Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Chastity Lectures

I've been asked to give at talk about vocations to Single and Married life at the University of Saint Andrews in February. (Details to follow when I get them.) I am very excited because St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland and is famously beautiful. And as one of my readers opined that all the Single men in the Saint Andrews CathSoc want to priests, now I have the chance to find out for myself if this is true. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

My specialty, though, is neither the vocation to the Single nor to the Married life but the vocation to wait and see. It just occured to me that in the Scriptures, prophets never say, when they get the chance, "Lord, am I supposed to be married, Single or ordained?" No. They tend to say things like, "Oh, do I have to?" and "Gosh, that's a really big whale" and "Marrying your half-brother's widow is a big sin." Just throwing that out there, folks.

What I won't talk about too much in my lecture is chastity. Since I'll be talking to CathSoc, I'll assume they all know the score. Sex before marriage = ontologically bad. Sex after marriage = (usually) ontologically good. Besides, chastity lectures give young people a thrilling excuse to listen to people talk about sex in mixed company, and do I want to be party to that?

Let the truth be told! Let it resound from the mountain tops, and let us all giggle. When I went to pro-life confences as a youth, my friends and I always opted to go to the chastity lectures. Woe to that speaker who had a lecture on at the same time, for his or her room would be empty of youth. Youth would be sitting expectantly elsewhere, waiting for the heavily-made up lady, usually of Evangelical persuasion, to tell us about the badness and goodness of sex. Sex talk! Yay!

This lady always had a comforting narrative that jived with our worldview. It had easily predictable arcs and outcomes. She (or other protagonists) had been sexually unchaste and terrible things had happened. Unplanned pregnancies. Broken hearts. Disease. Abortion. Depression. But once this lady (or other protagonists) had seen the light, accepted Jesus as her own personal Saviour, and gotten married to a Christian gentleman, life was fantastic. The sex was fantastic. Sex was the best thing ever. And sex would be the best thing ever for you, kids, if you held on to your virginity until marriage. The end. Standing ovation for Chastity Lady.

Now, I understand that chastity speakers have gotten a bit more savvy in the past twenty years. And this is great because when Catholic kids go to university they notice that a lot of their friends are having sex and yet manage to avoid unplanned pregnancies, broken hearts, disease, abortion and depression. Some even manage to get married to a supposed-to-be one-night-stand and live happily ever after.* What the hell--? And some poor Christian virgins get married to other Christian virgins and are divorced within two years. Wha---? Life is not always as simple as Chastity Lady's narrative, which is why Christian kids need something better than Chastity Lectures.

First, Christian kids need to learn the difference between servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is when you don't do something wrong because you're afraid of punishment. Filial fear is when you don't do something wrong because you love God and don't want to hurt your relationship with Him. So the unmarried Catholic should strive to avoid sexual sin not because he or she is afraid of pregnancy or disease but because he or she loves God. Incidentally, Thomas Aquinas found the whole idea of great sex as a divine reward utterly repulsive.

Second of all, Christian kids can learn more from good old-fashioned common sense than from lurid stories. Good old-fashioned common sense can feel like a bucket of water over your head: unpleasant but strangely refreshing. Here's some: "Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?" Argh! Blah! Yuck! But a lot of men still think that way, and some women now think that way, too. And these are not necessarily wicked people. They're often just people so afraid of marriage that they need some serious incentive. Society use to provide incentive (e.g. "When are you going to make an honest woman out of that poor girl?") but now society is more tolerant, i.e. apathetic.

Here's another, "If he loves you, he'll respect you for wanting to wait." That one is also tried, tested and true. If he (or she) doesn't love you, he (or she) will bitch, complain and leave because you don't put out. And although painful, it's like lending 20 pounds or dollars to someone who avoids you ever after: it's painful to lose 20 quid or dollars, but it's a relatively cheap way to get rid of a false friend. Meanwhile, a man who loves you will put up with practically anything. You could dye your hair pink or quit your job to go to clown school or chain yourself to a historical building slated for demolition. He'll still love you.

You don't want to sleep with someone who doesn't love you, do you? Well, maybe you think your love is enough for you both. You're wrong, though. God made you: have some respect for God and His works, tadpole. Oh, tip: men don't fall in love with women because these women sleep with them, but women sometimes do get addicted to the men they sleep with because the men slept with them. It is very unfair, but biochemistry is unfair. Nature red in tooth and claw.

What's your favourite time-tested and generally true sex-and-marriage cliché? I wish there was one about chastity and really short engagements because so many devout Catholics I know move heaven and earth to get married a few months after contacting the parish office, screaming with horror at the "one year's notice" rule. My engagement was officially five months long. FIVE. Nobody say "Married in haste, repentant at leisure" because it certainly didn't feel like haste, believe me.

*Others, of course, may have gone through private hells, and also laid the foundation for some bad habits.


DowntownDude said...

