Additions, corrections to Greg Popcak’s book Holy Sex?

Gregory Popcak and I were chatting the other day. He’s thinking of writing a second, revised edition to his book Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.   

holy sex cover

If you have read it, are there things you would like to see included in any future editions (certain problems addressed, topics discussed, sections refined)? Even if you haven’t read it, are there things you would like to see addressed in a book that’s intended to help people live the Catholic vision of sexual love in a healthy way and overcome problems and struggles in a faithful manner?  

Let me know in the comments, and I’ll pass it along to him. Please don’t be a jerk. Criticism is fine, but keep it factual, not personal, please!

I will admit, I haven’t read his book in a long time, so I’m not sure if I remember exactly what’s in it. My own suggestion for an expanded topic: a clear discussion about what kind of intimate behavior is moral when you’re abstaining — or at least a guide for how to judge your behavior. Some couples keep a strict hands-off policy, which may or may not work for them, and some couples think that’s everything’s okay as long as no one reaches orgasm.

I do cover this topic in my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, in the chapter called (heh heh) “Groping Toward Chastity.” I said that there are a few things which are always off limits; that we’re not supposed to try to make each other orgasm; that some behaviors are acceptable for some couples and not for others; and that we must remember that we speak through our bodies, so we should pay attention to what we are saying to each other when we do what we do with each other. I don’t know if there’s really a better answer than that, but I’d like to hear more opinions about it, anyway. In my experience, priests have no idea what to say, other than keep praying and go to confession if you think you  need to.

Oh, and I always associate the phrase “toe-curling” with sudden, severe pain, like when the baby latches on wrong. That might be just me. “Mind-blowing,” I’m okay with.  

NB: It will be ten thousands times easier for me to pass along your comments if you leave comments HERE, rather than answering on Facebook or Twitter or via email. I understand that it’s a hassle, but if your goal is to really reach Greg’s ears, then that’s the way to go! Thanks.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • BrianKillian

    Haven’t read it but I’ve seen lots of questionable interpretations of the ‘one rule’.

  • Bethany E.

    His summary of a woman’s cycle is inaccurate; in my copy, he describes a temperature shift occurring before ovulation, not after. It’s a minor detail, I know, but if someone who isn’t practicing NFP picks up this book and starts looking into it, it could be confusing.

    I’m trying to remember if he’s the author who misspelled “Gollum” as “Golem” too, but my copy is in the same room as my napping baby. Again, a minor detail in an overall good book.

    I agree that more to discuss regarding intimacy during abstinence would be a nice addition. Maybe a discussion on what’s normal for couples after they have a new baby and are trying to get back to normal? It’s a difficult subject for new mothers to broach with friends and priests, to say the least.

  • Jenny Uebbing

    I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never read it because…the title. So maybe some rebranding to reach a wider audience?

    • Sheila C.

      No kidding. I’d love to recommend it to people, but instead I’m like, “Have you read …. eeerrrmmmm …. Dr. Popcak’s book?”

    • Cordelia

      YES! Really amazingly dreadful title.

  • Birdy

    Maybe some further discussion on mortal sin and how committing loving sins with your spouse is unlikely to fall into this category. By all means strive for perfection, but living in fear of sexual sin is what a lot of NFP Catholics are doing. Good Catholics should not be terrified that their loving spouse is suddenly their primary route to hell opportunity during fertile time.

    • simchafisher

      I don’t think it’s accurate. though, to say that it’s not likely that you’re committing a mortal sin. I agree that fear of hell, and fear in general, should not be the central experience of marriage! I know it’s hard to think of committing a mortal sin with your loving spouse, but chastity (by which I mean rightly ordered sexuality, not abstinence) is actually a cornerstone of marital love. As long as the three conditions (serious matter,knowledge of seriousness, and doing it freely) are there when we commit some sin, then we cant’ just say, “Oh, I did it out of love, so it can’t be a mortal sin.”

      • Birdy

        I’m not remembering how much his book gets in this type of theology (been a while since I read it), so perhaps it’s the church who needs to articulate a more nuanced view of these things. Spouses getting hit over the head with the mortal sin card all the time (for what is often the most divine type of love they have experienced in this world) is not producing good results in my little corner of the catholic world. It leads people asking if they should move out or avoid looking at each other during the fertile time, because do everything you can to avoid mortal sin, you know?

        • simchafisher

          No, I agree that that approach is not helpful or accurate! We’re not required to live as brother and sister when we’re abstaining. We’re still married, and can be far more physically intimate than an unmarried couple.

