I counted out the days on my chart and didn’t want to face the reality it confirmed – I was going to be fertile for the first part of our honeymoon. To say I was disappointed is, of course, a dramatic understatement. It just seemed so unfair, like a cruel joke. My now-husband and I had both saved sex for each other, and by the grace of God alone, managed to keep saving it throughout our dating life for after the wedding. After all that waiting, and ALL that pent up energy (seriously, so much pent up energy), we were going to have to wait some more. Except this time, we’d have to do it sleeping in the same bed.
Ours was certainly not a unique situation. Countless couples I’ve spoken with share a similar story. Some even had to wait until they got home from the honeymoon. Somehow we all lived.
I joke with my husband all the time that since starting this platform I basically talk about sex all day, so I guess it was just a matter of time before I wrote on honeymoon sex in particular.
This is a very important topic, but I’ll level with you. If you aren’t able to have sex anytime soon – aka the wedding is 6+ months away – it’s not helpful to read a lot of information about sex, even the good stuff. The reason is simply that reading about good sex naturally makes you want to have it, and you’re already struggling with chastity (which I know because I was engaged once and saved sex for after the wedding).
While my target audience is engaged couples (women in particular), I ask that you proceed with prudence, and maybe earmark this for a date closer to the wedding. I hope I give you things to think about and discuss with your fiance, but for the love of all things holy, don’t save the conversation for late at night … alone.
Let’s start with the honeymoon sex hype.
For Catholics, sex is only licit within the marriage of a man and a woman. It must be said that sex and sexual desire pre-dated sin, and they are good and wonderful gifts. When properly ordered and rooted in authentic love, they become the natural affirmation and expression of the goodness of that love, the lover and the beloved.
But waiting till marriage means that we mere mortals go through our whole lives up to that time not having sex – and we live in this world where sex is EVERYWHERE! It’s hard enough to wait to be united completely with someone who you love with every fiber of your being without any extra stimuli. But when you can’t even buy toothpaste without getting sex shoved in your face, it can feel next to impossible to wait till there’s a ring on it.
Now, sex is a very big deal. In Catholic Church teaching, non-consummation is grounds for annulment. In layman’s terms, that simply means that if you said the vows but didn’t bow chicka wow wow, you’re not actually married. The reason we wait for marriage to have sex is because it is so powerful and so beautiful that it needs a very specific framework in place so that a couple can work productively to have the best possible sex (yes, you read that right).
A consequence of this – the importance of sex plus the emphasis on waiting plus sex being everywhere – is that the first time we can release all that pent up energy in a God-sanctioned way is built up pretty heavily in our minds. Whether intended or not, there is a lot of pressure to have wedding night, or at the very least, honeymoon sex.
The problem is the pressure to have sex mere hours after saying “I do” presents unrealistic expectations for countless couples. The truth is there’s tons of reasons people wait till after their wedding day to consummate their marriage.
Some are sexually active and/or live together prior to marriage, so the wedding night might not have the same level of specialness. Others have discerned a need to avoid pregnancy, and thanks to wedding stress, end up in their fertile window for all or part of the honeymoon. Still others are just legitimately exhausted after the excitement of the wedding day, and prefer to get a good night’s sleep before doing the do. Maybe the catering was bad and they got food poisoning. Or shoot, maybe they paid too much tribute to Bacchus and spent the night hugging the porcelain throne (0/10 do not recommend).
When the Chart Says “No”.
Let me hone in on the fertile window issue, because this can cause a lot of stress and feelings of guilt, and I can speak to all of that from personal experience.
I know so many women whose charts reveal that they will be spending their honeymoons doing a little more exploring out of doors, if you will. I want to affirm one thing. Discerning to delay pregnancy is completely valid, and if that’s where you find yourself, stick to it! If you’re like me, you are worried about how your fiance is going to handle the news, or what you can do on the honeymoon without going all the way, and so on. Let me address those two valid concerns.
Contrary to what we constantly hear, men are not insatiable sex fiends. They are human beings made in the image and likeness of God, capable of and desiring to love and be loved deeply. That means your fiance is not going to die or hate you if you can’t have sex immediately. It is not your “job” to make sure he has sex. It is your job to discern with him what is right for the both of you with regards to family planning, and bear the consequences (positive and negative) of that decision together. Talk with each other openly. Be honest if you’re disappointed, but affirm each other in your decision. And for what it’s worth, know that it is infinitely easier to not have sex when you’ve never had it. Just wait till you have to abstain once you know what you’re missing. Lawd have mercy!
With regards to what you can do when you are still waiting, I guess the best way to describe it is “dating with license”. Let me explain, as PG rated as possible. As a married couple, you don’t have to share a bed in bundling bags, but at the same time, if you start having a little fun, you need to be very sensitive to each other and communicate openly and honestly. If you’ve never had sex before, you’re not going to know how your body will respond to knew stimuli, and especially if you have been dating chastely, your body is likely to be easily excitable. Don’t be afraid of that, just be aware of it, and communicate that with your spouse. Use the time to enjoy simple intimacies like taking a bath or shower together, giving a massage, or just relishing the fact that you can now say goodnight and not goodbye. Actually sleeping together is so underrated!
In my case, waiting a few days after the wedding to have sex was actually better. Having sex on your wedding day after dating chastely is like going from 0 to 120 in 4 seconds. If you’re up for it, do it! But having time to warm up to each other and enjoy those simple intimacies really helps break the ice and can often make the first time better.
