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Can we talk about the sex we’re not having? {guest post}

September 16, 2015

Today’s guest contributor is another house favorite. Or favourite, as it were. Christy Isinger resides in the wilds of Canada with her husband Paul and 5 kids, who live, if I am not mistaken, adjacent to an actual working cattle ranch. It’s all very Pioneer Woman, minus the film crew and the syndicated tv show. (Though she does co-host a wonderful podcast with fellow blogger Haley Stewart)

Christy is a well-read, well-styled mama with great taste in alcohol, books, and BBC television. I think you’ll love her.

A short time ago it was the delightful and festive NFP Awareness Week. Which is a great time to share the good news about women’s health being something that is good not only for creating babies, or postponing babies, but for marriages.

But I want to talk about something we don’t want to talk about, especially when it comes to talking about NFP, and that’s talking about the sex we’re not having as married Catholics.

This is a topic that I know firsthand as I’ve spent my entire marriage charting, studying all the methods of NFP out there, diving into the science, pursuing all the tests my body can take, getting to know NFP doctors and teachers, oh, and having five kids in six years.

I’m one of those lucky 2-3% of women who can’t use NFP effectively even though she knows what’s she’s doing, follows the rules, consults teachers, and charts every day of her life. My youngest child is 2 years old and I’m not currently pregnant. In other words — I’m trying to impress upon you that I know what I’m talking about in the “not having sex a lot in marriage” department.

But where’s the conversation when it comes to Catholic marriage that at times, it makes sex an impossibility?

We simply don’t want to discuss or even admit that such time periods exist in marriage, because we’re so busy trying to sell our sex-on-demand culture that “NFP isn’t too terrible because it only takes sex away for 5 days a month!”

We’re so busy trying to sell NFP to newlyweds that we’ve forgotten about the rest of Catholics who have been married for a while, and yet still encounter tough times when it comes to intimacy, be it due to child spacing concerns, physical and mental health issues, relationship issues, and many other challenges that can arise in domestic life.

I think it happens to a lot more marriages than we care to admit or care to discover.

I think there are many reasons couples choose or find themselves forced into times where sex is an impossibility. Obviously this has the potential to create major pressure on a marriage, whether because of natural family planning choices and necessity or perhaps due to deep underlying marital strains and problems.

The fact is, chronic abstinence can quickly become a painful burden and cross for both spouses, and easy and quick answers usually aren’t forthcoming.

The time frames may be different from couple to couple, anywhere from weeks to months, though some couples may experience years where sexual intimacy isn’t a good choice for them. But what’s a constant is that this is a real difficulty and frustration that many of us feel that we are the only ones experiencing.

If we feel like we’re the only ones experiencing such hardships and crosses, it becomes so much easier to fall into bitterness and despair. To fall into sins of contraception, masturbation, pornography, or into resentfulness of our spouses, dishonesty, and betrayal.

If we think we’re alone and that our crosses are impossible to carry, we’re doomed to failure.

How many couples have given up on NFP because they felt their cross impossible to bear?

How many people thought their marriage doomed to failure unless they were having regular sex?

These are deep, personal crosses that affect almost every aspect of one’s life and marriage, yet we don’t discuss them at all.

If we only knew that other couples had gone through the same problems and made it to the other side, perhaps we’d have a bit more hope.

If we had priests we could talk to who would lend us practical and knowledgeable support, perhaps we’d feel a bit less invisible.

What if we better understood that chastity is a virtue we’re supposed to attain all our lives, and that sometimes it calls us to what St. John Paul II called “continence” in our marriage for periods – sometimes long ones – of time?

These are mature questions and issues for mature Catholics. These are questions without simple, trite, easy solutions that do not make pretty memes or brochures in the back of the church.

These are issues marriages face all the time, and yet we are left to assume that if we struggle with them we are alone, are NFP failures, and that our crosses are simply too much to bear and that we should give up, contracept, or split up.

I’m not proposing any easy answers here. I’m just wanting to acknowledge that these crosses do exist in many Catholic marriages,  good marriages, between faithful, obedient spouses striving to live the high calling of married life. They are also marriages that are enduring much, are suffering much, and are loving much.

We do not understand the crosses that we are given in this life, and yet Christ said “Take up your cross and follow me”.

