Monday, 12 August 2013


Sometimes when I hear about the experience of Singles, I get really angry. People tell Singles the most preposterous things, and virgins tell other virgins the most preposterous things about sex, too. Not always, of course. But, honestly, I wish unmarried people would stop talking to unmarried people, in mixed groups, about sex. If older Catholics have to lecture younger Catholics about sex, I recommend training widows and widowers (of all ages) to make the remarks. First, they will know at firsthand what they are talking about. Second, they will not be betraying anyone by talking about it.

Here's the experience that has most recently made me really angry. It belongs to Bernadette, who wrote it in the combox:

Once I was listening to a Theology On Tap on the topic What Celibate People Do To Have Fun. I think it was supposed to be a "it's fun to be holy and chaste" sort of thing. The speaker was a young-ish (under 40) priest, who had discerned his vocation before he was 21, entered the seminary at 23, and was ordained at I think age 26 or 27. He proceeded to tell a whole bar full of mostly single Catholics that the very best fun in the world, the only thing that's really 100% fun, is either having married sex, or concelebrating the Eucharist if you're a priest. 

When he was challenged on this during the Q&A (specifically, is there any hope for fun for the audience members, some of whom may never get married, and most of whom will never be priests), he basically said no. He then went on to say that if you weren't happy being single, then clearly you haven't prayed enough about your vocation. 

When he said that, I looked at the other ladies sitting at the table with me: beautiful, holy, accomplished, intensely prayerful, who have discerned their vocation to the married life twenty ways from Sunday (literally), and almost all currently single. And that's when I decided that maybe I should go home early that night so that I didn't have to go to Confession for punching a priest. 

Bless his little heart.

I am at somewhat of a loss to state what St Thomas Aquinas would have said to this priest, but I will give it a try. I think he would have blinked in the bright indoor light and wondered what on earth a young priest was doing in a common alehouse. Then he would wonder why on earth a priest that young was talking to women about sex. Then he would realize that the priest was talking about married sex as FUN and, not being able to find a burning brand in a handy nearby fireplace, he would grab a chair and make a rush at the young priest. Exit young priest, pursued by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Somebody please explain to me how it is an aid to chastity to tell twenty-somethings that sex (oh, excuse me, MARRIED sex) is that best fun you can ever have, and if you can't have it you have missed out on the greatest fun in the world.

First of all, we already have a serious spiritual problem around "fun," fun being defined as somewhat mindless enjoyment. Too many of us have been dissuaded from getting real work or making real sacrifices that will pay off in the long run or having more than 1.8 children all in the name of "fun." Parenting is not "fun." Work is very rarely "fun." Prayer is not "fun." Going to Mass is not "fun." If concelebration is "fun" for the young priest in the story, then there is something seriously wrong with the way the young priest concelebrates.

Second, we have to get away from the idea that sex--oh, excuse me, married sex--is "fun". (Scene shifts to St. Thomas raining blows on young priest as they run down the street away from the pub.) Hopefully there is an element of mindless enjoyment in sex, but if you think of sex merely as "fun", then you are the sort of person who thinks of dinner merely as a great opportunity for a food fight.

Married sex is necessary. It is basically the only activity that can heal up all the emotional bruises and bumps and scratches and scrapes that naturally occur when a man and a woman who are unrelated to each other by blood live in the same house and share the same bed and occasionally the same towel because who can tell the towels apart and, by the way, who used up my shampoo? I call it the Vitamin C of marriage so often you should quote me in your Sexual Ethics papers.

It is also, to paraphrase St. Thomas as he yells and wallops, where babies are suppose to come from. First and foremost, babies are what sex is for. That's why nature makes men and women fall in love with each other and want to live together when, let's face it, we are so different in some ways we're almost different species. That's the procreative part of marriage. The unitive part, the Vitamin C part, is the part that helps us to bear the craziness of two opposites living in one space. We don't get married to have sex; humans get married to make babies (whether or not we know or agree with that), and we have sex to stay married. Does that make sense?

I am trying to think of what the very best fun in the world is, or what the very best fun I ever had was. For some strange reason, I keep thinking of the time at a pyjama party when I, your extremely immature Auntie, then aged approximately 34, bounced to my feet on my friend Lily's bed and sang "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."  I suppose this points to my true belief, which is that the best fun anyone can ever have, is to just be silly with your friends and make them laugh.

