Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sad Bad Sex

We are human, and we long to be loved. It's not just LGBTQ people who feel isolated and demeaned by the way that the sexual teachings of the Church are generally portrayed. For the most part the secular media puts forward the idea that there is a Catholic answer to every question about sex, and the answer is always “No.” Sadly, Catholic apologists tend to confirm this impression: “Can I use contraception if my wife refuses to have a baby or use NFP and I'm going completely bananas and finding myself compulsively gawking at teenage starlets on my iPad in the early hours of the morning?” “No.” “I go to my local Courage meeting every week, and attend daily Mass, and say fifteen rosaries a day, and wear seven different scapulars, and I still end up at the Bathhouse every Friday night. Wouldn't it be more prudent to get a permanent sexual partner so I don't get AIDS?” “Well, it's a tough situation, but...I would have to say...No.” “Is it okay if I make love to my wife in a Batman costume?” “'s not covered in the Catechism, but if I had to give an answer, based on what I understand of the dignity and beauty of the marital act, most likely your safest bet is...No."

Let's call this approach “negative chastity.” It's the form of the teaching that presents chastity solely in terms of “Just say no to sex!”. Saying “NO” is supposed to be a form of mortification which brings the person into closer union with Christ and schools the soul in self-control and self-possession. Yet overwhelmingly people do not experience union with Christ or self-possession: they experience overwhelming sexual frustration compounded by loneliness and depression. This experience cuts across the lines of sexual orientation to include parents who feel utterly overwhelmed by the task of parenting and who have recourse to contraception because there is no sense of real and concrete support from the Church; Priests who are socially isolated and abandoned by their parishioners and end up turning to sex as a form of relief; spouses who have discovered that marriage is not actually a relationship in which two people “complete” each other, and who now find themselves trying to navigate the demands of fidelity while their single friends continue to frequent the titty-bar.
This frustration is caused by a lack of companionship and solidarity. All forms of chastity demand communion and community because chastity is the virtue that is ordered towards the communio personarum. The most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness. The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of “knowing and being known” will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily. 

Negative chastity, the kind of chastity that limits itself to saying “Thou shalt not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness. The vast majority of people will eat things that are designated “unclean” by their religion or “unhealthy” by their doctors when faced with starvation. In most cases it's not even voluntary. Unless you have strengthened your will to a superhuman extent it's not possible to starve yourself to death. Likewise, unless you've devoted a huge number of character points to picking up the “Stoic” superpower you will simply not be able to endure the kind of social starvation that negative chastity demands in the contemporary world. The way that we live, our architecture, our social structures, our institutions, are all far too individualistic for it to even be possible. From the new institution of “the single life” to the catastrophic experiment of the “nuclear family” we have created a culture of isolation. In order to gain increased autonomy for the individual citizen and the individual family we have severed the ties that hold communities together. Within this insular existence sex is a powerful means of escape. Telling people that they can't have it is like telling a child who has eaten nothing in days that she shouldn't eat a lollipop because it's bad for her teeth. The distant threat of cavities will simply sound hollow and meaningless compared with the present experience of hunger pangs.

This is the point at which we tend to fall into the mistake of blaming society. There is some formless, nameless agency (or possibly a specific secret cabal of Freemasons, Zionists, Bilderbergers, or Reptilians) which is deliberately seeking to undermine human communion by creating conditions of social starvation and then offering sex as an evil and manipulative means of fulfilling them. The problem with this narrative is that it's highly pessimistic and ultimately unhelpful. A much more accurate way of looking at the situation is to recognize that modernism created a new vision of the self as an autonomous rationality, a distinct social agent to whom the state is naturally responsible and who is individually an “end in himself.” This model of personhood is very good in many respects. It recognizes the importance of free will and reason to humanity, it affirms that the human person is the ultimate end of politics and not visa versa, and it celebrates the dignity of each individual qua his individuality. All of these things are true and they are truths worth upholding.

But, but, but... all truth is subject to corruption. We are human, we err. The direction in which modernism errs is in overemphasizing human individuality at the expense of human communiality. The modern self will naturally tend towards loneliness and isolation as a means of protecting its autonomy and uniqueness. The great task which the modern world poses to the Church is that of finding a way of reconciling the individual self and the dignity of his individuality with the fact that we are made to image God through communion with other people. Society is not to blame for posing this problem, nor is it to blame for having put sex forward as its best attempt at a solution: the world can only ever provide solutions which are of the world. The job of the Church is not, therefore, to complain that the world is unable to do Her job for Her. It is to do that work which the world is literally incapable of doing: to take the worldly offering of the modern self and to sanctify and transform it, to incorporate it into the Body of Christ and then return it to the world in the form of Communion.


  1. This is excellent. I completely agree. I think that's why the vast majority of men (and many many women) have had a habit of pornography and mastrubation over the course of their lives, even if/when married.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow, this is fantastic.

