Brandon Vogt

Sex, Babies, and Humor: An Interview with Simcha Fisher

Simcha Interview

If I ranked my favorite bloggers by their laughs-to-post ratio, Simcha Fisher would certainly be near the top. She’s known for her deep insights on faith, sex, parenthood, and femininity but what sets her apart is her humor. Wrapped around her wise and honest writing you’ll find heavy doses of sarcasm and self-deprecating wit, a combo that leaves you sighing and chuckling in equal measure. Few days go by without me or my wife asking each other: “Did you read Simcha today?”

Sinners Guide to Natural Family PlanningSeveral months ago, I received an email from Simcha announcing her first book. Titled The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, it looked really exciting. The book set out to explore two very deep and important topics—sex and marriage—but with Simcha’s typical candor and fun. I hoped it would breath new life into Natural family planning (NFP), an awesome life-choice with a middling reputation.

And Simcha did just that. Here were my thoughts after finishing:

“G.K. Chesterton once said, ‘A thing worth doing is worth doing badly.’ And anyone practicing Natural family planning knows what he means (hence the appropriate verb: practice.) In this excellent and witty book, Simcha Fisher unveils the joys, benefits, and inconvenient difficulties of Natural family planning. Refreshingly honest and joyful, the result is a desperately needed resource. All couples should read this book.”

Here’s Simcha’s own description of the book:

“So, you’ve decided to use Natural family planning.

Has it blessed your marriage? Deepened your respect for your body? Has it made your sex life fantastic? Do you and your spouse hold hands at sunset, and do pink flowers grow around your marital bed?

If so, this book is not for you.

But if you’ve tried Natural family planning and have discovered that your life is now awful—or if you feel judged or judgey, or if you trust NFP but your doctor doesn’t, or if just you’re trying to figure out how the heck to have a sex life that is holy but still human—you’ll find comfort, encouragement, honesty, wit, and, most importantly, practical advice in The Sinner’s Guide to NFP.

In a series of funny, frank, and profound essays, popular Catholic blogger and mother of nine Simcha Fisher shows what it’s really like to practice NFP, and how to achieve those fabled “marriage building” benefits.

The Sinner’s Guide to NFP helps you with:

  • NFP and Your Spiritual Life
  • NFP and the Rest of the World
  • NFP in the Trenches

An easy and lively read, thoroughly grounded in orthodox Catholic theology, this book is packed with refreshingly frank insights about sex, love, and marriage. The next time you ask yourself, “If NFP is wonderful, why am I so miserable?”—don’t panic. The Sinner’s Guide to NFP is here to help.”

Fast-forwarding to a couple weeks ago, I received another email from Simcha, this one more frantic than excited. She had accidentally launched her new book on, several weeks before planned, and asked if I could help get the word out.

I of course agreed and joined with several other bloggers in spreading the news. Then we all watched as The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning shot up the charts. Amazingly, within twenty four hours, Simcha’s book became the #1 bestselling Catholic title on Amazon, even topping an obscure author in a white hat:
Besides simply being a great book, one reason so many people snatched it up is because Simcha priced the Kindle version at just $4.99 (!!). The paperback will be available soon but in the meantime you can’t beat that price.

Simcha graciously agreed to chat with me about her new bestseller, including the myths and truths of Natural family planning and why humor is a good approach to the topic.


BRANDON: Let’s start with the basics. What is Natural family planning and how is it different than artificial contraception?

SIMCHA FISHER: Natural family planning (NFP) is a method for avoiding or achieving pregnancy. It teaches a woman to recognize and track her body’s natural daily signs of fertility and infertility, so she and her husband can decide whether or not to have sex on those days.

NFP is different from artificial contraception because it doesn’t do anything, either to your bodies or to the sexual act. It just helps you figure out how to cooperate with the way your body already works. But artificial contraception changes the nature of the sex act, breaking up the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, and introducing something new into the way your bodies work.

Some people say that this difference is splitting hairs: if you’re trying not to get pregnant, you’re trying not to get pregnant—who cares how you achieve that goal? But there is all the difference in the world. Imagine if you wanted to lose weight. You could eat in moderation and with pleasure, or you could eat everything and anything that you want, and then stick your finger down your throat before the food can hit your stomach. The goal is the same, but we can see how different the methods are!

