The 5 Star Restaurant vs the Hot Dog Stand: A look at God’s Design for Sex vs Lust

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Have you noticed that our culture seems to confuse lust and love? What is God’s design for sex? How does this differ from lust and are the lines between them being blurred?

Sex is beautiful. Sex is powerful. Sex is sacred. Sex was designed by God to seal the marriage bond. Spouses are called to selflessly gift themselves completely to each other in a way that is free, faithful, and fruitful. This mutual self-giving results in a union that goes beyond sharing a physical pleasure, but is a deep, forever, tattoo-on-my-heart sort of bonding. True love is not self-seeking. By this definition, someone who is “sexy” has nothing to due with bra-size, waist-size, biceps or six packs. Sexy should be a person who embodies loyalty, kindness, trust and selfless love to an extent that one can’t help but be attracted to them. Their whole person inspires one to not only want to be with that person, but be a part of that person in an eternal way.

Lust on the other hand by its definition is self-seeking. Lust is pleasure-driven and offers no lasting satisfaction. People are reduced to objects of gratification. Lust is superficial, sex is casual and “just sex.” Sharing in the pleasures of sex without the relationship of marriage can confuse our hearts and our minds. Studies have shown that with each subsequent sexual partner women produce less and less oxytocin a brain chemical that bonds women to their partners. This is the same brain chemical the bonds women to their newborn babies. Masturbation and porn would also fall into this category of lust; they are superficial physical pleasures outside of God’s design for sexuality. These distortions of the gift God gave us in our sexuality are fool’s gold.

Where does contraception/sterilization fit into these categories of lust or love? Does contraception foster the selfless, deep, sharing in God’s loving and procreative nature? I believe using contraceptives or voluntarily sterilizing increases the risk of sex being reduced to “just sex.” This could weaken the sacred bond given by God to increase the joys of marriage. God created sex to be more than a shallow, pleasure-driven past-time, despite what you see on T.V. Couples who practice NFP (Natural Family Planning), what the Catholic Church encourages as a method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy, evade the trap of lust. Yes, even in marriage sex can be reduced to a physical pleasure when self gratification is the driving force. NFPers have the best sex! (Can I get a woot woot?!) We might not have the most sex (though let’s be honest we still get more sex than the media glorified single life), but it is quality over quantity here. (If you are unfamiliar NFP involves periods of abstinence during the woman’s natural times of fertility if pregnancy is wished to be avoided). I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that NFP never separates the power from the pleasure of sex. That power that unites a couple when they give themselves completely to each other, isn’t just amazing, it’s holy. As I believe Christopher West (Theology of the Body) says it isn’t just a moment’s pleasure it is a lasting treasure. That is why NFPers have a divorce rate of 2% because we preserve the bonds of sex as God intended in their full strength.

God has given us a 5-star dining experience. Yet many of us foolishly cannot resist the hotdog (or taco?) vendor while we wait for our reservation. There is no doubt it can be a struggle to preserve one’s virginity until marriage. Our culture only makes it harder. How can something that feels good/right, be wrong? Sex isn’t bad, God made it good, but He also made it for marriage. Keep your eye on the prize, not everything that glitters is gold. Real gold is found in a loving marriage that lasts.

In our moral infancy we may view our faith as a set of rules, do’s and don’ts. Don’t kill anyone, don’t hurt anyone, don’t have sex, listen to your parents, etc. Though we feel obligated to try to follow the rules, if we haven’t adopted the principles behind those rules, we lack the conviction to actually follow through when the going gets tough or should I say temptation is at hand. This is called the purgative stage of spirituality. It is like walking a tight rope, constantly tempted and at risk of falling into sin. The illuminative stage is a more mature state that sees beyond the superficial and temporal and is therefore able to walk the “straight and narrow” with much more ease. This is the freedom that Christ brings. You are above the temptation. Sin is bondage, one is a slave to it- ie the snare of pornography perhaps. When one is more fully united with Christ and elevated above temptation, one can see the trap of sin and more readily avoid it. For example, a spouse in a healthy marriage is not tempted by an extramarital affair. It is obviously fool’s gold, might seem shiny, but a fake, empty lure.

I believe that promoting contraception before marriage promotes casual sex and undermines the gift that God has given to couples for marriage. With divorce rates being ~50% I think we need to be taking a hard look at what we are doing before and in our marriages. Are we confusing lust and love? Lust results in unwanted pregnancies, which results in single parents and abortions. In 1960, (before the sexual revolution) 5% of babies were born out of wedlock in the United States. Today, 43% of babies are born to unwed mothers.

I know there are people out there that are pro-life, and also pro-contraception. And to some extent perhaps contraception is the lesser of the two evils. However it makes sense that promoting contraception promotes casual sex and in a sense “gives permission” to teens to follow their carnal instincts rather than the God-given intuition that sex is something special to be cherished. Each relationship leaves a mark on your heart, where sex is involved I believe that mark is more like a tattoo. Who are you trusting with the inking pen, and please say that person hasn’t been drinking! I believe that part of being pro-life is to promote the 5-star experience. To promote chastity is to strengthen marriages and families, the building blocks of our society. Everyone deserves better than the street vendor. We may have a hunger, but let’s look carefully at what we are putting into our bodies! Sex is something awesome and powerful that God can use as a means to make your marriage and life flourish.

Note: Theology of the Body (TOB) are works from St. Pope John Paul II that Christopher West has compiled and presented, it has helped me understand God’s Design for sexuality. A great book to start with is “TOB for Beginner’s” or there is a video series I would also highly recommend.