Yes. That's it. Most of my friends in Edinburgh are Single, and I don't want to say I know what their experience of The Very Best Fun is, but I have my very best fun when we are all together at a party, and have eaten well, and have drunk well, and are sitting or standing around the piano and Benedict Ambrose is on a roll. When B.A. is on a roll, everyone laughs and sometimes he reaches such heights of comic genius, we laugh so much tears roll down our faces while he sits (or stands) there looking smug.

So that is my answer to the "What Celibate People Do to Have Fun" question. To have fun, Celibate and Married People alike should eat and drink and laugh with the people they like best. If inspired, they can sing songs around the piano and, if doubly inspired, they can spontaneously dance waltzes or polkas around the sitting-room. I am not sure if this is what the Communion of Saints get up to in heaven, but I suspect such unself-conscious communal merriment provides us with a clue.


Sheila said...

I agree entirely. I feel like the world is hyperfocused on sex, and in response Catholics have become hyperfocused on the *right* view of sex, but it's still an unbalanced focus. Gregory Popcak's book Holy Sex is a prime example ... I hated that book.

I'm a married eavesdropper, and the best fun I've ever had was riding on a boat with the wind in my hair. Next up would be staying up late into the night talking with a good friend -- the one I married being a good choice, but I have other friends that are also fun to talk to. There are a million and one kinds of joy, from enjoying nature to eating a ripe tomato to singing polyphony to a quiet adoration time. Why act like some are superbly more wonderful than all the rest? Joy is joy.

Seraphic said...

Well said, only you're not an eavesdropper. Only men are eavesdroppers. Married ladies are droppers-in.

What saddens me most is that this was an opportunity for a Single man (if he wasn't a Religious) to tell other Singles how he manages to stay happy, busy and chaste although unmarried, and he blew it. They asked him for bread, and he gave them a stone.

Anonymous said...

I would be terribly embarrassed listening to a priest speak about sex. I would encourage priests to speak about the importance of being open to life and the dangers of contraception in homilies. To hear a young priest speak about the recreation side of things would feel icky. It doesn't seem edifying, I think that's the word I'm looking for here. I would think him an undignified fool too. This is one more reason why it's important to be open to life, so you have 4 aunts and 27 women cousins that you can talk to about this stuff if necessary. God love him though, I'm sure he thought he was doing good. Bless his heart.


Anonymous said...

p.s. Agree with what Sheila is saying about the world being obsessed with sex. I find that when I stay away from newspapers, tv and websites I can zone it out. I think the problem is that so much time is spent on these things that it appears to be so. It would have been a great opportunity for him to talk about *other* hobbies and activities alone and with people that help to pass the time, as you said Seraphic.

I also wonder is it good for him, a young man at the height of his testerone years to be making speeches, reflecting on and chatting on sex to young women. It doesn't seem very charitable to him, but that's me presuming and I may be wrong.


Seraphic said...

Well, fortunately he is unlikely to be at the height of his sex-drive years, which is about 17-25 for men. He has to hear confessions all the time, remember.

What he is more likely in danger of is romanticizing "married sex" beyond all recognition. I noticed in my divorced days that Single people were prone to do that.

And even when before I was ever married, I noted the strange paradox that unmarried sex was discussed as if it were the most disgusting thing that could possibly happen to a Catholic girl or boy, the absolute most nauseating, horrible sin besides aborti*n , whereas married sex was the ultimate early joy, the great reward for having held out against sin, better than anything you could possibly imagine, a foretaste of heaven, blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, you are quite right, and the best thing to do is not to think about it and to concentrate on other things.

Bernadette said...

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your idea of the confrontation between St. Thomas and this particular priest. In the priest's defense, he did spend most of his talk discussing all the things that bring a person joy and fulfillment, including absorbing hobbies, and finding the kind of service to God and others that satisfies your heart. None of it was groundbreaking or all that riveting, but not bad stuff to hear. Then the capstone of his talk was that little stunner about the only thing that was 100% fun.

