Catholicism

Why Catholic Teachings on Sex and Marriage are Basically Perfect.

I want to provide a better definition of the Catholic marriage, and how it relates to human sexuality. There are many more (and better, and more reliable) definitions in the catechism, papal encyclicals, and innumerable other resources composed by the Church herself—so I’d encourage you to check those out. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned.

The first thing to note is that the Catholic ceremony of marriage is a sacrament. It is on par with the most meaningful experiences a person can undergo as a Catholic, including Reconciliation (the reception of complete forgiveness conditional only on our ability to say I’m sorry and mean it); Baptism (a cleansing of all past sins, and one’s introduction to the Faith); Confirmation (a full and official welcoming into the community, including a special blessing of the Holy Spirit); Holy Orders (the initiation of a lifelong commitment to religious life); Anointing of the Sick (the special blessing for profound illness, and often a person’s last interaction with the Church on earth before passing into eternity); and, most wonderful of all, the Eucharist, which is the single most profound, humble way we can bring Christ into ourselves, body and soul.

Marriage is a sacrament among those holiest of religious experiences. It is so immense a blessing that it stands alongside God’s most meaningful, impactful gifts to His people.

That is why the Church’s teachings on marriage are both rigid and essential. As children of God, we are blessed with a select and precious few moments in life in which we can assuredly know that God is present in our experience, fully endorsing of it, and entirely giving of His grace. It is neither our place nor our capability to change the way those moments are encountered. Who are we to place God—and, to a greater point, His approval—at our beck and call?

According to the Church, marriage is given such profound standing in our day-to-day life for a few reasons. Chief among them is that God Himself instituted it. When He created man and woman to be entirely complementary to one another physically as well as spiritually, He created humanity to feature different but unopposing partners who could, together, “be fruitful and multiply” as participants in the creation of life itself. Coming from an omniscient Creator who, at that moment, must have been fully aware of our eventual fall and betrayal of His unconditional love, that is a surreal gift. It emphasizes that love for us, as well as His desire to make us free-willed, intelligent sons and daughters for our own sake, to heighten the genuineness of our love for Him and for each other.

In those first acts of creation, God establishes the nature of the family: that man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, as she will to him. To quote Saint John Paul II, this tells us that “man and woman were created for unity…that precisely this unity, through which they become ‘one flesh,’ has right from the beginning a character of choice.” The act of choosing to commit oneself to a unique, lifelong partner in everyday living, love, and procreation creates a bond unmatched by any other interpersonal relationship we experience. Even blood relatives are given to us—they are not chosen. We are born to our parents, our siblings are born beside us, and our children are born to us. Those relationships are also deeply emotional and profound, to be sure, but by actively choosing the person with whom we will spend the majority of our lives elevates the marital bond all the more.

Naturally, the intangible, ethereal truth—and greater spiritual significance—of the marriage bond is difficult for our limited human awareness to fully comprehend. In addition to its role as a procreative act, sexuality in marriage is the tangible, experiential near-equivalent to that truth. By giving us this opportunity to make a complete and loving gift of our self to our spouse—and, in turn, receive that gift in response—God has provided us some small insight into the intensity of the emotional connections inherent to true marriage.

Even more affecting than that insight, though, is our ability to take part in the creation of new life. Sex makes us participants in the creation of a new human being—it is the miracle of life and, for many of us, the most meaningful experience in an entire lifetime. To take that love which joins us, permanently, in marriage and see a child born of its expression is an incredibly special blessing. It is true that—biologically—not every sexual act will produce a child, and, of course, that’s okay. So long as husband and wife treat it as a healthy expression of love and are open to its life-giving nature, marital sex is inherently good. The Church teaches us that, at its core, marriage—and, consequentially, sex between a husband and wife—is at the heart of family. So, whether it results in the conception of a child or simply binds a husband and wife more closely to each other, sex helps perpetuate love.

Knowing that, I hope it is clear why the Church refuses to allow her members to treat sex as a vehicle for something as basic as a few minutes of physical pleasure. Sex was not meant to be treated as simplistically as a satiation of some physical hunger.

To be blunt, if you can eat a piece of cheesecake or a big steak and groan “This is better than sex” and almost—even a little bit—mean it, you’re doing it wrong.

