“Do We HAVE To?” Natural Family Planning and the Reluctant Couple

My latest article for the Couple to Couple League’s Family Foundations magazine (What?  You don’t subscribe?)  deals with those couples who come to Natural Family Planning with a less than open heart.  Here’s a sneak peak.

The Resentful Couple

 Dr. Gregory K. Popcak

There are a lot of couples who come to Natural Family Planning…reluctantly.  Even resentfully.  As more dioceses require NFP training, many couples approach their classes a little like a root canal, but with less enthusiasm.

It’s easy to understand.  Catechized by friends, family, and the media who all think the Catholic Church hates sex–unless it’s being used to keep a woman barefoot and pregnant–many couples don’t believe the Church has anything good, much less useful or interesting, to say about sex.

If you are one of those couples.  Welcome.  We get it.  Many of us have been there.  But let me share something with you that your friends, family, and the media don’t know.  Your Bishop has asked you to take these NFP classes because the Catholic Church–in fact, God–wants you to have an amazing sex life that will only become more passionate the longer you are married.

Did I make you laugh?  Did I offend you?  I thought I saw you roll your eyes.  Go ahead.  Get it out of your system, but I’m not joking and I’m not trying to provoke you.  In fact, in July of 2013, US News & World Report ran an article with the headline, Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says.   The article noted that, according to decades of research, devout Catholics have sex more frequently, are more likely to take their sex lives seriously, and are more comfortable with the idea of sexual pleasure than any other demographic–religious or not.  Here’s why.

1.  Catholic Sex = Whole Sex.

In my book, Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving  (cited in the US News article as a helpful resource for couples) I list research showing that to have a satisfying sexual relationship, you have to bring your whole self (physical, relational, spiritual) to the experience.  You have to be comfortable with your body (the physical dimension).  You have to be an effective communicator (the relational dimension), and you have to understand the spiritual dimension of sex as well.  Leaving out any one of these three dimensions makes sex less interesting and less pleasurable.  Devout Catholics, especially those using NFP, are prepared to bring all three of these dimensions to their marital sexuality.

Because of charting, NFP couples are intimately aware of the body, how it works, and why it’s beautiful.  NFP helps couples overcome squeamishness about their bodies.  Likewise, NFP couples are challenged to communicate on a deeper level than other couples about the nature of their desire for each other, for children, and for other needs and concerns.  Finally, NFP couples realize that sex isn’t just a physical act but a spiritual one.

2.  Catholic Sex = Holy Sex.

Devout Catholics know that sex is spiritual because we know that God wants to use our sexual relationship as a physical sign of the passionate way he loves us.  As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in God is Love, when couples keep the spiritual dimension of their sexuality in mind, their sexual love for one another can help them “rise in ecstasy toward the Divine.”    In the Bible, the Song of Songs isn’t just a beautiful love poem between a bride and a bridegroom, it is a story about the passionate love God holds in his heart for us.  Sexual love is intended to be hint of (albeit an analogous one) the ecstatic joy we will all experience when we are one with God in the Eternal Wedding Feast.

Similarly, even secular sex researchers note that having a good sexual relationship tends to make couples work harder to be better people outside the bedroom.  They are inspired by their passion to be less selfish, more caretaking, more thoughtful, more generous.  Devout Catholics are better lovers because we understand that sex isn’t just about sex.  It’s ultimately about becoming better, more passionate, more authentically loving people and the joy we experience in the bedroom is a sign of that effort we make 24/7 to become what God is calling us to be.

3.  Catholic Sex = Intimate Sex

Sex should be deeply intimate.  But a lot of people have sex that isn’t intimate at all.  They keep things from each other.  They are afraid of being truly vulnerable, truly transparent, so they play a role.  They act like great lovers, but inside, they feel lonely.  The very act that should unite them makes them feel more isolated than ever.

Devout Catholics know how to break through this wall.   Because they know that being great lovers doesn’t just refer to what goes on inside the bedroom but also to how they relate to each other all day long, they make a conscious effort take better care of each other in every aspect of their lives.  Research by the Gottman Relationship Institute shows that caretaking makes it easier for such couples to let down their guard, to be vulnerable  in healthy ways, and to really connect in all areas of their relationship–especially lovemaking.

Still Resentful?

Is getting to those NFP classes inconvenient?  Sure.  Is talking about all this stuff awkward?  At first, yes.  Is going to Church-sponsored sex classes just plain weird?  It sure can feel that way.   But consider this.  Maybe the Church really isn’t doing this because it wants to meddle in your life.  Maybe the Church really does want to help you experience all the passion and love God wants to give you. Maybe the Church really does have something to say that your friends, family, and most of the media doesn’t have the first clue about.  US News & World Report seems to think so.  Maybe you should too.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving and the director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute which offers Catholic telephone counseling for couples, individuals and families.  Contact him at www.ExceptionalMarriages.com or call 740-266-6461 for more information.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    There is one reasonable, Catholic alternative to NFP.

    Look at every act of sex as the central prayer of marriage- the prayer to have children. And realize that the Holy Spirit is involved in the decision- from the first gleam of lust through to when the child graduates from college. Every child a blessing.

    That’s the Catholic alternative to NFP. Most Americans can’t achieve that on their own, so NFP is the next best thing, because it leads to that, eventually.

  • James

    Catholic Sex = All Natural Sex

    It’s also a lot healthier for women than contraception, especially hormonal contraception.

    Sometimes the secular/women’s health arguments can be more convincing than the theological ones. My wife had little interest in the theology, but loved the secular NFP book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.


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