Let’s Talk About Sex

Somehow I became an amateur Catholic sex guru.

I’m not quite sure how this happened. I contacted a woman whose blog I enjoyed, wrote a guest post for her, and the next thing I know, I’m the Catholic Dr. Drew along with my co-blogger, Kate.

Ok, so Google is laughing at me for that one given the blog stats. Google is also telling me that a significant number of the blog’s readers were looking for “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” (or something like that) and apparently got lost.

Still, we have been nominated for a Sheenazing Award!

But anyway…

In this role, I’ve learned a lot about sex and relationships. My relationship with K has always been pretty good in this area, so I’ve learned a lot about the problems people have from this experience.

I have learned just how many people have had religion mess up their sex life.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Humorist The Oatmeal sees weird anxieties about sexuality as a one way that people suck at their religion.

sex

The Oatmeal is wrong: Nickelback albums are NEVER the will of a loving God.

Many people have written about the anxieties caused by Protestant “Purity Culture”, from seeing sex as something men need and women tolerate, to treating women who have had sex outside of marriage as damaged goods, to making female virginity a super-special virtue that would guarantee “happily ever after”, to instructing young people to “guard their hearts” through emotional and sexual repression.

By comparison, Catholics are relatively normal. Catholics can manage to wear purity rings and read Joshua Harris’s terrible (non)dating advice and still have happy, emotionally healthy marriages. We may have Catholic guilt, but at least we don’t have to worry too much about bad relationship advice.  We free to date and marry whomever we choose, not just devout Catholics. The Catholic Church doesn’t push people to the altar to avoid sin, but wants to slow them down to make sure they are ready to make a lifetime commitment.

Every Sperm is Sacred?

Instead, Catholic anxiety over sex is more technical.  The Catholic Church teaches that because sex is designed for procreation and bonding, the only “natural way” to have sex is the way that you possibly could use to make a baby. Everything else is an unnatural perversion.

Don’t get me wrong, we are big fans of the “natural way”.  Most couples are. We also know fertility awareness is a much better option than contraception. It is empowering to women, healthy, and can make a couple’s sex life better, even with the abstinence.

My problem is with saying that “everything else is an unnatural perversion“.

Or as Monte Python sarcastically put it:

Every sperm is sacred.
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

On teh interwebz you can find Catholics talking about sex, on topics such as:

  • Wives debating about the “proper” way to receive their husband’s semen.
  • Wives bragging about just how long their husbands can go without sex.
  • Couples thinking that risking pregnancy is the “price” they have to pay for sexual pleasure or their marriages will be consumed with selfishness and lust.
  • Couples fearing hellfire for doing something that is not “Church approved”.
  • Couples abstaining from all sexual contact for months because they cannot figure out fertility and cannot risk pregnancy.
  • Couples risking pregnancy when they have serious reasons to avoid because their relationship is so starved for intimacy that they downplay the risk.
  • Couples risking pregnancy when they have serious reasons to avoid because they have become aroused and believe that continuing to sex is the only proper way to finish.
  • Couples encouraged to “just risk it” because it’s the wedding night.
  • Couples encouraged to “just risk it”—without even discussing the charts—because they have a nice hotel room.
  • A woman taking birth control pills for medical reasons who is horribly confused about why the Church thinks her and her husband’s sexual relationship is selfish and unloving because of her medication.
  • Women discussing how a nun can write about sex when her writing shows she doesn’t fully understand her own sexual anatomy.
  • Young virgin brides-to-be terrified of their wedding night because they are afraid that they have to finish the “natural way” whether they are ready for that or not.

This begs the question “what is natural“?  Because discussing a sexual relationship in these terms certainly isn’t.

Faith and God and Sex

Perhaps instead of looking to pagan philosophy on the nature of sex, Catholics should look to Scripture on the nature of love?

Perhaps we should look to verses like

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8.

and

For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘” Galatians 5:14. See also Matthew 22:37-40.

Instead of asking whether various sex acts are “natural” or “unnatural”, perhaps we should be looking first to the state of our minds and our consciences towards our spouses and our sexuality?

“To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted.” Titus 1:15 (RSV-CE).

Popular evangelical author Rachel Held Evans asks whether evangelicals expect too much of their pastors, including being sex therapists when they have absolutely no qualifications for doing so. But she sees this as part of a bigger problem:

It seems like common sense that couples should feel free to engage in [a variety of sexual] activities if both partners enjoy them, so long as they don’t become obsessions. The fact that Christian couples seem to need the approval of a pastor along with some strategically placed Bible verses in order to engage in such activities is a bigger concern to me. It seems that we are once again demanding more from the text and from our pastors than they can and should give.

She concludes:

When sexuality gets relegated to the realm of religious absolutes and strictly enforced roles, the focus tends to shift from serving one another to servicing one another. And that’s no way to love.

