Unitive purpose vs. abstinence


#1

Greetings in Christ,

I'm a relatively new convert (2008); used to be evangelical protestant. I'm trying to understand how sex in marriage is supposed to be, in general. I just got Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body; and have read much of the Catechism. I realize that a complete answer to my question is probably in these books (and others perhaps). However I'm hoping someones here can help me in the meantime (it will probably take me months to work through these books in my spare time).

As brief background: We've been married 17 years and have 8 kids. For most of our marriage my wife has been sick, pregnant, or nursing (and sometimes all 3). I had a great desire for emotional intimacy in sexual union with my wife when we married, but for various reasons that desire was rarely satisfied. Out of love I tried to practice abstinence as much as possible, which turned out to be a lot harder than when I was single - now living with a woman I was in love with and sexually attracted to, who slept in my bed and dressed in my room etc. However, I hoped for better days when her body would be healthy and not given over so directly to bearing children.

As a protestant I thought sex was supposed to be an expression of, and joyful participation in our love for each other. Specifically, it was to be promoted as a good (any and all sex between spouses that is mutually beneficial, "the marriage bed is undefiled", etc.). Outside of marriage sex was a sin (hetero-, homo-, kissing, intercourse; all of it). Inasmuch as our marriage didn't match this ideal, it was good for us to work toward it. I (and other protestants) often used the analogy of hunger for sexual desire. Food is a basic need of the body, and hunger is God's way to let us know we should eat. Likewise, sex is a basic need of the body, and sexual desire signals that need. People can fast from food for a time, but eventually need to eat. People can fast from sex for longer, even forever if they have the grace, but the norm is regular satisfaction of the sexual need (in marriage, of course).

Therefore the abstinence I was enduring as a protestant, I saw as temporary (even if it did last for 15 years or so - with some respites here and there). Now we are trying to understand Catholic teaching, and the impression I get is that the "way it should be" is roughly as follows: The only licit complete sexual act is intercourse in marriage; all other complete sexual acts, in or out of marriage are illicit and a mortal sin, and depending on who you ask, some incomplete sexual acts are illicit in marriage too. (I realize this is a negative view, but it is useful to me for clarity and logic's sake. I think I understand the "total giving of oneself" point of view, which is useful philosophically, but not as much practically.)

We are practicing NFP very carefully because we have determined it would not be good for my wife to become pregnant again. As a consequence, we are back in the situation of abstinence most of the time. I don't know what it's like for other couples, but when we have a little over a week of "green light" time each month, we are lucky to get more than 2 times together in the context of our family life (I have 3 jobs and work crazy hours; she is the bus driver, cook, maid, doctor, etc. 24/7). Continuing the food analogy, I feel like I'm starving most of the time. If this is normal and I just need to trust God for the grace I need in my vocation then I can accept that - but I really would like to know, since it feels wrong - like "it shouldn't be this way".

The confusion for me comes from the existence of the unitive purpose of the marriage act. Our current practice of mostly abstinence seems to frustrate the unitive purpose almost completely. (We know about NFP and are using the latest technological tools to monitor fertility, etc.) Our times together often seem mainly as reminders of what we are missing all the rest of the time. I get the whole "posses yourself" thing and chastity in general (I think), but it's one thing to have mastery over your desires, and another thing to just deny those desires (almost) completely.

I apologize for the length and lack of clarity of this post. I guess my question is, how does one reconcile the unitive purpose with the practical reality of near total abstinence? Is sex supposed to be fueled by passionate love and expressed powerfully to the strengthening of the marital bond - like a hearty, nourishing meal for hungry people; or is it supposed to be an occasional dispassionate embrace, when convenient - like a bite of a sandwich for people who don't really need to eat anyway?

Thanks for reading.


#2

[quote="ldavid, post:1, topic:181557"]
I guess my question is, how does one reconcile the unitive purpose with the practical reality of near total abstinence?

[/quote]

This is a cross made more difficult by the culture we live in.

Is sex supposed to be fueled by passionate love and expressed powerfully to the strengthening of the marital bond - like a hearty, nourishing meal for hungry people; or is it supposed to be an occasional dispassionate embrace, when convenient - like a bite of a sandwich for people who don't really need to eat anyway?