          I suppose it’s a matter of what crowd you’re exposed to. What I come across, more frequently, is people who think you’re just being uptight and prudish and mean if you suggest that there is such a thing as sexual sin in marriage. So for those people, someone really does need to say, “Hey, folks, maybe put the brakes on a bit and think about what this all *means.*”

          • Birdy

            I agree that it’s not a helpful mentality and that married people are still married and are free to act like it even when abstaining. What I mean is that completely avoiding each other actually makes a dark kind of sense if the assumption is that even loving mess ups in chastity are likely mortally sinful. The risk of even a loving glance can become too great if the couple is feeling desirous enough of each other. But if it’s more like a journey toward learning to love well, without the threat of hell there all the time, then I think it’s likely to be far more healthy.

            And you are probably right that I am overly influenced by my weird catholic corner of the world.

          • simchafisher

            That makes sense. It’s true in general, not just in mar riage: we learn more about love by pursuing Heaven than we do by avoiding Hell.

      • anna lisa

        Dopamine. When people are under the influence, their full consent might be missing.

        • Birdy

          Exactly. Plus there’s usually a habit (a good one) of saying yes to your spouse’s sexual desire.

          It can be quite jarring for some to go from saying yes to each other frequently, to saying no to each other frequently.

          • anna lisa

            A lot of people like to mock it, but this is where our consciences must be honored. Every marriage has a different dynamic and every spouse has a different “blue print”. For the overly scrupulous this can seem dangerous, but in my experience being generous (and walking that fine line) is far better than being perfect in somebody else’s book. Also–Jesus says mercy is more important than sacrifice.

    • BrianKillian

      Agreed. Under the typical circumstances of married couples struggling with chastity, I’d imagine it’s rarely a mortal sin. If anything is needed it’s not more talk of mortal sin but of what can be realistically expected of the struggle for that particular virtue. There is a lot of fear and legalism due to inadequate knowledge of moral principles and pastoral realism. Freedom from that would likely be a great relief.

    • Sarah

      I’m confused… I always thought that if the 3 conditions are met (serious matter, knowledge and doing it freely) it is mortal sin? I know I always confess as such and have never been corrected by a priest. A priest told my husband and I that if we were “playing with fire” (i.e. fooling around when we are TTA and one of us ends up at an orgasm it is mortal because we knew it was near occasion of sin (fooling around when we didn’t intend to finish) that led to the actual sin.

    • anna lisa

      I think it’s almost a blasphemy how some Catholics throw the word “mortal sin” around. Do these people *actually* think that God’s nature is to shove his children away from Him and put them into hell foreverandeverandeverandever because they accidentally thrilled their spouse too much?
      That is crazy fundamentalism and is what makes people say, “if that’s what the Catholic faith teaches, than the Catholic faith can’t be true.”
      Why stop at long skirts and mass veils, why not wear one all day long and across the face too, so husbands won’t have to see our lips and be tempted to kiss them?

      • simchafisher

        Well if it’s accidentally, then by definition it’s not a mortal sin. And God never “shoves His children away and puts them in Hell” for any reason. When we know something is serious and deliberately knowingly do it anyway, then we shove God away from us and send ourselves to Hell.

        If something is defined as a mortal sin, then it’s our job to learn more about it and understand why the Church considers it such a serious matter. I believe that many people don’t take sexual sins seriously because they don’t understand how important sex is.

        • anna lisa

          “When we know something is serious and deliberately knowingly do it anyway, then we shove God away from us and send ourselves to Hell.”

          Agreed.
          I don’t think I need to explain what I’m talking about though. Just read the comment box at Crisis magazine (and some others). The Synod on the Family really has them displaying their true colors like I’ve never seen before. They actually shock me more than off color humor on sit coms. Can you imagine what painfully “perfect” lives they lead?. You have to wonder if they have blood in their veins.

          • simchafisher

            Now why would you read the Crisis combox? Were you hoping to get an ulcer for the holidays?

            See, but there are also lots of other comment boxes where, for instance, this woman says her husband thinks that masturbation — not mutual masturbation, but just plain old masturbation, wife not even in the same room — is no big deal, and he doesn’t confess it, and receives Communion. She knows that it’s a mortal sin, but it seems like nbd to her, too. This is clearly not a case of people who are just so much in love that they cannot be contained by legalistic pettiness. They just don’t get what the big deal is about sex.

          • anna lisa

            If the husband is masturbating in another room, the man is probably not in mortal sin because compulsive behavior while serious does not allow the sin to have enough consent to be mortal. That’s not to say it isn’t *extremely* serious. Such behavior means the marriage is experiencing a slow death.
            Wives who would rather die than behave that way, still might contribute to his occasion of sin by acting frigid and resentful a lot of the time. It’s hard sometimes–especially when there are babies, but husbands and wives should never give up on heavy duty flirting with each other. It’s sounds trite to talk about *courtship* at all times in the marriage, but it’s critically important. Turning on the charm at 9:55 p.m. definitely doesn’t count.

