Monday, April 15, 2013

Be Not Afraid: The Sex Post, Part 2


Thanks to you all, last month's post on dealing with wedding night nerves has become my most viewed post ever!  So humbled by your responses and emails.  I asked my friend Rebecca to share another side of preparing for your wedding night: how can you deal with starting over after you've already had a sexual relationship?  Rebecca and her husband dragged Andrew and I out of our shells when we moved to our area and encouraged us to become NFP teachers.   I'm incredibly proud to share her story with you! 


Stephanie so beautifully and honestly shared some advice for those of you preparing for your wedding night who are approaching the altar as virgins. One commenter called her post “bold holiness” and I couldn’t agree more. It is with humility that I accept Stephanie’s request to write from another perspective.

I was not a virgin on my wedding night. That is just one of many things that leads to me being asked occasionally if I regret the many choices I’ve made, as my life looks very different today than it did almost 9 years ago when we were married. The answer that seems the most honest is this: No. I do not regret our past choices because without each one, made at precisely the time it was, we wouldn't be where we are today. We never set out to make a bad choice.  Each choice was made with good intention and based on the information we had at the time.

I also do not regret our past choices because they give me a voice to share and to reach others faced with similar choices; to offer experience from a life lived differently and to share the joys and struggles that resulted from those choices. As with so much of our Christian life, there is pain and beauty. It all must be held in the proper balance. If we place too much focus on the pain, we miss the beauty.  And if we focus too much on the beauty, pain loses its value. Just as with the Cross and Resurrection. For every Easter Sunday, there must be a Good Friday and for every Good Friday, there must be an Easter Sunday. That is the challenge of the Christian life.

So, it is with caution I proceed, carefully walking the balance between honoring our journey and our choices and encouraging others who walk a similar path, as well as suggesting to those still deciding to choose a different path.

Eleven years ago, heck, right up until the hotel door closed behind us on our wedding night, I would have laughed at the idea of being a born-again virgin. I would have said you either are or you aren’t. Period.

And yet, a decision. A seemingly unrelated decision led me to understand things so differently. Once. And then again, 5 years later.

The first decision: My husband and I, although sexually involved from early on in our dating relationship, spent almost our entire 2 year engagement abstaining. I was using the Pill as contraception and became very worried that it was going to fail and I was going to get pregnant before our wedding, disappointing my parents beyond measure. So, for 2 years we abstained --well, we abstained from intercourse, but we were not chaste. And yet, the excitement of our wedding day. Of knowing we would be together again, finally. The giggles of uncertainty as we left our friends and family to continue the party well into the night. The laughter as we removed over 100 hairpins from my hair because I couldn’t lay down with them. And the joy of rediscovering one another, only this time, it wasn’t something we weren’t supposed to be doing. It wasn’t something “sinful” or “naughty” or “bad” or “dirty.” It was exactly what we were supposed to be doing. It was beautiful and there were tears as we lay together afterwards, tears of joy; of love; of hope in the life that lay before us. And in that moment, in those moments, I understood what being a born-again virgin was all about. As we got to know one another again in the coming months, we found things to be easier, less about pleasure and more about connecting than they had been prior to marriage.

But. Two things slowly began to cause problems. I only realize them now in hindsight.  As with so much, we can only see our errors when we look back. One, after 4 years of a sexual relationship that was about pleasure and had nothing to do with babies and was something I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing, it was harder than I realized to break that pattern of thought. Unfortunately, deep inside sex was still something I wasn’t supposed to do. Two, we were using hormonal contraception. It would take 5 years, many tears, and many damages to my health and our relationship to realize this one. Yet, it was that second thing that led to a second time of being a born again virgin. I’m not sure I can find the right words, but that led to truly losing my virginity for the first time, 5 years into marriage. That led to truly giving myself fully, freely and without reservation and to receiving my husband fully, freely and without reservation.

The Second Decision: It was 5 years of marriage before we learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP). When we did, much like with our abstinence before our wedding, our decision was one of practicality as we tried to improve my health and our relationship, not a sudden desire to follow Church teaching. This decision led to four months of abstinence, this time coupled with chastity, within our marriage. We had no idea what was waiting for us at the end of this time, and unlike our engagement, this time, we had no idea how long it would last. We were skeptical and scared to death of getting pregnant. But after 3 months of charting and consulting with our teaching couple, who assured us that we were at an infertile phase, we finally re-consummated our marriage. And this time, with new knowledge of what our physical union stood for, of how sacred an act we were undertaking, and with total appreciation of and acceptance for our fertility, we finally lost our virginity for real. And once again, the following months were spent getting reacquainted and learning all about one another in new ways.

I will end this with my pieces of unsolicited advice for those of you who are not approaching the altar as virgins:

If you are sexually active with your current boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance, make the choice to embrace chastity, which for the time-being means abstinence. It will not be easy. It will serve you well in so many ways later on in your relationship, the least of which will be on your wedding night.

If one or both of you has been with someone else, it will take an act of will and prayer to remove that person from your memory. Sexual intercourse, on many levels - spiritual, relational, emotional, biological - is meant to be with one person only, forever. It takes effort to break ties that are formed, ties that you have buried deep. Be patient and gentle with yourself and your fiance.

If you are on contraception, go off it. Learn Natural Family Planning. Embrace it and the gift that God gives us by inviting us to co-create life with him. This was the single saving moment for my marriage. If you’ve been prescribed the Pill as treatment for a medical condition, seek a second opinion from a Catholic doctor.

