Chastity! Now That I’ve Got Your Attention, Let’s Talk About Sex [SYNOD]

The Patheos Catholic Channel is hosting a Symposium on the Family in light of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October and the recent release of the working document for the Synod. 

Maybe you’ve noticed that one of the topics where the Catholic Church and the Modern world at large seem to differ on is sex. (Mmm, sex.) And one thing I’ve noticed is that the Modern world certainly seems to be obsessed with Catholic views on sex, which leads to a lot of discussion. And discussion is good! But most of the actual discussion that we have on this topic is wretchedly bad.

A big part of it is that the discussion focuses on lists of do’s and don’ts, which is pretty much useless if you don’t discuss the underlying logic of any do’s and don’ts. And even then we have a problem, because the very language that the Modern world and the Catholic Church use to talk about sex is different. Before you can even talk about a concept with someone, you need to agree with that someone about what the concept is. But our language has become so bifurcated that not only do we use different words, even worse: sometimes we use the same word and mean different things by it. And this is murder for dialogue, because if both sides use similar words, but mean different things by them, it’s impossible for them to understand each other; and if they don’t even realize that they mean different things by those same words, they will only grow more frustrated and antagonized as they think that the other side just isn’t making any sense. The Catholic worldview is this very big, old worldview that has been around for 2000 years, and as such, it has its own language and its own way of viewing the world which can be hard to communicate to others.

In other words, we’re at least two steps removed from even being in the ballpark of fruitful dialogue: talking about do’s and don’ts instead of talking about underlying logic; and not even understanding our terms when we do talk about the underlying logic.

So what I want to do here is, instead of talking about do’s and don’ts, and instead of even per se arguing for a certain view of sexuality, is do what should precede any fruitful debate, which is to define terms, and in particular, for a Modern audience, to define the terms that the Catholic worldview uses to talk about sex. Because there is enormous misunderstanding on this; and what’s more, we often don’t even realize that we mean different things when we use those terms. And until we do, it’s going to be impossible to have fruitful dialogue.

Ok, so let’s start defining terms.

And you’re going to see right away what I mean when I say we mean different things when we use the same word, because for the Catholic worldview, the most important thing relating to sex is… CHASTITY.

See? And this is where we get to our first problem.

Because when the Modern world hears “chastity” what they understand is “DON’T HAVE SEX. DON’T EVER THINK ABOUT SEX. NOTHING SEXY. FOREVER.”

Except that–believe it or not–this is NOT what the Catholic worldview means when it uses the word “chastity.” This is just not what the word means.

The best way to translate what the word “chastity” means in the Catholic worldview in Modern world-ese would be to say that chastity means “to have a healthy sexuality.”

Now, what “having a healthy sexuality” means in practice is another question. But when you hear a Catholic priest or bishop talking about the importance of “chastity”, this is what they mean. They mean “It’s important to have a healthy sexuality.” They don’t mean “Sex is bad!”

Just trust me on this. In Catholic-ese, what the word “chastity” means is “a healthy sexuality.”

Before we go further, it’s really important to stress this point: in the Catholic worldview, it’s important for everyone to have and develop a healthy sexuality.

How do I know this?

Because in the Catholic worldview, chastity–a.k.a. a healthy sexuality–is a VIRTUE.

There we go. Another problem.

Because, again, in the Modern world, the word “virtue” has lost its original meaning.

When people in the Modern world hear “virtue” they typically think “being a goody-two-shoes” or “being nice” or “doing the right thing.”

And again, this is wrong. And if we don’t get it right, we’re never going to progress.

And in the case of the word “virtue” it’s particularly important, because the concept of virtue is important not just in the Catholic worldview, but also in the Greek and Roman world, and Greek philosophy (Catholics got much of their concept of virtue from Aristotle), up to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

In other words, “virtue” is a concept that most of the wisest people in the history of our civilization have thought is really important, and we’ve forgotten how to even define it.

So I really want to stress this point. Because if you don’t “get” this, you’re not going to get the “Catholic Thing” about sex, or about anything. But not only that, you’re going to miss out on this huge, huge stream of very rich philosophy down to the present day.

Ok, so here goes: the best way to understand what “virtue” means is to think of it not so much as “doing the right thing” as having the propensity to do the right thing.

Not clear? Think of, say, a firefighter. If you’re a firefighter, most of your time is not spent putting out fires. Most of your time is spent training to be a firefighter. Not just working out, but doing drills, climbing into buildings, breaking down doors, and so on. And it’s obvious why, right? Because if you are a firefighter and you’ve trained well, once you are in an actual fire, you will do the right thing. You will know how to fight the fire, you’re not going to panic, you’re going to keep your cool, and so on. Your training will have given you the propensity to be a good firefighter. In the Catholic language, we would say that to be a good firefighter, you have to develop the virtue of being a good firefighter.

Or think of an athlete. The way to be a good tennis player is not to “decide” to hit the ball right. The way to be a good tennis player is to practice–and practice and practice and practice–so that you grow into being a good tennis player. You develop the virtue of tennis.

In the realm of morality or ethics, then, the concept of virtue tells us that doing the right thing is a lot like a muscle: it’s something you have to practice, it’s something you have to consciously work at getting better at. 

In the ancient wisdom of philosophy and in the Catholic worldview, virtue is important because to develop virtue is to develop self-mastery. Think of becoming a good tennis player again. The reason why you have to practice tennis if you want to get better is because there are things that you want to do but can’t. You want to hit this screamer that slices right above the net, but instead it hits the net, or flies up into the stratosphere. In other words, you lack self-mastery. To grow in virtue as a tennis player is to grow in self-mastery as a tennis player.

In the realm of ethics, this has wide implications. Think of the apparent tension between virtue and freedom. In the Modern world, “freedom” has come to mean “the lack of imposition of rules.” But in the Catholic worldview, “freedom” means the freedom to do great things. If you want to be a great tennis player, if you want to have the freedom to put the ball exactly where you want it on the court, the freedom to be able to return a mean volley, you actually have to put a lot of rules on yourself. You have to bind yourself to practice and practice and practice. You have to abide by rules. But these rules only make you free.

Or think of music. If you want to have the freedom to express yourself through playing beautiful music, you need to bind yourself to practice playing an instrument at least one hour every day.

Or think of swimming. When I was a young kid, my Mom wanted me to learn how to swim. But that sounded boring, and I said no. My Mom said, why not? And, being the smartass I was, I said “Because don’t want to swim! And I’m free! I do what I want! My body, my choice!” (Ok, maybe I didn’t say “my body, my choice”) And my Mom looked at me and said: “…Really? No, you’re not free. Imagine you’re going to the beach with your friends, and they want to go for a swim. If you don’t know how to swim, you won’t be free. You won’t have a choice. Only if you bind yourself to learn how to swim will you then be actually free to decide whether to swim or not.”

(Seriously, my mind was totally blown. I still remember that moment all these years later.)

What virtue ethics tells us, in other words, is that if growth in virtue is growth in self-mastery, then rules don’t necessarily curtail our freedom; indeed, we need the right rules to increase our freedom.

Just like a tennis player has to to practice to be more free on the court, and just like I had to to learn how to swim to be free with regard to swimming.

How does this work in the realm of morality?

Well, think of something like alcoholism. When it comes to alcoholism, it becomes clear that binaries relating to “choice” and “freedom” aren’t of much help. “I’m free! I do what I want!” is the cry of every alcoholic ordering that eleventh glass of Bourbon. The whole point of alcoholism is that the alcoholic who says that, who even fools himself into believing that, is not free. In fact, he is the opposite of free. He is a slave to alcohol. What the alcoholic needs to be free is to impose on himself the rule of no longer drinking alcohol. And to the contrary, the more the alcoholic gives in to his alcoholism, the more he “chooses” to drink, the more enslaved he becomes. The longer you stop playing tennis, the harder it’s going to be for you to pick up the racket again.

And the whole point of understanding the ancient concept of virtue is to recognize precisely that. That becoming truly free is about growth in self-mastery, and imposing on ourselves the right rules, the ones that help us be truly free. If you’re an alcoholic, and you don’t have rules, you will always be a slave, and you will only become more enslaved, and you will ultimately destroy yourself and those around you. If you want to play tennis, and you don’t impose rules on yourself, you will always be a lousy tennis player; you will never achieve self-mastery and true freedom on the court; you’ll be a plaything for any half-competent opponent, who will amuse herself by making you run all over the court. And you won’t be able to do a thing about it.

Virtue, then, is about becoming who you really are–or, in the Catholic worldview, who you are really meant to be.

(Meant…BY WHOM? Hmmmmm….)

When someone has been deeply affected by something, we say they’re “not themselves”–there is profound wisdom in this. Again, think of an alcoholic. An alcoholic, someone who is the slave of some vice–that’s the word for the opposite of virtue–is not themselves. Somebody who’s either drunk, or always thinking about when they’re going to get their next drink, is a poor, second-rate version of themselves. If that person grows in virtue by abandoning the vice of alcohol, they will become more themselves and more free at the same time.

And another quick point about that word, “vice.” Again, this is a thing where we have a communication breakdown. When we hear the word “vice” we immediately think that the person saying it must be hyper-judgey. But the word doesn’t have to mean that at all. Alcohol is, or can be, a vice, but now we acknowledge that someone who is an alcoholic is not someone who is particularly more evil than anyone else; if anything, they’re the true victim of their vice, not the culprit. To say that is not to negate the overall point that reducing vice and growing in virtue is growth in self-mastery, freedom and becoming more of our true selves.

OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT SEX????

See? This is the extent of this communication breakdown, that I had to spend almost two thousand words talking about NOT-sex, just so that we could start talking about sex without having about a dozen misunderstandings in-between.

Now that you understand the concept of “virtue,” you’ll understand what I mean when I say that in Catholic-ese, then, “chastity” is the word that refers to virtue as it relates to the sexual life.

That’s it. “Chastity” is not a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s the word for virtue as applied to the sexual life. Which is why I said that the best translation in Modern-ese of what Catholics mean by “chastity” is “having a healthy sexuality.” Yes, there are rules, but now you understand that the point of the rules is not the rules, the point of the rules is growth in freedom and self-mastery–even (gasp!) holiness, which is a word Catholics use that means being like Jesus.

