February is the month of Valentine’s Day, so below is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for Catholic Mom and Amazing Catechists years ago.
“And so I take (my wife) not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to…bring us to old age together.” Tobit 8:7
“..Now, gird up your loins and arise…” Jer: 1:17
Which scripture verse more accurately describes how a couple should prepare for the conjugal embrace? Praying for a singleness of heart, without lustful motive…or girding up one’s loins for “war”?
Yet many couples prepare for intimacy by “girding up their loins:” wearing condoms, inserting diaphragms, taking a pill, putting on a patch, having an IUD inserted, undergoing an operation. It seems to me that these couples are preparing more for “war” than for the marital embrace, “protecting” themselves against unwanted pregnancy, “protecting” themselves against their spouse’s fertility.
Compare that to the couples who do not use contraceptives. They are generous in opening their marriage to children, and when necessary, they use Natural Family Planning and abstain in the fertile time. They’re not girding up their loins; they’re not “protecting” each other from an unwanted pregnancy. When they give of themselves in the marital act, it is a total gift, not a partial one.
The question is: How do you prepare for intimacy?
Some might answer, “We watch porn.” Others may say, “I make sure my diaphragm is in place,” or “We keep a packet of condoms by the bed.”
And yet…are these really appropriate ways for a couple to prepare for the most intimate act between husband and wife?
So how can a couple prepare? Here is a short list of helpful ways:
1. Pray Together
Marital prayer is an ideal way to prepare for intimacy. When marital prayer is frequent, praying before relations becomes a logical extension. The conjugal embrace is itself a prayer. Let’s review what makes this act so holy and meaningful. In the marital embrace, with their bodies, husband and wife renew their wedding vows. Becoming one with our beloved spouse is the ultimate spiritual, physical and emotional experience. We become one flesh…so much so that sometimes, nine months later, we must give the representation of that oneness a name.
2. Throw Away the Contraception
No, I’m not asking couples to have as many children as possible. But what I am saying is that for the conjugal embrace to be honest and life-giving, it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful. Natural Family Planning allows a couple to love each other as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. NFP couples chart the wife’s fertility signs and, if avoiding pregnancy, abstain in the fertile time. They are not using devices; they are giving themselves fully and they are open to children with each and every act of marital relations. See my previous post on the Theology of the Body in a Nutshell. For more information on NFP, check out my previous post on NFP.
3. Healthy Relationship
I know a few couples who fight constantly. These same couples brag that they have a great sex life. Well, they may have a lot of “good feelings” but when a couple is not getting along in their day-to-day life, sex, even ‘good’ sex, is not going to fix that. What about the husband who treats his wife in a condescending, critical manner, then expects her to be ready and willing to engage in the marital embrace…or a wife who constantly nags her husband, then wants him to be affectionate to her? Communicate with one another; treat each other with kindness, respect and love.
4. No Pornography
Some secular marriage counselors recommend that a couple use porn to “spice up their sex life.” Instead of “enhancing” a marital sex life, viewing sexually explicit videos has the potential of destroying a marriage. Blessed John Paul II said: “…the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” Porn trains people to be selfish about their sexuality, not selfless. It teaches them to think about sex as something they take, not something they give. Any behavior that causes a person to be self-centered or selfish is never good for marriage. And…pornography can be highly addictive. Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of PA’s Center for Cognitive Therapy, called porn the “most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today….pornography addicts have a more difficult time recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts, since coke users can get the drug out of their system, but pornographic images stay in the brain forever.”
5. Single Candle Light
I enjoy romantic, candlelit dinners with my husband. Well, why not a candlelit conjugal embrace? In the 15th century, it was common for painters to place one solitary lit candle in their paintings to symbolize the presence of Christ. If you have small children or might fall asleep too quickly afterwards, perhaps you can use an electric candle/light…or set an alarm…but be prudent. A simple, solitary light can bring more symbolism to your intimacy. And…it can help put you both in the “mood.”
6. Focus on Your Spouse
“Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” This quote from Blessed Mother Teresa is an ideal quote for marriage. Marriage isn’t all about “me.” It’s about “us.” What are your spouse’s needs? Think of his/her needs in all facets of your relationship. Intimate ‘memos’ bring a couple closer. Notes in your spouse’s lunch, special messages left on his workbench or on her desk, daily texts are all ways to intimately connect during the day and let your spouse know you are thinking of him/her. The important thing is to focus on the other in all things and when it comes time for the marital embrace, this selflessness will follow naturally.
7. We Can Work It Out
When you consider all the day-to-day challenges like children, work, fatigue, family bed, stress and sickness, it’s often a miracle that a couple has the time to engage in marital intimacy at all. The spontaneity of early marriage eventually gives way to planning for intimacy. “Family bed?” Consider another location for the marital embrace. Mom too tired? Perhaps Dad can take the kids out to the park while Mom gets a well-deserved rest after dinner. Dad too stressed? Mom can have a hot relaxing bath waiting for Dad when he arrives home.
Do you want to prepare for the holiest, most satisfying intimate experience possible? Treat your spouse with respect, pray together, focus on your spouse, don’t use porn and be creative in finding time for intimacy.
I’ve made the Kindle edition of my book, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship only .99 for the entire month of February. To download your copy, click here.