Most women bloggers have a loyal reader and commenter who can be described as “Issues Guy.” Like a dog has fleas, he’s got issues with women — and man, do they bite.
My Issues Guy put himself right in the middle of this post on idolatry, in a tangential combox conversation which turned out to be far more interesting than the post itself (even though the post itself had “foreskin” in the title!). Issues Guy described his perfect potential wife and marriage thus:
The Plan Find a woman who: •wants to/is willing to have sex all the time •wants to be 100% submissive in a way that feels natural •wants to/is willing to have all the kids I can give her It’s a simple three-point plan. Not sure how hard it would be to execute. In return I will: •treat her like a middle school girl (which women seem to like no matter what they may say) alternating with treating her like an adult which they admittedly also seem to like. •work till I black out if necessary •let her read to me It’s a perfect plan.
Ouchie, the issues! A married man tried to correct him, saying,
Your description of marriage as a contract with its focus on sexual gratification of the man exposes a deep seated fear of intimacy and completely misses the root of our Church Tradition … So you will be physically faithful to one woman. Big shit. So was Hitler. […] As a sacramental vocation, I have experienced that marriage helps me to be a better person ONLY when I am actively engaged in all aspects of our lives. When I slack off and choose to only live my vows by “working until I blackout” it is a sham. And when in such denial, my heart has been clouded from receiving love from any source.
Issues Man responded:
Sex as the foundation of marriage isn’t an error, it’s natural law. That’s why sex is considered the consummation of the sacrament and why people of the same sex can’t marry each other. Really this whole controversy boils down to a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband.
A few people tried to respond to him, but here is the reply that really lit up my female brain:
The expectation that someone should be available “all the time” speaks to little to no understanding of how important sex really is.
Ding ding! Issues Guy thought that, because he wants and needs sex all the time, he alone understands how important it is; but in fact, it shows how unimportant he imagines sex to be. It shows how little he understands it.
Imagine if someone said, “Most people settle for three-minute pop songs, but I am different. I appreciate the beauty of Beethoven. Therefore, I will put the fourth movement of his ninth symphony on repeat, and will listen to it over and over again at top volume for the rest of my life.”
That would be weird, right? Someone who wants that is someone who maybe started out actually loving music, but his natural desire for its beauty and depth has turned into . . . something else. Something that ruins Beethoven.
Or imagine a child who is presented with a chocolate cake for his first birthday. He’s so excited that, while he does manage to get some of it into his mouth, he also smears it in his hair, squishes it between his fingers, slathers it all over his skin and clothes.
PIC baby massacring cake
You wouldn’t look at a kid like this and say, “Wow, here is a true gourmet! Unlike the rest of us, who eat three meals a day, he truly understands how important food is.” No, you’d say, “Ha, he doesn’t know any better. Someone get a towel.”
Why is this? Well, when something is profound, we don’t enjoy it best when we wallow in it. We’re not sponges, just an undifferentiated blob of strung-together holes designed for soaking. Someone who soaks, someone who wallows — this is not someone who understands. This is someone who has traded understanding for consumption.
It is the same with sex. The “want/need/have-to-have/gimme-more-now-now-now” model of sexuality is a sad and poor and foolish one. Yes, we have needs — but we are more than the sum of our needs. We are not made to wallow. When we understand that something is important, we use some discernment, some restraint, or at very least some careful timing.
Now, these analogies — music, food — are useful to explain what is grotesque about the “want/need/must-not-be-denied” attitude . . . but only up to a point. It is true that there is such a thing as too much Beethoven or too much chocolate cake, and that people who yearn for nonstop saturation don’t truly love what they say they love.
But that’s not the only problem, when we’re talking about sex. It’s not just that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It’s that sex doesn’t mean anything at all when it’s not an expression of a relationship.
Food and music have some element of this need for relationships. It’s nicer when we enoy music together, and it’s a happier day when we can share a feast with someone else. But if we do enjoy these things alone — if we are carried out of ourselves, out and away from the crowded concert hall on a solitary musical wave, or if we close our eyes in bliss as we taste a spoonful of something exquisite, something we do not have to share?
PIC woman tasting spoon
This is fine. This is great. This is normal, and nice, and good.
But sex is different. Sex is only meaningful because it is part of a relationship. This is true of sex every single time, no matter who you are, what your circumstances, what your needs, what your wants, what your desires, what your issues. Sex is about two people, always. “You give it to me” is not a relationship. If you’re thinking of sex as something that you do and the other person must let you do, then you are not really thinking about sex. You’re thinking about holes that need filling. You are being a hole that needs filling. You are being a sponge.
PIC flabby sponge
The comments I quoted above came about as a tangent to the central conversation — but come to think about it, they’re right on target. I said that idolatry is when we
replace God with something smaller and easier to manage — and devote your life to serving that, instead.
And there we are. Sex is not small, and it is not easy to manage. It is a vast ocean. One way that we can make it manageable is, paradoxically, to wallow in it — to become an undifferentiated, undifferentiating mass of saturated holes. It is easier this way. Sponges don’t care about tides, or storms, or seasons, or night or day. Some of them don’t even need another sponge to reproduce. They just witlessly bud, and add to themselves more holes to be filled.
Do not, o thou man, be a sponge. Be better. Struggle, suffer, give yourself over to a world of thirst and desire, conflict and deep joy.
Struggle, learn, suffer, love, and be better than a sponge.
You know that Extraordinary Bishops’ Synod on the Family coming up in October? The Patheos Catholic Channel will be posting a rolling symposium covering all sorts of topics relevant to the Synod. I’m tagging this post #synod and #symposium because it’s about sex, and sex is relevant to everything! Right? Yes?
Anyway, many of my fellow bloggers, many of whom are capable of thinking of things other than sex, are posting clear, insightful, entertaining posts. The Catholic Patheos Synod Symposium Landing Page is already full of great posts, and is being updated regularly. You may not be familiar with some of the fine writers who contribute to the Patheos Catholic Channel. Browse around! We’re an amazingly varied bunch.