And that’s exactly why I wrote my book.

Okay, so I’ve been trying not to grouse publicly about it every time someone says boo to me. This is not that!

I came across a review that thought the first two third of my book (“NFP and your spiritual life” and “NFP and the rest of the world”) were good, but he really didn’t like the third part (“NFP in the trenches”).  He’s an NFP teacher, and thinks that maybe we need to talk about intimate things, but only in an intimate setting:  literally, person to person. His review got a comment:

I, too, have taught & used NFP for a long, long time and see or been told all sorts of things. In short, this is difficult ground to cover and perhaps this book has sold out too much to the sexual comfort levels of our current culture.

And I says to myself, I says, Well, that’s exactly why I wrote my book.  This person teaches NFP, and she thinks that sex should be uncomfortable. For way too many people, that is the message they’re getting about sexuality and their faith: don’t get comfortable! Don’t be honest. And God forbid you should be a product of “our current culture.”

But what if you are a product of our current culture? What are you supposed to do? When people are already wounded, it’s not very helpful to say, “What a shame there are wounds.” We need someone to lift the bandage.

Listen, I know this book is not for everybody. I may have a monstrous ego, but I never imagined I was writing The Definitive Compendium of Ideas that are Perfectly Suited for All Conceivable Audiences.  I know there are plenty of people who don’t want or don’t need to get really specific or frank about sexual matters. The cover was supposed to serve as a warning: Attention, squeamish people! Nakedness inside! If the cover freaks you out, you should probably pass on what’s inside.

But there are an awful lot of people who are hearing nothing but, “Sex is beautiful. Sex is meaningful. Sex is profound” and they want to believe it and they want to live it, but they are having a hard time figuring out how it applies to their actual specific naked bodies.  Many people read about covenants and veils and sacredness, and end up thinking either (a) this doesn’t apply to me. There must be something wrong with me or (b) this doesn’t apply to me. There must be something wrong with the Church.

So, that third section of my book, where I get pretty specific? It’s not supposed to answer all your questions about sex. It’s to help you and your spouse ask and answer those questions together — and to let you know that it’s okay to talk about these things. Yeah, I can live with that kind of “selling out.”


(DISCLAIMER: I didn’t link to the review, because I’m not trying to heap shame on anyone’s head, or encourage any kind of comment duel. I love getting reviews, good or bad, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t criticize me! I just thought the remarks I quoted were especially telling, and highlighted something important.)

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  • billykangas

    Love it. Also Thanks for writing the book!

  • James

    Having run into Catholics with a similar attitude, the reaction among your average couple is: “Why do you, as a faithful Catholic and NFP instructor, think that sex should be uncomfortable? If the Church teaches that sex should be uncomfortable, then there MUST BE something wrong with the Church!”

    Second, a big key to success with using the NFP is to be VERY comfortable with bodies and biology and the physical side of sex. That’s taken for granted among secular NFP instructors, but not necessarily among Catholic ones.

    Discomfort about sex has never been an issue for us as a couple, so when we heard that attitude, we promptly ran screaming the other way. It took popular secular book on the subject to make us think that NFP wasn’t all about prudishness and could possibly be good for our relationship. We were later fortunate enough to find a Catholic NFP instructor (NFPAware) with a much healthier and theologically correct attitude toward sexuality.

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    Thanks! I’ve got to get my hands on your book. As a priest, I have run across precisely the problem you highlight here — all this beautiful teaching (which I wholeheartedly agree with) — but the lived experience is… well, not so beautiful, or a beauty that is only achieved with much suffering and sweat and blood and brokenness. That you for writing a book that frankly and freely discusses all of that. I look forward to reading it, and using it in my ministry.

  • I just recommended it to a protestant friend this week who purchased it. She said she was enjoying it! 🙂

  • Jenny Cook

    I just read it and was very thankful for all three sections, but especially the third. We’re just starting out at the whole NFP thing (as we discern our entry into the Church) and there has been a lot of frustration and difficulty. Reading your book was very helpful, and fun too! Thanks for writing it!
    And by the way, if no one talks about the squeamish/frank/possibly uncomfortable part, then NO ONE talks about it! Meaning, it makes those of us who are trying to get started with NFP feel pervy and gross for asking about it…and that is a really uncomfortable place to put someone who is trying to enter into something totally counter cultural, something we won’t hear about in almost any other forum.
    Our own personal (Protestant) experience with teaching on the marriage bed has been, “Don’t you dare do anything before marriage, but once you’re married, use contraception as God’s gift to allow women to be available at any time the wife and/or husband wish, and do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t involve other people. Oh, and don’t even think about turning your husband down on anything less than medically significant reasons, and if you must then make sure to help him climax in some other way, because if he doesn’t get any he can’t be the married man God intended him to be.”
    I rush to add that this teaching is NOT representative of all Protestant Christianity; but it is a strong strain within young adult Evangelical subculture (a la megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s recent book on marriage, which included a long and thorough list of possible marital activities, almost all of which got the green light). It’s that teaching on which we were fed as young marrieds, so coming to a different conclusion via the Church’s teaching is a huge culture shock and somewhat of a stumbling block. And it only makes it a stumblier stumbling block when we feel like we have to seek someone out and whisper, “So, umm, ahh, is _______ okay for Catholics?”
    Sooo, that was the longer way of saying thanks for addressing things frankly in your book. It was a big help.