    I think this is why "just say no" approach so often backfires. Sex is presented as something negative, harmful, and dangerous.

    Then when the starving child tastes the lollipop and tastes its sweetness, naturally, the child resents the people who wanted him to starve himself.

    "Negative chastity" in marriage is particularly ugly. It sends confusing and contradictory messages to couples who are starving for intimacy and struggling to remain faithful in a world saturated with temptation. It can take the form of perverse power relationship with the "advisor" micromanaging the most intimate aspects of a marital relationship.

    Struggles with chastity are cravings for intimacy and the solution is to find other forms of intimacy. "Negative chastity" considers intimacy a near occasion of sin to be avoided at all costs, which is why it is doomed to fail.

    1. I want to burn this into every NFP book ever, "Struggles with chastity are cravings for intimacy and the solution is to find other forms of intimacy. "Negative chastity" considers intimacy a near occasion of sin to be avoided at all costs, which is why it is doomed to fail."


    2. Ernest Hemingway famously said that morality is "what makes you feel good- afterwards." Self-centered masturbation&porn leave emptiness, so do adultery, porn. It's perfectly natural&normal for married (heterosexual) couples to touch, caress, kiss&fondle each other to ecstasy. It's not a sin. It's not wrong. Even Fr. John Harvey says in a book on NFP that if couples engage in oral&manual stimulation for the sake of affection.... rather than contraception... it's not a mortal sin, not even a venial sin. It's affection, so it's not sinning at all.

      Self-centered masturbation is isolating. Bringing one's spouse to the heights of ecstasy is rewarding. A wife who lovingly caresses her husband in the shower in intimate ways to show her gratitude after a tough day at work should be commended, not condemned. When a man lovingly kisses his wife because full coitus is too painful or she has difficulties with climax... he is worthy of commendation, not condemnation.

      People who forbid natural&intimate expressions of love like intimate touching&kissing WITHIN marriage are telling married couples to starve themselves, and to cruelly starve each other. It's triangulation/pitting spouses against each other.... and for the "advisor" it is the ultimate power trip... to destroy someone else's relationship (a common trait among narcissists) A control freak would want to keep spouses from intimately fondling&kissing each other. That's why forbidding oral sex&mutual stimulation to climax (within heterosexual faithful marriage) IS doomed to fail. It's creating a crisis. It's making a sin out of something natural&good. It's as much a manufactured crisis as a fiscal cliff.

  3. Very well said! Thanks Melinda again for your thoughts. Without having "met you" in person, when I read what you write, I know we are united in this same effort to "take the worldly offering of the modern self and to sanctify and transform it, to incorporate it into the Body of Christ and then return it to the world in the form of Communion." You are a part of how I understand Communion, and for me you are a constant voice that gives me courage, and hope for this Body of Christ, just when I start to get discouraged that we all have ears but are not hearing, eyes but are not seeing! I keep you and your family in my prayers.

  4. Most of the NFP and chastity training I've encountered focuses on "positive chastity." So the tide must be turning. Sometimes, of course, "no" is the right message, but we definitely need a deeper support and teaching of "positive chastity" to, at the very least, accompany a "no" - or prevent a reason to say "no" at all. That said, this struggle for connection manifests itself in many different ways. For some it may be a battle with lust, but for others it may be a FB addiction, an eating addiction, etc. I honestly cannot relate to the lust struggle. I do not feel avoiding sex comes close to skipping a few meals, much less starvation. And yes, I do still enjoy being married (but like everyone else, also experience loneliness and disappointment. I just react with a coping mechanism that isn't necessarily healthier, just different). :) And I have found surprisingly quite a population out there who don't struggle in this way. Their crosses are just different. (I was raised in public school sex ed that basically taught me that everyone craves sex all the time. Not true). Anyway, that may explain why some may seem heartless in their teaching... they really don't mean to be, they just don't relate or see why "no" isn't quite enough for others. So it helps to read about others' struggles with this to gain a better understanding.

    1. If the tide is turning, the turning is relatively recent. My experience was that chastity was either not discussed at all (don't ask, don't tell) or presented as a list of things you shouldn't do-or else!

      We are the couple you don't understand.

      Both of use have relatively high libidos. For both of us, our primary love language is physical touch, and there is no more intimate form of physical touch than sex.

      We desire each other frequently and we both enjoy coming together in every sense of the phrase.

      For us, other forms of intimacy are a poor substitute. Abstinence is a real deprivation, even with "positive chastity".

      What hurts is when well meaning chastity advocates call our desire for closeness and for each other "lust". We were told that because we struggled with chastity we were using each other and treating each other as objects. "Marital chastity" was presented as a matter of being able to turn our desires off when they weren't prudent and that our inability to do this put our souls at risk.

      I can think of no better way to damage a marriage and cause someone to lose hope.

      This is not to say that we don't have our struggles with lust. We do, but there is a difference between our desires for each other and lust. I know lust quite well, thank you very much.