Ok, so what do Catholics think about chastity?

Well, the first is that Catholics know a few things that the Modern West often ignores, in a way that would have seemed bizarre to pretty much literally every other culture or era.

The first thing is that sex impacts everything we do. In the Modern world, “sex” just refers to what we do between the sheets (or not, as your case may be), and what we do with our genitalia. People in the Modern world certainly spend a lot (a lot) of time thinking about sex, talking about sex, obsessing about sex, but they also have this…bizarre…notion that whatever you may do sexually, it doesn’t really affect the rest of your being or life. It’s this bracketed thing.

In fact, how we relate to sex has a tremendous impact on every facet of our being. When I wrote that Catholics want everyone to have a healthy sexuality, maybe your first thought was “Oh yeah? What about priests and nuns?” Well, exactly. Chastity, i.e. a healthy sexuality, is particularly important for those who are called to a life of celibacy (i.e. no genital sexual expression).

See, another important phrase in Catholic-ese is integral fulfillment. What this means is that every aspect of our personality and of our life must be integrated with every other aspect, and harmoniously. And this is true of sex, and it’s true of everything else. So if you’re called to a life of celibacy, there are basically two ways to deal with that: one of them is by repression–pretending your sexual urges don’t exist and bottling them up–and the other is to express them in a different way (psychologists would call that sublimation). And one thing the Modern world and the Catholic worldview both understand and both agree on is that repression is unhealthy because it causes you to become angry and bitter and usually the thing you’re trying to repress tends to come out in bad ways. If you talk, in particular, to conventual religious, i.e. monks or nuns who live together in community, they will tell you that a thing they watch out for is to make sure they integrate and express their sexuality–not by having sex, but by not repressing their maleness or their femaleness, but instead finding ways to express them non-genitally. They in particular know this very well, because they know that a monk or nun who is repressing his or her sexuality is going to be an unhappy monk or nun and, since everyone lives together in community, is going to make everyone else unhappy.

So the Catholic worldview thinks sex is very important and a huge part of life. And it is totally true to say that according to the Catholic Church, it is unchaste to repress your sexuality.

The idea that sex has a relation to everything else in our life, again, would seem obvious to practically every other culture, worldview and era outside of the bubble of the very recent Modern West. Just look at literature. Half the tragedies of Shakespeare–Romeo and Juliet most obviously, but also, in different ways, Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth–are about the various ways sex screws us up. If you’re talking about politics and civil law, what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom. But in terms of our psychological and moral health, what happens in the bedroom never stays in the bedroom. It affects everything else. Which is why developing the virtue of chastity–i.e. a healthy sexuality–is so important!

Think about our earlier analogy of the tennis player. If you want to be a really good tennis player, that’s not just going to affect what you do on the tennis court, whether during a match or at practice. If you want to be a really good tennis player, you also have to work out in the gym and not just the court. You have to have a healthy lifestyle. You have to eat a certain way. You have to get the right amount of sleep. You have to watch your stress level and abstain from stressful activities. And so on. In other words, developing a virtue is something that, directly or indirectly, affects every facet of your life. If you are chaste, if you have a healthy sexuality, it’s going to affect every other facet of your life. If you don’t have a healthy sexuality, it will screw up every other aspect of your life, directly or indirectly. If you do have a healthy sexuality, it will make the other aspects of your life healthier.

The second thing that Catholics understand that the Modern world doesn’t–and sorry, here, I’m going to sound like a scold–is that sex is dangerous.

Sorrrrryyyyyyy, but it has to be said. And no, I am not, or not primarily, talking about STDs.

The Modern world is super-aware of everything that can be totally awesome about sex. And it’s true! Many things are awesome about sex! Keep in mind the fact that, as I’ve said, Catholics think everyone should have a healthy sexuality, and having a healthy sexuality starts with not repressing it. Catholicism is not sex-negative. Catholicism says that sex can and must be awesome and is potentially wonderful and all the rest. Catholicism says that sex is GOOD. Really, truly, it is good, and a gift from God, according to Catholicism.

It is also dangerous.

Not in a judgmental way. Just in a factual way. Plenty of good things are dangerous–and if we want to use them well, and we should, because they are good, that’s something we ought to keep in mind. Like cars. Cars are awesome! If you are not aware of all the many ways in which cars can be dangerous, you should not drive a car. To say cars are dangerous is not to say cars are bad. It’s just to state a fact.

Actually, let me amend that: the Modern world does know about the dangers of sex–the biological dangers of sex. The Modern world is hyper-aware of the need for “safe” (by which it means biologically safe) sex. But it is not at all aware of the potential psychological, moral and, yes, I’m going to say it, spiritual dangers of sex.

Again, sex affects everything else we do in our life. Sex is not just physical. It is also psychological, moral, emotional, and spiritual. It is connected to every facet of our being. It is an elemental life force. It is dangerous. Handle with care.

And again, this is something that is absolutely utterly obvious to almost every culture and philosophy in the Universe except for the bizarro alternate dimension in which the Modern West has been living for the past forty years.

Think of something like alcohol. I am French. Alcohol is awesome. I love wine. I love beer. I love whiskey. I think alcohol is a gift from God, made for us to enjoy it, and I partake of it with joy. It’s also dangerous. I have seen many lives be ruined by alcoholism. And in my own life, I watch my alcohol consumption, because I realize there are potential dangers to just having no rules with regard to alcohol.

Or think of food. Again–I am French! Food? AWESOME. Love food. Cooking is one of my hobbies. It’s amazing. Gift from God. Made to be enjoyed. Also dangerous. If someone is screwed-up with regard to food, if they don’t have a healthy relationship with food, that will lead to bad consequences for them. (Pop quiz! Is it a coincidence that America is the most obese nation on Earth and the most sex-obsessed? It’s not a trick question.)

Same thing with money. It’s good to have money. But if you have an unhealthy relationship towards money, it’s going to destroy you, because you will only care about money, and not people.

This is something that every culture recognizes. We have all these good things in life, but we also recognize that, as good as these things are, they are also dangerous, which means that if we want to enjoy them responsibly, we need to have rules around them. And if you remember the thing about virtue, the point of rules is not to be mean, the point of rules is to help us grow in freedom, self-control and self-mastery.

And this is an idea that the Modern world has just completely, completely lost. Forget about any specific do or don’t right now. The idea that we need to grow in virtue and self-control with regard to the things in our life, including sex, is one that would have been absolutely, blindingly obvious in every single era and every single culture except ours. There have been many different versions of what it means, in practice, to exercise virtue with regard to sex. But the idea that sex, as this intensely powerful, elemental force in our lives that affects every aspect of our lives, is something that we can’t just indulge, it’s also something we need to achieve some degree of control and balance and restraint in, has been completely lost. And yet, if you understand the idea of virtue, of this growth in freedom through self-control, you realize how important it is.

Sorry for sounding like a scold–this idea of temperance, of restraint and self-control with regard to sex, can’t be the beginning or the end of the discussion, but it has to be part of the discussion, and the Modern world just has complete amnesia of that idea. Is it any wonder it also happens to be the most sex-drenched, sex-obsessed culture in history?

Ok, now for the final (and most important) Catholic insight: sex is not about pleasure, it is about relationship.


(Yeah, I totally went there.)

Pleasure is great! But it’s not the most important thing in life.

And, whether implicitly or explicitly, the Modern world makes sex about pleasure. As long as it’s “safe” and “consensual” (both those words being construed in very narrow ways), the motto is: if it feels good, just do it.

Instead, Catholics think sex is primarily about relationship. Hint: we think everything is about relationship, because even God is a relationship.

Think about our previous insights about sex. Not just about the importance of virtue and self-control and self-mastery and growth in (gasp) holiness. But about the fact that sex affects every aspect of our being.

Well, sex is something you do with someone else. And because of the nature of sex, the most important thing about sex is not the act itself, but its context, the relationship that it establishes, or strengthens. What is this relationship? What am I saying about this relationship through this act? Is the act worthy of the relationship, or the relationship worthy of the act? What does this relationship lead to (i.e. children)?

To be more specific: am I using this person, or not? Am I true to the meaning of this act in our relationship? Am I doing this for myself, my own enjoyment, or for someone else? Am I treating this other person like an object, or a person? Am I doing this for the good of this other person, or mine? More pointedly: am I giving myself to this other person through this act? Am I giving myself totally?

These are the important questions to ask. And if you ask them, you might eventually end up with, among other things, a list of do’s and don’ts. But if you aren’t first clear about everything else I’ve just written about, it’s going to be hard to make sense of the do’s and don’ts.

As I hinted earlier, this Catholic idea of sex being about relationship takes us to a whole new thing, which is primarily theological: how sex relates to God, and human life, and liberty, and vocation, and holiness, and so on.

But if you don’t even have the idea that we should develop the virtue of chastity around sex, that we should not just treat it as a pleasurable past-time, but an important, good, yet-potentially-dangerous thing that we need to properly integrate into our personality and our life, none of it will make sense.

We need to rediscover the virtue of chastity.

Illustration: Marc Chagall, “The Song of Songs”

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  • Ben Conroy

    Fantastic post, PEG – I’ve wanted something like this to exist ever since people Trystyn Bloom inquired about the existence of a really good “why is casual sex wrong” piece of writing. Would there be anything to be said for doing a follow-up along the lines of “why the Catholic Church’s sexual ethic is the best way of integrating the “important, good, yet-potentially-dangerous thing” into our lives? Because of course there are a variety of “dos and don’ts” that could follow from these premises.

    I’m really interested in teasing out the extent to which the Church’s sexual teaching can be justified/argued without assuming a Catholic or Christian metaphysical framework (not that it should, ideally, but in a pluralist world…), and would love to hear your thoughts. Stay classy!

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Thanks.

      In a previous blog debate in a secular forum, I argued from non-religious premises for what I called “Kantian sex”, i.e. taking the other as an end in themselves and not a means. I think a Kantian ethic applied to sex pretty thoroughly repudiates casual sex.

