If you already saw this post and then the link didn’t work… sorry about that, this is the real one this time!
I am so grateful to you guys for being with me the past few months as I took the first stumbling steps towards being honest with my writing.
Sharing my fear-of-pregnancy story has been unbelievably empowering, healing, and inspiring. And your comments and re-tweets are at least 80% of that.
So, it’s time for the story to get it’s next step in evolution: I’m coming out! I’d like to invite you guys to visit my “real-life” blog, which I’ve been writing for several years, as I start to come out about my experience being afraid of pregnancy and aligning my life with the amazing Catholic teachings on sex and sexuality.
This isn’t just about pregnancy, though. I’m also coming out as a believing Catholic and conservative to my readers and real-life friends over there, so I’m pretty nervous. There’s not a lot of non-liberal information on the Internet, but I figure I can be one more blogger fighting the good fight with my real name and my real picture.
Here’s my first post in this topic, and I’d love it if you felt it was good enough to follow my journey on this new URL!
And I hope to continue the Twitter gabbing at my real handle, @LifeCommaEtc. I’ll be following you all shortly!
“I don’t know if I love you, but if I don’t, I know I want to.”
After more than a year of dating, that’s the closest I’d come to having the boyfriend I’d been sleeping with say he loved me. It was a hot summer night, and he was dropping me off at my house after we spent the day together.
You’d think this — in addition to his serious addiction to pornography — would have been enough of a “Get the heck outta there!” warning to back away, but for some reason it didn’t register.
Instead, I wandered inside my house in a daze, wondering what it meant that my boyfriend really wanted to love me. He wanted to (he was good), which meant he couldn’t (because I was bad?), which meant I was unlovable (really bad, then?).
I’m not here to relive sad memories. I’m hoping that hearing this story might show you what could be going on in the life of someone you know. Picture your daughter, or your niece, or your best female friend as a 16-year-old and replay this scene in your head (and believe me, it’s possible. Kids are having sex as early as fifth grade now, and if they aren’t having sex they know someone who is or they’re talking about it). Looking at it now, it’s despicable. It’s ludicrous.
I wish I had a clear answer about what would have turned my path back then. M parents raised me in a Catholic church and I was half-involved with youth activities. But some perfect storm of emotional vulnerability and insecurity left me wide open for the influence of a cute boy who wanted to hang out with me.
What can you do for that person in your life now? I don’t know. Anything I wish my brothers had done (find this guy and beat him up, demand that we stop seeing each other, reveal everything to my parents) would have been very painful and awkward at the time. But I wonder how much it would have helped to have a strong relationship with someone who would have given me the tough feedback I needed to hear.
Here’s a small selection of things I didn’t know then that I know now:
If someone doesn’t love you enough to want you to have a beautiful life and a strong marriage, why do you think they love you enough to be worthy of sleeping with them?
If you have to “do things” in order to keep a friendship or a relationship, you’re better off without that relationship.
As I learned in reflecting on Strange Gods, I don’t pretend it was up to someone else to “save me” from these bad decisions. I moved forward in this relationship because I had no relationship with God. At the time, it felt like it was John or bust. And then a sort of Nightingale Effect settled in and I began to deeply love the one-sided relationship I was having.
So that’s where I’d start. If you’re concerned about a loved one or you want to be a part of the team that prevents these kinds of things from happening, start with God. Start with relationship. And start right now.
Your turn: Where do you think bad decisions come from in the teenage years?
PS Wrote this post to the Casting Crowns channel. My husband loves them! What do you think?
My husband is on the phone with his sister right now, trying to convince her that she has the right to tell her two daughters “No.”
In this case, it’s about the mother finding prescription drugs and a pipe in 17-year-old Kid A’s purse (“No, you cannot work at that bar anymore.”) and finding out that 15-year-old Kid B is having sex with her older boyfriend (“No, you cannot see that boy anymore”).