      What I have learned is that there are people who struggle with intimacy and who don't crave sex regularly. These people see the Church's teaching as appropriate boundaries, not harsh restrictions.

      I hear couples talk about how the Church's teachings make them feel more appreciated and like they are being loved and not used for sex. I believe their stories, but this is something we will never understand. These have never been issues for us.

      I guess every couple has their own cross.

    2. "Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite."

  5. I think you're a little off with this one, Melinda. Of course we basically agree-- that is well-established-- but I think you have not been fair to most voices in the Church, of whom the great majority have moved beyond a purely negative message about chastity. I would point to (among many others) Focolare and their profound teachings on communion and community; and to the life of focolarina Bl. Chiara Luce, who is an excellent witness to a full, creative and life-giving chastity.

    But even if we are just talking about the negative side of the chastity message, I think it is important to remember that sex promises what it cannot give. It’s not “don’t eat too many lollipops or you’ll get sick”. It’s more like drinking sea water when you’re dying of thirst: you think you’re satisfying your need for intimacy, but you’re actually further alienating yourself. Sex can be, as you say, “a powerful means of escape”, but as such it is merely a drug. Like all drugs, not only does it not solve anything, but it makes our problems worse, increases our desperate cravings for intimacy while at the same time making it more and more difficult to experience intimacy as something separate from sexual pleasure. Of course, I know that you know all of this, but your post seems to say that sex is a good second best to real communion and intimacy, and I just don’t think that’s the case. When it is unchaste, it is a parody of communion.

    1. I do agree that a lot of voices within the Church have moved beyond a purely negative message about chastity -- John Paul II being the most obvious example. The difficulty is not so much that those voices don't exist, as that the particular set of voices that are the most visible within the culture are often the voices that are giving a negative message. There's usually some unconvincing "Chastity is Fun!" type flavour text to accompany the negative, but doesn't help much. The biggest difficulty, I think, is that the positive witness about chastity tends to be very airy-fairy and theological, whereas the "thou shalt nots" are very practical and concrete. Most people can't connect to that, because they don't know how to take a statement like "Sex is sacred and holy because it is an image of the interior life of the Blessed Trinity" and turn that into a practical dictum that they can apply in their actual sex life. I think for many Catholics, this creates a disconnect: on the one hand, there's a very high and inaccessibly idealistic notion of what sex *should* be, and on the other hand there's a practical mess governed by a combination of failure and guilt. That's why people only hear the "No," even though the rest is certainly out there.

    2. Yes. This. EVERY Catholic promoting chastity and the Church's teaching on sexuality needs to read this comment!

      Personally, I found the "Chastity is fun!" and the "airy fairy" as bad as the "Thou Shalt Nots". When we were struggling, the presentation felt like a half-hearted afterthought to sugar-coat an overall negative message. I felt more insulted than enlightened.

      I think part of the reason for the dearth of practical advice about chastity is that so few of us can do it well, and even fewer want to admit that we can't. There are those who just decide that having a large family is easier. There are those who are committing multiple non-sexual sins in their efforts to follow all the rules and stay "chaste". And there are those with low libidos or short abstinence periods who don't understand what the problem is.

      Chastity is a difficult virtue to master. The Church recognizes this (CCC 2342-43), but many North American Catholics do not.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Ah! I get you on this one. This is why I argue that two men or two women can live together chastely as friends and support to one another. It is something so many others object to, claiming such folks are living in an occasion of sin - as if self control is denied to gay people especially.

    ""Negative chastity" considers intimacy a near occasion of sin to be avoided at all costs, which is why it is doomed to fail."

    That is true to an extent - but nothing is impossible with God. Therefore, it might be better to say, 'negative chastity' makes it more difficult, and often results in frequent failures. However, a wholesome, balanced end can be achieved through perseverance.

    Good post, nonetheless.

    1. No, nothing is impossible for God, but I don't think the purpose of God's grace is to help people repress their desires for communion with others.

  7. Outstanding as always. Thank you. :)

  8. This might be a helpful tangential reflection ... I've been considering lately that the Western world before the twentieth century wasn't as Christian as we suppose. There were actually lots of people griping about the inhumane restraints that the kill-joy Church imposed on them by forcing them to stick with the same sexual partner for life when they might not even like that person. They also bemoaned the problem that sex had a habit of producing many tiny little people that had to be clothed and fed. But before (fairly) reliable contraception, (relatively) safe abortion, and (pretty) good medical treatment for STDs, the Church and common sense were on the same side and the libertines had to be satisfied with being the wit at posh parties.

    Once the technology caught up, it was a bit of a shock to discover that there were actually very few Christians, and that chastity wasn't common sense after all. I don't think they've ever really got over it.

