Thursday, 14 August 2014

Last Week 4. The Body in the Soul's Keeping

Heroin is an awful drug. It is seriously addictive and has all the caché of the floor of the men's washroom of your local dance hall at 2 AM. Some people think it is cool, other people (like me) think it is dirty, and hopefully everyone knows it is hideously dangerous. I have never been tempted to touch it, and I have never been offered it, and I know only one person who ever used it, and she said once was enough and it terrified her.

I don't need to try heroin to know that I should stay the heck away from heroin.

Codeine, on the other hand, is a different petal of the poppy, because I have indeed taken codeine, and I have never had such a chemical high in my life. I was so happy, so blissful--and in such terrible pain because it made my rib cage feel like it was coming apart. In memory of my ribs, I have not taken codeine since. Meanwhile, occasionally friends are given morphine at the hospital, and afterwards we giggle over them having being given a highly addictive substance with a darkly glamorous reputation by a respectable doctor.

"How was it?" I say.

"It was awesome," they say.

"It's terribly addictive," we say together.

This is all a metaphor for sex because chastity speakers always have lousy metaphors and similes for sex, so why should I be any different, eh?

I think chastity speakers do as much damage as they do good, and they are at their worst when they try to terrify teenagers into keeping their clothes on my telling them that sex robs them of their intrinsic worth. What crap.

Nothing can rob you of your intrinsic worth. You're a lot more like a hundred dollar bill/50 pound note than a glass of water or whatever the horrible prop is these days. No many how many hands you-the-currency go through, you are still worth a hundred dollars/50 pounds. You might get a bit crumpled and possibly you get covered in germs, but you're still legal tender until some idiot sets fire to you to show off how rich he is.

But of course you're worth a heck of a lot more than a hundred dollar bill or fifty pound note, as you hopefully remember every time you contemplate the life, passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That said, sex is for marriage. Sex outside of marriage is like nasty heroin, sex inside marriage is like the prescription drug. Sex, in short, is the opiate of the married. Did I mention it's addictive? It's addictive.

It is also one of the most powerful natural forces that govern human beings. Reader after reader has written in to say that they NEVER thought they would do the things they have just done with their boyfriends before they got married. NEVER. They were totally committed to being chaste, and they read the chastity books, or they went to Theology of the Body conversation groups, or they actually gave chastity lectures themselves. In short, they did all the theory and now that they are in the field, so to speak, they are screwing up. As are their stupid boyfriends.

Welcome to the Struggle with Chastity. Everyone's first mistake is to think that resisting sexual temptation is easy. Yet how many times did you think about sex today? (I once asked someone how often he thought about sex. He said, "You mean, in an hour?") You're definitely thinking about it now, and I apologize, but it's such an obvious temptation of Single life that I have to write about it.

Singles think about sex way more than Marrieds do. I think much more about food although that may partly be chastity training and partly sublimation, not just it being an ordinary part of ordinary life now. But, aw gee, I cannot imagine anything worse than going to a Theology of the Body talk with B.A. How boring and uncomfortable and how painful to watch the poor Singles in increasing anguish. Blah!

Actually, I did go to one when I was Single, and I was very impressed by the speaker, who was a youngish married guy. (Incidentally, I never listen to anything virgins say about sex. I will read the great intellectual saints on the topic, but that's it from my ontological superiors. Virgins should ask questions and voice fears about sex, not give speeches and advice. On coping with chaste celibacy, okay. It would be fantastic if every virgin priest got up in the pulpit and explained to the whole congregation how he copes with sexual temptation. The churches would be packed.) Anyway, someone asked the Young Married Guy, who had spent at least an hour showing us there was more to Catholic sexuality than "How Far Can You Go?", was asked "So how far can you go?" And he said, blushing to his hairline, that as crazy as it sounded, he honestly thought dating people shouldn't do more than kiss each other on the cheek or give each other a nice hug.

What?! No making out? Oh, the outrage. But for some years I have seen that he is right. Not only did a pope rule that making out before marriage was a sin--and who am I to contradict Alexander VII, eh?--but it quite obviously leads to ... other stuff. Yes, I know it is one of the most fun things in the world. I know that. Knocking back shots of cherry vodka like there's no tomorrow is fun too. I can think of many super-fun things that seem like good and harmless ideas at the time but are actually occasions for sin, if not actually sins themselves. I think I can manage three shots of vodka over an hour without getting drunk, and I think kissing handsome young men on both cheeks is okay, especially if I say "MWAH MWAH" at the same time. But that's it for the vodka and the handsome young men. C'est la vie.

