Friday, October 4, 2013

Foreplay and the Nursing Mother

WARNINGExplicit sexual content discussed below. Please do not read if you are concerned about the state of your soul, especially if you are not yet married.

Well, now that I'm back from the dead, lets discuss, shall we? This topic is less of a thou-shalt-not and more of a how-to. When I was pregnant with my first, my biggest sex-related question was more or less, to whom do my breasts belong once my child is born? I put this question to several friends who already had several children and they were all emphatic: NO breast play during the nursing time frame, PERIOD. Well, I didn't enjoy that response and Mr. Chastity was rather concerned as well. Here's what we've learned in practice: 

Breast play is entirely subjective, based on the comfort levels of the father and nursing mother. The main concerns are often breast tenderness or soreness (especially in the early days), leaking, and of course, what I call the ick-factor. The first two are practical problems and the last is a psychological one. The practical problems are easier to the nursing relationship continues, tenderness should subside so that touching the breasts is easier and more pleasurable. Some women may not leak at all, some only a bit at first, and others may be chronic leakers. This is easily solved with a towel, or perhaps enjoying intimacy while still wearing a lighter bra with nursing pads (some of them are rather sexy). Breastmilk does not taste bad and it's certainly non-toxic, so no one needs to be concerned if the husband takes a hit in the eye or (Heaven help us) mouth. 

In case you're wondering, this is the international 'breastfeeding friendly' icon. Also of note, to those readers in the USA, breastfeeding is legal in public is legal in all 50 states without restriction - by federal law. Anyplace your baby is legally allowed to be, they are allowed to eat there.

For some women, or men, they will simply not be able to be comfortable with the breasts as a simultaneous object of sexual attraction and food-source. They cannot combine the two. It has to be either/or. For these people, breast play will be excluded from their lovemaking while they are nursing. Unfortunately, this can often adversely affect either the nursing relationship or the sexual relationship - but it doesn't have to! For husbands struggling with their wife's discomfort, focus right now on how sexy it is to see her care for your children so completely with her very body. Reassure her that you love her, find her attractive, and enjoy your intimate life, no matter what. For wives struggling with their husband's disinterest, be open and communicate your comfort level, but don't push if he isn't interested. Your spouse may come around, or they may not, but you can still be close and intimate during this time. And nursing doesn't last forever! 

If you have more questions, feel free to leave them in the combox. Happy postpartum lovemaking!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Welcome Back and ARW about Coconut Oil

I do apologize for my prolonged absence here; technical difficulties have at last been surmounted and I am back.

A reader writes with some very practical questions:

I have a very practical question, if I may. I see you recommend coconut oil as a lubricant and I like the idea but I have a few concerns. First, refined or unrefined (or both?), or does it not matter? Second, being used to coconut oil in the kitchen, I know it is rock solid in winter and liquid in summer. Does this pose problems for storage and deft deployment at the appropriate moment? Third, I can't help fearing it will be a bit messy. I know the Catholic way of sex is inherently beautifully messy, but worry the oil might damage my fabrics. This worry could, I forsee, dampen the full enjoyment of marital pleasure. Any thoughts you might have on these issues would be very welcome.

Wonderful question! I love practicalities, they are far too neglected in this world.

First, I will say that I do not think refined or unrefined matters; the two brands I have used are the one sold at Trader Joe's (doesn't say whether it is refined) and the one sold at Costco (unrefined). I haven't noticed a difference. 

This is the Costco brand

Second, coconut oil does vary in consistency depending on the seasons! What we do (and this idea is credited entirely to my husband) is take some out of the large container and fill a small tupperware with it (the very little ones, like the size of a baby food jar). We then keep that in a safe place somewhere near where we usually make love. (it does have the added advantage of being inconspicuous and also keeping our cooking & personal needs separate) If it is more like a liquid, then just a finger dip into it does the trick; if more solid, then rubbing the top gets enough free and it melts on contact with the skin after some more rubbing.

Trader Joe's Brand

I am grateful for your concern about your linens! So far, I have not noticed any problems with mine, although we do deploy the coconut oil strategically, that is to say - we don't use as massage oil (although that sounds lovely) - so there is less chance of it getting everywhere. My advice is to lay some towels down first if you use it more liberally. Otherwise, especially if you have nice plush carpet, you might embrace sex on the floor - or if you're daring, the shower. If you do figure out how to have shower sex, please let me know; it has puzzled me for years. 

Thanks so much for writing!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

World Peace through Good Sex

While the whole world is watching with fearful eyes to see what will happen in Syria, I am researching the female orgasm (with my computer, not my husband, regrettably).

