Dirty Sex

 

Both on my original post on abstinence-only sex ed and on the follow-up, I’ve had quite a few commenters object to my insistence that girls (and boys) shouldn’t be taught that premarital sex makes them dirty. Some of the commenters cautioned that an attempt to remove the idea of premarital sex making one “dirty” can quickly morph into an attempt to remove any residual shame or guilt, thus short-circuiting the developing conscience of an adolescent. Others simply conflated the words “dirty” and “shameful”, insisting that they are one and the same.

“And yes, both girls and boys who have premarital sex are dirty. They have been soiled and will not be pure for their future spouse, if they are called to marriage. What is wrong with saying this? Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)? It is shameful and dirty and their experience will be baggage that they bring into a future marriage.”

This comment is admittedly among the most vitriolic, but I’m using it here because it’s also a clear, non-nonsense example of this indiscriminate conflation of shame and filth.

In the Catholic faith, all sins are not equal. It’s one of the many things I love about our Church. It’s such a common-sense approach to sin (and life, and everything). Of course stealing a candy bar is not the same as murdering someone in cold blood, and it’s silly to insist that it is. Extra-marital sex, whether it be pre- or post- matrimony, is a grave sin. A mortal sin. So is stealing. So is murder. Let’s say your 13-year-old, in a fit of fury over the Ipod she didn’t get at Christmas, steals one from Best Buy and then owns up to it later. You wouldn’t say to her, “stealing makes you dirty. You are shameful and dirty!” Same thing with a murderer. Murder is objectively worse than premarital sex, but even so, serial killers aren’t usually referred to as “dirty” or “disgusting” unless they are also guilty of rape or sexual assault. Sins that involve sex in any way (even sins where the genitalia don’t participate, like watching pornography) are exclusively thought of as “dirty” or “filthy.”

In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s organization of Inferno and Purgatorio is telling. While Catholics tend to treat sexual sins as some of the worst, and the rest of the world regards the Church’s teachings on sex as borderline obsessive, Dante’s organization of hell (which is reasonable both in medieval theology and in common sense) suggests otherwise. Lust is the least of the sins in both the Inferno and the Purgatorio. In fact, Dante finds Cunizza da Romano, a woman notorious for her many love affairs, in heaven. A priest once told me that sexual sins should be the easiest of the grave sins for us to confess, because they are the least rebellious. Indeed, sex is an act of vulnerability, one that requires a person to be literally naked, physically and spiritually, exposing their flaws along with their beauty to someone else. As such, sexual sin is usually the sin that leaves a person feeling the most exposed, ashamed, and wounded. Yet instead of responding with compassion and gentleness, too often people respond with further condemnation, wielding adjectives like dirty, filthy, soiled, spoiled, or ruined.

Sometimes a caveat is thrown in about forgiveness, occasionally referring to confession and absolution. The thing is, “dirty” is a uniquely physical adjective, and while the confessional might cleanse our souls, it’s not a shower. The OED defines dirty as “characterized by the presence of dirt; soiled with dirt; foul, unclean, sullied.” Spiritual healing and forgiveness don’t cleanse the body. Any adolescent will realize that paying lip-service to forgiveness doesn’t address being soiled, foul, and sullied. I have a million theories about why sexual sins are uniquely perceived in terms of bodily filth, but there are two in particular that I believe work in tandem to foster this connection in today’s culture.

Sex involves a certain amount of messiness. It’s a physical act in a way that few other acts are. We throw our whole bodies into it, sweat, saliva, semen and all. Afterward, we usually feel kind of grimy. The post-coital shower is a thing for a reason. It’s easy, then, to associate feelings of sexual shame with the physical feeling of being dirty. Perhaps it’s even a natural association. The problem with fostering this association is that it creates a psychological link between sex and filth that is extremely difficult to break. Even girls who haven’t had premarital sex but have been taught to associate sex with being soiled will have a hard time dropping that association when it comes to sex within marriage, especially in the early days of marriage, when sex is less likely to be an ecstatic union of body and soul and more likely to be clumsy, awkward, and maybe a little frustrating. Saying that extra-marital sex makes someone “dirty” does not cultivate a healthy sense of shame; it cultivates a sense of irrevocable spoilage, which is directly fed into by our cultural mores.

