Renovating the Perceived Definition of Sexual Fulfillment
Whether you call it “Pre-Cana,” “Marriage Prep,” or “Checkin’ a box,” the experience gets mixed reviews. Many of us who are married wish there was a “Part 2” version that extends into the first few years. You know- after you become aware of how specifically you suck at applying all you’ve learned…
Do you remember trying to be introspective about yourself and your future spouse, but wondering “how can I possibly know this yet?” There are plenty of important topics to discuss prior to marriage, but there is so much more learning to take place once we begin to put married love into practice daily. I think we can all agree that we will always be students of the Sacrament and each other.
Well, Chris and I get to take part in that “Part 2” extended course quite frequently.
Right before our 5th Wedding Anniversary, we hopped onto the Marriage Prep Mentor Training Express when friends of ours asked us to prepare them for marriage. It wasn’t something we had previously considered, but ultimately we agreed that this was one of the many unexpected ways God would make us fertile as a couple (#biologicallyinfertile). The program we chose to be trained in was the same one we used as an engaged couple. I am always embarrassed to admit that I barely remembered any of it.
About two years and three couples later, it has made a palpable difference in our marriage. In preparation for each night with our engaged couples (6-7 nights per couple), we thoroughly study several extremely useful tools for good communication and conflict resolution, effects of family of origin in our lives and relationships, marriage expectations, sex & theology of the body, moral decision making, and the graces of the Sacrament! I mean, seriously, all married couples should do this.
Marriage actually started to make sense once we got the user manual. I’m not sure if the individual nights are better for the engaged couple or us because we have actual marriage experience to draw from.
Now ask me what has been the most rewarding and fulfilling aspect of all these refresher courses. Drumroll please… “What is depth of sexual intimacy?” Alex.
We don’t talk about “Sex and Sexuality” until night 5! This blew my mind initially, but it makes sense to build a firm foundation before unpacking a topic of such importance. We dig into it only after the couple begins to understand:
1) The unique family of origin of themselves and their future spouse, and how combining these two differently-shaped experiences affects/will affect their own relationship (finances, sex, religion, conflict resolution, etc.)
2) Individual marriage expectations and how they compare to authentically living out the Sacrament: phases of romance, disillusionment, and true joy
3) Nearly every couple’s #1 relationship goal: good communication & conflict resolution (we break these up into 2 nights)
In order to fully experience sex in all of its amazing glory, we have to get into the mind of the one who created it. This means also getting into the mind and heart of our beloved. In “Night 5” we learn that God designed sex for two equally important purposes- to unite husband and wife and to be open to life. Now think about what it means to be fully united.
Siri defines unity as “the state of being…joined as a whole…forming a complete and pleasing whole…the number one…”
We can’t be whole if we leave out any part of ourselves- that includes emotions, fertility, interests, fears, etc. The more we share ourselves with our spouse, the more we make room for them within ourselves, and the more we understand them, the more we become one with them. The physical unity of sex is merely part of the picture and will only by merely satisfying without the other pieces of the one we love. Our experience of good sex often develops over time as our relationships deepen.
Sexual intimacy is only limited by our own willingness to dive into the whole person of our spouse.
Making this gift of ourselves complete also means that until we promise forever at the altar, the gift of ourselves is not irrevocable. And because we can’t make a total gift of ourselves if we withhold our fertility from our spouse, God designed each couple (generally speaking) with both days of fertility and infertility so that we can choose which days to use for sex, depending on our intentions, and with input from the big guy himself, of course.
Here is the dilemma! Sex is very good. Yet he asks many of us to “just say no” at certain times because of that whole “unity” thing. I don’t have to tell you how hard and frustrating it can be to choose to abstain. However, I don’t believe for a moment that God’s design for our bodies and plan for marriage was created to be burdensome.
Love does often require sacrifice, but there is a difference between a burden and the redemption of self-giving sacrifice. Let’s look more closely at God’s intelligent design that was intended to bring us freedom rather than weighing us down.
