Natural Family Planning

Top Five Reasons Marital Sex is the Only Sex You Need

Pop culture makes casual sex look easy and expected. When you’re watching a romantic comedy, the turning point in a couple’s budding relationship is usually their first sexual encounter. It isn’t them getting to know each other, learning what they have in common, or just plain deciding to “go steady.” It’s getting into bed—as if that proves something.

But sex was designed to be something meaningful and productive between a close, committed husband and wife. It was designed to be at least as much about giving as it is about receiving; as much about pleasing as it is about being pleased; and much more about love than it is about lust.

Instead of recognizing the true beauty of it, we’ve decided, as a society, to focus on its primal side. The thing is, lust and animalism don’t make us human. Love does.

You are more than a hook-up—more than “that girl” or “that guy” from college, the bar, or spring break. You are the girl or the guy your future spouse is looking for. And you deserve real, one-of-a-kind, wouldn’t-trade-it intimacy with that person who will love you more than anything else in the world.

So here are my top five (though, of course, there are many more) reasons for keeping sex in marriage.

5. Security trumps safety every time.

Safety: The condition of being protected from danger or injury.

Security: The state of being free from danger or threat.

One of those is reactive, and the other is proactive. Safety means shielding oneself from danger; security means never encountering danger in the first place.

Marriage is all about security, and marital sex is no different. A man and woman who are fully committed to one another and practice the virtues of true marriage will not put each other in any kind of sexual danger. If both spouses have been faithful all along, STDs become a moot point. Because they share the height of trust, they learn each other’s likes and dislikes, and would never be hurtful. Pregnancy—which can be easily delayed, if they choose—is not a scare in a healthy marriage; it’s a blessing. There will be no heartbreak or loneliness because neither spouse can break the union. There is no fear of judgment.

In short, sex in a healthy, happy marriage is free from risk. It is secure in every way.

4. We all deserve to be someone’s other half—not just one of any number of “partners.”

Neither men nor women are toys to be played with and forgotten, or vessels to be filled and emptied. We are all worthy of finding and clinging to someone who values us as a life partner. You are worth much more than someone else’s pleasure. You are worth devotion, commitment, fidelity, and years and years of happiness.

Even long-term relationships are subject to that “-term.” That’s not permanence or forever. That’s “for now.” Even if it adds up to many years of your life, some part of you—and the people around you—questions when it might end. I don’t mean to say those years aren’t valuable—they can be some of the most meaningful of your life. The eight years my husband and I were together before marriage were wonderful. The difference is that those were years of my life. These are years of our life. Our wedding day started a new forever for us.

If you take marriage seriously and practice it accordingly, there is nothing comparable to the union of husband and wife. Marriage is more than a new chapter: it is a change in your identity. It is a full gift of self and a full reception of your spouse. The years you spent together beforehand were temporary. The years afterward are forever.

3. Your body is a temple. And you both know it.

Sex is pleasurable for a reason. There’s nothing sinful about that. It is meant to be that way. The beautiful thing about marital sex is that you already know the unrelenting love is there; you both give and receive it all the time, day and night. When you know that to be true, sex is natural, easygoing, and unashamed.

There is this awful assumption that sex in marriage must be boring. How sad for those couples, and for the people who think it’s going to be that way and so waste their time sleeping around.

Sharing this part of you with just one person means constant respect and continuous learning. There is infinite opportunity to try new things, understand each other’s preferences, and make it all feel easy. You never need to feel self-conscious or ashamed, and neither does your spouse. There’s nothing dull about that.

2. It isn’t everything.

Some days you want to wear sweats and not wash your hair. Sometimes you put off doing the laundry for too long, and you’ve got nothing left but your ugly underwear. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood. We all have busy, off, stressful, or uncomfortable days.

No matter the reason, a comfortable, loving marriage means neither of you feels obligated to perform, impress, or make yourself available. You have your whole lives to enjoy each other. So when sex isn’t on the menu, a good cuddle, a game, or a meaningful conversation will do the trick, too.

1. It is everything.

Marital sex is a full giving of self, a full receiving of your spouse, a chance to let go, a chance to act, a reason to relax, a reason to excite. It’s not about impressing someone, seeking satisfaction, making a good story for your friends, proving your love, or hoping the object of your desire will return your affection. It isn’t about winning, it’s never a loss, and it’s always shared equally.