    1. Ha ha. I like the reflection. But it's actually worse (and better) than that. The truth is that most people didn't just gripe: they disobeyed. Openly kept mistresses were common in many cultures, at least amongst those who could afford them. Contraception was available (the laws prohibiting their sale in the US were actually a fairly short-lived experiment -- not much different than prohibition). Couples certainly engaged in *ahem* alternative forms of pleasure to avoid conception. We've known how to perform reasonably reliable abortions since Ancient Egypt, and there have always been midwives and "witches" who would perform them. It's clear, if you read, for example, The Three Musketeers, or Tom Jones, or Rabelais, that libertine sexual morality has always been pretty common, and pretty public. It's hard to say what, if anything, has actually changed...quite possibly it's just that the Church is no longer able to offer Her members worldly power, so the people who pretended to be Christian for worldly reasons have stopped pretending.

    2. Hmm. I guess I mean by 'couldn't do much about it' that they couldn't change eg. marriage laws - there was a huge amount of prostitution and a large number of mistresses, but middle class wives probably didn't want to take the same risks with chemical contraception - though I guess childbirth wasn't so safe either!

      Perhaps the big change that happened last century is that they got health professionals on their side against the Church. Abortion and contraception is now regarded as an issue of women's health, rather than a moral issue - hence the massive pressure on Ireland at the moment using 'danger to women's health' as a leverage.

      Must reflect more on this interesting topic. It helps to keep this in perspective when tempted to lament the lost 'morality' of the past!

    3. "There was a huge amount of prostitution&a large number of mistresses."-Cities often bankrolled brothels. Sts. Augustine&Thomas Aquinas praised prostitution for keeping marriage "respectable"-men would engage in procreative sex with their wives, but if they wanted kinky stuff, they could have recreational sex with prostitutes. The promiscuous womanizing philosopher Bertrand Russell made the same argument- that prostitution kept wives "dignified."

      One could also argue that draconian restrictions on sex within marriage- forbidding oral sex&mutual (as opposed to solitary) masturbation- led to mistresses&prostitution. Men like a variety of sex, and for a man, sexual rejection from his wife is devastating. It's emotionally painful. In the Middle Ages, if a wife lovingly practiced oral sex on her husband out of conjugal duty-she faced penances harsher than for abortion;but if she refused&her husband strayed, a "sex court" would judge her guilty of her husband's adultery. Talk about double jeopardy.

      I don't have problems with oral sex&mutual masturbation WITHIN a straight, faithful marriage. The desire to please one's spouse sexually is a noble one. If you love your spouse, you WANT to please them sexually. The Bible doesn't condemn either of these. If a wife gives her husband a hand job as an act of affection, or a husband goes down on his wife.... it's not sinning against the 6th commandment.

      The Bible teaches fidelity, compassion, care for one's partner. It doesn't impose sexual techniques. It's an imposition&a violation of privacy to forbid spouses from kissing each other's private parts (oral sex) or tenderly fondling each other's private parts (mutual masturbation) It is tyranny.

  9. Another possibly not so helpful comment ... I've been feeling very frustrated/despairing in the face of the 'choice' argument - which is secular society's answer to everything. 'Don't believe in abortion? Fine. Don't have one.' 'Don't believe in sex outside marriage. Fine. Don't have it.' 'Don't believe in gay marriage? Fine. Marry someone of the opposite sex.'

    The problem is (and I think this is kind of what your article is about), that our social set-up strongly shapes the real choices that we have. Theoretically, you don't need to get laid in College - but your pool of men will severely narrowed to the very religious. Theoretically, you don't need to have an abortion - but if you're still in College when the contraception fails and your boyfriend and parents aren't at all supportive, what choice do you really have? Yes, you can still marry someone of the opposite sex, but why bother going through the whole childbirth thing at all when you can pay some woman in India to do it and still have all the benefits of marriage? (not that it's only gay couples that do this, of course, but it's part of the whole 'what's so great about natural parents anyway?' movement that's strong in LGBTQ circles, and I find it very hard not to be deeply offended by.)

    I don't want to fall into the trap of blaming society, but what can the Church do with dwindling power and resources in the face of liberal humanism?

    1. I think it's a matter of putting our resources into doing what we *can* do instead of wasting them doing what we *can't*. I mean...if you think about the resources of the Church today, and you compare them to the resources of the early Church, we should have it made. They had less than a hundred guys, 11 Priests, some women. Most of them were no-account fishermen from the backwoods. Tiberius, then Caligula and later Nero were passing evil laws and setting a scandalous example everywhere you looked. The Christians got chased out of towns and stoned by the Jewish religious authorities, and eventually they were dragged into the amphitheatres and fed to lions. Why is it that they, with those odds, and those resources, were able to turn the world upside down, whereas we don't seem to be able to organize a functional after-Mass coffee hour? It's not that society isn't giving people good enough choices: Roman society allowed (and in some cases mandated) infanticide, doctor-assisted suicide, and blood-sports. But the early Christians built a community, and over time people saw that that community was vibrant and life-giving and that attracted them, and so they converted. Our society isn't preventing us from building a community. All its preventing us from doing is from forcing other people to accept a morality that we haven't even managed to make acceptable to the members of our own parishes.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Melinda. Now let's all stand up and build a church that knows and seeks the meaning of communion.