I want to give my sister-in-law some credit; she is an alcoholic and we suspect that she was sexually molested as a child. She is also married to an alcoholic who is dying of liver failure, but who won’t stop drinking. She has a household full of challenges, and I am sure it is easier to feel powerless than it is to feel powerful when she faces what she faces every day.
This time, my husband’s weird family dynamics hit me right where it hurts.
If you’re following along with my own drama, you know that I engaged in a sexual relationship with an older guy at 15 and it’s lead to countless problems in my current (married and Catholic) love life.
Because of the growing drama over the last few years, we haven’t seen the nieces much. The last I really remember hanging out with them we played a care-free game of basketball. And now we’re watching — what feels like helplessly — as they both grow up in all the wrong ways.
I know it’s not all about me, but learning that my 15-year-old niece in law is having sex with her older boyfriend (and that her older sister was given condoms by her mother) activates a lot of anxiety for me.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that come up from this perspective, watching the cycle repeat itself with someone we watched grow up.
This struggle is only unfolding now, but here are some things to keep in mind to lower your blood pressure if you ever find yourself in a situation like this one:
1. You could say everything right, and this still might be meant to be.
My husband and I both want to be life-changers. But even if we gave a 100 percent, primo, amazing speech about Catholicism and premarital sex and anti-drug use…. it still might be out of our hands. You have to do everything you reasonably can, but then you HAVE to let go and let God.
2. Stress is thinking you’re in control; peace is knowing God’s in control.
Thanks to Scott Hahn’s Facebook feed for this one:
But honestly, I really struggle with this because I know what the consequences of my niece’s sexual activity could be. I want to save her from all of this pain and what’s to come, but I have to accept that it’s not my right to do that. God will find a lesson in here for her, and he will make this right because that’s what he does. The rest is up to her and God.
3. Boundaries protect you from yourself.
The impulse to help is powerful, and sometimes we can’t control it when it comes to our families. Thankfully, my husband and I are well-versed in the Boundaries book and we know to evaluate our behavior from a biblical perspective.
In this situation, we’ve tried to reach out to our nieces several times and they don’t respond or engage (to the extent that one of them blocked me on Twitter several years ago).
We can try to stay in touch and let them know we’re here for them if they ever want to talk about things, but we can’t drive over to their house, pick them up, and take them to a convent. It’s out of our hands, and God made it that way so that we all would have free will to choose him. My husband and I need to find peace with that.
I’m sure there’s more to learn from this situation, but I’m exhausted and stressed out about the whole thing (especially considering I was in counseling for my own sexual relationship as a 15-year-old this afternoon!!).
What would you do in this situation? Have you dealt with a similar experience?
Are you ready for some Catholic hypocrisy?
I had sex with boyfriends before marriage (unfortunately). I also lived with my husband before we got married (before we converted).
And… it’s something I deeply regret.
Living together before marriage didn’t ruin our lives. In fact, it made some things easier.
We put off “the big day,” which was expensive, embarassing (for me), and stressful.
We put off questions about kids, because no one asks about that until after you’re married.
We also had a free pass to focus on our education and our careers. After all, you don’t have to “work on your marriage” if you don’t have one, right? You just get to spend time with the person you love. You’re two people who choose to be together every day you wake up, and there’s no pressure other than that. You’ve got all the benefits of marriage without the politics and statistics of broken homes or social stereotypes.
What’s not to love?
As it turns out, plenty of things.
Here’s my case against living together before you’re married, and if anyone has a time machine, let me know so I can go back to my 15-year-old self and read this aloud to her:
What’s the Big Problem?
Contrary to what my parents implied while I was growing up, living together before marriage wasn’t a guild-ridden and shameful experience. It felt really liberating and modern. It didn’t cause us to be shunned by everyone we knew because everyone we knew would give us the slow, understanding nod about how old fashioned it was to NOT live together.
But do you know what it did do? It caused major delays.
Looking back, I can see how damaging it was to go through the relationship steps without the grace of the sacrament of marriage.