What’s Normal. What’s Not.
In case you weren’t aware, movies lie to you about sex (looking at you, The Notebook). Your first time is likely not going to be great. Sweet and intimate, yes! But logistically, not great. (It made me so thankful my first time was with my husband, not an ex-boyfriend or one night stand.) This is a learning process for both of you, even if you were sexually active prior to marriage. There’s the mechanics of sex to learn, and then there’s learning your spouse. Sex is a language. We all get the same letters, but we all develop a totally unique language with them, because sex is about two unique persons uniting totally and completely. That takes lots of practice to perfect. Oh darn.
Prior to getting married, I had heard that a woman’s first time having sex could be painful, and that stuck in my mind in the worst way possible. It is normal for women to feel something similar to a muscle stretch their first time, which should lessen with time and practice (again, Oh darn). This is why it is vitally important that a couple invests in sufficient foreplay and lubrication prior to penetration, and that the woman is relaxed.
Pain beyond the level of discomfort during sex is not normal. If the pain is such that it prevents consummation even after sufficient foreplay, lubrication and varying position, it could be an indication of something more serious, such as vaginismus, and should be discussed with a doctor. Vaginismus is a medical condition defined as the involuntary contraction of muscles around the opening of the vagina in women with no abnormalities in the genital organs. Women who marry as virgins, who do not use tampons or haven’t had pelvic exams, are likely not aware of this condition prior to marriage, and it can be a frustrating and demoralizing realization to have on the honeymoon. The good news is vaginismus can be treated effectively, usually with a combination of pelvic floor physical therapy and psychological therapies.
Don’t Just Take My Word for It.
When covering a delicate topic like this that is seldom discussed but extremely important, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to end with a little crowdsourcing. I asked a couple of my Instagram followers to share their honeymoon experiences anonymously. At the end of the day, sometimes the most helpful thing we can hear is that we aren’t alone.
From a fertility awareness instructor:
“This came about once when I was speaking— and I was asked about a fertile window wedding night. Here was my answer: I can’t answer that from personal experience because it wasn’t my experience. My experience was worse. I was on hormonal birth control with no libido. We didn’t have sex on our wedding night because I was exhausted and just didn’t care if we did. I had no sex drive. So yes, there’s a possibility you could desire your new husband and also have discerned that you need to avoid pregnancy which means abstaining. But the other side isn’t better. Because maybe hormonal birth control makes the night “available”— but you simply don’t want it. I’d rather desire my spouse and have to wait than have no desire.”
From a newlywed:
“Because we are always the last to leave a party, my husband and I were not about to quit our reception early; we danced until our feet ached, sang Irish drinking songs, and soaked up every last moment. LATE that night we arrived at our first shared bedroom.
Both virgins, we had ideas and hopes for how everything would go, but nothing truly prepares you for the sudden experience of nakedness. My mind was all over the place. How do you mentally (and physically!) go from off limits to love making in a day? Truthfully? You don’t. We were giddy, nervous, and exhausted. In rushing ourselves, we couldn’t figure out the logistics and just ended up naked, laughing in each other’s arms. So we took a hot shower together and slept.
The next couple nights we accustomed ourselves to sleeping side by side and rested up for our honeymoon trip. I wish I could say I was at peace at the time, but I made myself so ridiculously nervous!
It wasn’t until four days after our wedding we finally made love with our bodies. Hindsight, I was so silly. Why rush the first time when we were exhausted? We’re married! And it’s true when they say you’ve got the rest of your lives to practice.”
From a fertility awareness content strategist:
“I was sad at first when I realized we would be abstaining on our wedding night. But we were very at peace with it because we had prayed about and were confident in our reasons to avoid pregnancy. We accepted that this was what God wanted for us and that helped us see the beauty in how everything unfolded. Our wedding day was so beautiful and it marked the beginning of our married lives together… meaning we had plenty of time to learn how to express our love for each other physically in this new way that had just become available to us.
You can have a beautiful, holy, and exciting wedding night and honeymoon even if you have to abstain the entire time. We only had one day that was an “infertile” day on our honeymoon. We still got to sleep next to each other and show physical affection in ways we couldn’t have while we were dating, and when we got home, phase 3 arrived! By having to abstain our wedding night and most of our honeymoon, we quickly learned that the patience, chastity, and self-sacrifice we practiced while dating applies just the same to marriage – it just looks different. And most importantly, it was an opportunity for us to enter slowly and intentionally into the new dynamic of sexual intimacy, which made it all the more beautiful.”
From a fertility dietician:
“A couple months before our wedding I decided to go on the birth control pill. We did not fully understand church teaching at the time which was part of the issue. But, if I am being honest, about 99.9% of the reason we decided to go on birth control was the fear that God would “punish” us with a baby. We were both virgins who waited until marriage and felt that being able to have sex on our wedding night was what we were “owed”. The fact that we thought those things makes my heart sad. Did we have a lot of sex on our honeymoon? We sure did. But once the honeymoon was over, I could no longer ignore the emotional toll birth control took on me. I wasn’t happy, and I hardly ever desired my husband. Being able to have sex whenever you want is all fine and dandy until birth control makes you never want it. We didn’t last much longer until I stopped the pill and we switched to NFP, and have never looked back. The closeness I feel to my husband now, is far better than how I felt on our wedding night. We can’t re-do our honeymoon, but now every month p+4 rolls around it sure feels like one.”