Mother (Church) Knows Best

Has anyone else come to a realization that your mother was right? Every time I load the dishwasher I think of how my mother told me I should register for Corelle (dishes) before my wedding. Of course it was practical, but I wanted something unique. Nine years later I’m still wishing I had taken her advice as my dishes are heavier, thicker, more breakable, and just don’t fit as nicely into my dishwasher or cupboards.

Dishes! Such a trivial matter, but have you ever looked back and realized that Mother Church was right? If you are Catholic there is a list of counter cultural teachings you may have found yourself at odds over. Chastity until marriage, natural family planning (NFP), or that life begins at conception, are just a few issues where one could potentially not see eye to eye with Mother.

Personally, I have generally felt called to honor the teachings of my Mother Church. I have been called ‘sad’ for adhering to church teachings that are in today’s culture considered “old-fashioned.” It is hubris for someone to think that they know better than the Church. (This is in reference to moral teachings not something specific one priest or person said). I don’t think of myself as following blindly, but I am willing on reputation to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.

I used the following analogy to explain why I try to honor the Catholic faith, despite not necessarily understanding 100% of its underlying principles. My grandfather died when I was in grade school. I have few, but fond memories of him (picking and snitching raspberries together is one of them). He was a farmer, hardworking, intelligent, and devoted to his family and faith. If he had left me a message instructing me to do something, unless I had a compelling reason not to, I would honor his request. If he told me God revealed this to him, I would be even more apt to take his advice! I see value not only in the traditions I don’t fully understand, but especially the moral teachings of the church this way. And in hindsight I have never been burned (pun unintended). How could I pretend to know better than my grandpa, a wise old man, or better than my Mother with 2000 years experience! Just as our parents have our best interest in mind and are able to see the big picture, so does the Church.

Natural family planning (NFP) is an example of this sort of difficult teaching. NFP is what the Catholic Church teaches as the way to honor God, our spouse and ourselves in planning children. I don’t want this post to be all about NFP, but briefly let me sum it up in case there are readers unfamiliar with it. NFP uses a woman’s personal signs of fertility to identify ovulation and if avoiding pregnancy is desired, abstinence during those days of fertility is required (This is NOT the Rhythm Method). Two quick stats: NFP is 99% effective at avoiding pregnancy (if done correctly) and more impressively the divorce rate of NFP couples is <2%! I feel like NFP never dissociates the power from the pleasure of sex. Sex is one of the strongest bonds we have in a relationship. It is beautiful and holy; the use of contraceptives or sterilization risks reducing sex to something comparatively shallow (merely physical) where we will be more apt to lust after one another.

The Church’s teaching that “life begins at conception” comes becomes very important when looking at the ethical side of hormonal contraception in general, but specifically Plan B emergency contraception. Are you sitting on the fence about the ethics of Plan B? If a woman has ovulated and intercourse follows a human being could be conceived. Taking Plan B prevents its implantation thus ending the most innocent and vulnerable of human life. Shouldn’t this life be left in God’s hands? Let’s see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

2323 Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being.

Plan B is available in the US over the counter to girls 15 years of age and older. It is also routinely administered to women post rape without much thought as to the moral delicacy of the situation. I know this is a touchy subject, but isn’t playing God what got Adam and Eve and consequently the rest of us into this mess in the first place? Does having the power of the internet somehow give us the supernatural ability to be an expert on anything and everything? Does our culture promote a superiority of our own free thinking/spirituality that negates the need for God or the Church?

American culture is very freedom oriented. Following rules or submitting to an authority is uncool. The cool thing to do is whatever feels right. This is just a little bit too much like whatever feels good to me. In G.K. Chesterton’s book, “The Man Who Was Thursday,” he had a great insight about good vs evil. The good guys are good they fight for what is right. The bad guys are not for evil that would be too obvious; they aim to destroy the difference between right and wrong. This is called Relativism and it is rampant in modern thought, that there is no absolute truth (which ironically is stated as an absolute truth!) How often are we pro-lifers dismissed as judgmental? Why because we believe that there is a difference between right and wrong? There is a difference between right and wrong, there are moral truths. Being unfaithful to ones marriage vows is wrong. Abortion is wrong. It is more than an opinion. Note: it is okay to judge principles not people!

How do you know what is the truth? Religion functions to help in this pursuit. For example, I don’t have time to translate the bible from its original form. Is it bad for me to say that I let the Church give me the cliff notes? Now you ask, but what religion do I trust? I would suggest you let the Catholic Church be your guide, of course I may be biased : ) I can see where you might be confused though since there is only one Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, one truth, yet over 30,000 denominations of Christianity. Note many of these denominations have A LOT of truth in common, it may just be the style in which it is presented and emphasized. Much has been written and can be easily found about the authority of the Catholic Church, so I’m not going to get into that here. For me though, it is the stories of the saints that have always spoke the clearest to my heart. This blog is already too long, but think about the holy men and women that have gone before us and have used their Catholic faith to be in such communion with God, they received the stigmata, or their bodies lay in a state of incorruptibility. Just as I would trust my grandfather, I trust my Church because I know it to be hard working, wise, and diligent in the pursuit of the Truth.

Recently, I read a C.S. Lewis quote from “Mere Christianity” that inspired me to write this blog. “Do not be scared of the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority.”

Eat your vegetables, they are good for you. As a child this is impossible to believe! How can it be true that the most disgusting looking and tasting foods are the best for you?! As we become older and more mature we realize that our parents were right- vegetables are good for us! We feel better and have more energy the more greens we eat, and they really aren’t as disgusting as we once thought. Are we mature enough in our spiritual lives to see that Mother Church and the Holy Father are right? Can we recognize they have the big picture, and they want what is best for us in this life and the next?