As an unmarried couple living together before marraige, we were broken individuals trying to love each other how we had learned to love. For me, that meant relying on sexual behavior as a barometer of our relationship (which lead to a lot of miscommunication), and for my husband that meant doing his best and hoping it would work out (and being bewildered when it got uncomfortable).
We also kept secrets from each other, thought and acted selfishly, and experienced incredible stress anytime something went wrong in our relationship or in our lives (AKA “Things aren’t perfect right now but we have a right to things being perfect — ACK!”.
Unlike our marriage now, there was no third person, no Holy Spirit, no sense of grace to carry us through the inevitable tough times.
When you live together before marriage, you aren’t getting away with something; you’re missing out on something.
You aren’t avoiding a bad decision; you’re delaying the best decision you’ll ever make.
You’re also depriving yourself and your partner of an infinite source of love and support.
The sacrament of marriage is a gift straight from Jesus. That means that A) it’s important, so hey, maybe you need it even if you think you don’t? and B) Why would you pass up the opportunity to have that player on your team?
Why Is This Happening?
The heart of the epidemic of people living together is not:
- The old fashioned institution of marriage
- The sexual revolution, modern feminism, or social justice
- Religious hypocrites
The heart of the epidemic of people living together is due to each of our individual experiences of brokenness, shame, abuse, and selfishness.
When I considered living together with my husband, I was escaping a traditional patriarchal view of marriage in which I was to be saddled down with kids and used and abused as a mother for the rest of my life. I was taking love and sex (what society told me were “the best parts”) and leaving behind all the baggage.
When my friends live with their partners (and buy houses with them and go on vacations and join finances), they are taking as much good as they can and avoiding as much of the perceived downside as they can. They are leaving the baby and taking the bathwater, with no idea what joy that (poopy, smelly, screaming) baby can bring into their lives.
The List Goes On
My basic thoughts laid out, here’s a list of the common arguments I hear from cohabitating couples paired with what I’d like to say to them:
- “I don’t want someone to be forced to stay with me if they want to leave.” Will your partner leaving you now hurt any less 30 years from now? If anything I think it will hurt more. You can’t escape pain or betrayal by hiding your feelings. If anything, marriage is a way to clearly communicate the expectations you have for your relationship, thus establishing the boundaries that will help it succeed. You have to re-learn that it’s okay to trust someone and to expect things from someone. You have to learn to forgive and be forgiven within your relationships.
- “We’re already married in our life, so why get married just for the piece of paper?” Clearly if it was just a piece of paper, it wouldn’t be a big deal to you. In this case, it seems like people who don’t get married don’t do so “because they don’t think it’s important,” but because it’s important beyond belief and they don’t think they deserve it.
- “I just want to have fun.” Then you’re too immature to be a functioning member of society, let alone have sex with another human being. Go play laser tag.
- “Sex is about pleasure.” Look at your partner deep in the eyes. Is the purpose of their existence to give you physical pleasure? If someone else was dating your partner and they whispered that phrase to you in a bar, would you stand for it? Or would it sound like they were using your partner as a selfish tool for their own gain. Beyond that, do you ignore or otherwise not care for your partner when you’re not having sex? If you’re trying to make this argument, it’s more likely that you have some commitment and honesty issues than that you don’t think marriage is worthwhile.
- “We’re not ready for it.” You’re a wuss. You’re putting something off. You’re afraid of something in your future, and you don’t want to get started. Here’s a thought: whatever’s coming, wouldn’t you want to face it with this person legally, socially, and spiritually committed to you? And vice versa?
- “We want to make sure we’re compatible.” Ah, the most practical answer of all. How much sense this made to me 10 years ago! But all I can say to this is that if you love someone, if you want to sacrifice the rest of your life to their best health, if you would sleep in the hospital bed with them to tend them when they’re ill, and if you want to help them get into heaven… does it matter if it takes you a year to figure out who takes out the trash? Does it matter if you aren’t “good at sex” and you have to learn about it together? And would it really change everything to learn that they have a weird habit or preference that they need to go to counseling for? Looking back on my excuse, this is the same as “We’re not ready for it.” You’re just a wimp and there’s something you’re hiding from. Embrace it, grow, and make the plunge to either separate or get married!
