Saturday, July 27, 2013

(7) Key Terms for a Catholic Sex Life

Joining the inimitable Mrs. Fulwiler for a quick run-down of key terms for a Catholic sex life 

Birth Control 
NFP has already been covered, but it is something you need to know should you want or need to delay having children by a means other than total abstinence. 
NFP is birth control - that is, a method of controlling births. It is NOT contraception. Therefore, you can truthfully say "I am a faithful Catholic and I use birth control." 

The Incarnation 
The Incarnation refers to Jesus (God) becoming man. 
This has a huge affect for our sex lives. If God became man and had a body, then it means that what we do with our bodies is pretty important - because the body has been redeemed! It means we have to reject dualism, the idea that the body and the soul are separate entities that do not affect one another. What we do with our bodies affects our souls. 

This gets tossed around a lot in official Catholic texts. It is usually used to describe a lovemaking that is about the spouses giving of themselves to one another, as opposed to mutual use. Think like, donate - to give, to gift. It also can be used to discuss the life-giving aspect of sex, that a married couple's mutual donation can result in the gift of new life.

This word is used in EVERY United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) document on married love ever. It's annoying - like they don't have a thesaurus! It is used to refer both to married sex and to married love in general. I think they use it so much because no one wants 'sexual intercourse' to appear in the bulletin. 

Used to mean baby-making or baby producing. Thus if you see the sentence "conjugal love should be total, faithful, and fruitful" it means your sex life should be a giving of your complete self, not having sex with anyone else, and oriented towards baby-making (even if using NFP to avoid). 

This term is used to describe what kind of reasons you should have to use NFP to avoid. And it is a whole CAN OF WORMS. There are the people who say basically, any reason will do - because only you know what's really hard for your family and who are we to judge, so yes wanting each child to have their own bedroom is a perfectly good reason. These people tend to be imprudent in most of their opinions on matters of sexuality, in my opinion. Then there are those who say you should be dying or living in a (preferably wet, broken) cardboard box before you should ever have sex where you aren't certain to get pregnant. These people tend to be scrupulous. 
The bottom line is the Church leaves this to you, while always encouraging generosity and to openness to life. The Church is not comfortable making broad distinctions for everyone - individual circumstances will vary far too greatly. She is hopeful that you will REALLY pray, seek good counsel (hopefully not from any of those heretical priests floating around that everyone refuses to discipline), and be generous. 

This refers to the teaching authority of the Church. So if I ever say "The Magisterium is silent..." it means the Church has not released an official teaching on this within her teaching authority. This doesn't mean that individual priests or bishops or even the USCCB don't have an opinion or don't teach certain things; they very well may. But they are not, individually, the Magisterium. The Magisterium refers mostly to Rome, to official documents from either the Pope, when he is speaking ex cathedra ('from the Chair,' i.e., on matters of faith and morals as the Vicar of Christ), or the Bishops in union with the Pope, defining doctrine at a General Council...those sorts of things. It can get complicated, as there are several categories. 
But the bottom line is this: I will always try to clarify for you when a statement is "official Church teaching," i.e. the Magisterium has spoken about something very clearly, and when it is merely me, trying to "thing from the heart of the Church," that is, going on official Church teaching and then reasoning from there what might be an authentic Catholic approach to a topic. 
As always, when it is merely me, it could be wrong and I am always open to (charitable, reasonable) criticism. 


  1. Your post is interesting in a couple areas I would like to discuss.
    First you refer to NFP as birth control. My view is NFP IS contraception.

    The following is from a medical dictionary:

    contraception con·tra·cep·tion (ko(n'tr?-se(p'sh?n)
    Intentional prevention of conception or impregnation through the use of various devices, agents, drugs, sexual practices, or surgical procedures.

    Any sexual practice employed to prevent conception is contraception.

