Why Religious People Are Ashamed of Porn

One of the more exciting statistics used to denigrate religion is the fact that its followers seem to experience higher levels of guilt and shame regarding their sexual actions. Consider a headline from 2011, fairly bursting with its own conclusions: “Atheists have ‘better sex lives than followers of religion who are plagued with guilt.’” This is brilliant stuff, destined for gleeful, bi-annual repetitions by the press, for there are few things more marvelous than sexuality, and few things that so effectively trumpet the cosmic idiocy of religion than a scientific “proof” that a belief in God and his precepts screws up this selfsame marvelousness. Hence:

As a religious person quite happily “plagued with guilt,” I would like to point out a crucial misunderstanding these otherwise resplendent articles suffer from, using a recent article as my guide: “Religious People More Likely To Feel They’re Addicted To Porn, New Study Shows.” The article is being displayed by The Huffington Post, a website for children whose headlines put both the “yell” and the “low” in “yellow journalism.” The study it cites is quite correct. Religious people do tend to agree with the statements “I believe I am addicted to Internet pornography” and “I feel ashamed after viewing pornography online” at a higher rate than their godless, baby-eating peers. The interpretation of this study is where things get wibbly-wobbly. For the interpretation and, indeed, the gleeful aesthetic of this and all such publications spins itself so: Religious impulse and its doctrines manufacture shame where it doesn’t belong. Pornography is a morally neutral phenomenon — even a positive, healthy, and natural good – and it is only some trumped-up notion of sexual impurity that has us feeling awful about televised humping.  This interpretation permeates the comboxes dutifully dripping from the rear-ends of all such articles. Have a summary from a Huffington Post “Super User,” a title awarded — from what I can gather — for the continuous ability to distill the vague, insinuating douchiness of particular articles into withering points:

“Watching porn is ONLY a problem if you feel obsessive guilt when watching it. If you have no problem with watching porn, then there is no problem. And what causes people to have obsessive guilt over watching porn? Religion.”

Headshot. But allow me to throw a pet monkey in the works.

Coupled with the fact that religion is apparently ruining everyone’s otherwise awesome porno experience is the fact that religion seems to be bolstering people’s committed sexual lives. From the study “The Benefit of Marriage and Religion in the United States: A Comparative Analysis,” we find that:

 Cross-tabulations by religious denomination show that those with no affiliation (i.e., no involvement in religious activities) are least likely to report being extremely satisfied with sex either physically or emotionally (Laumann et al. 1994). Waite and Joyner (2001) find that emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure related to sex are higher for frequent attenders of religious services, holding other characteristics of the individual constant. Along similar lines, Greeley (1991) reports that couples who pray together say they have more “ecstasy” in their sex lives; he also finds that religious imagery and devotion is positively associated with sexual satisfaction.

Granted, this is uncertain, ideological stuff, just like the previously-mentioned, pro-atheist studies. Catholics are equally likely to delight in silly headlines — “Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says” – and frankly, I am in despair over finding an empirical answer to the question of who is having better sex. (Are we really competing? And does the winner get ice-cream?) This being said, if we are to take the available empirical data at its word, then there is a trend amongst the religious that needs explaining. Why are the same people whimpering in sexual shame over the use of pornography having great married sex?

The simple answer is that pornography is forbidden while married sex is not, so religious people feel shame about the former and joy about the latter. But this cannot explain why the religious report better married sex than their non-religious counterparts — who assumedly feel shame about neither. Nor does it make sense by our current understanding of sexuality, which doesn’t exactly render someone depressed and fearful after watching pornography into a sexual dynamo with his wife. If what our Super-Duper User said is true, and religion causes obsessive guilt over the normal, healthy sexual experience of pornography, then why would religion suddenly render him passionate over another normal, healthy experience — the experience of sex? And is this not the joke, that religious sex is either repression grotesquely unleashed…

…or a reoccurrence of the same guilt and fear that surrounds pornography and masturbation? A deeper explanation is needed to account for the apparently awesome sex lives of the religious.