I say these things as lovingly as possible (though I’m sure I’ll get some sass in the comments about being rigid or encouraging people to marry willy-nilly). I say these things as I wish someone had said to me when I signed my first lease with my now-husband and snuck around the adults in our lives. I say this with love and compassion for how much people are suffering (acknowledged or not) when they choose to live together before they get married.
Attention: Major Delays Ahead
As my husband is fond of saying, if we could go back in time we would never stop slapping ourselves for things we said, did, and thought during college and shortly after. Maturity has a way of replaying events in your life back to you and it’s frustrating to think of how right it felt to you at the time.
To all couples who are living together, I have to ask: if you aren’t ready to make this commitment… then why are you letting your body, finances, brain, and emotions make a commitment?
You’re setting yourself up for a lowercase-d “divorce” by not getting married, because eventually you will separate the family unit you have made and you never even gave it the support it deserved through the sacrament of marriage. Or, you’ll stay together in a perpetual twilight state of “two individuals who decide to have sex every now and then,” and that’s kind of like trying to behave like a toddler through your tweens.
While our culture (including myself at age 24 and many many of my friends now) are content to stop with “What feels right,” I think we all need to take a look at anything that comes to us easily. Today, it’s all too likely it comes straight from Screwtape under the label “modernity” and “getting with the times,” and it leads straight to a personal hell of your own making.
I’m rereading CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and then this forehead-slap-worthy “Trend” came across the screen of my Twitter account:
And I just…. can’t even.
This is such obvious secular nonsense.
How in the world does it being 2016 mean that emotionally broken and damaged people should make up rules about how they treat other people and their own bodies?
Yeah, this is going to be a great year. For treating your body like it’s separate from your mind or your emotions? For pretending sex doesn’t mean anything and it’s fine to get off on other people? For getting drunk and ignoring all the warning signs in your life? ( & this is just according to the trailer I couldn’t look away from during the previews of another movie.)
Please tell me there is going to be a cultural whiplash against this movie… please tell me this is not the height of comedy, entertainment, or “women’s rights.” Please tell me that those who see this movie will be so turned off by it that it changes their life for the better!
I could cut it off here and leave this as a rant, but I’d rather make a tiny push toward making the world a better place. I’d like to take your “It’s 2016 — Make your own rules!” and replace it with these amazing lessons about sex from Simcha Fisher in her NC Register Post, “So What SHOULD We Tell Our Kids About Sex?”:
- Love is a gift of self.
- We speak with our bodies.
- Sex is about babies, among other things.
- The world lies to you.
- Sex forms bonds.
- Chastity is a positive.
- It’s possible to ruin sex for yourself.
- Sex is beautiful and mysterious.
- Premarital sex hurts you both, even if you marry the person you had it with.
- But all is never lost if you’ve gone too far.
I strongly encourage you to click over and read the full article. Like Fisher’s book, “The Sinner’s Guide to NFP” (which is about WAY MORE than NFP), it’s worth reading twice and sharing with everyone you know who has kids!
“If the body and sex were mean to proclaim our union with God, and if there is an enemy who wants to separate us from God, what do you think he is going to attack? If we want to know what is most sacred in this world, all we need do is look for what is most violently profaned.”
Introduction to Theology of the Body, Christopher West
Growing up in the 1990s, my first memory of “The Talk” was when my mom sat me down and told me that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.
Looking back, my mom was clearly trying to protect me from the way the world looks at sex.
But, as you can imagine, my pre-teen self was like:
Unfortunately, talk about sexuality pretty much ended there. I was prepped on the physical side of things (what goes where, and when) and my mom wanted my brothers and I to be open with our questions, but I didn’t get a Catholic perspective on sex except that when you’re Catholic you don’t have sex until you’re married.
Even more unfortunately, that’s pretty much how the rest of society (including myself until age 31) summarizes the Catholic approach to sex: don’t do it until you’re married. And then, silence.