That makes me sound rather trivial and silly, two traits that I abhor. It makes me want to stop keeping this blog and start writing factual articles about geo-politics. Indeed, I still might. But sex is still important, and if sometimes another person on the sideline of a soccer game says "crazy about Syria, right?" and you just nod but secretly think "dear Lord, I have no idea what is happening with that situation, I'm just wondering if I have truly loved my spouse today and if we might have sex tonight and if we can make it through an entire love session without having a single child wake up" -  let me assure you, that is alright.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another. (Mother Teresa)
By Evert Odekerken [CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

 The mystery of sexual love is that it is a full giving and taking, it is a complete belonging. A rather old-fashioned euphemism for sex is 'Biblical knowing' - and that makes sense, because to truly comprehend something is, in a way, is to be able to fit it into its proper place. Sex is about being in a proper relationship and place with the one person to whom you belong - your spouse. We do not wake up one day with a war-torn country; war, division and upset begin on an individual level. One person is disconnected and out-of-sync with God, then in their home, then in their community, their province, their country, the world. Just as peace begins at home, so does war.

Good sex is a solid step towards bringing about peace. Neither you nor I can give the world a solution for finding peace in centuries-old conflicts. We can vote, of course, we can pray and fast - and we should! But we can really do is establish peace within our own homes. First we must be in right relation with God, then with our spouse, then our children, and on out. Sex is the consummation of our relationship with our spouse, the person we should be closest to on earth. Good sex - sex that incorporates all of our being, that mutually gives and receives - draws spouses closer to one another, increases not only the reality but the feeling of being one. This leads to greater peace in their home and their community.

So if you are wondering what you can do for peace in the world, I encourage you: pray, fast, and have great sex. The world is made-up of societies, society is built on marriage, and sex is the quintessential married act. Amen.

For more reading on peace in the home, I encourage you to read Calah Alexander's piece this week about where peace starts. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

ARW: Sex in Phase III

A reader writes:

After 7 children...I am one tired momma who needs a break from being pregnant or nursing! Because my cycles are so wacky, with double mucus patches and 40 day cycles some months, I have purposely avoided making love to my husband for months at a time (even a whole year once or twice)
I think I could go the rest of my life without sex, just so I wouldn't get pregnant! I love my children, but if I am 'blessed' again, I think my other kids will suffer because it's quite possible that I will end up in the looney bin!
I've tried the temperature, the mucus check, the cervix position, but I think the main problem is I can't stand sex when I am nonfertile! Phase III is the only time, right? Well, that's when I am the most tired, the crankiest, and don't want to be touched at all!!!
It has gotten so bad these past years, that even though we know it's morally wrong, we have gone ahead and had 'nonprocreational' sex during phase II, just so my husband and I don't start hating God & the Church on the stance of NFP!

Bless you, dear reader. Seven children! What a blessing, what a cross, what a path to sanctification. 

First off, let me offer a word of affirmation: it is completely understandable to feel tapped out and to still want to have an active sex life, while holding off on children. The Church affirms this need to care for your marriage and to exercise responsible parenthood by holding off on more children - possibly for now, possibly forever. 

So how do we get you enjoying your love-making, but not violating Church teaching? My greatest piece of advice is the work with an instructor! I realize that you have seven children, money may not be in generous supply. However, many many instructors will discount their rates - some even do it for free. Working with an instructor is the number one best help for women who are struggling with cycles - an instructor can help spot possible hormonal issues, treat the underlying symptoms for irregular cycles, etc. This will help you get the maximum number of nonfertile days, and on one of those days you may feel like the deed. If you need more specific help, contact your NFP method organization: CCL, Billings, Creighton, Marquette

The language you use is Couple to Couple League, from what I can tell; have you tried other methods? NFP methods are not one size fits all. Some people who track mucus using CCL do not understand it as well as they do when they use Creighton or Billings. 

I have known some women who have found the Marquette Method to be most helpful, because it uses a fertility monitor - the Clear Blue Easy Monitor. This, however, is an added cost. The monitor itself is $160 and then you have to buy the test strips. (I just obtained one myself; I am postpartum, still nursing, unsure if cycles have returned - I'll let you know about it's user-friendliness) 

However, all of this will take time - time to make phone calls, begin charting, figure things out. That is time that is precious. I encourage you to still make your marriage a priority and try to spend time together in other ways, while you figure this out. Go to confession together (even if you're conscious of no mortal sin) and maybe develop a relationship with a spiritual director, or get counseling from a trusted priest, together. This is a serious issue and a great cross for both of you; you must work hard to resolve the issue if at all possible and then pray very hard as well, because Satan will want to use this cross to harm your marriage and your love for the Church. Don't let him! Have faith that God will care for you in your time of need; God wants you to have a joyful sex life with your husband. 

