Sex Is A Good Thing


Photo by Sheep”R”Us, via Flickr

Whenever somebody talks about sex, ears perk up and strong reactions—both positive and negative—ensue.

For a long time, I saw that as a sign that there was something fundamentally wrong with humanity, something inherently sinful. But I’ve come to realize that I had it backwards. We have this reaction because there is something fundamentally right with us. No matter what hangups, dysfunctions and sexual wounds get piled upon us over the course of life, something at our core still recognizes sex and sexuality as the ultimate expression of our identity as human beings; it is the thing we hold closest to ourselves and the gift we take the most care in sharing.

This shift in understanding has come to me courtesy of Theology of the Body.

I was asked by Sarah Reinhard, an author friend, to share the impact TOB has had in my world. That turns out to be a harder question to answer than I thought, because it’s an ongoing process. TOB first opened up my mind to the interconnectivity of all subjects—the fact that everything we do, all our reactions, all our thought processes, are based upon a foundation of our identity as man and woman. More recently, TOB, and the ongoing will he-won’t he discussions about Pope Francis and birth control—have caused me to take a step back and try to see the issues surrounding sex with mercy as well as passion.

Blog CK2But in practical terms, the most obvious impact has been in my marriage. I entered marriage with some pretty enormous hangups about sex. There were personal struggles to reconcile belief and experience, which I’d always been too afraid to bring into the open and thus they became monsters in my head. There was the fact that I was highly physically developed and extremely socially underdeveloped, and the resulting encounters with boys over the course of childhood and adolescence left me some pretty good-sized emotional scars. There was guilt for things I had done and knew I shouldn’t have.

And then a couple of years into marriage, of course, infertility piled a whole lot more dysfunction onto the fire. Your brain automatically labels infertility as a punishment, even though you know better.

So it was the Theology of the Body that began to help me put out fires, toss rubble away, and find at the core of my soul a healthier, more enjoyable and joy-filled approach to intimacy. This process is far from over, but I am in so much better a place now than I was then.

A few other posts I’ve written that show the impact TOB has had on my total world view:

Sexuality for a New World

A Christian Mom Talks Sex Ed

Sex, Love, And Women’s Fiction

Chores, Sex, and Marriage

Sex Always Has Consequences

What It’s Like To Practice Natural Family Planning

Why Do Women Do It? Vanity Fair’s Article on The Hookup Culture


Photo by origamidon, via Flickr

This article, “Tinder And the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse,” was shared on my Facebook feed last night. I’ve heard about the hookup culture, but this lengthy and detailed look at it was truly nauseating. I’m going to let it speak for itself today and offer the combox for thoughts and discussion, if others feel so inclined. I only ask this: if this is how young women experience sex, why are they going for the hookup culture? If what is laid out in this article is the common experience, women are getting neither physical nor emotional fulfillment out of this. They are hurling themselves onto the altar of objectification and getting absolutely nothing from it. Why?

Consent is NOT Sexy


Photo by ctrouper, via Flickr

“Consent Is Sexy.”

That’s what the t shirt said. And clearly, the woman wearing thought it was a good slogan.

I do not.

First of all, I have to preface my comments by saying: I get it. The state of relations between men and women sucks. The way we talk to each other sucks. The way we talk about each other sucks. The humor about sex and relationships sucks. The idea that women even have to worry about being violated? Sucks.

But really? “Consent is sexy”? That’s the standard we’re shooting for? As long as they get permission, that’s enough?

Just how low are we going to set the bar?

There’s a truism about expectations. I’ve mostly heard it in the context of education: that people will live up to your expectations, or down to them. If that t shirt is any indicator, the bar we’ve set for how we expect to be treated is so low, it might as well not exist. As long as a guy doesn’t rape us, we’ll flatter their ego and call them sexy.


On the scale of sexual attractiveness, consent doesn’t even register. Consent is a prerequisite for claiming to be a man. If we women, in the name of sexual liberation, have chosen to fling ourselves at the feet of men for nothing more than “consent,” then we have brought ourselves very, very low indeed.

Consider this:

Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there’s one in perception, too. While the men’s female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women’s male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time. (From WebMD)

So not only do the men get more out of sex, they’re also clueless about how little their partners get out of it.

And this is okay because…?

