Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Passion, sex, and the Church

I recently heard of a conversation a friend had with a young man who'd made some interesting remarks regarding sex and the Catholic church. This had been sparked by the question of "are you pro-life?" and quickly turned from a question of whether abortion was wrong to why the Church wants to deprive people from experiencing the pleasures of sex.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and just want to respond to a couple of points that this young man made.

"It seems like the Church just wants to remove passion from sex..."

I can understand why, from the outside, it might look like this. The Church is very firm in her teaching that sex is only to be enjoyed within marriage. But, see what I just said? Enjoyed.

God created sex! And He created it to be pleasurable! He created it this way for us! Sex is pleasurable for a reason: because it is good. However, pleasure always has limits. Dr. Janet Smith gives a talk, Contraception: Why Not?, in which she explains why sex is a naturally good action.

Dr. Smith says:

"There are lots of things that have pleasure attached to them. Pleasure is not the purpose; pleasure is the motive; pleasure is the consequence; but it's not the purpose. As a matter of fact, God attached pleasure to the things that he really wants us to do, that are necessary for our survival and for our happiness. So, it's pleasurable to eat and it's pleasurable to drink and it's pleasurable to sleep and it's pleasurable to exercise, and it's pleasurable to have sexual intercourse. It's pleasurable. That's not the purpose."

And she goes on to say:

"So, God attached pleasure to everything he wanted us to do for, not our salvation, so much, as just our well-being. But we have to do it at the right time, and the right place, and in the right manner, with the right person, etc., etc. — in the right way. Sure, eating is pleasurable, but there are limits to what you should be eating. Sexual intercourse is pleasurable, but there are limits to what you should be doing, and you have to seek that pleasure in accord with the nature and reality of what you're dealing with."

So here's the thing: it's not that the Church is trying to remove pleasure or passion from sex, rather, she simply wants it to be experienced in an ordered fashion.

And who's to say that passion isn't a factor in married sex? Arleen Spenceley recently interviewed a sex therapist who noted that if you're saving sex for marriage, you're likely talking with your significant other about sex issues, and better communication can lead to better sex in the long run.

Sure, if you're aware that you're ovulating and are attempting to avoid pregnancy for a grave reason, being "in the mood" and abstaining is really difficult. This is where the argument for contraception (which is horrible for a woman's body - another topic for another time) comes into play...sex is never off limits and could be viewed as more spontaneous.

However, there's this thing called delayed gratification. Scientifically, depriving yourself from something that you really desire causes more appreciation and enjoyment when you finally are able to experience whatever you were avoiding.

The Natural Family Planning Teacher's Association says that NFP, "because of more frequent communication about intimate sexual matters, increases the relationship skills of love and affection - the expression and experience of love, warmth, and mutual attraction between the couple." 

Well that doesn't sound like the Church desires for married couples to remove passion from sex! Rather, by encouraging NFP and saving sex for marriage, it seems to me that the Church is trying to help married couples enjoy better sex! Interesting!

"But I'm still young...I'm just not sure if I want to give that up..."

Again, I can understand this, to a degree. Especially if one has already experienced the enjoyment of sex, the idea of locking it up until who-knows-when could seem like torture.

Here's something else to think about. Sex is pleasurable, yes? And sex was made to be pleasurable, yes?

Let's assume that I want to get married and intend to stay married for the rest of my life. Let's also assume that I've had a few sexual partners prior to marriage and have therefore experienced the pleasures of sex.

If I've had sex with many different men, if I've been *ahem* pleasured, by many different men, and view sex as simply a means to finding pleasure, who's to say that this attainment of pleasure should stay within marriage? If I see sex as merely a way to pleasure myself, and my husband is no longer pleasuring me, what should keep me from seeking that pleasure elsewhere?

I see this attitude toward sex as being potentially dangerous within a marriage. Society and the Church alike say that sex is an important part to a healthy marriage. However, the difference is that the Church doesn't see sex as the crux of a relationship.

If for some reason, whether it be illness, energy levels, available time, etc., sex doesn't occur as frequently as is ideal or perhaps isn't as pleasurable as one would like, this is not a reason to seek this pleasure elsewhere. Communication about barriers to a preferable enjoyment of sex within marriage is essential during these times!

I think a big part of accepting this teaching of the Church is personal maturity. Someone who is unwilling to "give up" sex is likely not mature enough to consider marriage.

Marriage requires sacrifice. It requires dying to oneself every single day. Someone who is unwilling to sacrifice prior to marriage is likely to be unwilling to sacrifice within marriage.

That's my two cents...what do you think? How would you respond to someone who makes these statements? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I really like how you articulated this, Morgan! Well said.
    It's interesting to me that so many single Catholic women blog about this. Is it something that comes up in conversation a lot? Is it taught on a lot during Mass? Is it something that's really on the heart of the gals in the NAS series? Not judging; just wondering :)

    1. Great question, Bek! :) I feel like we talk about it a lot because there is such a stigma among those of us who are waiting for marriage to have sex. Just because we are waiting doesn't mean that we don't know what sex is or how awesome it's going to be or...,and this is a big one, that we think sex is bad. Sex IS good. Just at the right time. We want people to know that as single women, it's ok to talk about how good it is in a healthy and encouraging way. To remind each other that we are all called to live a chaste life, that goes far beyond only abstaining from sex. The more we talk about it... the more normal it is. It's normal to talk about sex in a positive and healthy way. It's normal for people to wait to have sex. It's normal to desire it and normal to be tempted by it. So, I think it's a way for us to support one another and realize we are not alone. haha!

      And no... it's not really talked about at Mass. At least, not in my experience. I mean, not in any sort of detailed way. That's not what Mass is meant for. But, there are always groups and talks and other things that we discuss the church's teaching on sex and marriage. :)

      I hope this helped some! :)

    2. Thanks for your questions, Bek! Yes, this is something that we're always talking about haha I think part of the reason is because contraception, abortion, and sex are all such hot topics AND they're all so closely linked. So among like-minded people, we tend to discuss this as a means of becoming better at explaining why chastity is a better option. It's not preached on in many parishes, however, when I was in college, our chaplains would often give homilies on "hot button topics" like abortion, sex, and masturbation as they apply to college life and if they related to the gospel that day.

      Overall, I think about this stuff A LOT, probably because I work in the pro-life movement and talk to a lot of people about a lot of sensitive and/or controversial topics.

    3. Really interesting, Morgan. Thanks for sharing! And Bek, I have kind of wondered the same thing! I've noticed it with tons of mom bloggers too - less with us single gals. I feel like it's pretty much what they said: we talk about it a lot because people think we're weird and it's nice to have solidarity and know we're not :-) And that was a good point about pro-life work too! I definitely talk about all sorts of things because they have to do with my work and I've learned more about them through there . . . in everyday life we talk about this less than what it looks like online (at least personally). It depends on the flavor of your blog, I guess, but I love talking about controversial stuff (okay, in person too) which is why I write a lot about life issues :-)

  2. I think it's important to emphasis what you were saying about sex not being the "crux" of a relationship. It's so true. It's not the end all be all of a relationship. We don't (or shouldn't) enter into a relationship/marriage just to have sex. Because if you do, the relationship won't last. It's selfish. Once the sex isn't good, or something goes wrong and you aren't satisfied, then it's ok to leave. That's what's wrong with our society today. There is so much emphasis on sex being THE thing in a relationship that we forget to actually have a relationship.

    Marriage calls for something better. Something more. To be in communion with one another (and God)... to love one another as God loves us, imperfections and all.

    Annnnd.... I have lost my train of thought. Maybe I will add more later! :)


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