Since you also seem to be a bit overwhelmed, and goodness knows who wouldn't be in your situation, see if you can glean some time to recharge your batteries. Do not be afraid to hire help, hire a sitter, a mother's helper, a lady to clean a few times a week. Take advantage of gym daycare, mommy's day out, or other programs. These costs can often be minimal, especially if you ask around the parish. Do not be afraid to take the time to care for yourself in the midst of concern for your children, your husband, your marriage. 

As for getting in the mood when you know you're not fertile, that can be tough and very specific to you. Have you ever enjoyed sex during Phase III? Can you think of what made it enjoyable? You mention tired and it possible for your husband to help more with the children, to hire that help especially during this time, maybe have a girlfriend or family member help so you feel a bit more rest? I have to admit, I am very blunt with my very best friend: "can you watch the baby tonight? My husband and I haven't made love in a while." Very blunt, but very effective. Maybe schedule your 'date night' for this time and make it a longer one - personally, my date 'night's start around 2pm and end at  or 8. I prefer them earlier in the day when I can get more hours with my sitter, and my husband generously takes off work that afternoon (which is easy to do since it's only once every six weeks or so). If you have a longer amount of time, then you might have the ability to have a nap, some deeper conversation about the state of your relationship, some good food and drink. Then perhaps you'll feel more in the mood? It does help me, even when it's not a time I am usually especially amorous. 

I realize these suggestions may seem abstract and not helpful. In the thick of it, sometimes we want a magic potion - concrete advice that we can implement immediately that will change the situation. Unfortunately, this is not usually readily available. It's easy to despair, but I urge you to have faith and courage. Help is out there and you can seek it out.  "Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you." (Matthew 7:7)

If you do need further help getting started, or finding resources in your area, please feel free to email me. I would be honored to help. 

Readers, feel free to chime in as always. Any advice ? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can Catholics Have Oral Sex?

WARNINGExplicit sexual content discussed below. Please do not read if you are concerned about the state of your soul, especially if you are not yet married.

Tuesdays are, in general, rather dull. But it is also the feast day of Saint Monica, so I propose we discuss a topic that I believe falls under her purview: oral sex. Can we, faithful married Catholics, engage in it? Is it good? Is it yucky? Dirty? (Yes, yes, no, no) However, I think this topic is deserving of Saint Monica's patronage because she is a patron of abuse victims - and oral sex can certainly be abused by many people. Lets discuss.

By oral sex I mean the stimulation of a spouse's genitals with the mouth of the other spouse. Slang terms being going down on, blow job, hummer,  eating out, etc. Lord knows there is no polite way to request such an act! (I suggest developing your own term for the act and using that as common society offers us no words that are in any way appropriate for this lovely act of service.) Remember when I told you that so long as the husband ends by climaxing in his wife, it is licit? That means that oral sex may be used for foreplay for both spouses and to the climax for the wife (so long as it directly precedes or follows intercourse itself - it cannot be a separate marital act in and of itself).

Although permitted, it is often abused. By this I mean two things: it is frequently demanded instead of requested, and it can serve as a shortcut to working towards mutual orgasm. Common culture would have us believe the men prefer blow jobs to just about anything, including actual intercourse and Heaven itself (God forbid). Sometimes men themselves believe this and so they get into the habit of demanding blow jobs as some sort of 'payment' - treating married like a quid pro quo arrangement. Women can do this too, of course, I don't mean to slight my own sex - I know first hand how selfish we can be, I do have a mirror. This sort of attitude must be avoided at all costs; if either one of you finds yourself feeling entitled to oral sex (or any kind of sex), you must stop that line of thinking, rush to confession, and begin focusing on truly offering yourself to your spouse in love.

Spouses often get used to oral sex as a quick and easy way for the woman to orgasm. Now, this is very helpful and enjoyable - certainly nothing is wrong with this either. But sometimes a couple gets into this habit of thinking the woman can only finish this way, so it becomes a you-scratch-my-back-now-I-do-yours type of arrangement. The husband loves his wife orally only so they can get to intercourse and he can get his pleasure, you see? But intercourse itself should always be a mutual enjoyment, as far as possible. Perhaps both of you have always wondered about mutual orgasm - is it possible? Should we try for it? Don't be daunted - go for it! Hold off on the oral stimulation to climax (maybe still do some for foreplay, to increase natural lubrication, etc.) and try to finish together. It's a very fun race, really, and achievable in both cases.