BRANDON: Most books on Natural family planning are straightforward, impersonal, and bland, but yours is full of humor and vulnerability. Why this approach?

SIMCHA FISHER: I remember first learning NFP, after our third child was born, and feeling so frustrated and alone. I read that NFP was “marriage building,” and that it might occasionally be “challenging,” and that it was important to be chaste and open to life. But how all of that was actually supposed to play out in our marriage, I had no idea. Since no one was talking about it, I assumed no one else was struggling. When I imagined putting up with that strain for another few decades, I wanted to just get a tubal and go to confession later.

The purpose of this book is to reassure people that they’re not alone—that most couples struggle sometimes, as they’re learning how to love each other. I offer practical advice for how to make things better, and encouragement to embrace the Cross. Overall, it’s really a book about love.

And yes, it’s full of jokes. Because sex is profound, but also hilarious.

BRANDON: What are the biggest myths surrounding Natural family planning?

SIMCHA FISHER: Oh, where to start? One oldie but goodie is that it’s the same as the rhythm method, and won’t work unless you ovulate on day 14 of your 28 day cycle. The truth is, modern methods of natural family planning are so scientifically advanced, they are starting to be adopted by secular doctors.

Another myth is that NFP is just the Catholic brand of birth control—that there are plenty of ways to avoid pregnancy, and that the Church, being misogynistic and backward, has decided to give NFP the green light because they know you’ll end up with a million kids anyway. his is so silly, I don’t know where to begin. The Church’s acceptance of NFP to regulate births is completely consistent with every other truth she teaches about human sexuality.

Yet another myth is that NFP is easy and fun and you will barely even notice it because you will be so busy strolling down a beach at sunset while building your marriage. The truth is, there is joy and growth and holiness to be won through the practice of NFP. But many people have to hack their way through a jungle of misunderstandings and bad habits before they can meet on that beautiful shore! Helping people blaze that trail through the jungle is one of the main purposes of my book.

BRANDON: Some devoted Catholics grate against Natural family planning. What are their concerns and how would you respond?

SIMCHA FISHER: Some Catholics say that the Church only permits NFP to be used in “grave,” life-or-death circumstances, like if your whole family has leprosy, or your entire town has just been washed into the sea. Most of this concern is based on a simple mistranslation of a word in Humanae Vitae. Angela Bonilla deconstructs that misunderstanding very nicely here.

Another complaint is that most people who use NFP are abusing it, and don’t have a good enough reason to postpone a pregnancy—and that they might as well be contracepting. I refute this concern in the first several chapters of my book. God is calling us to holiness, not fertility contests. These matters are intensely private and personal, and vary so widely from couple to couple that it’s all we can do to keep our own hearts honest, without trying to manage other people’s consciences, too. It is monstrously wrongheaded to assume you know the first thing about a couple just because you know how many kids they have.

I have to scratch my head when some Catholics see small families in the pews and blame NFP. First of all, some of those couples are battling infertility, and would have no children at all, if it were not for NFP.

Second, I’m extremely skeptical that there are just gobs and gobs of couples willing to take on a labor-intensive, counter-cultural practice that requires self-sacrifice and discipline, just because they feel like spending an extra week in Cabo this year, and one more baby would cramp their style. Catholics who define NFP as the primary scourge of our time need to step away from the computers and get some fresh air.

BRANDON: Many people note that couples practicing Natural family planning typically have more kids than those who don’t. Does this mean that Natural family planning “fails” in its purpose?

SIMCHA FISHER: It’s funny, isn’t it? We have very strict Catholics bemoaning that NFP-ers are indistinguishable from the contracepting “one or none” crowd. At the same time, apparently it’s common knowledge that NFP-using couples have these huge, unwieldy, carbon-hogging megafamilies. It’s enough to make you wish people would just mind their own damn business and let us raise our kids, isn’t it?

But yeah, in communities with lots of Catholic families, you’ll see plenty of giant passenger vans parked in the driveways. There are a few reasons for this.

One reason is that Catholics are taught to love children—to see children as something that will make our lives better, make the world more meaningful, draw us closer to God. So maybe we use NFP to space out our pregnancies to catch a breath in between, but we still like kids, and have them if we can.

Another reason is, frankly, NFP can be hard. Some people try to avoid pregnancy, and either make a mistake on their charts, or else, in the heat of the moment, they tell their plans to take a flying leap—and have a baby even when they have a really good reason not to. So some big families are a result of “method error” or “user error,” because charting really is harder than just popping a pill.