"But you're married," you all say, and I say, "Ha! You just wait until you're married." And indeed, my little poppets, one of the reasons why you have to discipline yourselves to chastity now is because you may need it later,when you are terribly irritated with your husband's bad habits and you become great pals with that funny new guy at work/your golf instructor/your brother-in-law.

But it really is easier for Married people to stay chaste than for Single people to stay chaste because almost all the world still thinks that adultery is wicked, even though a good chunk of it thinks that serial monogamy (or consensual polygamy) is great for the unmarried. The fallout from adultery is a lot more obvious that the fallout from ordinary Single person fornication, unless you live with your parents and they walk in on you. Oh. My.

How glad I am I will not be blogging about this any more. I feel that I need to write a list now.

How to Be Chaste (a List)

1. Always remember that no man can touch you if he is three feet away. The secret of our relatively chaste engagement is that B.A. and I lived three thousand, three hundred and seventeen miles apart.

2. Remind yourself constantly that you are dedicated to a life of chastity. Get a single bed. Hang a cross or crucifix over it. Say your prayers. Read yourself something non-sexy until you feel yourself drifting off to sleep. Do not treat yourself to a sexual fantasy. If you do, you have to go to Confession and tell a priest about it. Sucks to be you.

3. Various saints have written that there is a connection between fasting and chastity. Worth a shot, but don't starve yourselves. Feeling hungry between normal breakfast and normal lunch and between normal lunch and normal dinner is probably enough. Maybe the idea is to get used to saying "No" to your whiny body when it wants something it shouldn't have yet.

4. Various confessors have recommended vigorous sports. Maybe this is because exercise tires you out and helps you fall asleep that night. Maybe it is a salutary reminder of what your body is for. Maybe, like fasting, it trains you to say "No" to your body when it whines "This is hard. I wanna quit."

5. Be humble and honest with yourself. You are probably a sexual sinner. Your sins are probably mild. They are probably mostly things you thought up while you were in a boring lecture or were whiling away the time between going to bed and going to sleep. Maybe you got a thrill from reading that trashy book or watching that sex scene. I'm not throwing stones here. I'm just reminding you that you are a human being and without God's grace you are not stronger than the tsunami of sexual desire that has carried away so many of your formerly devout Catholic friends and relations. John Paul's Theology of the Body is really beautiful, but John Paul never snuggled on the couch in front of the TV late at night with an attractive member of the opposite sex, did he? He was ordained before there was TV.

6. Don't read sexy books or watch sexy TV shows or sexy movies or play sexy video games (I imagine there are sexy video games) or look at porn or write erotic stories or have erotic conversations over the internet. Otherwise you will drive yourself crazy. You may even develop a porn addiction, and this will almost certainly blight your life.

7. If you find yourself going about with an attractive man, have a chastity mantra. "Don't touch the hottie" worked for me for a whole week and a half, and then B.A. grabbed me. (My subsequent post-kissing thought was "You better want to marry me, or I am going to be REALLY MAD.")

8. If you practise making The Speech, imagine that you are making The Speech to someone you are crazy about. I realize that when we imagine making The Speech, it's to some slimy, ugly, arrogant dude. However, when we actually do make The Speech, it's more likely to be to someone we actually would want to sleep with, were we married to them. Oh, and don't feel GUILTY! He should feel guilty for putting you in a position where you have to make The Speech. And the only correct response to The Speech is, "I respect that." If he doesn't call afterwards, he has ceased wasting your time. No big loss.

9. Despite Alexander VII, I do not think it is such a big deal if people who are actually engaged, which means that there is an actual engagement ring and an actual wedding date and his mother actually knows about it, make out. If accidents happen (oops), you're getting married anyway. You'll probably feel bad, and you'll have to go to confession, but otherwise, whatever. Not my business. I don't really care. The affianced are not my bag, baby. (Update: I'm sorry my tone scandalized some folk. The affianced should consult the Catechism--see 2350--and their confessors on such matters.)

10. This reminds me: if you "made a mistake", a phrase many readers use to mean "had sex", that is between you and God. Go to confession, and as part of your penance, you must not tell anyone else except (if applicable) your doctor, your fiance or--it just occurs to me--anyone else you're going to "make a mistake" with before you make the mistake again. Diseases are rife, and your fiance (or future male concubine) has a right to informed consent. "I'm not a virgin, but I have no diseases" is probably enough information. I suppose a Christian fiancé will want to hear "and I'm sorry about that" between "I'm not a virgin" and "but I have no diseases."