Contemporary American culture, a culture that has so influenced other first-world cultures, is profoundly shaped by the heavily Calvinist-influenced Puritanism at its roots. Sex is dirty, according to common Puritan tradition, a dirty (but lamentably necessary) function of a dirty and depraved body. In Calvinist theology, the whole body is dirty, corrupt, depraved, and sin can never be removed. Forgiveness only means that Christ moves to stand between us and God, so that we look clean, although we never really will be. Snow covered dung-hills, that’s what we are. So sexual sins just make us even dirtier, even filthier, even more irreversibly ruined. This is the antithesis of Catholic teaching; even so, the mentality has shaped and molded our culture, which has shaped and molded us, to the point that professed Catholics will say, “Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)?”

First and foremost, it’s wrong because it is not our responsibility to make anyone feel dirty or shameful. Sometimes it is our responsibility to point out when someone else is engaging in sin. Sometimes (but far more rarely than most seem to think) it’s the only loving response. Certainly in the case of our children, we have an absolute duty to educate them about sin, and to help them identify sins which they are prone to. But the punishment for sin lies in the hands of God. Imposing shame is not the same thing as helping identify sin and form a conscience. Shaming our children, shaming anyone, is a form of punishment which people too often dole out almost gleefully, citing Matthew 18 while ignoring Matthew 9.

It’s also wrong because you’re fostering that psychological connection between sex and filth. By emphasizing a purely physical consequence, you’re subconsciously shifting sex from a physical and spiritual plane with both physical and spiritual consequences to the plane of the purely physical. You can ho-hum about psychology all you want, or take a page from one of my commenter’s playbooks and “suggest that the main reason women feel uncomfortable-to-wrong about sex in marriage has little or nothing to do with their sex education, and everything to do with the way their husband approaches them,” but the human mind is an intricate and powerful thing. You can’t acknowledge that watching porn re-wires a man’s brain while simultaneously dismissing the possibility that hearing “sex will make you dirty, sex will make you dirty” throughout her formative years will result in a woman feeling dirty about sex.

Finally, it’s wrong because you’re contributing to the sexual schizophrenia that has so effectively marred the landscape of our culture, elevating the taboo of sex into a cultural holy grail, paralyzing men and women from developing healthy sexual relationships, stunting and twisting our understanding of sex and of each other until we’re bequeathing unto our children a sexual wasteland. Don’t believe me? Allow the Anchoress to explain:

“Calling sex “dirty” might have been an expedient way for parents and societies to address the complex relationship between our sexual and our spiritual natures; but by not unpacking those complexities clearly, openly, and wisely, past generations became complicit in communicating an idea of shame that has fomented neurosis and an inevitable over-correction. Sex went from being something mysteriously sacred to something efficiently nonchalant.

Sex outside of marriage is not sinful (that unpopular, unfair word that makes us feel bad about ourselves) because it is ‘dirty.’ It is sinful because, when rendered casual and sterile, the act by which we most closely work with God in creation, the act that takes us into the deepest recesses of our physicality — to our very essences — becomes reduced to nothing more than an end unto itself. Sex is separated from the energetic and spiritual realm in which it is most fully and functionally realized. The sin comes, not because we are bad, but because by our willful action we have removed our emphasis from the spiritual and chained it to the corporeal. We’ve assisted in the exploitation of ourselves and others.”

(Elizabeth Scalia, Strange Gods, p 85)

This habit of conflating “dirty” with “sinful” and feeling “filthy” with feeling “ashamed” is so ingrained in our society that although I made no mention of shame being a negative emotion in my original post, many of my commenters assumed that was what I meant.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that you are saying that anything that causes feelings of shame is damaging?”

That is not what I said. Just a little reminder: I freely converted to Catholicism. We do shame and guilt like no one else, for good reasons. I wrote about Catholic guilt here, and how grateful I am for the suckiness of it. Our Papa recently reminded us that shame is a Christian virtue. In a way, shame is damaging, but it’s damage that must be done so that we can be healed, like setting a bone. I would never suggest that shame is something no one should ever have to feel. I fervently hope that my children grow up with a healthy, proportionate sense of shame that helps them remain in a state of grace without driving them into scrupulosity.