  • Joseph Nelson

    It is a double-edged sword, talking openly bout sex. Your book was written for an audience, and was bound to find someone who didn’t like it or appreciate it. I think Catholic couples should be able to talk about sex openly, as long as they are comfortable and don’t allow the conversation to degrade into something sinful.

  • NFP User

    This book would make my sister squirm. I didn’t buy it for her. But I thought it was very helpful. And I appreciate how you were able to address seriously intimate issues without using your own personal stories. I think that’s a hard thing to do, because part of telling something well is making it relatable. Well done.

  • Kate

    A side note: I enjoyed your discussion of your book with Al Kresta on Catholic Radio. For some bizarre reason I expected you to have a combo of a New Hampshire and NY Jewish accent (maybe a female version of the Car Talk guys and Fr. Groeshel). Heck, you sounded like a very nice lady. The book sounds great, but I probably won’t buy it for myself since I have hit the NFP Free Zone, but it’s on my gift list of books for my children, nieces and nephews.

    • DavidnSharon Lunt

      I’m past the NFP stage too but I have 8 kids. 2 are married. I bought it for them !

  • anna lisa

    I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read anything you’ve written that wasn’t good, even if it was a little saucy. Your book however, demonstrated admirable reserve.
    Shame on anyone who wants to add a bunch of extra ingredients that don’t belong to our Catholic faith.
    Prudes are such wet blankets–they’re real marriage wreckers from the other side..
    That said, I’m looking forward to your next Sinner’s Guide. You know it needs to be written.
    I also like it when I don’t entirely agree with someone who obviously has a good head on their shoulders. It gives me pause, so I can reexamine my own thoughts on the matter.
    Haha, and whenever you say, “and I says, I says to myself…” I know it’s gonna be good.

    • Josh

      Agreed on all points, particularly the “admirable reserve.” I’m scandalized anyone would find it scandalous. And the part of the review about “selling out to the culture” doesn’t even make sense. That’s clearly an artifact of the reviewer’s own mental idiosyncrasies. As though seeking emotional and physical satisfaction in
      sex and talking about it in pretty inexplicit ways are things couples only started doing only after the hippies took all those drugs in the sixties.

      Another book would be great. Sinner’s Guide to Spiritual Formation: Living Vibrant Orthodoxy Without Even Being Opus Dei, maybe? (IHTSD has played a real role in my spiritual development, so I would be all over this.)

      • anna lisa

        Haha, it seems like I’ve been upselling Opus Dei lately. I was one confused little wife when I stumbled upon it. My Catholic education was pretty funky flaky,then the trads kind of got a hold of my parents, so all I heard about for a while was that everything was apocalyptic. Eventually I prayed a novena for a spiritual director and my answer was immediate– an OD priest asking me directly if I would like him to be my spiritual director (that really blew me away, because I hadn’t let on what I’d been praying for.). So anyhow, it was Opus Dei priests who were big proponents of the bountiful marriage. My husband wanted to throttle a priest that had given me bad direction at the beginning of our marriage, who scared the heck out of me. It turned out that he had discussed the same “abomination” to every woman who came into his confessional, married or not. The man was clearly obsessed, but managed to put a damper on things for a while. Of all the OD priests I’ve only met *one* who was a ridiculous prude. All the other ones have cheered on the marriage bed, and enjoying marital life. At one point two priests had a different opinion about whether or not it was licit to practice NFP in a certain manner, but the priest who had reservations was very quick to respect our freedom of conscience.

        • Josh

          Upsell away. I think Opus Dei is great. I was just making a joke in reference to Simcha and the Jerk’s occasional jokes at the expense of Opus Dei. (The Jerk’s joke about “as much fun as an Opus Dei pool party” is one I’ll never forget because I laughed out loud at work when I read it. Nothing says “diligence” like laughing in a quiet office.) I suspect Opus Dei is like any other organization/spirituality/religion/everything: your impression will be largely determined by your impression of its adherents you meet (as much as we would all say you shouldn’t judge something based on its adherents.) I have no doubt Opus Dei has its share (or more) of jerks, but that hasn’t been my experience.

          That’s an unfortunate confession story. I heard a similar story about an obsessed confessor from a friend this weekend. She said she was confessing losing her temper with her kids and the priest (whom she didn’t know) said “Are you abusing them? You need to tell me, but I will turn you in. I’m obligated to turn you in.” Can you imagine? Apparently respect for the seal is not universal. She had trouble confessing anything about her kids for a while after that.

          • simchafisher

            Whaaa? I would report him to his bishop! That’s not cool!

          • Josh

            Yeah, exactly. My understanding is that breaking the seal in any way is automatic excommunication. She didn’t know at the time, so by the time she told someone who could tell her that wasn’t right, it was much later (like a couple years) and she didn’t know who it was. It was one of those big penance services with random priests stationed all over. If I didn’t know her, I wouldn’t believe it or assume there was some big misunderstanding. This is why we spend a while fully explaining the seal in our RCIA class.