Here’s one: It is for the same reason the religious feel shame over things like pornography that they are more likely to end up having wonderful sex lives. Shame enables great sex, and our inability to grasp this fact is because we have equivocated the word “shame” with “a negative, guilty feeling attached to doing some perceived evil,” when shame is actually a fascinating, positive power of the human person.

Do not allow me to idealize myself and my fellow religious. A retrospective feeling of guilt after watching pornography may be nothing more than a wallowing in a feeling of failure. If this is the case, religion operates negatively, only ever whispering “thou shalt not” into the human heart — and here we feel guilt in the same mode by which we feel awful after displeasing a parent or breaking a law. This feeling is not the same as the feeling of shame, and it certainly cannot account for the impertinent joy of the committed sexual lives of religious people. Fear engenders no joy, and great sex hardly springs from the successful side-stepping of what ought not be done. But we are deluding ourselves if we think this is a foundational experience of religion. Cringing fear and a guilt over disappointing a lawmaker is a mimicry of shame, an experience suffered when the religious degrade and reduce their own religion into a primitive ethical checklist — an experience I believe is artificially swollen in quality and quantity by the opponents of religion for easy points against a dark, guilt-laden specter.

If we nevermind the bollocks, it appears that shame is a natural, positive good which — in the sexual sphere – directs the human person towards a maximum of sexual experience — towards a total experience. To understand this we must turn to the phenomenology of Max Scheler, who points out that…

“…in all shame there is an act of “turning to ourselves.” This is especially clear when shame sets in all of the sudden after an intensive interest of ours in external affairs prevented our being conscious and having a feeling of our own self. A mother running to the rescue of her child who is burning in a fire does not first put on a robe. She will run…in the nude. But as soon as she has rescued her child this turn to herself, along with shame, will set in.

A very bashful woman can feel…little shame when being a model for a painter, being a patient of a physician, or when bathing in the presence of a servant…If she experiences herself in front of the painter as “given” for her aesthetic quality and as a valuable visual thing for the arts, the turn-experience will not occur. The same is the case when she is only a “case” for the physician, or the “lady” for her servant. The reasons here are the same. She does not experience herself as “individual.” [But] let us have the painter, physician or servant be for a moment distracted from their original intentions so that the woman begins to feel this happening, and the “painting,” “case,” and “lady” disappear. The woman will then strongly react with shame while “turning” to herself.

Shame directs our consciousness to ourselves, making us aware that we are what is at issue, not some image of ourselves, some limited or lesser version. This is why shame is so often misappropriated as a bad thing — the reminder of our own unique person can be uncomfortable, as when we make a mistake during a public address and turn inwards in shame, full of the painful awareness that we are not a “public speaker,” but ourselves — screw-ups, all. Scheler sums up shame as “a protective feeling of the individual and his or her value against the whole sphere of what is public and general.” In this view shame is a positive good, and the “bad feelings” associated with it are really the feelings evoked by those conditions which necessitate our blushing rush to protect our individuality — the objectifying gaze, the dirty insinuation, or the public insult.

Shame returns us to a whole view of ourselves, and this is most felt when we are wrenched from a limited view of ourselves. Shame is “a counter-reaction grown into a feeling; it is the “anxiety” of the individual over falling prey to general notoriety, and over the individual’s higher value being pulled down by lower values.” This, I would argue, is the basis for an original, natural feeling of shame in regards to pornography and masturbation, a shame shared by atheist and Christian alike.

Through pornography we are happily lost in a limited part of ourselves, in a reduction of our person to an organism pleasurably aroused by visual stimuli. There is something tragic about the pornography addict, and it is not that pornography is so awfully bad, but that real, embodied sexual love — even a technically sinful sexual love — is something so much better, something immensely more gratifying and life-affirming than masturbation to a screen. Shame is that turning inwards, away from the limited part and towards the whole of our person, in the view of which it becomes clear that we desire more than the physical gratification of a libidinous urge, and far more than the local stimulation of sexual organs. It is the sudden and often painful lurch towards a fuller life, which, in the sexual sphere, includes a desire for actual people, and beyond simply desiring another person, a desire to love and be loved by another person, to “give that person, possibly in one and the same act, the same happiness as one experiences in oneself,” and to have this bodily happiness beyond the locality of our sexual organs, beyond a detached, observed genital-feeling and towards an ecstasy of the entire body.