But that’s not what Elizabeth Smart felt after her rape. That’s not what many women feel, even in otherwise healthy and happy marriages. That’s not what I have struggled with for many years.

This is a real thing, and it’s not a fabrication of our society to excuse away guilt and shame. It’s not just desserts for sleeping around. It’s not a natural reaction to husbands objectifying their wives. It’s not any of the other things that people claim it is to ignore the inconvenient suffering of real people, and the responsibility that lays on us, our generation, right now, to find a better way to talk about sex. You might not know what that better way looks like. I don’t either. But that’s no excuse for continuing on with the status quo and turning a blind eye to the damage that results.

***

One of the hazards of blogging from home is trying to think through complex issues while being interrupted 4,700 times to refill water, break up fights, kiss boo-boos, get the toddler off the kitchen counter, and fish kitchen tongs out of a four-year-old’s pajama drawer. Although I spent an inordinate amount of time on this post, I’m not completely satisfied with the coherency of it. This is an issue I’m still trying to work out for myself, so please leave any thoughts you may have below. Also, I am not presenting myself as an authority on this, so comments about how I’m destroying the fabric of Christianity with my feminist angst and lukewarm morality won’t be deleted, but they will be annoying. Constructive criticism, per favore.

 

  • Foretaste

    This is my shorthand way of seeing things and helping young adults see things:

    We long for what we are made for – amazing ecstatic joy with God forever. As a matter of fact, our longing for “more” is actually a reminder and sign of what we are made for. So, we seek a foretaste of that – which is not bad if we seek it in the right context. Chaste married sex is the right context. A few glasses of wine at home with friends is the right context. Unchaste sex is the wrong context (even though it seems very similar to chaste sex). Getting hammered at a frat party is not the right context (even though it seems very similar to having a few drinks with friends). If we are not too far down a bad path, unchaste sex will still make us feel ashamed and dirty after the fact, and a hangover will still make us feel ashamed and remorseful about our drunkenness. So, because we long for eternal joy with the amazing God who made us, we try to get little tastes of it. And we end up seeking those little tastes in ways that we know are very empty so much so that even while we are engaging in the unchaste sex or the drinking spree, we know the experience is hollow and that we will soon regret it. Those things do really look a lot like the real thing – the authentic foretastes. But with the authentic foretastes: we don’t feel dirty and ashamed after chaste married sex and we don’t feel ashamed after enjoying a few drinks with friends. So the point is not to hate ourselves for longing for the blissful foretaste, but to realize that longing is a sign of our destiny with God and that we should be ever aware so that we will choose the authentic foretastes that are in accord with our dignity. If we slip and fall, then we learn and the shame and regret we feel can be a lesson to remind us not to seek shallow empty cheap thrills when what we want is a foretaste of the real thing. This affirms the longings – and does not make the desire for sexual bonding and joy or for the mirth of wine a bad thing. It simply channel those longings to the right place. And it makes sense of the shame that will be experienced whether it is pronounced by others or simply felt internally.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      Well, you don’t actually have to get anywhere near drunk, or even tipsy, to get a hangover. It’s a matter of how your metabolism works versus what kind of drink you drink. But otherwise, a good explanation.

  • Randy Gritter

    I actually have heard people describe non-sexual sins as dirty. Sexual sin does have more shame attached than other sins. That does not make it a worse sin in terms of moral gravity. It does make the word “dirty” seem to fit. I don’t get the problem with that word if you are OK to talk about shame. To me all the bad side effects of the word “dirty” are still there if you replace it with the word “shame.” There is something there that people, especially women, feel. It can ruin even married sex at least for a time. I don’t think the word is the problem. I don’t think warning teens about it is the problem either. I think when we understand holiness we understand sin. We feel something deep down. Sexual memories are strong. They are brought back every time we have sex. If we feel legitimate shame about prior sexual acts those feelings will crop up in our marriage when we are having sex. It is a very good reason to remain pure before marriage. Don’t blame the messenger.