This is one of the most controversial things I blog on. One of my ethics profs once said is that that Church can never tell people how to sin more safely. I'm not interested in that myself. But I can tell you that most of the time, you must shut your mouth about your sexual sins and not try to get relief or a feeling of forgiveness by telling multiple people--especially men--about them. Tell a confessor, a therapist and/or a doctor instead. The only other person who deserves such information is the person who has elected to go to bed with you at some point in the future. Hopefully that is your fiancé. And do not give details. Do not admit to numbers. He might say he wants to know, but actually he doesn't. He wants to think he is the best and most important man in your life in EVERY WAY. Never underestimate men's feelings of competition with other men. It's not about control. It's about losing face. And jealousy, naturally.

11. Don't brag that you're a virgin. Pride goeth before a fall, and virgins who like to go around telling people they are virgins are at risk of virgin-hunters. Young virgins usually know very little about sexual dynamics; clever non-virgins often do. Stay under the radar of the wicked, and refuse to discuss something so personal with anyone other than your doctor or, if you get engaged, your fiancé.

If you're Catholic, your Catholic friends will assume you're a virgin anyway. Your non-Catholic friends will probably assume you're not. Whatever. It is so not anybody's business but your own (and anyone you go to bed with). Incidentally, St. Augustine ruled that you can't lose your spiritual virginity without an act of will. So if you've never consented to sex, you're a spiritual virgin, no matter has been done to you. If you're also a physical virgin, it's because nobody messed with you when you were a kid. Or a teenager. Or yesterday. This should be a sobering thought.

My first husband was obsessed with me because I was a virgin. If I hadn't been one, he would have left me alone. Fact. "I would have pitied you," he said, with all the arrogance of youth. I should NEVER have told him at all in the first place.

Yeah, some scars never heal. On the bright side, here I am happily married to B.A. and living in the Historical House.

12. Try to see chastity within the context of other virtues, like prudence, temperance and fortitude. For example, you probably have other physical disciplines you stick to in the face of temptation. If you are a vegan or celiac, you are very careful about what you eat, and good for you. If you are a non-drinking alcoholic, you avoid drinking and occasions for drink. If you are a runner, you run no matter what the weather and you put up with a lot of discomfort. If you are a boxer, you train and fight. You might even face fear, and win. (For me the most important fight was won when I climbed over the ropes.)

Well, I hope all that was helpful.


Anna said...

Codeine, codeine, you're the nicest thing I've seen.

Seraphic said...

For awhile! For awhile!

Anonymous said...

Spot on.

Aussie girl in NZ

JLH said...

This is all wonderful stuff Seraphic. Thank you so much.

Julia said...

This makes me SO GLAD that I don't date.

I mostly agree with this post, except I am more extreme than you are.

For example, #9. Okay, so how many people get engaged with the ring, the date and mother notification, but the wedding date is many months (or even a year!) away? If these people "make out", it's only a matter of time before sex happens, married or not.

And I don't share your view that it's, like, so totally no big deal if an engaged couple "makes a mistake". Extramarital sex is a mortal sin. It is a Big Deal. I can't see why you're implying that it's okay for people to put themselves in quite serious danger of committing a mortal sin (not to mention the sin of making out in itself) because oh well, you can just go to Confession. Isn't assuming that God will forgive you a sin too?

The whole "we're getting married anyway" thing is a classic line used by engaged people who want to justify extramarital sex. Engagements break up. Perhaps they are not just "getting married anyway". Engaged people are no more married than non-dating me.

I don't mean to beat up on you, but I really do very strongly disagree with the idea that it's okay for there to be a kinda sorta different standard of behaviour for the engaged versus the non-engaged. I know that's not quite what you're saying, but that is the distinct impression you've given.

Also, why not pay attention to non-saint virgins who talk about sex (e.g. various Popes and priests etc.) Ruling out someone's opinion because s/he is a virgin sounds a bit like the whole thing where people complain and huff about "the celibate men in Rome" who say they can't use contraception ("How dare they? THEY aren't married.")

Again, so glad I'm not dating. After reading all this, I may never date.

Seraphic said...

