Dialogue on NFP: Anti-Sex and Anti-Pleasure?

Dialogue on NFP: Anti-Sex and Anti-Pleasure? January 23, 2017

CoupleChurch

Married couple in St. Mary’s Church in Dedham, Massachusetts. Photo by “Briancua” (6-15-13) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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This was an exchange that took place underneath my post, Natural Family Planning (NFP) & Contraceptive Intent. “Naters” (of unknown religious affiliation and 20 years old) seems quite concerned with NFP, judging by a seemingly overwhelming emphasis on it: seen in his Disqus comments. His words will be in blue.

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There are several problems here. If couples are concerned about spacing children but then don’t want to think that contraception is okay, then that means that NFP is the only de facto path they have since that’s the only method of birth control allowed in the Church.

That’s correct. Those who think contraception is gravely evil (in line with what Catholic teaches; and indeed what all Christians taught till the Anglicans started dissenting in 1930), use the moral method of NFP. Obedient Catholics are obedient to Catholic Church teaching.

That is why the Church promotes NFP to death, as something that can build couples, etc.

Exactly. We promote what we believe is good and true, just as any group of like-minded individuals does. The women who just marched on Washington think  it’s wonderful to have the right to murder their own children, so they’re out there promoting it to death (pun half-intended). That’s their priority. Ours is promoting the inherent value of life, and the happiness and fulfillment of, and moral behavior in marriages, sex lives, and families.

The Church allows couples to be able to use NFP for financial reasons. Janet Smith herself said that the legitimate reasons for using NFP were a lot more than most people would think. What you also end up doing is allowing a calendar, charts, etc., to determine when to make love and when to not instead of determining when to do so according to how close you feel to your spouse.

Yep. In the old days, if you weren’t ready to have children yet, you abstained from sexual relations. That was obvious enough. When premarital sex was still actually frowned upon by society (something so “quaint” now that it can hardly be imagined, but it really was like that, even in my own lifetime [born in 1958]), this was more than enough reason to wait till marriage, because having children was only proper within that state of life.

Today that’s all gone with the wind; however (whatever people believe and however they may act), sociological data continues to demonstrate what the Catholic Church “knew” all along: that illegitimacy is one of the leading indicators of a life of poverty and trouble. It wasn’t meant to be that way, and so (as usual), the children of irresponsible sex are the ones who are most penalized: either by being murdered or consigned to a life of poverty with one parent in the house (another leading indicator of poverty and familial and personal dysfunction).

But back more directly to your point: yes, we do charting, because it is a moral and intelligent way to determine when to have children or not, for the proper reasons. We Catholics so often get accused of being anti-science; yet when we utilize biological science in conjunction with NFP, all of a sudden it is something silly; to be mocked and run down, and it is supposedly anti-sex.

Someone observed that the most important sex organ is the brain. That’s very true. Sex is not just “the plumbing”; not just electricity and tingling feelings and raging hormones and chemistry and High Romance. That’s the fantasy stuff of movies and romance novels and newlyweds and the sinful “one night stand”; but it is not the stuff of real, everyday life, attempted to be lived out according to a moral system (in this case, Catholicism).

Human beings are not merely biological pleasure machines. We’re more than just our sexual organs. Really fulfilling, spectacular sex truly is that within a committed, lifelong relationship. Women in particular respond sexually in the fullest manner when they are in such a relationship: where they feel absolutely cherished and loved, and where the man has committed himself to her security and their marriage together, and to any children, as an equally committed father.

There is another well-known saying: “sex begins in the kitchen.” What is that trying to get at? I think it’s a pithy way of wisely observing that sex is more than biology. It exists within a context of a lived (committed) life together. It flows from being soulmates: almost one soul in two bodies. Romance and committed love and fulfilling sexual intimacy are one whole thing.

You act as if it is simply the fleeting feelings of the moment (therefore, when sex occurs, is determined solely by that). Serious Catholic couples — those who practice NFP and accept Church moral teaching — express our love within sexuality as a manifestation of our existing (non-physical) love and commitment to our wives. It’s not just to “get our rocks off” or to have the wonderful sensations involved (though Catholics assuredly have drives and sensations and urges just like anyone else).

That being the case, we are willing to wait if necessary. We know it will be wonderful when it happens. We don’t have to “whip up a sexual frenzy” in order to enjoy it. When we’re together, it’s great. We know it will be, by the sheer fact of being together. And if we have to wait a bit, well, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” doesn’t it? There’s an upside to that. It’s not all gloom-and -doom, and it’s not impossible. We’re not uncontrollable animals.

The best “news” of all is that many secular sociological studies have shown that observant Catholics (who go to Mass every week and are obedient to Church teaching) have happier marriages (far lower divorce rates), and (are you sittin’ down?) happier and more fulfilling sex lives (yes, you read that right) as well.