There aren’t words to express what two people share through sex. Marriage makes that a wonderful thing; not a risky, confusing, or potentially regrettable one. Marital sex never becomes a wedge that drives you apart, or breaks your heart. It makes your relationship stronger, not weirder, and brings you closer.

Above all, we define marriage as a sacred and sacramental union, and marital sex is the closest we can get to physically understanding what that means.

 

You deserve to be loved and respected in the most meaningful way, because you are worthy of that recognition and dedication. When people say, “If they love you, they’ll wait,” it’s true. They mean it. Because sex isn’t just for fun, it’s not everything, and it won’t get you the respect or attention you deserve on its own.

It is a gift of self that can’t be taken back, and it will be the most precious gift you can give to your future spouse—your soulmate. You are a unique gift all your own, and the recipient of another. Stay true to that. Don’t give yourself up.

Wedding Rings II

Thank you, Supreme Court.

In one of the year’s most-watched cases, the Supreme Court ruled this week that for-profit companies can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate on the grounds of religious beliefs.

Believe me when I tell you I did a little dance for joy at work when I read that headline. I think my heart actually skipped a beat.

I—like many of my like-minded peers—have been waiting on baited breath for that ruling for months. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in artificial birth control for a multitude of reasons. Building on those beliefs (and scientific facts), I believe this week’s decision could mean lives saved—young as they may be—and certainly means consciences cleared.

But beyond what I’ve already said about my thoughts on birth control, I truly believe this ruling is a victory for religious freedom in this country. For months, it has baffled me how people in this debate have argued, in essence, over the autonomy of a corporation—offering no thought at all for the people who run those corporations.

Of course companies don’t hold religious beliefs of their own. For me, that was never the argument. The fact is that the people who build, maintain, own, and fund those companies do. For business owners who hold steadfast to their beliefs, there can be no separation of “professional” and “spiritual” behavior. Both of those realms are a part of their identity, and must be kept in harmony with one another.

So, here’s my question: who are we to force faithful business owners, on the heels of the incredibly hard work they’ve poured into building their companies, to ignore their souls once they’ve made it? Is the cold, detached “spirit” of a corporation worth more than the religious freedom of a real person? The answer should be a resounding no—and I’m extremely grateful the Supreme Court agreed. Frankly, I’m not sure how a culture with increasing discomfort regarding an unquestioning adherence to capitalism can even suggest otherwise.

It’s important to note that the ruling specified that it should affect only the birth control mandate of the healthcare law. The judges did not intend to suggest or support any idea that such objections could be justified for things like blood transfusions and vaccinations. Plenty of uninformed and/or misguided critics call that discriminatory against other faiths that object to various medical treatments and procedures. But the difference here should be obvious: whereas a blood transfusion or a vaccination are intended—and often medically necessary—to save lives, birth control is not. As a contraceptive, it is not essential for women’s health, but rather an optional method for preventing pregnancy. There are innumerable other ways to do that.

Of course all of us have the right to choose if and when we will have children. But we don’t have the right to demand that our employers pay for prescription-based methods when there are other, drug-free options that require just a little more discipline and self-control.

Do you think my insurance company paid for my training and materials for NFP? They sure didn’t—despite the fact that NFP delays pregnancy with similar efficacy without risking the complications that may accompany the artificial hormones in those little pills, patches, shots, and IUDs.

Business owners are people, too. The profits of those businesses rightfully belong to those owners, and no one—from evangelical entrepreneurs to Catholic moms and pops—should be forced to fund behaviors that go against their deeply held religious beliefs.

This country has always been founded on the assumption that freedom comes first. Why wouldn’t we keep it that way?

 

Supreme Court

Altering my body isn’t essential for my health, and here’s why.

Essential: absolutely necessary or extremely important.

When you hear the phrase “essential for your health,” what comes to mind? Water? Exercise? Decent nutrition? Regular check-ups?

What about “Essential for men’s health?” Probably most of the same things, with some adjusted cancer screenings and precautions tailored to their risks. The same would go for women’s health, right?

“The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control. … We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health.”

That’s a statement from the White House regarding the contraceptive requirement of the Affordable Care Act (emphases are mine).

Let’s step back and explore it for a minute.