Shame is a vitally important power, for the indulgence of the lower tends to undo our ability to enjoy the higher. Addiction to Internet pornography makes sexual love with a real woman difficult. The prostitute, who must indulge limited relationships of utility against the urging of her shame, is not marked by a rich, deeply pleasurable erotic life, but by a growing boredom and even a disgust over sex and its contents. Shame, by urging us away from loveless acts, saves us from being “stuck” in the lower — which tends away from the near-mystical possibilities of sexual love and feeling.

But let’s stop flirting with Scheler and get to the necessary work of bisecting the adorable puppy of current sexual ethics with a meat-cleaver. Religion is not the cause of the feeling of shame over the use of pornography. One need only reflect on the first, childish experience of pornography or masturbation to see the rather obvious fact that shame exists prior to education, prior to an articulation of a particular religious doctrine concerning pornography or masturbation, prior even, to any understanding of sex — we were naturally ashamed “quite independent of an experienced reproach” in regard to libidinous indulgences. No, religion does not cause shame. It provides a framework for its growth. Our current culture, on the other hand, is about the business of repressing shame. The ideologues of modern sexuality work hard to rid us of our silly shame, thereby working against our natural drive towards the higher and the better. Religion provides a haven from modern ideology, allowing shame to be realized as a positive power within the human person.

It might seem odd that the Catholics who report being ashamed of watching pornography are the same Catholics who report “ecstasies” within married, sexual love, but this is only the case if we assume that there is no hierarchy of sexual experience. If all genital pleasures are equal, then any shame over a particular genital pleasure is a designation of an unhealthy sexuality, and all such headlines rejoicing over the fact are justified in their rejoicing. If it is the case, however, that an act of intercourse within the assurance of love, involving our emotional, spiritual and physical being, is something higher than, say, masturbation, then shame over the latter may just as well indicate the flourishing of a sexual person towards the highest possible good, the highest possible enjoyment of their sexual nature, working past the immature and incomplete indulgence of minor-league pleasure by way of a “turning inwards” that recognizes our propensity for vastly more. As Scheler puts it: “Shame is, as it were, a chrysalis; sexual love grows within it until it breaks through.”

This is the fundamental problem with headlines that proclaim atheists have better sex lives than the religious, studies that use the incident of shame following a sexual act as an objective marker for whether one’s sex life is bad. The article “Atheists have ‘better sex lives than followers of religion who are plagued with guilt,’” for instance, included masturbation, pursuing an affair, oral sex, and watching pornography as objective markers of a sex life, and used increased religious “regret” over these actions to show that an atheistic sex life, free from shame, is better. But who would really argue that a life of mediocre masturbation, shameless though it may be, offers itself as an equal to a life of passionate sex with a spouse, even if the latter may include a feeling of shame regarding, say, having an affair or watching pornography? Amidst this, one begins to sense tinges of resentment — of desperation, even — in the highly-publicized attempts to believe that a sexual life free from shame is both hotter and heavier than the sexual lives of the religious, who cultivate this concept in their mythos, their law, their liturgy and their theology.

No, shame is a wonderful power of the person, and true religion, in preserving shame, makes it possible for us to attain a total enjoyment of sexual life, even in a world waylaid by the easy, the instant, and ultimately dissatisfying. It does this by turning us inwards to regard the whole of our person, quite apart from the reductions by which we so easily view as ourselves as a sexual organ to be gratified. Shame waits for the better, and I kind of like the fact.

  • http://deshackra.com/ shackra sislock

    wonderful piece, makes me feel the necessity of studying more this subject of shame!

    • Pofarmer

      Shame, and guilt. Can’t have too much of either.

  • SpaceGhoti

    So if I read this correctly, religious people are more pious and faithful leading to more satisfying sex lives even though repeated studies demonstrate the opposite? Perhaps this is meant to claim that religious devotion leads to more sexual fidelity and less divorce, even though the latest studies show no such correlation?

    https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released

    Perhaps the author is simply engaging in the “No True Scotsman” strawman by claiming those studies are skewed because it includes all religious belief and not “true” religion?

