Updated: Sep 29
Contraception is often the focus when discussing the merits of fertility awareness or natural family planning. Rightfully so-- it is the common "solution" given to any female health problem, despite the fact that it carries many of its own risks and consequences-- and rarely, if ever, treats the underlying cause.
There is something else, though, that undermines the truth, beauty, and goodness of organic, holistic sexual intimacy. It is so pervasive in our society that I would argue it has changed the way an entire generation understands sex.
Many will state that pornography has been around in some form for thousands of years. Perhaps. But an explicit hieroglyph or a still shot photo is vastly different than the hardcore videos available today in the pocket of anyone with a smartphone. The average age of exposure to pornography is between 8-11 years old, depending on your source. I saw porn for the first time around age 10 at a friend’s house. And that was 25+ years ago.
I remember guys in my high school class “giving up” porn and masturbation for lent. Not because they actually saw a problem with it, more as a joke. We had computers then, but our phones were the Nokia 3360. You could text from your pocket in class because you knew how many times to press the “3” to type the letter “e.” The phone could not access the internet. The best you got for entertainment was Snake II, if you were fancy.
Now, kids have an x-rated theater in their pocket as soon as they get an unfiltered, unlocked smartphone.
With such a young average age of exposure and only recent education available to parents on how to foster conversations with children about this topic, many millenials lived close to a decade under the influence of pornography before they ever reached adulthood. Over half of a college's freshman's life has the potential to be formed by the addictive, dangerous drug of internet pornography. These effects take time and effort to remedy. There is no magic marriage vow or NFP pixie dust to sprinkle and erase the damage. Marriage does not fix a pornography addiction. Even if the behavior stops, the formation of what sex is has been defined and built around the false promises that make porn so appealing.
Porn says sex is about pleasure without sacrifice. You don't need to overcome the fact that you just fought about the car repair bill. Or take the time to find out what turns on your wife or (more importantly) what instantly turns her off. There is always someone waiting to do whatever you desire, and it requires no sacrifice from you.
Modern pornography often involves the use of another human being, typically through a digital medium, for your own sexual pleasure. Pope St. John Paul II told us that “the opposite of love is use.”
Pornography forms our understanding of sexual intimacy to be focused around the use of another person for our personal satisfaction. Whenever I want, wherever I want, in whatever fantasy I can conjure up.
Natural Family Planning, on the other hand, fosters authentic love.
“To love is to will the good of another.”-St. Thomas Aquinas.
Where pornography says sex is about consuming the dignity of another for your own pleasure, love says “I want what is best for you. Not just what feels good to me.” NFP recognizes there are two whole people with all of their own thoughts, fears, hopes, and desires. Both of whom must be respected and fully present in any sexual act. Not only that, but if you're trying to avoid a pregnancy, there will be days of saying no to sexual impulses. In those seasons of life, sex is not available whenever you want.
And you know what? Sometimes (often times) a season of abstinence is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy— which is often the case with good things.
Because as hard as abstinence is, it can also been freeing. We are never truly free when we are a slave to our desires.
There can be real injury to marriages from pornography, and often times, those injuries validate wounds from childhood. It these situations, it can be easier to always be “available.” There is less worry about pornography because “my spouse can be with me instead.“
Newsflash: a partner looking at porn has nothing to do with how often you are available for sex. Those who say that if you never "deny" your spouse, you can somehow fix or prevent a porn problem are spreading inaccurate, harmful information.
When one spouse is fearful of the period of abstinence and lamenting how “unfair" it is to the other party, it’s often a reflection of our societal shift toward porn sex—that sex should be on demand with minimal limitations.
If NFP is hurting your marriage, expectations surrounding sex need some adjustment.
Will abstinence be hard? Absolutely.
Frustrating? No doubt.
But if it’s hurting your marriage?
Based on my personal experience and that of having worked with over 600 couples, I’d venture to guess you’re applying society’s expectations of sex to the NFP lifestyle.
You may need to recalibrate your understanding of the trustworthiness of God or the point of sex or something. Satan’s oldest trick is to whisper the lie, “God is not good. He is not trustworthy.”
In NFP language, “If he says this is how you space kids, he doesn’t want what is best for you.”
If those are the thoughts, take it from someone who listened to the lies for too long. Get yo’ self to a spiritual director, therapist, or someone you trust. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You need to reset the foundation and rewire your priorities.
First of all, God did not design fertility to be the difficulty many of us experience. You can read more about that here.
For many years I thought God, the Church’s antiquated views, and NFP were all ruining my marriage.
The reality, though?
Sin. Lack of self control. Lust. Selfishness. Pornography. Addiction. Trauma. Lies I believed from the evil one.
These were hurting my marriage.
NFP simply brought them to the surface (once I stopped blaming it) and required I deal with these issues head-on.
Natural Family Planning is a crucible in a relationship. It brings to the surface all of the impurities so they can be addressed. Contraception and sterilization, on the other hand, allow the destructive porn-influenced mentality toward sex to be masked. With contraception, there is not a natural time each month to question motivations for sexual intimacy— whereas NFP builds in a regular checkpoint to consider motives, intentions, and thoughts around sex. With a society that celebrates love as pleasure without sacrifice, this question-- “Am I loving this person? Or am I using him/her solely for my own desires?”-- needs to be asked often.
Pornography will poison the relationship where NFP is seeking to bear fruit. It must be rooted out— down to its foundation— and that space replaced with connection, communication, and healing. Then, the fruit of natural family planning has a chance to blossom, and chances are, it will be more vibrant than ever.
I caution engaged couples to get any issue with pornography dealt with ASAP. It requires time for the brain to re-wire, spiritual healing, and new emotional coping mechanisms. Depending on the duration and severity of the porn use, it can take intentional education, time, and energy to learn a natural, healthy understanding of sex.
So what can you do if pornography (or a history of porn use) is affecting your marital intimacy and ability to live out the NFP lifestyle?
1. Seek out help. A priest, a therapist, a friend. You may need a whole tribe.
Don't for one second believe you are the only one. Satan will try to pin you in that corner with that lie-- and it comes from the pit of hell.
2. Give yourself-- and your relationship-- time.
One, two, or three years of intense work is necessary, but also just the beginning of rewriting one, two, or three DECADES of neural pathways formed under the influence of pornography.
3. Believe that you can-- and should-- live in a healthy relationship with a healthy understanding of sexual intimacy. It takes intentional action to eliminate pornography and heal its effects on a relationship. But it's possible-- and incredibly freeing when you see that reality in your marriage.
We have an NFP resources document in the member portal with links to resources for those struggling in this area.