I remember learning Natural Family Planning (NFP) for the first time. I was 20 years old, engaged (for the first time) and completely naive. I had sound knowledge of a woman’s fertility, I was decent at judging mucus and could now start learning the rules about having sex.
I was a virgin in every sense of the word and all my instructor could talk about was when I couldn’t have sex once I was married. This blew my mind and it seemed like I would never be able to have sex with my husband. All I could think about was “I will be married and sex is supposed to be a good thing. Why do I still have to wait to have sex while I’m married?” Long story short and a different husband than I first intended, I am five years older and a pinch wiser.
Chastity and marriage are two words that are hardly ever mentioned in the same sentence as concepts that go together. In my opinion, this is a shame since chastity as a virtue can thrive within a marriage. Any NFP practitioner will give solid examples of why abstinence “should” be practiced, but a great NFP teacher will help couples embrace the call to married chastity.
The purpose of sex within the Sacrament of Marriage is two-fold, unitive and reproductive. This is a change in pastoral care since the Second Vatican Council. Prior to Vatican II the emphasis was on raising good, solid Catholic families and not necessarily the love relationship between spouses. The Second Vatican Council looked at the role of sex between married couples and found that the bond between couples grew with having sex during a woman’s infertile cycle. With this change in the mentality of sex, the responsibility of married couples (in regards to sex) also changed.
With these changes the most powerful word in a marriage became “no.” When looking at other virtues, this becomes apparent. For example, the key to Temperance is saying no before over indulging. The key to Humility is to say no to ourselves when our ego take control. In the same respect, the key to Chastity is saying no to the use of ourselves and others. Within each yes or no with Alex, my husband, is the same full consent of our marriage vows. Also what power is there in our yes to each other if we cannot say no. In this is also the essence of our Sacramentality, we could not say yes to our marriage if in that same moment we did not have the free will to say no.
When it comes to saying no to the marital embrace, there can be a myriad of reasons: timing, fatigue, illness, personal situations or the simple need to say no. However, none of these reasons rule out the need for intimacy. It is in these intimate moments away from the marriage bed, personally, I can reflect more fully on our relationship. This is also where creativity in a movie/date/dinner/goofy British TV sci-fi marathon night ensues.
It isn’t in the midst of our crazy lives that we are separated, but rather that our marital bond is cemented. So what if the downstairs neighbor’s music is too loud, I’m watching Dr. Who with my husband and he is holding my hand. It is in that small routine act of giving that I am reminded of how much I am loved. It is in the goofy nights playing laser tag that I feel joy, and in the simple kiss on the cheek while cooking that Alex lets me know I am honored and through my receiving, I honor him.