    “No, shame is a wonderful power of the person, and true religion, in
    preserving shame, makes it possible for us to attain a total enjoyment
    of sexual life…”

    No True Scotsman it is.

    • Leszek Jaszczak

      I don’t really see a logical fallacy in the article myself. The author claims that the current studies claiming that religious people have less satisfying sex lives may be biased in the definition of what makes up a “satisfying sex life”. So far, I agree with him in that conclusion. I suppose I would need to look at the study design to decide how much credence to put into the conclusions or even how to interpret them. So Mormons rate themselves as most guilty about sex, atheists the least. I don’t know what to do with that. It would be nice to have more of a breakdown about what the data represents. For example, if religious people feel more guilt about adultery or rape than atheists, that is to me a good thing for the religious people.
      As far as divorce goes, there actually is a correlation, for Catholics at least (28% vs 33% for average). The Roman church has strongly discouraged divorce and it shows. Protestants as a group are average. Not much to say there, somewhat different theology, different teaching, different results. Anyhow, I don’t think this is an example of “no true Scotsman”, But it depends on how you read the data. If you look at “Christians” as a group, then no, there is no difference. If you look at Catholics, there is a difference from the general population. I would not argue that Catholics are true Christians, as per the fallacy, but you have to admit that the Catholic branch of Christianity offers different statistics.

      • Pofarmer

        Is the 28 to 33% statistically significant?

    • Stephanie

      Not all religious devotion has the same divorce rate as non-religious. Catholic couples who follow the church teachings and only use NFP (as opposed to artificial contraception) have a divorce rate of <2%. Please keep in mind that most people who claim to be "Christian" or "Catholic" rarely if ever go to church. And out of those that do, there are many churches/parishes that preach against traditional Christian moral teaching. This makes it extremely difficult to get accurate statistics because most self-identified "Christians" are secular people who claim a belief on God. They think, "Jesus was pretty cool, I think I'll mark 'Christian' on this survey." Everyone is lumped in together regardless of whether or not they actually practice their faith. The surveys are too basic and do not ask probing questions to determine whether or not someone is practicing their faith.

      Adultery and divorce are against the Bible so those people who say they are Christian and report those behaviors are non-practicing Christians at best. Adultery is never allowed, divorce is only allowed in extreme cases to protect the other spouse and the kids (violence, STDs from adultery, and financial protection if one spouse charges up credit cards or is addicted to drugs or gambling), and remarriage after divorce is never allowed. (That is why the Catholic Church has an annulment process to determine whether or not a marriage was actually valid: if it was valid, they cannot remarry until their spouse dies. If it was not valid, they can remarry. Maybe something was lacking at the time of the vows, they didn't intend to be together permanently, not open to life, intended to cheat, etc.)

      Let's be honest: anyone who claims that pornography is good is either lying or trying to sell something. Perhaps they are directly involved in the porn industry, or are a regular porn viewer who is trying to convince themselves that they aren't really doing anything wrong. Pornography is addictive and can lead to people looking at porn instead of pursuing real relationships and growing as a person. It creates unrealistic expectations of what their spouse should be like in bed. It makes people more accepting of all sexual sins because the story-lines in porn encourage them: fornication, adultery, gay/lesbian behavior, etc. It creates a cycle where it takes increasingly hardcore pornography just to get aroused. Studies show that porn viewing actually alters the frontal lobe of the brain! We also know from people who used to watch porn but quit that after a few months they are more attracted to their spouse and are more easily aroused: they don't rely on porn anymore. This usually takes about 18 months to completely recover. So which looks like a healthy relationship: one that uses porn or one that does not?

      • Pofarmer

        You do realize that you just wrote a whole post of No true Scotsman?

        • Ben

          “No true Scotsman” is only a fallacy when orthopraxis isn’t a necessary precondition. While behavior isn’t a necessary factor for determining nationality, belief and practice are most certainly a large part of religious identity.