As for secular folks and those who bought into the pottage of the sexual revolution Big Lie, look all around you to see how happy they are. If they were so happy, they’d be with one partner for a long time. It’s been an absolute disaster.

And I highly doubt that charting your wife’s cycles is gonna make you a better or even a decent person.

When you put it that way, it sounds silly, and so you have the appearance of making some kind of argument. It must be analyzed within the overall philosophy and approach of it, not in cynical sound bites. We are honoring both God’s natural law by abstaining if there is reason not to have a child at a given time, and also respecting our spouses by not reducing them to sex objects, who are only there to fulfill our screaming sexual needs of the moment (as if we are utterly unable to control those). In fact, those of us who have actually applied NFP, report that — far from detracting — it enhances love life and marriage, because it fosters concern for the other rather than the selfish instinct, with which we all struggle.

People make decisions based on how they feel and experience, that’s just what people have done for thousands of years, even people who oppose contraception have and still continue to do that (take Traditional Latin Catholics for example).

Yes they do, but there are moral experiences and there are immoral ones. There are a number of situations that call for control and acting beyond just feelings. That’s so utterly obvious that I won’t even bother giving a single example. Anyone can think of them with a moment’s reflection. We do all kinds of things in life not based on feelings and emotions alone, but on reason and will and based on what we know to be right and wrong.

Another problem is that sex on infertile days isn’t the same as sex during fertile days, and many people can’t live without the soul-mending experience that sex is. It’s just not good enough.

You are again reducing sex to biological urges and sensations (and natural lubrication, if you will), but it’s much more than that, as noted above. This is your fundamental error.

Many people don’t just want sex, they want it to feel good too.

We are quite aware that sex should feel good, thank you. You act like we’re a bunch of stereotypical sexually repressed Puritans or Victorians (and even they have been grossly caricatured). If you want the best sex you can have, and for a long time, NFP and committed, monogamous marriage and committed religious belief and practice is for you. Many studies have shown both things to be the case. As for Catholics and other committed Christians and sexual pleasure, here is a report about just one of many studies: “Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says: Catholics have more enjoyable sex, more often” (Elizabeth Flock, US News & World Report, 7-17-13). I quote:

Devout, married Catholics have the best sex of any demographic group, the Family Research Council said at an event Wednesday, pointing to a collection of studies from the last several decades.

The socially conservative Christian group relied heavily on statistics from the University of Chicago’s last National Health and Social Life Survey, conducted in 1992, which found the most enjoyable and most frequent sex occurring among married people, those who attended church weekly – any church, whether Catholic or not – and people who had the least sexual partners.

“Those who worship God weekly have the best sex,” said Patrick Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and a former George H.W. Bush official, in a talk hosted with the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education Wednesday. “I want to see this on the cover of Playboy sometime.”

. . . Fagan told Christians in attendance that they “have to claim a place that’s very different in sexuality – and that by the way is very superior, even in matters sexual.”

With NFP, it doesn’t matter if it feels good or not. Just have it.

That’s your cynical, vain imagining. It’s not the reality of how NFP works. I’ve been married for 32 years, am fabulously happy; couldn’t be any happier, with four fantastic kids as Catholic as we are (by free choice). Catholic teaching brings that about. All you can do is blast it from afar. We’ve lived it.

That to me is sex-crazed and actually not even human.

If it were true, I would agree, but it’s not true. It’s a caricature and gross distortion of NFP and the experience of practicing it.

It doesn’t take a contraception supporter to understand the logical and intellectual errors behind the NFP movement. That’s why even some of the people supporting the ban on contraception in 1968 were having disagreements with the hierarchy. It’s not that they didn’t support the ban, but it was rather the way in which they went about it.

That’s beyond our immediate purview.

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I reply now to some other related comments that “Naters” made on various Patheos posts:

You are advocating for a lack of pleasure, because pleasure is supposed to be in sex every single time and expecting couples who have the money to practice NFP is like saying they shouldn’t enjoy sex.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. We have practiced NFP and I don’t ever recall an intimate time with my wife that was not pleasurable. There are, of course, times that are not as “dramatic” or “spectacular” as others, but that’s just life, and what does that have to do with togetherness, love, and commitment? Nothing! It’s just biology. The real joy and pleasure is being with your spouse, no matter what happens. If a couple is fulfilled and happy: “one flesh”: as the Bible says, they are irregardless of fleeting moments of biological ecstasy. Again, I say, we are not merely biological pleasure machines. That alone will never make anyone happy.

It’s no more different from robotic sex, and it’s quite artificial to do it. It’s tragic because sex is supposed to be loving and bonding and sex during infertile periods really don’t qualify as any of those two for most people.

This is sheer nonsense, as a generality. It doesn’t apply to happily married Catholic spouses who practice NFP. They don’t — on the whole — report this.  You can always run across an exception here and there. I would go so far as to say that if someone only enjoys sex during fertile periods, then they know little about sexual pleasure within a committed marital relationship at all. They’re emphasizing exactly the wrong things: the momentary thrill, the ecstatic experience; the fireworks. Those things actually occur less, the more we are obsessed with them. Everything today is so hyper-analytical. Good sex, like good romance, wilts underneath that sort of silly, particularistic, hyper-rational analysis.