    We do need to be very clear that married sex is not shameful. Also that sexual feelings and sexual expression we engage in prior to marriage should not automatically be shameful either. Yes there are concerns about how far is too far but the sense of a holy premarital sex life needs to be there. Not sexual intercourse but some legitimate expression of your sexuality that is not shameful. We have a ways to go there. I don’t think the place to start is by lowering our sense of real sexual sin. To strong a sense of sexual sin is the least of our problems in our society.

    As someone raised Calvinist I have to say I don’t resonate with the idea that all sex is dirty to a Calvinist. The dutch reformed church I was raised in did not teach that either officially or otherwise.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I have used the Dante Inferno/Purgatorio gradations to sin as an example myself but two points that I’ve gotten from the counter arguments. (1) Dante is not official Church teaching. So he’s not a real authority. (2) A mortal sin will get you into hell. The real argument it seems is what transfoms a sin from being venal to mortal? It’s hard to decipher. Getting peeved at someone is probably venial but exploding into a rage might be mortal, depending on the circumstances. On the subject of sexual sins, where do they transition to mortal? It’s incredibly vague and I’ve never gotten a consistent answer. Can some one answer which of these are mortal sins and which are venial: sexual fantasizing? telling a sexual joke? watching porn? masturbation? pre-marital sex with one you love? pre-marital sex with a one night stand? pre-marital sex with a prostitute? using condoms for birth control with a spouse? extra-marital sex with full permision from the spouse? and so on. As you can see I’ve tried to list them in an increasing scale of probably mortal sin. But where’s the transition? I’ve had a priest tell me that masturbation is a mortal sin and I’ve had a different priest say it’s not. If masturbation (perhaps it’s watching porn, I don’t know) is the transition to mortal sin, then anything other than a sexual thought is a mortal sin. So there may be gradations, but they all lead to hell.

    • Randy Gritter

      Dante’s gradations are about the difficulty in ridding yourself of a sin and not so much in the seriousness of the sin. Think of examining your conscience. How long does it take to examine you conscience on lust? Not very long. There are certain specific acts. Did you do them? Did you watch someone do them? Did you think about them? Now think of pride. What acts could be prideful? Almost anything. It takes a deep sense of self awareness to rid yourself of pride.

      As far as the moral/ venial sins goes. I believe masturbation is clearly a grave matter. Mortal sin, of course, also requires freedom and knowledge. I know society says masturbation is just fine. Catholics see our sexuality is a call to love like God loves. That is a sacred thing. Abusing it therefore becomes a serious matter.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Good points Randy, though I think it’s both in Dante, the seriousness and getting rid of the sin. There is no getting rid of sin in Inferno, but there are gradations.

    • CS

      The thing about “mortal” sin is that, yes, you can make a list of probable mortal sins but there is no way to determine what the actual disposition of the soul is — incl. levels of freedom& knowledge as mentioned below; freedom in and of itself is an impenetrable complexity.

      I am starting to think that the more useful way to think of it is that “mortal” should be seen not as a description of the *sin*, but of the *soul* in a particular disposition toward G-d — and every “small” sin can lead one further along a path of being closed off to G-d.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        “I am starting to think that the more useful way to think of it is that “mortal” should be seen not as a description of the *sin*, but of the *soul* in a particular disposition toward G-d — and every “small” sin can lead one further along a path of being closed off to G-d.”

        That thought has crossed my mind as well. I like that, and deep down that’s what I think is the case. However it would do away with the whole distinction between venial/mortal sins, and I think undermine the Magisterium.

        • CS

          Hm. I am not sure why it would undermine the Magesterium? I was taught that the terms for such sins were an attempt to understand through labeling, but not as useful as they once were, and can lead to a mistaken understanding of the soul’s relationship to the objective sin. The scholastic tradition elucidates “object, intention, and circumstance” for evaluating a sin. (As described here: http://scholastictheology.com/2011/08/07/object-end-and-circumstance-the-determinants-of-moral-action/ ) and that is echoed in the Catechism.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Perhaps it wouldn’t undermine the Magisterium. I’m no expert, but it does seem to erase the distinction between mortal and venial sins.