I know perfectly well that premarital sex is a serious sin but it is probably less of one between two people who are 100% committed to marrying next Tuesday. I'm not telling anyone to make out. I'm just observing that the fallout is less for the authentically (church booked) engaged. If an engaged couple weren't struggling with chastity, I'd be a tad worried about it.

Priests can talk about chastity all they like. But as for sex... No.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and making out does not NECESSARILY lead to the marital act. I know lots of couples who didn't go the distance before they married, but I know only one who have publicly said they never made out before they married.

Seraphic said...

I hate talking about chastity. It's so fraught, and usually so obsessed with acts instead of love, respect, affection and intentions.

Kate P said...

This reminds me how much I will miss "Straight Talk from Auntie Seraphic" (sniffle!). Thanks for taking the time to write all this.

Used to be that an engagement was a promise, Julia--not to mention that short engagements also were encouraged. Nowadays, not so much, but it has been quite a bit run over by secularism. (I still don't understand when they say people "wrote their own vows" but all I hear is a list of things they like about the other person--is there a vow in there?) But still--promises used to mean something.

Seraphic said...

I oppose long engagements. I think they are occasions for sin and cause needless suffering.

Anonymous said...

Dear Seraphic

I've been a longterm reader of your blog for a couple of years now. I'm gay and Catholic. All that needs to be said as a result of that of that is that when I first came across your blog (randomly) I enjoyed it as a great resource.

I don't agree with everything you write about (for example. Scottish Independence, being a Scotsman myself and a pro-Independence one at that. {also Cradle Catholic at that, lest you suspect and use me as ammunition in your blog)

This said, I reiterate - thanks you for writing your blog, and for providing such a great resource for Catholicssingle folk and letting us know that it is possible to fulfil a family life and have a good influence on children. I have read some of your post on the topic of fertility and I can say that that you are in my prayers on that matter. If you feel you can, pray for me in return, and if you feel you can, pray for the Christians (and Yezidis) of the Middle East. With Respect


Julia said...

"I know perfectly well that premarital sex is a serious sin but it is probably less of one between two people who are 100% committed to marrying next Tuesday."

Why is it less of a sin? Why would it be more wrong to have a one nighter than to sleep with a fiancé? More stupid, certainly. Less understandable, for sure. But premarital sex is premarital sex. It's black and white. At least according to the Catechism. "Less fallout" does not equal "less bad".

Anonymous said...

Standards of behaviour are certainly different for engaged couples than for non-engaged couples.
There are certain topics of conversation that are imprudent to discuss while dating but really should be brought up during engagement. You start to make decisions together. You spend more time alone and yes, you do tend to let your guard down with physical boundaries a little more.
This is why long engagements are not prudent, as Aunty Seraphic has often said.

Aussie girl in NZ

healthily sanguine said...

The morality of an act is partially determined by its circumstances. The circumstances of showing that kind of affection, leading to and even including the marital act, when you are just casually dating or have only gone on one date, are objectively much less in keeping with what you are doing than when you are engaged to be married. In other words, when you have sex with someone you're not married to and don't have any intention of being married to, as JPII would say, you are treating them as an object for use and being untruthful in your actions. When you are engaged, it would still be treating the person as an object for use in large part, because you are putting his soul at risk, but the aspect of untruthfulness would not be present--as you intend to marry the person in the near future.

That said, there's a certain levity in point #9 that is not exactly appropriate. I wouldn't treat any matter for confession as an "oops" or "whatever" situation. Confession is serious business.

healthily sanguine said...

Also, give us Singles a little credit! Not all of us think of sex more often than married people do. Sheesh, I'm busy living my life, trying to make it to daily Mass, do my job, chat with my roommate, etc. You make it sound like single people are in some kind of fantasy land that ends when you get married--not all of us have our heads in the clouds all the time. :) Sorry, just feeling contrary . . . all the advice about not making out is spot on, I'm sure.

Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

The levity was me backing away from the private lives of engaged couples. Engagement (if authentic) is a weird kind of borderland in which couples deal with the transformation of their lives and families, often under an intense pressure and a lot of nosey-parkering. My major concern has always been for Singles at risk of sexual exploitation and humiliation.

Sheila said...

I'd add another tip: if you do fall off the wagon, whether in a small way or a big way, just get right back on. Right away. Today. Not after you go to confession on Saturday (though of course you should) ... now. Pretend it never even happened.