As I mentioned in a previous post, hormonal birth control works by suppressing the female body’s natural cycles. It works to prevent ovulation, alter cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus, and change the way the cilia in a woman’s fallopian tubes move. It changes the way her body works by adding artificial hormones.

I’m not a doctor, but I can’t think of a single reason anyone in perfect health would find added hormones essential to their health. Is ovulation an illness? Is your reproductive cycle, which occurs on its own, naturally, without intervention, something to be cured, reversed, or stifled for the sake of “wellness”?

Does interfering with a natural bodily function equate to regular cancer screenings when it comes to monitoring my health?

There’s a growing movement to shed light on the use of artificial hormones on livestock raised for food production because a growing number of studies may indicate increased risk of health problems resulting from those hormones. But in the same moment a young woman might opt for organic beef, she’ll pop her birth control pill with a glass of hormone-free milk. What sense does that make? To me, it doesn’t make any sense at all. But she’s been taught to think it’s not just safe, but essential for her health.

Preventive care: measures taken to prevent disease or injury, rather than cure them or address their symptoms.

Hormonal birth control doesn’t cure disease—it disrupts a natural cycle and, in fact, can mask underlying problems. Though the medical community hasn’t come to a consensus on all of the below side effects, some studies show it also puts women at increased risk for a host of medical problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Blood clots
  • Certain types of cancer (including breast cancer)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (the number one cause of maternal death)
  • Uterine perforation (with an IUD)
  • Infertility
  • Aches and pains
  • Painful intercourse
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Diabetes (among women with increased risk)
  • Stroke
  • Cervical cancer (among women with HPV—which is, sadly, about one-third of women in their twenties)
  • Weight gain
  • Emotional problems (including depression) 

(Much of this information I learned in several places, but these two are particularly helpful: this blog post includes extensive citations and references, as well as further details; and this website, while geared toward a specific message, is also very thorough and insightful. Check them out to learn more.)

And, even if some of those risks are small and/or inconsistently displayed among women, is it worth potentially compromising our health at all when natural, risk-free alternatives exist? People make the same arguments against eating organic, unmodified foods — but a lot of us choose to err on the side of caution there, don’t we?

Additionally, artificial hormones suppress a woman’s natural hormone production and, therefore, overrule her natural cycle. That means any undiagnosed medical problems—such as endometriosis or anovulation—can go unnoticed and unaddressed until they’ve had a serious effect. She may not even realize these problems exist until she’s actively trying to get pregnant and can’t, or discontinues the birth control and finally notices symptoms.

Often, women take hormonal birth control to “restore hormonal balance” and treat unpleasant physical symptoms, like irregular cycles, PMS, or even acne. But taking birth control only masks the symptoms—it doesn’t get to the heart of them. Especially in girls and young women, cycles tend to be inconsistent for a while as the body matures and adjusts to adulthood. It’s a fact of life, and altering it artificially doesn’t change that. When she comes off the pill (or other method)—often years later—her body may still have a tough time normalizing itself after years of inhibited functioning.

There are natural ways to balance hormones. Something as simple as a diet change, vitamin supplements, and exercise can make a big difference. Of course, all of this should be discussed with a doctor. But the point is that there are other options, whether we hear about them in everyday conversation or not — so you don’t need to take hormonal birth control. There are also non-hormonal ways to treat things like acne and cramps.

So how are suppressing a natural function, potentially masking health issues, and increasing risk for other health problems essential for my health? How is that preventive care?

Women should be well-informed about how to meet their unique health needs safely and effectively, instead of being immediately given a script for birth control pills just because it’s the common or easy thing to do. What do we have to gain, as women, by denying our natural state and altering the way our bodies are made to function? I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again: what message does that way of thinking send to our sisters, our daughters, and ourselves?

No Flaw

Does NFP work? (Or, how am I not pregnant?)

In my first post about natural family planning (NFP), I mentioned that almost everyone asks “Does it really work?” when I tell people that my husband and I practice it. Given that it’s been almost a year and a half since the wedding and I’m definitely not pregnant, it seems like a funny question. It sort of answers itself, doesn’t it? But regardless, it’s a valid question, so I’d like to address it.

To level-set, I’m no expert on this. I’m a user of the method and I’m an advocate for it, but I haven’t been trained to teach it to others and I can’t speak beyond the statistics and my own experience. I will say that, for our first year, we worked closely with a professional, certified practitioner to learn the method thoroughly and ensure we were doing it right.