I can’t count the ways in which this is a shame. Not only does the silence create a perfect breeding ground for Screwtape to jump in there and wreak havoc (AKA pornography, premarital sex, friends with benefits, R-rated movies, “explore your sexuality,” “try out homosexuality,” and everything else), but it leaves a huge, sinking whole in the place that should contain the vision of what sexuality is meant to be.
It’s just like our buddy Langston Hughes said so long ago:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Looking out into the world today, it’s clear that the dream of Catholic sexuality died somewhere. Our idea of love, sex, and marriage in the secular world is barren and lifeless. It’s not a safe place, it’s a battle trench. It’s not empowering, it’s a weighted anchor. And it’s all because Screwtape knows how important sex is to living a full life in tune with God’s plan.
The solution? Let’s start talking about how awesome married Catholic sex is! Not in a prurient, secular way. But in a way that affirms that it’s something worth waiting for. That it’s something special, something to be desired, and something that isn’t “bad until you’re married and then suddenly good, but only for babies.”
God made sex, and God made the body. God loves both. But both are meant for the sacrament of marriage. Outside that sacrament, it’s not that sex becomes bad; it’s that it becomes disordered. It’s no longer a sacred gift from God. It no longer is for your good, nor does it have your best interests in mind. Inside of marriage, sex brings you closer to God. Outside of marriage, sex brings you further away.
My post on porn received a thoughtful comment that I want to share. I decided not to approve the comment because it links back to a pornographic site (which I unfortunately clicked on). But I don’t want to come from an angle that silences people who disagree with me. I just want to share the Church’s side of the story.
Here’s what the reader said:
For me the problem with this (I’m male) is that you’re erecting porn as something wholly different from anything else a guy (and a girl – a lot of girls like seeing images of other people naked, having sex, whatever) sees. we all see attractive members of the other sex, we see TV, films, magazines: there are plenty of images to fantasise over, if you want/need to. A real girl or guy is completely different. I’ve watched hot films with my wife which has led to great love- making. I wasn’t fantasising over the images I’d seen: but we were more relaxed, more turned-on, and more adventurous. I’d say that your early boyfriend had a whole host of psycho-sexual problems that porn just exacerbated. Ban porn and people’s interest in other people’s attractiveness and sexuality: it’s normal. I’ve discovered what my real fantasies are partly through “porn” – seen that they’re shared by millions of other people, and been less worried about suggesting them to my wife – she was completely happy, and had similar variations of her own that she wanted to try. Like alcohol, playing poker etc.things that give you an emotioal high need controlling, but in small doses can be fun… Take care.
I have a few thoughts (tl;dr):
- Thank you to this guy for extending compassion to my experience. The overall tone feels understanding and thoughtful, and attempts to provide a third road (that is, 1) all porn is good, 2) all porn is bad, and 3) some porn is good). Even though I don’t agree, I really appreciate the way he shared his experience.
- However, despite the fact that this road seems safe and non-confrontational (after all, it’s controlled application, everyone is consenting [though I don’t think that’s true given the truth about the porn industry], and it’s not preventing real sex from happening), it’s really just another in a long line of excuses we use to ignore the truth about our bodies and the truth about what sex is meant to be. Pornography hurts the people who make it and over time hurts the people who use it (even if you feel like it’s doing good things for you at the time).
This conversation/worldview/tactic is called “marginalization.” It’s when you take something that is black-and-white and scratch at the edges to find a gray area or two. That way you can agree with someone at the same time you erode the truth, all the while appearing sensible (and making those who disagree with you appear too rigid).
Here are a few more examples (that I’ve made up, not that this commenter shared):
Alcohol abuse is bad, sure, but having a social drink a few nights a week isn’t a bad thing. In fact, science says it’s healthy for you!
Binging on TV is bad, sure, but watching a few programs throughout the week is just a part of engaging in our culture and letting off a little steam.
Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion. Just because you think it should be allowed in some cases doesn’t mean you’re about to throw abortion parties and revel in it.
