Sustainable Sex

Painting by Edward Burne-Jones: Love Among The Ruins (1894)

Edward Burne-Jones: Love Among The Ruins (1894)

The Editors are pleased to bring you this guest post from Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic. The subject matter necessitates a more explicit treatment than our usual PG-rated content.

***

Our culture is sexually schizophrenic.

On the one hand, it has become acceptable to purchase torture porn at Barnes & Noble. On the other, as the Daily Mail reports, “around one per cent of the world’s population [approximately 70 million people] are ‘asexuals’ who feel no sexual attraction at all,” a growing group seeking recognition as the fourth sexual orientation.

On the one hand, anal sex is more popular than ever, sex shops are reporting massive increases in the sale of nipple clamps, and the average age a boy is exposed to hardcore pornography is 14, all to which we applaud: Sexy stuff indeed. But on the other — as a 2011 article published in Psychology Today concluded — the use of internet pornography has created a generation of men who cannot be aroused by their actual, real life partners, and that “many are becoming convinced that [erectile dysfunction] at twenty-something is normal.” Not so sexy.

We talk more and more about the marvelous act of coitus, and we’re happily exposed to every arousing portion of the human body that can be used to sell us beer, cars, and deodorant — yet sex itself seems to be less and less fun. Only 64 percent of women report having an orgasm in their last sexual encounter (despite 85 percent of men thinking their partner had an orgasm), and in a recent survey, it was shown that 63 percent of married women would rather “do something else” than have sex with their husbands — watching a movie being the most popular alternative.

All in all, we cannot make up our minds between getting our freak on and collapsing into an armchair, bored and dissatisfied.

There is a parallel we might draw with this phenomenon of both inaction and action, of the simultaneous whittling of sex into an boring, unimportant non-thing and the hyping up of sex into an ultra-eroticized idol: Death.

In their death throes, humans fade into nothingness while flailing in fits of energy. At the end of all action, there is a panic of action. This saddens me to no end, for sex is awesome, beautiful, unifying, and life-giving, and yet we see mirrored in our sexual culture what we see in death — grotesque action on the way to final inaction. Is sex dying?

Read an interview by The Guardian entitled “Why sex could be history,” and you’ll find that the answer — for some — is a happy affirmative. Here author Aarathi Prasad points out that science has made it possible to divorce sex from reproduction, and that we should no longer view the two as intertwined. Sex is no longer strictly necessary to human beings.

Or look at the general “Christian” response to the sexual culture, incarnated in abstinence-education programs: Sex is dirty thing, a dangerous thing, an evil thing. Perhaps this is not intention of those running such programs, but it is another affirmative response to the death of sex.

If we are witnessing the cultural death of sex, I — for one — am unsurprised. Farming unsustainably kills the land. Running a business with unsustainable resources kills the business. Sustainability is the capacity to endure, and our current sexual culture is unsustainable.

Pornography and subsequent masturbation have set an impossibly high standard for women. Men have seen hundreds of fake-breasted, airbrushed, aroused-to-the-point-of-myocardial-infarction pixels, all contorted into positions that would make an Olympic gymnast proud — before they have lain with an actual, warm-blooded woman. As Naomi Wolf noted in her article “The Porn Myth”:

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.

Worse, the practice of masturbation releases oxytocin into the male system, a chemical that facilitates human bonding, increases in trust, and decreases in fear. All the joy, comfort and unity that sex brings are being sold to pornography, and a psychological attachment is made — not to a woman — but to a screen. It’s no wonder that we’re witnessing a generation of men addicted to pixels but unable to perform with an actual person. Our current sexual culture is fed by pornography (which it seems to be, given that approximately 70 percent of men ages 18-24 regularly visit porn sites), which supplies us with demands of sex that cannot be met in reality. It is unsustainable.

As is our contraceptive mentality. We’ve made our sex depend on contraception, but contraception cannot provide. Contraception offers us freedom from unwanted pregnancy, but despite the near universal use of contraception, one out of every two American pregnancies are unplanned, and two thirds of unplanned pregnancies — representing about two million annual pregnancies — are unwanted. Sixty percent of abortions are performed on women who were using contraception at the time they conceived a child. Contraception offers us protection against STDs, but again, despite universal access, 1 in 4 Americans will contract an STD in their lifetime, and it won’t be the penicillin-treatable gonorrhea or syphilis that our Land Before Condoms enjoyed. It’ll be one of approximately twenty-five unique and exciting STDs that exploded out of the sexual revolution — most likely incurable.

Whether this failure could be turned around by even more education and access to contraception is doubtful, but ultimately not the point. Our contraceptive mentality is currently unsustainable, for it claims as its own a goal it does not meet: Consequence-free sex.

Unsustainability leads to death, and death is characterized by a paradoxical meeting of grotesque action on its way to final inaction. We can see the unsustainability. Whether we are desperately crying for increased comprehensive sex education and access to birth control, or just as desperately for the return of sacredness to the act of sex, we are united in desperation, united over the fact that the sexual culture is not as it should be. We can see the grotesque action, whether in the hundreds of thousands of child pornography sites accessed daily or the sudden chic of torture porn. And we can see the final inaction, the paling of sex, the sexual dysfunction.

All I’m suggesting is that these things are not unrelated: Our culture is experiencing the untimely death of sex.

But we are not our culture. We, individual human beings, can do whatever we want. We can respectfully give the middle finger to the culture and walk away, in a fashion not unlike a man walking from an exploding building without looking over his shoulder. There is a growing movement of people advocating what I’ll broadly term as “sustainable sex”: Sex that endures. Sex that leads neither to its own destruction, nor the hurt and destruction of those enjoying it. Sex that makes no unrealistic demands of the pornographic variety, nor the unrealistic demand of total freedom from consequence.

Sex that seeks to be healthy, free from the chemicals of contraception that harm the human body and the environment, and avoiding the multiple-partner lifestyle that brings with it the high risk of STDs.