If a man wants to claim the moniker “sexy,” he needs to do way, way more than just ask permission. I realize this is a radical concept in the modern world, but sex is the capstone of a relationship, not an audition for it. Relationships between men and women have always been troubled because we’ve failed to make the effort to understand and respect each other for what makes us different from each other. But in the modern world we’ve taken it to a whole new level by making sex the end-all-be-all of existence.

And if WebMD is right, women haven’t gotten much out of the deal. Why are we so concerned about our God-given right to have sex with as many people as possible? What are we getting out of it? Has no one else ever stopped to ask this question?

Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

I can’t say for sure, but I think that means women say they recognize that sex is the capstone, not the audition, but their behavior says they’re willing to let men dictate the terms of the relationship.

So much for women’s liberation.

Down deep, I don’t think any woman really thinks this is okay. The focus on romance in fiction aimed at women indicates that we are all seeking authenticity, understanding, and dare I say it, something holy in a romantic relationship. Or perhaps a better word would be transcendence: something in our partner that gives us a glimpse of a reality beyond what we ever thought was possible.

To my fellow mothers–and fathers, too–I say this: we are the ones who form the next generation of men to view women with respect…or not. And too often we shirk our responsibility to point out what is wrong in the world, simply because it’s awkward. We’re so uncomfortable with our own brokenness where sexual matters are concerned, we feel unable to address the subject with our children.

But we have to get over it. We have to confront the ugliness within, look for healing within ourselves, and summon the courage to tell our children–beginning at a very young age–how the world is supposed to look.

Because they deserve better. And so do we.


Birth Control Really Isn’t Health Care In The First Place


It is no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am a not a fan of birth control.  I think it’s unconscionable that women have been expected to suppress or perhaps even damage a healthy, normal part of who they are in the interest of unrestricted sex. Contraception has led to an expectation that women must be sexually available at all times. And it has facilitated relational dysfunctions like the hookup culture, which could not possibly exist without it.

I don’t normally comment on things political, but given this passion, I do want to make one observation in the wake of the supreme court decision earlier this week.

Birth control occupies an unusual, perhaps even unique, place in medicine. The purpose of medicine is to fix what is wrong with a human body, and birth control does not fix a woman’s health. In fact, it inhibits the normal, healthy function of her body. I am hard pressed to think of any other comparable situation in medicine (aside from vasectomy, which is part of the same topic).

Yes, the pill is slapped like a band-aid on any number of conditions, and I’m willing to concede that in some cases it can be useful to treat symptoms (although not the conditions underlying them). But birth control as a family planning method–which is what we’re talking about–is not treating a health problem. In fact, you could argue that it’s creating one by shutting down the way the body was designed to work.

For this reason, birth control’s presence in the health care law has always bothered me. I get why birth control must be administered by medical professionals: it’s a pharmaceutical, and where else in the regulatory hierarchy are you going to classify a pharmaceutical? But still–family planning is not health care.

Big Boys, crazy hair, and sex ed (a 7QT post)



We had a friend over for dinner last weekend, and as we were asking her about her studies and her plans for the future, Alex sat across from her shaking his head. “This is why I don’t want to grow up,” he said. “There’s too much work.”


This reminds me of what I always say about my two younger boys. Nicholas is desperate to be a big boy. Michael thinks he IS one.

Michael 2


Michael’s been in speech therapy since the beginning of March, and I don’t know that I’ve talked about it much. We’ve taken the last two weeks off because his therapist was out of town, and Michael took so long to warm up to her–he’s been going through a raging case of secondary separation anxiety–that I didn’t want to set him back by having a sub. She says he works very hard, but it’s really difficult for him to make the various vowel sounds. He does have one very consistent word now–“Ma-ma!”–and a few inconsistent ones–baw (ball), tsoo (juice), meh (milk) and “wa-wa” (water). He also calls every color purple: “poh-poh.” He can point to the right ones, he just calls them all purple. And although he can’t talk, he makes an engine noise, something between “zoom” and “shooo” and “brrrrrr,” to illustrate all his various engine-powered toys.


See, this is why I don’t talk about Michael’s speech therapy. Because lists of words are BOR.ING.

So let’s try something different.

Hair closeup

What in the world is THIS?

Hair closeup 2Oh, it’s just my 9-year-old’s head after he visited the hairspray booth at Julianna’s school festival.

Why yes, in fact his head does still look like he’s on the set of a bad horror flick every time he takes a shower. Thanks for asking.