The same is true for Catholics. While Catholic theology on sexuality is far deeper and more developed than that of the average evangelical megachurch, our pastors take vows of celibacy. There is only so much you can understand about marriage and sex when you aren’t married and aren’t having sex.

And this is why Catholic sexual teaching, while philosophically quite sound, should be heeded with caution: what sounds good in theory may not work in practice.

Yes, I see the wisdom in Catholic sexual teachings. They are intended to be a “positive option for couples” and many couples have found following them to be a wonderful and very rewarding way to live. Catholic teachings are a beautiful ideal that speaks the truth about our sexuality. The Church teaches how the two spouses can truly—physically and sacramentally—become one flesh, mingling like “ointment and oil”, as St. John Chrysostom once said. And if this love creates new life, then this is an amazing wonder and a blessing from God.

But I also see just how easy things can go horribly, horribly, wrong if you have to deal with unpredictable cycles, ambiguous signs of fertility, long periods of abstinence, and struggle with the demands of pregnancy and parenthood. Things can also go wrong when couples, especially women, worry about following all the rules while still learning their sexuality. While exceedingly spiritually and relationally mature couples may be able to handle more difficult situations, couples who have problems risk doing serious damage to their marriage and their faith.

Furthermore, the Church’s understanding of the Natural Law on sexuality has changed over time. For example, sex during menstruation was prohibited under Mosaic Law, condemned by Aquinas, and remains a taboo, yet modern Church teaching sees nothing wrong with it.

For these reasons, a Catholic conversation about sex in marriage should be less about the technical details of how sex “should” be and more about the nature of love and how that plays out in a marital sexual relationship. This includes making sexuality “a source of joy and pleasure in a marriage” as well as being truly generous and open to new life.

Unfortunately, positive, frank discussions of marital sexuality from Catholic sources are generally lacking. For couples who need advice, I have found that many of the non-Catholic sites on Christian sexuality, especially those written by women, are better sources of information. If you need help beyond that which you can find online, don’t be afraid to get professional counseling.

Great sex may not always lead to a great marriage, but it sure doesn’t hurt. 😉

So, dear readers, have you been harmed by religious beliefs about sex? Have you been helped? Do you have any advice for couples who want an intimate, loving, spiritual, and, yes, fruitful, sexual relationship in their marriage?

Edit: An unintentional “rebuttal” from April at My Feminine Mind. Be sure to read the comments:  http://www.myfemininemind.com/2013/01/loyalty-for-some.html

Chasing Waterfalls

One blogger writes about how she is thankful for winter walks with her husband:

It is possible that my level of happiness in life is directly correlated to the number of minutes we spend walking together each week.

I can relate.

K and I love walking together. Our neighborhood is quiet, wooded, and somewhat mountainous, so we can get a good walk in the mornings after we have taken the children to school. It is our way of reconnecting, if even for a few minutes. No phone. No internet. No distractions. Just me and her.

When we were dating and when we were first married, we walked a lot. We walked in the mountains.

K on the Appalachian Trail.

K on the Appalachian Trail.

But our favorite destinations were waterfalls. We went to college in an area where hundreds of waterfalls are in a short drive. We bought a series of books with directions and topographical maps to the waterfalls in the area. Some were just off the road.

 100_0484

One was in the middle of a city, making for a convenient date night.

FallsPark

A waterfall, dinner, and a show.

Others were off the beaten path, requiring long drives down gravel roads and long hikes down mountain paths.

100_0457

We liked waterfalls because they were the reward for a long hike. You drive, you walk, you scramble. You do all this so that you can see something beautiful at the end. A living work of art.

image_4250805_2

I now realize that the beauty wasn’t the waterfall at the end. It was the process of getting there. It was working together. It was spending time with the woman I love, talking about everything and nothing.

We don’t chase waterfalls often anymore. It’s harder to do that with a family. Our children don’t exactly share our fondness for miles of hiking.

But whether we are chasing waterfalls or taking a quick stroll around the familiar hills of our neighborhood, I, too, am pretty sure that my level of happiness in life is directly correlated to the number of minutes K and I spend walking together each week.

This Land Is Your Land

It is not an uncommon sight in Cuba for doctors and engineers to be driving taxicabs.

Classic American Car serving as a Cuban Taxi

Cuba has a relatively good education system, but its socialist economic system has provided few opportunities for its graduates. The one industry that is prospering in Cuba is the tourism industry. Vacationers from all over the world (except the United States) come to the island to enjoy Cuba’s pleasant weather and beautiful beaches.

So thousands of Cuban doctors decided that they were far better off being well paid by tourists as a taxi driver than poorly paid by the state for being a doctor.

This is seen as a clear sign of how the Cuba’s economy is completely dysfunctional and how communism is a really dumb idea.