Sex that seeks to be responsible, acknowledging the power of intercourse to create new life, and instead of desperately trying to suppress it — which only works for so long — actually planning a family, using a woman’s natural indicators of fertility to effectively choose when and when not to have children.

It’s an awesome thing, watching more and more people turn to a holistic understanding of sex, to beautiful, life-giving marriages, and to the use of natural methods of family planning. It’s as awesome as it is necessary, this revolution of the heart, for our sexual culture will either embrace sustainability or die.

***

Marc Barnes is the writer of Bad Catholic and the proprietor of 1flesh.org. Our appreciation of his work is entirely unironic, and we liked him before he was cool.

68 thoughts on “Sustainable Sex

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  3. Absolutely genius. And what an incredible image: “…not unlike a man walking from an exploding building without looking over his shoulder.” The images that arise from that are that of the ACTION HERO. Translation: This is what HEROES do. Awesome.

  4. I would argue pornography is a practical filler. The earth is filling up with people and continuing to grow the way we have been is unsustainable. Our species needs to adopt cultural standards of when to procreate and how many children to have. The rhythm method, nicknamed “poke and hope” by the rest of us, is not a reliable system for preventing pregnancy. Pornography may dampen sexual desire, but that’s not a bad thing when we’re talking about reducing birth-rates from very young people. Those of us who’ve been in love know that you end up wanting a person for reasons that go beyond carnal desire and when that occurs, no porn model in the world can compete. Perhaps pornography deters casual sex with random people by offering an easier alternative and then is abandoned when a truly interesting partner is met. That would be the best of both worlds; casual sex is deterred, a truly interesting partner is identified based on emotional attachment [which does not boil down to just oxytocin], and more people make the disciplined choice of when to plan for a family [likely later in life than in their teens, which slows the population growth rate by decreasing the interval between have children and dying].

      • @Nano,

        Perhaps is was my error to assume you knew that Mr. Barnes was alluding to NFP when he mentioned “natural methods of family planning” in his concluding paragraph. I am a regular reader of Bad Catholic, so I knew to what he was referring. If we were talking about the rhythm method, then I would agree that it unreliable. However, NFP is scientifically based and as reliable as hormonal contraceptives.

        It’s not a matter of semantics. NFP and the rhythm method are two different things.

      • I lumped rhythm method in with all NFP methods like many sources do. I looked up the failure rates:

        Failure rates (First six months: LAM
        Per year: symptoms- and calendar-based)
        Perfect use LAM: 0.5%
        Symptoms based: 1–3%
        Calendar based: 5–9%

        Typical use LAM: 2%
        Symptoms based: 2–25%
        Calendar based: 25%

        Vs. The combined oral contraceptive

        Failure rates (first year)
        Perfect use 0.3%
        Typical use 8%

        First thing to notice is that the period the methods are evaluated over are different. NFP is evaluated over the first six months, the pill is evaluated over the first year. Even despite this, it is clear that with perfect use, the pill is more effective. With typical use, if we assume ceteris paribus, over a one year period the typical failure rate for LAM is 4%, half of the typical failure rate for the pill. However, this neglects that symptom and calender based systems of NFP have a failure rate as high as 25% and that often people using oral contraceptives also use condoms have a typical failure rate of 10-18%. Assuming typical failure rate at a maximum for condom used along side contraceptive, that puts the typical at .08*.18= 1.4%.

        This is interesting data, though peripheral to the discussion below.

      • NFP is not the rhythm method. It’s actually called napro techonology. Look it up at a reliable website. It’s very interesting and highly accurate, unlike the rhythm method. just thought I’d clear that up!

        [Editors’ note: The above comment is perhaps unintentionally misleading. Napro is a commercial product based on the principles of NFP, which is not owned or licensed by any company, and has many variants.]

    • “Perhaps pornography deters casual sex with random people by offering an easier alternative and then is abandoned when a truly interesting partner is met”
      This statement might be fine were it not for the addictive nature of pornography. Looking at pornography trains the human person to seek what is most easily obtained and to use others as a means to an end (sexual pleasure). One cannot simply abandon pornography, or the underlying thought patterns associated with it, when the right person comes along. What is more likely is “Mr. or Mrs. Right” showing up and one finding themselves unable to love them wholely.

      • One could say the same things about pornography addiction as they might about alcohol-addiction or sex-addiction, which is that it clearly does not occur with every user. Some people may suffer from porn-addiction and have the problem you describe, but I see no reason our society would want to implement a dogma based on such a group.

        Furthermore, it is much too kind to attribute adults who are incapable of forming emotional bonds to pornography-addiction. Psychology reveals that many of those people have problems forming bonds as a result of their parents or personal tragedy. One might suggest that it is the previously unstable person who is most likely to form a porn-addiction and then you would be attributing their interpersonal problems to porn rather than their underlying instability. Because of these complicating factors, we cannot assume correlation proves causation.

      • I have to wonder whether porn is really, by its very nature addictive as many would imply. I’m no expert, and I’m willing to be proven wrong, but as I understand it addiction is a very specific condition. There are a number of substances that are physically addictive such as nicotine, and many others for which one can easily develop a dependance, but there is a significant difference between the two. People can also become fixated on particular things, which sounds to me (once again not an expert) like the phenomenon which occurs when one feels they must watch pornography. But the same can be said of almost anything; candy, gambling, rock climbing, shopping. Obsessive/compulsive disorder could also be easily confused with addiction under the correct circumstances. Does anyone know of a study that could difinitively conclude this?
        Also, doing anything at all trains the human person. We all develop our bad habits by starting them and not stopping them. When we slouch, we are training our bodies not to have good posture. To say that this happens with pornography is true, but the same can be said of literally everything else you do.

    • Nano, it’s a nice idea but I think it’s absurd. I doubt very much that pornography empowers people to make disciplined choices. Chastity, on the other hand, is very empowering because it ensures the proper rule of the spirit and reason over sense and impulse.