We have to acknowledge our crosses, not to give them up in bitterness, pain and anger, but to begin offering them and living them with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world.

christy nfp post

37 Comments

  • Reply Karyn September 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I wonder if this is not discussed much because 1. how many Catholics actually practice NFP? I’m in an older parish but I don’t know any other people in “real life” who use NFP…2. I get the feeling the American Catholic church is sort of embarrassed that we still have this no birth control rule. I struggled with the idea of NFP when I was entering the church and my RCIA teacher said Catholics aren’t required to keep having baby after baby (?). I went to the priest and he told me I wasn’t going to go to hell for popping a pill or using a piece of plastic (??). So aside from Catholic mom bloggers…I don’t think these issues are going to be discussed 🙁

    • Reply Ana September 17, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      I have to disagree, Karyn. As someone who has resided in multiple areas where lots of Catholic couples in lots of Catholic parishes are trying to remain faithful to the Church’s unchanging teachings about contraceptives, it is something I have most certainly seen widely discussed outside of the mom blogger community. This is a great thing and I am so thrilled that you wrote this, Christy!

      • Reply Karyn September 17, 2015 at 6:13 pm

        Oh, that’s wonderful to hear, Ana! As a convert, my liberal parish is the only one I’ve known thus far. I keep thinking/wishing we would move to place with a more vibrant Catholic community.

        • Reply Anamaria September 18, 2015 at 10:23 am

          My experience is similar- almost all of the friends we’ve made at our parish, just through coffee and donuts etc, don’t use contraception. They either let the babies come or use NFP.

        • Reply Holly September 19, 2015 at 8:05 pm

          Don’t give up, Karyn. I just moved from a wonderful and faithful parish to a new state where I can’t seem to find my niche and the support I used to have. There are more of us than you think- probably in your parish, too. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it. I know it’s easier said than done. God has a plan for us in our parishes.

  • Reply Laura @ Mothering Spirit September 16, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    THANK. YOU. I can’t even tell you how much I need to read your words this month. Did I say month? Or did I say MUCH MUCH LONGER THAN A MONTH. 😉
    Seriously though, so grateful. It can be really hard. But this does not preclude it being good and right, too. So there are no easy answers, like you said. But right now I’m just thankful to be reminded that we are not alone. It gives me more strength for the journey.

  • Reply Tori September 16, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Should we start calling ourselves 3-percenters? I’m pregnant with my sixth – 6 in 8 years. And I used to teach NFP. Oy. I’m glad this is starting to be aired in the open. The sugary-sweet script of “99% effective” and “hardly any abstinence at all” etc. gave me a very bitter attitude about NFP. It’s good to acknowledge that yes, you can do everything right and still “fail.” And that, if you do get pregnant, it’s okay to be realistic about how hard it is, while still acknowledging the gift of that child. Thanks for sharing. Solidarity, sister!

  • Reply April September 16, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! There can be so. much. abstinence in marriage. This is the season of life we’re in right now. There is a lot of time telling people be open to life and not a lot of time explaining that you might find yourself in a health situation where a 1 percent chance of pregnancy is too high and you may not feel confident about the accuracy of your charting. Even if you’re not trying to avoid pregnancy, there can be so many health issues that require abstinence (like pelvic rest during a pregnancy or chronic UTIs or recovering from surgery). But I’ve found that it does get easier.

  • Reply Joanne September 16, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    My husband and I have often had this discussion. We took class #1 of the NFP classes and decided it wasn’t for us. So far when we are ‘avoiding pregnancy’ we just abstain. St. Paul talks about it in several of his letters – of course he doesn’t talk about the realities of it in a marriage. It is rough. After each baby we have said, okay our plan is to abstain for 12 months. Do we always make it to the end of 12 months? No. Does it feel like we are playing with fire when month 9 or 10 rolls around and we just say to heck with it, yes.

    Having abstained for long periods more than once, I can tell you it takes two to make it work. If he wasn’t on board than we’d probably be an NFPing couple. However I might argue it is a worthy sacrifice to fast/abstain for sex for a ‘longer’ – whatever that timeframe might be – time because it forces a couple to really lean in on God to get through some months.

    I also question how many Catholics are actually using NFP like the first commenter asked. I would guess it is in the low single digits. Not that NFP it not worthy of discussing and (as one priest put it) promoting (as an alternative means to BC) but have to believe there’s really not too many couples in the trenches dealing with it.