  • Nathaniel

    I don’t have contempt for Catholic official rules about because I’m ignorant about them. Its because I know exactly what they are.

    According to the church, there is one right kind of sex, and that is sex between a married man and woman which ends with the man ejaculating into the woman’s vagina. All other sex is forbidden. Oh, and so is contraception. Because contraception somehow interferes with couple’s ability to love each other. Because nothing says “I love you” like forcing your partner to have the risk of nine months of increasing health problems with significant risk of serious complications, including death.

    And of course no conservative religious person’s post on sex would be complete with a healthy lack of respect and straw manning of the other side. You really think that people as a general rule don’t know that sex can be dangerous? Familiar with the phrase, “Why get the cow when you can have the milk for free?” Disgusting as the analogy is, it shows a cultural idea that sex can be dangerous for women because it can lead to men taking advantage of them.

    Of course, then there are the dangers that the Catholic Church generally shies away from because it puts a crimp in their ideology. Like the fact that a woman is most often raped by someone she knows. A category that includes her husband. And many Catholic priests and bishops now wouldn’t see anything wrong with a husband raping his wife. After all, it involves a married man having “sex” with his wife, presumably ending the sex act by ejaculating in her vagina. Which highlights another inconvenient fact, that many abusive men explicitly use of tactic of forcing their partners to become pregnant and have children in order to further control them and entrap them into the relationship. And according to your church, it would be immoral for the woman to use contraception in order to stop that tactic.

    Another thing. Marital rape only started becoming recognized as something that could exist in US law in the 1970s, with some individual states only recognizing marital rape as a crime as late as 1993. The people leading the effort to have the law realize that husbands could rape their spouses? Weren’t old Catholic men wearing robes.

    An additional strawman you indulge in is the notion that non-Catholics aren’t aware that how we have sex and our sexuality aren’t important. That you deemed fit to write such a thing after decades of an increasingly outspoken LGBT movement that has constantly made the point that their sexuality is important and worth protecting either speaks of a ignorance so staggering its a wonder you are able to use the internet while maintaining it, or a level of double think and dishonesty that it really speaks for itself. Because its been lesbians and gay people who have been told by folks like you that their sexuality is something to be downplayed. That unlike straight people, they don’t need romantic relationships, that being forbidden from such relationships won’t lead to a life of isolation and hardship. That they should be happy with the “freedom” that the church is so generously offering the “objectively disordered” perverts.

    And even with straight people you get in on the act. You deny that people can have meaningful, important sexual relationships to people they haven’t legally tied themselves too. You make a piece of paper from the government into a magic wand that transforms sex from a bad thing into a good thing merely by its presence. And when it comes to people like me, where the non-marital sex I’ve had has been crucial in my personal growth and in fact has made me a better, happier person? I am either stupid and delusional, so profoundly stupid that what I think has made me a better person has in fact done no such thing. In other words, I am so stupid I don’t know what’s good for me, and should listen obediently to my local priest and conduct my life according to every word they say. Because if I am too utterly incompetent to run my own sex life, then that probably extends to other parts of my life as well.

    The other possibility is that I know that non-marital sex is bad, but I insist on lying about it because I am corrupted sinner who wants other people to make the same mistakes as me as a way to spite the church. Mustache twirling optional.

    Either way, you have to categorically dismiss me as someone who cannot exist in order for you ideology to work. And that’s generally not a good place for your ideology to be.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      According to the church, there is one right kind of sex, and that is sex between a married man and woman which ends with the man ejaculating into the woman’s vagina

      You are limiting sex to what we do with our genitals. That is not what Catholics would do. They would see consecrated celibacy as another very good way to live chastely.

      Because nothing says “I love you” like forcing your partner to have the risk of nine months of increasing health problems with significant risk of serious complications, including death.

      Percisely. Except it is not limited to 9 months. Having a child with someone is a huge risk. It is also the ultimate act of love.

      And many Catholic priests and bishops now wouldn’t see anything wrong with a husband raping his wife.

      Can you provide some quotes from Catholic priests and bishops that prove this allegation?

      And when it comes to people like me, where the non-marital sex I’ve had has been crucial in my personal growth and in fact has made me a better, happier person?

      Again you are limited sex to the genitals. You could have those relationships. We would just say they would have been better if genital expression of your sexuality would have been left out if you were not married. Personal growth can still happen through romantic relationships with no intercourse.

      I am either stupid and delusional, so profoundly stupid that what I think has made me a better person has in fact done no such thing. In other words, I am so stupid I don’t know what’s good for me, and should listen obediently to my local priest and conduct my life according to every word they say. Because if I am too utterly incompetent to run my own sex life, then that probably extends to other parts of my life as well.

      The theological language for this is to say you are a sinner. You need God. You need the Church. Yes, Catholicism says that is true of all of us.

      • Nathaniel

        You are limiting sex to what we do with our genitals. That is not what
        Catholics would do. They would see consecrated celibacy as another very
        good way to live chastely.

        Which does nothing to disprove my point. Celibacy isn’t a way of having sex, its not having sex. My point that the only acceptable Catholic approved way of having sex is a husband ejaculating into his wife’s vagina.

        Tell me I’m wrong.

        And its kind of hilarious for you to accuse me of reducing sex to actions of genitalia, because that’s exactly what the church does to gay people. They have the wrong set of genetalia in their couplings, so therefore its wrong. If they love each other? Doesn’t matter. If they show more commitment than many straight couples? Doesn’t matter. Have they sacrificed for each other, would die for each other? Doesn’t matter. Only their genitals matter.

        Percisely. Except it is not limited to 9 months. Having a child with
        someone is a huge risk. It is also the ultimate act of love.

        You know, if want to convince me that the Church takes rape seriously, this is not the way to do it. Because asserting that forcing someone to be pregnant is an act of love is kind of terrifying. And I’m not even a woman.

        Can you provide some quotes from Catholic priests and bishops that prove this allegation?

        Well, lets see, there is the centuries long held doctrine that women have marital duty to have sex with their husbands whenever they request it. Then there are countries like Poland and Spain that have been politically dominated by the demands of the Catholic Church for centuries and still only make marital rape a criminal offense in the 20th century. Or even just a little further back, the entire western part of Europe was under the tutelage of the Catholic Church before Martin Luther, and yet not a single country felt it was possible for a husband to rape his wife.

        And its not like concern over this issue spontaneously generated in 1966 at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday. As far back as the 19th century I can find prominent figures deploring the lack of protection for wives sexual autonomy. The kind of people who protested? Godless atheists like Bertrand Russell, and feminists like Susan B. Anthony. Not a single Catholic official.

        So what am I to conclude? That the Catholic church has always abhorred marital rape, but never quite got around to enshrining their distaste in a time and place where they could successfully burn heretics? That even in times and places where they didn’t have total religious and political sway they just couldn’t be bothered to protest when lawmen and politicians proclaimed that a marriage license was a permanent waiver of the right to say no?

        Or should I conclude that just like most powerful people at the time, the Church either didn’t care or approved of the erasure of marital rape as a concept? And that even now many Catholic priests would hold to the legal strictures surrounding rape that were present in their childhood, just as is true with many Protestant religious figures.

        Again you are limited sex to the genitals. You could have those
        relationships. We would just say they would have been better if genital
        expression of your sexuality would have been left out if you were not
        married. Personal growth can still happen through romantic relationships
        with no intercourse.

        You aren’t listening. I never said that personal growth cannot happen without sex. I said that for ME, I experienced personal growth through the act of having non-marital sex. That such growth if I ever had gotten through another channel would have happened much later in life. That it was such lessons learned through sex that made me a better, happier person. Sex that happened in the context of both committed and less committed relationships.

        So which is it? Am I stupid, or am I lying?

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          And its kind of hilarious for you to accuse me of reducing sex to actions of genitalia, because that’s exactly what the church does to gay people. They have the wrong set of genetalia in their couplings, so therefore its wrong. If they love each other? Doesn’t matter. If they show more commitment than many straight couples? Doesn’t matter. Have they sacrificed for each other, would die for each other? Doesn’t matter. Only their genitals matter.

          Actually all that does matter. It just does not alter the purpose of the genitals. Having a beautiful love relationship does not mean you have to have intercourse. It does not make it less. In fact, it makes it more because you are respecting each other’s bodies.

          You know, if want to convince me that the Church takes rape seriously, this is not the way to do it. Because asserting that forcing someone to be pregnant is an act of love is kind of terrifying. And I’m not even a woman.

          Who said anything about force? You choose to have sex or not. If you do a pregnancy might result. So where is the force? It is an act of love to take seriously the fullness of what having sex means for you and for your partner. That does not mean defeating your fertility. Your fertility is part of who you are. Demanding a change in who you are is not love.

          And that even now many Catholic priests would hold to the legal strictures surrounding rape that were present in their childhood, just as is true with many Protestant religious figures.

          So you have no examples of such priests? Even if there were some it would mean nothing unless such opinions were more common among priests than among the general population. I see no reason to believe that.

          I said that for ME, I experienced personal growth through the act of having non-marital sex. That such growth if I ever had gotten through another channel would have happened much later in life.

          I actually don’t think you know what would have happened if you had lived a Christian sexual ethic. How could you?

          Later in life? You might have been forced to grow up fast because of your sexual experiences. I don’t think learning about sex a little later in life is a bad thing.

          • captcrisis

            “Having a beautiful love relationship does not mean you have to have
            intercourse. It does not make it less. In fact, it makes it more because
            you are respecting each other’s bodies.”

            My wife would take issue with this. In no respect is making love showing a lack of respect for the other’s body. Unless of course you think sex is sinful.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Did I say that? Making love when you are not open to having a child disrespects your bodies. You bodies are ordered towards reproducing. Reordering sex so they can’t reproduce violates who you are. Making love is not the problem. It is our unwillingness to fully embrace all that sex is that becomes a problem.

          • captcrisis

            “Making love when you are not open to having a child disrespects your bodies. You bodies are ordered towards reproducing.”