But another very common reason is somewhere in the middle. Lots of people are ambivalent about conceiving, and they say they are putting off another pregnancy, but they get more and more careless about following “avoiding behavior.” They don’t exactly plan to get pregnant, but they aren’t really trying hard not to. Maybe they’re not absolutely smitten with bliss when they realize there’s another little guy on the way, but by the time the baby is born, they are thanking God that they were “careless” that one night, because look at this gorgeous baby.

One final thing: one way that NFP is different from contraception is that it’s quite possible for the practice of NFP—for the self-discipline, the sacrifice, the prayer, the self-denial—to change our hearts. We may start out using NFP to strictly limit our family size for purely selfish reasons, and actually learn, through the practice of NFP, to be more welcoming of children, or more open to God’s will in general. Go ahead, ask me how I know!

BRANDON: What would you say to a young couple considering Natural family planning but who are scared they might end up with twenty kids?

SIMCHA FISHER: I would suggest finding the happiest Catholic couple you know, making friends with them, and asking for some advice. Making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and acting out of fear—these are not the way to a joyful, meaningful life, whether we’re talking about family planning or anything else.

What I’m trying to encourage, most of all, is for people to talk to each other. For Catholics to talk to other Catholics, laymen to talk to priests about the struggles they are enduring, priests to talk to laymen about the reason behind the Church’s teaching. And most of all, for husband and wives to talk to each other, and for both of them to talk to God. Conversation, the communion of heart to heart, is where love is born.

For more, check out Simcha’s blog at Patheos or her National Catholic Register blog. Also, pick up her newest book (for only $4.99!) titled The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning.

Sinners Guide

If you liked this discussion you’ll find several more on my Interviews page. Subscribe free via feed reader or email and ensure sure you don’t miss future interviews.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    Simca is a talented writer but has often shown a deep hatred for other Catholics like Michael Voris.
    She slandered Mr. Voris for a retreat he held but when her friend Mark Shea did the same thing she was silent.

    • HenryBowers

      Maggie, please don’t succumb to the fiction of “hate crimes.” You can call someone rude, but you have no jurisdiction over what they hate. Hatred can and should be considered for securing a conviction, but should never be the crime itself. Let’s have that be the last time you ever make such a comment, m-kay?

      • Maggie Sullivan

        Henry, you are right and I and am sorry for using the word hate.
        It is just dissipointing that Mrs. Fisher and Mr. Shea went attacked Mr. Voris for weeks and now Mr. Shea is on his own luxery retreat and Mrs. Fisher is silent.
        Let’s just say Simca owes Mr. shea an apology. Is she Christian enough to do the right thing?

        • HenryBowers

          Shea has his own philosophical problems, inseparable from his talents; I won’t sympathize with the personal drama or his PR apology fiasco. IMHO, if actors on a stage aren’t lying, then neither is Live Action lying. What do you think?

          • Almario Javier

            I would say the thing is that (as a former man of the stage) in your example, everyone knows that what is going on stage is not an actual occurrence at that particular time. No reasonable person would surmise that because Jud Fry’s actor plays dead, that the actual actor is dead, for example.

            With Live Action, on the other hand, the person they are addressing is led to reasonably believe that the person before them is requesting advice on how to obtain an abortion. Whether it’s an actual break of the commandment against lying, or how severe if so, I don’t know. But a better analogy would be an undercover operation by police or an intelligence service. Of course, the problem there is that Live Action is not the agent of a legitimately constituted civil authority.

          • HenryBowers

            And the “legitimate[ly] constituted civil authority” is precisely what I see lacking in an abortion building itself. Before anyone walks in the door, they know it’s a farce; sure, a killing might really happen, but it’s not a context where truth-telling is expected all around, like a base-runner juking the pitcher.

          • Almario Javier

            Certainly. But the counterargument to that is that we shouldn’t stoop to their level (which is pretty low down already, we can all agree.)

          • HenryBowers

            But that’s just saying we shouldn’t stoop to attending baseball games, either. I think the only harms of lying are those against my own integrity and against the common good or goods of others. Therefore, my 2 cents is that it’s only lying when truth is culturally expected.