      • I think the argument boils down to this: society wants to control when and how people have sex, but people prefer to rationalize these decisions for themselves. Whether you believe in NFP or birth control, your talking about the same thing; voiding unwanted pregnancy. Their are many studies indicating that birth control can be very biologically beneficial for women’s health, so the talk of it being dangerous is largely moot unless you have a blood pressure issue. Now the church believes that God gave women periods when they weren’t ovulating so that people could have sex without children. That’s an interesting thought, but stoicism suggests we should align our reasoning to nature and in nature, we want sex often after we reach puberty and not at particular inter-voles of the month. Were we aligning ourselves with nature, most of us would have children between 12-18. Clearly, neither side is suggesting this.

        That was the female part of the equation, but as for males, it becomes a question of outlet. Men are capable and ready to have children at about 13, but society suggests they should not until 23. That’s ten years. In addition to this constraint, society suggests that they should not, preferably, have more than one partner in their lifetime and that they shouldn’t have sex with that partner until they marry at 20-28. Discipline and chastity are great ideas, but we are constantly surrounded by each other. It’s easy to keep your mind off of sex when you only run into women at a market every six months, but most of us are surrounded by women most of the waking day. It’s observed in nature that sexual arousal is peaked in a situation of cohabitation and the outlet in nature is often sex, but also occurs as masturbation.

        Are we above our natural instincts? That we ask the question suggests meta-cognition and therefore an affirmative, but that we have to ask suggests not.

    • “Perhaps pornography deters casual sex with random people by offering an easier alternative and then is abandoned when a truly interesting partner is met.”

      Perhaps NOT.

      The easier alternative you speak off tends to only get a person so far, and soon enough, most people will want to enact what they’ve seen – and if they cannot, they will move to more hardcore porn, which too will get them only a little farther towards that ‘PERFECT high’. To think that it would simply be ‘abandoned when a truly interesting partner is met’ is sheer naivety.

      • I’m surrounded by anecdotal evidence that suggests my argument is, at least in many cases, valid. Many young men I’m friends with have girlfriends or wives now and while they used pornography through their teen years, they consider their partners fully satisfying. Some have remarked that pornography made them appreciate the interpersonal aspect of their sexual relationship even more. Pornography is not interactive and the actors can’t show affection and I think the previous arguments are forgetting the fact that people know this, are aware of it, and it makes them want to seek interpersonal relationships. In my experience with churches, this is a typical response of people who have had casual sex as well. But as we discussed, casual sex is less safe than pornography.

      • @Nano : In what sense is pornography safer than casual sex? Perhaps in terms of physical disease it is less risky, but there are diseases of the mind and of the soul also. Furthermore, if we live, as you rightly observed, in a sexually stimulating culture (and long may real women continue to be attractive!), why hyper-stimulate our appetites with ridiculous pornography?

      • @hograve
        In the biological sense, of course. I can’t measure an impact on the soul because I can’t measure the soul.
        I suppose to answer the second question, I need a few solid assumption. The author suggests that pornography dampens a man’s interest in the women around him for reasons of “competition.” You suggest pornography hyper-stimulates interest in the women around us because we are exposed to images of naked women. It’s hard to rationalize any argument with both of those thesis being true.

      • @Nano : Sorry to be unclear. I agree with Mr. Barnes. I did not intend to suggest that pornography causes men to be more sexually interested in the women around them; rather that it is a form of sexual hyper-stimulation without reference to real women. This is why fornication, though wicked, may perhaps in the long run be less detrimental to men and to culture in general than pornography, because the restraints of availability, biology, and fear tend to limit it for most people; and anyway, your girlfriend is a real person, not an image. Fornication, however, is vitiating in other ways.

      • I think you should define the terms of fornication because I believe it is relevant. To have sex with strangers is to objectify a living breathing person you are currently interacting with. To objectify a video of a person seems less significant than that.

        If those two taboos are held equal, then we just have to consider the fact that sex can yield pregnancy and disease and pornography cannot.

        If sex is with a single, emotionally bonded partner who is without disease, then we have to weigh the potential consequences of pregnancy or emotional trauma from a break-up against the belief that pornography will emotionally desensitize the user.

        I am assuming this is all pre-marital as that was the premise of the conversation to start with. Also, I’m assume ceteris paribus, so I’m not considering divorce, just evaluating between puberty and marriage.

      • @Nano : I don’t have time to reply right now, but please read Humanae Vitae for the philosophical background on what exactly sex is and is for, according to Marc’s (and my) view.

    • @Nano,

      Lumping in the rhythm method with other forms of NFP (I’m talking Billings, Creighton, Sypto-thermal, i.e., modern methods) is like lumping in leeching with taking antibiotics. One is outdated and proven ineffective. The other has a good deal of evidence to suggest its credibility. I’m positive the author does not advocate the rhythm method.

      I’m not sure where you obtained your numbers, but here’s an abstract to a study on the STM that showed a 2.3 pregnancy rate, with typical use: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1755469

      I agree that whether or not NFP is effective is not central to your argument on whether or not pornography is good for us (SPOILER: It’s not), but it was the second premise in your argument, and it irritates me when people assume NFP equals the rhythm method.

      My point this whole time has been that people sound ignorant when they refer to NFP as “the rhythm method.” I later realized that since the author did not explicitly call the “natural methods of family planning” Natural Family Planning, maybe you did think he was referring to the rhythm method.

      So, anyway, as long as you get that NFP does not equal the rhythm method (at least to anyone today who uses NFP), we’re cool.

      • The result is interesting, although the sample is only 255 and it does not indicate the sexual status of the participants in the abstract [number of sexual encounters] or even whether they were active and it’s worth noting that 274 women ended up using barrier methods outside NFP, which is relevant in a behavior analysis as indicating that people stray from NFP in relevant quantities.