            Then couples who know they are infertile should not have sex. Then couples who are elderly cannot have sex. Then a woman who has had a hysterectomy cannot have sex. The a man whose testicles have been removed due to injury cannot have sex.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Again, I didn’t say that. You can respect your body and your body might not for some reason actually produce a child. That is the way it works. You open yourself up to children. They don’t always come. Sometimes you have good reason to know they won’t come. So what? The point is you have not messed with it. Accept each other’s bodies as they are, fertile or not. Don’t try and make a healthy body infertile.

          • Nathaniel

            So whenever I masturbate, its okay because I am open to my masturbation somehow spontaneously generating a child from my discarded sperm. Good to know.

          • Nathaniel

            Actually all that does matter. It just does not alter the purpose of the
            genitals. Having a beautiful love relationship does not mean you have
            to have intercourse. It does not make it less. In fact, it makes it more
            because you are respecting each other’s bodies.

            All true of gay relationships. And true of yours too. After all, you don’t need to have sex with your wife to show how much you love her. So why don’t you show how fair minded you are by promising to never again have sex with your spouse or potential spouse again. After all, you don’t consider such a request of LBGT people to be intolerable, so whats sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And I’m sure that you’d never say or feel that it would be unfair or ridiculous for some stranger on the internet to make such demands on your sex life. After all, what better way to show respect for the love of your life’s body than by never touching it?

            Who said anything about force? You choose to have sex or not. If you do a
            pregnancy might result. So where is the force? It is an act of love to
            take seriously the fullness of what having sex means for you and for
            your partner. That does not mean defeating your fertility. Your
            fertility is part of who you are. Demanding a change in who you are is
            not love.

            Just as in our world, women can choose to pregnant or not, despite the best efforts of you and your church. And its an act of love to respect your partner’s wishes when it comes to their bodily autonomy, even if they can clash with your own desires.

            And my fertility is a part of who I am. Just as my mouth, legs and other bodily aspects are. And they serve me, not the other way around.

            And you again add to the hilarity as well, seeing as how you are demanding huge changes in other people. You demand that gay people give up any hope of romantic and sexual fulfillment. You demand that women who have no desire to be pregnant either have to deal with it or never have sex. By your own words you are not being loving. And yet I suspect you will find a way to disagree with your own ideas.

            So you have no examples of such
            priests? Even if there were some it would mean nothing unless such
            opinions were more common among priests than among the general
            population. I see no reason to believe that.

            So, you have a group of people who claim to have a direct line of communication to a being that supposedly is morally ideal and can beam those ideals into the heads of his chosen. And despite, you wouldn’t find it concerning if such chosen people believed that marital rape was an oxymoron so long as it was no greater in percentage than the regular population.

            Guess having a hotline to God’s will ain’t what it used to be.

            I actually don’t think you know what would have happened if you had lived a Christian sexual ethic. How could you?

            So now we have your answer. You’re going with stupid. I am too stupid to recognize how my personality might have changed under different circumstances and different events.

            Well you know what? If you can say that, so can I. You have no idea what you would be like if you had similar beliefs as mine. You could even be a better person. And you have no way of gainsaying my statements without revealing your words to be empty hypocrisy.

            Later in life? You might have been forced to grow up fast because of your sexual experiences. I don’t think learning about sex a little later in life is a bad thing.

            Stop ignoring parts of what I write. I never said I only learned about matters directly concerning sex. Part of the reason such experiences turned out to be so life changing for me is that they helped me grow and become a better person in many matters not directly about sex. And that will remain true, no matter how much you stick your fingers in your ears and pretend not to hear me.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      You claim that you know Catholic sexual doctrine and that I straw man, and then you go on to straw man and falsely describe Catholic sexual doctrine.

      W/r/t contraception, actually, yes, nothing says “I love you” more than “I want to have children with you” and “I want to give myself to you completely whatever the consequences”. And describing pregnancy as “nine months of increasing health problems with significant risk of serious complications, including death” betrays an incredibly impoverished view of human life and human flourishing, on top of being scientifically illiterate (“significant risk[…]of death”? In the 21st century? Seriously?)

      W/r/t spousal rape, the idea that Catholic sexual teaching endorses it is absolutely ludicrous.

      W/r/t attitudes such as “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” I absolutely agree that they are utterly demeaning. And if you’ve read my post, you would quickly understand why such attitudes are incompatible with Christian ethics writ large, not just Catholic sexual doctrine. (And yes, there are too many self-described Christians who don’t realize that. Christianity is more often “found difficult and left untried” than “tried and found wanting.” If you want to punch that straw man, have at it.)

      Also false, your assertion that Church teaching calls homosexual *people* “objectively disordered”, rather than homosexual *acts*–a crucial difference. This is a common misunderstanding. But you’re the one who is asserting that you know Catholic sexual doctrine.

      I will be the first to say (and have said, many times, as have many other Christians, including many gay Christians who live out Christian sexual ethics as it has always been understood in this matter) that the Church has utterly failed, and continues to fail, in its pastoral care for homosexual persons. However, I have to also strenuously push back against the idea that it’s impossible to live a celibate life that is also fulfilling: just look at countless saints and, indeed, if you know how to look, countless people around you. To say this is not to downplay the tremendous difficulties and complexities of the issue, but you’re the one who’s strawmanning like it’s going out of style.

      With regard to the “piece of paper” canard, yes, the Church says that there is just a teensy-weensy contradiction inherent in saying “I love you, but I don’t want to commit to you” or “I love you, but I don’t want the consequences of loving you.” Crazy-crazy.

      And by the way, yes, the Church says that *sometimes* people might not know what’s best for them. Evidence? ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY. I recommend starting with the works of Shakespeare. I was under the impression that the idea that one can learn from the wisdom of others is one of the most inoffensive anybody could imagine.

      To sum up: your comment perfectly highlights the need for my post, incomplete and flawed as it is.

      • Nathaniel

        W/r/t contraception, actually, yes, nothing says “I love you” more than
        “I want to have children with you” and “I want to give myself to you
        completely whatever the consequences”.

        Unless the other person doesn’t want to have children or doesn’t want to be pregnant. Than what you would be saying is “I care nothing for your personal desires” and “my feelings are more important than yours.”

        So loving.

        And describing pregnancy as “nine months of increasing health problems with significant risk of serious complications, including death” betrays an incredibly impoverished view of human life and human flourishing, on top of being scientifically illiterate (“significant risk[…]of death”? In the 21st century? Seriously?)

        650 women die each year on average from being pregnant. Worldwide, that number is a little under 300,000, with 10 million women suffering severe pregnancy related disease or injury. Take that ratio and apply it to America, and around 25,000 women injured by pregnancy every year.

        But these exact numbers of a bit of a red herring. Why? Because in America, pregnancy deaths are 1% of what they used to be a mere 100 years ago. And back then the Church still opposed contraception. So your caviling about how dangerous pregnancy is rather dishonest, given that we have concrete evidence that the church doesn’t care how dangerous pregnancy is. They will still oppose contraception as a general rule.

        http://www.who.int/features/qa/12/en/

        http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-relatedmortality.htm

        W/r/t spousal rape, the idea that Catholic sexual teaching endorses it is absolutely ludicrous.

        Quote me where I said Church teaching endorses marital rape. Seriously. Line and verse.

        My point was that for the claimed loving wisdom of the church, somehow they missed the importance of speaking out against the legal outrage of the law declaring that a man couldn’t rape his wife, why the hell should I ever put any sort of trust in their sexual philosophy? Why should any woman for that matter, given how little protection such philosophy offered them legally and socially?

        Also false, your assertion that Church teaching calls homosexual
        *people* “objectively disordered”, rather than homosexual *acts*–a
        crucial difference. This is a common misunderstanding. But you’re the
        one who is asserting that you know Catholic sexual doctrine.

        And you engage in the pernicious and false notion that condemnations of gay’s desires can be somehow cleaved off from condemnations of them as people. Your very own words above talk about how sex is important and has wide impacts on people. Curiously this attitude disappears when it comes to talking about LBGT people.

        Boast all you want about how much you love LGBT people while finding their romantic and sexual impulses disgusting and disordered, but for the gay teenager contemplating suicide, the difference is rather hard to see.

        I will be the first to say (and have said, many times, as have many other Christians, including many gay Christians who live out Christian sexual ethics as it has always been understood in this matter) that the Church has utterly failed, and continues to fail, in its pastoral care for homosexual persons. However, I have to also strenuously push back against the idea that it’s impossible to live a celibate life that is also fulfilling: just look at countless saints and, indeed, if you know how to look, countless people around you. To say this is not to downplay
        the tremendous difficulties and complexities of the issue, but you’re the one who’s strawmanning like it’s going out of style.

        I never said that someone has to have sex or romantic relationships to be happy. But I am quite comfortable claiming that such a life should only be freely chosen, and not forced upon every gay person like you and your church desire. If you don’t think that every straight could be happy living like a priest, then why do you think every gay person would?

        With regard to the “piece of paper” canard, yes, the Church says that there is just a teensy-weensy contradiction inherent in saying “I love you, but I don’t want to commit to you” or “I love you, but I don’t want the consequences of loving you.” Crazy-crazy.

        Again. Conflating love and sex. That’s not how people actually work. And yelling about how awful and sinful people are for this doesn’t actually change the fact that sex and love are different things governed by different parts of the brain. Its exactly this sort of attitude that leads Christian teenagers and twenty year olds to marry the first person they want to have sex with, because obviously that means they love them. And then everyone is surprised when things end badly.

        And you further confirm how bizarre you focus on this piece of paper is. Are you saying that its impossible for people to be committed to each other without a signed document from the government? That couples who have been together for decades obviously don’t care about each other if they haven’t been down to the city hall? Why does this only apply to romantic relationships? Why not friendships as well? Chess partners? Should everyone from every relationship get signed papers from the government just to prove how committed they are?

        Equally bizarre is your insistence that loving someone necessitates vague “consequences.” But of course in this context, love isn’t an accurate word for what you’re describing. Its sex. You think sex should have consequences, MUST have consequences. And it irritates you to no end that technology and social changes have made it so easy for people to blissfully ignore the strictures of your chosen religion. Oh, for the golden days when even the most promiscuous of the immoral sinning masses would be stopped dead in their tracks from a unwanted pregnancy or injurious disease. Sure, the resultant child would be being born to someone who was likely unprepared and unwilling to raise a child well and would suffer severe financial difficulty. But all that pales in importance to the wonderful consequence of no longer sleeping around.