    • Almario Javier

      That’s because Voris did it during Lent. The problem was not the what or the where per se, but the when.

      • Maggie Sullivan

        I didn’t know having a retreat durning lent is wrong. I though Lent was a time for spiritual growth.
        Mr. shea just hates Mr. Voris………..

        • Almario Javier

          Having a cruise during Lent kinda sends the wrong message. Honestly, though, I’m actually agnostic on the whole matter. My dislike for Mr. Voris’ antics is not changed for better or worse for a mere Caribbean cruise.

  • Sarah

    “Maybe they’re not absolutely smitten with bliss when they
    realize there’s another little guy on the way, but by the time the baby
    is born, they are thanking God that they were “careless” that one night,
    because look at this gorgeous baby.”

    Thank you for saying this. This is generally my attitude and it seems to make everyone, from our NFP cheerleader friends to our relatives who loathe our fertility, very angry. The former sees it as spitting in God’s eye and the latter takes it as proof positive one should only have as many kids as you can get really, really, blissfully excited and camera-happy about. I look forward to reading your book, Simcha– I’m sure the Church needs more like it.

  • TeaPot562

    Do you know what retailers are going to carry the printed version of your book? Target, e.g.?
    We’re a bit old for practice ourselves, but we have descendants who are married and might enjoy.

    • simchafisher

      I’m not sure about that yet. Hope to have more info soon!

      • Maggie Sullivan

        Hi Simca,
        You and Mr. Shea have been attacking Mike Voris for a long time.
        Will you be honest enough to admit Mr. Shea is a hypocrite for attaking Mr. Voris because of his cruse during lent when Mr. shea is taking a FOUR STAR LUXURY PILLIGRIMAGE
        Are pilgrimages really suppose to be FOUR STAR AND LUXERY?
        Simca, if you are an honest person you will either apologize to Mr. Voris or admit publically that Mr. Shea and his FOUR STAR LUXERY PILLIGRIMAGE ammounts to the same thing as a retreat during lent.
        Or does honesty mean nothing…………..

  • misterheche

    Some helpful NFP information and resource links can be found here:

  • HenryBowers

    Simcha obviously knows her encyclicals, but the philosophy in this interview has a blind spot. NFP does _do_ something, the way the anorexic also does something: whatever she does instead of eat. The recognition of this leads one to realize that there must be something more deeply wrong with contraception than its phenomenological distastefulness from a Catholic or human dignity perspective. This is especially pertinent if we are to convince even fornicators that contraception is intrinsically wrong. For if two are already fornicating, how much cogency is there in decrying their dualistic contraception method? Rather, what makes contraception intrinsically wrong is its a priori will against the coming-to-be of a child, something the NFP agent can avoid willing in her action, but which the contracepting agent cannot avoid. And this has nothing to do with the presence of a barrier per se, or of “changing the nature of sex,” whatever that means; the distinction is in the unity of action between NFP and fostering other goods, and the disunity of action between applying barriers and fostering other goods. And so I have to disagree with Simcha’s approach here, which I understand is that also endorsed by Dr. Janet Smith.

    • Melinda Selmys

      Your argument is fallacious. If it were true, then it would be perfectly cogent for a Catholic to use a condom provided they were using it without an “a priori will against the coming-to-be of a child”: as my sister (a midwife) once quipped, when married people say “We’re using condoms” they mean “we’re willing to have a baby.” Most people know that barrier methods have a fairly high failure rate, so if a secular couple is kind-of open to conception but not exactly planning to get pregnant, that’s what they’ll use. A person using contraception can be just as willing to conceive as a person using NFP can — and a person using NFP can be just as unwilling to conceive as a person using contraception. The intrinsic wrongness of contraception lies in the nature of the contraceptive act. For a fornicating couple, contraception doesn’t add to the immorality of fornication per se: you cannot preserve the integrity of the “unitive and procreative aspects” of conjugal love if there is a) no unity, and b) the sex is not conjugal. Contraception increases the likelihood of fornication, and if contraception indicates an intent to abort (or a likelihood of intent to abort) in the case of conception then the gravity of fornication is increased because it involves contempt for the fifth commandment as well as the sixth.

