The Evangelization Station
Pray for Pope Francis
Scroll down for topics
For Men Only
My experience of marital sexuality
has been a mixture of pain and redemption. The pain comes, in part, from the
natural struggle of two lovers to "tune in" to each other's needs. It also comes
from my own immaturity and some unrealistic expectations. When these go unspoken
and are not dealt with mutually, the struggle seems to be compounded. Love takes
time. Love needs bridges, not barriers. Sexually, the biggest barrier I brought
to my marriage was my hesitancy to risk. I believe the form of family planning
we chose has helped me to accept myself and to seek a deeper union with my wife.
This has been redemptive, for I experience God's love through my wife in our
struggle to love each other unconditionally and sacrificially.
My wife once told me that she might
not have married me if I had insisted on a chemical form of family planning.
That's tough love! She was concerned with her personal integrity and the
interpersonal dynamics of our relationship. She had been charting her natural
sighs of fertility for over two years. For her to take full responsibility for
our fertility through contraception would have been to diminish her self-gift.
It took me several years to realize the meaning of this. In other words, she
taught me something important about total giving and accepting of each other in
Living NFP has not always been
easy. I am not speaking of the fear of unplanned pregnancy. I am speaking of
continence, that is, refraining from intercourse to postpone conception during
the phases of our cycle when we are both fertile.
Some criticize abstinence or
continence as unnatural and thus view NFP as too difficult. I think the
difficulty lies in what continence can reveal. I discovered that I had placed
more emphasis on genital intimacy than relational intimacy. Besides providing us
with the possibility of invoking new life, sexual intercourse celebrates
In and of itself, sex does not
create marital intimacy. In fact, sometimes sex isn't intimate at all. I have
found this to be true most often when we are not relationally intimate. Using a
chemical or a mechanical contraceptive would represent another kind of intimacy
barrier. For us to alter or destroy our fertility would also destroy the poser
of intercourse to signify total self-giving. Retaining the full meaning of
intercourse is important to us.
This experience of learning and
living NFP has caused me to reflect on myself as a rather typical,
twentieth-century American male. While it is natural for persons to yearn for
intimacy and affection, I do not believe I was socialized to be relationally
intimate. Stereotypically, men have been raised to be analytical, detached and
In a way, becoming relationally
intimate with my wife has been "unnatural" for me. Thus, I think men have to
learn to be intimate and more vulnerable... two qualities that most women want
in their relationship with their spouse. It is this learning process, not
abstinence, which I believe many find to be "unnatural" and perhaps makes living
NFP difficult for some couples.
Continence does me a favor. It
provides me with a "rhythmic" opportunity to make sure it is not only sex but
more so love and intimacy that bind me to my wife. This is why we assert that
contraception is chauvinistic. Contraception isolates the responsibility for
transmitting life to one spouse (usually the wife) and it reinforces what I call
the "Playboy playmate fantasy" caricature of women: sexually precocious,
available and sterile. Because a woman can become pregnant, in this caricature
she and her sexuality are deemed inferior and males continue to see her
primarily as a sex object. Males continue to be rescued from integrating their
own sexuality into their development and from viewing women as persons.
Contraception (and abortion) are not worthy of her dignity as one image of God
in the world.
Of course, the other caricature...
barefoot and pregnant... is also an affront to her dignity. Modern methods of
fertility acceptance (NFP) are an antidote to either caricature. When mutually
learned, lovingly lived and applied according to the goals of a couple, NFP
promotes the equality and dignity of husband and wife. Contraception and
abortion undermine this strength, a point many feminists seem to overlook.
Though difficult at times,
integrating our fertility into our marriage has strengthened us individually and
as a couple. If I had been told this before we married, I would not have
believed it. I am thankful to have a spouse who loves me and herself enough to
demand that I love her in a way that Christian marriage requires.
Thus, fertility acceptance (NFP)
not only reminds me of the interpersonal nature of procreation, it is a constant
reminder that genital intimacy belongs in the context of relational intimacy.
The periodic tension that sometimes comes with abstinence lead us to frequently
examine our relationship, our needs, our communication and the quality of our
intimacy and affection. As a male, that is extremely important, given my natural
tendency to overemphasize the quality of the genital relationship.
Can I promise anything beneficial for couples considering or choosing NFP? Yes, depending on the quality of their relationship. NFP has helped me mature, though I have a long way to go. NFP has challenged me to question my assumptions about women as mate and lover and begin to appreciate the "feminine" aspects of myself. It has taught me the beauty of the female menstrual cycle. It has called me to cherish my wife rather than simply desire her. NFP has taught me that fertility is an integral, interpersonal power to invoke new life and participate in the creativity of God. NFP has challenged me to accept and revere our fertility as we have found it and more fully accept the gift of each other in Christian marriage.