        And by the way, yes, the Church says that *sometimes* people might not know what’s best for them. Evidence? ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY. I recommend starting with the works of Shakespeare. I was under the impression that the idea that one can learn from the wisdom of others is one of the most inoffensive anybody could imagine.

        You aren’t saying that I could learn from the wisdom of others. You’re saying that on this matter, the church has the total and final truth, with all other sources of claimed knowledge either being wrong or irrelevant. And that if I have experiences that contradict the church, I should believe them rather than my own lying eyes.

        One statement is so banal it hardly needs to be stated. The other is the height of arrogance, such arrogance should not go by not commented on.

        • Alexander S Anderson

          Just over a hundred years ago, no government in the West performed marriages. They were simply an observer. From the Catholic perspective, the idea has always been that he couple confers the sacrament on each other. Other people weren’t even necessary parties until 1215. So no, it’s not right to characterize it as depending on “a piece of paper from the government.”

          • Nathaniel

            Oh yes it is. Why? Because your church has spent millions of dollars and decades of time attempting to shape American legal marriage to its desired shape. The moment the church stepped into the arena of policy and politics they unwittingly declared their ties to the legal regime of civic marriage. If Real True Marriage can be threatened by giving pieces of paper to undesirables, then that piece of paper is what defines Real True Marriage. The church has made its bed. Don’t blame me for pointing out just how its lying in it.

          • oregon nurse

            What a bunch of baloney. Since the beginning of civilization, societies have been ‘marrying’ according to the natural law and they came to it naturally without any help from the Catholic Church. Show me one civilization on the face of the earth, and you can go back as far as you want, that ever had any legal or cultural institution that looked liked ssm.

            The opposite in fact has occurred. The gay lobby has spent millions of dollars and decades of time to create an entirely new and novel legal construct in their desired shape. They sure seem to think those pieces of paper mean an awful lot more than you do. One might almost call them ‘sacramental’ to gays.

          • Nathaniel

            According to “natural law”, huh? So I guess I’m just imagining all the cultures that have had:

            Polygamy

            Only common law marriages (Ancient Egypt)

            Divorce(Muslim law states that a man only has to say “I divorce you” three times to make it happen)

            Accepted non-marital sex(Any culture that generally tolerated mistresses and concubines)

            Or maybe I’m just unaware of how all of these are compatible with “natural” law.

            And gay people have been in stable committed couplings for years. The reason they sought legal equality is to protect the rights of them and their loved ones. They don’t operate under the assumption that their relationships with their significant other are invalid or wrong before they get legal recognition. Unlike the church, which has planted its flag on the notion that sexual relationships are evil until a piece of paper is signed.

          • oregon nurse

            ‘Marriage’ has looked different in different times and cultures but it has always involved a man and a woman and normal biological procreation. It has never, until the present time, included the always and everywhere sterile and unnatural ‘union’ of homosexuals. Every case you try to make only further proves the exceptional disconnect of ssm from anything that preceeded it and makes you look even sillier for trying to argue otherwise..

          • Nathaniel

            “Something has never or rarely been done before. That means its bad.”

            Such a brilliant and original argument.

          • oregon nurse

            Contrary to your own personal opinion, you are not smarter or wiser than everyone who came before you.

          • Nathaniel

            Traditions need to argued on their own merits. Something you are clearly incapable of doing.

    • Petey

      contraception doesn’t interfere with a couple’s ability to love one another, it interferes with the telos of coitus, acc. to RCC teaching. and you claim to know “official Catholic rules”?

  • Zooey Glass

    All well and good, but what of the gay couple who have developed the virtue of a healthy sexuality, based on an understanding of its power and its dangers, and who are giving to each other in relationship during acts of sexual expression rather than treating each other as objects? What is so frustrating for gays is that Catholic teaching seems to dismiss all of our sexual expression as, well, intrinsically disordered (another phrase that suffers from a translation problem.) We’re talked to as though our sexuality is never deeper than lust or temptation; it never seems possible in the Catholic view that gay sexuality can be as deeply considered and life-enhancing as what you describe here. It’s just wrong at its core, no further discussion needed.
    Also, it seems a little silly to suggest that the modern west doesn’t know that sex is powerful and impacts “everything we do.” Or that it’s potentially dangerous. Seriously. The way sex permeates popular culture is all about grappling with those two realities. You may not like the way the modern west does that grappling, or the conclusions it comes to, but to claim that it ignores or is ignorant of those two points is just facially incorrect.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      Do you see adultery as wrong? What about lying or stealing? If something is wrong it does not mean there can never be a noble motive in anyone committing the act. Lying, stealing, and adultery can be done as an attempt to build a very good relationship. Yet they are wrong because they violate something. So the good they do is cancelled out by the good they destroy. Is the net effect always negative? No. Yet we are not able to do the analysis of balancing one evil against another. We need to just speak the truth, respect property and keep our marriage vows. We should not be in the business of finding exceptions to the rules because we are more than likely to mess it up big time.

      Sex is like that. It is something sacred that can be violated. Saying we should not violate it is not judging every sex act that does so any more than saying lying is wrong judges every single lie ever told. I am sure some of those sex acts are done with noble intent. The point is it does not matter. Letting the link between sex and marriage and procreation break down is a greater cost. Breaking integrity because you can think of a few examples where it seems OK is not realistic. Humans need boundaries when dealing with strong temptations.

      • Nathaniel

        The point ———->
        Your Head

        Congrats on saying that loving, committed relationships are morally equivalent to prosecutable crimes.

        Zooey Glass, can you feel the love? I can feel the love.

        • Zooey Glass

          Yup, I feel it.
          The thing is, Randy, I do get what you’re saying. I just don’t agree with where your starting point for Integrity is. My point in commenting is that gay couples can live out all M. Gobry’s ideals for a healthy sexuality as he describes them here, and still and always fall afoul of Catholic teaching. He wants everyone to see that teaching as being more than a list of do’s and don’ts, but gays can do everything he says but the message remains simply “don’t.”

          • oregon nurse

            “I just don’t agree with where your starting point for Integrity is.”

            But that’s the problem in a nutshell. When you begin your arguments from a false premise (homosexual sex is good) then you are always going to be coming to false conclusions no matter how good they might seem.

          • Zooey Glass

            Well, given that I think the Catholic church starts with a false premise, in my view you’ll always come to a false conclusion yourself. (In this case, that gay relationships are necessarily displeasing to God.)

            We can do this all day.
            As a non-Catholic, I’ll bow out now and let y’all get back to your discussion about sexuality that doesn’t have anything to do with gay people. Sorry for the thread-jack. Just thought I’d throw in some outside perspective, because it might have something to do with why so many in our country these days don’t give the Catholic church much of hearing on these issues, and why your pastoral message seems to have trouble breaking through.

          • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

            Actually, you are exactly the kind of dialogue partner that helps clarify things: clear, strong in your position, and respectful of others. Thank you.

            In the interest of clarity, I think the difference is not about the moral status of homosexual sex; I think the difference is about the the nature of sex.

            The Catholic Church considers sex to involve both union of partners and procreation. From this point of view, homosexual activity (and contraceptive intercourse, and masturbation, and so on) is not, strictly speaking, sexual intercourse.

            The modern perspective separates the aspects of union and pleasure and procreation. It takes each one separately, and so naturally concludes that homosexual sex (as well as other forms of genital expression) is indeed sex.

            This is a disagreement right at the starting point of the argument. It’s no surprise that we come to different conclusions; and we will continue to do so unless we sort through this fundamental disagreement.

          • Zooey Glass

            True enough. I just don’t think agreement will ever happen if it requires accepting that Theology of the Body and Natural Law theory are objective truths.
            In terms of public policy and social norms, I think Catholic teaching faces an uphill battle in our pluralistic society. In an age when more gay people – and importantly, gay couples – are out of hiding, young people can see examples all around them of inspiring fidelity and devotion, as well as recklessness and regret, among both their straight and gay peers. Neither category has a monopoly on virtue. When the teaching rejects this observable reality, when it has really interesting and challenging ideas to relate (as in this post) about sexual relationships, but says those ideas are for straight people only and that gays need to take “Don’t” for an answer, well…is it any wonder that a young person might question, or reject, the teaching? Or at least not use it as a guide to public policy?

          • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

            I guess I don’t see how Catholic teaching “rejects this observable reality.” We agree that “Neither category has a monopoly on virtue.” These interesting and challenging ideas are for gay people as well as straight people – although the aspects that are most challenging may be different.

            All that said, yes, Catholic teaching certainly faces an uphill battle. That’s okay. As long as we all fight fair, we’ll come out with the right answer in the end.

          • Zooey Glass

            One other quick thought: my premise isn’t that “homosexual sex is good”, it’s that “homosexual sex is morally neutral”. My premise is that gay people, no less than straight people, have a range of approaches to how they view healthy sexuality, and that M. Gobry’s views as stated here apply no less to them than to you. My premise is that these are good thoughts for gay people as well, but the church’s blanket condemnation of gay relationships denies them the pastoral care of these kind of thought-provoking ideas, which is a shame.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            My point in commenting is that gay couples can live out all M. Gobry’s ideals for a healthy sexuality as he describes them here, and still and always fall afoul of Catholic teaching.

            Can they? Healthy sexuality involves acts that can lead to pregnancy. That is one biological goal of sex. It completes the reproductive system and makes it able to function. Any sex act that does not do that is not really healthy.

          • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            Again, my post is an introduction to Catholic sexual teaching, it doesn’t cover everything.

            To put it another way: it sets out necessary conditions; not sufficient conditions.

      • niknac

        My priest has a boyfriend. My bishop has a boyfriend. Pope Benedict has a boyfriend.

        I have a boyfriend too.

    • kag1982

      Correct. I actually like the idea of this post and am in favor of the Catholic Church developing a positive approach to sexuality. I think that the hook up culture that too many people of my generation are involved in is really damaging to society. It seems that too many Gen Yers who have replaced dating and relationships with anonymous booty-calls.

