Happily Even After
State of the Union
by Josh Noem
After blogging about marriage for more than a year, we haven’t talked much about sex. Perhaps this Fourth of July weekend is a good time to talk about fireworks!
To be honest, we have not been exactly sure how to write about it, and there are some parts of life that should remain behind closed doors (and locked doors when there are small children who have trouble falling asleep).
At the same time, I cannot deny that sexual intimacy is a significant part of our marriage. Without getting too descriptive, we have come to a few insights over the years:
–Josh, like most men, gives and receives affection through physical intimacy and has to make an effort to be affectionate through emotional intimacy. Stacey, like most women, gives and receives affection through emotional intimacy and has to make an effort to be affectionate through physical intimacy.
I suspect that when we get to heaven and meet God, we’ll have a big laugh over God’s practical joke to create men and women with these different proclivities. Wholeness, of course, is found through integration. Physical intimacy without an emotional connection can be self-serving. Emotional intimacy without physical expression can be lifeless.
The gift of marriage is the opportunity to expand our ways of loving. I could fantasize about being married to a sex-crazed gorgeous woman, but that marriage wouldn’t lead to any kind of transformation. Instead, I’m married to a generous and affectionate gorgeous woman, and this marriage has helped me grow to appreciate new ways of giving and receiving love. Difference has taught me patience, which has asked me to become a better person for others.
–Far from being old-fashioned or out-of-touch, the Church’s teaching on sexuality is relevant and authentic, making sense of our experience and inviting us to grow.
We’ve practiced Natural Family Planning for our whole married lives, and it has been nothing but a gift. All too often, culture leads us to think that it is the woman’s job to deal with fertility in a relationship. NFP has taught us that there is no fertility outside of our shared fertility. Stacey doesn’t have her own fertility because without me, it is not fertility, and vice versa. It is a gift that only exists in its sharing. The more we can share responsibility for that fertility, the more intimate we become.
–Planning and communication are really important, and absolutely essential with NFP. If how we spend our time and money are important enough to discuss with regularity, then I say sex is, too. Clear planning helps to make time for intimacy and sets expectations. Does intentionality take away from a romantic atmosphere? If your notion of a hot sex life is what you see on TV, then yes. If you are married with kids and a busy professional life, then no.
When it comes to communication, about sex or any other sensitive topic, we try to make a point of discussing these things outside of our room. This is a way of preserving the sacred space of the bedroom—we’ll step into the kitchen, for example, to hash out a disagreement so that the bedroom remains a place of safety and comfort and unity.
I’ve said this before, but family life is profoundly oriented around the body. I have many close friends who are priests, and their bodies are rarely touched in the way bodies in a family are touched, and that encompasses more than just sex. Changing diapers and giving baths and tickle-wrestling and hugs on the way out the door to school or on the way in from work are all ways that our family uses our bodies to communicate. Culture would have us see sex as an act that exists in its own secret, private realm, but my experience is that sexual intimacy is at its best when it is contextualized within a spectrum of bodily communication in family life.
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