  11. The mindset you are talking about always reminds me of Gnosticism and the sort of incipient Gnostic-like tendencies that creep into Christianity at times.

    To me, that's always been about creation and the flesh being evil - something all bad - being set against a spirit that is all good, and the flesh is to be hated.

    But that's not the view that won the day in Christianity, and it's not what Jesus taught.

    Despite that, it's there in the tradition, barely restrained at times in some of the early Church Fathers and bursting out fully during the Middle Ages.

    It is not a healthy and life-affirming view of the world. And it ignores and trivializes the greater message of the faith in favor of... something less.

  12. You make some fair points but ultimately I have the sense that you have abandoned humanity to its weaknesses, and have not mentioned anything about the saving power of Grace and its role in our sanctification. If indeed we are treated as animals without the supernatural help that comes from above to live out our sexuality as it is meant to, then, yes, you are right. BUT, if God's Grace is real, and we are called to put at least some effort into self-discipline (it's all over the Gospels, honey), then the vision of a healthy sexuality, lived in a community that is fully alive in a healthy way, is possible. Even if we live in a rotten community, we are still given the strength to live chastely.

    Think of the Romans of the 1st century. They were complete and utter hedonists who had orgies left and right. The Christian Church maintained its strict forms of Chastity and thrived. All is possible by the Grace of God - do we truly pray? Do we truly open our hearts to God's work in us? And do we do penance? We have all too quickly forgotten the power of penance. When the disciples were not able to cast out a demon, Jesus said to them: "This one can only come out by prayer and fasting"(Matt 17:21).

    The bottom line: you are right about the need for an authentic community; but this is hard to come by. So, in the meantime, are we to indulge in our sexual weakness because we can excuse ourselves that we don't have a 'healthy community'? We may be waiting a very long time for this! Of course not, God calls us to be healthy and chaste always, not only when the external conditions are right.

    Thanks for reading and for your patience.

  13. I have been reading this blog for a long time now and agree with quite a lot of it, but not this post.

    Firstly, I see the family is the basic unit of society. I don't accept that it is the individual. An individual by themselves is nothing. In isolation a person can quite easily go insane. Companionship is intrinsic to our nature, not an addition. Just as God is a Trinity, man is not meant to be alone. If modern society has broken up the family, then it is our job to put it back together, starting with our own families. There are people just waiting for that phone call or hug, waiting to have our love poured into them, and we are the only people who can reach them in that most intimate and trusting way. There is no need to use sex as a poor substitute, start with your own family today.

    The next point I see is the either/or situation you have drawn up: either sex or sinful behaviour. I propose a third avenue. For long periods I have had to remain chaste despite being married and I have found that I have frequent periods of intense sexual desire (which itself is pleasurable). If I let it pass, it usually transforms itself quite quickly into a sexual life in the subconscious, specifically in erotic dreams. The subconscious sex life seems to actually give me extra energy and life in my conscious life. I remember early sex education where my teacher gave a rudimentary and ultimately unhelpful description of "wet dreams". I think if we examined the process and function a bit more I would bet that we would find a valuable and life giving alternative to pornography and strip clubs in the subconscious.

    The third point is that in my personal life, when temptation to use contraception is present, I find my life's coincidences regularly conspiring against its use. It is uncanny how my children seem to sense my wife and I preparing for something and they will interrupt it and demand attention. On a lazy morning, all three kids will come in and jump on the bed and come between us at exactly the moment you would expect if God were behind it. At first my wife did not notice it but now she accepts the reality. We are being encouraged not to sin.

    Chastity is by no means an easy road, but when you are on it, you start to observe these things. And it makes the road easier. For me, the real shame is that these aspects are seldom discussed.

  14. I wish to add an additional point on top of the three about family, the subconscious and coincidence, which I was reminded of when I read Artur Suski's post.

    Your post seems to give no room for prayer to be a main activity that a person can use to achieve happiness. When a man is awake with spare alone time in the middle of the night, pornography is not the only alternative he can turn to. Prayer can fill those quiet times. I am a person who often wakes in the middle of the night and some of my most spiritual experiences have occurred during prayer at those times.

    This may not seem "practical" to the average person struggling with this issue but in a way it is the most practical activity possible.

    1. I rather think your posts fit in quite well with what Melinda is talking about - discovering the joy and life in chastity in our own community before we rush out to save the world from sins that we've barely stopped committing ourselves.

      The only danger I can see is that we fall into the trap of beating ourselves up by thinking 'they would all become Christians if only we were better at X', whereas there are always going to be people who just aren't interested in what Christ has to say. Ultimately people are responsible for their own lives.

      Sorry for all the anonymous posts, we don't all have understanding spouses that are happy for us to discuss our sex lives on the internet!