      However, I think that that responsible sexuality can include both gay couples and the use of birth control. I don’t think that the Catholic Church is helping people have a moderate sexuality; they are on the extreme end of the scolds.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

        Is moderate what we want? I mean there is nothing moderate about sex. It is going all the way. Holding nothing back. Hitting the home run. Whatever metaphor you choose. So why do you want moderate in your sexual morality? Why demand moderate love rather than total love?

        I am happy the church is on the extreme end. It means that sex is not just a little bit sacred. It is as awesome as awesomeness can get. It means we need to respect it more than many expect but that is good news. It means sex is every bit as amazing as it seems. Literally connecting you with the love of God that is the most powerful thing in the cosmos. I would not want it any other way. Bring it on!

        • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Exactly.

        • kag1982

          I don’t think that the Catholic view of sexuality that sees women as only “brood mares” and only cares about me being constantly knocked up is a positive extreme.

      • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        You are presuming that “moderate” equals “right” or “most conducive to human flourishing.” I would seriously question that assumption.

        • kag1982

          There is nothing in your nice post about the Catholic view of sexuality that excludes gay married couples from having sex or straight married women from using the Pill. I do agree with you that sex in today’s society is too casual and extreme but I disagree that the Church is pushing a moderate line on this. I think that the religious “scolds” are what partially led people to the other extreme. Take for instance the view of women in today’s society. I do agree that modern society objectifies women as a piece of meat, but I also think that the Catholic Church objectifies me as a “brood mare.” Both see me as an object only based on my gender and sexuality rather as an individual.

    • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

      Sometimes, Catholics are so eager to present Catholic teaching as sex-positive (which it in fact is) that they elide that sex is only one very specific and particular kind of loving relationship.

      If we take his example of tennis, it would be important to note that tennis is not the only game we can play. We can also play chess, or football (of any variety). These games have different rules and require different kinds of practice; but they are no less fun or challenging in themselves.

      Or take the example of food. One cannot go wrong singing the glories of a gourmet dessert, or mastering the making thereof. But it would be a mistake to think that dessert is the only kind of cooking there is, or the only kind of cooking worth doing.

      Likewise, the relationship of sex (meaning, for the sake of argument, the emotional and physical intimacy that includes genital intercourse) is not the only human relationship, and not the only human expression of love. It is a very important relationship, but it is not necessarily the most important relationship, not necessarily the fullest expression of love one can give or receive. It is possible to live without this relationship, and to live happily and well.

      From the Catholic point of view – a perspective inherited from both Jewish and Greek culture, consonant with every other cultural tradition, and confirmed by divine revelation – the relationship of sex is the relationship that establishes and propagates human families. It is the response to the instinct to pass on our genetic code and the divine command to be fruitful and multiply. From this point of view, the sex relationship is essentially spousal, and essentially directed toward children.

      Now, with the rise of contraceptive technologies, there has been a movement to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality. That is another argument, and it is well worth arguing about. But it is clear that such a separation is a new thing in human history, and that this is the point at which the Catholic Church and modern attitudes about sexuality part ways. The Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage or homosexual relations or contraception is not based on a repressive or hate-filled agenda; it is based on some fundamentally different assumptions about the nature of the human person and the nature of human sexual intercourse.

      Meanwhile, I hope we all can agree that there are many kinds of love besides sexual intimacy: friendship, love of one’s children or one’s parents, comradeship in a task or profession, and so on. Each has a place in human life.

      • Zooey Glass

        We certainly can. What we probably won’t agree on is the idea that any group of people as a class should properly be denied the opportunity to play tennis or have dessert, just because football and chicken exist.

        • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

          No, I think we agree that no group of people as a class should be denied the opportunity to play tennis or have dessert.

          The question is, what is tennis? What is dessert? What is sex?

          Tennis is a game that is made up. It’s a pure cultural convention. We can change it all we like, as long as everyone agrees.

          Dessert is also sort of culturally conventional; but it’s also based on the hard facts of nutrition. You can’t put plastic chips in a bowl and call it dessert. Also, the things we generally call dessert will kill us of malnutrition if we never supplement them with chicken or spinach or more complete nutrition.

          From a Catholic perspective, sex is rather like dessert – one particularly appealing relationship among many, but insufficient on its own for a healthy growing life. And it has some absolute requirements (dessert must be food, digestible by the body; sex must include the possibility of procreation) and some cultural ones (dessert comes after dinner; sex comes after dinner).

          From a Catholic perspective, separating the union from the pleasure from the procreative aspects of sexuality is like separating the color from the flavor from the nutrition of dessert. A beautiful plastic or wax model of creme brulee just won’t feed me; it’s not that I’m denied dessert because I want a plastic model. I’m “denied” dessert because what I’m asking for is not dessert.

          • Zooey Glass

            I don’t think the analogy holds up. To me, you’re enjoying a delicious creme brulee; I’m also having a delicious creme brulee; but you’re telling me that what I’m having isn’t creme brulee at all. On top of that, you’re telling me that it’s bad and wrong that I’m eating this thing I think is a creme brulee but you know to be a wax model.

            By all means, don’t eat a wax model of a creme brulee! No one’s asking you to. What isn’t working is your telling me that what I’m eating isn’t creme brulee, when it’s clear to my eyes, nose, and taste buds that it is, just because your teleogical world view dictates that it can’t be a creme brulee if it’s me eating it. I’ll just sit here and keep eating; you can keep insisting that it’s merely a replica and I should stop. Which of us would a passerby think was crazy?

          • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

            It’s not the fact that it’s you eating it that makes it not a creme brulee. It’s the fact that it’s made of wax. It is unhealthy to eat wax.

            It is a different issue to insist that wax should be called creme brulee. Or vice versa.

            The debate is about whether what we are eating is creme brulee or is wax. It matters because, if it’s wax, then whoever is eating it should stop and find something else to eat. If it’s creme brulee, then we need to figure out why it appeared to be wax, and find a better way to tell the difference.

          • Zooey Glass

            Yes, your last two sentences sum it up well. Maybe, in the end, I’ll sit here and enjoy my creme brulee and shake my head at the nice man who keeps insisting it’s wax; you’ll shake your head at that pleasant crazy person who insists on eating wax; and the best we can do is wish each other “bon appetite”.

          • Zooey Glass

            Sorry to have made the assumption that you’re a man. You’ve given no indication, so you may be the nice lady.

          • http://robertfking.wordpress.com/ Roki

            No worries. I simply took “nice” to be a compliment and smiled.

            As for you, you may or may not be crazy. But you certainly are pleasant. Thanks for the discussion!

      • kag1982

        Actually, the issue with this idea is that outside the family (heck inside many families) there aren’t many relationships of love and support that don’t involve sex (romantic partnerships or the result of sex – parent/ child relationship.) As a single (and straight) 30-something woman, I am acutely aware of this. There is the whole idea of bowling alone within society at large and it does seem that people aren’t as tied to a community or a tribe and don’t really value the whole idea of friendships, community, or neighborly ties. For instance, most people would probably not help out a stranger or even an acquaintance if they saw that person in trouble. I remember getting hit by a bike a few years ago and sitting on the ground dazed as people walked past me for ten minutes. That is just the way that the modern world works.

        The Catholic Church really follows the modern world’s attitude toward community and friendship. Ever been into an unfamiliar Catholic parish alone (that isn’t in a vacation spot)? I have and can tell you that this is a very intimidating situation. Every parish that I have attended was a tangled web of petty personal vendettas and political divisions. These divisions exist in every organization, but the Catholic Church seems to have taken them to the 11. It seems like the Church needs to learn to create a welcoming and loving environment before it can preach about this aspect of chastity.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Again: My post is an introduction to Catholic concepts, which never attempts to cover the whole gamut of Catholic sexual teaching. So no, it doesn’t cover the whole gamut of Catholic sexual teaching.

      With regard to the dangers of sex in the Modern world, I perhaps should have spelled it out a little more, but my analysis is that the Modern world is *hyper-aware* of *some* of the dangers of sex, but these dangers are always extremely narrowly-construed. I do think there is this bizarre compartmentalizing of (most) sex as not affecting the rest of your life.

      Take a median 22-year old, and present them with the following hypothetical: “Jane and Bob meet at a party; they are quickly and powerfully attracted to each other physically; they have sex that night; both of them consent, and they practice safe sex; Jane and Bob never meet again; will there be any negative consequences for Jane and Bob in their life as a result?” and you will get blank stares.

      • Nathaniel

        And you will get blank stares because as hard as people like you have tried, you have never been able to show in any sort of concrete studies that such people do have any bad outcomes from such behaviors. So you have to try to scare with talking about how we are making baby Jesus cry, or attempt to bring up the specter of STDs. Or lie about how the woman involved will inevitably feel terrible, because women don’t like casual sex. And any women who claim otherwise are just lying or deluded.

        • oregon nurse

          You get blank stares because of the frog in boiling water effect. People have been brainwashed by this sexually excessive and unhealthy society for so long (or they’re too young to know anything else) that they can’t even tell they’re being harmed by it (the frog being slowly boiled alive). I think you might be nearly cooked yourself.

        • BTP

          Indeed. Double-blind longitudinal panel studies of lifetime earning and self-reported happiness are the only measures of human flourishing we can trust. And where are those with respect to this question?

          /sarc

          • Nathaniel

            And just what other sources of knowledge do you propose to be superior? Quotes from Aquinas?

          • BTP

            I’m Catholic: I don’t do proof texts either from scripture or from philosophers.

            But I understand that folks go for scientism these days; it would be good if any of these folks could admit that human flourishing is not quite so reducible as all that. But I expect to continue to be disappointed.

          • Nathaniel

            So you insult me, and then demur to offer any alternatives to the sources of knowledge you just insulted.

            Well I’m convinced.

          • BTP

            I’m sorry, Nathaniel. I think it is obvious that sources other than longitudinal survey data just might provide some insight into human flourishing. Pointing that out doesn’t commit me to a discussion of which obvious source we might start with. But if you are looking for a place to start, I’d suggest _The Iliad_, and work from there.