Here in America…

With Communist Cuba’s problems in mind, let’s look at some of the latest headlines from the Good Ole’ USA!

Man with Law Degree and $250,000 in Student Loans Robs Bank To Get Health Care in Prison.

Educated and Underemployed

53% of College Graduates are Jobless or Underemployed.

The Good Men Project has the following graphic about people with advanced degrees on food stamps.

America's PHDs on Food Stamps

Oh, and did I mention that Americans owe over $1 trillion in student loan debt? Debt that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy?

Seeing doctors driving taxicabs is a clear sign that Cuba’s economy is dysfunctional. What does PhDs on welfare say about the United States?

More importantly, what price are we paying to keep all that knowledge and talent on the sidelines? How many bright Americans are unable to start businesses because of student loan debt?

Economic justice is not just about the poor and downtrodden. It impacts all of us. It changes our future.

So, what does a “just economy” mean to you? How should a country make the most of the talents and abilities of our people?

7 Quick Takes Vol. 3 – Do the Evolution

— 1 —

Today is the March for Life in Washington D.C. Apparently, there are a lot of young people participating in the march.

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 7.31.11 PM

Some people say that the pro-life message appeals to young people: We are “ultrasound generation”, who have seen babies in the womb. Others say that those of us under the age of 40 know that we could have easily ended up on the wrong end of an abortion.

The other side says that we don’t know what the world was like before abortion was legal.

But I think the explanation isn’t quite so complicated…

Charles_Darwin_01

Charles Darwin

Never bet against the side that believes in procreation. New life is the future.

It’s evolution, baby!

— 2 —

12_Raise_Standards_logo_v1This week is Catholic Schools week.

We are debating whether or not to send our daughters to Catholic school. Currently, they are enrolled in public school.

The public schools are supposedly the best in the area, but are nowhere near as good as where we used to live. Our daughters are incredibly bored. The Catholic school is excellent.

The problem is that the nearest Catholic school is a good 30 minutes away, which is a lot of travel time and family disruption. Not to mention the cost. We can afford the schools, but K knows several people who were annoyed that their parents spent so much money on private schools they had nothing for college.

(Yes, we know about homeschooling. K was homeschooled and we do not believe this is a good option for our family.)

Anyone have any experience with Catholic schools vs. public schools? Was it worth the time and money?

— 3 —

A broke her wrist Wednesday afternoon after school. She was doing something dangerous that involved going downhill on her scooter.

This little incident reminded me how incredibly thankful I am that we finally have really good health insurance for once. It also reminded me of how even with good health insurance, it can be hard to get good care when you live in a small town. She won’t get her cast until today.

— 4 —

Last week in my 27 Jennifers 7QT, I remembered JentoInfinity and Jennifer Fulwiler, but I forgot all about Jenn Garza. Jenn wants to become a nun, but has to pay down her student loans first so they do not become a burden on the community. (Taking a vow of poverty can’t get you out of student loan obligations. They just take the money from your community instead.)

So, if you want to help Jenn out, her website is: http://www.supportjennsvocation.blogspot.com/

— 5 —

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get in better shape. I’ve thought about Couch to 5k, but considering my flat feet and uneven legs (my left leg is slightly longer than my right), I’m thinking running might not be the way to go for me.

Does anyone have a good fitness program involving biking? Swimming? Any other activity to get in shape?

— 6 —

I have drafted a post reflecting on my work as an Catholic sex blogger.

Writing about sex from a Catholic perspective is difficult, and this post addresses exactly why I believe it is so difficult. But this post is definitely “stirring the pot”, so it’s sitting in draft for now. I don’t know whether to keep editing it, to post it, or to keep it in draft.

— 7 —

The Good Men Project has a list of 20 kick-ass songs about marriage. How many of these are in your playlist?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Gamble Everything For Love

I often get ideas of blog posts from twitter. Like this tweet from Lauren Dubinsky.

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.58.24 PM

It has been said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear.

Yet how many people avoid love out of fear? How many people don’t look for something more because they are afraid of “ruining the friendship”?

This is because there is no such thing as risk-free love. Love is always a gamble. Love is always a risk. Because love involves giving yourself fully to another person. It involves being vulnerable. It involves being open.

Vulnerability always carries risks.

couple_in_Love

But we are made to love. We are made to give ourselves to others. We are made to receive love. And when we close ourselves off out of fear, we can starve ourselves from the intimacy we need.

Love is risky, but it is often riskier not to love.

Or as writer Anais Nin once wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

young-couple-photo-1920x1200-hi-res-photo

My relationship with K started with a gamble. We met took a class together in college. Our professor was late the first day, so we had a chance to talk with each other. We talked again after class—for nearly an hour.

We became good friends, but she was still with her high-school boyfriend, who was going to another college. But we kept spending time together. Lots of time together.

