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Why Are Catholics so Obsessed with Sex?


Beverly De Soto/Regina Magazine

Beverly De Soto - Regina Magazine - published on 08/10/14

Exploring the meaning of sex and family.

“Why is it,” said Jessica, my long-time friend, a non-observant Church of Scotland member, “that the Catholic Church won’t just, er, enter the modern era? Why are they so obsessed with sex?”

Um, I thought, here we go. We were sitting in a coffee place in Edinburgh, trying to catch up from our busy lives. Even though our lives have taken different paths, Jessica and I go back a long time. I took a deep breath.

“For the same reason that traditionally Jews forbade pre-marital sex, and sex outside marriage,” I said evenly. “After all, Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism.”

She looked at me, astonished. Like me, Jessica is 30 years old. She has a good financial job in Edinburgh. I’m a stay-at-home mum, thanks to the hard work of dedicated husband. Jessica and I have been friends since our school days, and even went through Edinburgh university together.

“Where did you get that idea?” she asked incredulously.

“Well, Jesus was a Jew, and the people who originally followed Him were mostly Jews. In fact, most of the non-Jews who joined the Christian sect two thousand years ago were people who frequented Jewish synagogues in Asia Minor,” I said.

She looked even more perplexed. “Okay, let’s say you’re right…”

“…it’s not me saying this,” I interrupted, shrugging diffidently. “It’s just archaeology and research—you know, ‘science.’”

She regarded me with suspicion for a moment and asked, “Okay, okay. So why did these ancient Jews or Christians or whatever—why were they so strict about sex?”

“Well, the generally accepted view is that this is the way they survived. The pagan world that they lived in was rife with sex cults—even the temples of the ancient gods were used as bordellos. Temple prostitution was common.”

“Yeah?” she said, looking interested.

“Yup. And women were big-time sex cultists. The Bacchantes—who worshiped the god of wine, Bacchus—were mainly women. They used to drink themselves crazy and invade rural towns and city neighborhoods. At one point, they were officially banned.”

“Wow,” she said, drily.

“Yes, and of course sexually transmitted diseases were everywhere. And there was no treatment for any of them, so people died horrible deaths, often in the streets of big cities.”

“Sounds awful,” she said.

“It probably was. So you can understand why Jews and Jewish Christians would stress continence so much.”

“’Continence’?” she asked, wrinkling her nose quizzically.

“Yes, literally the ability to keep oneself ‘continent’—to discipline one’s sexual activity to take place only within marriage. Many say that this—plus their attitude to life—was what kept these small cults going through the centuries. The Bacchantes, er, died out.”

“What attitude to life?” she asked, cautiously.

“Well, the Roman pagans were also very big on exposing unwanted babies—leaving them to die. Christians and Jews considered this practice abhorrent. Life was precious,” I said, looking at her, not without irony.

To no avail. She shook her head, not getting it.

“Okay, so what does this have to do with my question? Why is the Church stuck in the Middle Ages?”

“These attitudes toward sex—keeping it within the married stateare extremely old,” I replied cautiously. “And they are not limited to Roman Catholicism. All the old forms of ChristianityOrthodox, Coptic, Syro Malabarall have the same belief. As of course do orthodox Jews. That is my point.”

“Right,” she said. “And they are all stuck in the past.”

“Okay,” I began, slowly. “What exactly do you think has changed about human sexuality since the, er, past?”

“Well,” she said, regarding me somewhat incredulously, “of course they didn’t have modern science.”

“Right,” I said. “Instead of killing babies before birth, they had to wait until they were born.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she said, trying to keep her cool.

“Oh, okay,” I said, and waited.

“Well, you know that of course sex was tied to making babies for all those years,” she said, trying a new tack.

“Right,” I said.

“And now sex is for, well, self-expression and pleasure.”

“Here is where the problem lies,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, impatiently. “So what is the problem? Why does the Catholic Church…”

“…and the orthodox Jews, the Coptics, the Orthodox…”

“…okay, why do all these, er, religions, have a problem with sex being for pleasure? Why do they hate pleasure?’

“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath, “there are of course two ways to look at this question. The first is to be an amateur anthropologist and decide that these are just backward belief systems that need to be brought into the light of modernity.”

She nodded, and waited.

“But that is just imposing a modernist opinion on belief systems that you don’t happen to agree withand that’s called ‘intolerance.’”

She opened her mouth as if to say something, then shut it again.

“The second is to decide that these are belief systems that have survived because they support a family model that has stood the test of time.”

“Maybe,” she jumped in. “But this model is clearly no longer working. Divorce rates, children out of wedlockall these things are skyrocketing.”

“Yes, among people who do not adhere to these belief systems.”

“Oh, come on! Catholics divorce just as often as anyone else!” she cried.

“Yes, but there are Catholics and then there are Catholics. In the small subset of Catholics who adhere to the old rulesno sex before marriage, and no sex outside of marriagedivorce rates and out of wedlock children are quite low,” I pointed out. I understand there are similar rates among orthodox Jews, and the other groups I just mentioned.”