This isn't the first time this particular TOT team has dropped this particular ball. The season before, they had a woman who was supposed to be speaking on Mary. It turned out that she had decided to use the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary as a framework to talk about vocations. She spent most of her talk speaking lyrically about the many splendors of the the priesthood, the consecrated religious life, and married life. When it came to single people, she talked briefly about Consecrated Virgins, and then said the rest of single people were so "by default." And not one word more did she say about being single. We were flabbergasted, and now we have a somewhat cynical joke about how we're all single "by default."

Anonymous said...

Bernadette, what is the point of TOT talks? Is it about Catholicism in general or vocations? Do they base it on JPII or the other TOB books like West? Is it just about sex or do they do general apologetics, philosophy and catechism? Is it a franchise and each leader decides what road to take? Sorry for the basic questions but it seems to be a US thing so I don't understand.


Kemara said...

I also loved the image of the priest and Thomas Aquinas!

As a single 30-something, the most fun I have ever had was hanging out at a friend's house during a visit to Co. Mayo, Ireland. The neighbors crowded in, there was drinking, singing, music-playing and storytelling until the very wee hours. Then there was staggering to early Mass two hours later with everyone else who'd been up all night. Good times!

Seraphic said...

"TOT", or "Theology on Tap" is our generations (yours and mine) answer to CYO dances. They are supposed to be about young working Catholics, or young Catholics at graduate school, coming together in a pub for interesting talks on any subject that touches on the Catholic faith and hopefully meeting each other and mingling and not being so blasted shy. In some cities, people behave as though the lecture is the whole point, but in Cambridge Massachusetts, young people get with the networking program and hand out their business cards--or did when I was there.

In Toronto "TOT" is not treated by its organizers like Catholic Singles Night, which is what I think it should be, which is why a number of people got so mad at this column:

Bernadette said...

@Anonymous - I think local TOTs can vary greatly. The program was started by the Archdiocese of Chicago, which registered the title Theology On Tap and the logo as trademarks, then sold the program to Renew, International, which now administers it on a national level. When you license it from them, you get a guide with helpful advice on how to start up a TOT series, and also rules that you have to follow. For example, you're required to state specifically that the series is for people ages 18-39, and more recently they started requiring that all speakers have evidence of their personal orthodoxy from their parish priest. However, the way individual programs are organized is left open.

In my area, the TOT series are run by volunteer groups of local Catholic young adults. Like a lot of things with young adults, this tends to be a transitory group, usually with a couple of more stable members holding things together as others move to other areas/other phases of their life or careers (I was one of those stable people for I think six years until I stepped down a few years back). So what you get can vary widely, depending on what contacts and interests the people in charge have. Also most of the groups have little, if any, budget, so they're also limited by what kind of speakers they can afford.

When I was part of the leadership team, we tended to tap the local Catholic university teaching staff a lot for speakers, so we tended towards more intellectual talks on all kinds of topics from Catholic themes in U2 to Catholic history in America, including at least half a dozen on TOB. We tried to include at least one talk on some aspect of Catholic sexuality/healthy relationships in each series, one solid apologetics/doctrine talk, and at least one that was basically the speaker telling their story of why and how they embraced their Catholic faith. One of our other popular topics was Stump The Priest, which was basically a whole evening of Q&A with a priest or two, or on one occasion, our new Archbishop (he was awesome).

The point, as I understand it, is two-fold. The first is to provide an opportunity for Catholic young adults to learn more about and grow deeper in their faith. This includes an aspect of outreach to fallen away or nominal Catholics who would never dream of going to a talk series at the local parish hall, but would be open to showing up at the local pub. The second is to provide a way for Catholic young adults to get to know one another, and hopefully build community - kinda helps combat the isolation of feeling like the only person under 50 and over 18 at daily (or weekly) Mass.

Sorry this a little long, but I hope it answers the question!

Jam said...

It could be noted also that Theology on Tap is a trademark that you have to pay to use - so in many places there is something similar running under a different name. Basically it's a speaker series for young adults that is hosted in a bar (or other adult-beverage-serving venue). Generally it's something that runs during the summer. In a lot of places, it's planned for Monday through Wednesday because that's when bars are less busy and may be more willing to set aside a space or offer a drink special. But every licensee (if that's the word I want) organizes it themselves, so it could be "every other Wednesday at Bob's Bar" or it could be "scattered across random dates at places all over a 100-mile radius". In Chicago some of them are at bars, but some are in church basements which seems like missing the point, since surely the point is (at least in part) to reach out to the young Catholics who don't normally hang out in church basements. It ought to be (1) fun, (2) social, and (3) an excuse to get interesting people in to talk about interesting things; but I think in some places the concept is maybe getting a little worn out. It does seem like a lot of programmers just start fishing around for people willing to talk about sex. On the other hand, to be fair, when I was a student leader at the Catholic center in college, whenever we asked students what they wanted to hear about they would always bring up those topics. And then when we put them on the schedule no one showed up; but I've really drifted off topic.