    2. Thanks for pointing the similarities out. I re-read the post and do see a lot in common. The point I got stuck on was "to take the worldly offering of the modern self and to sanctify and transform it, to incorporate it into the Body of Christ and then return it to the world in the form of Communion." I can't see why we can't just say that moderns have gone down the wrong path. Catholics have tried to have a foot on both paths but the main result is that we have neither the communion that the church should offer nor the self centred disregard for communion that a lot of moderns have.

      I can't help but feel that we need new saints like St Francis of Assisi who can show flippant disregard for the trappings of modernity. Such people can lead us back to communion with God. Again, I can only see this as a leading back, not a reconciliation of the two.

      As an personal example, for a long time I've been a keen sports team follower of a major club in my city. I have been drifting away from it but thought a bit of insanity never hurt anyone. Recently I just carelessly threw away that passion and pastime, something I felt I had a duty to commit to, even if it was only taking a small piece of me. In this careless tossing away I found freedom and then, suprisingly, a number of other fields of activity, ideas and joy filled the space. In some of these I will find real communion, of which the modern sport culture is only a counterfeit.

      Maybe it is only those people who hear a resounding "I LOVE YOU" from Jesus who can say the same to the modern. The modern can then say, "I don't need this stuff, the way of love is better".

  15. Doesn't negative chastity have an important place? I just can't help thinking of the Ten Commandments, or of Jesus's treatment of lust in the Sermon on the Mount: NOs that reverberate across centuries.

    There are lots of "batman questions," questions that should not be answered, or answered directly. The main thing is to be clear on what sex needs to be a blessing in our lives, and not something that harms us.

    Sex is only water (rather than sea water) when it is in the context of love. And love longs for and looks out for the other in equal measure. NFP, for me, is a way of looking out for the woman I love. It's a way of waiting for her, a cycle in my life, and hers. It doesn't really feel like a NO, but more like the seasons.

  16. "...Yet overwhelmingly people do not experience union with Christ or self-possession: they experience overwhelming sexual frustration compounded by loneliness and depression..."

    Overwhelmingly? I am unfamiliar with this research and forgive me but I don't buy it. Is this from folks who resort to the titty bars and bath houses you mentioned? Where's this junk coming from? Your emails?

    "This is the point at which we tend to fall into the mistake of blaming society..."

    Hmm, or maybe the error of blaming the church when the problem is simply that homosexuality and other unchaste behavior is just really difficult to deal with and minister to?

    Look, I'm a courage graduate. I don't appreciate your caricaturization of us here. But beyond that, you're just pontificating to those who are doing what you are only talking about. I know you've got your own life together and that is a terrific witness, but ministering to others is more than just throwing ideas out there. I can just see your little followers jumping to your defense. But it's real easy to criticize. Lord knows I've done it. True, the "NO" mentality is not the full picture. Yes, perhaps there are NFP folks and Courage groups that, in some ways, suck. But I don't think you're really in a position to answer the person who says to you "compared to what?" I mean, if there was something better... You're talking in the wind, while looking down on those who are trying their best. Offer something better, don't just blog it, show that it actually works, and then plug that, rather than ridiculing what others have been doing. There's so little out there with regard to chastity and especially homosexuality. Are you really going to waste your energy peeing on what others are doing rather than actually implementing some of your amazing ideas that you talk so much about and you claim could help so many people?


    1. Mark,

      I have nothing against Courage. From what I've seen, Courage is a ministry which attempts to build genuine community for SSA Catholics, and to foster the virtues of chaste friendship. Fr. Check himself says that the Church's response to homosexuality is "so much more than 'No.'" In so far as I have a problem with Courage, my problem is that it is the *only* Church approved ministry to homosexuals -- there are people that Courage is unable to reach, and we need ministries to reach out to those people as well.

    2. I'd be one of those people; I find Courage's attitude toward the LGBT community -- notably its hostility to coming out and its ties to NARTH -- not only alienating, but downright frightening for somebody like me. I don't at all begrudge the help it has offered to other people, quite the converse; but I can't imagine being welcome or comfortable there, or feeling like I could trust its ministry. I fully accept the Church's teaching on sexuality (however badly my life reflects that acceptance), but trust and liking for Courage in particular don't follow from that necessarily.

      And what of those of us who resort to "titty bars and bath houses"? Whether we constitute the majority of people who grapple with the Church's teaching or not, are our experiences and sufferings to be contemptuously dismissed on the grounds that we are more spectacular sinners than those who do master chastity? If we speak of not looking down on people who are trying their best, what do we do for, or say to, those who find that their best amounts only to a slight restraint on continued unchastity?

      You say you don't appreciate a caricaturization of Courage; I don't feel that this post did do that (Courage being mentioned only en passant), but I can fully understand not liking that nonetheless. Equally, I don't like to see something that exactly expresses my own heartache and failure called "junk." A little more sensitivity would be appreciated.

  17. Where do I begin? I somehow discovered your 'blog when I somehow (I don't recall how) bumped into your takedown of one of Michael Voris' videos. I was grateful to see a serious response. Sadly, such criticisms seem to be increasingly rare.