I’d also like to point out that this post briefly mentions some signs of female fertility, so if you’re not interested in reading about that, you might want to stop now. Just a friendly heads up.

However, if you’re interested in learning more or trying NFP for yourself, I’d be more than happy to give you our teacher’s contact information. You can also check out this website to find a list of practitioners in your area, if you’re not around Chicago.

Alright, now, let’s get to the meaty stuff.

There are a number of methods that fall under the NFP umbrella. All of them track a woman’s hormonal cues to identify fertile and infertile days. Those cues include basal body temperature, cervical mucus, cervical position, and other physical readings.

Erik and I use the Creighton model. We chose it for a few reasons:

  • It doesn’t call for a basal body temperature (BBT) reading. BBT must be taken every day if it’s used to track fertility. It’s usually taken in the morning and requires a very consistent sleeping schedule, which I don’t have—so a BBT-dependent method wasn’t really going to work for us.
  • I’d been minimally exposed to it before. A friend in college experienced some feminine health issues, and her doctor helped her use this method to help track her physical cues, identify problems, and improve her treatment. Sounded like a great thing to me.
  • It’s incredibly easy. You just need to track one cue throughout the day, each time you go to the bathroom. Once you get the hang of it, it adds maybe five minutes—in total—from morning to night. No trouble at all.
  • It encourages involvement of both husband and wife, so both can understand their fertility and grow closer as a couple. It also encourages positive interactions—spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional—at every stage. It’s a great resource for working to keep your bond strong in unique ways every single day.
  •  It works. It’s been thoroughly studied and tracked, and it’s proven effective.

One of the great things about NFP is that it’s incredibly inexpensive. After your first year—when training is a good idea, since any kind of family planning only works if you do it right (including hormonal birth control)—all you require is the supplies. In our case, those consist of a paper chart and some stickers. Super easy.

NFP tracks your fertility by helping you understand what cues to look for. Your body knows when it’ll be ready to conceive during each cycle and prepares itself accordingly. For most women, the changes are noticeable and very easy to monitor.

When used perfectly (not a difficult feat, as I mentioned above), studies have shown that NFP is as effective as hormonal birth control, making it even more effective than physical contraceptives. But you don’t need to add artificial hormones to your body, you don’t need to suppress your natural cycles, and you don’t need a barrier between you and your husband.

NFP is not the rhythm method. Just as every other human science has advanced in the last few decades, natural family planning has, too. This isn’t about guessing when you’ll ovulate by counting days and averaging cycles among all women. It’s about following your individual fertility and wellness—as unique to you as your thumbprint. That’s why it’s so effective.

In addition to its efficacy at delaying pregnancy, NFP can also be used to help you conceive. Those same hormonal cues tell you when you’re at your peak during each cycle—so, when you and your husband are ready, you know the best time to try. That’s key to successful conception, because your egg can only be fertilized during a narrow 12-24 hour window of each cycle. That’s it. Knowing where that window is can help greatly increase your chances of conceiving early on.

So, does it work? The answer is yes. It works incredibly well for your family, your fertility, and your health. And it’s worth a try.

Creighton Photo

Why I don’t use hormonal birth control.

When I tell people I don’t believe in using artificial birth control, they often think I’m one of three things: a hippie, a nut, or an overly religious, old-fashioned conservative.

I can tell you I’m a religious, old-fashioned, and fairly conservative young woman. But I’m not crazy and I’m not into conspiracy theories.

My husband and I chose to save the ultimate union for our wedding night, largely because it’s what we believed was morally, physically, and spiritually right. But we were also scared. Scared of getting caught, scared of getting pregnant, scared of regretting it later. No matter the reason, it was the best decision we could’ve made.

For that reason, I didn’t need to think about birth control until a few years ago. I had irregular cycles and acne as a teenager, but I never wanted to ask for birth control pills to address those things. I didn’t want to give my family the wrong idea, and I didn’t, frankly, want to tempt myself.

As Erik and I matured and began planning our marriage, we did a little more digging into church teachings about family planning. We knew the church taught against artificial birth control, but we didn’t know why. Was it just outdated, like everyone said? Was there an alternative that wasn’t just plain risky? Were we prepared to have a busload of kids?

So we looked into it. When we read that the pill—which seemed like the easiest option—could serve as an abortifacient form of birth control, we decided to do even more research.

