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.