Updated: Dec 8, 2021
"Why did God design NFP to be extra challenging for women? We are the ones who have to abstain when we most desire physical intimacy, if trying to avoid pregnancy."
I hear this sentiment a lot. I get it. I've uttered these words before myself. But before we go any further, we need to establish what is true and what is not.
First, God didn’t design fertility to be burdensome to either men or women.
Yes, burden is what many couples currently experience.
Yes, it sucks.
Yes, it’s unfair.
Suffering is NOT what God intended for us.
He created us to be in union with Him; our wills aligned with His.
He commanded, "be fruitful and multiply."
God delights in families. Children ARE a blessing to marriages. It’s difficult to write this because I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but as Catholics, it’s probably not supposed to be easy, convenient, and struggle-free to avoid more children. That’s not really what we’ve signed up for. (That reality check is more for myself than anyone else.)
Now, that said— there are extremely valid reasons to space children and even indefinitely avoid more pregnancies— and that is between you, your spouse, and God (possibly with a doctor’s input, too).
But it was still the fall that corrupted our understanding and severed our relationship with God-- and created this broken, burdensome relationship we can have with our sexuality.
From a biological standpoint, we most desire physical intimacy around ovulation so the human race continues to exist. Things must align *just right* for pregnancy to occur— which sounds counterintuitive when you’ve grown up hearing that you’ll be pregnant yesterday if you aren’t actively contracepting.
With a relatively narrow window for maximum pregnancy chances over the course of a cycle, a biological design to encourage intercourse at the right time for pregnancy is important for species survival.
In Eden, our will for our family would be aligned perfectly with God’s will, our sexuality would be understood within His design of it, and the burdens we feel regarding this intimate aspect of our lives would not be what we experience today.
Well, we are clearly not in Eden.
And we did it to ourselves.
God isn’t a mysoginist who created women in order to give them the majority of the suffering with NFP.
Why does this matter?
Because we need to understand his true character in order to trust Him. Do you trust that God wants what is best for you when it comes to your fertility?
If you think God secretly wants women to suffer a little extra and designed this system with a massive flaw that hurts women— you don’t trust him. Or at least you shouldn’t. Because that’s not someone who is trustworthy.
His plan for us was full communion with him without the suffering we currently experience as a result of sin.
Now, does this magically fix the day to day struggles many NFP-practicing couples experience?
Not in the slightest.
It DOES, however, provide a more solid foundation to take your anger and frustration and lay it down. Because you trust that He can handle it.
NFP is the best way we know to navigate fertility in our fallen world. It honors the design of fertility and allows us to discern and plan our families with the best information we have right now.
It’s not perfect. Women do have a unique suffering compared to men in that we have to deny ourselves at the time we are most biologically inclined to desire sex. There’s no Instagram worthy quote to remove that reality or change your perspective to make it not challenging.
For that reason, those living out the NFP lifestyle and advocating for it spend a lot of time trying to figuring out a theological reason to explain why women have to abstain when they most desire physical intimacy.
It’s a fair question. It’s challenging, inconvenient, and creates struggle. An answer would be helpful. Unfortunately, many answers only minimize the struggle and provide zero realistic solutions.
Then it becomes an entry point where lies creep in.
Because Satan is a jerk.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” -Gen 3:15
If we swap out the word enmity for a similar word (that we are more familiar with): I will put HOSTILITY between your offspring and hers. He is hostile to us. He is actively opposed.
The human Satan hated most was a woman. Her “yes” to God’s will was in direct opposition to Satan's “no.” God’s humility (becoming a human— through a human woman) is a stark contrast to Satan’s pride.
Satan attacks in the area where he was defeated— fertility. Women do feel the brunt of the attack. Absolutely. 100%.
So he works hella hard to make us question God in this area.
“Why would God design it this way? He doesn’t want what’s best for you.”
“You have it harder than the men.”
“God doesn’t care about women.”
“God wouldn’t have designed fertility this way if he cared about you.”
Sound familiar? Look back at what was said to Eve. It’s the oldest trick in the book, repackaged for NFP.
So.... stop talking to the dang snake, friends! (Thanks, “Abiding Together” podcast for that reminder.)
Is God a good father or not?
We can look to Jesus in scripture.