She regarded me incredulously.

“Are there still people like that? I mean, besides you and your friends from that Latin Mass you go to?”

“Yes,” I assured her solemnly. “And what’s more, they don’t practice contraception or abortion. Because life is still precious. Just like in ancient Rome.”

She shook her head in wonder.

“How can youa modern womandeny a woman her right to reproductive freedom?”

“What does that mean, in practical terms?”

“Well, that a woman shouldn’t have to conceive or bear a child unless she wants to.”

“Okay, so let’s look at abstract arguments on ‘life,’ shall we? Because of course now that pre-natal human life is not categorized as ‘valuable’ unless deemed so by the mother, of course other kinds of human lifehandicapped people, sick people, old peopleare vulnerable too, right?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, baffled.

“Have you heard of ‘the right to die’ movement? In Oregon it is legal to euthanize adults. In Belgium it is now legal to euthanize children. The only thing that has to happen is that a category of people is declared less deserving of legal protection than others. Like the Nazis did.”

She regarded me, open-mouthed.

“I’ve never heard this before,” she said.

“I know,” I replied grimly, hoping she would listen to reason. But my hopes were dashed in the next second.

“But what about women being forced to bear children they don’t want?” she returned stubbornly.

“Okay, I said. “We’re now working on two generations of embittered women who have had ‘reproductive freedom.’ How is that working? Today, society says that teenage girls having sex should be ‘protected,’ right?”

“Of course!” she answered impatiently.

“But that just means protected from getting pregnant. Not protected from being used and abused. Not protected, in fact, from being trafficked, either. So she has ‘reproductive freedom’ but is she free not to be used and abused? Is she free to be cherished and loved, until death?”

Jessica snorted. “You are assuming that women are loved and cherished inside marriagesof course that is not true. I mean, there’s good marriages like you and David, but…”

I nodded, “But let’s not get to marriage just yet. Let’s ask this questionis a girl free to even just have a boyfriend?”

“Of course!” Jessica smiled, shrugging.

“Nope,” I shook my head. “Not unless she gives him access to her bodyand we all know how well that usually turns out. So how free is she, really?”

Jessica rolled her eyes, but she continued to listen.

“Now, let’s look at older women. How many do you know who have given up on finding a good husband after a failed series of sexual relationships? Once again, used and abusedand then made to feel like she is a failure because she played the game the modern way.”

This last remark hit home. Jessica looked gloomy. Things had not gone well in her last breakup.

“Let’s look at a typical 40 year old, shall we?” I pressed on. “She has had ‘reproductive freedom’and so she has not reproduced. She is now aloneand has been deprived of a family. Or maybe she has childrenand she has no husband, no protector, no provider.”

Jessica nodded. Both of us have sisters raising kids alone.

“Tell me, with all this misery, do such women thrive?” I pressed my point home. “Are they likely to create families that pass on traditions, and hope for the future, to the next generation?”

Jessica looked at me, but said nothing.

“The answer, of course, is no. Did you ever wonder why the Christians and the Jews were the ones who survived into modern times? Like, whatever happened to all those pagans, for whom promiscuity, homosexuality and exposing babies were considered ‘normal’as it clearly was, for centuries?”

Jessica looked at me blankly.

“The answer is a simple one: demographics. They failed to reproduce, or failed to live long enough to raise their children and therefore failed to pass on their belief systems. They died out.”

Jessica looked out the window, but I continued on, doggedly.

“So in the end, human societies can view sex in two ways: for pleasurein which case the society will die outor for family, in which case it will survive.”

“So what does all this have to do with a woman’s choices today?” Jessica asked, hopelessly.

“Everything,” I shrugged. “Regardless of ideology, every single man and woman must choose how they will conduct themselves. Will they practice continence? Will they choose a spouse who also practices continence? If not…”

At this, to my utter shock, Jessica burst into tears.

“Wh-what’s the matter?” I said, bewildered. She quickly covered her streaming face and I started immediately pawing in my handbag for a Kleenex for her.

She shook her head dumbly, as the wracking sobs shook her. She accepted the Kleenex and blew her nose.

“I-I’m pregnant,” she said finally and miserably, between sobs. ”I d-didn’t want to tell you about J-Jamie. We’ve been together for about two m-months. A-and now I’m pregnant.”

I sighed.

“Oh, Jess. What does Jamie say?”

“H-he told me to g-get rid of it,” she said, her eyes filling with tears again.
I sent a quick prayer heavenwards.

“Um, okay. How do you feel?”

“Wh-what do you mean, ‘how do I feel’?” she cried, wiping her eyes furiously. “How am I supposed to feel?”

I sighed, and tried again.

“Let me put it to you this way. What if Jamie’s reaction had been that he wanted to keep the baby? That he was happy?”

“He would never say that. He said it was him or the b-baby,” she said coldly. The tears, nevertheless, were coursing down her smooth face. Her voice was bitter. “So what do you say about your great ideas now?”

I thought about this.

“These ideas are still pertinent,” I said slowly. “But they’re not important now. What’s important is what you should do for your ultimate happiness.”