Go to confession. I didn’t do this until years later. It was one of the single most healing moments of my life. It was the final impediment to the grace of our sacrament and it was so worth it. Find a kind, understanding priest (a good litmus test is to simply ask: how do you feel about the Church’s teaching on contraception? if the answer isn’t fully supportive, find another priest) and invite the healing power of Christ’s Love into your life.

Regardless of how you approach the altar, virgin or experienced, it is your decision how you build your marriage. With Christ at the center and your eyes fixed on your beloved, you have the best foundation possible.

A reader recently asked me how to deal with one of Rebecca's points;  she asked for advice on embracing your purity, truly forgiving your fiance, and adjusting to a new sexual relationship when one of you is a virgin and the other is not.  Share your wisdom, won't you?  I love hearing your thoughts!

18 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful post, thank you for sharing, Rebecca, you've given me hope for so many of my friends.

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    1. Thank-you for your kind words! We all have hope, even when it seems darkest.

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  2. Absolutely beautiful, Rebecca. I hope all engaged couples read this!

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  3. I just noticed Stephanie's add-on about advice regarding forgiveness, embracing purity, and adjusting.

    Here's what has worked for us:

    1) Sacraments - specifically Eucharist and Reconciliation (with a good, faithful priest).

    2) Open communication - if something comes up, pray about it, and then talk about it and pray about it together. (I know this is easier said than done, it takes practice and can be a 2-steps forward, 1-step back type of process sometimes.)

    3) Patience. With yourself and one another. You may not walk this journey at the same pace, focus on where you both are and concentrate on one step forward together, and sometimes that means one of you waits for the other. This is marriage - not just your sexual relationship.

    4) Having "like-minded" friends and having conversations about sexuality and purity with them. Becoming NFP users and then teachers was so healing for our relationship in many ways because it introduced us to others who had healthy, holy relationships. It showed us that it can be done. We continue our journey, but it is these friends (much like Stephanie and Andrew) who model for us what all of this looks like and means.

    Ok, at the risk of having a whole second post here in the comments, I'll quit :).

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  4. I just love your honesty in this! My husband was not a virgin when we married and I was. We struggles with chastity at times on our engagement, and we actually started going to Confession frequently together so we could be reminded the importance of waiting and striving to be chaste, as well as get a huge dose of grace to help us! :)
    great sharing:)

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    1. Thank-you! It's all grace, isn't it :)?!

      I will keep you and your husband in my prayers.

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  5. I absolutely love this! When we got married, though we did pre-marital classes, we had never heard of natural family planning. I mean i knew it was around but everyone always shuts it down. About 3 months into marriage we decided to get of the pill, because of all the complications i encountered with it. Thanks for sharing this, and for being so positive about NFP

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    1. Thank-you. NFP saved our marriage and changed our life :) - and much like you, we'd never heard of it (not really). That's not to say NFP is all wine and roses, there are frustrations, like everything else, but it is SO worth it.

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  6. Thank you so soo sooooo much for sharing this. I really needed to read this and it couldn't have come at a better time. I have a past of relationships that has been weighing down on my heart and I'v been trying to turn the page on that part of my life for years. This really really made a difference for me. I've recently quit birth control, and my fiance and I have never had sex and even when we were dating we didn't, this had been a challenge and not an easy one for me as I have been sexually active in the past. The way you talked about praying to remove the memories, I don't think that could have been worded any better. Thank you so much for this post.

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    1. Sarah, I'm so glad this was helpful to you! Please know you are in my prayers and if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. You can reach me at rebeccawvu02 at gmail dot com.

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  7. This is just fabulous - thank you so much for your honesty and practical advice =)

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    1. It is my pleasure - I'm so glad it was helpful to you!

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  8. Thank you for sharing, Rebecca! My DH & I didn't come into our marriage as virgins either. We both regret not waiting. Your recommendation of the Sacraments & Prayer is a good one. So is chaperones. Just because it seems like thinking clear-headed in the heat of the moment isn't possible.

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  9. That sounds a lot like our story.

    We had sex early in our relationship, stopped before the wedding, were "born again virgins" at our wedding (I hate that term).

    We did use NFP at the beginning of our marriage, but didn't appreciate the full meaning of the unitive aspect of sexuality. We saw NFP as a negative that was keeping us from having sex. The Church's teaching was presented as a series of "thou shalt nots". The unitive aspect was largely disregarded in favor of preaching at us to be more open to life. The NFP promoters' material that claimed that contraception was so that couples could have sex on demand and use each other for sex really didn't match our situation and, ironically, made contraception seem far better than it actually is.

    What we didn't realize was our prior sexual relationship had caused us to lean too heavily on sex as a form of intimacy. We hadn't developed the relational skills to be able to handle the abstinence, nor did we see any reason to.

    Long story short, we gave up on NFP in frustration, went back to contraception, continued to lean on sex as our only form of intimacy, had relational and emotional problems (sex was the only part of our relationship that was working), figured the contraception was to blame b/c the problems were cyclical, tried NFP again in desperation, used it with no concern for Church teaching, noticed the difference again, started looking into Church teaching to see what in the world happened, and was surprised by what the Church REALLY teaches.

    And I will post about that some other time.

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  10. "Find a kind, understanding priest (a good litmus test is to simply ask: how do you feel about the Church’s teaching on contraception? if the answer isn’t fully supportive, find another priest) and invite the healing power of Christ’s Love into your life."

    I would add the following followup to this litmus test:

    How do you feel about couples who are trying to follow the Church's teaching on contraception, but are struggling with occasional contraceptive use/behaviors?

    A good confessor should uphold the Church's teachings, but the tone should be encouraging, not condemning.

    A good confessor should be neither too lenient nor too harsh, but be both faithful to the Church and merciful to sinners.

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