    • @Nano

      http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1339553392792_9330703.png

      It sounds like you’ve given up. “Pornography may dampen sexual desire, but that’s not a bad thing when we’re talk about reducing birth-rates.” You don’t have to have a dampened sexual desire. You don’t have to live a “half-life” of damaged underwelmed sexual desire. Your argument comes from overpopulation, so please research Natural Family Planning if you want to fully understand the counter to your argument. I can’t convince you here in a forum…so it’s up to you to become fully educated. Spread the word!

      Here’s a link to start! Good luck!
      http://www.creightonmodel.com/

    • Unfortunately, you are sadly mistaken in your ideas that porn usage can be “put aside” when a real person of interest comes along. It doesn’t happen that way. People can be addicted to pornography, and it only inhibits their ability to be in a healthy relationship. I know this from experience, and from countless people I know, and a lot of personal research. Pornography is an addiction, plain and simple. There is absolutely no positive side to it. Not one.

    • Nano, you sound like a machine talking (with all do respect) WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PERSONS here! Individuals with a free will that must be respected as full persons. Porn is always unacceptable morally as it turns people into objects for another’s use (objectification). Moreover, marriage (sustainable relationships) are more than just oxytocin and MUCH MUCH more than simply an emotional attachment. “To Love” means to freely “will” the good of another. It is not about what “I get out of it” but it is focused on the other. It takes sacrifice and temperance. It takes dying to one’s own self-focused desires for the sake of another person, so that they may flourish and grow. This is the beauty of what we were created for! What if both people in a relationship strive with all their emotions, intellect, and will to “will the good of the other”? They will of course fall a times; but it is possible much of the time and what a beautiful image of love! What a beautiful challenge for our culture (for me and you) especially when so many people settle for what’s easy, comfortable and selfish.

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  8. @Nano “Many young men I’m friends with … have remarked that pornography made them appreciate the interpersonal aspect of their sexual relationship even more.” Really? Wow, we must travel in very different circles. After talking to literally hundreds of men about pornography use, I haven’t found a single man who would say, “Wow, that porn really helped me get closer to my wife.” I would imagine because sex with a real woman is, as you say, interpersonal. Sadly, there is nothing interpersonal about porn. As a matter of fact, it trains the mind and heart (not to mention shaping our neural pathways) to eschew the interpersonal–probably because porn does not involve a real person, but an image that exists to meet my needs for the moment.

  9. Nano… LAM is the Lactational Ammenorrhea (sp) method… meaning its based on the idea that most women will stop having a period (stop ovulating) when she is breastfeeding. Thats why its only based on six months, its only effective for six months, and that is IF the woman is exclusively breastfeeding (NO SUPPLEMENTS) and has not returned to menstruation. We also have to watch for the signs of returning ovulation because it will return BEFORE the first period, so this is only a supplemental part of NFP, not to be evaluated by itself as a representation of NFP. The most important part of NFP is getting to know your body as more than a sexual tool, and listening to it, AND your heart when you plan your family. It is NOT meant to be used to stop one from conceiving permanantly, or without grave reason, which is one thing that separaties it from artificial conception control methods. As for pornography being a good thing.. poppycock. Stand aside from its affects on natural sex, it is abject objectification of women at its worst, it teaches men that there is only one reason for women to be put on earth, their own sexual gratification. And masturbation in itself is sexually frustrating, like a drug you need more and more stimulation for the same effects, and those effects can NEVER reach the heights of sex with your true Mate. It leaves a hollow feeling that causes addicts to do it more and more and more, to less and less effect. I speak as a former porn and masturbation addict. No one is trying to outlaw porn before you go there, i know that many people can view it without becoming addicted, but at best it is a poor substitute to sex with your true love, and it is overstimulating in an already (as you pointed out) overstimulated society. We need LESS objectification of women, less bare body parts disembodied from the minds, hearts, and souls of the women they belong to, and more true interraction between men and women, with respect to their very real differences and complimentarity. Women, and men, must again become sacred to one another, as we are to
    God, only then will we begin to embrace the true nature of our human sexuality, it is not beastial, but Holy.

  10. I feel alone. On an island. I’ve studied NFP, Contracetion, Marriage and the Family. And, while I assent to church teaching on 90%, I cant get it through my finite, mortal head, that closing yourself to life with Contraceptive methods is somehow intrinisically grave and evil compared to closing yourself to life through “natural” means. NFP is the other extreme, not only does it turn men into nothing but Cows to be milked every month, but it devalues the act to nothing but breeding. My cousin is a dairy farmer, and when his cows are in heat, he brings in a bull to impregnant his cows. This mimicks EXACTLY what I see in NFP, it’s nothing but charts, biology and cycles. No intimacy, romance or selflessness. Sex becomes a Chore, something on the “honey-do” list, between picking up the kids from Soccer practice and cleaning the Garage! If my wife wanted to initiate the act ONLY cus of her cycle, I’ll take my pillows and a blanket to the couch myself and proudly sleep on the couch every night! Now, let my Catholic brothers and Sisters burn me at the stake! :)

    • I’m not sure your perceptions are reality. My friends who use NFP tend to report greater intimacy and romance than friends who contracept. My guy friends who use NFP tend to have a greater reverence and respect for their wives, whereas my non-NFP using friends see women as less than human. In other words, your comment strikes me and my perception as the exact opposite of reality.

      As for struggling to see the real distinction between NFP and contraception, I can just say that it is a bit difficult to see. I initially accepted the difference not because the difference was obvious, but because I had developed enough trust in the Catholic Church to accept what it taught. But the more I look at it the more I see a difference. Perhaps the thing that strikes me is that sex speaks a language of total gift of self and total reception of the gift. Every act of contraception, on some level, is either a failure to give completely or a failure to receive the other completely as they are at that moment.

      When an NFP couple comes together in sexual union during infertile periods they are giving as they are at that moment AND receiving the other as they are at that moment. Interestingly, when an NFP couple abstains from sex, they are actually accepting each other as they are in that moment. They say with their bodies, “I understand that you are fertile at this time and since it would be irresponsible for us to conceive at this time, I accept you as you are and will abstain from you.”

