this is best explained using metaphor. Secular sex is like red licorice candy and Holy sex is like tomatoes (these are two of my favorite foods so pretend they’re yours for this to work).
Red licorice is delicious, it is hunger abating, and it is sweet, oh so sweet. Secular sex is pleasurable, mood-enhancing, and very sweet. Tomatoes are nutritious, hunger satisfying, and incredibly versatile. Holy sex is nourishing to a marriage, soul-satisfying, and incredibly deep. Where licorice can only be a candy and only satisfying in certain situations (can’t serve licorice in lieu of cake), tomatoes can be made into just about any dish. They can be savory or sweet, an accompaniment or the main dish. Secular sex will never fill you up, but Holy sex will.
But the journey to Holy sex is hard. It means you have to start viewing sex in a completely counter-cultural way. Instead of sex being something that is fun, pleasurable, and mood-enhancing, sex has to be the complete gift of one soul to another. Can it be both? Absolutely. But the key here is that where secular sex sees intercourse as a means to an end (ex. I feel like showing my partner I love him so we should have sex), Holy sex is about one thing: completely giving yourself to your spouse and in that gift you are participating in the true gift of Christ to the world. And while this post is littered with links to prominent Catholic theologians who know exactly how to explain the point and get the picture across to a willing heart, in the end, the only real way there is through submission, prayer, and hope. I submit that Holy sex is the will of God, I pray that I will attain it, and I hope that He will show me how to change.
Every day we NFP is a day of challenge to our secular views on sex. It is a day where maybe I want to feel close to my husband in the one way society has told me it’s possible, but I instead have to find another way (posts on ways to do this to follow, but this week I went to adoration and prayed for him. WOW.). It is a day where my nerves are frayed and the only way I’ve previously been able to release some stress is barred from me. But instead of chucking the method out as invalid, God has given me the peace and strength to realize I need more than the emptiness that secular sex will provide, I need deep healing and my relationship will be stronger in the end if my partner is committed to doing the same.
Here I will interject that I have linked to areas where I think more info may be needed and I feel the info is good. Additionally, I define NFP as Natural Family Planning in which the couple makes a joint and conscious decision to attempt pregnancy or attempt to avoid pregnancy. Couples who embrace an openness to life and do not monitor their fertility are not NFPers because they don’t generally practice abstinence within marriage. It is the period of abstinence I’m going to address. Between 2008 and 2012 we were “simply” open to life. Once Sweet Sis joined us in rock star fashion, we NFPed for a period to ensure my health and the health of any future littles. Because your dad is not quite willing to drive a 16 passenger van, we will probably continue to use NFP at some time in the future.