Sex had for simple pleasure is inherently selfish and objectifying for both people. When purely based on lust, sex is abused as a way of taking another person’s body for the sake of one’s own physical satisfaction. It treats the other as an object of temporary excitement and pleasure, and allows each participant to view the other as a means to an end instead of as a human being. People are not toys to be played with and then cast aside. We are meant to be true partners—in the purest sense of the word—who live and work together in a permanent trek toward a good and honest life.

Basically, when you think of sex as the ultimate expression of love; the unequivocal bonding of a husband and wife who will truly, deeply need one another for the rest of their lives; the act of participating in the creation of new life, which forms everything where there was once nothing; and a completely unique and purposeful gift from God—it’s easy to see why twisting it into a means to the satisfaction of hunger, like a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza, is completely unjustifiable.

So what about pre-marital sex between people who love each other?

As I mentioned above, the Church values the marriage bond as one of the seven most sacred experiences available to Catholics. Marriage is a vocation—a calling to fulfill one’s mission in life—and is beyond our generalized ideas of commitment in today’s culture. True marriage doesn’t mean, “Let’s live together until I get tired of you,” or “I mean ‘til death do us part’ now, but I might fall out of love with you later.” It doesn’t accept “Hey, what can you do? We gave it all we’ve got,” or even “There are some things I can’t forgive you for.” It means two people are one flesh that is impossible to separate because God Himself has joined them together. It means two partners who will live and create life and be a family together, because that’s how humanity maintains its growth and penchant for love. It is like a chemical reaction as opposed to a physical change in matter—it cannot be reversed, undone, or taken back.

A man and a woman who share that kind of bond deserve to give and receive each other completely. We cannot take back the pieces of ourselves we give away during sex. So, by having sex with someone before making the permanent commitment and bonding only true marriage—formed through the sacrament—can impart, we rob ourselves of the ability to make that full gift of self, and we rob our spouses of their right to have all of us as a completion of the marital unit.

The Church takes marriage that seriously. It is the end-all of I and me, and the be-all of us and we.
Because it is unconditional and, above all, because it is designed, witnessed, and blessed by God, there is no other relationship like it—and, therefore, there should be no other experience like sex with the person you’ll love forever, without a shadow of a doubt.

Wedding Rings

How and why Catholics are devoted to the saints.

Catholicism is unique for a myriad of reasons, but one of my favorites is our devotion to the saints.

I know that’s sometimes a misunderstood quality of my faith, and that breaks my heart. The most common misconceptions, in addition to being inaccurate, truly miss the point at the heart of this devotion.

Saintly devotion, for Catholics, is not equivalent to the worship of the Trinity (or any of its persons). Let’s make that clear right off the bat. Catholics define three types of worship. The highest form is latria, and is reserved for God and God alone. Latria is adoration, which can only be given to God—given to anyone else, it is idolatry and, therefore, a grave sin.

The Church describes adoration in a few ways, but here are some of my favorite for this context:

  • “Adoration is the acknowledgement of God as God, creator and savior, the Lord and master of everything that exists as infinite and merciful love.” CCC 2096
  • “Adoration is homage of the spirit to the King of glory, respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God.” CCC 2628
  • “True adoration involves a docile heart, an assent to God’s sovereignty over our lives, a constant posture of humility before Him, and gifts of love offered in homage.” CCC 2111
  • Adoration is “the highest reverence to be offered only to God, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, who alone should be worshiped and glorified.” Concise Dictionary of Theology

This worship can be given, inherently, only to God. It is one of the four ends of prayer (comprised also of atonement, supplication, and thanksgiving), and captures our respect, love, and subjection for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The two other forms of worship—hyperdulia and dulia—are directed toward Mary and the rest of the saints, respectively.  Both are defined by reverence, as opposed to the adoration involved in latria. Catholics are not called to pay homage to the saints, nor are we praying for them to perform any kind of miracle on their own.

Here’s the thing about saints: we ask them for their intercession, not their intervention. The saints intercede for us by praying for us to God. They are credited with miracles not because of their own power or ability, but because God responded to their devotion by sharing His gifts with and through them. In fact, many saints objected to being credited with miracles because they insisted their actions were performed by God’s hands alone.