      • HenryBowers

        What fallacy was committed, Melinda? There is emotional intention, and there is practical intention. The application of a condom is an act incompatible with raising my family. Abstaining from sex is fully compatible. Granted, we can never determine from a 3rd-person perspective what the agent’s 1st-person intention is (notice JP2’s corroboration of this as he borrows from Aquinas in Veritatis Splendor §78), but we can certainly determine that condom use has nothing to do with fostering existing goods. So you, unfortunately, are the one who has committed the fallacy of equivocation, over the term “intention.”

        The preservation of unitive and procreative aspects is a phenomoneological, theological, indicative, and descriptive phrase. It doesn’t tell why contraception is wrong, it merely presupposes that contraception is already wrong, before providing other good reasons to avoid it. The Church is not in the philosophy business, but some of the laity are.

        • Melinda Selmys

          Oh, you’re using language in that way. Simcha Fisher is writing for people who don’t have philosophy degrees. That’s not a “blind spot.”

          • simchafisher

            Thank you, Melinda. And just to be clear: my book does not set out to make the theological case for contraception, or the philosophical case for anything. My book is for people who are married and using NFP, and are trying to learn how to love God and each other better.

          • Melinda Selmys

            Thanks Simcha. Oh, and congrats on the book! It’s near the top of my “to-read” list as soon as the Christmas book budget becomes available. Any chance of an .epub version?

          • simchafisher

            I would be honored! Send the best email address to simchafisher at gmail dot com, and I will get one to you tonight.

          • HenryBowers

            Thanks, I really didn’t mean to be critical of Simcha. She has faithfully transmitted a popular but error-inviting version of Natural Law that I think merits inspection for the benefit of all audiences. This is Brandon’s blog, and so my critique of what he published is primarily for his consideration. I re-posted to what I thought was Simcha’s FB, to avoid talking behind her back. I admit I got needlessly snarky about the “changing the nature” comment, and for that I apologize. But I do think similar language, reminiscent of Casti Connubii §54, is prone to an easy equivocation that leaves hearers perplexed, because its logic can in fact be question-begging. It’s not even wrong language, most of the time, but if mentioned in passing (as countless devout, modern, scholars do), it can make the Church appear guilty of special pleading for its lack of admonition in §55 against wearing earplugs, which also frustrates a natural process.

            My point is that the pope wrote for 53 paragraphs before mentioning sins against nature, providing no underlying reason of why such frustrations would be intrinsically wrong, and so when he mentions them in §54, we should understand it to be strictly indicative and not derivative of (or for) his thesis. In other words, if frustration per se cannot be what is intrinsically wrong (cf. earplugs), then nothing in §54 compels us to believe that frustrating the end of coitus is the only way the sin of contraception transpires.

          • Melinda Selmys

            Mmm…Okay, I am actually interested in that case. I’ve been concerned for a while with the inadequacies of the traditional “natural law” argument against contraception as explained by Smith et al (doubly so, because my primary involvement with the discourse involves the problems surrounding homosexuality. Weirdly, NFP matters a lot more in my personal life, but the application of NFP-type arguments vis a vis homosexual intercourse looms much larger in terms of my intellectual engagement.) I’m not sure that you’ve presented a viable alternative here. I’m a general believer in the idea that if an argument depends on the acceptance of a particular highly technical language game, then the argument is BS. I don’t mean to be difficult, but if you could try to posit your position in a less abstruse idiom I would find that really helpful.

          • HenryBowers

            Thank you, what an interesting project. I apologize that I am as yet abstruse, as I am a beginner, so I prattle, but a passionate interest sees me through.

            Basically, I am a literary disciple of Germain Grisez. That’s the short-cut. The long-cut is that he actually believes the naturalistic fallacy is a real problem, and so do I. We can’t derive an ought from an is, in my view, because the speculative and practical reason are different in kind (Aristotle, NE). This means the practical reason cannot equate to: speculative derivations about human nature plus force-of-will. Since it is different in kind, practical reason is rather that which follows the habit of synderesis, and projects what good is-to-be done among the particulars of a given situation (mean between the extremes). And here we see a second important difference in the speculative and practical intellects: the speculative is potentially the essence of all things, it conforms to real being in the world; but since the practical reason operates always in a future tense (good is-to-be done, and evil avoided), ***the world conforms to the good projected by the agent’s practical reason.***

            Therefore, moralists are only incidentally right when they say the teleology of a certain process should be respected. For the understanding of the process and its 4 causes is entirely speculative. No ethical work has yet been done. The statement at best says: “It is wrong to frustrate a process’s end that should be respected.” It doesn’t really answer why that end or process should be respected.