The poor "sex is fun" priest will probably wake up some day with a terrible wrenching in his stomach, thinking "oh LORD, did I really say THAT?!" - if it hasn't happened already. Oh dear oh dear.

Domestic Diva said...

In its earlier days, I think TOT was more intentionally programmed for singles, and I don't recall many (any?) talks about sex/chastity/TOB. I heard a fabulous talk at TOT once about surviving the single life (I don't remember what it was called - not that - but I can't think of a better title). This was several years before Auntie Seraphic even thought of this blog, and it was the first common sense I ever heard about how to live as an adult single Catholic. Two things I remember specifically: 1) that single people often did not take care of their health, and so we were encouraged to visit the doctor and dentist regularly, and 2) that single people often didn't have their own traditions (especially for the holidays) and so should establish some they found meaningful. I took those ideas to heart and am very glad I did.

okiegrl said...

Wow, the Tulsa diocese seems to be pretty good with the TOT thing. It's once a month for single or married people 18-39. Most of the talks have been good, the worst ones just a little boring. The time sex came up, it was a talk by a youngish priest about the Church teaching on birth control, etc. It was one talk in the series of explaining Church teachings.

Last month's speaker was a Maronite priest who spoke about the Maronite rite. The eastern Maronite priests allow marriage, so someone asked if the priest could have more than one wife. "Who can handle more than one woman?" the priest laughingly responded. Ahahahaha!

It may be a USA thing,but most of the speakers have been informative and somewhat humourous.

Unknown said...

I must share my story.
I'm 26, the 5th of 6 kids, ages 37-22. My baby brother just got married. I am now the only single in the family. I am devout Catholic, so I don't just date anyone, and I hope a good man would pursue me, but that has yet to happen in my life.
I made peace with the fact that my baby bro was getting married before me. Just enough to get me through the wedding and be joyful for the happy couple. Which i am VERY happy for my brother and new sister.
I prepared myself for the many comments and questions from aunts and uncles, "where's your boyfriend?" "you're beautiful! Your time will come." My immediate family knew this was a big elephant, so no one mentioned it. After the beautiful wedding, the photographer wanted to take a picture of the happy couple with my family - parents, siblings, their spouses and children - grand total of 19 people. As the photographer is arranging my family, she points to me and asks, "Who do you belong to?"
She pointed out the giant neon green elephant in the room. The whole family and all the friends standing around watching us looked from me to her to me again. I stated plainly, "Oh, I'm single." If she wasn't 8 months pregnant I might have taken her down for her next comment, but I responded to grace. "Oh you're single!?!?! Well, come stand down here with me while I arrange everyone. You can be placed anywhere." So I walked down and stood in front of the family with all their eyes on me, trying not to cry, and waited to be place back in my family.
The rest of the evening I had sisters, brothers, and even nieces (who are 11) come up and hug me to tell me all the cliche things people say to us, singles.
Granted it was a big reality check and also the most humiliating thing that happened to me thus far in my life. I do have to say her question raised one in my heart that made me realize that even though I'm single and who knows if I will ever get married, which I'm quite positive I'm called to, I know in my heart that I belong to Jesus.
Just wanted to share this was a rough day...

Julia said...

Jenne! I'm so sorry you had that experience! I'm also really mad that you had that experience, if I'm honest. I'm 23 and single, but luckily for me I have so far dodged most of those sort of experiences (I expect they'll come sooner or later though).

Of course you really belong to Jesus, but did the photographer not stop to think that as the sister of the groom, you kind of belong to your family too? I mean, what is wrong with people?

It really astounds me to read the comments on this blog and see that so many people make some horrifyingly dumb statements to single women. What happens? Do people just lose any empathy they had? Or did they not have it in the first place? Are singles seen as so foreign and odd that people can't help but blurt out stupid remarks? I've read here that single women are considered by some to be selfish. That one makes me want to spew.

