Investigating NFP: The Joy of Sex

A good friend of mine introduced me to a bit of writing by Alice von Hildrebrand, whom I’m never read. The book is called By Love Refined and it’s a series of letters she wrote to her goddaughter when she was a newlywed. I thought the portions my friend related to me very neatly explained something that Pius XII had only briefly touched upon in his address to midwives.

"There are some who would allege that happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the reciprocal enjoyment in conjugal relations. It is not so: indeed, happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the mutual respect of the partners, even in their intimate relations; not that they regard as immoral and refuse what nature offers and what the Creator has given, but because this respect, and the mutual esteem which it produces, is one of the strongest elements of a pure love, and for this reason all the more tender."

That’s the end of Pius’ rebuttal of hedonism and his answer to those whose worry about "sexual compatibility" in marriage and avoid or end marriage for lack of it. Marital happiness is dependent on love and respect between spouses, not the frequency and quality of orgasms. Here’s how von Hildebrand puts it.

"God Himself linked the sexual union in marriage to a profound, ecstatic experience, which is deeply symbolic of the sublime union constituted by marriage. there are various reasons, however, why sex can sometimes lead to disappoitnment."

"First, you must constantly call to mind the fact that in the sexual sphere (as in so many other spheres), joy is a gift, which cannot be claimed as a right or even generally expected. Sometimes, it’s given to us; sometimes, it evades us. (The same is true with great music: there are days when listening to Bach’s Saint Matthew’s Passion brings tears to my eyes. On other days, the response is very low-key. I know the music to be equally beautiful in both instances, but fatigue, nervousness, or preoccupation sometimes prevents me from enjoying it fully.)"

"At such times, patience is called for, so that we can learn always to welcome deep experiences with gratitude, while humbly accepting our apparent failures. It’s also possible that you and Michael have entered the mysterious garden of sex withoutfirst donning your ‘nuptual garments’, that is, without being in that loving, recollected, and yet ardent attitude which is the desirable antiphon of this great experience."

"Moveover, since the sin of Adam and Eve, the intense pleasure of sex has given it a powerful attraction in itself, detached from its true meaning as a union of love between spouses, open to procreation. Perhaps the feeling of estrangement you sometimes experience comes from your isolating (however little) the ecstatic experience of sexual relations from your self-donation to Michael, thereby sapping this experience of its profoundest meaning. The less you’re concerned about your own responses and the more you concentrate on Michael, the better. (Ironically, these kinds of problems can be particularly acute in the first months of marriage when the newly experienced intensity of sexual pleasure may overwhelm one or both of the spouses.)"

"Unfortunately, even in marriage, spouses can use each other merely to achieve their own sexual satisfaction. Severed in this way from its true meaning and purpose, sex loses its God-given nature as a source of deep joy, and is reduced merely to selfish pleasure-seeking."

"Some people even argue that self-gratification is the essential purpose of sex. Happily, they’re wrong-very wrong! To view sexuality as merely biological, as an instinct that craves satisfaction, is totally to misunderstand it. Such a view is the opposite of the sublimity of sexual union that is experienced when you are both animated by love, when you seek sexual intimacy not for its pleasure, but as a way of manifesting the deep love which exists between you. At these times, your sexual ecstacy trancends bodily pleasure and includes a genuine joy that springs from the union of your souls deeply delighting in each other."

"In such cases, sexuality doesn’t serve pleasure; it serves love (and this is its God-given purpose). Even abstinence from sexual relations can serve love. Suppose one of you were sick. To insist on sexual relations would deprive both of you of the deeper dimension of your union: the will to do good to each other. Sexual relations in such circumstances would not be love-making but love breaking."

"So you see I dont’ have a puritanical view which judges sex to be evil. Rather i know that an increase of true love between you and michael will elevate your sexual relations to their most sublime heights. For the essence of your love for each other doesn’t lie in sex at all but in your constant concern for the temporal and eternal well-being and happiness of each other – even were that to require a temporary (or, in rare circumstances, even a permanent) abstention from sexual relations."

"The Gospel says, ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all else will be added unto you.’ in the same way, the more you and michael succeed in giving precedence to love, the more beautiful your intimate relations will become. This is achieved by self-giving and self-forgetfulness."

"Let your main concern be Michael: his happiness and his welfare. Instead of observing yourself, give yourself. In so doing, you’ll find deep joy."

"But remember to be patient, too. Sexuality is a turbulent realm, especially for young people. love will channel these waters, but like all good things, love takes time."

Alice certainly had a way with words, didn’t she? 😉

Comments 1

  1. Donna Marie Lewis wrote:

    I believe she still does. She’s still alive and kicking.

    Posted 29 Mar 2006 at 7:51 pm

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