      • 1.) NFP is not official Church Dogmatic Teaching, hence there’s no need nor obligation to learn it and 2.) I’m not talking about women being treated as less than human, I’m talking about MEN being treated as less than human, as sperm banks for wives to get all the kids they want…..

      • 1) Quite true, but it IS official Catholic Church moral teaching that contraception is immoral and that NFP is not immoral, so while there might not be any “need” to learn it it can certainly be beneficial and worthwhile for couples to plan pregnancy. 2) You must be speaking alien because I’m not following.

    • Your impression derives from the undeniable fact that many people NFP with contraception intent. An act is right when it’s objectively good, done with correct intent, and in the right circumstances. So those who close themselves to life without grave cause are indeed sinning however they do it.

    • With NFP one is cooperating with the natural healthy design God has created, to not act and allow one’s cycle to continue cooperates with God’s design. I am abstaining right now… nothing immoral about that. Using a pill that purposely alter’s the healthy cycle designed by God while engaging in the sexual act is an attempt to separate what God has united. One involves trust in with God and the other is in opposition to God’s design. Besides the couple has to decide together whether or not they want to be open to a child that may or may not come… with contraception only one has to choose.

    • Oh, Catholicbrat. Your assumption is that women who practice NFP only want to have sex *when they are fertile*? No. Just no. If a woman *wants* to get pregnant, she can have sex whenever she pleases. Whenever she and her husband want it. All the time, if they so desire. And seriously, as someone who has been pregnant five times in the six years I’ve been married (one didn’t make it to term), I have never gone to my husband once a month just to get knocked up. That doesn’t happen. We use NFP to space our kids. That is, to put off pregnancy for a couple months when it’s convenient. On the months we’re not waiting, we go to each other pretty frequently for intimacy. Using NFP just means that you are charting when to abstain for a few days to prevent pregnancy. It means that there’s an appropriate time to say “no” when you’re not ready for a new baby. Not that you only go to your husband once a month to get a baby. Believe me, sex by itself is fun. It just is. Pregnancy, at least for me, sucks. It would never even occur to me to use NFP in the way you suggest, because, why bother? If I wanted to get pregnant, I’d throw out all my charts and just get some marital action whenever I wanted. The fact that many women want it more when they are fertile, is icing on the cake, and, incidentally, it’s what makes NFP hard. Not the other way around.

  11. Reading through these comments it feels like nano is trying to justify his own behavior. He is basing these justifications on his knowledge of the experience of a few friends. (Although I admit to being curious as to whether his couple of married friends still indulge in pornography after marriage. It would be telling as to their extent of addiction.) This article points out several ways that pornography IS addictive. My experience as a woman is that you can tell the difference in men who indulge in pornography vs the men who do not. It is in their language, their behavior and the way they perceive women. I have been close to two men who had problems with pornography and then gave it up. It was like night and day the difference in the way they spoke to and about women. These were two different men, not related or close to each other. These two men also did not give up porn after they got married either. Pornography is addictive and it hurts relationships. Perhaps nano is not in a close relationship with anyone at this time and can’t see the effects. Maybe women around him can see the effects on him and instictively don’t want to be part of that situation. I don’t like feeling like I’m prey or a tool to a man’s pleasure. Whatever the notion is that makes nano defend it so strongly…keep it to yourself. You are the only one you are convincing.

  12. Fascinating is this ancient history archaeological digging. “I’ve got rhythm” made for a vowel deficient term for marital inaction, embodied in a song, but it is just this: ancient history. Rhythym participants were called “parents”. Great line for Jamaican bobsledders but not loving, marital couples. Science has moved on: NFP, a la Creighton, Billings, etc. is a healthy romantic non-chemical and thoroughly reliable way of making the most of your marriage and having children. Sex drugs are just that: chemicals, drugs, body and mind-altering devices to mess up a perfectly fine specimen of the most complex creation in the Universe: woman. There are soooo many ways to “pleasure” yourself: eat a donut, self expel body fluids from appendages of your body like spitting, go skiing, snowboarding, get a manicure, drive with the top down, indulge in salivating while looking at another dad’s daughter, someone else’s sis,and/or another mother’s teen promiscuously naked (hmm, since it’s ok in your eyes and heart, you might as well watch your big sister taking a shower, since porn knows no bounds in turning a girl into an object). Just ’cause we call it sex, doesn’t make it so. A guy can manipulate the body parts and exchange body fluids with another guy or girl, but this isnt sex: its manipulation and exchange for pleasure. Adults can things what they are…sometimes. A masterbater is as much about sex as someone who practices putting fish on hooks can be called the same thing. About as fulfilling as crossing your arms and giving yourself a hug. All this clinical scientific discussion is cool, but hey, we were designed. And to get the most optimum, most exhilirating experience, is to follow the Designer’s plan; treat each woman as if she is your favorite sister, eyes above the neckline, hands off her heart and other nearby beauty parts. Get to know her, not her things; there’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself with her extremities. Once married in front of family, friends and yes, YKW, you know Who, God, then practice holistic, most awesomist, non chemical NFP as part of a lifelong, growing intimacy. You don’t make love, love isn’t made. Love IS! You share your love, your intimacy, your excitement, your joy and yes, your kids. And you don’t “have sex”. All these terms are meant to demean and destroy the Designer’s grand design for happiness. You can’t practice homosexual sex, but a guy can exchange and manipulate to his heart’s content after building up a good man to man relationship. But neither heart will never fully be content. The relationship part is good, as we need healthy male/male relationships, the manipulation/exchange part never fully satisfies. Sorry, folks, there is no same sex gene in the whole human genome. Anal addicts, Man was never meant to roto-rooter another man or woman. Get out an anatomy book; it makes for titillating comments and unsanitary, unhealthy destruction of excretory system integrity. It takes three to get married as the VenFJSheen says it. You can believe the Gynecologist in Chief, Dr. OB, AMA spokesmodel about no pay spay days for women as if they are junkyard dogs, sterilized sperm recipients, OneADay Steroid pill mills and kid killing like its blood sport, or believe God, your designer. If you want a life of misery, believe Dr. OB and his Catholic silly sellbillious Kathy. Or believe God and have the pleasure of a lifelong, totally awesome, intimate, one on one with One, ie man, woman with God in marriage. Pleasure is as much in the mind as it is in the body, and when the two are joined according to the eternal blueprints, wow! And yes, those pooping, crying but life altering for the better things called Kids! Catholic Young adults and adults, you have a world and culture dying to see the Truth in your lives; be examples of joy, selfcontrol, true love. Our dying culture needs you, as courting couples, to show there is a much better way than Dr. OBs way. BTW, i have a free kit for young married couples to enhance their marriage. Call me when you are there… it works 100% of the time–Len, dad of eleven, missing his bride and joy, NFP proponent and against terminal stupidity in glorifying fake sex and the culture of Deaths dying throes.