  • Reply in the same boat September 16, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for saying this. I thought perhaps we were the only ones. We are not abstaining due to too many children but for another reason, and right now any chance of pregnancy is something that we are not prepared to have at this time for serious reasons. It can be difficult to talk with each other how or when to ‘start’ intimacy again. Many of those studies that cite Catholics who use birth control do not consider Catholics who have not had sex for 6 or more months (therefore Catholics like me are not included, or those not married and not having sex, or women religious) in the study. It’s hard to know then how many people are in the same boat (married and currently abstaining).

    NFP instructors have not been very understanding. They are kind (or try to be) but they don’t understand.

    Fully agree with taking up the cross. We offer this up and encourage others to do so too. And I am commenting in order to have other men and women know that they are not alone.

  • Reply Michele September 16, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Yes!!! Thank you for this, Christy!

  • Reply Ashley September 16, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you, Christy! Such an important subject, and one where some solidarity can make all the difference!
    So we have had a bit of a “whiplash” relationship with NFP. We struggled with infertility for 8 years. NFP and NaPro were wonderful, but unsuccessful for us trying to conceive. Then, 4 weeks after adopting a newborn, I realized I was pregnant! So now, with babies 9 months apart, we are using NFP to avoid pregnancy for the time being. Which means quite a bit of abstinence! And you’re right – it’s hard! It’s all hard! Infertility was hard. Little babies are hard. Abstinence is hard. But it’s what leads us to God, right? (At least that’s what I try to remind myself when I kinda just want to scream)

    • Reply Jennifer September 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

      I love your comment. “It’s all hard.” Great point, and strangely comforting.

  • Reply Jennifer September 17, 2015 at 8:06 am

    This article is a good topic to get out there. Anytime people can discuss these things more openly it is so great. Online is a great forum for this type of thing also because you can’t always find like minded people in real life or it’s too uncomfortable to reveal your own specific struggles.

    My cycles are short but absolutely perfectly trackable, but it doesn’t do us much good in allowing more frequency, because my own difficulty comes in having very low desire, while my husband has high desire. I often wish we could all share our wealth …. those with excess desire could donate a little to those in need. We both have severe depression so even though I want to have more kids, we can’t handle it very often so will have a small family, which makes me very sad. So, even though I am able to get pregnant any month I choose, the fertility doesn’t benefit me that much. I wish I could share some of that with those who struggle with infertility.

  • Reply Ari September 17, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for this. It’s so true. Not only do I not know anyone in real life who practices NFP, but it’s hard to strike up the conversation about the difficulties of NFP or of not using contraception (whether abstaining totally or abstaining as part of using NFP). I find myself so often defending NFP to Protestants, other Catholics, my own husband, etc. that I hesitate to mention the difficulties. Even in our NFP class, I remember them showing us a chart of just how many days were available and not fertile, and telling us that NFP couples are actually more active on average than contracepting couples. There is a wide range of Catholic opinions out there – everything from the relationship between sexuality and gluttony to the spousal “debt” that one must owe their spouse to outright abandoning the teachings about contraception without a second thought. Unfortunately, priests aren’t always helpful or orthodox either. I guess in the face of 100% lifelong abstinence, they don’t know the ins-and-outs, joys and sorrows of the married life, especially in this arena. How do we talk about it? Is commenting on an internet blog post a good start? Thanks for writing. YOU’RE NOT ALONE! (<—I'd like to shout this to all readers who can relate to what you wrote.) =)

  • Reply AthenaC September 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    The last time I brought up switching to NFP, my husband replied, “Why don’t I just go get a vasectomy instead?”

    Okay then.

    But here’s the thing – even though we’re not using NFP and we know we can’t afford another child, we still abstain like crazy for a variety of reasons. So even us non-NFP folk have dealt with no sex for WAY too long. The thing that helps is that we’re abstaining for jointly agreed-upon reasons, so neither one of us is resenting the other one. But even so, during periods of abstinence it definitely takes more deliberate effort to be kind and patient with each other; the good news is that we are getting really good at being positive toward each other!

