As Catholics, how do we approach sexuality?

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not Catholic contraception or Roman roulette.  NFP respects the power of fertility and couples choose to abstain during a time of fertility if wanting to avoid pregnancy using the best medical science at hand.  Contraception is an intentional act to destroy the power of fertility and “prevent” pregnancy.

NFP fosters relationships with God and with each other.  NFP can be used for selfish reasons, but as a physician, I have seen many hearts changed after using it. Below, find the comparison between what the Catholic Church teaches on human sexuality versus the Secular World.

      Catholic Church Teaching   Secular World Approach
The Human Person: The Human Person:
Is made in the image & likeness of the Holy Trinity and is at once corporeal & spiritual. (CCC 362)1 Definition varies from mere biology to entrapped spirit.
Has a nature that is relational, communal, and self-giving. Nature is individual fulfillment.
Has a body that reveals the person and the body is intrinsic to the person forever. The body is just an instrument and can be manipulated to suit one’s desire.
All human beings are persons and all have innate dignity.  And because of God’s infinite love, they have infinite value from the moment of conception. Each is unique & unrepeatable and exists forever. The definition of personhood varies according to who is in power and can arbitrarily depend on age, gender, intellect, production value, race, religion, etc.  Existence can end at bodily death.
The only adequate response to all human persons is love, never to be objectified or used. Personhood is granted and defined by the state.
Sexuality: Sexuality:
Sexuality is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person3 Sexuality is primarily genitals.
“A gift–and by means of this gift–fulfills the meaning and being of his existence” in the theology of the body.4 Sexuality is merely a biological function.
The nature5 of sexuality is love & life, babies & bonding. Integrity of the human person is preserved. The nature is genital and the person is dis-integrated into parts with the priority given to the physical.
Genital expression of sexuality is reserved for marriage because of the power to bring new life. Genital expression of sexuality is not necessarily related to marriage or to parenthood.
Marriage is a natural state of genital sexual expression.  Celibacy is supernatural–pointing to state in Heaven. Marriage is not lifetime. Celibacy is suspicious.
Marriage is a covenant, the sacramental bond between a man and a woman and their children creating a family. Marriage has been redefined as a legal contract between best friends.  Children are secondary.
Goal is unity and generosity, whole and holy union that is open to life-an icon of the Holy Trinity. Goal is satisfying physical urges and transient emotional needs.
Focus is on total, faithful, free, fruitful, and self-giving resulting in the love that satisfies. Pleasure is its own end turning human sexuality inward on itself.
Embraces responsible parenthood where couples collaborate with God. Children are by-products of sex and can be “an obstacle to personal fulfillment.” (EV)6
All children are cherished and have innate human dignity. Children are valued only if wanted, convenient, and meet expectations.
Chastity is a dynamic yes affirming the goodness of other persons and a promise to not use or manipulate them. Chastity is a repressive no that stifles individual desire which should never be denied.
Fertility is a gift that is cherished and a shared responsibility. Fertility can be taken for granted and is primarily the woman’s burden.
Pregnancy is normal whether planned or unplanned. Pregnancy is a failure and abortion is considered health care.
Natural fertility care/natural family planning…  Contraception and intentionally sterile acts…
Respects the gift of fertility and the life that can come from it. Take the gift of fertility for granted and deprive the relationship of life.
Educates all women-single & married-about their reproductive physiology by teaching them to chart their cycles in a medically meaningful way. Offer little education and side effects are rarely discussed.
Has no side effects and is a shared system between husband and wife. Have multiple side effects and burden is on the woman.
Takes a fertile act and respects the power of it. Takes a fertile act and intentionally sterilizes it.
Respects the dignity of men and fatherhood by encouraging their involvement. Men are allowed little involvement and fatherhood is not encouraged.
Which promotes… Which encourages…
Chastity and periodic abstinence which lead to mutual respect and self-mastery, transforming desire into love. Sex without responsibility which limits a person to their desires, depriving them of authentic love.
Communication and respect between spouses, strengthening marriage and protecting children. Focus on the individual which leaves marriage and children vulnerable.
Responsible parenthood, women’s health, the dignity of marriage, and of all human life. Separation between love and life, harm to women’s health, individual before others.

It’s not about broken rules.  It’s about broken lives.  (S. Hahn)

1CCC: Catechism of the Catholic Church

2Laudato Si: 2015, encyclical written by Pope Francis: The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

3Familiaris Consortio, 1981, encyclical written by Blessed Pope John Paul II on the role of the Christian family in the modern world.

4Theology of the Body: 1979-84 teachings on the meaning of sexuality and humanity by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

5Natural Law:  Acting against the nature of anything results in dis-integration, division, destruction, disrepair, disruption, discord.

6EV: Evangulium Vitae, 1995, encyclical written by Blessed Pope John Paul II on the value and inviolability of human life.

The Church does not teach how many children couples are to have but are to embrace responsible parenthood where by the couple collaborates with God in the generation and education of new life. There may be serious reasons to space and time children, temporarily or permanently. These may include physical, psychological, or external reasons.  The number and spacing of children is left to the couple’s conscience that is properly conformed to God’s will.” (Humanae Vitae, 1968 encyclical written by Pope Paul VI on human life and reaffirms Church’s continued teaching)


Originally published: May 2017

Author: Dr. Gretchen Marsh, Family Practice Physician and Fertility Provider with MyCatholicDoctor

Editor: Samantha Wright, Marketing Director with MyCatholicDoctor

Gretchen V. Marsh, D.O.

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