by The Archdiocese of Boston in Transformed in Love: Building Your Catholic Marriage.
Just as an architect has a purpose for his plans, so too, God has a purpose for sexual intercourse and marital sexuality. Marital sexuality is an important, beautiful, and powerful part of marriage. God created sexual intercourse! He wants us to have a fulfilling, lasting, loving, sexual relationship. As married couples, we need to cherish sexual intimacy.
“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them:Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:27–28).
This Scripture passage speaks of one of the purposes of marital sexuality, and
teaches us that marital sexuality is a blessing from God. There are two purposes of sexual intercourse. The two purposes are: 1) to bring man and woman together in love/
unity and 2) to potentially create new life/children. An easy way to remember the purposes of the marital act: bonding and babies, as Janet Smith says. This question always comes up: “If children are one of the purposes of the marital act, do we have to intend pregnancy with each act of intercourse?” Before we answer this question we need some reminders. Entering marriage is accepting an adventure of fruitfulness. Children are one of the purposes of marriage. The intention to welcome children is promised in the marriage rite. In order to answer this question, we need to look at couple fertility—fertility awareness.
Fertility awareness is more than studying the woman’s and the man’s reproductive system. Fertility awareness is learning about female fertility signs and patterns, and couple fertility. What can you do with this information?
— Achieve pregnancy.
— Postpone pregnancy.
— Diagnose and treat reproductive disorders including infertility.
A woman can observe fertility signs and use cycle data and formulas to find the fertile phase. Now we have the answer to our original question: “Do we have to intend pregnancy with each act of intercourse?” No. As we saw with fertility awareness, it is physically and biologically impossible for each act of intercourse to lead to pregnancy. What does the Church have to say?
Couples should be both responsible and generous in welcoming children. For every couple, what is responsible and generous is going to be different. What may be responsible for one couple may not be for another. What may be generous for one couple may not be for another. Couples may postpone a pregnancy for just reasons:
— Physical reasons: new baby, medical condition, or a medication.
— Economic reasons: unemployment.
— Psychological reasons: relationship problems, emotional or psychological disorders.
— Social reasons: conditions of the greater culture, war, famine, unrest.
Couples need to discern together if their reasons are just. If a couple has discerned they have just reasons for postponing a pregnancy, what would be the moral means of postponing a pregnancy? Natural Family Planning is the moral means to plan a family because it safeguards the goods of marital sexuality so that
• each act expresses and renews wedding vows;
• each act is an outward sign of the sacrament of Marriage;
• each act is an expression of free, total, faithful, fruitful, and sacrificial love.
NFP safeguards the purposes of the marital act so that each act unites a couple and can potentially create new life. It safeguards the integrity of the marital act and reproductive system so that a newly conceived child is protected.
To illustrate the actions of couples using NFP, you can think of a wedding guest list/invitation analogy.
Guest You Expect to Come
These are the most likely to attend the
wedding: close family, wedding party, etc.
You send them an invitation.
You would be surprised and probably sad
if they did not attend.
Like Having Intercourse on FERTILE Days
You send an invitation to God inviting his
response and participation.
You expect and most likely will get a
If you don’t get pregnant you’ll be surprised
Guests you don’t expect to come
These are the guests that are highly unlikely
You send them an invitation out of love,
respect, and relationship.
If they do come, you’ll accommodate them.
Like having sexual intercourse on INFERTILE days
You send an invitation to God but highly
unlikely to get a yes response.
If you do get a yes response, you will
accommodate the child.
Friends and family you cannot accommodate
You have limits—space, money, etc.
You do not send them an invitation.
Like postponing sexual intercourse on FERTILE
You do not send an invitation to God.
Couples using contraception have intercourse, but send an invitation that says: we are taking deliberate action to control your participation. Modern methods of NFP compete very effectively with methods of contraception, while respecting the purpose and meaning of the marital act, and without harmful side effects.
It seems inconsistent with the nature of God that he would want us to be fearful or anxious over the decision to have children It seems more likely that God would like us to see the decision to have children the same way we might see a decision about whom we will marry—exciting, full of expectation, hopeful and passionate The only way our discernment of parenthood will be these things to us is if we love our spouse generously and allow God into the discernment process in every possible way.