    • Pofarmer

      It’s really just dressed up idiocy.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com Christian LeBlanc

    Some sinners have the decency to be ashamed of their sins. Other sinners lack the decency to be hypocrites.

  • Hershey Scholar

    Dear Marc,

    My name is Grace, and I host a radio show at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Would you be willing to give an interview for my show? You can let me know at gewagler@email.msmary.edu. Thanks.

  • Robert

    Great piece, but… This phrase could only approach being true if pornography were made with automatons: “…and it is not that pornography is so awfully bad”. What do you need to do to someone for them to be willing to perform sex acts in public, or to urinate in front of crowds at train stations, in a dirt poor former-Eastern Block country? This ought to be forefront in our minds – that sin redounds to our sisters and brothers – in our treatment of shame, too. But again, I agreed with everything else. Many thanks for writing it.

  • Paul

    But American Christian culture is deeply pornographic, and full of double-minded essentially puritanical sex-negative ambiguity about bodily existence, sexuality and the mere fact of genitals, and even whether bodily pleasure is appropriate or not.
    Once upon a time sexuality and “sin” were essentially the same thing. Such is of course still the case.
    Was not (and is not) the principal and overwhelming topic brought up in the Catholic confession box/process some hang up or guilt about sexuality?
    Forgive me Father because I have had lustful thoughts!
    This double-minded ambiguity was why the film introduced here was so popular in the USA. A film in which the “hero” representing every single living-breathing-feeling human being was systematically beaten to death.
    http://spiritlessons.com/passionofchristpictures.htm
    And this was/is promoted as “good news”!

    Only men and women full of intrinsic uncaused pleasure are capable of knowing and thus living the Truth in all relations and under all circumstances.

  • Joseph Jablonski

    Wondering if we could exchange the word “shame” for “guilt” and “guilt” for “shame” here? I’ve seen shame as a word used only with what you described as that limiting, unhealthy shame – law-breaking self-depreciation – and guilt described as the positive impetuous of change.

    • Tim Glemkowski

      Think you’re right Joseph. I like how Brene Brown distinguishes them too. I thought that as I was reading the article. Important to be precise with terms.

      Really nice job though Marc. Hope you’re enjoying Austria!

  • michicatholic

    Only among Catholics could this matter be opaque enough to require that amount of verbiage.

  • Eric

    Marc,
    This is my first time commenting in earnest on your site. Normally I read your blog posts and I completely agree with every point, and only wish that I had the same eloquence and discipline to write as you do. This article caught my eye on my facebook feed and it being on a topic I’m fervently (obsessively) interested in and wanted to read your views on, I couldn’t pass it up. So I clicked on the link and started to read. It started out good, the “11th commandment” meme made me laugh. But I kept on reading and it became very disturbing as I read on in disbelief. I’ve thought a lot about this subject, and prayed, and I have to say I can’t bring myself to even see your thought process in coming to this conclusion. I’ve always looked at shame, or extreme guilt, as something wrong. As a sort of disordered way of feeling the true guilt that comes from knowing you are a child of God but still subject to sin. Our identity as children of God is not a burden like sin. God looks with mercy on his children, and my sinfulness doesn’t change that. Knowing that gives me a peace, but it always makes me want to live up to my title. Shame is defeat to sin, it’s true roots are in the pleasures of narcissism. It does the soul no good to wallow in sin and feel sorry for yourselves when you can always turn back.
    I would attribute the better sex Catholics have to the physiological effects of abstinence. One is more receptive to stimulation when they aren’t feeling it all the time. Abstinence when abstinence is correct also makes one a better kisser I’ve found.

    • Jay Rod

      There is a lot of confusion about the words “shame” and “guilt,” and I think it might have been a good idea to do a little bit of defining of terms in order to get to the heart of this discussion without confusing too many people along the way. I submit that I, of course, may also be misunderstanding all of his points, but I offer an analogy that supports the way I interpret what he is saying.