    I am a convert within a mainline Protestant family. How can I make a long story short? For the past several years--after seeing cultural polemics, the most extreme words from self-appointed apostles, and tidbits and serious allegations about the Church's complicated history--I have been asking myself difficult questions about the Faith. I am still waiting as patiently as I can as I pray for truth to emerge and become clearer to all.

    I wish to commend you for the sensitive and thoughtful posts that I've seen. That is my basic point. Let us both pray for renewal and healing for Mother Church so that she can become a credible witness.

  18. One of the things I noticed when I was single was that sometimes when my friends would be in a relationship, they would put so much time in their relationship that they didn't seem to have time for their friends anymore. That certainly created a deep sense of loneliness. I think it's really important for couples whether they are married or dating, to make time for their single friends. I've found when my wife and I have done this, far from detracting from our marriage, it actually makes it better. God hasn't blessed us with children yet, so this may be part of the equation. I've found that after too much time with just the two of us, something will feel like it's missing from our relationship. I suppose on a practical level we run out of personal matters to talk about. There's only so many times I can tell that funny story from college. Then it seems like the relationship becomes focused on the merely business stuff, the chores, money, scheduling etc.

    So, from my experience, it seems that both couples and singles need these healthy friendships. Of course, this cannot be solved merely by a papal pronouncement. We have to actually work to implement it.

  19. I think you're right on about the degree to which we've increasingly been shaped by a modernist conception of the autonomous individual. I'd argue that the roots are even older—the Enlightenment focus on the individual rational thinker, for instance—but certainly its devastating social effects have become more and more obvious, especially with the shift away from larger communities and towards the nuclear family in the latter half of the 20th century.

    I think it's important to note, though, that this vision of autonomy not only makes chastity difficult but it also makes sex itself unfulfilling because it simply becomes one more form of self-medication. The curse is two-fold then: as a culture we're both inclined to take a very narrow view of sex as being ultimately just about us and our desires and, simultaneously, we're inclined to see this as the only option because it gets increasingly difficult to conceptualize any viable alternative.

    I agree with you that blaming society for this is a dead end as are reactionary "fixes" to the problem. But the omnipresence of the issue does make it particularly difficult to address; yes, the Church is uniquely posed to do this but that doesn't change the fact that the work of building community is dastardly difficult these days.

  20. Quoting you, Melinda: "to take the worldly offering of the modern self and to sanctify and transform it, to incorporate it into the Body of Christ and then return it to the world in the form of Communion."

    I think that's right on. But then I think to myself: that's exactly what the Church does every day at Mass. Every day, the "work of human hands" is presented and transformed into Jesus. We receive Him and are more completely incorporated. Then we are "sent." "Thanks be to God."

    The Church does not send the priests out to transform the world. It sends us out. We're the reason there isn't more communion.

  21. I would like to add something to the discussion. Even liberals have been trying to balance individuality with solidarity, however flawed some of their conceptions may be. I know this because I have seen many, many serious liberal webpages, and they simply do not fit the stereotypes of either selfishness or collectivism. Also, do not humans try to reach out for friendship over long distances? Are there not attempts in the secular world to build real communities, e.g. the new urbanism? Unfortunately, many people see the Church as condemning the modern world and increasingly attempting to drag humanity back to the Bronze Age, not as offering help in building community or lifting up humanity. How can Mother Church prove them wrong?

  22. Unreasonable constraints put on sex within marriage leads to disastrous consequences. Case in point- watch the scene in "Analyze this" when Robert DeNiro rationalizes his "need" for a mistress. If I had been Billy Crystal, I would've told him to be faithful and go to his wife for that, rather than risk his vows&self-respect.

    People are taught-
    1)Don't treat your spouse's body as disgusting as an insult.
    2)Oh, and orally&manually pleasuring your spouse are supposedly sinful. So, treat your spouse's private parts as disgusting&gross.
    I'm with waywardson on this one. It's control freak/power play/triangulation. And some miserable people enjoy pitting spouses against each other.

    Forbidding reasonable pleasures within marriage (intimate forms of kissing&touching) leads to illicit ones. If such alternative pleasures only serve a contraceptive purpose, they're always wrong. But it's not wrong if a wife gives her husband a happy ending simply as an act of love&gratitude. She's doing her wifely duty. When a husband kisses his wife intimately because she has difficulties... it shows he's not in it for selfish pleasure. He loves her.

    It's about treating your spouse with love, care, compassion. Let's not cry over spilled man juice, when there are REAL problems in the world like infidelity, porn, and abortion. Those are REAL problems.

  23. Knowing God's true overall plan (his "road map" of true love) and ideal helps many deal with our deepest frustrations. Criticism of concepts as "negative chastity" and such frustrations are truly problems of perspective and, our own immaturity and lack of patience. This comes from our negative experiences in life combined with our own dearth of knowledge of Truth; yes faith is important but faith without knowledge is weak. Thus faith combined with knowledge fortifies our hope and redirects us from settling for the counterfeit quick fix and other false ways of satisfying our own desire for love. The bottom line is we can not truly love what we do not know.