    I greatly appreciate your statements on "Just/Serious/Grave". Many of the people, including some priests who talk of this say that you shouldn't even know about NFP before you are married. Because if you are getting married than you should be willing to have children right away. If not than you shouldn't be getting married. I have heard this stated many times by some very devout Catholics. And they should know.

    It is interesting that you mentioned Magisterium. A few years ago I spent almost a year trying to have anyone, both lay people or ordaned, to find me a list of all the infallible rules that are in effect. I am not talking about a book with general concepts I am talking about specific lists. And at what point they were adopted.
    Do this...
    Don’t do this...
    Never even think of this if you want to be Catholic...
    This is not OK by the Catholic church...
    You must do this in order to be Catholic...
    Etc. Etc.
    I never received an answer from any priest. I was told to talk to this priest or that priest and they would know. I only had one priest reply saying he didn’t know. I had many lay people say that I need to read many many volumes of text to get the answers. Seems to me there should be a list somewhere that tells all of this in a simple straight forward manner. And maybe infallibility is a general concept not to understood completely.

    I realize that you and I disagree on some concepts of sex. But is good to have a discussion.

    Best Regards

    1. The fertility charts from NFP are useful for monitoring and diagnosing women's health problems. Therefore, it is good and healthy for EVERY woman know how to chart her cycle starting from when she first has a cycle to chart.

      Once you know this information, you can't exactly unlearn it. Therefore, every cycle for a married couple is a matter of discernment about what to do.

      NFP is charting fertility and abstaining under certain conditions. Charting fertility is not a sexual practice. Neither is abstaining. Therefore, NFP is not contraception.

      Second, focusing on "rules" misses the point of what it means to be Catholic. It's not about the rules, it's about loving God and neighbor. See Luke 10:25-28.

    2. James,
      Thank you for your comments. You are the second person I have visited with this week that says the Catholic church is not rules.

      Let me see:
      *Do not eat meat on certain days. It is a sin.
      *Do not have contraceptive sex. It is a sin.
      +Do not miss mass on Sunday. It is a sin.
      *Do not miss holy day mass. It is a sin.
      *Do not say the wrong words during mass, only say what you are told to. Not sure if the church has declared this a sin or not but they sure don't want you to say anything that isn't written in the book.
      *Better donate to the church or the diocese will contact you. Has happened to me the last 3 years. Not sure it is a sin.

      This is just a brief list of the Rules the Catholic church has. Please don't tell the that the Catholic church is not a rule issuing religion.


    3. Hi Rob,
      Thanks for your input.
      The Catholic Church believes that God has articulated rules about some things and has left other things to man's prudential, informed judgment. As is stated in my Policies section, this really isn't a website to debate the reasons behind broad Catholic teaching. If you are interested in doing so, I recommend you check out some of the sites under my online resources like (home of Catholic Answers - their apologists are quite good) or, if you're looking for a more personal blog type site, check out the awesome Little Catholic Bubble ( - Leila who blogs there would love to talk with you about some of your more general questions.

      As to your claim that NFP is contraception...I'm not so sure. I'm inclined to say, what does it matter what we call it - the point is, there are some means to avoiding pregnancy that are licit and some that are ilicit. NFP is the only licit means. I'll think about this some more.

      As to your statement that one should not be married unless you are ready to have children right then, although I tend to agree, this is NOT teaching of the Church. Therefore, it's just my opinion, just your opinion, and just the opinion of those devout Catholics that you told you that. We must take the Church at her word; that is, she will only teach that something is mandatory if it is so - if she doesn't say it's mandatory, no amount of us believing it is so can substitute for her authority.

      I think all young women and men, at age appropriate times, should learn NFP for health reasons - even if they never get married. I have rarely heard a priest speak about NFP at all, let alone to say someone SHOULDN'T learn it...I hope there aren't too many of those out there!

      Thanks for joining the conversation -


  2. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them. I will check out some of the other sites you recommended.



Keep it clean, modest if possible, and certainly charitable.

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