          • Nathaniel

            The humanities are not without value. But they can offer nothing more than arguments. By definition, the most well written and emotionally affecting story in the world cannot actually prove any of its arguments.

            So your suggestion is a rather perturbing red herring.

          • BTP

            But I shouldn’t have to point out the problems with imagining our longitudinal studies and self-reported levels of happiness and so on are the only proper source of knowledge about human flourishing, should I?

            Maybe it’s best put this way: do you suppose the problem with Communism was a) it was unable to deliver the material goods required to make people happy, or b) the Communist system was soul-crushing by it’s nature and, therefore, incompatible with human flourishing?

            If you answer a, then my mockery was correct in the first place. If you answer b, then you agree with me, given the lack of empirical measurement of the states of souls.

          • Nathaniel

            You propose a false dichotomy. Communism failed for multiple reasons:

            1.) At base, communism assumed things about human nature that are simply untrue for the vast majority of people. Most other factors are a subset of that mistake.

            2.) In order for communism to work, people have to be willing to work for the benefit of others. And not just sometimes, but exclusively. While people can behave altruistically, its generally only after they have taken care of their own first.

            3.) As a corollary of this problem, in capitalism, there is at some sort of relationship between your work and reward. Work harder, get more reward. Not always the case, particularly for poor people. But even the poorest of people have to work hard enough to not get fired. In contrast, with communism it didn’t matter how hard someone worked. They would get the exact same amount of compensation no matter how hard they worked. So they worked only as hard as they needed to in order to not track the attention of their bosses.

            4.) Communism was meant to lead to a stateless paradise, according to Marx. This clearly never happened, something that would have been hard to ignore for more educated Russians.

            5.) Communism also had a similar problem that the American South did back in the days of slavery: so long as there were freer countries to escape to, the Soviet Union had to restrict the free movement of its people, given the widespread cynicism and apathy among its citizens caused by many of the above problems. Notably this was not a problem experienced by some other countries like Yugoslavia, which was united under Tito. A man who was generally liked by those he was ruling.

            That’s just some stuff off the top of my head I could think of. I’m sure I could write more if I wanted to but in some real effort.

            Are you still going to mock me because I didn’t recite any poetry in the above arguments?

          • BTP

            I see you talk about why Communism failed, which is not at all the same thing as talking about what was wrong with it (that was what I had asked: what’s the problem with it?). Unless, of course, what you think was wrong with it was _that_ it failed.

            But to get us back to the topic: it seems that you simply disagree with the idea that there exist social structures that are incompatible with human flourishing, insofar as human flourishing is claimed to be the kind of thing that has important and non-measurable aspects.

            Put differently, you seem to be saying that the standard for human flourishing is simply whatever current social science says it is.

            You are, of course, allowed to hold such a view. That it is transparently wrong is what leads me to sarcasm.

          • Nathaniel

            Keep on building up that straw man. Its a far easier target than my actual views.

        • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          No studies.

          Except…

          Claire M. Kamp Dush and Paul R. Amato, “Consequences of Relationship Status and Quality for Subjective Well-Being,” Journal of Sicla and Personal Relationships 22 (October 2005), showing monogamous stable marriage is associated with a host of other measures of well-being.

          Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Substance Use and Sexual Health among Teens and Young Adults in the US.”, Fact Sheet, February 2002, linking promiscuity among teenagers and young adults to educational failure, alcohol and drug abuse.

          National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at columbia University, “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse IX: Teen Dating Practices and Sexual Activity”, August 2004, linking teenage sex to substance and alcohol abuse.

          Denise D. Hallfors et al., “Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk: Association with Sex and Drug Behavior,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27, no. 3 (2004), whose title is pretty self-explanatory.

          Just a small selection.

          But other than that, no studies.

          • Nathaniel

            Well, you forgot to mention some details from your first article. Like the fact that people in casual relationships self reported more happiness than single people. So by your logic, they should sleep around if they can’t get someone to commit to them, as they still be will happier than they would be being single.

            And of course, since I can only read the abstract, I can’t find out just how large the change in self reported happiness is. It could be as small as a 1% change and still be reported as significant so long as the p-value was an appropriate amount.

            The next study was a bad idea to cite, as it had a fact sheet that summarized its findings. Why was it a mistake? Because its very first paragraph states that the purpose of the study is seeing how drug use affects behavior. Meaning that that contrawise to your clearly implied assertion, having non-marital doesn’t lead to universally bad decision making, having alcohol use at young ages leads to bad decision making, including risky forms of non-marital sex.

            And you made the very same mistake with the last study you cite, which also uses clear language in its very first paragraph that its studying risky or unwise behavior that results from drug use, of which risky sexual behavior is just one aspect.

            Really, what you’ve done is no different than someone posting studies showing a link between drunkenness and car crashes. And then suggesting that car crashes cause excessive drinking.

            Still, your post is of some value. It is a great example of how intellectual prejudice and confirmation bias can affect thinking.

            P.S. As an aside, in a different light your link to the first study becomes even more hilarious. Why? Because it offers support for marriage equality. After all, if married people are happier than cohabiting people, and cohabiting people are better off than single people, that means we have concrete proof that gay people will be unhappier if they aren’t allowed to marry. Your very own cited evidence gives support to showing just how cruel the demands of the church are toward GLBT people.

    • BTP

      I would suggest that the modern West is quite convinced of a dualist human nature, where some ‘I’ separate from my body utilizes that body to affect pleasure for itself. The permeation of sex in the West is very much an elevation of a dis-embodied sexual idea removed from embodied existence. Thus the observation that a real woman is viewed by many men as simply bad porn.

      In a world where sexual identity (as a man or a woman ) is thought to be a social construct, liable to be changed at will while sexual desire is thought to be definitive of the person, we really cannot be said to know one thing about sex. Sex permeates the American culture in exactly the way one wold expect it to, were that culture run entirely by adolescent virgins.

  • Michael Boyle

    With all due respect, this line of argument misses the point.

    It is true that many people do not accept the philosophical framework for sex that Catholicism does (sex is about relationship, etc.) But even if you do accept those premises, it is not obvious that those premises lead to the bottom-line, do’s and don’ts list regarding sex that Catholicism insists on. Viewing sex as only proper as an expression of relationship does not (as Zooey mentions below) per se exclude committed gay relationships, nor does it automatically lead to the conclusion that artificial birth control is not OK.

    To get to those conclusions, you must add in another layer of natural law anthropology. The non-Catholic dialogue partner is going to say, and not without reason, that this anthropology is simply asserted and doesn’t have any empirical justification. So, for example, when the Church says “gay relationships do not lead to human flourishing,” the response is going to be “based on what evidence?”

    That is really the place where the dialogue breaks down on sex.

    • Zooey Glass

      Yes. When we experience it as flourishing, when our own lying eyes, ears, hearts, and other parts all perceive it as flourishing, but the Catholic church tells us, “No, that, in fact, is NOT flourishing, just trust us”….well, who ya gonna believe?

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      The notion that sex is about procreation has no empirical justification? That seems like a statement too strange for words. The dialogue does break down there if you really can’t see a connection between sex and children.

      • Michael Boyle

        Is there a connection? Of course. Is there an essential and necessary connection, which Catholicism posits? That’s where the empirical problems come in. Non- procreative sexual behavior is seen in all higher primates. Our closest cousins the bonobos do it all–same sex contact, masturbation, group sex, etc. That suggests that non- procreative behavior is natural, no?

        • oregon nurse

          ALERT, primate, bonobo, ALERT. Conversation just went off the tracks as it always must when it reaches a certain point of no further logical response.

          • Michael Boyle

            I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I wandered into the Answers in Genesis forum by mistake. Carry on.

          • oregon nurse

            You didn’t. But it also helps to know your ‘audience’ before you try and engage in debate with them. What plays well as ‘logic’ on atheist forums, not necessarily so much here.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          So if animals do something sexual then it is fine for people to do it as well? That seems strange. Do you tell you girlfriends that you get your sexual morality from apes?

          In fact, human sexuality is ordered towards bonding and babies. The two go together. You can deny that sex is linked with falling in love and having a family but you really have to be intentionally thick. You can do that but then don’t blame the church for not doing that. It is willing to admit the obvious.

        • Alexander S Anderson

          “Natural” is another one of those words in which the meaning for Catholic thought is different than the modern meaning.

      • tom_ttac

        I want to push back on this a bit: No one is saying that there isn’t some connection between sex and children (the notion that your ideological opponents don’t have a grasp of the biology of sex is a bit daft, and frankly, a bit condescending).

        At issue is the idea that sex loses all (or, at the very least, considerable) value or intimacy once stripped of its procreative processes. The Catholic doctrine is that sex is greatly devalued when the procreative aspect is removed. Many people (myself included) believe that sex and intimacy can, and often does, have great value regardless of whether procreation is occurring. Indeed, many people have lived experience of the great positive value of sex and intimacy in homosexual relationships, heterosexual relationships that use birth control, casual relationships that use birth control, and so forth.

        The dialogue isn’t breaking down because we can’t “see a connection between sex and children.” We know there is a connection- we just don’t accept that the connection needs to be there in any given sexual act or relationship for that act or relationship to be meaningful and good. The dialogue only needs to end if you refuse to appreciate that distinction and instead oversimplify it as you did. We may still ultimately disagree, but there are still things to talk about.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          The notion that your ideological opponents don’t have a grasp of the biology of sex is a bit daft, and frankly, a bit condescending

          It is a joke. Yet one with a point. The contraceptive mentality effects our thinking deeply. We can even think of procreation as something that interferes with the natural working of sex. The choice of words I was joking about reflects that mentality.

          The Catholic doctrine is that sex is greatly devalued when the procreative aspect is removed. Many people (myself included) believe that sex and intimacy can, and often does, have great value regardless of whether procreation is occurring.

          I agree with both your statements here. Sex can and often does have great value. Yet it is also true it is infinitely less a valuable than it should be. There are levels. There is the exchange of pleasure which is goo but not good enough. Then there is sometimes the exchange of some emotional and psychological pleasures. That is better but still not good enough. You have gone deeper but it is still mostly self-centered. I am being satisfied and my biggest concern about the other is consent.