          • Leila Miller

            Technically, I believe all sexual sins (fornication, adultery, masturbation, lust, pornography, etc.) are objectively mortal sins (grave sins). If we do these acts (or indulge our lustful thoughts) with the full consent of our will, and with the knowledge that they are serious sins, then we would be culpable for the mortal sin. Of course, as with any grave sin, culpability may be lessened down to venial, depending on what we know or if we did not fully consent. But to answer what I think is your basic question: All sexual sins are mortal (serious/grave) sins.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            I’ve heard that too. But it would be nice to hear that from an official source.

          • Leila Miller

            I don’t think the Church gives a official list of mortal (i.e., serious) sins, per se, but I have seen it delineated as such on several examinations of conscience.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Thanks. I can see the reluctance of delineating it officially. They would have to show proof on how they justify it, and that would open up all sorts of issues. Still it leaves the sinner (and we’re all sinners) in a state of uncertainty. Sexual sins aren’t the only ones that are ambiguous. I’m not sure if anyone really pondered some of their sins whether they can with confidence say their sins aren’t mortal.

          • Leila Miller

            Yes, many non-sexual issues have gradations of seriousness (stealing, for example, is alway at least venially sinful, but not always mortally sinful — depending on how much was stolen, etc.). It’s a good idea, if one is unsure of one’s culpability, to talk to a confessor or spiritual director. But sexual sins are always serious (even as there are degrees of gravity even with mortal sins). If one has done any of these things — fornication, masturbation, adultery, porn, contraception, sterilization, rape, homosexual acts, etc., — one should definitely confess them and resolve to not commit those sins again. So, that part is easy. One should confess those things if they have been done. I’m not sure what the other sexual sins (that are venial?) would be. I haven’t heard of them.

          • Suburbanbanshee

            Oh, come on. You act like, unless you’re actually having sex, a sin can’t be sexual in nature. Any venial sin that is about man/woman relations would be a venial sexual sin, for example. Exciting yourself in a way that isn’t outright pron and masturbation, but is working that way, would be a venial sexual sin. Flirting to be mean and reckless would be a venial sexual sin.

            The problem is that most people don’t count venial sexual sins as sin at all, or they jump right over them nowadays into bed.

          • Leila Miller

            It seems like you are talking about working towards some sort of sexual act. What is the “end” intended by those acts? If you are “exciting yourself” and “working that way” (what way?), isn’t that moving toward some sort of sex act?

            I’d have to know what “flirting to be reckless” means. Can you give an example? Flirting per se is not a sin, but recklessness in any area, yes. What is the reckless flirting for, though? To ruin someone, to hurt another person? I am not sure if that is a sexual sin, but it is a sin, and yes, could be venial or mortal.

            But if one is “working towards” illicit sex in some way, and gets stopped somehow, is it a mortal sin? I think we have to take Jesus words seriously, that even if we lust in our hearts, we commit adultery. Just because we cannot complete the act we want to complete, it does not mean we are not culpable. (If in our hearts, we fully want and intend to murder someone, for example, but by some happenstance we simply cannot get access to a weapon or the person — we are still culpable. God reads our heart.) But again, the word “willful” is important.

            Anyway, I think the question originally (when I first commented) was a curiosity about what sex acts could be venial, and the answer is, none. They are all serious. If folks don’t like that answer, take it up with the Church and Christ, not me, lol.

            And as for “reckless flirting” or “exciting oneself”, I guess it’s best to talk to a spiritual director on those nuances. But if the end of the “reckless flirting” or “exciting oneself” is willfully intended to be sex or a sex act, then the sin would be mortal (a serious sin, objectively).

          • Suburbanbanshee

            That would be true if those were the only sexual sins; however, there are many, yet you have just listed only the mortal sexual sins.

          • Leila Miller

            Any deliberate misuse of one’s sexual faculty (and any willful lust) is a mortal sin. The reason is that sex is the very gift that creates human beings, souls made to live with God for eternity, and so it’s the thing the devil loves to pervert and undermine. He hates human beings so much. Misuse of our sexuality leads to incredible personal misery, broken families, death of the littlest ones, etc.