In our pre-marital counciling, our priest, looking straight at my wife, asked her to read what Paul had to say about it.


#3

I don’t see a problem. You are happily married for 17 years, have 8 kids, practice NFP, and have marital relations a couple of times a month. The only problem is your expectations. Prayer and fasting may help you change your expectations about your marriage. It is not a question of the lack of the unitive meaning. You are better off than many married couples.

Also, I don’t understand why you are practicing NFP so strictly. You are obviously older, since you’ve been married for 17 years. Older couples are less fertile. Unless there is a grave reason to avoid pregnancy, such as danger of death or of serious birth defects, why avoid all chance of pregnancy? But perhaps you have a grave reason.


#4

My first impression is that you’re chasing a false reality. Sex is not akin to food. If you never ever have sex again, you’ll be just fine. Tell me where in scripture Christ spent any time teaching that this was a necessity or even used it as an analogy. He did a lot of good things with food…turning water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes…consecrating bread into his body, blood, soul and divinity…but I don’t recall a similar action regarding sex.

I would take some time to reflect upon what it is you’re really craving. Is it intimacy or something more banal. You mentioned that you’ve not been fully satisfied with your sex life. What leads you to believe that’s an area of your life that needs fulfillment? It’s not an entitlement. Fill in the blank, “If my sex life were perfect, I would be closer to God because _____________________.”

Is your wife happy with her sex life? I would imagine with 8 kids, she’s has less energy for such worries. Does she feel pressured by you for a romp in the sack? Having been married for 22 years myself, I can tell you that whining about not getting any is a huge turn off for her. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. There’s a saying I heard that women need a reason…men need a place…and most women don’t want to be just a place. Now that’s a fallen view of sex as sex for man and woman should be a purpose.

I would encourage you to work on this as a couple. I would suggest you get a copy of Christopher West’s DVD series called Created and Redeemed, and watch it as a couple. Each episode is about an hour long. Make the time once or twice a week to watch an episode.

God bless


#5

Let me say that I do not think its unhealthy to have a desire to be intimate with your wife, but like others said it is important to monitor your desires since practicing NFP does mean making a sacrifice that Jesus calls us to and we place in God’s hands. This is not the same as eating, which is vital for each person to do every day and if we equate sex like food you can see the troubles we run into. My suggestion like the previous poster said is to instead focus on what your wife needs as far as intimacy (and follows Christ’s teachings). She may just want to be held or kissed or a back rub or something. Sure it may not be what you want, but it teaches us to realize sex should not be simply about our own pleasure. NFP teahces us to let go of our own wants if we truly live it. The other thing is to make the time you do have special for your wife as far as focusing on her; that is truly the most rewarding. And as Ron said, fasting and prayer can help us to rise above the sacrifice you are making for NFP. Use the time in new ways for your family and you may discover a new joy (I am not syaing you are lazy or do not help your family, just when we enter a sacrifice we a new focus, it helps). Hope that helps and congratulations on full communion with the Church. It is not easy to follow Christ, but in the end it gives us peace when we continue to follow him.


#6

Welcome to the Church! And congratulations on your eight children. (I have eight children too.:))

Seems you have a good understanding of Biblical and Catholic sexuality (and a well supplied quiver.) But as someone else already pointed out the comparrison to food is not completely accurate. Sex is ( in part) a bodily function but sex is not a bodily need. Individual humans can live without sex.

While it’s not an entirely accurate analogy, I like analogies, so I’ll work with the one you offered. While the Catholic Church has many writings about the meaning of the marital embrace, I can’t think of anything that tells us regulations on “sandwiches” verses “hearty feasts.” For the record, grabbing a quick sandwich can still be a nourishing meal–especially when life is very busy. When dieting, (which is where I think NFP fits into your an anaology) some people find it’s almost easier to basically stop eating certain foods rather than limit portions and learn moderation. You certainly aren’t alone if you find the abstinance required for NFP to be a struggle–and just like the struggles of dieting, if you need NFP then by struggling valiently you can improve the health of your marriage.

