Common Misconceptions About the Church and Sex

In today’s secular culture, there are some common misconceptions (pun intended) regarding the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage. I believe the following attitudes (in bold) illustrate that many modern Catholics, young and old alike, are poorly catechized, especially in this important area.

The Church is preoccupied with sex. Actually, it is the world which is preoccupied with sex. Several popes have written encyclicals, the Church has issued statements, teachings, et cetera, more in response to the world being so preoccupied. Turn on any television channel, look through any video/DVD store or surf the internet to find out that sex/pornography is a lucrative financial commodity.

The Church has no business in our bedrooms. In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul the Great wrote, In the field of conjugal morality, the Church is Teacher and Mother and acts as such.

Let’s consider for a moment that God created all of us. And let’s also consider that each one of us was created us through our parents having sex. Whether couples like it or not, God is there in the bedroom with us. We can invite him to have a deeper participation in our sexual life by praying before sex (although we have heard people audibly groan when we’ve said this during our talks), by being open to life (never using artificial contraception or contraceptive behaviors like withdrawal) and by always putting our spouse’s needs before our own. Inviting God to a fuller, richer, deeper relationship within the sexual embrace makes the experience not only more spiritually enriching, it makes it naturally more pleasurable and more emotionally satisfying.

The Pope is a celibate man who has no clue what it’s like to be married and shouldn’t be advising on that subject. I highly recommend to anyone who says something like this that they ought to read “Love and Responsibility”, which John Paul the Great wrote in 1960 as Archbishop of Krakow. On page 272 and 275, JP II writes:

It is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing (his) climax….The man must take (the) difference between male and female reactions into account… so that climax may be reached by both…and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously. The husband must do this not for hedonistic, but for altruistic reasons. In this case, if we take into account the shorter and more violent curve of arousal in the man, (such) tenderness on his part in the context of marital intercourse acquires the significance of an act of virtue. (With thanks also to Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners, page 82.)

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the same as the old rhythm method. NFP is based on a woman’s current cycle observations and relies very little on previous cycle history. The rhythm method relied on knowledge of a woman’s cycle history and placed no importance on the woman’s current mucus and/or temperature readings. Although the rhythm method was as reliable as other contraceptive methods in the 50?s and 60?s, and worked well with women who had regular cycles, this method did not have a high effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy.

Modern methods of NFP are at the 99 percent effective rate for preventing pregnancy and have high degrees of effectiveness in helping women naturally become pregnant. As someone who has used NFP-only for 27 years, I can say without any doubt that we have never had an unplanned pregnancy (although, as NFP users we are open to the one percent of pregnancies which happen unexpectedly). We have taught many couples in 25 years and have never had a couple come to us and say, What happened? We followed all the rules and we still got pregnant.

The Pope/Church wants couples to have as many babies as they can.
While the Church encourages couples to be generous, she has never encouraged couples to have as many babies as they can. On the contrary, John Paul the Great, in Familiaris Consortio, and Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, both speak about responsible parenthood.

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI says, With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul the Great wrote, With regard to the question of lawful birth regulation, the ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way. (FC 96:35)

My priest told me to use my conscience in this area and I believe it’s okay to use contraception. This is a challenging one to address. While it is true that one must use their conscience in all matters not just the area of sexuality it is important to realize that the conscience must be well formed. The teaching on the evils of contraception and pre-marital sex are part of the Church’s constant 2,000 year tradition. Contraception was considered immoral by all Christian Churches up until 1930 when the Anglican Bishops at their Lambeth Conference voted to allow contraception for married couples.

Since that time, all Christian churches (except for the Catholic Church) have accepted contraception and have gone against the 2,000-year constant teaching.

This teaching is based on natural law. One of the main purposes of sex is to procreate. To enjoy the fruits of it without the natural consequences is like enjoying food, then vomiting it. Bulimia is an eating disorder and thwarts the natural consequence of eating. If someone wants to lose weight, they can go on a well-balanced diet and exercise. In the same way, contraception is an evil which seeks to attain the gratification of sexual intercourse without the consequences. With NFP, if a couple wants to avoid pregnancy, they abstain during those times in which sex will result in a pregnancy.

Most couples who say they are using their conscience, say so without having a well-formed conscience. If they were to research the Church’s teachings, if they were to read documents such as the Pope’s Theology of the Body as well as Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and other papal encyclicals, I believe that most would come to embrace this beautiful teaching of the Church.

The Church’s teachings on sex are impossible ideals. The Church’s teachings are there for our benefit, to help us to get to heaven, to help us to be selfless human beings here on earth. They are not, however, impossible ideals. They are reachable, sustainable and, most importantly, these ideals lead us to holiness. We ought to be on the road to perfection. We will never attain perfection, but the saints have shown us that we can come close if we strive for it.

Are all the rules of the Catholic Church easy to follow? On the contrary, they can be tremendously difficult. In terms of using NFP within marriage, it can be very challenging, whether a couple is open to having a large family or whether a couple, for serious reasons of their own, decide to use NFP to limit their families. Periodic abstinence, in our sex-saturated culture, is and can be a sacrifice. But it doesn’t mean that it is bad.

There are many misconceptions regarding the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Most are simply that: misconceptions of a teaching that is so widely mocked and ignored in secular society. In 27 years, I have found that embracing these beautiful teachings has led to a faith-filled marriage with a spiritually fulfilling and satisfying conjugal life.

Ellen Gable Hrkach is the author of Come My Beloved, a book of real love stories. It can be ordered at Amazon.com or visit her website at http://www.comemybeloved.com .
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