The language of the Church on the issue of sex is fine for theology, but for practical, in-real-life situations, it falls short.
The space for these conversations without women freaking out or men being gross is hard to come by, in my experience. I once had a conversation with a woman who broke out in sobs when I mentioned oral sex. That kind of thing has made me weary of even trying to write about this topic: I am not professionally qualified to deal with that kind of reaction from people when discussing a topic that is central to the life of human beings.
I’ve had many conversations with Catholic women who have more than four kids (one had twelve), who claim they’ve never had an orgasm. Even worse, some of them are not interested in having them. In one online thread a woman said she thought the Church taught that women can only orgasm during penetration. For the record, that’s not true.
Stuck in another wrinkle along the spectrum are people who decide that the Church teaches the impossible (like, that you’re supposed to be married to someone who has no interest in enjoying sex, or that you can only climax in the position that makes orgasm most difficult to reach if you are a woman) and so folks go to secular books and magazines to try to figure sex out — or porn.
Kids are also going to porn in part because their parents cannot have a conversation with them about sex that is open to questions and isn’t designed to start or end in judgment. Usually, we Catholics blame the porn-saturated culture for our kids’ interest in smut, but … what if it’s at least partly the other way around?
In so many of my conversations with Catholics about sex the issue of shame has come up. Honestly, a lot of that shame is rooted in sexual abuse. This is another topic that needs space in Catholic circles. The Church talks about how this and that are sexual sins and does not seem to take into account how that sounds to the ears of people who have been abused sexually.
Usually, we Catholics blame the porn-saturated culture for our kids’ interest in smut, but … what if it’s at least partly the other way around?
Talking about sex between two adults in a valid Catholic marriage should not be a shame-filled conversation. Sex is beautiful. God is the one who came up with this plan on how we procreate, He is not angry when we do it. He also is the one who added the pleasure in sex, so He is not going to banish us to hell when we enjoy it either.
I will sometimes write outside my wheelhouse — I write columns for a living — but this time I know of what I speak.
I was molested and raped for years beginning when I was 5 years old. I never knew that I was having a biological reaction to being sexually stimulated when I was being abused. I did not know anything. I did not even know that I was being abused. I did not feel like something wrong was happening, I did not leave my body when it happened and I was not scared. It was just what happened after dinner during the evening news.
By the time I was old enough to know that sex before marriage was a sin, I was masturbating and being felt up by a boy.
Learning that God was angry at me for being “promiscuous” was a shock to me and it made me feel irredeemable. Nowhere in any of these lessons did the issue of abuse come up. At the time I was going to a fundamentalist Baptist church. I answered so many altar calls trying to clean myself. I was even “baptized” for a second time in that church (I had been baptized Catholic as a baby) to try and fix myself.
Eventually I figured that I was not fixable, and I left Christianity altogether: I did my thing, God did His.
The next twenty years was — as my favorite Texas County singer, Ray Wylie Hubbard, says in one of his songs — a series of bad decisions. I have told that story here and there. It is full of detours of marriage with a man I only knew for two weeks, babies, one-night stands, adultery and dead-end relationships with men who did not even like me but who liked to sleep with me. I put my life on the line at one point sleeping with three men all of whom would have and could have killed me. My now-husband and I even made a short trip into the swingers lifestyle a year before I walked into RCIA looking to get my Sacraments.
God had so many plans for me when I walked into that room for the first RCIA class.
What really led me to understand the Church’s teaching on sex, love and marriage was reading St. John Paul II (not people who water down his writing for their own agenda and brand, but his actual words) and the Catechism. I read the Song of Songs which is a book not scared to talk about the passion, beauty and pleasure of sex and it is in the Bible.
Talking about sex between two adults in a valid Catholic marriage should not be a shame-filled conversation.
What really led me to understand that I was not broken beyond repair was my first confession with a priest who was wise enough to know that the trauma of being sexually abused meant that I needed therapy.
Therapy with a Catholic therapist who is focused on my mental health has helped me process so much of my trauma and the reactions from that trauma. It has also helped me to see how much we suffer the lack of space in which to have these conversations. We need to change that.
We talk about sin and marriage and how awesome babies are, but we do not talk about the shame of hearing that God is just waiting to damn you to hell if you do anything wrong in the sex department. There are so many hurting people in the world. For the Church, working to heal that hurt is a core mission imperative.
Leticia Ochoa Adams writes from Texas, on life, death, grief, suicide, faith, motherhood, doubts and whatever (else) happens to be on her mind.
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