The Church doesn’t tell us the specific of what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Church offers guidance and some regulations on when fasting or feasting may be appopriate. Similarly, the Church really doesn’t get into too many specifics regarding the questions you ask. The Church offers guidelines and rules about openness to life within marriage that you already seem to understand pretty well. There may likely be different “correct answers” to your question, depending on the season of life. You and your wife get to plan the menu and develop your family recipes together. :slight_smile:


#7

Thank you all for responding and for your encouraging words. I have more to think about now. Since some of you asked questions, I'll say a few more things by way of clarification.

First, I realize that food is not exactly like sex, which is why I used an analogy instead of saying "it's the same as sex". I pointed out specifically that a person can go without sex forever, unlike food. However, I think there is a valid similarity inasmuch as most people would find doing so at least a little bit difficult. I used to be a pastor (which I didn't mention before because it wasn't relevant) and counseled many married couples, and young single men, and every single one of them found chastity one of their biggest challenges in life. I don't know yet much beyond the catechism from the Catholic point of view, but from a practical point of view, I think it is valid to say that the sex drive is experienced as a basic human need.

Re: what Paul said about sex - well he said a lot actually. I suppose the most relevant book is 1 Co., especially chapters 6 and 7. Paul's view of sex is basically the view I had as a protestant, and what I and many colleagues based the food analogy on. Our protestant view was clearly lacking (as I see it now) since it was not sacramental, for starters, and so it was not such a big deal to compare sex to something as banal as eating (or at least the human need for food).

Re: "I don't see a problem. You are happily married for 17 years, have 8 kids, practice NFP, and have marital relations a couple of times a month. The only problem is your expectations... You are better off than many married couples."

You are assuming we have been happily married for 17 years; I don't know what gave you that idea, but I would certainly not say that. Perhaps you mean something different by it than I would. Also, in my experience, telling people that there are others who have it worse than them is usually not helpful (for some it is, but very few). Again, maybe our experiences are different. Maybe I sounded whinny. I'm sorry if I did, I was trying not to. My goal was not to complain but to give some context for a serious question. As I said, if the answer is, "Yes, this is normal for Catholics; deal with it", then I will do my best to do so (and not whine about it). However, if it's not, then I'd like to know so we can work toward however it should be.

Re: "I would take some time to reflect upon what it is you're really craving. Is it intimacy or something more banal. You mentioned that you've not been fully satisfied with your sex life. What leads you to believe that's an area of your life that needs fulfillment? It's not an entitlement. Fill in the blank, "If my sex life were perfect, I would be closer to God because _____________________." "

I have thought hard about this, and I'm glad you bring it up. I recognize a selfish desire for sexual pleasure in me (that I assume is in everyone), and I see the need to die to this. However I also see what I believe to be a legitimate desire for intimacy with my wife through sexual union, which is more or less distinct from the selfish desire. What I have read so far about the unitive purpose of sex leads me to believe that this desire is a good thing intended to be directed toward the strengthening of my marriage. I don't think of sex as an entitlement; I don't think of food or anything else as an entitlement. However my body seems designed for food ("food for the stomach and the stomach for food") so I believe it is legitimate to satisfy my desire for it. Inasmuch as it is also designed for sex, I assume there is a legitimate context for the satisfaction of that desire as well. (Again I'm not saying sex is the same as food - it is not. The same passage I quoted above goes on to say "the body is for the Lord", which contrasts food and sex. What I'm referring to here is the fact that design implies legitimate use.)

Secondly, I would not fill in the blank in your statement at all. I reject the premise to start with. Though it is a very noble question, I am not asking here about what will bring me closer to God. If you are trying to imply that I should not be concerned about anything besides getting close to God, then I would be willing to consider that. Since I don't know that you are, I'll just leave it. To clarify my question, I'm trying to determine what is normative for sex in a Catholic marriage. We have many desires, some good, some bad, some intended to be fulfilled sometimes, some never. Inasmuch as "the rules have changed" for us now as Catholics, we are trying to determine how best to be stewards of the sexual desire/faculty we live with. (And my wife actually does have sexual desire, so this is not a one-sided situation where I have to whine and nag her.)