  • Reply Jeanette September 17, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Sometimes a longer life perspective is helpful, so I will offer that to you. Married nearly 30 years, I can reassure you that fertility issues completely aside, life presents many of its own problems that impede intimacy between husband and wife. Months before marriage I was in a car accident that left my neck feeling bad for several years and that meant sleeping in a separate bed the first year of marriage! I never really was very comfortable sharing a bed after that. Before the neck thing started to go away, I started developing another disabling and painful problem that kept me from fully enjoying a good night sleep, let alone the kind of intimacy one would want in marriage. But you just keep moving forward with all the other joys of marriage, including children, whom we adopted. Then when that problem started clearing up, I developed a menstrual bleeding problem that went on for 7 months. Again, not helpful for intimacy. Life just kept going on this way, even up until now. There were some good periods of health, but even then there were other things that creep in. Like my husband being on call 7 days in a row every month for his job and sleeping at the other end of the house so as not to disturb me. Things like tiredness, being too busy and overwhelmed during remodeling or moving, my husband’s knee problem, never seeming to get to bed on time etc. also got in the way. The list just goes on like life. You adapt. You cannot let yourself become too frustrated about all of this. You have to put it into perspective. You have to realize that the intimacy is not “on-demand” but a hidden oasis that is longed for and materializes when you least expect it. And then it is treasured and joy-filled. Fully present to each other, fully appreciating the encounter for all of that longing that led up to it, you are free to really give and receive. Joy is then experienced for what is so good in marriage.

    The other part of the equation is to focus on the real meaning of life, the real purpose to marriage: it is the place where God intends to help you to grow in holiness and all that it entails. You are to grow in virtues that help to sustain that process. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” applies even in this area of marriage. Especially in this area of marriage. My husband is not even Catholic or a Christian for that matter, and yet I believe in the graces that God has supplied to us over the years. It has to be a partnership, and that in itself can be a struggle. We don’t always respond to the difficulties in life in the same way as our spouse, and one has to often help the other to keep things alive.

    I don’t know a thing about NFP in lived experience because our marriage is infertile, and that made me a bit reluctant to share. But that did not mean we did not have struggles like you, just different reasons for the struggles. So, I wouldn’t imagine that the grass is greener on the other side for anyone, and I think it is always best to begin with gratitude for the simple fact that God did call you to marriage as your vocation, and then work from there. Look for the path to holiness always. Pray to keep on the right path always. Because when you feel “alone” in your struggles, you have to realize you are not “alone” in carrying them. “Surrender to God and He will do EVERYTHING for you” (antiphon, Week 2, Office of Readings).

    Remember, too, that there are so many degrees of intimacy. Enjoy all of them so that you can more easily put limits on yourself when you need to. Think of it as a more of a gradual progression towards something than a cutting off of something desired. There is great joy in just being held. There is great joy in a stolen kiss at an unexpected moment. All it takes is to be mindful of what you feel for each other and express it in varying degrees, not always leading towards the same end. Because when it is not about procreation, it IS about unity.

    As for how many Catholic women really do practice NFP: many! I have met many. Just like the myth that young girls imagine that NO ONE is a virgin, it is a myth that married women imagine that NO ONE wants to practice NFP. In this culture it takes COURAGE, PATIENCE, LOVE, GENEROSITY, and so many other virtues! See, it is about practicing virtue as much as it is about anything else. Be encouraged, not because others are out there who practice NFP, but because YOU are out there.

    • Reply Ari September 18, 2015 at 8:19 am

      “So, I wouldn’t imagine that the grass is greener on the other side for anyone.” YES. Thanks for this reminder.

  • Reply Becky September 17, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Does anyone have tips for in the trenches of abstaining? My husband and I were debating what is and isn’t a sin/ where to draw lines/ should someone sleep on the couch. I feel like this makes us sound like crazed sex addicts, but we are really just trying to be faithful and not sure where to get sound advice.

    • Reply CJ September 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Well Becky, I can tell you rooming with with a not-quite-one-year-old who’s getting molars makes abstaining much more palatable these days… and my husband chooses to sleep on the couch so he gets a full night’s sleep so he can work the next day. 😉 But in all seriousness, his parents often had one sleeping on the couch, they had 7 in 11 years, and I always thought is odd until we had 4 in 8 and aren’t really in a position for another quite yet…