Age-appropriate presentations are very important. Most chastity talkers seem to address an audience of age 17. There's a place for that, but high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, older singles, and people working in the professions after a long time in graduate school are totally different populations. One of the worst days in my single life came a few years ago when a local priest who fancies himself and expect on "Christian Dating" did a presentation for a crowd of 30 something lawyers in a major East Coast metropolis. It was pitched for 16 year olds. The basic premise was that everyone's biggest problem was how to behave at that hot high school dance on Saturday night. The advice was sound, for 16 year olds. But it hit me like a brick that this guy had not the slightest clue what its like to be an aging 30-something single in a high stress job when your opportunities to meet and date a practicing Catholic are pretty minimal. You've been living a celibate life for some time. You need to exercise care in that regard, but what kills you is the anxiety, boredom, tedium in the few hours you can't schedule for something else. No one ever told you your life would be a perpetual waiting game. The training you got as a younger person was training to sprint from temptations. What you need is a coach in marathon running.

Seraphic said...

DowntownDude, those are great insights. I'm sorry you were left so disappointed by the talk. Definitely, speakers have GOT to ask themselves "WHO is my audience?" before they approach such a delicate topic.

Anxiety, boredom, tedium--yup! These are all marks of thirty-something Singles I know.

And now I think I speak for all my North American female readers when I wonder where is this East Coast metropolis with enough 30-something Single Catholic lawyers to make a presentation worthwhile!

I am dying to know if this meeting was a Cambridge, M.A. Theology on Tap, 'cause I've been to its T on T myself! Oh, hmm, though. Lawyers. Sounds more like Thomas More Society!

KimP said...

Yep, boredom, tedium, loneliness. Check, check, check! I'm a 45 year old, never married lawyer, and I met with my spiritual director today. My principle whine was, "When is God going to send me my husband?????" Normally, I'm happy, confident the Lord will send me the right person at the right time and there is a great plan afoot. BUT. When the boredom, tedium, and loneliness kick in, I tend to be less philosophical and more . . . maniacal. I wish I could tell you what my spiritual director said - maybe tomorow when I am back to being confident in God's plan! : )

Kate P said...

Congrants on landing the gig, Seraphic! Can't wait to hear more about it.

The corollary to "If he loves you, he'll respect you for wanting to wait" is "Once he realizes you're serious about wanting to wait and he doesn't want to, he'll pretend he's still interested but go behind your back looking for someone else who doesn't want to wait."

I am embarrassed to say it took me a couple of times to figure that one out. And it hurt. But in the end, I'm glad I didn't end up with either of those guys!

BTW DowntownDude made some great points. . . don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking those who are into Courtship but I'm way past the point of sitting on my parents' porch swing drinking lemonade. (Although my parents do offer me tea when I come to fix their computer.)

theobromophile said...

Maybe NYC or DC? The Boston legal market is very small, and I think I know about half of the serious Catholic lawyers in it, none of whom match even the limited description that DowntownDude gave of himself. ;) (Also, "Downtown" is not really a Boston thing.)

I <3 that comment about Aquinas!

theobromophile said...

Er, adding to that: please throw me into the camp of those who hate the "sex is the best thing EVA!!" thing, whether it be from chastity advocates or more mainstream groups. As if being Single isn't bad enough - to feel as if one is missing out on a huge chunk of a near-universal (Serious Singles aside) human experience - now we're also missing out on the best thing imaginable. (Even if that's true, don't tell it to us! One need not taunt us with what we are missing out on in order to not be the out-of-touch person who doesn't understand that sex is supposed to be great.)

Some even manage to get married to a supposed-to-be one-night-stand and live happily ever after.*

We also know people who have survived plane crashes, but that doesn't mean that we should start ramming jumbo jets into the ground for kicks. The question isn't whether or not it is possible, but whether or not it's designed to lead to good outcomes. I know all about trying to do the right, logical thing and have it blow up in my face, and also getting away with some incredibly stupid things; ultimately, however, playing with fire isn't a good long-term strategy.

DowntownDude said...

Theobromophile touched on two of my pet peeves, which I will call “bargaining with God” and “Catholic porn.”

Most of us internalized the message as we were growing up that if we just waited long and enough and followed the rules, God would take care of us and we would have happy marriages.

Some chastity talkers take this a step further and say that if we just wait long enough and follow the rules, THE SEX WILL BE AMAZING. You will find a nice spouse, you have a nice family, you will live in a nice home, and did I tell you? THE SEX WILL BE AMAZING.

It’s one thing to say that as a matter of empirical fact, if you play the percentages, people who avoid premarital sex and cohabitation generally are less likely to do divorce and do report higher happiness in marriage. It’s also true empirically, that married people have sex more often than all but the most hyperactive singles and report they enjoy it more.

My experience has been that the physical aspects of chastity aren’t too difficult if one has been reasonably chaste all along. The real problem comes for many singles in their mid thirties when they realize that they have been following the rules and waiting for a long time and they still have nothing. Worse than that, their best years for getting married and doing the things young marrieds do are long gone.

DowntownDude said...

Beyond tedium and anxiety, they face battles with despair, depression, bitterness, and regret. They notice that all their friends, including those who slept around, are either married with children or in relationships that seem on the surface to be perfectly happy and healthy. There’s another horrible Christmas coming up. Why did God abandon them? They followed the rules and waited a long, long time.