  13. You are welcome to act and behave as you wish, but please observe my right to do the same.

    I won’t hold you to an everlasting bond of holy matrimony and sex with one person for the rest of your life — regardless of how detrimental that person is to you post-nuptials — if you allow me to decide with who I decide to engage in a consensual sexual relationship whenever we wish, regardless of their sexual identity, preferences, or number.

    I have no right to tell you how to conduct your relationships, and you have no right to tell me how to conduct mine, so long as we agree that we are free to do whatever we please as long as another person is not unwillingly harmed.

    • Whoa, whoa, whoa… who here is telling you what to do? The author of this post is merely proposing a way of life. Take it or leave it, but don’t get so offended when somebody entertains the possiblity that certain behaviors – even common behaviors – might be wrong. Lighten up, Francis.

    • @Saracen : As far as I know, you’re reading this blog of your own free will. My colleague has the “right” to say whatever he likes. And by the way, I am married, and you can hold me to my marriage vows, because I made them in front of God and a bunch of people. And it’s not like we’re compelling you not to attend your weekly orgy, if that’s what floats your boat. We’re just saying maybe it’s wrong and stupid.

    • @Saracen: Since logic is important, I am revisiting my previous comment. Allow me to make a counter-proposal, based on the logic of what you actually wrote above (I do not know if that is what you meant to say).

      You say you won’t hold me to the bonds of holy matrimony (something I intend to be held to for the rest of my life) if I allow you to engage in consensual relations with persons of any number, sex, and preferences.

      However, I do not “agree that we are free to do whatever we please as long as another person is not unwillingly harmed.” I argue that we are, on the contrary, not free to do whatever we want, even if it does not involve direct harm toward a non-consenting individual. Such “freedom” is actually bondage and the sensation of liberty is an illusion resulting from said bondage of the mind and will to self-destruction.

      Therefore let me propose that what Marc, above, is attempting to do is to slap you out of the dream that you are “free” so long as you pursue unsustainable sex, and that because such behaviors cause harm both to yourself and inevitably to others as well, I do have a right to tell you not to conduct yourself in these ways.

      Whether you choose to listen is up to you. Wisdom is justified in her children.

      • @Holgrave: I am confused by your comment.

        “I argue that we are, on the contrary, not free to do whatever we want, even if it does not involve direct harm toward a non-consenting individual. Such “freedom” is actually bondage and the sensation of liberty is an illusion resulting from said bondage of the mind and will to self-destruction.”

        The freedom to which you refer, is it legal freedom? Because, as I understand it, the rights of an individual to engage in consensual sex are not limited by the sustainability of the lifestyle such sexual activity would take place.

        Could it possibly be moral freedom? Does the act itself infringe on morality, or is it also the morality of the lifestyle associated with that act that is reprehensible? One might argue that any act to control reproduction, chemical or not, is a moral abomination, as it takes the decision of whether a family has a child out of the hands of God. (As an aside, the same thing was said of Lightning Rods.)

        Certainly Saracen is physically capable of doing what he (she?) proposes, so there is no natural limitation to the acts described.

        A person is just as “free” to make a choice that any number of people would disagree with. That choice will most certainly have consequences, as all choices do. Some of them may even be detrimental to his physical, mental, and spiritual (moral) health. Does that diminish his freedom to do so? The only logical answer is no.

        As to whether the choice he made was the right one, the responsible one, or the sane one, we may argue for all of time and never come to a definite conclusion.

        I am also confused by the concept of “bondage” in this context. To what is Saracen supposedly bound? To the law? Certainly, but he has broken no law, therefore that bondage is irrelevant. To your particular morality? Clearly not, or there would be no question in the first place. To the limits of his own perception? Perhaps, but aren’t we all under the same limitation?

        Finally, if, as you say, he is not free but bound, why then do you end by saying the choice to listen is his? If this freedom is in fact an illusion, is he not then obliged to listen?

        Please forgive what may seem like pedantic questions. I am simply trying to understand the logic you see so intent to uphold.

  14. Thanks for the interesting article; I’ve been noticing a slow death of the “sex is everything” culture that used to be predominant in this country. Individuals, yes, are sometimes very enthused about it, but many of the problems you note are, indeed, happening. I don’t dare to hope for a return to the values you list, but I do think they’d be beneficial.

    That being said, I find your juxtaposition of the acceptability of porn with asexuality a tad baffling. The fact that some people aren’t interested in sex and some people are interested in it enough to buy books about it is just fact to me, like people liking or not liking chocolate.

    To me, the willingness of asexuals to express who they are is not necessarily a sign of the “sex-boredness” that so many men and women experience because of cultural saturation. Rather, it seems to me to be a sign that some are willing to argue against the twisted view of sexuality that you outline in your post. That asexuals will tell people they have no interest when society is telling them they must is, to me, a pleasing turn of events, just as it is good when people argue against using people for sexual pleasure or using contraception. After all, having sex one doesn’t want because they don’t know asexuality exists is also an abuse of the sex act.