I really feel that people shouldn't bring up someone else's single status in public, or when the single person hasn't mentioned it at all. Married people, if you must discuss your friend's singleness, let it be only when she brings it up, and preferably in private.

Please do excuse me if this comment is ranty. Jenne, I hope you feel better soon.

Seraphic said...

Weddings are a super-sensitive time, especially for Singles, and very especially for Single siblings, and most especially for Single siblings who are older than their sibling getting married! Under those circumstances, the only hearts more vulnerable to hurt are those of the bride and groom.

The photographer won't keep her job long if she continues to make thoughtless comments. It could be that she isn't normally that dim but working while being eight months pregnant may have made it hard for her to think straight.

Still, I think it's outrageous that she asked a young woman "Who do you belong to?" Obviously you belong to your whole family, and to your mom and dad in particular. In fact, I bet that's what your parents were thinking, if they heard her.

I have two suggestions:

1. Remember that this woman was no authority in your life or even a friend. She was just the photographer.

2. Reimagine the scene so that you turn to the photographer and she has disappeared. In her place is Our Lord. (He is a good man in a wedding emergency, as we know!) And when you look at your family, they have disappeared too. It's just you and Our Lord on a cliff, looking at the whole world.

Our Lord: Who do you belong to?

Jenne: To you, Lord.

Our Lord: Well, come stand here with Me while I arrange everyone. I will place You where I want you to go.

Christina Grace @ The Evangelista said...

Well, this is perhaps my favorite of all of your posts, and that is saying something. I am definitely going to use the "sex is the Vitamin C of marriage" line in the future (I will cite you of course). Thank you, as always, for speaking the truth with your characteristic vim, vigor, and humor.

Anonymous said...

I'm married. We're both unhappy but we have three kids so we are trapped. We haven't had sex in about 2 years because I can't get aroused for someone I don't respect. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Seraphic said...

Normally I don't pass Anonymous comments, but I have made an exception in your case. I'm very sorry that is your situation, and if I am the first person you have told about this, I strongly recommend you make an appointment to talk to either your medical doctor or a minister of religion: basically someone whom you respect whose job it is to ensure your good and who has the professional obligation to protect your privacy.

Magdalena said...

A little belatedly, but I have to react to Jenne. I'm really sorry you were in that situation. Really, the best answer would have been shouting (so that everyone hears it) "I belong to God in heaven". Or, linking arms with your sisters (or your little nephew), "I belong to them! Ha!"

Says someone who always thinks of the best answer two days too late, and who is 32 with three married siblings and a growing number of nephews and nieces (whom I love very much).

I really love this dialogue:
Our Lord: Who do you belong to?
Jenne: To you, Lord.
Our Lord: Well, come stand here with Me while I arrange everyone. I will place You where I want you to go.

Anonymous said...

"Married sex is the most fun ever..."
How would he know?


Seraphic said...

He probably heard it from twenty chastity lecturers. Or he has not managed to slip the bonds of American pop culture and believes that sex is the greatest fun ever, and just stuck the word "married" in to make it all okay.

There are people who think it is the greatest fun ever to seductively seduce person after person. They don't necessarily have to go to bed with them (although the men usually do). It's the thrill of having made this person want them.

In some book or other on clerical sexual misconduct, I read about a priest who serially seduced married women in this emotional way, and when each was about to throw away her whole life for him, he drew back and said something like, "Oh, no no no. I'm in love with my celibacy."

(Of course if this were a on-off situation, one might wonder how responsible the woman was and give the priest the shadow of the doubt, but this character had multiple victims.)

Anonymous said...

I have to say as a married person, Sex is not always the Vitamin C. Many of us feel that Sex can only be enjoyed when authentic intimacy is being lived through out the day. If I am upset with my husband because he hasn't helped around the house, sex is not going to make it better. What will make it better is him doing the dishes and offering to put the kids to bed. Then I feel loved and appreciated and our intimacy will be better. Don't get me wrong, for some people sex is the vitamin C, but there are many of us who need intimacy in other ways, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, or acts of service. The five love languages is a great book that speaks to these issues.

As far as TOT and the poor priest's comments, that is ridiculous. Life is full of many moments of joy and that goes for married life too!