      I would say that shame is a spiritual and emotional feeling, while guilt is actually an objective state, sort of a legal term. I think a lot of the confusion is that (so far as I can tell. I’m an American, too, if that matters) it is more common to use the word “guilty” to describe the feeling we have when we have done something wrong. It might be more accurate to use “ashamed” rather than “guilty” because guilty is what you are if you have sinned, no matter what you feel about it.

      In this way, then, one can feel ashamed about having sinned, and that is “good” or “positive” because it functions the same way as the “Check Engine” light on your car. It’s not good that it’s gone off, because that means you need to take your car in to the shop, but you can see that it IS good that you have that light, and that it is functioning, because it lets you know there is a problem. I would say that feeling ashamed is closely related to being “accused by conscience,” in that this feeling if your “check engine light” to remind you to get yourself to confession. It can be deactivated by ignoring it until you don’t notice it (desensitizing yourself to your sense of shame, keeping yourself distracted from it (people put electrical tape on their console so they can’t see it), but sometimes it malfunctions and goes off even when it shouldn’t (scrupulosity).

      So, is shame “bad?” Well, it is bad that you have to experience it, because it means (when it is working correctly) that your conscience is afflicting you. But it’s “good” that we have that built-in check engine light, because it can keep us from getting in quite so bad a state as we might have if we didn’t have that warning at all.

  • Santiago

    Let’s take the porn away because it’s a morally corrupt industry, and without a doubt it damages individuals, couples and society.
    That aside. So a Catholic spinster or bachelor, ever hopeful of finding the ideal spouse, (but as we know – many never do) must endure this shame and guilt through her or his 20s and 30s, for the natural human condition. Or a divorcee at 23, converts to Catholism, and in doing so, signs up to a long life of shame, for the natural human condition. Sounds like a pretty tough club.
    Please elaborate on this. I feel that the older Church (generally speaking) has somewhat avoided this icky issue and consequently, many faithful have felt shunned by its’ dogma. I congratulate Marc for boldly addressing such ‘unspoken’ issues in an age where people ask their god Google for the answers.

  • oregon nurse

    Do you want to know what makes sex really good? Infrequency. It’s just basic psychology that the more often you have something the less special it is and the less it tends to excite or satisfy. Couples with really good sex lives know this and they frequently mix in sexual play and cuddling that stops before orgasm and intercourse. This kind of self-denial and build up of anticipation while still maintaining intimacy makes the intercourse/orgasm far more exciting than knowing how every intimate encounter is going to end up. In fact, this is often the reason for lack of physical affection in relationships because people learn that if they don’t want intercourse, they don’t get affectionate with their partner since they have no other scripts for handling it. And a man who suffers from premature ejaculation (a common complaint from women) will benefit greatly from going to the edge of orgasm and stopping repeatedly. Both partners will benefit from that.

    • Agni Ashwin

      Sounds like “karezza”.

      • oregon nurse

        Had to look that up. Not quite the same philosophy of what takes place but similar in it’s wisdom.

    • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

      I would tend to minimally disagree with you and say that infrequency CAN make sex good but not necessarily. In my own life I don’t find that to be true for instance. The more frequent the sex between myself and my wife, the better it has tended to be. There is no cut and dry winner take all solution to good sex. At 7 billion people and hundreds of cultures, we surely have some diverse sexual preferences and experiences.

    • Pofarmer

      Just a question, define, “Infrequently.”

      • oregon nurse

        It’s self-defined or rather couple-defined. And it’s important that it’s not sex starvation. Sexual intimacy is maintained, actually it’s heightened, but the goals change.

  • Tom

    Pope Francis said something like this today. It seems his mind-meld has shifted to you.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Hogwash. Shame is not natural. Babies are not born ashamed of themselves; this feeling is passed on to them from others, and is always destructive in forming a positive image of oneself and others. Religions promote shame in order to empower themselves as the healers of the suffering souls that they have abused. A great deal of mental illness is actually attempts to deal with shame.

    Pornography is simply sad, in my opinion. I would not want my children numbing their own sexuality by becoming porn players. I also wouldn’t want my spouse to turn to masturbation in preference to enjoying sex together. This being said, the RCC has forced the idea that sexual feeling is “God’s” way of choosing one’s life mate, at the same time as they promote sex as only sacred when promoting procreation. Many marriages suffer from lack of sexual ecstasy, as the RCC is very clear that sex, even between married people, is never to feel sacramental.

