It’s Sex Week at The Federalist. What’s a good Catholic girl to do? Why, join in of course!
Yes. Join in.
“But you’re Catholic? And Catholics, ummm, you know…think sex is dirty.”
No. But if you thought that, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Several years ago, Bill Moyers prominently displayed a similar ignorance when he interviewed “Sister Wendy,” the renowned art historian, and asked her if she was “shocked by the number of paintings that dealt with the naked human body, with sex, passion, the carnal side of human nature.”
Calmly, and somewhat baffled, Sister Wendy responded: “It wouldn’t have entered my mind to be shocked. I can’t think why one would have been shocked,” which Moyers interrupted with a gasp and, “But you’re Catholic.”
Sister Wendy is not just Catholic, she’s a consecrated virgin, but as she gently explained to the more worldly Moyers, “God made the body, [and] God doesn’t make mistakes.” That is not the faith. “The faith is that God looked at His creation and thought it good. Thought it was beautiful. And there is nothing amiss in any part of the human body. But again it must be appropriate.”
Unconvinced, Moyers asked her what the nuns at her convent would think. Again Sister Wendy corrected his naïve view, noting they would think exactly what she did because “[t]hey’re not cramped by this false idea that sexuality is something wrong.”
Shocked? Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Sister Wendy’s views in this regard are completely consistent with Catholic teaching on the dignity, beauty, and wonder of God’s creation and the exquisite gift of sexuality. The Catholic Catechism makes clear that “[s]exuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul,” and that in marriage that union “is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity.”
Sex Is a Gift and a Joy
The church goes further, calling sexuality “a sign of spiritual communion,” “a source of joy and pleasure,” “noble and honorable,” and enriching “spouses in joy and gratitude.”
Contrary to another false charge against the church, that it is somehow misogynistic, Catholic teaching on sexuality provides the pinnacle of a pro-woman creed. By stressing that sexuality is an altruistic and self-sacrificing gift, the Catholic Church directs men to truly love their wives, not objectify them or use them for self-gratification.
But it gets better. Or it does when done properly. Here is John Paul II, Saint John Paul II, writing in “Love and Responsibility”: “Sexologists state that the curve of arousal in woman is different from that in man–it rises more slowly and falls more slowly…. The man must take this difference between male and female reactions into account, not for hedonistic, but for altruistic reasons. There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.”
So, yes, sex week is for Catholics too.
Yes to Chastity and No to Birth Control Equals Sex-Positive
Of course, there are two caveats: Chastity and contraceptives. But here too, the Catholic Church knows how to do sex.
Let’s start with chastity. Chastity requires our sexuality to fit our state in life. For husband and wife, it requires a selfless giving of oneself to the other and to the exclusion of all others, as God designed the pleasure for that union. For others, whether single or engaged, chastity requires self-mastery. Sure, this is a “long and exacting work,” especially in today’s society. But on the other side of the vows is something wonderful. The. Best. Sex. Ever.
It is not just a matter of faith or philosophy (natural law), but also statistics and science. Research shows that monogamous married couples report the highest level of sexual satisfaction.
The truth also lies in the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. A quick primer here: The Catholic Church teaches that with sex, we are made in God’s image, mirroring both his pure and unselfish love and his creative powers. Thus, sex has a dual purpose: Unitive (to join the spouses in a bond of love) and procreative (to bring forth children). So if a husband and wife intentionally destroy either aspect of the sex act, sex becomes selfish.
But God also created the natural fertility cycles in women, and thus the church also teaches that, for serious reasons, postponing or avoiding pregnancy by abstinence during fertile times is consistent with moral law. Spouses are not partaking of the pleasure with which God endowed the gift of sexuality while discarding the life-giving creative potential.
Once more, the church is right. “Contraceptive use, sterilization, and abortion seem to have a destructive effect on the marital bond.” And “[o]ther research indicates that women on the pill have a lower sex drive and having intercourse available all of the time results in less intercourse and a sense that sexual intercourse is boring.”
Conversely, research shows that using natural family planning (NFP) rather than chemical birth control enhances spouses’ sexual desire, intimacy, and sexual satisfaction. Research also shows couples using NFP find it beneficial to their marriage and that “periodic abstinence is manageable.” Science also finds NFP is as, or more, effective at avoiding pregnancy than other common birth control methods.
Jettisoning Boundaries for Sex Undermines Our Happiness
The wisdom of the church’s teaching finds further support when one considers how Humanae Vitae—the papal letter in which Pope Paul VI addresses contraceptives—predicted the world in which we currently live. At the time,1968, Pope Paul VI reflected on the consequences of ubiquitous use of artificial birth control, writing:
Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
A quick look around shows these predictions have come true—and then some. Women suffer. Men suffer. Relationships suffer. And children suffer. On the other hand, if you want happiness, respect, and truly amazing sex, just remember married sex is the best.