Anyway, it seems I may have hit a nerve with some folks, which would not be surprising since in my experience most men are not satisfied sexually in their marriages. (Interestingly I find more Catholic men seem to be, but I'm no longer in a position to talk to many men about it so this is just anecdotal.) I can imagine a bunch of guys sitting around talking and saying, "buddy you think you got it bad, listen to my story", and "that's nothing, my situation is far worse..." I don't mean to make light of it, since I've known many men (and women) for whom this is their biggest struggle in life, and it is a real struggle. Thank God that suffering has meaning and purpose! (You Catholics reading this can pray for our separated protestant brethren, most of whom have no good way to understand and therefore endure their suffering.)

Thanks again for your helpful responses, I hope this one answers some of your follow-up questions and might prove useful to others who come upon this thread.


#8

What a great thread!

I can relate entirely to your experience (except I only have three kids and 10 years), but I’ve learned a few things that have helped. You’ve already grapsed that sex is both unitive and procreative, good for you! But the next step is to realize that these two things are NOT separable entirely. We have a tendency to think that because they are two different words, they are two distinct realities. But they aren’t. Sex is a tangled up bundle of procreative and unitive. When you take action to frustrate the procreative function of sex, the unitive aspect is damaged unintentionally in the process.

Imagine two long strands of yarn, different colors all tangled into a ball. Contraception attempts to separate these two with a meat clever - CHOP. Inevitably, some of the red yarn gets lost with the blue. NFP, on the other hand, never tries to divorce sex from babies. You are ALWAYS thinking about babies and how “serious” your reason is precisely because you have to abstain as a result of your serious reason. That periodic reminder functions as a foothold that helps the NFP user avoid sliding down the slippery slope that turns healthy sexual desire into mere lust.

Do you remember the furor/scorn that arose years ago when John Paul warned husbands not to lust for their wives? People didn’t get it! Lust isn’t just sexual desire for somebody forbidden, it is sexual desire for the sex itself, not for the union with the beloved. If you are an American male today, odds are you (like me) are infected by the false self-centered sexuality that pevades our culture. We DO tend to think of it as a “need.” Notice how the word ‘need’ reveals the selfish attitude. I WANT it! Me.

Healthy unitive sex is supposed to be about giving that uniting experience to one another, not ‘getting some.’ Tone is hard to convey on the web. I hope I don’t comeoff too accusatory, because believe me, I’m still absorbing these lessons too.

But I do also wonder about the one week / cycle thing. That seems a bit low. There ought to be at least a day or two of opening on the early side of the cycle as well as after the peak. What method are you using?

It’s interesting that you have used food as an analogy. Christopher West, a popular speaker on the theology of the body, also uses food, but differently. Sexual desire CAN be appeased by gratifying yourself (alone or with another taking what is perceived to be ‘needed’), but such partaking sexually is analogous to eating leftovers out of a dumpster: not very healthy! Healthy sex focuses on GIVING that experience to your spouse. When this is accomplished, filet mignon isn’t remotely a good enough analogy counterpart…


#9

[quote="manualman, post:8, topic:181557"]

But I do also wonder about the one week / cycle thing. That seems a bit low. There ought to be at least a day or two of opening on the early side of the cycle as well as after the peak. What method are you using?

[/quote]

I was going to jump right in on the practical side of NFP as well... the one week per cycle thing isn't normal.

What method are you using?

Are you in contact with your NFP teachers to see if you can find more "safe" days by looking at the signs differently?... because realistically there's only about a 3-5 day window of *true *ovulation (vs false signs)...
Would you consider trying a different method?
Are there underlying medical issues that should be tackled first?


#10

[quote="manualman, post:8, topic:181557"]
What a great thread!

I can relate entirely to your experience (except I only have three kids and 10 years), but I've learned a few things that have helped. You've already grapsed that sex is both unitive and procreative, good for you! But the next step is to realize that these two things are NOT separable entirely. We have a tendency to think that because they are two different words, they are two distinct realities. But they aren't. Sex is a tangled up bundle of procreative and unitive. When you take action to frustrate the procreative function of sex, the unitive aspect is damaged unintentionally in the process.