    The Holy Spirit has finally provided us a vivid view of the divine order behind our physical bodies, sexual relations , and their interplay with God's divine plan of pure true love, the authentic connect of agape & eros love.."sexual authenticity". This development of teaching from the Word was manifested to us in Blessed John Paul II's - Theology of the Body. I was exposed to this in an excellent presentation by Christopher West talks "Naked Without Shame" and can be obtain via the following website in MP3 format or CDs :


  24. As much as I appreciate the orientation of your post, and agree with you that chastity needs to be presented in a positive way, I don't like your approach to it, because you're presenting solitude as a negative thing. Your argument seems to be that solitude inevitably leads one to frustration and needs to be remedied by community, and if community isn't present, one will necessarily go mad with lust to fill the void.

    Yet, for me, the message in society that you need community to be happy is just as invidious as the message that you need sex to be happy. In my view, both messages are damaging and lead people astray spiritually.

    I'm not a Catholic, nor a Christian. I grew up Jewish, and even though I'm sympathetic with Christian thinking, I don't attach myself to any particular spiritual tradition. I am, however, a practicing celibate, and I live most of my life in a solitary way. That doesn't mean I never plan to get married and start a family, or participate more communally in life later; it just means that I'm happy in my life without all of those things.

    It's hart to tell what your thoughts are on Stoicism, but this was always the point of Stoic belief, as seen in this passage from Epictetus' Discourses:

    "Ah, when shall I see Athens and the citadel again?"
    Wretch, are you not content with what you see every day? Can you see anything better than the sun, the moon, the stars, the whole earth, the sea? But if, besides, you comprehend Him who administers the whole, and carry Him about in yourself, do you still long after pebbles and a fine rock? What will you do, then, when you have to leave even the sun and the moon? Will you sit crying like an infant?

    Stoicism was never a negative philosophy; it was never taught as an endless series of 'no's. It was an instruction for people to be happy in life without needing anything to create that happiness, whether it be desired by lust, avarice, or any other attachment to material things.

    I simply see the choice to be either celibate, or chaste, as an affirmation of that way of thinking. I see the choice not to be intoxicated as a similar affirmation. I also see the choice to live in solitude in the same way.

    And the Catholic Church, from what I understand, has also respected solitude in the same way, in its support for the hermetic tradition. There are some requirements for the hermetic life to be a consecrated life, but nonetheless, the message is not that being alone is some type of negative, unendurable condition that leads one to be mad with lust.

    The point, of course, isn't for everyone to be a hermit, and in the same way, the point shouldn't what sexual acts you don't do. The point is to learn to be happy without needing sex, and living chastely is just an affirmation of that.

  25. Hi Brian,

    I thought I might reply to this. I will be entering an active religious community, but did spent time in a cloistered one. It was too enclosed for me. I felt like I needed an outlet, it was a relief every time I spoke to someone. The others there were happy, at peace, and had outgoing personalities, but felt called to this way of life.

    So, I agree that isolation does not drive people insane, but boredom might.

    Even hermits have things to do.

  26. Anonymous June 1 9:16 A.M., I don't think there's much chance of you reading this particular comment, but I would like to know what the title of that book you mentioned is so I could try to find it. The one about NFP by Fr. John Harvey? Would anyone else know about it?

    Aside from that rather trivial question, I find this post directly applicable to my own life. My parish seems somewhat socially disconnected to me. We go to Mass on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings and, to paraphrase a man far wiser than I, "pick themselves up as if nothing happened."

    Also, I have noticed a direct relationship between the amount of non-sexual physical contact I have and the number and type of lustful thoughts that wander through my mind. I don't deliberately encourage them, but they nevertheless show up from time to time. I make the best efforts to avoid them as much as possible, and there they are all the same. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: It's not just spiritual but physical communion that we Christians lack. What did the Apostle Paul himself say, that supposed paragon of Puritan sex-haters? (If that doesn't paint me as a hedonistic individualist, I don't know what will!) "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (Romans 16:16) How many of us do that, for goodness' sake? Most of us would be scandalized and banish such behavior to the outer darkness where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don't mean to treat Scripture flippantly, but I'm sure you know what I'm getting at. Does any of this make sense to you? I'm sometimes most ideaphoric (and occasionally incoherent!) at night.

    P.S. It's important not to let physical contact become a near occasion of sin. A priest told me once that all sin is voluntary, that it involves deliberate actions of the will. Sometimes physical contact involves sexual connotations period, regardless of what either party thinks, feels or believes they know about it. The point is not to avoid physical contact in the first place, the point is to deal with the unavoidable sexual thoughts and possibly feelings with as much grace as possible and go on with one's life. If I'm wrong about this, than may God forgive me.


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