I am annoyed and offended when someone tells me if you just wait some more, you will have fabulous sex! Puh-leeeze. Sex will be fine when it comes, but for now I need to get through another night in an empty house, another party when everyone else has dates and I don’t, another lovely social event that is no fun for me, etc. I also don’t need Fr. “Christian Dating” to remind me what the rules are. But that’s another story.

On the subject of Catholic porn, I also think it is counterproductive for speakers like Christopher West to present Christian marriage as all about mind-boggling sex-- which is okay only now because the Catholic Church finally says its holy. I don’t deny that technically he’s orthodox or that he doesn’t start with insights that are valid for a porn-drenched culture, but for pete’s sake, how about sacrificial love, companionship, and growing old together? For those who haven’t done the reading to understand what he’s saying, it sounds an awful lot like he is saying that if you just wait long enough and follow the rules, THE SEX WILL BE AMAZING. “You can be naked without shame!” Whooo-pee! Thanks, Christopher, but the good stuff you are saying is about 2,000 years older than you think it is, our problem is not that we don’t think it’s okay to talk about sex, and the proper response to a porn-drenched culture is not to “porn up” oneself.

Seraphic said...

Downtown Dude, I think you once again are touching on the audience question. Maybe 19 year olds really jive with the "Sex Will Be Amazing" lecture, whereas the 30 years are like, oh, grow up.

As for the no-reward feeling, hang in there. I mean it. Hang in there. Whereas there are people who sin their faces off and don't seem to fulfill the dire expectations of Chastity Lady, other people succumb and are made absolutely miserable.

I made an absolutely miserable marriage at 25 (and the sex was not Amazing), and I wandered about thinking "This is my reward for being a Good Girl? What the hell!!!!!" This was not a healthy way to think, I now know, thought I don't really have the heart to beat up on my shellshocked 25 year old self.

So, dear Downtown Dude, hang in there. There are going to be about a hundred people reading your comment today, and they are going to be hoping you hang in there too. And most of them will be hanging in there. You are not in this alone, which is what this blog is mostly about.

theobromophile said...

Er... not to porn-ify your blog, after DowntownDude's excellent points, but another thing that bothers me about the whole "sex is totally amazing and perfect in marriage!111!" idea is that (according to several of my Married girl friends) it's not always amazing.

In fact, what they say seems to mirror what I hear Catholics and Christians saying about the emotional aspect of marriage. Go figure.

I am annoyed and offended when someone tells me if you just wait some more, you will have fabulous sex! Puh-leeeze.

Also, the semi-logical rebuttal to that inane line of reasoning is thus: "I'm almost 30/30-something/40-something and I can't find Mr./Miss Right, so why should I miss out on sex? Even if it's semi-amazing and not AMAZING!, it's gotta better than nothing, right?"

theobromophile said...

To add a bit of a rant:

The secular version of those inane statements are things like,

"You'll meet someone when you stop looking."

"You won't find anyone until you're comfortable with yourself/being by yourself/with your life."

(There's also, "You won't keep a man until you're ready to do X, Y, or Z activity; men have needs and you can't expect them to wait.")

First of all, it's not constructive advice. (As I've said, one of the many things I love about Seraphic is that her advice is so wonderfully constructive and said with a heaping of love.) Second, it's inaccurate and doesn't correlate to any reality associated with Planet Earth.

Most importantly, it ignores the real reason for being independent, happy, and self-sufficient: not so that you'll find a man, but for its own, intrinsic good. In fact, I might be so presumptuous as to say that someone who only would go out, make friends, and enjoy her life so that she might find a man probably isn't good marriage material, because that's all going to change once she has a ring on her finger.

Seraphic said...

This is something I wish Catholic women would talk about more, and not just in hurried mutters. But on the other hand, married women have to preserve the sanctity of their marriage beds, and one way to do that is to keep quiet about what goes on in it.

There's a great episode in Nancy Mitford's "Love in a Cold Climate" when two girls demand of their newly married cousin what "IT" is like. They had already asked one married sister, who wouldn't tell, and another married sister who said it was "utter blissikins once you get used to it." The cousin agreed with this opinion. I think the answer (for women, anyway) is more varied, really.

If you're used to it, and a (married) woman, it can be merely nice or "AMAZING" or great fun or boring or a chore or hilarious or ridiculous or comforting or mildly alarming or surprising or disappointing or therapeutic or (if something is wrong) painful. It all depends on a number of factors, especially your mood. Demystified and consecrated, it becomes One of Those Things, like laundry or cooking or chatting with your husband's friends: necessary, usually pleasant and something that strengthens married life. It doesn't rule you any more than the laundry pile does.

It is not worth losing your immortal soul or your earthly peace over, and that is what someone risks if he/she starts thinking that "semi-amazing" extramarital sex would beat out chastity in continence. Which is something Mr. West might like to mention, if he doesn't already.

Anyway, if you are Single, it is best not to dwell on sex too much. Dwelling on it greatly increases your sufferings. It's not that sex is better than chocolate (a majority of women think the opposite), it's that the reptile part of your brain wants it anyway. It's been programmed that way, and concupisence is a one more sad evidence of the Fall, and the Single person has to rise above both.