Saturday, February 8, 2014

Puritanical Sex

At the insistence of a friend who complained that Popular Sex was too short (I blame the estrogen in the water), here is part two, wherein we take a look at our Puritan heritage in sexual mores.

Last time we dealt with crappy sex. How do I know it's crappy? Gotta be, come on! It's gotta be! Why? I’ll tell you why. Here we are. All of us are basically alone, separate creatures just circling each other. All searching for that slightest hint of a real connection. Some look in the wrong places...

Ten points if you correctly identify the source of the above line.

So we turn from the libertines to the puritans, or if you like the repressed. These are the folks who tend to fit all too well the caricature straw man of the "Abstinence Only" sex education crowd, for whom the only thing you need to tell children about sex is that if they do it before marriage they will catch herpaghonasyphilaids, die, and go to hell.

When these youth then see their peers have premarital sex and not catch herpaghonasyphilaids or die, they start to wonder about the hell bit too.

While there certainly are "quiverfulls" (Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with such arrows), the typical image of the protestant family is smaller, and perhaps very frigid. Take the (I'm assuming) Anglicans who have just watched their neighbors the Catholics sell off their ~500 kids to medical experimentation (Monty Python's Meaning of Life). The husband mocks them for being bound by the Church to conceive every time they have intercourse, to which his wife replies that it's the same with them - they have two children, and they've had intercourse twice.

There is a fear of sexuality within many branches of Christianity, which I think may stem from the mistaken notion that holiness means perfection. The Mrs. and I were just at our couples dinner study where we listened to Dr. Peter Kreeft's "Seven Reasons to be Catholic," part of which dealt with reasons why he ceased to be a Calvinist and converted to Catholicism. He spoke of this sense that to be holy meant to be perfect, to be Christian meant to be perfect.

We wouldn't want to backslide after all (what does that mean again?)

Of course, in a system where once you're saved you're saved, unless you screw up which is evidence that you were never really saved in the first place, it makes sense that one would avoid the raw power that is human sexuality. This is after all the engine of life, of union, of communion, one of the few ways built into our nature which allows us to touch the divine.

Although why we think just being frank and talking about sex without shame or embarrassment will lead to mass orgies and eternal hellfire I don't really understand.

Or is it more that as Christians we haven't actually ever had the sex talk? We see that magazines like Cosmo and Maxim don't have the answers to life, so if they talk about sex we can't? But where does that leave us?

What happens when we aren't told about the biology and the physiology, about the emotions and the endorphins? What happens when we put a taboo on talking about sex so that spouses struggling with their sex life are ashamed to talk about it?

"We're having sex?" says the husband. "But it's not my birthday!"

Or the joke about the dad explaining the different sized condom packs to his son -

  • One for high schoolers, for Friday night.
  • Two for college students, for Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Twelve for married men, one for January, one for February...

We get a culture in which the running joke is that married people have sex once a month, at best, and humor is how we tell truths that frighten us.

We get a culture where it is expected the wife will always be unsatisfied, and the husband will always be frustrated.

Sex is the marriage, the marital embrace, the renewal of wedding vows, so what does it say when more and more couples are acting married without being married, lying with their bodies as Christoper West says?

These attitudes towards sex are not Christian, and worse they are UnChristian. To consider sex as something dirty, or bad, or something to keep locked away and never spoken of is to ignore the beauty that Paul tells us it is. The embrace itself is private, between husband and wife, but that doesn't mean we don't talk about it, talk about what it means and what it shows us!

Talking about sex will not turn you into a porn fiend. It will probably do the exact opposite.

So the libertines and the puritans have it wrong, for different reasons. Next episode we talk about the four requirements of love, and sexy Catholic sex.

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