Though it sounds complicated, sainthood comes down to a simple principle: it means we’re confident—based on their actions and devotion to a life lived for God—a person is truly in heaven. That’s why people aren’t made saints until after they die; it’s why it takes a long time for the Church to canonize anyone, since some investigation is required to make this statement confidently; and it’s why we have All Saints Day, which recognizes and shares love with the saints whose names we don’t know.

The short of it is that everyone in Heaven is a saint and, because they’re in Heaven, they’re closer to God than we can ever be whilst here on earth. Since we know they are close to God, we ask for their intercession because we know their prayers on our behalf will be heard. We all have a penchant for making mistakes and breaking promises, so we can use all the help we can get. Prayers of intercession from souls who may literally be sharing a table with God at this very moment certainly couldn’t hurt our hopes of staying on the righteous paths we are made to walk.

In their incredibly helpful roles as prayerful supporters, the saints aid our efforts to seek forgiveness, of course, but also to be stronger, to improve ourselves as people, and to be closer to God. They do this by praying for and with us, as well as by serving as examples of holy living here on earth. What I mean is that saints are brothers and sisters whom we can look up to, both literally and figuratively. There is no better role model than a person who’s won the true battle and made it to the ultimate realm of happiness, love, and spiritual “success.”

While we’re admiring the saints, we’re also invited to identify with them. They struggled and misstepped and tripped just as we do; they know our suffering. Fortunately for us, they—and their real compassion and wisdom—are always there to help.

Battling Shame to Promote a Culture of Love and Life

I have never been a feminist. I believe in equality, not superiority. Of course, I’m well aware that most feminists out there feel the same way I do: that men and women should be treated equally, paid equally, and given the same opportunities. But I don’t consider that to be “feminism” so much as general human rights, if I’m being honest.

That said, there are two prevalent issues that never fail to spark some kind of feministy flame in my belly: the culture of shame, and abortion. I believe with my whole heart that those are the injustices that are really waging the so-called “war on women.”

To see what I mean, stop and consider what’s happening to virtually every girl and woman experiencing day-to-day pop culture and media right now.

Slut shaming. Virgin shaming. Skinny shaming. Fat shaming. Pretty shaming. Ugly shaming. Online shaming. In-person shaming. Smart shaming. Stupid shaming.

And do you know who’s often perpetuating that shame?

Women.

We mock each other for eating, speaking, praying, exercising, socializing, dating, having sex, studying, and partying too much or too little. We judge one another mercilessly and aren’t afraid to share those judgments with others. We gossip. We bully. We pick fights and wage battles over boys we barely know.

That’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to see, but the thing to remember is that this lack of mercy does not define us. Inside every one of us is a beautiful, powerful heart made of love, not stone. So why don’t we let it shine? Why do we lock it up?

It’s because we constantly engage in something almost as bad as shaming each other: we shame ourselves.

It’s a vicious cycle, really. We compare ourselves to airbrushed fantasies, think of ourselves as sexual objects, and consider ourselves lucky when we capture the frisky attention of a male counterpart. In our weakness, we point out the faults in our peers to make our “positive” attributes stand out. We adhere to pop culture’s definitions of beauty and femininity and know that we don’t always fit them (because we can’t), but neither do our peers (because they can’t), and so we place the attention on them to avoid letting it fall on ourselves. And they do it right back. So on and on the cycle goes.

Without question, much of that shaming comes from standards that were set by men seeking the impossibly “perfect” woman. But it is neither empowering nor honest to say that they are solely responsible for that; we set the same—sometimes worse—standards of “perfection” and continue to demean ourselves into thinking they’re reality.

In the same way, even if we look in a mirror and make the sincere decision to love our bodies’ appearance, popping a pill so we can enjoy a man’s body—and be enjoyed by it—is not empowering, either. It’s debasing and objectifying. It’s telling us that, by taking a magic pill to suppress the bodies we claim to love, we can use our sexuality to physically enjoy ourselves “trouble-free,” and be the experience that man wants for his Saturday night.

Taking that a few steps further, it’s not empowering to be able to abort a pregnancy created by that Saturday night—it’s the opposite. As mothers, we bear the burden of telling that man about an unwanted pregnancy. That sharing role should be a blessing, not a curse; we should be able to joyfully tell the men we’ll always love, and who’ll always love us, that our children are on the way. But an unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock robs us of that; instead, we must face a near-stranger with life-changing news or, worse, must face a man we thought we loved as he reacts with disdain. We are blamed for not taking a pill on time or reminding him to use a condom. And we are told, “Go to a clinic and get this taken care of.” That is an unjust shame.