    • Reply Jenny September 17, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      My husband and I practiced about 4 mos. abstinence as a spiritual discipline. We shared the bed still, but wore pajamas instead of some other state of deshabille; we went by the guideline “none is easier than one.” That is, we had to establish what each of us would rather just not do than do only a little bit (in terms of kissing, touching, etc.) and then respect the person with the stricter standard.
      It wasn’t easy but it was a very important experience for us, one which we will voluntarily repeat in the future. I also think it helps a lot to have some other fun activity or thing to do together so that you don’t just feel this void in your life. For us, we listened to C.S. Lewis audiobooks, drank homemade lattes, and colored in those nifty geometry-based coloring books for grownups. Recently my hubs was away across country for 10 days, and we both realized that by missing each other it wasn’t because “oh snap, no sex for 10 days!” but because, “oh snap, I just listened to C.S. Lewis lay the smackdown on relativism and there’s no one else here to do a fistpump and victory dance with me the way you would.” Not that the two are interchangeable expressions of intimacy, obviously, but it helped us a lot in our abstinence to work hard on creating a positive action (we will enrich our minds together) instead of a the negation of action (we will NOT. HAVE. YOU.KNOW.WHAT!!!!) Hope it helps. You can email if you like, and God bless you in your endeavors. 🙂

    • Reply Ari September 18, 2015 at 8:23 am

      I’ve heard it advised that you shouldn’t do anything that would lead to a situation that can’t be satisfied. Almost like you’re dating again, but you happen to sleep in the same bed in addition to showing limited affection. You shouldn’t do anything that leads to a situation that can only be gratified only by a sexual act. If you get to that point and are abstaining, it is a strong temptation to complete that urge in a disordered way. (trying not to be too graphic here)

    • Reply Ellen September 21, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      We have found the book “Holy sex” by Greg popcack very helpful. He explains church teaching for married love and gives practical advice too for just such issues.

  • Reply CJ September 17, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Thank-you for this post. This is something we’ve struggled with on and off through our marriage, our drives not matching, our desires not matching our ability to handle more kids at that moment, ambiguous charts due to breastfeeding that makes you feel like you’d rather not play Russian roulette that month… In truth, we don’t talk about it and we should.

    And I agree with the first poster. Most Catholics don’t use NFP. I’m 38, and most Catholics my age that I know IRL have either been snipped, or their husbands have been.

  • Reply Deely September 17, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    I would just like to add that sometimes abstaining isn’t just about needing to avoid pregnancy, but just the craziness of life. This post was wonderful, because everything I read about NFP makes me feel like everybody else doing NFP is having lots of sex and it’s wonderful, but our life just isn’t like that. We have had mismatched schedules our entire marriage. He works third shift and sleeps during the day, I’m up with the kids during the day. There is no time of day where we are home together and the kids aren’t wake. It won’t be like this forever, but for now, it means that we just have to accept that “alone time” doesn’t happen very often. Add in that we are the only couple we know IRL who use NFP, and it’s really hard not to get sick and tired of hearing how awesome NFP is and how it helps you be more intimate with your spouse. We’ve had lots of benefits, but that is certainly not one of them.

  • Reply Ashley September 17, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Just a quick note to Karyn and CJ and the others who struggle with little to no NFP community – don’t give up hope! There are actually fantastic NFP communities out there. I am blessed to live in a small town with one Catholic parish – filled to the brim with young families practicing NFP. Literally every one of my friends from church practices NFP. It’s totally the norm for our group. Which means it’s still hard, but we can commiserate together!

  • Reply Jeanette September 18, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Sleeping separately from your spouse on a regular basis could send the wrong message to your children. It also keeps you from really developing the ability to practice self-control, because you are forcing complete separation and lose out on just being near to each other as a way of satisfying some of your need for intimacy, even the passive type. Instead of sleeping on a couch separately, just stagger your bedtimes. One goes to sleep an hour or more before the other one so that they are solidly asleep. For me, I was a poor sleeper anyhow, so I just let him have more sleep. But you could alternate nights of who goes to bed first, or go by whoever is most tired that night.

    I would get in bed next to him and give him a back rub until he fell asleep (and he’d usually drop off very quickly). That way, there is physical contact, but very intentionally meant to just be in contact and that is all. I used to give my husband a 2 hour lead, and I’d go off into the other room and stay up spending the time in prayer. It was very profitable to me to spend that time in solitude with God, and I didn’t lack sleep from it, I actually had more energy and a better, more solid night sleep for it…and so much better of a relationship with God.

    I wouldn’t recommend using that time for anything else, or it will likely have a poor result and negative physical consequences. You need the down time, not more time doing chores, TV, internet, or any other thing. I really believe prayer was the most grace-filled way to spend the time.