It’s the conversational equivalent of this:
A drink or two every few days might not be bad. A TV program or two every week might not be bad. Being pro-choice might not mean you’re ecstatically pro-abortion. But if you need these things; can’t NOT have these things; choose these things over other priorities in your life; or if life begins at conception (& Catholics believe it does), then these marginalizations are only covering up a more serious issue. They attempt to provide a simple, easy, comfortable answer in the face of complex, difficult, and uncomfortable situations.
In the case of porn, I think that this reader marginalized several truths about sex that I want to stand up for.
1. “You’re erecting porn as something wholly different from anything else a person sees. We all see attractive members of the other sex, we see TV, films, magazines: there are plenty of images to fantasise over, if you want/need to.”
Because the world does not respect the dignity of the human body and because the world fetishizes everything does not mean that those are natural or well-ordered feelings. If anything, the way Victoria Secret advertises its clothing makes it even more clear that the world has got it all backwards.
The world knows that lust is an easy way to get broken people to open their wallets. That doesn’t mean that we are meant to stay broken or let these disordered desires consume us.
Also, this perspective views the world as if everything you see (and in this view, persons are things) exists to stimulate you if you want it to. The person you pass on the street is an individual with a life and a name and inherent dignity. How could you opt to dismiss their 3D existence by “using” their image as a sexual fantasy?
2. “I’ve watched hot films with my wife which has led to great love- making. I wasn’t fantasising over the images I’d seen; but we were more relaxed, more turned-on, and more adventurous. I’ve discovered what my real fantasies are partly through “porn” – seen that they’re shared by millions of other people, and been less worried about suggesting them to my wife – she was completely happy, and had similar variations of her own that she wanted to try.”
If viewing erotic images of other people makes you feel relaxed, turned on, and adventurous, then you are in need of counseling and spiritual direction more than anything else.
I speak of this from experience. Because of my emotional issues, I was drawn to pornography for a time. The satisfaction and attraction I felt for it wasn’t based on “healthy fantasy” or “finding what I’m interested in.” It was a way to get satisfaction while avoiding anything to do with myself, my relationship, or my body. It was a way to skip over the inconvenient pain I was experiencing and jump right to the pleasure part; looking back, it was completely disordered, and completely unsatisfying.
You might jump to say this is just me and my issues, but I don’t think it is. Real Catholic sex — the life-giving, self-sacrificing, completely present kind of sex — is a banquet of emotion, stimulation, and satisfaction. Hiding from or covering up this exchange with toys, pornographic fantasies, or drugs — even if both parties “want it” — is like opting out of the feast in favor of dumpster diving.
And speaking of your “completely happy wife”…
If you dig deep enough, I’d be surprised if you didn’t discover some past sexual trauma or emotional abuse that leads her to accept this behavior in her marriage and perceive feelings of happiness and satisfaction when her husband wants to watch other couples have sex.
4. “Like alcohol, playing poker etc.things that give you an emotional high need controlling, but in small doses can be fun.”
This is the heart of the marginalization for me, and the reason most non-Catholic and non-Christian readers will disagree with me. Sex does wonderful things for your health and your relationship with your spouse. Sex is fun. Sex is exciting. Sex is sexy. But the purpose of sex is not “fun”.
To quote Pope John Paul II via Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body, the consummation of a marriage through sex “fulfills the very meaning of our being and existence.” It is the ultimate expression of love, giving, and self-donation. It is an analogy for the Trinity, and an expression of a state of total love. It requires two completely present people, and it may overflow to give life to a third.
The purpose of Catholic sex is to bring two spouses closer to God. The purpose of pornography, alcohol, poker, and any other human vice is to drive a wedge between your life and the life God wants for you. It’s sent straight from Screwtape, with a health dose of marginalization to make you think you’re too advanced for the vice to really derail you from God’s vision for you so a little bit won’t hurt. And if you and your spouse are helping each other drive that wedge, you’re going to reach the conclusion twice as quickly (…no pun intended).