            I’m not sure what sexual sins would be venial (in the objective sense, not talking about lessened culpability).

          • Randy Gritter

            That leaves open the question, what qualifies as pornography? Is watching a movie with one pretty graphic sex scene in it gravely evil? Just how graphic does it have to be? Lust has the same problem. More intense forms can be gravely immoral. If one lustful thought will put you in hell then what chance do we have? It does not really answer the question of where the line is.

          • Leila Miller

            Lustful thoughts would have to be deliberate, indulged, not a passing thought or even obsessive thoughts that we don’t consent to. It’s a question for a wise spiritual director, but generally, porn films are identifiable. And if there is a film that is not porn, but might have a nude scene or sex scene, we can usually ascertain whether we are happy to watch that scene and enjoying it, or if we really think the film could have done without it (and perhaps could fast forward it or avert our eyes for a moment). Again, a good question for a spiritual director if one is not sure (or if one is scrupulous, which is a torturous thing….).

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            All I can say is, if enjoying a risque scene in a movie is a mortal sin, then I don’t have a chance…lol.

  • Julie

    I was thinking about this not long ago when I saw some remarks by Elizabeth Smart, the girl who was abducted out of her bedroom and raped for several months by a crazy man who thought she was supposed to be his wife. She was 14 at the time, and after she was rescued, when asked why she did not try to escape from the man, she said that she’d been raised to believe that any sex outside of marriage made you dirty and loathesome and bad, and rendered you “damaged goods” forever. Logically, since she had been raped, she thought no one would ever love her or want her again. She thought that she would be ugly even in the sight of her own family–who, of course, were frantic to have her back and didn’t care what had happened in the interim as long as she was alive.

    Elizabeth Smart illustrates “purity” teaching taken to its logical extreme: a girl who was kidnapped and physically attacked through no fault of her own, to whom the teachings of her religion meant that her ordeal made her ugly and dirty and bad through her own fault. Who can even support such a thing? Regrettably, I have encountered more than one religious opinion that said if a girl is raped, she somehow invited it. A young girl asleep in her own bedroom, in her own home, invited rape? Someone explain that to me, please?

    Either way. I believe that sex is something pretty wonderful and pretty powerful, and that it can shape the way that a girl thinks about herself in enormous ways. I think that everyone should wait until they are adult, and secure, and preferably married before they try it–if for no other reason than to go through the fumbling beginnings with someone they love and trust and are sure is going to be there for them. I don’t really base my belief about waiting for sex on religious principles, although I am proudly Catholic–I base my belief on human nature and my own experiences. But not everyone waits, and not everyone is sensible, and not everyone has parents who care enough to talk it through and give them support for choosing to wait. And I don’t think those people are dirty and loathesome for having gone outside the marriage bed; I think they are going to be very sad and I hope they will learn.

    Also, it’s very hard to separate “sex is dirty and shameful!” from “sex is a wonderful gift from God!” on your wedding night. Sex can be funny and sweet and messy and all kinds of fabulous but it is very rarely like the gauzy romantic scenes in movies, especially the very first time. It can be pretty scary anyway, why make it scarier? Why make it harder for a girl to transition to womanhood with her husband because all of a sudden she is supposed to think something that was dirty and shameful is now good and desirable? It is very hard to overcome that conditioning.

    I have no idea how to moderate between the two, and give kids the knowledge that sex is a wonderful life-changing event but needs to be saved until you are grown and married to get the best out of it. You teach a child to stay away from a lit stove by scaring them (“That’s HOT! It will BURN you!”) because you fear for their safety. You fear for their safety in the sexual world, too, but how to tell them that without scaring them to death?