            I shall swear off those hell and brimstone com boxes. My faith was nicer when I didn’t think there were so many of them out there. Maybe there aren’t, but just a bunch of blabbermouths? They probably have a hard time reproducing, which is a bit of a relief.

          • Josh

            “Turning on the charm at 9:55 p.m. definitely doesn’t count.” Ain’t that the truth. Mea culpa!

          • anna lisa

            Life hack for husbands

            biggest. turn. on. in. the. world:

            Wife is “prepping” the kitchen for a sloppy, grumbling teenager. Baby is hanging on her leg. Husband looks up from the evening news, glides into the kitchen, deftly swoops down, picks up the little guy, brings him to a sibling, hands sibling his phone and says “Play him the ring tones.” Returning to the kitchen, he grasps both of her shoulders from behind, leans in, kisses her between the neck and the shoulder, and whispers, “now hold that thought, I’m going to go read a little to the kids.”

            She will spring into action, finish what she’s doing in a hurry, all while her heart is skipping beats, because her brain is insisting that her husband is the sexiest man on the planet.

  • Heather Gardner

    It would be really helpful if Dr. Popcak (or anyone) would be CRYSTAL CLEAR about what expressions of physical intimacy are and are not allowed during phase two when TTA. For example, in the original text Dr. Popcak suggests, “making out without going all the way.” This is not helpful because “making out” means different things to different people. I have met some people who think kissing is making out. When I was in high school, “making out,” was understood to mean manual stimulation of genitals.

    If the line is individual to each couple perhaps some formula for determining where your line is? Again, I’ve seen some ladies here who think nothing that causes the man to get an erection is appropriate while people at the opposite end of the spectrum think it’s okay to get as close to orgasm as possible without actually going over the edge.

    This is an area in which I think many would be truly relieved to have Church teaching spelled out in minute detail.

    • Meredith

      Am I a bad person for NOT wanting crystal clear rules? Frankly I am sick of being treated like a guilty teenager by theologians. We are married, using NFP, just leave me alone already!

      • Birdy

        I agree completely. Let us show affection in the best ways we know how without added guilt.

        Keeping track of all the NFP stuff is enough pressure already!

      • Cordelia

        Amen, Meredith!

  • Sheila C.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read it and I don’t own a copy. But let me think. I seem to remember coming away from that book with the feeling of, “Great, yet another way we’re supposedly doing sex wrong.” Being raised Catholic and with a lot of worry over sex, shaking off the anxiety to just relax and figure stuff out on our own was great, and things were finally going well. And then here’s Dr. Popcak to tell us, “It’s still no good, because you’re not having this transcendent experience of God’s love.” It felt like he was implying that having sex when you want to, or having sex because you’re both in the mood for it, was bad and awful and “just scratching an itch.” And of course there’s the whole “if you’re not using NFP you’re doing it wrong” deal, which rubbed me the wrong way as a pretty traditional person who was kind of just having babies at first. So in the name of being Catholic and sex-positive, it gave me MORE complexes about sex than I started with.

    Oh, and that thing where he says that dipping the Easter candle into the holy water is like sex? Yeah cut that out please. I will never see Easter vigil the same way. 😉

  • Sarah

    I agree- more direction on what is/is not permitted during the fertile time where you have discerned as a couple that more children are not a good idea that month. And then perhaps discussion of how to avoid falling into intimate behavior when stretches of abstinence are very long (especially when both the husband and wife want the intimate connection) due to the post partum period, breastfeeding or hard to read cycles. We will have 3 under 3 next April because we cannot get this figured out, and we are both exhausted and I don’t think I (mentally) am able to do 4 under 4.

    I find priests very reluctant to discuss these issues and the tend to just hedge and say “pray about it and do what makes sense for you.” I understand it is difficult, but married couples need reliable guidance from somewhere.

  • JQ Tomanek

    I would recommend also trying to widen the audience base. In some marriages, both spouses are Catholic and desiring what the Church teaches. In other marriages, there may be one Catholic and another non-Catholic. How does a Catholic spouse approach marital intercourse when the non-Catholic has a different understanding? Another topic may be Catholic sexuality inside of marriages where one or both have previously been in a marriage that was annulled. Another topic could also be responses to when one spouse has a porn addiction and the other spouse is trying to aide them in fighting that struggle. Another topic may be about the affects an affair can have on a marriage and how a Catholic couple can overcome it.