[/quote]

Ah that makes good sense, I had not considered that before, and it vaguely rings a bell from my reading so far. This is very helpful...

...You are ALWAYS thinking about babies and how "serious" your reason is precisely because you have to abstain as a result of your serious reason. That periodic reminder functions as a foothold that helps the NFP user avoid sliding down the slippery slope that turns healthy sexual desire into mere lust.

Also very well said and helpful. Without going into detail, we do indeed have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, as anyone else with 8 kids in their mid 40's with a long history of serious health problems (for my wife) can probably imagine. I am convinced that it would be unloving of me to put my wife in a situation right now where she could become pregnant, and though I knew it before, it is helpful to contemplate the direct connection between that conviction and the sacrifice of abstinence I must therefore make. Good perspective.

But I do also wonder about the one week / cycle thing. That seems a bit low. There ought to be at least a day or two of opening on the early side of the cycle as well as after the peak. What method are you using?

We are using a fertility monitor that has been very accurate so far. It's true we have a day or two on the early side, but often that day doesn't line up well with our schedule or the cold/flu/whatever that's currently moving through the family. Plus I am very conservative when it comes to the "edges" of the non-fertile times, based on the conviction I mentioned above, so we probably shorten this time more than absolutely necessary.

It's interesting that you have used food as an analogy. Christopher West, a popular speaker on the theology of the body, also uses food, but differently. Sexual desire CAN be appeased by gratifying yourself (alone or with another taking what is perceived to be 'needed'), but such partaking sexually is analogous to eating leftovers out of a dumpster: not very healthy! Healthy sex focuses on GIVING that experience to your spouse. When this is accomplished, filet mignon isn't remotely a good enough analogy counterpart.....

Right, I've heard a tape of his using this analogy. However there is an important distinction, as you point out, between "healthy" and "unhealthy" sex. Both can be compared to food, as you yourself did. I'm not concerned about unhealthy sex, I think we can all agree that's no good. My original question was about the nature of healthy sex from the Church's point of view (which is relatively new, and different, to us). You compare it to a good steak, which is more or less the idea I had as a protestant. My question was whether it was more like a steak for a hungry person, or a bite of a sandwich for someone who is only eating because it's lunchtime and they know they probably should. So I don't think Mr. West is using the analogy differently at all, in fact I think he's using it just like I did (at least based on your description), and essentially answering my question. The problem still remains with the apparent conflict between the theoretical role of the unitive purpose of sex in a marriage and the practical realities that arise as a consequence of Church law (for lack of a better word). I think what you said about the inseparable nature of the unitive and procreative purposes is the best thing I've read so far about this (though it's still not completely clear...)

Thanks.


#11

[quote="Em_in_FL, post:9, topic:181557"]
I was going to jump right in on the practical side of NFP as well... the one week per cycle thing isn't normal.

What method are you using?

Are you in contact with your NFP teachers to see if you can find more "safe" days by looking at the signs differently?... because realistically there's only about a 3-5 day window of *true *ovulation (vs false signs)...
Would you consider trying a different method?
Are there underlying medical issues that should be tackled first?

[/quote]

Thank you Emily for your thoughtful and caring post, it is encouraging. I answered some of your questions in my previous post so I'll just say that we are definitely open to considering any and all valid methods of NFP. My spiritual director is a brother who was a single religious (not a monk; not sure what the correct designation would be) for many years and was almost ordained as a priest (has the education, degrees, etc.). So he knows as much as a priest and he has the experience of a married man. Anyway, he highly recommended "the monitor", as he calls it. My wife talked to his wife about it and determined that it's a medical device that uses urine test sticks to monitor fertility (designed for women who are trying to get pregnant, but equally effective for avoiding it). I have heard of other more labor intensive methods using thermometers and charts etc., but he seems to think this is the most accurate modern way to do it.