            Where we get better traction, I think, on understanding the intrinsic wrongness of an act, is when we recognize what kind of entities set up objects for choice, toward which synderesis impels us, and about which we can speculatively conceptualize by observing other rational agents. These entities are Grisez’s Basic Goods. Things that are pursued for no other reason than themselves, and are open-ended, never fully actualized, and which while may realize some subjective goal for that particular agent, is nevertheless intelligible as a rational benefit for the human person. (I think JP2 would call this the orderability of the moral object to God.)

            Now, since the basic goods are open-ended, it means they are not commensurable with other, instrumental goods. This is why we cannot execute the innocent mayor to appease the terrorists who will otherwise burn the village. We cannot look into the future and calculate the is-to-be goodness of even one human life (life which we pursue for no other reason than itself, by the way), and so we have no practical reason to intentionally oppose a basic good. Whenever we feel tempted to oppose basic goods, it is because some apparent good has convinced us to fetter synderesis’ drive toward integral human fulfillment, or of letting all persons pursue all basic goods without intentional hindrance.

            So now I’ll try to land this plane. Aquinas says every intention is part of the will, but not everything that is willed is intended. Therefore, in NFP uprightly practiced, I intend to protect existing goods, and in this decision to not-try for a child, I will the unintended side-effect that the coming-to-be of a person will be bypassed. In contraception, on the other hand, I intend to take some action against the coming-to-be of the basic good of new life, which as we saw is always 100% unreasonable.

            Now, how do we know the application of barriers counts as the intended means to an end? Because it bears no relation to the intention of protecting other goods. I could perfectly protect other goods without applying barriers, so my disunity of action betrays a disunity of intention. NFP resists classification as an intended means against the coming-to-be of new life because it maintains a unity of action in the (also unified) intention to protect other goods. NFP could, however, be intended against the coming-to-be of a child, and this switch to a contraceptive abuse of NFP depends entirely on the 1st-person intention of the agents, since their unity of action appears legitimate from the 3rd-person perspective.

            Moving to sodomitical acts, we need to consider what are not the basic goods. As it is wrong to oppose that which one has no reason to oppose, so it is wrong to pursue what one has no reason to pursue. The is-to-be of sodomitical acts is not a close friendship, and is not an intimate self-acceptance with one’s erotic interest, for these can be achieved without the manipulation of sex organs. Rather, the only intelligible is-to-be of sodomitical acts is some kind of pleasure, and pleasure is only as good as the rational good to which it attaches. If we could understand what the sodomitical activity essentially _is,_ we might be able to classify it as a human good that is perfective and fulfilling, but it seems we cannot. For coitus is pursued for its own sake. It not only actualizes a biological function that the individual and same-sex persons cannot perform on their own, thus being functionally perfective of the human, but it is repeatedly sought for its emotional exclusivity, public announcement, and lifetime execution, whether or not babies are ever intended or transpire. Ultimately, marriage doesn’t reduce to the pleasure, or the emotional relationship, or the biological function, or to reproduction; it reduces to something we simply run out of reasons to pursue (like life, health, and knowledge), and yet pursue we do, finding it grossly unjust to intentionally hinder for its own sake.

            The same cannot be said of SSM; there is no evidence that alternative manipulations of the sex organs is something fulfilling and perfective. Most of it we can do by ourselves, and the reason to do them and the other things escapes anything but a subjective goal of the agent, which as we saw defies computation of a rational, moral calculus. But more than defy, we can secondarily see that sodomitical acts are dualistic, which is its own unreasonable sin. The only intelligible is-to-be of manipulating the sex organs is for coitus, so if they are manipulated without a spouse present, the action pretends the individual could be fulfilled by a counterfeit, which is ontologically false. Our practical reason is a power of the forming principle of our bodies, so the two cannot factually be detached in the execution of rational projects.

            So I would not compare NFP and SSM on their fertility components. Real and excellent marriages are knowingly sterile. The stronger comparison, in my view, concerns what intelligible, irreducible good is at stake.

          • Melinda Selmys

            This requires a fairly long and detailed response — I’m currently putting together a series on my own blog ( that deals with the reasons why these kinds of arguments don’t actually fly in the public sphere. If you’re willing to pursue the argument, I’d be honoured to have you participate. I’ll post here when I actually have a response up.