We have a nest full of baby birds in the bathroom vent for the basement bathroom. They are really noisy. About every three minutes they send up a chorus of chattering that lasts ten seconds, and then stops again. All I can think is that every time something moves outside their vent, they think it’s Mama Bird bringing them juicy worms or whatever they eat. Man, and I thought my bunch never shut up.


Yesterday Michael decided he needed a snack an hour before dinner. He got in the refrigerator, perused the offerings, and brought me….wait for it…

A chocolate syrup bottle and a caramel syrup bottle.


One of the unanticipated benefits of teaching natural family planning classes in our home is the way the information permeates the kids’ environment. I did a series of interviews a couple of years ago with families who were second-generation NFP users. I wanted to know what made the message “take.” I asked them how they went about The Talk, and do you know what they said? “We never did The Talk. It was just in the air.”

The more I think about it the more convinced I am of the wisdom of this. The Talk is a big, threatening thing, and it compartmentalizes a topic that should not be compartmentalized. If we are going to live our lives through the lens of our sexuality, then we can’t treat it like it’s a one-and-done lesson. It has to be part of everything we do.

I spy NFP charts on the TV screen on a Sunday afternoon...

I spy NFP charts on the TV screen on a Sunday afternoon…

Clearly we’re on that path. Crossing my fingers that it works as well for us as it did for the people I interviewed.

Fastest-written 7 quick takes ever! Go me!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about hanging out with The Glitch Mob, a new meaning for #SOTG, and that terrible moment when you get cilantro bath soap and nobody cares

Child Abuse, Part 2: Personal Defense


SEX ED (Photo credit: 707d3k)

A commenter once took issue with a post I wrote about parents’ responsibility to arm their children against the threat of child abuse by teaching children about their dignity as human beings, and in particular the dignity of the human body. This person took issue with the idea that such concepts can provide any protection against predators. I’d like to address that as a starting point today.

Realistically, there is no foolproof way to protect our children from any of the dangers they may face. But to me it seems self-evident that whatever defenses we can arm them with are wise investments. I do believe that young women and men who truly understand their value and dignity as human beings are more likely to be capable of protest when they are pressured, either by peers or by authority figures, to do things that violate that dignity. It’s no guarantee, but it’s another tool in the arsenal.

I used to believe young children should be shielded from all references to sexuality, because it would sully their innocence. But this implies that sexuality is a) not innocent, and b) something separate from personhood, when the truth is that the two are braided together so tightly that separating them leads to dysfunction.

I am now convinced that lessons about sexuality cannot be imparted in a single conversation upon the onset of puberty, but must, MUST be introduced a bit at a time. You don’t dump Pi r squared on a student without laying the foundations first; they’ll never, ever understand it. They might be able to plug in numbers to a formula, but they won’t understand. The same is true of sexuality. A child’s psyche isn’t prepared to deal with so much earthy, bodily frankness if it’s never been introduced before.

So in our family we start in early childhood by laying foundations.

1. The key concept is this: the body is holy because it is the dwelling place of God. God lives in the soul, and the soul is housed in the body. Our bodies were given to us in order to make the world a better place. A place that looks more like what God’s vision for it.

2. Because of this, we take care of our bodies. We don’t play with them as if they’re toys, and certain parts of us are not meant to be touched by anyone other than a parent or perhaps a doctor in an examination, and beyond a certain age, not even by a parent. We care for our bodies by keeping them clean, well-nourished (healthy eating and exercise are part of this lesson) and well rested.

3. We call body parts by their proper names. Euphemisms and slang imply that there’s something that needs to be hidden because it’s bad to talk about. The kids are comfortable with words like breast and penis and labia and scrotum. (More comfortable than we are, to be honest.)

Once these foundational concepts are worked into life, it’s not such a stretch to talk about where babies come from. God puts the baby in the mommy’s tummy, but you know the child is going to ask how. It would be easy to punt and say something lame and evasive, but I think that’s shortsighted. Kids need to understand that something holy and miraculous happens in the sexual act, and that they have a part to play–that their choices and their dignity are relevant.

So I tell the kids that mommies and daddies have a special hug they give each other, and sometimes when they do, God takes something from the mommy and something from the daddy and makes it into a baby that grows inside the mommy.