          Then there is another level where you give yourself completely to the other. Where you want to have sex not because you will enjoy it but because your manhood is called to complete her womanhood and you love her enough to want to lose yourself in that forever. That is fundamentally different from the mutual pleasuring type of relationship. It is self sacrificing rather than self-centered. That is what the bible calls agape love.

          Contraception contradicts that agape love. It says I want to nullify your fertility so we can get on with the business of pleasuring each other. That pleasure might have some value but the cost is to close you off to that agape love. Can the relationship still be meaningful and good? Sure. Yet not good enough given the good your sexual faculty is capable of.

          • tom_ttac

            Ah ok, I might have been a bit overaggressive with my language in the context of the joke then.

            Unsurprisingly, I disagree about the characterization of non-procreative sex as inherently self-centered. The only necessary difference between procreative sex and non-procreative sex is that one of your goals in the former is to reproduce, and one of your goals in the latter isn’t. I don’t think having one of the other of these goals suddenly shifts the whole experience from “self centered” to “self sacrificing.” I don’t put procreative sex and non-procreative sex on different “levels” of goodness or intimacy or whatnot. Sex does occur on different levels, but that is based on the relationship of the people involved rather than the procreative status of the sex.

            But, this is likely because I don’t view reproduction as central to or necessary for the completion of our human personhood. It’s something that a lot of humans do, and something that will be done by some subset of humans if humanity is to persist, but that’s never been a big concern and I don’t think anyone is failing any teleological purpose if they don’t reproduce. (Well, to be fair, I am confident that you don’t necessarily think precisely that either, as of course celibacy among religious orders is a thing).

            “Where you want to have sex not because you will enjoy it but because
            your manhood is called to complete her womanhood and you love her enough
            to want to lose yourself in that forever.”

            Suffice it to say, that sentence has little content for me, as I don’t believe my manhood or her womanhood have any necessary connection with procreation. I can believe in the idea that sex can feel transcendental and deeply emotionally meaningful, I just don’t think procreation is necessarily involved in such experiences for many people. I can believe someone who felt deeply about procreation might experience such feelings, I just assert that this is not the only path to accessing those types of powerful experiences. Love is the only necessary ingredient.

            Also, I’m not entirely convinced on the dichotomy of the “contraceptive mindset” idea. Many people have been trying to avoid procreation during sex for at least some proportion of their sexual experiences for a very long time; we’ve just gotten better at it recently. I don’t deny that our recent advances in contraception has had impacts on society, it surely has (and many of those impacts I would say have been very positive). I just think it’s worth pointing out that the mindset of trying to avoid procreation during sex is not particularly novel, even if the extent to which we can now be successful at it is.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            When you talk about your goals is sex you have already shifted from self-sacrificing to self-centered. Sex is not meant to be your plaything where you can manipulate yourself and your partner any way you like to suit your goals. It is a sacred call to bond with a person and create a family with them. Saying Yes or No to that call is a sacrifice. Fiddling with sex until there is no sacrifice at all changes the nature of it. That is fine if you deny the sacred nature of it. Just say it is about creating orgasms. There is nothing to respect about your body or her body. Just use them to get what you want. The trouble is human life comes from the process. Can you respect human life if you completely disrespect the process that creates it?

            The history of contraception is long. I see very little positive there. The first thing that happens is that women become interchangeable. If there is a real chance of conception then you care a lot about who you are potentially making a baby with. You want the child to get the DNA of the one you love. You want to parent with the one you love. Take away the chance of pregnancy and what matters about the woman. What she looks like. What she is willing to do. It stops mattering if you actually love her or not. OK, if she finds out it matters but if you manipulate the sex act why not manipulate what you say about it?

          • tom_ttac

            Re: You first paragraph:

            I think this is where our fundamental differences in philosophy will prevent any further agreement. I’m an atheist, so obviously any appeal to sacred bonds or whatnot will be unconvincing to me. Which, to be fair, you mention, but the assertions that using contraception is disrespecting sex or is problematic because it is an assault on the purpose of sex or whatnot are not convincing arguments for me.

            At the heart, I think, is a very different view on the purpose of humanity. Your view of humanity posits that humans have some innate, universal purposes we are supposed to fulfill, like worshipping God, procreating, and the like (at least, this is what I gather, though I could be wrong about the details). For me, there are no such universal guideposts: each of us must decide what goals would make our life meaningful, guided by ethical concern for other people and one’s own personal passions.

            I think there are sometimes assumptions that an atheist would agree that we have some biological or evolutionary purposes to which we owe allegiance, and indeed, I’m sure some atheists do think that way. But many, myself included, do not. Evolution is a descriptive process, not a teleological purpose. So “just saying that it is about creating organisms” is not a convincing argument against contraception.

            Also, I would point out as a biologist that saying that sex is just about creating organisms isn’t accurate even if one were to take a biological-purpose viewpoint. Most animals have sex rarely and only when procreation is likely (e.g. other mammals usually mate only when the female is in estrous); humans seek and have sex much more often and the actual reproductive potential of the female at the time is more or less irrelevant. Even if one were to be convinced that the “evolutionary purpose” of sex is relevant to human concerns, the evolutionary purpose of sex in humans is as much for pair-bonding and interpersonal relationship forming as it is procreation. Again, I don’t think the evolutionary purposes of sex really have any import of ethical issues surrounding sex, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not as cut-and-dry as you present.

            Re: Your last paragraph:

            I think your characterization is very much overly dire and not an accurate representation of the lived experiences of many people. “The first thing that happens is that women become interchangeable.” Really? Are you really arguing that people are only concerned about the identity of their partner because of concerns about the genes of their offspring? Rather than, you know, love, companionship, and meaningful and mutually fulfilling relationships? That is a pretty cynical view of people, and not one that is actually supported by any experiences that I’ve had. In most of the relationships I’ve witnessed and experienced, the emotional connection between the people involved and their personalities and identities mattered greatly, regardless of the use of contraceptives or not in the relationship.

            It’s also, I should not, overly dichotomizing as well: You want to paint pictures of loving, stable, non-contraceptive using relationships on one hand and impersonal, cold, contraceptive-using one-night stands on the other, but most relationships don’t fit into either category. Most relationships these days use contraception during some parts of the relationship, and then don’t use contraception during other parts when the people involved want to get pregnant. And most of the people involved in these relationships don’t experience such drastic shifts in their experiences based on contraceptive use, because for most people those drastic changes aren’t there. To be fair, it’s possible that you meant these changes as more subtle cultural shifts rather than changes you’d see over the course of changing personal contraceptive use, but still, I’m not seeing the phenomena you describe.

            Contraception has made it easier to have casual sexual relationships. Sure. But there is a big difference between a casual sexual relationship and a manipulative, abusive sexual relationship. The former may have become easier to have with the advent of contraception, but the latter has always been around. And honestly, the assertion that not using contraceptives will allow you to avoid a manipulative relationship is completely inaccurate. In fact, a big red flag for many abusers is that they will try to escalate the relationship quickly, so that the abused party will become emotionally invested before becoming aware of the abuse. In some cases (but not all of course), but includes pressuring the abused party to reproduce in order to make it harder to disentangle themselves from the relationship.

            So, yeah, I disagree, partly because of philosophical differences, and partly because I think your depiction of the world flies in the face of what we actually observe.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I respect that as an atheist you face the lack of meaning and purpose inherent in sex and by extension in human life because life originates with sex. I would wonder if you would support such a care-free attitude to ending life.

            “each of us must decide what goals would make our life meaningful, guided by ethical concern for other people and one’s own personal passions.”

            Yes, but the meaning you are talking about here is just what you decide to consider to be meaningful. I can say my son’s soccer game means more than the world cup final. To me it does. Yet I am aware nobody else is bound by that. You need to make clear that under atheism life can never have more meaning than our own mind can give it.

            “Really? Are you really arguing that people are only concerned about the identity of their partner because of concerns about the genes of their offspring?”

            I would not say “only.” I think contraception has increased people’s willingness to change partners a lot. If you have to think about perhaps spending the next couple of decades raising a child with this person then you will want to know more about her.

            “Most relationships these days use contraception during some parts of the relationship, and then don’t use contraception during other parts when the people involved want to get pregnant.”

            This is not a real change in what they are doing. They still see sex as something that can be manipulated at will. They are not respecting each other and sacrificing for each other. They are still using each other. So I would not expect their relationship to get better just because they are using each other towards a different end. I would expect the parent child relationship to be damaged by the same self-centered mentality. I think we do see that a lot where children are about the parents pleasure rather than an end in themselves.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I don’t disagree with any of that. My whole point is that you can’t even GET to the parts you’re talking about without being clear about the parts I talked about. And a lot of the breakdown (not all) happens precisely because a lot of people (on both sides) tend to skip this part.

      If people don’t even have *some sort* of understanding that we should do something like the development of virtue with regard to sex in our life, everything else will fall on deaf ears.

  • Kasoy

    Chastity is not just about sex. Chastity is purity – free from any stain of sin – anger, lust, greed, etc. One becomes chaste when he is in the state of sanctifying grace. So the Vow of Chastity (eg, for nuns) is the vow to remain in the state of sanctifying grace – a state of purity.

  • BTP

    Really excellent. As somebody said, and since it’s crass to change topics, I won’t, being in good health is part of the development of virtue or, more pithily: being fat is some sort of sin. But never mind all that.

    What’s really important is that this goes a long way toward defining where the conversation — if there is to be one — must take place. In a world where the list of things that follow from the prior idea about sex is itself seen as destructive to a worldview that has a reductive dualist viewpoint of the human being, this post can help clarify what it is that we are talking about.

    Well done.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    Another excellent post that explains very well the Catholic perspective on sex.

    I’m not sure about your use of the word “dangerous” here. Certainly sex is powerful, volatile and, if engaged in lightly or irresponsibly, unpredictable. As “liberal” a Catholic as I am, I am not an advocate of indiscriminate “free love.” For me, this is not a question of morality or rule-following. I think your definition of “chastity” here captures it quite well.

    … and, for the record, it applies equally well to committed gay relationships as to heterosexual ones!


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