    • Mike

      Y.A.: I am responding only because you asked for one.

      What you have written misses the mark in a lot of ways. And I say this, not to be antagonistic, but to clarify. First, shame is a universal human experience. It is a natural part of who we are. The fact that a baby does not feel shame only highlights that a baby is not capable of thinking at a higher level.

      Second, I agree with you pornography is sad and counterproductive. But I do not agree that the RCC “has forced the idea that sexual feeling is ‘God’s’ way of choosing one’s live mate.” The RCC would strongly caution against using “sexual feeling” as a way to choose one’s mate. That’s what will get a marriage into trouble. Choosing a marriage partner should result from a combination of physical and sexual attraction friendship, and intellectual consideration.

      It’s also a misunderstanding believe “the RCC is very clear that sex, even between married people, is never to feel sacramental.” The truth is precisely the opposite. Marriage is a sacrament and the RCC views sex as the sign of the sacramental covenant. It is a great good. Moreover, married sex actually images the greatest of sacraments, the Eucharist. Theologically-speaking, I think it’s fair to say that both involve the physical union of persons in a life-giving embrace.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Mike: “…shame is a universal human experience.” Where is this written, and by what non-religious authority?

        This is true, but not what the RCC has traditionally taught: “Choosing a marriage partner should result from a combination of physical and sexual attraction friendship, and intellectual consideration.” In fact, the RCC has traditionally taught that men and women could not actually be intellectual equals: “The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties.” [Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical on Christian Marriage, Arcanum Divinae, n. 11]

        The RCC seems to favor Paul on the subject of sex (and many other issues). “Better to marry than to burn,” and “Better to be like me (celibate).”

        In searching for my reference to the assertion that the RCC does not want sex to be sacramental http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.php#
        I came across the RCC catechism, which seems to support even homosexual bonding:
        I. “MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM . . .”

        2331 “God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.”115

        “God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them”;116 He blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply”;117 “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.”118

        2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.

        2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.

        2334 “In creating men ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity.”119 “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God.”120

        2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”121 All human generations proceed from this union.122

        2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”123 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.124

        The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

        • Mike

          Y.A.: Thank you for responding.

          “Mike: “…shame is a universal human experience.” Where is this written, and by what non-religious authority?”

          Response: It is a universal human experience. Why does it need to be “written” to be true? I have friends from China who have never had any religion who have all experienced shame. I know because they’ve described the experience. You know what shame is because you have experienced it. Whatever children you have will also experience it. And it’s something we all should, rightly, experience because it is a defense against being treated as an object.

          I confess I do not understand how either the article from the woman published in 1972, who as far as I know has no canonical status, or the Catechism quotes you cite support your position. The Catechism appears to support my position: re-read especially 2332. Marriage is a sacrament and sex is a sign of the sacrament. If you want an even clearer understanding, the Bible (which is older than the Catechism) calls the Church the bride of Christ. In other words, marriage images heaven and sex images marriage. It doesn’t get any more sacramental than that.

  • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

    I tend to think that the bulk harm of pornography comes via the unrealistic depictions and expectations that can come from watching it. I think it is a misnomer to state that pornography is a depiction of sex when it is very much NOT sex. Its definitely sexual and definitely visually stimulating. But its like comparing Ice cream to a 7 course dinner. Sure it stimulates ones sense of sweetness and isn’t harmful (when taken in moderation) but it doesn’t satisfy like a 7 course meal would. What I tend to disagree with is that shame enables good sex. We know what results in good sex, trust, communication, synchronized expectations, mutual attraction, etc.

  • David

    Great article!

  • Christopher

    Mr. Barnes: shame is an inward result of an outward failure, but it is not to be a motivation for improvement. Here is my rebuttal, if it is of interest to you: http://bit.ly/1k0SJJ2

  • Tlynn

    Really? Baby-eating peers? I stopped reading this after that comment.


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