Catholics aren’t known for being knowledgeable about sex. The extreme stereotype says we’re ashamed of it, and our bodies. We have sex only because of marital duty and we shouldn’t enjoy it. The stereotype says that we acknowledge we need to do it, but almost as a necessary evil. Wow. I know aspects of this has existed in time past, but simply wow. St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents, Bls. Louis and Zelie
Martin, abstained for sex for the almost the first year of marriage, and the story goes that Zelie had to have a priest convince Louis that is was holy to have marital sex.
In reality, the Church proclaims that sex is great. Bl. John Paul II wrote and spoke of sex often; however, he didn’t invent anything new. He did present the timeless teaching of the Church in a new way that expressed sexuality as part of a greater context of our creation. Our sexuality is not something to be shunned or ashamed of, but rather, be embraced, understood, cultivated within its proper God-given context. That last part is what gets the Church the bad looks these days–proper context. We all know the teachings: sex is meant for within marriage, contraception are flawed as they inhibit the free gift of self between the married couple (and many simply prevent a conceived child from implanting). Within our culture, this is all seem as a negative. We get to have less sex with only one person while being on the line for what may result. There’s no upside.
The beauty of Bl. John Paul’s work is that he outlines why this couldn’t be further from the truth. When we shift our thinking about the incredible opportunity, joy and gift of sex to align with the incredible opportunity of matrimony, it’s mindblowing. It’s like the excitement when the lab when you realize that bacteria didn’t grow with penicillin or when the Post-It note was born. Through marriage, you both give everything to the other. Sex is not about getting something (or getting some, as the lingo goes), it’s about giving something–yourself completely unifying yourselves in a way that mimics the unity of God. The possible result isn’t a burden, but the fruit of God blessing you to be a co-creator of life.
Alright, so great. Yeah, Catholics think sex is awesome. Cool. Right on. But, we’re still out-dated when it comes to the medicinal or scientific aspects of sexuality. Or are we?
Most people think of Natural Family Planning (NFP) as the way Catholics avoid having kids. It’s really much, much more than that. Yes, some people use it to avoid pregnancy (and studies show that is more effective than the pill, reported in the secular press as well). Others use it to try to achieve pregnancy. Before getting married, I didn’t think there was much purpose to it beyond that. In learning more about it, many couples talk about how it improves their communication, enhances their sex life since they’re more engaged in it besides just the short time under the sheets and other side benefits like that. What really struck me was the health aspects of NFP.
My wife and I started charting (NFP lingo for tracking the various natural indicators in her body) near the time of our wedding. With all of the methods, you work with another person to help you learn the system and to understand the meaning of the indicators. In one of our first “follow-up” meetings, we are looking at the chart and the instructor surprised me. She points to a part of the chart that looks different from the most-typical-example from the guide and says “This is common, and most typically a sign of [some Greek/Latin sounding medical term I can’t recall]. You should consult with a doctor about this and may explain these symptoms.”
Wait, what? She could tell us symptoms my wife noticed, but never voiced, after looking at some stickers on a chart?
We were referred to Dr. Mikeal Love because of his medical approach. He wanted to see my wife’s NFP chart. Apparently, there are a lot of hormones active in a woman’s body and a great many of them fluctuate based on the monthly cycle. If a hormone is needed to be supplemented, many doctors will prescribe it to be taken all the time, but Dr. Love, based on the chart, could pinpoint the specific days in the month that a hormone should be presented. A pill a couple times of the month for a couple of months and presto, all normal and done. Even more incredible is that I have no idea if Dr. Love is Catholic. We’re almost positive he’s not. He’s just an advocate for women’s health done in a way that works with the woman’s body, not against it.
NFP enabled us to figure this out and reduce the amount of pills the doctor would ask her to take while being more effective with fewer side effects. Really? I mean really? Mind blown.
This aspect of NFP is why I was most excited to hear about Dr. Jeremy Kalamarides starting the Vitae Clinic here in Austin. In addition with working directly with women who wanted to take advantage of this lesser-known benefit of NFP, he educates constantly the Austin community about how NFP is good for so much more than the only stereotypical avoiding pregnancy.
This Sunday evening, the St. Mary’s Cathedral Young Adult Ministry is sponsoring a talk by Dr. Kalamarides on “The New Sexual Revolution: Reproductive Medicine in Light of Theology of the Body” — check out the Facebook Event. This is a presentation not to be missed. Men and women, married or not, you have to hear about this growing realm of medicine. Absolutely incredible.
Sex is good and that’s how God intended it. The more we embrace sex and the underlying context, the more we understand not only about spirituality and creation, but about how our bodies were designed to work.