  • Anna

    Thank you very much, Calah. You are such a breath of fresh air of common sense.
    I wasn’t raised Catholic and missed all this guilt trips and “sex is dirty” feelings. Fixation on “purity” and “virginity” makes a woman an object. I put words in quotation marks because real purity is not what is outside, but what is inside. To concentrate on what happened with a sex organ is demeaning. When a girl knows that she is a person, and respects her body, and has confidence that she is loved and deserves to be loved, it is not a problem for her to wait for the right man to marry. But if she grew up in a family without much love, or even in abuse, or the love she has is conditional, like “if you are good, we love you”, then she might search for a love prematurely and in wrong places. It doesn’t make her dirty! It makes her wounded. Judging from the data about teenage sex, there are more girls like that than self-confident and respecting themselves. They, in fact, pay for the sins of their parents and go blamed for it.

    It is my observation that many of those who have problems with accepting their sexuality, or are afraid, or just don’t have a partner that they need badly start compensating in unnatural ways, mostly eating themselves in morbid obesity, or getting obsessed with work, religion, or even porn. One deficiency is substituted for another…

  • Dan C

    As a leftist, I have noted that the Catholic right wing has over the past ten years of blogging whined about the left calling them cold-hearted and ungenerous when it comes to matters of charity and that area of discussion under the topic of “what to do with our poor.”

    Of course, such an approach by the left is so oft-putting and will not build coalitions, it was just fodder for the Holy Sacred Culture War (may it rage forever, amen), but I sense in the same tone that shame is being used as a weapon for sexual purity.

    It is silly to whine about judgmental lefties while being as judgmental over one’s favored virtues.

  • CRS

    Sex is sacred. Therefore, it belongs on the alter of the marital bed. Period.

  • tedseeber

    “Let’s say your 13-year-old, in a fit of fury over the Ipod she didn’t get at Christmas, steals one from Best Buy and then owns up to it later. You wouldn’t say to her, “stealing makes you dirty. You are shameful and dirty!” Same thing with a murderer. Murder is objectively worse than premarital sex, but even so, serial killers aren’t usually referred to as “dirty” or “disgusting” unless they are also guilty of rape or sexual assault.”

    Am I alone in thinking that stealing indeed makes me feel dirty, as would murder?

    • CS

      One of the main problems with “dirty” is the subjectivity. It might describe how one feels, or even how some poorly-raised folks might feel about you, but it does absolutely nothing to describe the objective reality of a person– unless we are actually talking about my boy children at the end of every day spent playing outside.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        True enough. Ok, so it makes me feel *shameful* and dirty- and murdering somebody would be just plain dirty (and likely, given my temper, really dirty- with the other person’s blood).

      • tedseeber

        Well, for a murderer, especially one with my sort of temper, dirty may be a bit more literal- blood is messy.

        But that’s also why we add the word “shameful” to it.

  • Beth Turner

    I think this is your best post on the subject yet. I’m interested to know what you think the solution is, though, because I’m beginning to accept your premise that “sex is dirty” is not a good way to talk to kids about pre-marital sex! Having struggled with disgust towards sex during my married life, I would like to spare my children that tension that introduces into their future relationships.

    And, strangely enough, I wonder if it might help me to help them with potty-training? Or maybe that’s my brain making random neuron connections. You can think about that one and post on it in the future. :)

  • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

    Dante’s organization of hell (which is reasonable both in medieval theology and in common sense) suggests otherwise. Lust is the least of the sins in both the Inferno and the Purgatorio.

    While this part is true, I have to point out that in the Paradiso, the lowest circle of heaven is assigned to women who took vows of chastity and were forced to break them by being raped. They can get in, but they can’t go any higher. Dante points out that this seems a little unfair, to which Beatrice replies:

    “That, to the eye of man, our justice seems unjust, is argument for faith, and not for heretic declension.”

    • Suburbanbanshee

      I don’t recall ever reading that, so it may have been a bad/different translation that you read. If that part of Dante is as described, Dante was on crack, as St. Augustine explains clearly in The City of God that rape doesn’t end virginity, constitute adultery, or break a vow of chastity. (He also decries suicide to prevent rape or to recover one’s “honor.”) In God’s eyes, a virgin raped is a virgin still; and the same applied to wives and widows (and men and boys too).

      Occasionally Dante is on crack. He’s a poet, not a theologian, even though his poem is generally pretty darned good.

      • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

        It’s in Cantos 3 and 4 of the Paradiso.


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