"...which one of you fathers will, if his son asks for a fish, and instead of a fish, he will give him a snake? Or if he will even ask for an egg, will give him a scorpion?" -Luke 11:11-12
We know God is a good, loving father. We also know the fertile window feels unfair. He can be a good father, and we can have frustrating situations. It is because He is a good father that we must TELL HIM ABOUT IT. And listen for his answer
The ONLY way to overcome lies is with truth. And Truth is a person. We know Him; we trust Him. Which is why I hammer home the fact that God did not intend this for us. He allows it— and He walks with us— and He WILL redeem any suffering we experience. The fastest way to freedom in His peace is blunt, bare-bones honesty.
"What do you want me to do for you?" is a common question asked by Jesus in the gospels. Lay it all out there in prayer. He can take it. He crafted the uniqueness of your heart— he can handle whatever is in it.
Ok, hopefully you believe me that God didn’t design it this way, and you can trust him with all of your feelings about it. (And if you can't-- start there.)
But frustration in the fertile window is still our reality. The struggle is real— and common.
So what can we do about it?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Why is this so frustrating for many couples?
A common reason I heard is "my desire is non-existent during the infertile (aka “available) time."
Ah. Now we are on to something helpful. I am all for action steps-- and this is something we can work with.
How can we increase desire in the infertile time?
THIS, I believe, is the key to living out NFP without resentment and with joy.
Female fertility is not a "lite" version of male fertility. We are different-- very different. I know this to be true, but I don’t understand the science behind it yet. Luckily, I found a book that I hope will spell it out better for me, and I'll be circling back to address it as I learn more.
“Sometimes—most times—women will not experience spontaneous desire. Accepting and being okay with that (there’s nothing broken about you) can help you get out of your own way in order to start enjoying healthy intimacy with your partner.” -Emily Nagoski
"Sometimes- most times- women will not experience spontaneous desire." Whoa. That is totally different from what many women are taught to expect. If we expect to feel spontaneous desire, we are left to be disappointed.
Yes, there are a few days per cycle when a woman's biological urge may be at its highest, but that does NOT mean other days should be unarousable.
Also, needing to take steps to desire physical intimacy does not mean you do not desire your spouse or that something is wrong with you. If anything, it means you find intimacy so important that you want to prioritize it, even when your ovulation hormones aren't running the show.
What do I mean by "taking steps?"
First, decide that this is important. If you're past step 1 (getting right with God and telling him how frustrated you are), then decide you WANT to find ways to enjoy physical intimacy in the less hormonally-raging times.
We can be motivated through hormones and urges-- we can also be disciplined through our will.
Motivation versus Discipline
I don’t crave exercise nor am I motivated to exercise, at this point in my life. If I'm going to exercise, it comes from discipline. Not an inherent urge to do so.
I may not be motivated, but I recognize this healthy choice as priority, and I *decide* with my will (not dependent on urges) to take steps to make it a part of my life. I would argue this means it matters to you MORE than if you just went off the whims your body suggests as biological urges. The bonding power of sex goes way beyond a mere urge— its power and importance should be prioritized.
This is NOT saying “you must have sex even when you aren’t in the mood.” You are deciding what you are going to do based on what is right for you and your relationship. All I'm saying is that urges and desires shouldn't be the golden standard.
I might lace up my tennis shoes when my desire is to stay on the couch and watch another episode of "The Crown." Because I decided it was important. In those moments, I sometimes tell myself “a 10 minute walk— then I can stop, if I’m still not feeling it.”
Usually I put on a podcast, feel the fresh air, and get a full hour in. Other days, less commonly, I come home after 10 min and decide to try again tomorrow.
Eventually, as my exercising friends tell me, I might begin to crave exercise. But for now, it's a discipline because it's a priority. And a lack of desire to exercise doesn't make me any less healthy than the person who is super excited to begin training for a 5K.
Practical ideas to improve infertile phase desire
This will be individual to each woman and couple, but for starters, understand your own sexuality. A woman's brain is her largest sex organ. The book I mentioned above talks about “accelerator” and “brakes” when it comes to a woman’s desire. You need to learn what accelerates your desire and especially what puts on the brakes (and communicate that to your spouse!)
