Monday, January 11, 2010

The name of this blog sucks.

So help me come up with a better one.

Overfed, over-sexed, and over here!

Growing up, I was taught in church that pre- or extramarital sex was bad because it destroyed, or seriously damaged, the people engaging in it. This was, of course, based on the idea of an unchangeable nature, an intrinsic human good. To live a fully human, fully satisfied, fully happy life, it was argued, only sex within the confines of marriage would suffice.

Experience and observation indicate to me that this is not necessarily so. I know many men who, addicted, or at least strongly attracted to sex, really do appear to me to be happier living lives of wanton promiscuity. I know others who, in the name of caution, prefer to “move towards” marriage in steps: date, hook-up, cohabitate, etc. And it seems to me that they really are happier living this way than they would be if they were to abandon themselves to a new car without “kicking the tires first.”

I also know a couple who practice Natural Family Planning; they have been successful in avoiding pregnancy so far (they are both extraordinarily self-disciplined, so this is not much of a surprise). I was curious as to the theological rationale by which the Catholic Church condemned contraception. So I googled it. And I learned a lot.

Sex is to be both “unitive and procreative.” Contraception makes it merely unitive and, if I understand JP and Benedict rightly, encourages it to be not even that—really just another form of masturbation. The official doctrine is that it must be at least potentially procreative, so as long as there is no artificial contraception or Onanism (the pull-out method), intercourse is fully permissible. Maybe this all makes sense to informed Catholics and the theologians who make these kinds of pronouncements, but color me cynical. Natural Family Planning is no different than contraception or Onanism in that it is a way to avoid unwanted pregnancy. So while God might be happier with the method, the intent and result appear identical.

There is, however, one major difference. NFP demands both sexual discipline and marriage. “Demands” in the soft sense. Sure, I guess a woman could probably wait for the “right day” and then rush out to the bar and pick up some guy. Or an unmarried, cohabiting couple could practice NFP, but really, in the real world, the only people practicing NFP are people like my friends, faithful married Catholics. NFP is the church’s instrument for doctrinally instituting what has traditionally been a Christian virtue: sexual discipline. With the advent of contraception, it was feared that sex would first be practiced wantonly within the marriage, then outside of it, then before it, and then without it entirely. There would be sex everywhere! And Catholics, backwards morons that they are, thought this might be a bad thing!

Which brings me back to my theme: whether or not sex outside of marriage “damages” us. The answer is, “Of course not!” unless you subscribe to a certain idea about what humans ought to be. See, a first sexual encounter, the loss of virginity, is almost universally frightening and strange and exciting. The process of breaking up with a long-term sexual partner is almost universally painful and scarring. The life of random, anonymous hooking up has psychological fallout (positive and negative). And as a society, these sex choices are becoming a part of what it is to be a normal human person. As a “well-adjusted” person, I am supposed to have experienced horrible sexual loss and have bounced back from it. I am supposed to have left my “first sexual love” to go to a different college and to have incorporated that experience—however painful or freeing (let’s not be naïve here)—into who I am as a person. It is important for me to bring sexual prowess to a new relationship lest I be ashamed of myself for not “doing it well.” In short, it is now normal and good for humans to have a wide and varying range of sexual experiences.

And it is changing us. Of course it is. Theologians have been calling out the power and primacy of sexual forces for millennia. It used to be normal for a large swathe of the population to remain a virgin for life! Can you imagine? A life without sex! What, were they gay and ashamed? Or were human beings different? Perhaps their circumstances demanded more discipline, more focus on matters less carnal. And perhaps the result over time was people who were different. Stronger in some ways, more given to self-control. But also less adaptable, less able to cope with emotional trauma. Or maybe there was no difference at all.

But somehow I doubt it.