“Happiness?” she cried unhappily. “I was happy. I had a boyfriend! I want a boyfriend! I don’t want a baby!”

“Okay,” I said, trying hard to think. Suddenly I had an idea. “So what are you crying about?”

She looked at me, dumbstruck.

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“I mean, you seem pretty clear. You don’t want a baby. You want Jamie. He doesn’t want a babyor at least he doesn’t want you if you have a baby. So, what’s the problem? Why are you so upset?”

“B-because of J-Jamie. B-because I have to do this!” she cried.

“Well, you don’t have to do anything,” I said slowly, trying to think. “Sorry, but you seem pretty upset—what exactly is bothering you about Jamie’s reaction?”

“W-well, it does seem pretty harsh,” she said uncertainly.

“Uh, yes,” I said, with irony. “It sounds like he doesn’t care too much, doesn’t it?”

She looked at me sharply.

“I mean, he doesn’t want you if you have a baby. What does that tell you? Would you not want him if he had a child? Your child?”

“N-no, of course not,” she said, drying her eyes.

“So what do you think will happen after you abort your child?” I said. “You think that everything will go back to the way it was?”

“Maybe,” she said, but looked doubtful.

“Probably not,” I said, though reluctant to hurt her feelings. “It never does.”

She sighed heavily.

“I-I thought the same thing. I really want things to go back to the way they were. But they probably won’t.”

“So, then, you said you want a boyfriend, not a baby.”

“Yes, well, I don’t want a baby now. I mean, I eventually want a baby. I mean, if Jamie wanted the baby, it would be different.”

“So wait a minute. Now you are saying that you would want a baby, if things were different?”

“Y-yes,” she said, and grew silent.

I sighed.

“I kind of see what you were saying,” she said quietly. “About how sex hasn’t really changed in all of history.”

“No, people don’t really change,” I said, groping for words. “So, let’s say you have an abortion, what do you think will happen with Jamie?”

Jessica heaved a deep sigh. “I dunno. I asked him if he would go with me, and he asked why couldn’t I have a girlfriend go with me.”

She looked intensely unhappy. I counted to five quickly, in the hopes of forestalling the expletive that I really wanted to use to describe dear old Jamie.

“It doesn’t sound like he wants to be involved,” I ventured, finally.

The tears started coursing down Jessica’s cheeks again. I sighed and put my arm around her.

“Look,” I said. “You said you want to have a child, right? And of course you want to have a man. But it looks like right now you have a child, and you don’t have a man.”

Jessica nodded, and wiped her eyes. I have to say, I admired her honesty in this moment.

“You can’t change Jamie,” I said, bluntly.

“N-no, I can’t,” she admitted.

“So the Jamie question is quite separate from the baby question,” I said, summoning my courage. But she was way ahead of me.

“Oh, how can I do this by myself?” she cried suddenly, and broke out into fresh tears.

As a married mother of two, I had to admit it was a daunting prospect, even for a girl of Jessica’s considerable talents. Although she had a great job, her family would probably tell her to abort.

I decided to be really blunt.

“Listen,” I said. “You have a right to have this baby. Moreover, you have a right to be treated well by the father of this baby, and by your own family. “

She shook her head violently. “My mum will say I’m a fool,” she said. “My sister too.”

I shrugged.

“Okay, it would be nice if they would stand by you,” I said. “But just because they disapprove, why should that affect your decision? This is your baby.”

Jessica looked glum.

“Listen,” I tried again. “You believe that women have rights, right? Isn’t this the most elemental of rights? The right to keep your baby?”

Jessica nodded, looking thoughtful.

“Look at it this waywhat’s the downside? Keeping your baby may lose Jamie. It also may not,” I shrugged. “It may upset your family, but they will come around. It will be hard to raise the baby by yourself, but it’s not impossible. And it’s YOUR lifeand your baby.”

“Rights don’t put bread on the table,” she replied darkly. “Who will take care of the baby when I go to work?”

I nodded gravely.

“Well, I’m at home, so I can help,” I volunteered. “And your mum is retired, right?”

She nodded briefly, and exhaled.

“Honestly, I hate to say this,” I said, “but these are ancillary questions. God doesn’t hand out these chances every day. You may never get this chance again, you know.”

She looked at me very seriously, and nodded.

“I know,” she said slowly. “I may never find ‘Mr. Right’ either.”

I shrugged again, and smiled.

“You may find that your ideas about what constitutes ‘Mr. Right’ will change,” I said, grinning.

“You may also find that you can spot the ‘Mr. Wrongs’ more quickly.”

She nodded again.

“They’re the ones who think that sex is just for pleasure?” she asked quietly.

I nodded again, this time with great seriousness.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s what the Catholic Church has been saying for 2000 years.”

She looked at me skeptically, but I could see the beginnings of a smile at the corners of her mouth.

Beverly De Soto is Editor of Regina Magazine.

This vignette orginially apeared in Regina Magazine© 2014, and is used with permission. All rights reserved.

FamilyMarriagePracticing MercySexuality
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