Stress management. Easier said than done, I know. But if there ever was a "brake" in my life, my mind racing because I'm trying to juggle 853 the emergency brake, bringing it to a screeching halt.
Do you need a break?
Do you need help a few times throughout the week?
Get a babysitter- or have your husband give you alone time to read a book, take a bath, whatever gives you space to process and breathe.
Emotional and mental health. Certain medications (SSRIs, specifically, for mental healthy) can kill libido. I'm not saying go off them. I am saying give yourself some grace and know that you aren't broken or crazy or suddenly unattracted to your spouse.
Is there trauma to be dealt with? Your biological desire might overpower trauma around ovulation. But that isn’t going to be oxytocin-spiking, bonding love making. Do the work to heal the trauma.
Pray for desire in the luteal phase and for the obstacles to be revealed.
"God, increase my desire when I’m infertile. Show us how to stoke physical intimacy during that time." Check out our prayer for NFP couples card.
Take a shower. No dry shampoo today and maybe shave your legs. This, combined with styling my hair and putting on some mascara helps me feel desirable.
Date nights. Spend time together often. Even if it's just coffee once a week while the kids watch a show in a different room.
Or go grab takeout and sit together talking.
Put down your phone. Limit social media. Reengage in your life and with your spouse— and with yourself!
Make white space in your day— when there is no input (think: a walk or drive with no music or podcast). This is when I reconnect with myself- with my thoughts and desires.
Skin to skin. Sleep with less clothing on, especially in the luteal phase. Yes, I mean put away the long sleeve, long pants jammies. Oxytocin is powerful--give it a chance to help.
Keep lubricant handy. Nothing will throw on the brakes faster than pain. If you are breastfeeding, apporaching menopause, or simply dehydrated, you may not make enough arousal fluid. It has nothing to do with your feelings for your spouse or desire to be intimate-- your body just simply isn't cooperating at that exact moment to make the fluid. Thank goodness we can easily supplement!
Balance your hormones. You may rarely have the urge to initiate in the luteal phase. But you should, most of the time, be able to enjoy intimacy once you get going. If you have zero desire and are unarousable, that’s an issue. It may need a combo of lifestyle and medical management.
Adrenal cocktails: I don't have solid evidence that this helps-- just anecdotal experiences. You can look up a variety of recipes online. Adrenal glands help make hormones and some clients report increased libido in the luteal phase after starting daily adrenal cocktails.
Find ways to foster the other facets of intimacy. These can be ways to connect during the fertile window, but that connection is just as helpful (maybe moreso) when we are seeking the desire for physcial intimacy in the infertile phase.
S.P.I.C.E. is the acronym for the kinds of intimacy.
These are just some ideas. Only you can determine what helps you desire physical intimacy.
Seeing physical intimacy as a discipline and PRIORITY (not just an activity solely dependent on urges) encourages both spouses to work harder at the relationship. Which is a good thing!
Changing expectations and ways of thinking takes time. Be patient! And be quick to challenge any lies about the "grass being greener" elsewhere. It isn't. The grass is greenest where you care for it-- in the way that particular species of grass needs to be cared for.
For example, hormonal contraception can kill libido. So a couple may have many “available” days— with the woman having zero desire to use any of them. That’s not an awesome alternative.
We will grapple with sexuality and fertility on this side of heaven until the second coming. There is no silver bullet to make it easy.
Abstaining during the fertile window, around ovulation, will always be challenging for many women -- and it isn't going away, for those avoiding pregnancy. God didn’t design it that way (so we shouldn’t buy the lie that he desires suffering for us) but it IS our reality. Satan attacks us in a particular way because we are the life bearers. A woman’s womb brought about the conqueror over death. He takes particular pleasure in feeding us lies around fertility.
I've spent many hours lamenting this, and I think the better questions is, "how do I increase desire in the infertile phase?" Because that’s honestly the issue here. If we felt like the days outside of the fertile window would be enjoyable, the days of abstaining might be a little easier.
They will look different than desire on the days around ovulation. Yes. Different isn’t necessarily bad.
Yeah, it’ll take work to prioritize physical intimacy and find ways to desire and enjoy it, even when your hormones aren’t raging. A dignified, holy work that should bear loving, enjoyable fruit.