    Hopefully that makes sense. I really hope that no animosity will be put forth from this sexuality debate against asexuals; I happen to be one (yes, from birth) and I have never been told by any Church member I’ve asked that it was bad. I would hate for my lack of interest in sex to put me in a strange position with the Church; I love it so.

    • @Eulalia, thank you for reading and commenting! Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I hope I can speak reasonably for Christianity in general to say that there is certainly nothing sinful about not being interested in sex; on the contrary, it may be a gift of God to allow you to devote your mind and body to other forms of Christian vocation less compatible with married life.

      There is undoubtably a distinction between “asexuality” brought on in an individual by a disgustingly oversexualized culture that obscures the beauty of marriage, vs. “asexuality” brought on in an individual by personal overindulgence in sexual license to the point of disgust (this may perhaps have been the blessed St. Augustine’s problem), vs. “asexuality” as an individual’s innate lack of interest in sexual union, of which you say you are an example.

      I would suggest that you are still a sexual person; after all you are a human being made in God’s image (male and female created he them), only you are not called to express your sexuality in those ways that pertain to marriage. God has good and gracious ways to which he has called you instead.

  15. Certainly an interesting read. I have to wonder, however, if sustainability in this context is being used as a more socially acceptable term for monogamy or “traditional marriage.” I would argue that non-monogamous and non-traditional relationships can be sustainable as described above, if those involved are careful and conscientious individuals, and that is is the lack of these qualities that breed unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.
    It can be suggested (as I believe this article has) that the modern approach to sex is as a means to achieving orgasm, and that orgasm is currently seen as the goal of sexual relations. Moreover the orgasm one is attempting to achieve is their own, not that of their partner. Such an approach may be seen as indicative of the general self-centeredness of the society in which we live (though that’s an argument for another time). The use of sex in this way can be compared to the consumption of nearly any commodity. In this instance, therefore, I will refer to chocolate.
    People love chocolate. Chocolate makes people feel good. Having chocolate indiscriminately can lead to health problems. If the chocolate you have contains substances that are bad for you, you can die. Spending all your time in your room alone having chocolate can be interpreted as a sign of depression or a number of other disorders. People can enjoy many kinds of chocolate, sometimes even more than one kind in a single evening. People can even have chocolate and decide they don’t like that kind any more. How do people ensure that they can continue to enjoy chocolate without ruining for themselves or getting sick? They become careful. They learn about themselves. They don’t over-consume. They find out about what makes them sick and avoid those kinds of chocolate, or they prepare for the eventuality that something may happen to them. They assess the risks and make their own decisions. Being informed and careful keeps people safe.
    Now the obvious reaction many will have from the end of the second paragraph is that sex is in many ways completely different from chocolate, and in that I would agree with you. I would pay for chocolate. I would have chocolate in a public place and with family members present. I would share chocolate with a room full of people. Sex outside of masturbation is far more complex and dangerous than just making yourself feel good. It doesn’t help that most people, even in this hyper- sexualised era, find it difficult to be open and honest, even with a long term partner, about their feelings and desires when it comes to sex and relationships. At this point I would like to make clear that the biggest problem in the modern approach to sexuality is not with the sex itself, in my view. Rather it is in the relationship that sex implies, and the generally poor understanding sexual partners often share about the nature of that relationship.
    It is widely accepted that sex can and does occur outside of love. I am not speaking of whether it should or should not, but simply stating it does. Like any exchange, then, there will be trouble if all the parties involved do not understand or are not honest about its nature. If one partner believes the act to be that of love, and the other does not share that belief, then the partner who does believe it to be love will naturally be damaged afterwards. This disparity is facilitated by our societal and individual aversion to talking about our feelings and running the risk of being hurt. The strange nature of this decision is that avoiding the emotional risk of rejection often leads to regret, embarrassment, and further and more serious rejection.
    The solution to this problem is for both (or all) parties to be self-aware and conscientious of each other. Ask your partner about their wants, their beliefs, their feelings. Ask about their fantasies and their expectations. Ask them what being faithful means to them, and explain what it means to you. If you’re about to share body parts with someone, is it really so much to ask them to share ideas as well? If you think it’s a buzz kill to talk and then do, talk about it at dinner, or on the phone, or days before. Also, acknowledge that people won’t be perfect. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll have awkward moments. Everyone does. It’s a messy business sometimes. At times like these it is the most important to support each other, to be understanding and accepting.
    As to the unrealistic expectations today’s youth currently have about sex, I would ask, has there ever been a time when youth haven’t had unrealistic expectations about sex? As a society we have always idolized one version or another of the ideal form, and all those who happen to fall outside of that particular category of size, shape, or intelligence have suffered for it. Is this a problem for our society? Probably. But that particular problem is caused by marketers trying to sell products to everyone, which is completely different from an individual appealing to another individual. Is it a conspiracy to make girls want to be thinner or bustier or in some way different? I would say not, mostly because I don’t think that many people could be that organized and competitive at the same time.
    It’s worth noting that female characters in our culture are getting stronger, smarter, and more real, if one takes the time to look for them.Remember that in our culture, we vote with our dollars weather we mean to or not. If you want to see more real or positive role models, you should support the institutions that create them and show them off to the world. Marketers create the campaigns they do because they result in paychecks. If they didn’t, they would do something else or go bankrupt. And as much as the internet has given nearly unfettered access to unrealistic visions of people, it has also provided unprecedented creative control to the very people who use it. In the example of pornography specifically, user-made and amateur content are as readily available as ultra-produced, highly stylized content, and there is clearly a market for both, or at least a desire to make this kind of content available. How much more realistic can such content be? Even professional porn actresses are tending to avoid body modification and plastic surgery. It may very well be that that particular kind of unreal expectation was little more than a passing fad whose time is now behind us.
    We can be no less prepared for something than when we are not informed. Willful ignorance hurts everyone. Have a happy monogamous relationship if it’s your hearts content, or invite over the local football team, but do it with open eyes, even if you keep the lights off. That, I believe, is the truly sustainable approach to sex.