Anyway, that's what we've been doing. As for medical issues, my wife has a history of asthma, allergies, chronic fatigue, and "ideopathic orthostatic hypotension" (her blood pressure would go down instead of up when she stood after sitting or lying down, causing her to faint a lot). She was on steroids for a couple years for the blood pressure thing, but had a "spontaneous loss of symptoms" after receiving prayer for healing - imagine that :) It still comes back sometimes, but nothing like it used to be. So her health problems are serious, even debilitating sometimes, but in recent months she's been doing well and as far as I know none of these things directly affect her fertility or ability to monitor it.

Thanks.


#12

[quote="ldavid, post:10, topic:181557"]

Right, I've heard a tape of his using this analogy. However there is an important distinction, as you point out, between "healthy" and "unhealthy" sex. Both can be compared to food, as you yourself did. I'm not concerned about unhealthy sex, I think we can all agree that's no good. My original question was about the nature of healthy sex from the Church's point of view (which is relatively new, and different, to us). You compare it to a good steak, which is more or less the idea I had as a protestant. My question was whether it was more like a steak for a hungry person, or a bite of a sandwich for someone who is only eating because it's lunchtime and they know they probably should. So I don't think Mr. West is using the analogy differently at all, in fact I think he's using it just like I did (at least based on your description), and essentially answering my question. The problem still remains with the apparent conflict between the theoretical role of the unitive purpose of sex in a marriage and the practical realities that arise as a consequence of Church law (for lack of a better word). I think what you said about the inseparable nature of the unitive and procreative purposes is the best thing I've read so far about this (though it's still not completely clear...)

Thanks.

[/quote]

From a Catholic viewpoint, "healthy sex" is part of the overall mosaic of a "healthy marriage" and two "healthy" spouses. Your wife's medical situation means that some adjustments must be made temporarily because she isn't 100% healthy, reproductively speaking.

To continue your food analogy, your marriage is now a bit like a person who is diabetic. Yes, that person still is driven to eat and yes, still has drives to eat certain foods. But the timing and frequency of eating those foods makes eating them healthy or unhealthy. It isn't the food itself that is unhealthy or even the eating of the food, just the timing.

Unlike a diabetic, however, your situation isn't permanent. Your wife's health may improve so that a future pregnancy won't be so threatening. Medicine might advance so that a high risk pregnancy isn't so threatening. And eventually, her fertility will decrease and your timing issues will disappear.

I know it must be frustrating but the options are worse. Either you abstain entirely which would not be your idea of a good solution, I am sure. ;) Or you ignore your wife's medical situation and throw caution to the wind. (scary) Or you use contraception which removes both the procreative **and **unitive aspects from the marriage act so leaves you worse off than you are now. (not to mention the not insignificant sin problem).


#13

First of all, welcome home to the Catholic Church!

Now, with regard to your problems :) I guess first and formost the thing to get out of the way is this, sex in the Church is not viewed as an intrinsic evil, rather as a good. At least, sex with in marriage, and which does not attempt to suvert the natural law (i.e. contraception, or masturbation). But God did command, go forth and multiply, this would inherantly involve sex. Something which God commands can not be an evil.

So the problem is, were you using (previously) illicit means for the purposes of self gratification? If so, then I think you've fallen into the trap of having this ulitimatly selfish behaviour altering (negativily) your views on the good of sexuality.

Better to think of it this way, your sexuality with your wife is the most God like love the two of you can share. As such, you should view it in appropriate terms, i.e. sacramental terms. The fact that you guys are practicing NFP is good, that means even though you view further pregancy as being not great for your situation, at least you're open to the possiblity and aren't trying to artificailly get in Gods way (though to be sure, if God really want's your wife pregant there is nothing either of you can do about it lol!). So baring this in mind, rather than viewing your "abstiance" as "time in the wilderness" or some other such great afliction in your life, instead view it as a temperary fast meant to build up the sex act (and it will!).

This might take a good while to readjust your views on sexuality. As others mentioned, popular culture is a culture of me... A cluture which literally teaches that selfishness is the best philosophy. It would be best to pray and fast as others have suggested, most specifically pray that you be emptied of your own expectations, and filled only with Gods desire for your life.

God bless!