I’ll get into why we don’t use physical methods of birth control in another post. First, I want to talk about the pill. I don’t think women know enough about it, simply because we’re never taught enough about the way it works. So I hope this is helpful.

In sex ed, everyone tells you the pill works by tricking your body into thinking it’s already pregnant. In fact, people still tell me that if I ask them how it works today. The thing is, it’s not really that simple. It adds hormones to your body in a similar way that a pregnancy would, sure. But that’s not all it does.

Hormonal birth control—i.e., the pill, as well as most patches, IUDs, injections, and other chemical forms—works in four ways:

  • Suppressing ovulation to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg during each cycle
  • Altering your cervical mucus so it’s more difficult for sperm to navigate
  • Disrupting the way the cilia in your fallopian tubes move to reduce the chances of a fertilized egg reaching the uterus for implantation
  • Inhibiting the growth of your uterine lining (the endometrium) so any fertilized egg could not attach properly
  • In some cases, the “mini-Pill” (a progesterin-only option) may not prevent ovulation or conception (those first two tactics) at all.

Two of those effects are designed to prevent conception. But the last two prevent implantation—meaning your body hasn’t been tricked, knows you’re not pregnant, and has ovulated as it naturally would. Your cervical mucus wasn’t thick enough to keep sperm from traveling through you. So an egg is fertilized, and pregnancy has begun.

The pill doesn’t give up, though. The third effect prevents the body from moving your fertilized egg to the uterus, where implantation would take place and the embryo would receive the nutrients necessary for development. The fourth effect changes the environment of your uterus and prevents that viable zygote from taking its place in your womb and growing. That zygote—though very tiny—has its own DNA. It is individual of the woman’s body, in that her DNA and her partner’s—two human parents—have joined to create a third entity. Science has proven that conception is the moment a new individual (and, therefore, a pregnancy) begins—not implantation. The DNA is human. Given the simple resources a pregnant mother provides (a warm, safe place, nutrition, and oxygen), that individual will grow into an infant who, in just a few months, can be held and tickled and nursed in its mother’s arms.

Occurring about a week later, implantation is simply the end of the embryo’s journey down the fallopian tubes. It settles into the uterus by attaching to the endometrium, which provides the nutrients it needs to grow and develop. That little individual—with new DNA and a separate makeup from its mother—has already existed for several days. When the lining of the uterus has been altered by the pill, the implantation factors of the lining—key chemicals, as well as special molecules known as integrins—are damaged and unable to perform their job. So imagine that zygote is a plane led by a pilot, and the uterine lining is the airport. If the crew at the airport can’t communicate with the pilot flying the plane, the plane can’t find a safe place to land. And if the plane can’t land, the pilot won’t survive long.

The “morning after pill” works this way, too. It’s just a high dose of the hormones that will alter the endometrium, with the hope that the uterine lining will be compromised before the embryo reaches it. The plain old pill just does it a little slower.

So, anything that works to prevent conception can be called contraceptive. But anything that fails to prevent contraception can’t share the same term. Conception has already happened. At that point, your pill becomes abortifacient. That is the scientific word for anything that stops a pregnancy after conception has already occurred.

That said, even if the birth control industry came out with a pill that didn’t have an abortifacient effect, I still wouldn’t take it. Aside from the health risks (which I’ll also address in another post), I don’t think it empowers women. In fact, it literally—by which I mean physiologically—suppresses the women who take it.

What message are we sending our future daughters when we say that taking the pill—effectively turning off a natural function of our bodies, and altering the way our biology works—is the only way to gain control over our love lives, our families, and our sex lives? That’s the opposite of support. It conceals a woman’s natural, complex biology so she can become an object of pleasure. It’s repression. And I don’t buy it.

Our bodies do amazing things each month. That’s part of our feminine identity—it’s the magic only we can make happen. And it’s not just about the fact that we can carry children. Sadly, some of us can’t. In every case, understanding the way our natural cycles affect our day-to-day wellbeing gives us greater insight into our health and physical selves. It’s about knowing yourself, truly. It’s about taking ownership of the complex, profound woman you were literally made to be. It shouldn’t be about stamping out your nature because you were never taught how to handle it on your own, or that it was worth protecting. We’re capable of so much more than that. All of us.

Respected and Beloved

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family