    If my husband had been Catholic, maybe I would have spent that time together in prayer instead of alone, but either way is a good thing. Have a specific intention for the time spent in prayer. It really allows one to “forget oneself” and think of the other.

  • Reply Liz September 19, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for this article, Christy! This reminds me of a conversation I had last year with my 95-yr-old grandmother. She and I have always been close, so I was opening up to her about how my medical specialists warned me that it would be a grave risk for me to have another biological child and, for the sake of my living one, I ought not to attempt it. I was telling her that those circumstances required my husband and me to abstain more often than not and that, in this day and age, I felt like I was the “only one” in that situation.

    Then she bluntly told me that this present culture is oversexed, which is why women like me feel that their marriages are “abnormal,” but, in truth, for her generation and the generations before, this was an extremely common phase for most marriages. She said that back in the 1950s, it was common for doctors to tell women that bearing children in her 40s was too dangerous (and considering what prenatal care was like only 50 years ago, compared to now, perhaps those doctors weren’t entirely wrong). So, with birth regulation options being so limited (and I don’t just mean contraception, but also NFP), many married couples faced a decade or more of total abstinence between the woman’s 40th birthday and her menopause. My grandmother also said that, for women with medical problems like me, I’d have been told at a far younger age not to get pregnant again, and the period of total abstinence would have been significantly longer. She said that her generation of Catholic women talked about this openly– it was certainly no secret– and it was just accepted as a normal phase of marriage.

    I can’t help wondering if part of the problem is that we Catholic women are often comparing ourselves and our marriages to the more secular type of marriages, in which the use of contraception or even sterilization are the norm. Our generation has been taught that sexless marriages are totally abnormal and unhealthy, and pretty much always lead to adultery. I wish this issue was actually brought up more in NFP classes– in fact, I’ve received instruction in 3 different forms of NFP, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never heard it mentioned. They’re so eager to convince modern couples of the effectiveness of NFP and that they’ll be able to enjoy just as much marital intimacy as their contracepting counterparts, that they really downplay the challenges. Furthermore, they say things like ‘oh, sure, that week or so of abstinence can be quite a cross, but you can focus on the other areas of your marriage– “don’t forget SPICE;” “you can enjoy the courtship phase, and other facets of your relationship;” “do some good spiritual reading together;”– and then you’ll come together, and oh, it’s just like a honeymoon all over again!’ (Ugh– barf!! They sugarcoat everything, including those periods of abstinence. I also find it a trifle insensitive that they pretend that ONE week of sexual abstinence is such a cross, when I suspect a good many couples even in this day and age are going through 3, 4, 6, 8, or even more weeks without!)

    That being said, I’m not going to pretend that my situation is really a “cross,” exactly. As with changing one’s diet, longer periods of abstinence feel like painful deprivation in the beginning, but over the years, one can come to accept “the new normal” in their marriage, and it no longer seems like a difficulty– and might, perhaps surprisingly, discover that they have a stronger marriage and relationship with God partly because of it.

    • Reply Ari September 19, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      So much to think about in what you share. I do think our culture is so askew, and we are comparing ourselves to a disordered “ideal” relationship, essentially. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply in the same boat September 19, 2015 at 6:35 pm

      Yes! Even down the ‘barf’ part too.

      Every single thing you wrote here was something I agreed with.

    • Reply Becky September 20, 2015 at 6:32 am

      I know teaching couples are trying to convince their audience, but this needs to be taught at some point. In this way. That maybe it is a normal phase of life… to be married and not have much/any sex. I think it is hard too when we have protestant brothers and sisters who have been tricked into the have sex daily for a healthy marriage. Honestly I wonder how many people leave NFP because they tried it and expected to have sex like contraception using counterparts. And how should we be supporting couples in the hard place? Thank-you Liz and thanks to your Grandmother. I wish we could ask her so many questions.

  • Reply Erin Franco September 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Great post, Christy. And brave. Maybe heroically so. There are more than a handful of women that this post will affirm and encourage. There are no easy answers, just like you said. I’ve had experience with having to abstain for long periods of time and also not having to abstain at all for a while. The latter times have been filled with such deep joy and thankfulness–precisely because of the hard times. Even in the dark times, there’s a peace that comes with living in tune with how God designed our bodies and this vocation to marriage. We can’t outgive God. “Jesus, I trust in you!”–that was the prayer that sustained me in the hardest times with intimacy in my marriage. Even if that’s all I could say for the confusion and discouragement.