If you are squeamish about trying oral sex, some measures may help. Both of you should shower directly beforehand to be as 'fresh' for the other. Some spouses prefer a bit of a trim of the pubic hair, something you can even do together (you never know how much you really trust someone until they're yielding clippers so close to your Holy of Holies, if you know what I mean). Others prefer the fuller look. Don't be afraid to ask! From there, make sure you have plenty of time, and perhaps place a glass of water (or Scotch? but you didn't hear it from me) and some towels on the bed stand. When done correctly, it can get a bit messy! Make sure you enjoy some face time (no, not the app, dagnabit - must Apple try to own everything?) before you dive right in; necking like teenagers is always a fun way to get the nerves out. Then progress downwards by touching. One thing that some people struggle with at this point is the damn silence! It can feel intimidating. I suggest either music (nothing with words unless you have a stronger ability not to giggle than I, which is entirely possible) or light conversation (something more like "I do adore this bit of skin right here" rather than "did you hear the Jones' are expecting again?"). Only then, once all are warmed up and comfortable, should you begin to use your mouth.

I will avoid step-by-step instructions, but will give a bit of advice. Both spouses, please give and receive directions graciously. You are driving in a foreign country and it's only right to accept directions from the locals, yes? Wives, don't try to implement everything you've ever read in Cosmo - one or both of you could end up with Epilepsy and an unfortunate aversion to ice cream sundaes. Men, women do like different things so it's hard to generalize, but patience patience and please have a passing familiarity with where the clitoris might be. No need to hunt it down with a magnifying glass, but knowing the general vicinity it inhabits would be greatly appreciated.

There - doesn't your Tuesday sound more promising already? Saint Monica, pray for us!

This was written, and intended for publication, yesterday. For reasons unknown to me, a very grumpy baby decided this should not be so. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sex on the Family Vacation: Getting Creative

This is something of what I imagined. 

In my pre-baby life, vacations seemed an invitation for nights of endless love. Somebody else would change the sheets, we didn't have neighbors we'd see again, we were both usually sunburnt and eager. Now that we have a family, this is all changed. Different sleeping arrangements, irritable from the latest mishap, perhaps more sunburnt than is comfortable. Where's the romance? And who the heck thought this vacation was a good idea anyway? Here are my tips for having great sex on vacation.

1. Vacation with your babysitters. Oh please do not think I am suggesting you take a 16 year old with you everywhere you go (unless, of course, that 16 year old is your child). Instead, Mr. Chastity and I usually vacation only with or to see family. This means we have built in care for the children, so we can get a few hours alone. If this isn't feasible, or at all attractive to you, consider vacationing with another family. Splitting the cost of a big cabin or beach house can often be affordable, as opposed to hotels. Then you can switch off with the kids. But in general, any extended vacation is easier if done with at least another adult - otherwise it's you and your spouse in an unfamiliar place with kids that probably haven't napped.

2. Tire them out. Make sure your vacation has plenty of time spent out-of-doors. Nothing wearies children like pushing their body to its physical limits: swimming, hiking, running, riding bikes. In my experience, kids are the best nappers on vacation because they are so exhausted from all the new activities and excitement. We usually try to spend the morning outside or doing an activity - sometimes I even let my baby skip her morning nap - and then opt for a long nap for everyone after lunch. Big kids can watch a movie or read, while younger ones really sleep. Either way, ample time for you to slip away for some time in bed - sleeping or not.

3. Location, location. If you co-sleep, beds hare, or have a couple of kids in your room with you on vacation, finding an appropriate place to get appropriately intimate can be rather difficult. Even if everyone is napping, what are you to do? With a baby, allow me to suggest no one is the wiser if you make appropriate use of the floor. After all, if s/he wakes up, they will not think anything is amiss when you bound up naked (the same, of course, cannot be said of a toddler). This has the added benefit of forcing you to be very quiet, which can be rather a fun game. If there are older children, get creative. Can you go on a hike to a secluded wood? What about a boat? Lakeshore? Boat house? Dock screened by large pine trees? Even the bathroom, provided the door has a lock on it. I am in no way suggesting you become exhibitionists, on vacation or elsewhere, but sometimes a stolen moment of intimacy - not a long relaxed encounter, mind you, but something a bit quicker - can be very satisfying and enjoyable. Maybe if it's quick enough you can make it back to the house for a sex nap before everyone else wakes up. (Sex naps being one of the greatest joys in married life, as far as I am concerned)

4. Have a sense of humor. Inevitably, when you have children, at some point you will be interrupted mid-sex. Sometimes returning to the glorious act will not be possible. This is truly unfortunate, the feeling which can be even more painful that holding in a sneeze. Prepare yourself for this possibility beforehand, talk about it and be of good cheer if it happens. Your spouse won't want to pick up where you left off if you're being pouty and rude and it certainly wasn't anyone's intention to spoil your fun. Try offering it up for a good intention and focus more on your spouse than on yourself - I am sure they were not thrilled about it either.