#14

All good points and well taken. As I understand it, the “not insignificant sin problem” you mention is a mortal sin (contraception) so it’s just completely out the window for us now. Ironically, as protestants we came to the conclusion that “birth control” was an oxymoron (which I suppose it is, absolutely speaking) and that we should trust God completely with conception. Being blessed with high fertility (which we really do see as a blessing, especially in light of the heart-breaking situations of friends who can’t conceive) we therefore had 8 kids in 13 years. As Catholics we learned that using NFP to space out pregnancies not only would have been permitted, but probably even good, considering my wife’s health problems. Anyway, thanks for the response.

BTW, where is the quote in your sig from? It’s excellent! I’d love to use it for my email…


#15

[quote="crazzeto, post:13, topic:181557"]
First of all, welcome home to the Catholic Church!

...So the problem is, were you using (previously) illicit means for the purposes of self gratification? If so, then I think you've fallen into the trap of having this ulitimatly selfish behaviour altering (negativily) your views on the good of sexuality.

[/quote]

Well let me put it this way. My parents divorced when I was 9 and I grew up mostly alone ("latch-key kid" I think was the term that was later coined) in a secular home. I desperately wanted love and looked for it in a relationship with a girl. I had my first "serious" girlfriend when I was 15 (she was 17 and very experienced - so I became an "extremely experienced" 15 year old - the envy of all my friends). That destructive and desperate relationship led to others and by the time I was 19 and in college I was a nihilist, atheist, depressed, angry, and completely immoral - or amoral as I saw it - I saw that without religion there really was no reasonable basis for morality and it was just a cultural norm that was constantly shifting. Well I "got saved" (as I said then) and started to grow in my understanding of God and life as a Christian. My wife had a much purer background (though she had some "uninvited" experiences as a young girl that in some ways were more damaging than mine). When we married we were both devout protestants who rejected the world's view of sex (though I in particular had to fight that view in myself as I had lived it for years) and embraced what we understood to be God's view. By the grace of God, our conversion continued (though it took 16 more years!) to the point where we came home to the Church and are now trying to bring our sexuality further in line with "God's view". All of which is to say, yes I have had plenty of illicit sexual experiences - in fact I suppose my sexual formation took place in that context - and even as married, devout protestants we engaged in some things (contraception, etc.) that we now see as illicit.

...your sexuality with your wife is the most God like love the two of you can share. As such, you should view it in appropriate terms, i.e. sacramental terms... So baring this in mind, rather than viewing your "abstiance" as "time in the wilderness" or some other such great afliction in your life, instead view it as a temperary fast meant to build up the sex act (and it will!).

Yes, good point. I do view it as temporary - and did even as a protestant, but after 10 or 15 years, "temporary" starts to feel hopelessly long. This however doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong, it could just be that our case is exceptional (or at least not normative). Based on what others have suggested, that's my current working understanding.

This might take a good while to readjust your views on sexuality. As others mentioned, popular culture is a culture of me... A cluture which literally teaches that selfishness is the best philosophy. It would be best to pray and fast as others have suggested, most specifically pray that you be emptied of your own expectations, and filled only with Gods desire for your life.

God bless!

Indeed. That is a hard truth but I believe it is true. I guess I see now that my whole sexual development was not just enveloped in sin (which I recognized as a protestant), but fundamentally disordered - and that continued to a large extent even into marriage (though it got much, much better, by God's grace). So it's not just my actions, but my thinking and understanding (and maybe feelings?) that were screwed up. Though I can change my actions overnight, my thinking is taking longer (my feelings certainly are).

Thank you all who have responded to this post. I really didn't expect much helpful info from a forum, but this has been surprisingly helpful. (So keep it coming if anyone has anything else to add!)


#16

Thanks. It’s from an Apostolic Exhortation from Pope John Paul II called “Christifideles Laici.” The whole section is quite beautiful but CAF has a limit on words for sig lines. You can read the whole letter here: vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html


#17

Interesting thread. And welcome to the Church, ldavid!

I’m just popping in to contribute a little more NFP info. Based on your description, I think you’re probably using something like the Clearblue fertility monitor. As you correctly point out, this device was originally designed to help aid in conception. Because of this, it doesn’t always provide early enough warning of the beginning of the fertile phase, which is neccessary for avoiding pregnancy. Thus, you may have read (or deduced) that you should therefore avoid all intercourse until post-peak, which isn’t really neccessary for most NFP-practicing couples.

