Every so often in discussions of NFP there’s that person who pops up and says “I use NFP. I love it. Sometimes it can be a little bit frustrating if you’re having trouble with the charting, but I don’t understand what the big deal is.” If you get them talking theoretically, there’s a lot of rhapsodising about virtue, self-sacrifice and respect for the gift of fertility. If you get them talking practical abstinence, they’ll say things like,“My husband and I have sex once a month, so we just schedule it for an infertile day,” or, “Just grab a beer and watch the game,” or “I’d rather read a book anyway.”
I have a tremendous amount of natural sympathy for people who experience NFP that way. My own libido usually hovers somewhere in the range of “What? Sex? Oh…I guess. But I’m trying to translate some really interesting shipping regulations from the Lex Visigothorum at the moment. Are you sure it can’t wait until, like, next week?” It’s not that I don’t enjoy making love, it’s just that I will hit the point of moderate sexual frustration several weeks after my husband has literally spontaneously combusted.
For many years of marriage I sincerely believed that this was a product of virtue, self-restraint, respect for the body that God had given me, and devotion to the teachings of the Church. I might have noticed that I was the kind of person who was able to give up ten years of habitual masturbation overnight just because one day I became a Catholic – and that there was literally no struggle involved. That might have clued me in that my experience did not represent any kind of statistical norm. But it was pretty ego gratifying to imagine that this was a product of my natural goodness rather than a product of a naturally low sex-drive.
So one day, when my husband was “gnawing the mattress” as Simcha Fischer puts it, I was complaining to God about what a lustful, brutish, inconsiderate lout he was. He was supposed to be respecting my body, sweetly offering alternative forms of intimacy, and employing his Reason and his Will to keep his base members under control. I was sick of being treated like an object of concupiscence, and I wanted God to do something about it.
Ahem. So the answer to my prayer was that the next day, for a full 24 hours, I had the experience of actually having a libido. It felt like being in one of those comedies where the guy is going through his day, trying to perform normal tasks, and all he can see is sex. Everywhere. I’d always thought that that was either pure comedic hyperbole, or the result of severe moral deterioration. But now I was experiencing it, and no amount of prayer, Stoic willpower, contemplation of the Theology of the Body, or trying to focus on other things worked. At. All. It was constant, draining, distracting, uncomfortable and basically just freakin’ awful.
By the end of the day, I’d had enough. I needed to be able to think and function again. My reasons for avoiding sex (at the time these were related to pregnancy, not NFP) seemed irrelevant and insufficient. Not that I was really in any condition to consider the matter rationally and dispassionately anyway. I informed my husband that I’d decided that we could make love after all, and fortunately God was not cruel enough to have suddenly stricken him with my disinterest.
The next day, when I went back to feeling the way I normally feel, I was grateful that this is not a cross that I usually have to carry. I was way more conscious that my sexual “self-control” is a grace, not an accomplishment. And I was much more sympathetic to other peoples’ struggles with chastity.
Looking into the matter afterward I discovered that there are actually known, non-moral reasons why some people find abstinence a cake-walk, others find it moderately challenging, while many find it almost impossible – regardless of their religious convictions, spiritual practices or theological savvy. Simply put, asexuality exists on a spectrum, with about 1-2% of the population being almost completely asexual and a much larger number of people possessing a sex drive that is significantly below average. While many asexuals do not get married, many do.
The cheekier among us mightnote that 1-2% is also about the rate at which Catholic couples practice NFP.
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