            In the meantime, I admire your zeal, your passion. I would give a caution: Grisez is immensely intelligent, but suffers from a particular form of blindness that is common to intelligent people. He is able to see the abstract morality of acts with tremendous clarity, but those abstractions tend to obscure the person in a way that risks a very dangerous kind of moralism. To give an example, a young woman asks him about avoiding rape while at college ( his answer is absolutely correct in every sense except for one: it completely misses the fact that this response is being published and will be read by people other than the letter writer, some of whom may be rape victims, and it neglect the fact that the letter writer herself might actually become a victim of rape. It is extremely common for the trauma of rape to be exacerbated by undue self-blaming. Yes, in an objective sense, some rape victims may be culpable in a limited sense — in the same way that a mother may have limited culpability for her child’s death if she forgets to remind him to put on his bicycle helmet the day that he is hit by a car — but in fact any culpability that might attach to the victim is so mild in comparison to the suffering that they experience that it is already paid for many times over. In such situations, contributing to already overinflated feelings of self-blame and self-hatred on the part of a victim is callous and shows a grave lack of compassion. Obviously, I don’t think that Grisez intends to further victimize rape victims, but the fact that he chose to publish this particular response in this form reveals a blind spot for the impact of his words on others that I’ve found pretty consistently throughout his work. Knowing abstract principles is very good, it is a kind of service to truth, but truth only expresses the fullness of Truth, the person of Christ, when it expresses itself in the kind of love that truly sees and judges the heart. There’s a really good passage on this in Lumen Fidei…excellent encyclical in general. Anyway, I’m not talking from atop the moral high-ground here: take it as a kind of sisterly advice from someone who has often accidentally caused suffering as a result of over-intellectualizing other people’s pain.
            That aside, I look forward to being able to continue with the wholly abstract and idealistic side of the discussion soon 🙂

    • Meredith

      It is fairly straightforward to see where a normal diet ends and anorexia begins. Anorexics lose their menstrual cycles because their bodies are in starvation mode. They become weak and malnourished and if they push things too far they die. They have a pathological fear of food and eat as little as they can get away with. Anorexia is obviously harmful to the body.

      Where, in your mind, does sexual anorexia begin? Are spouses who, by mutual agreement, only have sex twice a year sinning? Let’s say they aren’t even practicing NFP, they just don’t feel like having sex very often. Sex is necessary to continue the human race, but not to sustain the life of an individual, the way food is. Catholic tradition has even made room for the “Josephite” or celibate marriage – the parents of St. Therese considered such an arrangement. The question of how often a couple should have sex or how many children they should have is more subtle and individual than how much food they should eat.

      • HenryBowers

        I would answer that I’m disinclined to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ How does the physical fact: “Anorexics lose their menstrual cycles because their bodies are in starvation mode,” create a moral obligation? That distinction between “normal” and bad seems clear to you, but it implies a theoretical preconception about human nature, from which we cannot convincingly ground an obligation.

        For we face either one of two problems: (1) What is natural can be understood entirely by theoretical speculation, and therefore declaring some acts (which are not theoretical) to fall into accord or discord with it is simply an arbitrary exercise, or (2) You already know that this menstrual pivot-point (or the physical state of starvation) decides the bad and good, and so finding acts which support or malign it is question-begging. Either way, we have no settled obligation except the one you presuppose.

        Therefore I agree with your insinuation that there are some things it is not possible to calculate in advance, like how many kids to have, which is a mean between extremes. Anorexia can be understood as the apparent good of slender beauty, but whose pursuing agent unreasonably and intentionally attacks the good of health. It’s not that I’ve speculatively deduced health to be good a priori to action, but that experience reveals I have no reason whatsoever to intentionally impede my own health for anything. [Legitimate cases of sacrifice are not intentional impediments, but merely willed as side-effects.]

        Therefore, if I were to make a phenomenological analogy to ‘sexual anorexia,’ I would call it the apparent good of __[whatever good motive for abstinence someone may choose]__ whose pursuing agent makes an unreasonable and intentional attack upon the marital relationship, or the conception of kids, or whatever. I think the spiritual motives you mention preclude comparison of the Josephite case with the caloric starvation case, so I will refrain from answering it.

  • Morgan L. Bennett


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