          • anna lisa

            This has been bugging me,
            Priests are in an extremely delicate role when they act in the confessional. This is why it is *so* much better to have a trusted confessor who knows you. Now, I’m realizing how remiss I am for not reporting a priest that behaved in a very irregular way five years ago. I was just so stunned at the time, and am still stunned. I went for proximity (two blocks from our house) so I could do a quick garden variety confession, and just get it over with. Now I’m kicking myself because I brought my kids to him for confession for the same reason, and he creeped them out. Your friend was abused– but because we place priests on such high pedestals (and rightly so) it also leaves room for this sense that they can practically do no wrong. We somehow find a way of partially blaming ourselves, and then just walking away, and deciding not to deal with it. This is a classic set up for how silence perpetuates abuse.
            Anyhow, I resolved at about 6am this morning to turn him in to the Archdiocese for what he did and said. It may have been five years but someone who displays pathological behavior, doesn’t reserve it for just one or two people. They probably have a thick file on him already.

          • anna lisa

            Oh good. I’m glad you’ve had a good experience with O.D. too. I just have so much gratitude for them. They really helped my husband and three of my sons too. The kids really loved the fun trips/hikes/skiing etc. When people say that Opus Dei is ultra conservative I laugh, because the priests talked me down from the rigid little super Catholic ledge I’d backed myself onto. Thank God.
            My first retreat was at a hotel, so we actually did manage to sneak down and have an Opus Dei pool party of sorts. My friend even stowed wine in her suitcase. –But I get the jerk’s humor too, I like to make fun of some of their little quirks and customs. When they ask to use my “facility” I yell: “No! Only if you call it a BATHROOM” If my husband is present, he will add a man-list of acceptable names. ( I hadn’t heard of several of them…)
            And I will never, ever eat a tuna sandwich with a knife and a fork. No way. This is Amurrica.
            Last but not least, the Opus Dei priest reassured me that contemporary pool wear, worn modestly is perfectly acceptable. That *saved* me from what would have been inevitable fights with my daughter, who simply would have refused to buckle under to the pressure of the “skirts”…
            Thank God for such a great saint who had a profound respect for personal freedom, and who had enlightened perspective on how to sanctify culture without rejecting it.

  • Gotta be honest here – all my Creighton instructors have been very nice women, but they were not people with whom I could establish any easy intimacy. In general, our society discourages, even inhibits the development of the kind of intimacy necessary to the kind of conversations the reviewer/commenter desire. And this shallow sense of interpersonal relationship is as fully entrenched in parish life as it is anywhere else. Maybe more, since so many people are peculiarly afraid of honest struggles giving scandal.

    I think the third section is the very best part of your book because it IS very intimate. It reads like sitting down with a wise and sympathetic friend over a cuppa and pouring out your struggles. It isn’t quite that good, but it’s closer than most women get these days.

  • DJ Wambeke

    My wife and I just finished the book this week in fact and we are grateful for the whole thing, including the 3rd part! Frankly the whole “NFP is a good thing, but it does take work” message needs to get out there more. I don’t think I’m alone in having entered marriage with a few starry-eyed expectations…
    Speaking of squeamishness about our bodies, Simcha, whatever happened to the, ahem, “side boob” that you were so fond of on the cover? It’s present on the image on this post, but on the actual book (and on the image on Amazon) it seems to have been replaced by a subtly suggestive curl of the woman’s hair. Did the publisher nix it? (And the important follow-up question: if the publisher nixed that, why didn’t they also sanitize the guy a bit? That is a hairy fellow!)

  • Emily Kimmel

    I’m engaged and I came from a Catholic homeschool background (read, conservative, no cable TV). It’s not like I’ve been living under a rock (I’m in college, I went to high school, I have less sheltered friends from both places), but I’m curious if this book would be appropriate for someone like me. I feel like it’s a good idea to know what my future husband and I are getting into, but at the same time, I wonder if a book like this would be better read after my wedding night.


    • Lydia

      Read it before the big day. Seriously. I wish something like this had been around when I was engaged, nine years ago. It would have cleared up so many misconceptions about intimacy without being a buzzkill. I come from a similar background, though I wasn’t particularly sheltered. At college I did imbibe a great deal of the TOB, romanticized version of married life, though I didn’t think at the time I did. I’m pretty sure that this should be required reading for engaged couples.

    • Josh

      Have your fiance read it too. It’s an excellent book for men. I think, as a rule, and assuming you’re going to be practicing some for of NFP, the more you can get figured out before marriage, the better. And there’s plenty for him to start figuring out too. NFP’s not just lady-stuff and the learning curve can be difficult within a marriage. Probably all the more so for newlyweds. (Difficult but worth it, cf. above book.) Congratulations!

    • Mariana Baca

      Not advice on this book specifically, but learn NFP before being married and having sex. It will make things much easier.

    • Emily Kimmel

      Thank you all. 🙂

  • mamagiglio

    After using NFP for our 14 year marriage, I wish I had been able to read your book when we were engaged. The third part was the best part and I appreciated it most of all.