The Marquette method is the only formal NFP system I know that I uses the fertility monitor. But it doesn’t use only the fertility monitor. Couples using Marquette are also encouraged to chart mucus observations (and sometimes temps as well) in conjunction with the fertility monitor readings. Studies have found that the most effective combination for determing fertility in Marquette users is the monitor plus mucus. You can read about it here: nfp.marquette.edu/ In sum, you could probably still practice conservative NFP while expanding the number of days you consider “safe”. This might enable you to be more intimate with your wife.

God bless you and your family.


#18

OP, your post was lovely. Your wife is a lucky woman. I, too, am an ex-Protestant and have been Catholic since 1997. I am 55. When we converted, my husband had long since had a vasectomy (when we joined the church he attempted to have it reversed, but I was already 42 and he was 48. The doctor told him there was little, if any, chance the vasectomy could be reversed, and our priest told us God honored us for our desire to be open to life, regardless of our ability to fulfill that desire.) My point is that we have been able to have all the sex we could possibly want for many years with no worries. Big damn deal. I liked it better when there was the possibility of conceiving new life. My husband confessed that after the vasectomy, it was not the same for him, either.

I know you are not suggesting that you wish you could have the sex without the responsibility. If you have eight precious children, you are obviously a generous, loving man. (We only have two children. I miscarried one and spent the second half of the pregnancy with my second child in bed because my cervix was threatening to betray me again, which was part of the reason for the vasectomy.) What I am saying is that your longing for sexual intimacy with your wonderful wife is probably fueled at least in part by your obvious fecundity. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but it seems to me the desire and the fruitfulness go hand in hand.

My own precious daughter married in July. They are trying hard to live out their faith. Two weeks after their honeymoon, they were pregnant. The baby is due in May. I encouraged her to be completely open to what God had in store for her. Easy for me to say. I haven't had to worry about feeding, clothing, and educating, 8-10 children. The suspicion that I am a fraud occurs to me frequently. You don't know how much I wish I could take that vasectomy back. My husband does, too. I hope you know how blessed you are.

One thing I keep thinking about, and it also applies to you, is that before the 1930s our ancestors didn't have the approval of the churches (excluding the Church of Rome) to contracept. Surely in the early 1900s and before there were wonderful marriages. What did they do? I guess they abstained, or had mistresses. I know my grandparents had separate bedrooms. Perhaps now I know why. I don't imagine our grandparents or great-grandparents desired their wives or husbands any less than we do, they just didn't have the unfortunate options we have. I am not lecturing you. I am trying to give you something to think about. God Bless you. You sound like a wonderful, thoughtful man.


#19

[quote="ldavid, post:1, topic:181557"]
Greetings in Christ,

I guess my question is, how does one reconcile the unitive purpose with the practical reality of near total abstinence?

[/quote]

Idavid, thanks for asking this question. I ask it of myself very often, and it is an area in which I am an expert ... in self deception, that is. :)

In dealing with this periodically difficult problem, I usually have to come to grips with three truths. 1) I am called to love the LORD with my WHOLE heart, and my WHOLE mind, and my WHOLE strength. 2) Just because we practice NFP (which is a very short window, given irregularities at my wife's age), it doesn't necessarily mean that our relations are therefore more "unitive" by default. I have to be honest with myself, my drives and intents are not always so sublime. 3) If I had the "freedom" to satisfy my drives as I wished, my desire for God would be greatly diminished, because I would replace Him with my false god.

There is a reason Adam and Eve covered themselves up. They knew what was on each others minds. So it is with me. Grrr. OK, I admit it.

Blessings upon you,

Tim


#20

Without disrespect to anyone, to their family situation, or to their good faith choices, I find myself thankful that I am a long term, live-alone bachelor. The challenges of family life appear overwhelming, from where I sit.

I may not have a domestic companion, but then my solitary household is without interpersonal frrustrations or conflict.

I am in awe of people who successfully manage family life.


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