    Many books speak in a catechetical way which is important but not many Catholic books, especially on this topic, offer the Catholic teaching in the midst of lived realities. I think that is why Simcha’s book is really good. :)

    • stace

      Yes, thank you. I have felt that this is an area so ignored. I’ve seen that many blogs that deal with the issue of pornography in marriage by saying “I’d rather be single than deal with that – don’t lower your standards girls!” – thanks no thanks. Struggling to do NFP and be available to a spouse with a compulsion towards pornography… does the church even know I’m here *urgh*

  • sarah

    I literally curl my toes when breastfeeding a baby in the first few weeks because it is so sore. So that part of the title really puts me off.

  • anna lisa

    If your priests hedges and sidesteps over pointed questions in the confessional, find a better priest to direct your soul. Pray for the right one. A bad confessor can really do damage to a marriage. I’ve heard A to Z from priests about chastity. A few of them were freakish prudes, another one told me that “sex isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be” among other monstrosities. The spiritual director I prayed for is a moral theologian and has firm confidence in the moral guidance he has given us. He didn’t mince words about intimacy short of climax being licit during pre-fertile/fertile times. His certitude was always reassuring. Frankly, I believe it’s easier to abstain all together (with risk of a kind of drifting apart) than the intimacy that disciplines but continues to bond the couple together. Couples with a bunch of little babies might want to cool it on that for practical reasons, not moral ones.

  • Hannah Jasmine Hilgendorf

    My husband and I haven’t quite finished reading it, but it’s been quite helpful to me/us. (For the record, eye-popping makes me cringe far more than toe-curling. Just…ow). I love your suggestion (want to read your book soon, too!) One thing I’d love to see (I skimmed ahead and don’t think it’s there; if it is, pardon my long-windedness) would be at least a brief treatment of women with high (including higher than their husbands’) sex drives, even if only a “we know you exist, we know it’s not easy, this is how God made you, and you can have an amazing holy marriage no matter what.” All the Christian authors I’ve seen that mention such a thing brush it off with “and men, we really don’t want to know who you are, because we hate your guts,” which is totally not helpful in trying to learn how to be saintly when genetics have thrown you a curveball that you have a hard time accepting.

  • Josh

    I think there was a really misleading typo in the post: “that we’re not supposed to try to make each other orgasm.” Did “outside of relations open to life” or something get left off? Or maybe you were talking about friends and coworkers? Because as it is, I don’t get it. Seems like something from Dr. Leo Spaceman’s techniques that guarantee male orgasm.

    Re: the book. I read it and thought it’s content was pretty good. My suggestion is to change the subtitle. It’s terrible. It’s cheesy (“see what I did there? You thought I was talking about sex, but really I was talking about love! Teeheehee! But wait! The title says sex, so just maybe there will be sex tips inside…better find out!”), makes leaving the book around the house for your MIL to find embarrassing, and it completely misuses the word infallible (which he continues to do throughout the book). He should rewrite it without using the word “infallible” unless he’s discussing a dogma. (I’m not sure what he can use when applying the find and replace feature in his text editor but there has to be something.) The normal, not-necessarily-connected-to-the-pope meaning of the word is “incapable of being wrong or making mistakes.” How is this possible? Even if you receive the beatific vision and love perfectly for the rest of your life, you are still fallible due to free will. It’s Catholic gobbledygook. It reminds me of things like “affair-proof” or “divorce-proof.” Meaningless words that play on people’s desire for certainty.

    Other than that, it’s a good book and I recommend it to friends.

    • simchafisher

      Oh, well, it referred back to the previous paragraph where I said I’d like to see “a clear discussion of what kind of intimate behavior is moral when you’re abstaining,” but I could have been more clear that that’s what I was still talking about.

      • Josh

        Ah. Yes. I see that now. You were clear. Sorry for the misread.

  • Leah Joy

    I’m sorry to have to say that I agree with every criticism mentioned about the subtitle of Dr. Popcak’s book. And I’m not crazy about the title either. Between them they may be the main reason I haven’t sought out the book. I really, really don’t think I am a prude, but I am an adult and don’t appreciate juvenile humor in a book about sex. At least not right on the cover! (I suppose if I’m so mature I ought to read the book anyway, since I’ve heard many good things about it.)

  • Cordelia

    Well…I didn’t like the book much to begin with anyway…but for starters, it could be easily improved by a less, uh, dorky title and subtitle and by omitting the little bad-example Mary-and-John stories within the book. Ick. (For me, none of the information was really new – and the atmosphere of the book just didn’t sit well.)

  • Beth

    Stories from people who have endured long periods of abstinence.