Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Catholic community here.
My finger hovered over the "publish" button. I drew a shaky breath. For months I'd been thinking about publishing this ebook but kept asking myself, "Do you really want to be 'that Catholic woman who published a book about great sex'?"
Three years ago, while we were working on Style, Sex, and Substance, contributing writer Elizabeth Duffy sent a questionnaire to hundreds of Catholic women asking them about their sex lives: Were they satisfied? With what issues did they most struggle? And their husbands? Were they content? Was there tension?
I was taken aback and saddened to see just how many women reported being dissatisfied with the sexual-love aspect of their marriage. Inspired and informed by the feedback she received, Elizabeth wrote an excellent chapter on the topic for our book.
After the book released, I started receiving emails from women about their intimate lives and the struggles they faced. At best, they said, sex wasn't fun. At worst, it was a source of enormous marital tension.
Two years later, the emails are still coming in. What a travesty for Catholic women in an age where John Paul II wrote beautifully about the wonder of marital sex! The Catholic church wants married couples to have fulfilling sex lives, but that information hasn't seemed to trickle down to the faithful.
It occurred to me that maybe some plain language might help the issue along a little—something fun and brief, like a 28-day guide to spicing things up in the bedroom, full of tips that could help couples improve this area of their marriage without leading them into temptation or sin. Resorting to Google for sex advice is like stepping into a virtual adults-only XXX store. That alone convinced me that we need a resource written with faithful Catholic couples in mind. "Lead us not into Google" for sex advice!
We married Catholics know all about the "nos" when it comes to sex. No sex outside of marriage. No pornography. No artificial birth control. No "self love." This is all good and right; we embrace this and thank God (literally) that we have the Church. Freedom is found within framework and true satisfaction within safe boundaries. Absolutely.
But where are all the yeses coming from the church? Where, in ministry, is there communication that yes, sex within marriage is meant to be not just to be "open to life" but a lively celebration?
Jokes abound about "Catholic prudery" and they cause us to throw back our heads and laugh; have people not seen the size of our families, or the ages of our children? Yes, concerned folks at the grocery store, we do know how that happened. And happened. And happened.
But the misconception—the disconnect between the reality of joyful Catholic sex and the prude stereotypes—shouldn't shock us that much. We just don't sing the praises of sex nearly enough. I say this not to criticize, but rather to encourage us all to consider this issue and think about ways that we might enact positive change. Rome needs to think about it, too.
I don't have all the answers. I'd like to see this issue addressed, though, by people wiser than I, particularly within the Synod. Women in the pews are understandably cautious. We're unsure about which things are acceptable to talk about, and which things should stay strictly between husband and wife.
Is it okay to occasionally use a double entendre and throw a wink in the direction of our girlfriends when we talk about this area of marriage, or does that devalue everything?
Can we share, among ourselves, things that have helped the sexual-love aspect of our unions, or must we stay quiet?
What about our sexual struggles? Does discussing them openly dishonor our husbands? If so, where do we go with our issues? If not, where do we start?
And finally, how do we share the good news that is married sex?
For my part, with the approval of a theologian and the blessing of my husband, I hit the "publish" button and released my eBook, Spice Up Your Marriage, into the wilds of Amazon, but admittedly feeling anxious about the response I'd receive.
Guess what? While it's true that I have gotten some criticism, it has been dwarfed by the overwhelmingly positive response. Messages of gratitude and tales of healing have flooded my inbox.
I share this only to offer it as evidence of a need, one that needs to be openly, faithfully, and continually addressed as pastorally as possible and with the participation of the laity. Catholics need to hear a choir of faithful voices insist, "Married couples, the Church wants you to have good sex! Delicious, life-giving, satisfying sex!"