But this was no way to live. I was crazy about a girl who had a boyfriend. She was crazy about this boy she had just met.

So we gambled. We took a chance. I gambled that she would choose me. She gambled that what I was offering was better than what she had.

We went “all in”. We risked everything. And we won.

And we made out lots.

And it worked out pretty well.

“If you gamble everything for love, you’re going to be alright.”

Daysleeper

In the FOCCUS pre-marital inventory, there is no section on sleep. Perhaps there should be.

A0109-Couples-Sleeping-Apart_leader

Sleeping is probably the biggest point of contention in our marriage:

K needs 8-9 hours. I need about 6-7.

She can sleep anywhere, any time, any place. I toss and turn until I eventually pass out from sheer exhaustion. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and toss and turn. Which, of course, keeps her awake and annoyed.

She loves to nap, if she gets the chance. I am rarely able to nap.

She likes a nice soft bed. I like a firm supportive mattress.

Having children has only made the situation worse. Our daughters, A and B, are complete opposites and their sleep schedules are no different. When they were babies they slept in shifts. A could stay up until the wee hours of the night, while B was up at the crack of dawn. They also had an amazing ability to wake each other up from naps. Usually perfectly timed to occur just when K was falling asleep herself.

Just like our house. Except for the saxophone.

Just like our house. Except for the saxophone.

This is a big reason why we have only two children. Seriously. We are certain a child “C” would take the final shift.

This morning shows how we all work together to keep K awake. K had planned to take the children to a concert in the morning, so she didn’t have to get up quite so early to take them to school. This was going to be her day to sleep in. B came in at 5:00 because she was cold.  This woke me up. Because I had been sleeping for 7 hours, I couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I got up at 6:15, expecting to surprise K with coffee when her alarm went off, forgetting that she was supposed to be sleeping in. K tried to go back to sleep. But by now A was up (which she NEVER does—we have to D-R-A-G her out of bed every other morning) and decided to turn on the TV L-O-U-D and laugh even LOUDER, which woke K up for good.

So much for sleeping in.

What this means is that K will be irritable for most of the day unless she is fortunate enough to be able to get a nap. And the phrase “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” very much applies at our house.

So, has anybody else had this problem? How were you able to solve it?

6812759229_4ff87175d4

We’ve tried separate bedrooms. Neither one of us slept well. Should we go the route of the 50’s TV show couple?

Anyone have any ideas?

Sweet Child O’ Mine

I always found St. Gianna Beretta Molla one of the more difficult saints to accept.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

St. Gianna’s fourth pregnancy was a difficult one. The doctors advised several courses of treatment that would have saved her, but would have killed her unborn child. She refused them. She carried the pregnancy to term and delivered a healthy baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, but, sadly, died several days later of an infection she contracted during childbirth.

When I first heard about her, I did not see the goodness of God, but a rather shocking tragedy. A good woman died a preventable death, her husband was left a widower, and her children left motherless. (Modern medicine would have likely saved her.) How could anyone see this as in any way good or holy? Was the Church so obsessed with the lives of the unborn that they could not see the value in the lives of the mothers?

But the story does not end there. You see, baby girls grow up. Sometimes they become doctors like their mother.

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla today

Babies don’t stay babies forever. They grow up. Sometimes they change the world.

Another unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

Another unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

Yes, occasionally babies grow up and do horrible things. But the pro-life position is that people are generally good. That new life is good. That, in general, each person makes the world a better place.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said she want to get away from labels of pro-life and pro-choice. I agree with her, because “life” and “choice” aren’t the real issues here.

To Ms. Richards and Planned Parenthood, the decision to have an abortion is one “that is deeply personal and often complex.”

Certainly an unplanned pregnancy is difficult with many surrounding problems and complications. But the pro-life response is “No, the decision of whether or not to abort is NOT complex. Life is GOOD. Every person has dignity. Every person has value. Every person has worth.”

And because every human life has dignity, value, and worth, choosing life and defending life is the right thing to do.

But this is not just out of concern for the unborn. Respecting the dignity of others upholds our own human dignity. Denying the dignity of others denies our own human dignity. A mother who facing a difficult pregnancy who chooses life not only affirms the dignity of her child, but affirms her own dignity. Choosing life for her unborn child can mean choosing life for herself.

St. Gianna loved her daughter and was willing to risk her life to give her child a chance. As a mother, she couldn’t make any other choice than to give her daughter life.

As scripture tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. St. Gianna is honored not because her life wasn’t valuable, but because it was, and that she was willing to lay it down so that her daughter could live.

So, no, those who oppose abortion do not hate women. Nor do we want to keep women oppressed as “breeders”, like in some dystopian science fiction novel. It is because we believe in the dignity and value of every child, AND every woman.