5. CoEd Bathing. Sex in the shower can certainly be tricky (I can write a post about that later), but it is doable. At the very least, sex in the bathroom itself is completely achievable, no matter your comfort level. If you have older children, time alone shouldn't be problematic; older and younger, maybe ask the older to watch the younger for 30 minutes; just younger, maybe wait until nap time or use those sitters that are hopefully just dying for some time with their baby cousin/grandchild/niece/nephew!

If none of these tips would work for you, and you know sex on vacation is going to be in short supply, the best suggestion is to have sex the night before you leave and make the vacation short.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sexual Abuse

Back from vacation to write about a topic that is deeply on my heart. 

St. Maria Goretti, drawn by Helen Hull Hitchcock, one of the patron saints of the sexually abused

Although there are many aspects of modern society to deplore, one of the best advents of being more 'open' is the greater realization of, and treatment for, those who have been sexually abused. Today we realize that sexual abuse, of minors and adults, is not as rare as we wish it was and is not anything to be brushed aside. The attitude of 'boys will be boys' or 'these things happen' is no longer acceptable.

But at some point, the person who has suffered sexual abuse must move on, right? One of the most frustrating aspects for survivors is feeling stuck - dealing with the same issues, over and over again. This can easily lead to rushing into a relationship, a marriage even, in order to 'claim' sexuality as free from the abuser - something that the victim again has control over. Perhaps even if nothing was rushed, the issue does not get a full airing; it is mentioned, but not discussed. The victim simply wants to 'get over' it and move on. Maybe the abuser is still even in the victim's life and they feel they cannot extricate themselves without creating more issues to deal with. 

But while wanting to move on is normal, you can't move on from a wound that has not healed. The wounds that we receive from sexual abuse are not fleeting - but neither are they incurable. Just as a physical wound must be cleaned out before it can be healed, so these psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds must be shown to the light of day. Make no mistake about it, sex is powerful, incredibly powerful. Satan wants to take something so powerfully good - sex - and turn it into something cripplingly painful, which is what sexual abuse is. But Satan, and sin, fears the light. To expose these experiences to the light, with the aid of a trusted spiritual guide, can only defeat Satan's power over a person. 

Sometimes people doubt whether they have been abused or they normalize the abuse. 'It wasn't so bad' can be a constant refrain, or 'she/he didn't know better' or even 'it's just part of that culture.' None of these statements are in any way an appropriate excuse or justification for abuse. And no matter how many attempts are made to minimize the pain, it will not erase what happened. Maybe you wonder  something along the lines of 'if that was just a simple game of doctor between kids, then why does the memory fill me with fear?' It's okay. Find a trusted person to talk to, preferably with experience in dealing with these issues, and gently expose these events to the light of God's Truth. The Divine Physician can do great healing. 

Where to seek help? Many people who have been abused are asking - who can I trust? I know there are even counselors that normalize or minimize abuse, further compounding a person's pain. But there is good help to be found. The Pastoral Solutions Institute is a good place to start, no matter where you are emotionally - or geographically! Also, the website Catholic Therapists has a directory of Catholic therapists in the US, but they can only do so much in verifying each therapists' authentic adherence to Church teaching, so it's best to ask a few questions yourself before you develop a relationship with one of their therapists.

If you're not ready to talk to a person, try Dawn Eden's great book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Read the book as slowly as you wish and keep a journal to process your thoughts. During this time of reflection, Satan may up his attacks - your abuser may contact you, someone may say something hurtful that relates to the situation, or your thoughts may turn dark. That's why it's important to increase your prayer time; spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist via Adoration if at all possible, attend daily Mass, and please oh please - say the rosary! These efforts will help you begin to revisit these events.

Additionally, a good spiritual director may be a great help in processing all of this work. Spiritual direction is NOT a substitute for therapy at all, but it can be very helpful when done alongside counseling. You can usually find a list of spiritual directors on your diocese's website or by calling. For more questions about spiritual directors in general, check out Jennifer Fulwiler's extremely helpful blog post here.

Finally, dear reader, if this is a personal struggle for you, please know you're not alone and sex is not ruined forever for you. You are not wasted, broken, ruined, or tainted. There are many of us who have suffered similar trials and we bear witness to God's ability to "make all things new." (Rev. 21:5) If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or contact me using the anonymous contact form to the right. Be assured of my prayers. 

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