  16. Nano, it’s about self-discipline and saying no to to the evil that is pornography. Ridding your life of pornography allows that person the freedom to love (not freedom from engaging in sex). Look into Theology of the Body, written by Pope John Paul II. You’ll understand what I’m talking about through that. Lust=bondage to sin. Pornography is nothing useful or productive- rather a quick way to satisfy one’s hunger for something greater than just pleasure. The person engaging in pornography is looking for love, satisfaction- essentially, the love of our Savior. It’s no lie. Ask any man or woman who has defeated pornography and has Christ in their lives, now. Ask them how much they miss it, and how their relationships have been without it. Guaranteed you’ll hear stories of true joy and fulfillment.

  17. Just 2 cents. The 2.3% pregnancy rate for STM or other NFPs is USUALLY because the couple chose to have intercourse even when they knew they were in the fertile phase. So, yes, “poke and hope” would then apply. Except that I would then say that those couples are choosing to not use NFP as a means to delay pregnancy at that point. (Just like a couple who usually uses a condom may choose not to one night and then get pregnant.) I know that my 3 pregnancies fall into this category! Why? Because the beauty of nature is that a woman really feels compelled to have sex when she is fertile, and feels much less compelled during non-fertile times. Remember how the pill decreases sexual desire in women? Yup, that’s why. Fertility makes us want sex, and sex without fertility is not as much fun and not as much desired.

    SO yeah, NFP doesn’t work. :) I’d use it if I HAD to aviod pregnancy (for health reasons basically) but for that average married couple (which I happen to be) it’s just no fun. It’s as much no fun as the pill or a condom or any other form of birth/conception control. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s great, it just means it’s not bad.

  18. If you are going to make an argument, you should always fact check. It makes your argument stronger. There are a few facts that you have wrong with regard to contraception. First, there is not universal access to contraception. Many women are not able to convince their sexual partners to use contraception, and many people cannot afford contraception. You might ask, why wouldn’t such a woman not just leave a man who refused to use contraception? Well, what if he is abusive? What if she has children she needs to care for, and he is her only source of income? There are many possible reasons. Regardless, access to contraception is far from universal.

    Second, the failure rate of contraception is very low with proper use. However, many people never learn how to properly use contraception, in large part because of the prevalence of abstinence-only sex education. In fact, people who receive abstinence-only sex education are more likely to have unprotected sex before marriage, and they are less likely to know how to properly use contraception. This greatly increases the unwanted pregnancy rate. The unwanted pregnancy rate is very low in countries where access to contraception is actually widespread, and where sex education that includes information proper use of contraceptives is provided.

    • Dear Meh,

      You’ve overlooked the main idea of Mr. Barnes’ article, which is that the mentality fostered by contracepted sex–even if contraceptives were to be 100% available and effective, which in real life they never are–is unsustainable.

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  20. Oh boy, that old Psych Today study. If I never hear of it again it will be too soon. Aside from the dubious scientific evidence it uses to make a rather trite conclusion, it just reeks of bias confirmation.
    I understand why a large part of the Catholic laity likes it because it conforms to their gnostic understanding of the human person (we don’t need modern psychology, God told us exactly how people work!), but really? If you want to make people believe you’re after the truth you should at least try and engage the massive amount of scientifically derived information that does not conform to your worldview.
    I also find it absurd that people talk about the ‘unsustainable’ nature of contraceptive sex.
    I grew up in a Catholic community, went to a Catholic kindergarten, grade school, high school, and college, and I can tell you here and now that any idiot who thinks abstinence education was effective has their head up their ass. Numerous friends of mine had children out of wedlock and with no income and no plan because when they finally gave in to their hormones they didn’t know how to use a condom, or (in most cases) how sex actually works.
    The truth is that neither way is full-proof, but expecting people who did not grow up in Catholic tradition to conform to a teaching that even many Catholics have a problem with is in no way a realistic option. Sure you can say “well that’s not the way it’s supposed to be” all day, but if everything was the way it was supposed to be we’d be in heaving and the point would be moot.

    • I’m getting tired of baiting trolls who balk at a minor point while missing the entire purpose of the article. There were times in recent history when extramarital sex (not to mention illegitimacy) was less prevalent and accepted than it is today. Why is this? People have not changed. We still have the same biological urges and moral failings, substantially the same lack of education and misconceptions about sex, as they had then. Yet more people are promiscuous, and more children are born out of wedlock than in the past. I argue that the reason for this is not a change in the availability or correct use of contraceptive technology. Contraceptives, and information about how to use them, are more available now than in the past. The reason why, in spite of contraceptives, people are more promiscuous and have more illegitimate children, is that society condones this behavior more than in the past. If anything, the greater availability of contraception increases the misperception that there is such a thing as consequence-free no-strings-attached sex, which leads to more instances of illegitimate children resulting from promiscuity.

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    • Good question! I get suspicious when these two subjects are lumped in together. The “debate” here on contraception seems to suggest women are baby machines (within marriage of course) and using contraception not only voids that, but can lead to some bad decision-making? Since when do people not make bad decisions? I’d argue we’re wired that way and that’s how we own our experiences and learn from life.

      The “debate” here on porn includes some boilerplate on addictive behavior, without any input from mental health professionals. I grant you, most porn is in poor taste, performed by the lower classes, and created/sold by people who couldn’t get jobs in mainstream society. But it literally offers physical relief without exposure to disease to millions of people. If anything is promoting misogyny with super efficiency, it is mainstream culture’s embrace of video games. That’s what men and boys are doing in the basement.

      [[Publisher’s note: So–porn good, video games bad? There’s some cognitive dissonance for you. And speaking editorially, that’s what’s wrong with liberals who hate on gamers: they refuse to address the objectification and mistreatment of women that our society treats as normal outside of video games (such as porn). And as for mental health professionals, what do you think we are, a peer-reviewed journal? Get a life. –Holgrave]]

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