I often like to quote Spiderman’s grandfather as he said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” God consistently teaches us how to be responsible with our gift of sexuality and its connection to the gift of new life. A lot of us in Catholic culture tend to unintentionally view marriage as a finish line which, once reached, finally unhinges the gates which have been struggling to hold back sexual passion for years. But marriage is really more of another starting point which gives us both power and responsibility to keep the gift intact; to exercise our ability to choose sex rather than simply giving in to it.
With this permanent commitment, God rejoices in the two becoming one in passionate and exciting union -the total and irrevocable gift of self- but He loves us too much (and knows us too well) to allow us to be primarily focused on that sexual union and dilute the value of sexual self-control.
Tell me more about the intimacy, woman!
Despite what our culture constantly tells us, sex is not a need. It is very good, but it is not required to feel intimately satisfied by our spouse.
Emotional intimacy is discussed early on in marriage prep because it is such an important component of a fulfilling marriage. Lloyd and Jan Tate (creators of our marriage prep program and resident marriage all stars) explain that:
“The depth and openness of communication set the pulse of the marriage relationship.” and that “the sexual relationship is not a separate and distinct aspect of your marriage; it is an extension of your whole relationship and an expression of your unity and intimacy…intended to be a celebration of the emotional and spiritual intimacy the couple is experiencing in ALL aspects of their relationship.”
Therefore, if the sexual relationship of the couple is unfulfilling in any way, it is likely that the discrepancy is not coming from the bedroom, but stemming from the other areas of the home where good and thorough, soul-to-soul communication is falling short. In other words: the better the emotional and spiritual intimacy, the better the sex…and I would venture to say, the more fulfilling the waiting period.
And I imagine that is not how sex was described to you as a teenager.
Sexual contact is a celebration of the whole person – not just one’s genitals – and it includes emotional and spiritual intimacy and much more, the good and the bad experiences taking place in every room – not just the bedroom. See “Bubbles Over Butterflies” for a personal example of just how fulfilling sexual intimacy can be outside of the context of intercourse.
Communication and expressing feelings is far easier for some than others- but mostly just hard for everyone. We have to consider families of origin, deep wounds, traumas, different personalities, and many other contributing factors that make it difficult to understand our own emotions much less share these intimate details with our spouse. It is not something we always want to do, but it is vital to a fulfilling marriage.
It is vital to growth in unity. It is often easier to be distant or distracted, to focus on fun activities, and to have sex. But sex is so much more than simply a physical act. Married couples share their entire selves- emotions, fertility, and spirituality included – when having fun between the sheets.
Maybe there’s a method to His madness
So God has intentionally created us to avoid intercourse at certain times within our married life and for really good reason. It is during these times that He invites us to focus our attention on our spouse’s heart, mind, soul, etc.
Reconnect on other levels
Learn or remember each other’s love languages and fill your spouse’s love tank
Discover new things about each other
Express your gratitude and build up your spouse for who they are
Discuss that thing that’s difficult or painful that you’ve been meaning to talk about
Discover affirming touch versus arousal touch
Find a different way to please your spouse
Don’t expect it to be the same kind of enjoyment- it’s not supposed to be. But expect it to enrich that other kind of enjoyment. And we don’t have to stop reconnecting on these other levels when we are having sex. We can never stop growing in unity with our spouse.
What a gift it is that God gives us this occasional nudge so that we won’t forget the whole person of whom we have married! NFP doesn’t have to be a negative experience of focusing our attention on something we cannot do, but a positive expression of the ongoing commitment to love; a consistent investment into our beloved and our marriage!
Although I don’t fully understand the burden of this particular sacrifice of abstaining within marriage, I do understand sacrifice and suffering. There can be many blessings of infertility if we are open to them, but the ability to have intercourse at almost any time is not necessarily one of them. We, too, have to make a special effort to grow in unity, and our particular sacrifice has been vital for me personally to be able to do that.
The decision to love is often a very difficult one, but it brings us closer together and closer to Christ without fail. So live it up! Delight in each other in each and every way possible, love languages included, and don’t leave any of the rooms of the house left out (insert wink face here). Double entendre intended.
If you’re interested in continuing the conversation with some honest Catholic girl chat on the topic, listen to this episode from my podcast @MessyBuns by clicking this link: “Dating, Marriage, and Sexy Sex”