    God bless!

  • Reply Currently, Vol. 6 | October 5, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    […] This is from last month, but is such a great article, about the difficult and trying side of practicing NFP when it involves prolonged abstinence. I’m really glad this aspect of NFP is getting some attention! Everyone who is faithfully committed to practicing NFP would love to have a little more support and less sugar-coating, I think. […]

  • Reply jivebunny June 3, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. For the first year of our marriage, we couldn’t find an NFP tutor, so my husband and I used condoms. In January 2016, we found a tutor and started NFP. For the first few months, I’ve had one faulty thermometer and another (ear) thermometer which I was told is unsuitable. Charting has mostly been straightforward, but even then, my husband and I have sex twice a month at the most. My husband isn’t even Catholic but is happy to do NFP! So I’m frustrated because we can’t provide for a family yet (which I feel guilty about, though it can’t be helped) and we’re not enjoying the thing which being married permits us to do! We’re 25 and 26 and feel like we should be enjoying this aspect of married lives, but really we’re like brother and sister. As you said, if only there was a priest who could tell us we’re doing ok!

  • Reply Sue January 23, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for posting this! I’m about to have my sixth child… the oldest is 6 years old =( We’ve been to classes, read the books 3 times over, done the charting and get apologies from the local NFP doctor that he’s sorry that this keeps happening. I thought my husband and I were the only ones not having sex. We might have it once every other month, the day before our period in hopes that we don’t get pregnant as the rest of the month we’re a guaranteed pregnancy. Unfortunately we haven’t had much support even from the local priests as they all advise surgical intervention or some other form of birth control. Sometimes it’s very lonely and we have to choose what we feel is right before God, even if there’s no support. Our NFP friends who are completely satisfied with NFP because they sit in the margins of monthly norms mock us and our growing family saying that we need to take classes and learn… they have no idea we sit at the hospital with high risk pregnancy doctors and NFP doctors who can’t explain what is happening. It’s a hard cross and a lonely one. Thank you for this article- it’s not as lonely anymore!

  • Reply Anonymous Catholic Husband June 10, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Hi there,

    Just wanted to weigh in from the men’s corner. I hear a lot of pain in this thread, and it is a pain my wife and I share with you all. I should preface this by saying that some of what I say here may be hard to hear. There will be some underlying resentment and anger in the phrasing of what I am about to say. There will also be some vulnerability. I apologize in advance if any of you are offended; that is not my aim. But after reading the article and these comments, I must speak my truth.

    There a lot of advice and testimony here from women. It’s all very nice and encouraging, and there’s plenty of “chin up, you can do this” sentiment. I get that—sometimes we need to hear that it’s not all hopeless. But unfortunately, it’s only half the picture. The male sex drive is a different beast altogether; the unicorn versus the flower, as it were. No woman can fully understand what it’s like for a man to steward a typical male sex drive, for whom and for which the physical element is not only a primary factor, it is intrinsic. I’m sorry Jivebunny, but your comment above, “My husband isn’t even Catholic but is happy to do NFP” sounds very naive to me, assuming he has a normal sex drive. Could you elaborate on what “happy” means? Are you saying he has no problem whatsoever with the fact that you must regularly abstain for long periods, that he cheerfully accepts this night after night with no complaining? I’d like to meet such a men—heck, I’d like to be such a man. But I suspect there is more to the story.

    I’d be extremely interested to know how all your husbands are actually, physically, and practically dealing with long stretches of abstinence. Herein lies the crux of my reply. Take it with a grain of salt if you will, but there is an elephant in the room that is not being properly acknowledged, even if it was briefly touched on in the original post. It’s a sad reality, and if this next bit offends you, please stop reading here: I would bet my house that there exists an extremely high incidence of secret addictions to pornography, chronic masturbation, and very possibly infidelity, in the men in the these marriages.

    I say this because I am a recovering sex addict. If this sounds shocking to you, or if you don’t know what this means, please educate yourself before judging me. There’s a good chance you know someone with the same cross.