Because the alternative is to say, "Well my rule was no kissing, and I kissed him, and that means I am a terrible sinner, and that means I may as well just go the distance because I'm already fallen." Or conversely, "See, we are so horribly tempting to each other that we should break up at once or we'll send each other straight to hell." I don't know why these thoughts sound so rational at moments like that, but they do for some reason. And they're liars. The reality is, if you go further than you meant to, you are like every other person who ever attempted to overcome your natural inclinations. You're like a dieter who ate cake or a weightlifter who last week skipped the gym. It's not good, but it's not the end of the world. And it doesn't mean you are ever going to do it again.

On the one hand, I feel we ought to take chastity very seriously, because unchastity can have very serious effects (ranging from babies to heartbreak to hell). On the other, I think it would be good not to take it TOO seriously .... because the fact that you are tempted to have sex makes you a normal human being, and so does the fact that you sometimes give in to your temptations.

Just make some standards for yourself and stick to them. Make it something you are doing YOURSELF, rather than something you expect your significant other to help you with. Of course they should help you with this, but you can't let their momentary weakness be your failure. And then just ... let it go. Abide by your rules, and every time you slip up even a little, jump right on the wagon and try to forget about it. Like every hard thing, you get better at it with practice.

Anonymous said...

Spot on! Have you ever thought about writing a chastity series for teenagers/young adults? You have a unique perspective on this that needs to be heard more. As a youth minister (who works in particular with a lot of at-risk youth), it's my job to talk to teens about chastity (or bring in someone to do it). All the materials out there fall short in the ways you've described, but unless I'm going to write a curriculum myself (which I don't have time to do) I'm forced to use what I've got. Which gives me the choice between graphic, secular materials that basically try to scare you out of "having sex" and Catholic materials that fall into all the pitfalls you've mentioned here. A curriculum (preferably one with a parent compenent) would be so great!

Tiny Therese said...

Anonymous, have you looked into The Theology of the Body for Teens curriculum that Jason Evert co-wrote?There's a curriculum for middle schoolers and high schoolers. There's a Parents Guide too.

He and his wife give an amazing talk on chastity that doesn't involve fear tactics or shame.

Seraphic said...

Well, I really do not like talking about chastity, for several reasons. It's such a personal topic, and one of the biggest sexual problems today is that everyone TALKS about it so much. And talking about chastity can become (and often is) a sub-set of talking about sex.

If I were to do it, it would be within the context of justice, prudence and humility. I would talk about why kissing is a big deal, actually, but how premarital sex does not actually ruin your life or your worth (although can make you sick, get you pregnant, make you fixate on Mr Wrong ), and that it can be compounded as a sin by various other sins like imprudence, deceit, foolhardiness, seduction, sacrilege--you name it. It does not occur to some NCGs that a drunken one night stand with a near-stranger just because he's so hot and she's on holiday and feeling so free it's, like, crazy, is actually WORSE than an engaged couple losing their heads two months before the wedding ceremony. It is NOT all the same. For one thing, if the engaged girl gets pregnant, the baby will be born to two loving parents.

The engaged couple who fall need to go to confession, of course, sincerely repent that they did what God asked them not to do, and perhaps review their attitude towards the role Christian morality will play in their marriage. The partying girl needs to go to confession and get it into her head that men are not her playthings, and that you can't go on holiday from the laws of God, and that the issue is not just her purity but how she respects the purity and integrity of OTHERS.

A very long comment from someone who hates talking about chastity. But honestly I want to get the conversation away from self-worth, or body as bank account that loses value every time a woman has sex, and start talking about justice.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is why someone needs to write a new series! Maybe a virtue series which includes chastity but doesn't focus exclusively on it. Chasitity is a virtue in the context of other virtues, virtues which help one guard their purity without an excessive focus on it.

Yes, I have seen the Everts series, and I must say it is the best, and will probably be what I go with in the end. However, I do have a few objections to it one being the fact that Crystalina/Jason very much seem to buy into the chastity=self-worth equation. (Crystalina talks about how she did not practice chastity for example and how Jason did. The implication in the way this is discussed, seems to be that this, in and of itself, made Jason bettr than her. To me it seems like that is a good way to set people up for thinking that acts against chastity are therefore worse than any other sin (not true in my opinion) and that somehow marriage between a virgin and a non-virgin means that somehow the virgin is the one being "merciful" and they are not starting out the marriage on an equal footing. I am sure this is not how the Everts see their marriage, but the way they describe this made me feel that it could be taken that way).

Definitely a lot better than my other options, but I still think a new series with a new perspective, is in order!