Alex has probed further, and I have had to say, “You don’t need to know that yet.” I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s story about the suitcase a lot.

Now, when we need to address abuse by authority figures or even something Alex sees in the movies that doesn’t add up, we aren’t constructing elaborate evasions in a misguided attempt to preserve his innocence. This weekend we were watching Superman Returns and Alex, puzzled by the complicated relationship between Lois, Superman and Richard, and how that boy could be Superman’s kid, asked, “So…are they married?”

“Alex,” I said, “the thing you have to understand is that the special hug is meant to be given by people who are married to each other, because that special hug makes babies, and every baby has a right to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad who are married to each other. But the hug can be done by people who aren’t married. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, but sometimes people do.”

What I’m trying to get at is that the issues of sexuality are all tied together. You can’t just address child abuse in a vacuum. Because then, yes, it does destroy a child’s innocence. But if you give them a vision of their own dignity as human beings, that facilitates those other, more difficult, conversations. It gives them one more ring of defense in case, God forbid, they do face a situation you can’t protect them from. And in the long run, it should help them live an integrated, holistic life, too. This is my theory. I’m the first to admit it’s unproven, but it’s in the testing phase, and so far the indications look good.

Child Abuse in the Church: A Parent’s Response, Part 1

Rhodes - What light through yonder window .....

Rhodes – What light through yonder window ….. (Photo credit: BR0WSER)

When I was twelve years old, a teenage kid working the ticket booth at the movie theater told me I could pass for seventeen. I developed early and I had the curves to attract attention. But although I may have looked older than some of my peers, emotionally I was far behind them. I was sheltered and dreamy and utterly naive. I was in a dangerous place, but I didn’t know it. I could have become a target for anyone with a twisted sense of morality, or just a raging case of hormones.

Fortunately for me, I had protective parents. The distance between their farm and the town didn’t hurt, either.

Not all kids are so lucky. During the thick of the sex abuse scandal in the Church, I was working as a liturgy director. As one who worked closely with schoolchildren, I went through the training that was put into place in our diocese. Volunteers, staff–everyone has to take it. We use Protecting God’s Children, or Virtus. I went to a two-hour training session, and every week thereafter I was expected to read a lesson that came via email, along with a test question at the end. They tracked compliance.

Most of the time (I’ll be honest) I was impatient with it, because the lesson imparted was common sense. But now I think maybe that’s the point. If we take time to think about issues related to the safety of our children, most of it is common sense. The trouble comes when we get distracted or complacent and aren’t aware. The point of the training is awareness.

In the long run, the most important thing the Virtus training did for me was to sensitize me to the issue. The fact is that if there is a pedophile around, he (or she) will find a way to subvert the procedures put into place to protect our children. That means the impetus is on me as a parent to teach my children about their inherent dignity as a human being, especially where matters of sexuality are concerned, in such a way that they recognize threats to that dignity, and have the confidence and courage to respond.

The lessons of sex I learned as a child dealt with the danger of premarital sex and the value of chastity, but I don’t remember really learning why. Maybe this is because I was a rule follower, so if you told me to do something, that was all I needed; any other information given might well have gone in the “useless information” file.

In adulthood, though, outing the damage and dysfunction caused by obsession with unrestricted, no-strings-attached sex has become my passion. When even Catholics resist making the connections between the dysfunction in the culture and the birth control they depend on, I’m very aware that my kids are besieged. They’re not going to get a holistic vision of the human person unless I give it to them. And they’ve got to have the whole picture; they’ve got to know why, or there’s no chance that they’re going to resist a cultural paradigm that pushes so hard in the opposite direction.

Until recently I always thought of this in terms of peer relationships–hookup culture, pre-marital sex, etc.–but recently I realized that the lesson is just as important in helping prevent abuse by authority. Because when you know the incredible dignity of this body you inhabit, you are much less likely to allow someone else to do something to damage that dignity.

I planned to write a single post on this topic. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and, unable to sleep, pounded out almost 1200 words on it. In the light of day, fleshing it out, I’m about halfway through it. So I’m going to hit “pause” for today and beg you to come back tomorrow, when I’ll talk about what we are doing with our kids.

In the meantime I’d like to know what your dioceses and/or parishes are doing to guard their young from predators. If you can, please leave comments here rather than on Facebook (even if you do so anonymously), so that everyone can see.

Part 2 is here.