Even if that man offers to be “supportive,” we must take the pills that make us cramp and bleed for hours, or lie down and open up for a doctor who will violate our most private space with steel instruments and tubes that literally cut and suck the life out of us.

There is nothing empowering about abortion. For some women, it is forced upon them by a “partner” who refuses to support a pregnancy. Others feel forced by economic circumstances, uncaring families, or their own doctors. Regardless of the reason, women often feel isolated and panicked—neither of which will help them make a decision they’re truly, lastingly comfortable with.

Sometimes it’s selfishness, yes—and that’s a reason for another blog post. But more often than we’d like to think, women get abortions because they feel they have no choice at all.

If you’re concerned about equality in the workplace but don’t see inequality in a woman saying “I can’t stay pregnant because of my career,” you’re missing something important. To be sure, being a parent will infringe on the amount of time you can commit to your career. But pregnancy doesn’t require parenthood—adoption is always a compassionate and merciful option—so that’s not really the argument here. The point is that, if employers aren’t offering sufficient prenatal care and accommodations to their female employees, we have a problem.

And speaking of adoption, there’s some kind of stigma around that, too, isn’t there? Adoption is an honorable, selfless thing. Abortion is violent and degrading. Though certainly not as severe a stigma as it once was, no woman should be embarrassed to say she’s given up a baby for adoption. Is it painful? Of course. But she accepted the consequences of her actions, took care of her baby while she could, and chose to give him or her the best life possible—not to mention giving two people desperate to be parents a family of their own. It’s hard to find a greater gift than that, and there should be no shame in such generosity of heart. How anyone could ever argue that a child will be worse off with a happy, loving family than they would be never being born at all is beyond me.

As women, we have so many unique gifts to give and share with the people we love. Instead of focusing on how we can or should look or what we should and shouldn’t do, we are capable of using those gifts to make this world a better place. Shame, violence, and stigma aren’t going to help us do that.

Love must come first. Not shame, pain, convenience, or ignorance. Only love.

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

Handling the adjustments to newlywed life together.

There is a lot to love about being married. So many more things, I believe, than any husband or wife could even fully recognize—let alone count. It’s just a lovely way to live your life.

But marriage isn’t about easy or simple or hassle-free. It’s about commitment, partnership, and permanence. None of those are easy things to offer, and when it’s unfamiliar, it can be tough to wrangle a new way of life.

Erik and I were the first in our close circles of friends to marry, and among the firsts in our immediate families—so there have been a lot of adjustments requiring inexpert maneuvering and limited advice from peers. Based on that experience, the list below is a slightly unconventional look at the hard parts of being a newlywed.

If you’re a fiancée, fiancé, or newlywed, I hope you consider giving this a read. And if you love a newlywed (or a pair of them), it might give you some insight into the not-so-warm-or-fuzzy stuff, too.

  • Traditions.

Every holiday you’ve ever experienced has had a familiar cadence. But a new marriage means new traditions. And, unfortunately, starting new ones means breaking old ones.

That means Thanksgiving, Easter, and every event in between is going to be different. Own that. Longstanding traditions from two distinct histories are just hard to navigate. For some, that means one side of the family will opt for something new, and you can’t adhere because of conflicts with the other side. For others, it means you’ll have to be brave, offer to host, and start some traditions of your own. For everyone, it means respecting your in-laws’ and your spouse’s feelings, balancing that with your own family, and being true to yourself, too.

Amidst the madness, remember that your collective family is different post-wedding. Two have become one. Do everyone justice by being as accommodating as possible, but also by acknowledging the necessary change in your new beginning.

  • Distance.

This one’s a doozy. Sure, getting married means moving out and, possibly, moving away. But it’s almost worse to feel the emotional distance that a new life inevitably creates.

You cannot see your friends, your siblings, or your parents as much as you once did—no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise. Your spouse is your sole partner and, naturally, they deserve the majority of your time. That’s the way it should be.

