Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

18. Education in Love and Sexuality: A French Experience

Listening to many couples who have consulted us on family planning has revealed that contraceptives endanger conjugal love. After using them for two or three years, women (especially) complained of a cooling of mutual love even though they had at first been happy to be able to prevent too-frequent pregnancies. Their language pointed to an objectification: "During intercourse I am only an object, a thing, a means, at the service of my husband's pleasure." And this attitude prevailed even among couples who continued to love each other.

According to our observations, this attitude developed when intercourse was frequent, regardless of a desire to have a child, or sterility, menopause, and so on.

There must be periodic abstinence in conjugal love even in couples hoping for a child, for an excess of intercourse tends to render the act mechanistic, instinctive, difficult to control. Frequency leads, for example, to rapidity, generally on the part of the man, and a consequent absence of feminine orgasm. The same couple achieve sexual harmony on days when they precede intercourse with a fairly long moment of affective and sensual intimacy, with the act subsequently unfolding at a leisurely pace.

Harmony is achieved, however, only if the spouses, and especially the husband, are able to control the sexual instinct. For it is that instinct, indeed, that prompts them to consummate the union in order to take their pleasure as quickly as possible - each spouse using the other as a means to this end, in an attitude of capture.

True love, sacrificial love, seeks the good of the other and wishes to give of oneself as totally as possible and, in particular, to give sexual pleasure. This gift is possible only when instinct is placed under human control, mastered. Then only can it serve true love. Thus, periodic continence is not an optional but a necessary constraint, agreed upon by both spouses.

The same constraint applies, indeed, to the control of all instincts: one must learn to limit one's use of tobacco, alcohol, food, and so forth, to avoid gradually falling into behavior detrimental to one's true well-being and that of society. One is a responsible adult only to the extent that he uses reason - enlightened by faith, in the case of believers - to dominate his instincts instead of being enslaved by them. Mastery over instincts is one of the goals of education in general and of sexual education in particular.

In the insect sexuality is totally automatic because its brain is no more than the hypothalamus, a center in which all perceptions automatically induce attraction or rejection reflexes, depending upon the stimulus. Dr. Paul Chauchard, a neurophysiologist, says that if a female butterfly is deprived of its genital organs and a piece of cotton permeated with the odor of its ovaries is placed beside it, the males will try to copulate with the cotton, being completely uninterested in the castrated female.

Complexity of the brain is related to the degree of development of animals. The highest level of complexity is attained in the human being, through the action of his superior, prefrontal brain, which of course receives the signals of the hypothalamus but also is able to reject them if reason demonstrates the necessity for rejection.

Dr. Chauchard thus affirms that in man (as opposed to animals) the brain is the chief sexual organ. Consequently, sexual control "humanizes sexuality" by allowing reason to govern it.

Periodic abstinence from sexual union can become a positive force in conjugal love only if it is lived in tenderness; each spouse using his or her body intelligently to express love. Let there be no abstaining from expressions of love! Sexual abstinence requires sacrifice: love grows with the kiss that is given, not from the kiss that is seized.

And as conjugal love is characterized by bodily intimacy ("two in one flesh"), it is absolutely necessary that spouses live this intimacy with tenderness, every day if possible. These intimate moments of tender exchange are indispensable to the preservation and growth of love. They may or may not progress to intercourse, depending upon whether procreation is desired and therefore upon the phase of the feminine cycle.

Here again, experience shows that if conjugal love is to be nourished and enriched by intercourse, the act must be engaged in with tenderness, in a spirit of giving rather than grasping. At any rate, the sexual control acquired through periodic abstinence enables the spouses to live their bodily union-before, during, and after intercourse - slowly enough to let it be the expression of mutual love instead of the satisfaction of instinct.

To illustrate and supplement what we have said, we wish to quote some statements, selected from among hundreds, from a poll which we organized as members of the Pontifical Committee which studied birth regulation. The phrases are short, since the couples did not have much space to answer the questions concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the STM. It is important to note that these couples had been using the STM for an average of five years (from two to 13 years).

We rearranged the hundreds of answers under these subtitles:

Advantages on the affective level: "A deeper love. Meaningfulness of the effort. It is more natural. The wife admires her husband. Fosters respect for the partner. Improved conjugal harmony. Partners are better prepared for the conjugal act. Discovery of other means to express love. Meaningfulness of continence."

by Charles and Elizabeth Rendu

Dr. Charles Rendu, a specialist in internal medicine who has worked for the World Health Organization, is co-founder of CLER and of Laissez les Vivre (Let Them Live), the French national pro-life association. A life-long student of human love and sexuality, he and his wife Elisabeth, an NFP and marriage counselor, were members of the Papal Commission on Marriage and the Family.

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