The Catholic “solution” to all this is simple:

1) Marry the right person (of the opposite sex).

2) Marry the person you love, and who loves you, and who is a moral person.

3) Love the person you marry, with all that that entails.

4) Wait till marriage, because to not do that is a mortal sin in Catholic teaching.

5) Follow the teachings of the Church, which includes the indissolubility of marriage. It’s a lifelong commitment — for better, for worse — to one person.

Do all that, and all your hyper-analyses and nitpicking about every aspect (real or imagined) of NFP will be irrelevant. This is the “recipe” (God’s recipe) for happiness and marital bliss. It’s backed up even by secular studies, such as the one I cited above.

Sex nevertheless necessarily involves concupiscence.

That’s a lie from the pit of hell, and collapses natural biological urges into lustfulness. Thats simply not true. The urges can quickly become concupiscence and sinful if we don’t control them, but they are not necessarily instances of concupiscence (which is essentially saying that all sexual urges are sinful). That is the true anti-sex position, because it pretends that even marital sex is an evil, sicked, dirty thing, when in fact it is the most beautiful thing in the world.

At the ripe old age of 20, you couldn’t have had all that much sexual experience (not that one has to experience anything to talk about it; but you go on and on about all this). If you have, and you’re not married, it was sinful, if it was fornication, according to Catholic and biblical morality. And you don’t sound like you know much more about theology, to make a statement like the above, which is outrageous.

Sex is always supposed to feel good,

It does, when it is in a moral context (it feels good emotionally and “humanly” and spiritually; not merely physically). If it’s not moral, it can and will be thrilling for a short time, but will never last.

They shouldn’t have sex when their libido isn’t high. Sex is supposed to be delightful and doing otherwise makes it no different from mechanical sex.

Again, this is based on your rather silly and naive collapsing of sexual expression and fulfillment down to simply biological thrills and tingling nerves. It is much more than that. I can’t emphasize this enough. You are the one making it merely “mechanical” and not a whole spiritual person and soul being intimate with another whole, spiritual person and soul.

I’m not deranged for saying that having sex when you don’t want it is rape.

Yep.

Having sex during an infertile period is when you don’t want sex. Who wants to have sex when your sex drive isn’t that high on that day? That’s rape.

Women usually don’t enjoy sex during infertile periods, and it doesn’t matter how hard they try. Women just weren’t designed that way.

Now you are being illogical and absurd again. Obviously, a couple practicing NFP is doing it willingly. There is such a thing as marital chastity. And so if a woman or husband doesn’t want to have sex at a given time, we don’t force them to. NFP doesn’t teach any such thing. But calling it “rape” when a couple voluntarily has sex during infertile periods is absolutely ridiculous and calumnious, too.

There is much silliness in your whole analysis of the supposed gospel truth that “sex during infertility is never pleasurable.” Try to run that line by pregnant women. They aren’t fertile but they will affirm that they have plenty of sexual desire during those nine months. And of course, there is pregnancy a lot of the time, for couples who practice NFP but have relatively a lot of children. One article about the noteworthy excellence of pregnant sex, proclaimed:

[P]regnancy is amongst the most sensual, sexual times in a woman’s life . . . with many expectant mums expressing increased sexual appetite and fervor, much to their partner’s delight or bewilderment, with every ripening day.

Consider, after all, what’s going on with the hot mama’s changing form. First, the hormones of her time with child are blessing her with better skin and hair, making her feel more gorgeous than ever.

While some women, especially the toilet-bound, feel anything but sexy during their pregnancy, many are literally glowing from their expectancy, and love their bodacious body as never before.

Second, whether it’s her first or second trimester, some women experience increased sexual urges, at levels exceeding pre-pregnancy. During the second trimester in particular, many feel hot to trot for reasons far beyond their control.

Breastfeeding also makes a woman less fertile, so that there is a natural time of spacing on that basis, for those who do it. Again, it is false to claim that breastfeeding women don’t have a sexual desire (though studies show that in many cases it lessens some during this time, at least at first), so that sex with them all during that time (and pregnancy) is supposedly “rape.” Is this some original thought coming from you, or did you find this nonsense from someone else?

In fact, many of those who practice the latter are no better than those who practice ABC.

That’s true: if it is wrongly used with contraceptive intent. I just posted about that very thing in the last week.

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For more information on NFP, contact Natural Family Planning International. Its manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach, spends a lot of time encouraging couples to be generous in having children. It also teaches God’s way for spacing births through the right kind of breastfeeding and explains all the fertility options and rules. The manual can be downloaded for a suggested donation of $10. It fully supports Catholic Church teaching.

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