Nevertheless, it’s never right to break away from the family that’s raised you and known you from birth. Work hard to help your relationships grow and evolve, and prevent them from suffering. Involve your spouse when you can. Give your friends and family the love they deserve. It takes practice, but find new ways to stay in touch—and never hesitate to reach out. It’s different, but it doesn’t have to be bad. Remember that, and commit to it.

  • Finances.

I am a firm believer in fully sharing finances with your spouse. It’s practical, it’s an act of trust, and it’s another way to commit yourself to your marriage. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful.

Money is among the most frequent drivers of divorce. But if you ask me, it’s rarely about the money. It’s about learning to share, be selfless, and stay sensible.

Do yourself a favor and tackle this from the beginning. Practice full disclosure. Agree to a large purchase threshold (at what dollar amount should any purchase be discussed before it’s made?) and stick to it. At the heart of it all, recognize that when you spend money as a married woman or man, you’re not just spending your own—you’re spending your spouse’s.

  • Pride.

Arrogance, stubbornness, and self-absorption—the three themes of pride—are a problem in any relationship. But, while a good marriage naturally propagates the positives of your partnership, the close proximity of wedded life simply makes it easier to see the negatives.

Everything in life is relevant to you as a couple. It’s not about you, them, who’s better, or who’s right. You spend your time together, endure every discomfort, and share everything. It is essential for you to let go of shame, because shame makes us closed off, pig-headed, and selfish—making pride a defense mechanism for it. Your marriage is a safe space, so allow yourself and your spouse to let go and level with one another in all things.

Additionally, most arguments are worsened (if not caused) by pride. If you know your spouse deeply and you’re properly prepared for marriage, the disagreements themselves aren’t what break your heart—it’s the way you fight over them. Give your spouse the respect they deserve. Make an effort to think before you speak, give 100% (because marriage is 100/100, not 50/50), understand there is no winning, and forgive readily.

  • Compromise.

Everyone says compromise is key, but it’s easy to forget how hard compromise can be until you’re in the middle of a disagreement. Sure, you both get some of what you want. But no one gets everything they want. After a few decades of individual living, that can be hard to swallow.

Your routine, pastimes, home, diet, and household duties won’t be everything you want them to be. It goes without saying that you must accept that. But I’d suggest you start liking it that way, too.

Logistically, choose to live your life as if your spouse needs you to do everything you physically can for them. They should do the same. That’s marriage. There’s no “meet in the middle” or “come halfway”—husband and wife must each give their all. Accept that, and you’ll be happier with what you give and receive. And for the non-logistics? Try new things. Be selfless. When you do it your spouse’s way, learn something about them. Take an interest and have conversations you haven’t had before. If you and your spouse do this for each other, neither of you will lose. You’ll each maintain your own interests, share them with the other, and learn to love some new pastimes. It’s a great way to continuously grow as individuals and as a couple, and the openness to new things will help you avoid a rut.

My young marriage isn’t perfect, and Erik and I still struggle with all of that tough stuff. But I am striving to be a better wife, and he’s striving to be a better husband. And we have our whole lives to get there.

Marriage Commitment

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

Individual Roles, Mutual Subjection, and Equal Respect in Marriage

My husband and I are two exceptionally different people. I love chocolate; he likes vanilla. I could spend entire days reading; he gets bored after a few pages. He enjoys hunting (for food, not sport); I can barely carve raw meat without cringing. He finds peace in woodworking; I relax while I write.

Every relationship is like this in one way or another. Each of us is a one-of-a-kind blend of nature, nurture, opinions, and habits. For that reason, no two people are the same—and wedding rings don’t turn husband and wife into a single-minded, tunnel-visioned creature. Two become one, but that happens because they complete, support, and accept each other without question.

Given our differences, practically speaking, one component of a healthy marriage is settling into a mutually satisfying set of responsibilities, checks, and balances. In our case, that means Erik pays bills while I go grocery shopping; he shovels the driveway while I do the laundry; he cleans out clogged drains while I toss the expired stuff out of the fridge. We have a pretty traditional approach to household tasks, but not every marriage does. Some men love cooking, like cleaning, and know nothing about home repair. Some women love yardwork, enjoy changing their oil, and have no clue how to patch a pair of jeans. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any combination of shared tasks will do.