    My wife and I come from large Catholic families. We have children, and we practice NFP. My wife has low libido and a number of health complications that necessitates we avoid. We have sex maybe 1–2 times per month, and I have been “sober from my bottom line behaviors” as we say, for several years. This includes no masturbation of any kind, including mutual masturbation. The only orgasm I experience with my wife is during full, free, faithful and open-to-life intercourse. And I do resent the line that NFP requires anywhere close to “5 days a month” of abstinence. Where is that number coming from, by the way? I think it’s disingenuous to promote NFP this way. For us, the days of abstinence are currently closer to 20, and the remaining days have their own challenges with our busy schedules, lack of sleep, and the aforementioned health and libido problems. NFP is about so much more than just the frequency and quantity of intercourse. But in a sex-saturated world, telling a newly-married couple they need have have LESS sex is like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo. Ergo, the rates of contraceptive use among Catholics are high and rising, and the number of Catholic marriages are falling. But I digress.

    I am sharing this (anonymously of course) because I would like to dispel the inane notion that pornography, masturbation and yes, infidelity, are somehow rare in the Catholic community, and particularly in marriages where long stretches of abstinence are required. I would argue they may in fact be higher than average, due to the stigma and taboo. Here’s an example: Utah is generally considered a pretty straight-laced, conservative and deeply religious place, a place where you might observe a higher percentage than average of well-intentioned and devout people. These are people you’d expect to show a certain level of integrity and righteousness, even if they’re not Catholic per se. Well, the number one location for paid pornography subscriptions in North America is…you guessed it. Secrets thrive in shadows and die in the light, and I have met hundreds of Catholic men in my position, who are or were trapped in a double life.

    If you’re wondering about where your own husband fits into all this, I would propose an experiment.

    Let’s assume you are a typical Catholic couple living in accordance with what the Church teaches about chastity within marriage, and are required to abstain for long periods of time, and let us also assume your husband has what could be considered a “average” sex drive, i.e. no physical or psychological barrier to regular genitive sexual intercourse. If he does not already have active measures in place, measures that you are aware of and are in support of, to avoid at least the two most common issues in this arena—pornography and/or masturbation—I would challenge you to do a simple test: ask him for his phone if he has a smartphone, or ask to see his computer’s internet history, assuming he keeps one. If he doesn’t keep one, or if the history has large gaps in it, that’ s a pretty strong indicator right there.

    But his reaction will tell you all you need to know.

    If he truly is as responsible a steward of his sexuality and your marriage as one hopes he is, he will have no problem with giving you his phone or computer password immediately and without hesitation. Congratulations, you’ve married a truly exceptional and godly man.

    But if you instead open the door to the secret hell that many, many, MANY men in Catholic marriages are held prisoner in, then count yourself tragically fortunate to have outed this menace in your life. If you and he are willing, you now have the opportunity to begin the long painful process of rebuilding on a real foundation.

    That’s what my wife and I are doing now, after my own secret life was exposed. It’s very painful. Much healing is still needed, and some of these wounds may never heal. The “new normal”, as one of you called it, is tough. But we are strictly honest with each other in all things, and in the area of sexuality we are fastidious. There is literally nothing about my sexuality that I cannot share with my wife. And if you are not able to talk openly and honestly with your husband about pornography and masturbation, something is wrong.

    Best of luck. Any responses to my challenge are welcome, if for no other reason than to provide a baseline for what other Catholic couples experience. I can only speak for our own experience with any real accuracy, and I would love for my theory to be proven wrong. I do apologize if my comments offended anyone.

    Above all, I would most eagerly welcome responses from other husbands.

    Thanks,

    ACH

  • Reply Anonymous Wife August 17, 2017 at 3:54 am

    I counted. My husband and I had sex 5 times last year. He was the one who insisted we start NFP 15 years ago. He never read the book we were given, he never does the charting (like he was told he should) and in the 15 years he’s never even looked at my chart. I am not happy. I hate NFP, I hate my husband, and I hate my life. I’m seriously thinking about an affair because I feel so unattractive and unloved. I tried to be a “good” Catholic for 15 years and I feel nothing but trapped.

    I tried talking to him about it, and he stated that he was happy with our sex life. I told him I wasn’t. He said we just can’t have sex because I might get pregnant (we have 5 children that we can barely afford…the last two of which conceived while using NFP). I don’t want to “abstain” and I did not agree to or sign up for a sexless marriage!

    Paul states, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5. What ya’ll are talking about does NOT fall under this extortion. Abstaining should only be done for a limited time with mutual consent, to devote yourselves to prayer.

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