Yesterday, I responded to an email question which expressed a common issue couples may face when using Natural Family Planning: the possibility of a fertile honeymoon and wedding night. If a couple has serious need to postpone pregnancy, this may mean abstaining for a while when they first get married. And let's face it: that idea is no fun.
So I talked about how lack of sex doesn't make a marriage invalid, in case that's a concern.
Today, I'm going to offer some resources and tips for praying about and navigating the question of abstinence during the honeymoon.
When it comes to particular devotions, habits, or other resources to help couples pray together through difficult times, I sort of feel like the best method is to fling spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
In other words: what works really well for one couple is not going to work well for another, so as the resident "resource person" my approach is to give you various ideas and let you sort out which ones are meaningful for you. This means that if any of these suggestions is clearly not helpful, you not only have my permission but you also have my wholehearted blessing to ignore it!
Now, let's fling some spaghetti:
PRAYERS & DEVOTIONS
The Chaplet of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity
As a Lay Dominican, it's probably no surprise that I'll start with a devotion based on St. Thomas and the virtue of chastity. This special chaplet not only invites us to pray for chastity (which, btw, is a virtue even required of married folks!), but it focuses our attention on the many gifts God has given us like intellect, laughter, our five senses, and our relationships. In other words, it contextualizes chastity as the virtue it truly is: the integration of sexuality with our whole self. Praying this chaplet with and for your future spouse may result in a strengthening of this virtue which allows you to better navigate the initial period of abstinence more fruitfully.
Pray Through Your Fasting
Abstaining from good things (usually food) for a greater good is an ancient and common practice in the Church. We call this fasting, and it's perfectly appropriate to consider periodic abstinence in marriage as a form of fasting. But in order for it to be a form of fasting, there needs to be some sort of positive intention attached. These five simple prayer types can help couples navigate through the various stages of fasting from sex by inviting God to provide for their current needs and make the practice fruitful. Movements in this piece include preparation, gratitude, assistance, wisdom, and thanksgiving.
Observe your own "Tobias Days"
Through a strange series of translation mishaps, Latin versions of the Book of Tobit insist that Tobias and Sarah waited for three days to consummate their marriage (this isn't in the Greek, which is what most modern Bible translations are based on, so don't try to find it! It's not there). If you remember your deuterocanonical texts well, you'll remember that Sarah had been married many times before, and all of the wedding nights ended with the death of the groom. The outlook was not so great for Tobias! But he received instruction from the archangel Raphael on how to expel the demon which had plagued her, and the two prayed together before having sex. Survival is a pretty low bar to set for sexual expectations, but it was definitely a triumph for the two of them! Because of this, many Catholic couples took upon themselves the devotion of observing "Tobias Days" and not having sex for the first three days of their marriage. If you are feeling that you need to abstain, you could intentionally approach those days as an opportunity for prayer and preparation just as Tobias and Sarah supposedly did. This could help you focus less on what you're not doing and focus more on what you're actively doing to prepare.
Enlist Holy Helpers
This would hardly be a Catholic blog if I failed to mention asking for saintly intercession! My husband and I specifically asked to have a litany of the Saints included in our wedding Mass. We filled the list with patrons who were special for our families of origin and our relationship. Likewise, you can assemble your "cast" of saintly helpers who are more than willing to pray for you as individuals and as a couple as you enter into married life. Particular saints to consider might be:
NFP and Marital Chastity
This journal piece is a unique blend of reflection on Church teaching and scientific research about the benefits of periodic abstinence within a marriage. If you're thinking that your marriage might start off without a bang (wow... yeah....), it might help to talk through some of the points raised in this paper so you can reframe your efforts in a positive way. It's not a knock-out punch to say that couples who use NFP will always have better marriages, or that NFP is the thing which strengthens marriages, but it's enough to make you think about ways to focus on the longterm benefits of your immediate efforts.
Surprised by Marriage- Abstinence in Marriage
This video by Logan and Jen helps couples think about the fact that there are many times in marriage where couples may need to abstain, even without NFP. A scroll through the comments will give ample scenarios to discuss with your future spouse, and to think about the many different ways that couples are still fruitful and growing in grace during times of abstinence.
Total W(h)ine- Real Talk About Honeymoon Sex
This blog post, written by Emily Frase, lays out the scenario using real-life examples. She can speak to the situation from first-hand experience and brings in some supportive voices at the end. This blog post covers all sorts of questions about newlywed "sexpectations" and may bring up some helpful points of consideration.
*NB- See my previous post if you want a longer explanation on consummation and grounds for nullity. In short: the inability or unwillingness to ever consummate a marriage could be grounds for annulment given the standard requirements for any other diriment impediment. But lack of consummation itself does not mean the marriage is invalid.
Weigh Competing Goods
Okay, this final suggestion really needs to be taken as a suggestion, but I offer it because I've walked with a number of couples who didn't really have a firm grasp of how to do this.
Our faith teaches us that it is inevitable that we will be weighing competing goods when we need to make a decision. The positive choice to do one good thing means that we have to NOT do some other good things. For example: in order to marry this wonderful person on such-and-such a day that we have mutually agreed to and have arranged appropriately with the Church, I will need to miss out on a concert that I have wanted to go to since I was a child.
It's a good thing to get married.
It can be a good thing to attend a concert.
But which of those is more good?
I need to weigh the goodness of each of those things as things in themselves AND as I perceive them in my life.
I hope we can all see that getting married is objectively more important than a concert, no matter how much of a perceived good the concert may be. I've weighed the goods, and I choose the wedding.
But what if, instead of my wedding, it was another social event which conflicted with that concert? All objective reality of the situations being fairly equal, I can weigh the perceived goods of those things in my life. Which would make me happier and holier? Maybe the fact that I've wanted to attend this particular concert means that it's more important or more good than to attend this other party I've been invited to. I've weighed the goods, and I choose the concert.
When we make big decisions, we should always take them to prayer. But we should also be in the habit of weighing the goods involved. Sometimes going through this practice actually reveals our hidden intentions ("I didn't realize this is why I felt so strongly about XYZ!") or helps us to see that our perception of the goods is a little off-the-mark.
So how does this work with abstaining during the honeymoon?
I'd suggest that you and your future spouse actually sit down and talk through:
I'm not saying this to suggest that you need to change your mind! It is possible that you may change your mind after this exercise and that would be your prudential discernment as a couple. But if you still do decide, after weighing the goods, that you need to abstain for the first part of your marriage, you will now have a full set of concrete reasons you can come back to and pray about together when you're struggling to remain abstinent. It's a positive thing to hang on to and to remember what you are making this heroic sacrifice for.
What would you add to this list? If you have other resources to add to this list, please leave a comment below so we can curate an ongoing list to help other couples.
Christina has been an NFP instructor in the Boston Cross Check Method since 2013. She is on a mission to change conversations about body literacy and NFP within the Catholic Church, through innovative lifelong body literacy programming and support... plus apparently this blog.