The point is finding a balance in which both husband and wife contribute to home and happiness. No one likes chores. But when spouses compromise based on what’s more agreeable for each, they can define their roles easily. Of course, we all trade tasks here and there, when the mood strikes. Again, the point is a shared balance—not formality or normality. You fulfill your responsibilities not because you like it, but because it must be done and you love your spouse enough to share the load. This applies to small stuff like cleaning and setting up dentist appointments, and to larger things like career paths and home defense. That’s family. That’s the partnership that a strong marriage requires.

So, given that well-rounded approach to sharing individual but mutually necessary marital responsibilities, what does the following passage tell us about the roles of husbands and wives?

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24

Let me begin by saying it does not tell us to be slaves. We are not the unthinking, helpless creatures that pop culture has misinterpreted and twisted this verse into implying. We are capable, beautiful women—wives, mothers, sisters, daughters—and we are strong, so don’t get that wrong.

I recently read a wonderful article that sums up what this passage means. You can read it here. I believe it’s clearly and beautifully voiced the truth behind these verses, so I’d like to share it with you. The following analysis largely mirrors and learns from that article.

Ephesians 5 tells us to accept our husband’s role in our marriage. The Greek word for ‘head’ in this reading is kephale. It doesn’t, literally or figuratively, mean ‘boss’ or ‘king.’ It literally means that thing that sits on your shoulders. Figuratively, the Greek word kephale means ‘source or beginning or completion,’ or ‘one who brings fullness.’ From that perspective, if a wife cannot accept her husband as the one who completes her or brings fullness to her life, she isn’t looking at marriage the right way.

The family unit is where the Church begins, so each family is called to be a mirror of the perfect love exemplified by Christ and the Church, his bridegroom. Husbands fill the role of “head” for a number of reasons. His job is to be a deliberate, logical, and emotive leader. He is a provider and a caregiver, and he takes responsibility for his family’s health, happiness, and safety.

You might still argue that that’s an outdated, hyper-traditionalist way to look at the role of the husband. But being a provider doesn’t mean his sole task is to bring home a paycheck while his wife keeps house. It means doing what he can to make his wife and his children comfortable and happy, and accepting his responsibility for their success. That role can take many forms, and Ephesians calls all wives to be humble and loving enough to accept that role for their husbands.

The rest of this letter’s passage on marriage adds more color to the role of the husband:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the water of the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his own body loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes it tenderly and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ Ephesians 5:25-31

The added emphases are mine; they’re meant to call out the depth of humility husbands are called to offer for their wives. The love Paul asks from them here is not erotic or domineering—it is profound, selfless, and sweet. Nowhere in this passage does Paul tell husbands to dominate their wives, give orders, or put themselves first. Instead, Paul is calling for men to offer themselves as servants to their wives: love her, cleanse her, make her holy. Put her first so that she may be without blemish; nourish and care for her tenderly so that you may live your fullest life.

Given the practices of Paul’s time, this message is a radically humbling one for men in the Church. He calls each husband not to be a property owner or a monarch, but a loving, kind, and humble husband whose life’s work is to meet the needs of and support his wife. I don’t see anything misogynistic in that.

Women are blessed with the sublime and completely unique gift of femininity. Naturally, her heart is uniquely open to nurturing love, and that’s true even if she struggles with fertility. In that way, a woman’s role is biologically and spiritually unique to her: she is ordained to be a sister to her family, a wife to her husband, a daughter of God, and a mother to all children. There is no greater blessing than the outpouring and influx of love in a mother’s heart.

Husbands, though biologically separate from the birth of children, are ordained as fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands. Their role, though different, is no less and no more important.

To call men and women the same is an insult to both their geniuses. They look, love, serve, and behave differently. They were created differently, so that each might have their own characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. They were made to balance one another, to complement each other’s unique needs, and to serve one another.

So masculine and feminine roles in marriage aren’t defined by 1950s standards of social acceptability. It’s not about who cooks, who works, who cleans, and who decides. It is about the two of them becoming one cohesive, loving body—one union to live and share life as beautifully and fully as they can. The day-to-day breakdown of responsibilities isn’t what’s important; the love, selflessness, and balance of their relationship are. And where those priorities are in place, mutual respect will inherently dwell.

Marriage is not 50/50 or 70/30—it is 100/100. It is an equal partnership in which both spouses give everything they’ve got. What they each have is unique to them—that’s why it works. And that’s why we love one another.