When I was in high school, my family took a long weekend in Colonial Williamsburg Virginia one September. After seeing the historic sites, we spent a Monday at Bush Gardens amusement park. Since school had already started, the park was empty even though the weather was sunny and warm. I was excited to go thrill-seeking on the roller coasters, and it was Apollo’s Chariot that was the biggest rush for me.
There was no line, so my dad and I rode on it repeatedly. After the third time, we needed to try and do something to make it more exciting. We sat in the front row. We sat in the back row. We closed our eyes the whole time. We kept our hands in the air the whole time. We tried to make our funniest faces for the camera. And finally, after riding that rollercoaster a dozen times in a row, it wasn’t so thrilling anymore.
I’m sure that if I went back today, I would find it as exhilarating as that first time I went on it. And that leads me to a couple thoughts about sex.
I had a discussion with a woman who insisted that birth control should be loving for her spouse because she can be intimate with him at any time. She loves him, so why not be available to make love to him at any moment and not worry about getting pregnant? Sex is for bonding after all, right? NFP has charts and planning so it can’t be spontaneous and fun. It’s a legitimate question to ask: how can periods of abstinence be loving for marriage?
What happened to me on the roller coaster is an analogy to what happens to a couple using contraception. Their sexual relationship is exciting and fun at first, but then they get used to it and that initial spark fades. So a couple might turn to pornography, sex toys, or technique books to feel that spark again. What was meant to be fun and exciting – and even a gift – turns into a quest of physical pleasure. Contraception dulls the spark that made a couple want to give themselves to each other in the first place. As we say in our marriage prep answer keys:
“Contraception gives the idea that sex is just for self-gratification, that women can be used, and that men “need” to satisfy all their sexual urges without any self-control. As a consequence, it can induce all kind of perversions such as masturbation, adultery, pornography, homosexual acts, etc.”
When you contracept and put your fertility in the background, you consequently lose respect for the natural cycle of the women. Over time, this leads to using the other for pleasure instead of the self-gift of love. Patience is loving, openness to life is loving, and contraception takes away patience and conversations about children. Love calls the other to a greater good. Those times of abstinence in using Natural Family Planning build virtues like patience, fortitude, purity, and generosity. Does sex all the time whenever your partner wants it sound like it will really build virtue and strengthen your love?
Now with NFP, you can in theory have sex at any time. It just means you might get pregnant. A couple using NFP gets the thrill of working together to decide:
-Are we okay getting pregnant this month? Do we want to wait?
-Do we want to walk on the wild side, cut it close, and see what happens?
-Do we know we’re fertile and have been wanting to conceive?
It’s a bonding experience to have those conversations together as you grow in your communication and intimacy while watching for the peak signs in your charting.
Most of the time when practicing NFP, your relationship has periods of intimacy and time apart that builds up the anticipation and helps you to appreciate your sexual relationship again and again, kind of like waiting in line between roller coaster rides (although the analogy is far from perfect).
I will end with this excerpt because I really like Kelly’s assessment on responsible parenthood in NFP, shining light on abstinence and prudence in a couple’s discernment:
“If a couple decides to postpone a pregnancy due to grave circumstances, they are allowed by the Church to use NFP. If they do not know how to practice NFP, they will probably need to abstain for long stretches of time until they either discern they are ready for another child or are sufficiently comfortable in practicing NFP. All these steps require the exercise of prudence, and surprisingly, not the input of anyone else outside the marriage, except perhaps a trusted priest.
It is not prudent to use contraception because it will put the married couple in a state of mortal sin. In such a state, it will be hard to properly exercise prudence in other aspects of your life. If prudence in family planning requires long periods of abstinence, your marriage will survive it, even if it seems like an unfair cross tacked on top of an already difficult situation. If both spouses are in agreement, you will get the graces you need to persevere and be strengthened in this situation. And if you fail by choosing to use contraception for a time, get to confession and try again. You can always choose to do the right thing even if fear previously pushed you to do something you knew was wrong, but seemed easier than the alternative.
People may argue that if you abstain or avoid pregnancy for too long, it’s selfishness, not prudence. However, it is not prudent to engage in sex whenever you want because giving into lust is easier then carefully weighing the implications of another pregnancy on your family. If you’re telling me you need to keep having babies because you and your husband can’t keep your hands off each other, genetic conditions and health problems be damned, you’re not practicing prudence.
People who think long periods of abstinence are an unreasonable burden on a husband reveal that they believe men cannot be expected to choose the good of their families over their own lust. You’re also presuming that abstinence is a greater cross than parenting, or burying, a child with a genetic condition. Perhaps if they would experience sitting in a hospital next to their sick child, or losing sleep night after night due to emergencies and medical interventions, they would understand how easy it is some months to abstain from the marital act rather than risk another pregnancy.”