Betty Duffy

Monday, November 7, 2011

Teaching Chastity

In my last post, I asked to hear from Catholic women with satisfying sex lives: what were the most important influences that helped them reach that point in their marriages? It's not too difficult to get an earful about what's not happening in the bedroom, and why--but positive reports from Catholic women who are happy with their intimate lives are rare. It's not a topic that comes up often in polite company, nor should it. But occasionally, it's good to be reminded that the teachings of the Magisterium do not negate finding satisfaction in the bedroom. Culture so often insinuates the opposite.

The post was in response to an author elsewhere on the internet who posited that her parents' over-emphasis on chastity before marriage made it difficult for her to enjoy her intimate life after marriage.

Pinpointing and addressing the source of sexual difficulties takes a lot of time and effort, and if one is already too tired to think about sex much, it's understandable why she might prefer fixating on one of the only factors that cannot be changed--the past. But present factors are probably way more influential in determining one's interest in sex: hormones, childbirth, emotional intimacy with one's spouse, techniques, time, fatigue, medical concerns, etc. All of these factors are mutable (one's present disposition towards the past is also mutable).

The spiritual and physical danger of premarital sexual liaisons is real. If one has never had the experience of being dumped after sex, of being lied to by a partner, of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, of feeling separated from God or from one's family due to imprudent pairings, then I can see how it's possible to underestimate that pain, and romanticize pre-marital sex as some gentle and innocent exploration of the libido.

Advising a young woman to take on the myriad risks of premarital sex, in the off chance she might have a better married sex life someday, is not something I want to do. Parents who promote chastity to their children are not trying to tie up burdens, difficult for others to carry. They are trying to relieve burdens that their children may have to carry throughout the rest of their lives.

As a parent myself, I assume that my children will have and enjoy their many long years of marriage to figure out what makes them tick in the bedroom. Nevertheless, from the responses to my last post, I noticed two trends that may promote that end:

1. Engaging in age-appropriate dialogue with our kids about bodies, reproduction, and its place in marriage.

2. MODELing appropriate affection with one's spouse.
Let your emotional and physical openness to one another and God be a visible sign to your kids of the fruits of a healthy relationship.

Even still, there are no guarantees that our children will heed the lessons we want to teach them. I enjoyed Elizabeth Foss's recent post noting this fact. And how it's still worth the effort to teach our children well, to embody chaste, healthy physical relationships with our spouses for our own benefit, and so our kids will have that reference as they make their own decisions about marriage.


JMB said...

I agree with you that there are no guarantees that our children will behave the way we taught them to. I think the huge heresy of our times is the idea that by just knowing something (smoking causes cancer!) the child will refrain from engaging in that behavior . You can talk about sex until you are blue in the face, but if the child acts impulsively or makes a bad decision, does it really matter what he or she knows already? I don't mean to sound fatalistic, but I do think we have to teach our children well, but then leave it up to Holy Spirit to guide them.

Jus said...

I have been following the stream with interest. I agree we must do the best we can to teach our children , and to model an appropriate relationship with our bodies, and sex. That being said I think there is a ton to be learned in the teaching. I think as my oldest daughter begins to hit puberty I have had to think a lot about what I am saying to her about relationships of all sorts and I also have had to think a lot about what my actions are saying to her about relationships, our bodies and sexual thoughts, feelings and actions. The thing is I think I have learned as much through this process as she has and the thing that I am learning about the most is TRUST. Trust in God, trust in my daughter, and trust in myself and the many years of parenting that I have already completed. The understanding that I need to do my best to model to her and teach her a healthy understanding of sex is, for me, the easier bit. For me the hard part comes in trusting that I do NOT have control of the souls in my care and to trust that where I am, and where I leave off , God is present.
This, for me , is where I learn through teaching - Docendo discimus.

PS - I have a tattoo and a nose ring and have been around enough communities around the world to know that these are not in any way signs of failure in the spiritual life. If mothers out there are worried - breathe ;)

Lizzie said...

I'm someone who made a (well, a lot of) bad decision(s) and there's a multitude of reasons as to why that ended up happening - even though my parents were open about sex and had an affectionate relationship etc.

I think, as with so many issues connected to faith, it really comes down to knowing you are loved by God and your identity being deeply rooted in this knowledge. If you know you're loved by the creator of the Universe and that he has a plan for your life, I really do think it's easier to make the right choices.

The theatre company I work for run a day for Confirmation candidates (about 14/15 years old) and we use drama, discussion and prayer to open up some of the points from Theology of the Body. I think one of the most successful parts of the day is looking at salvation history through drama and explaining to them that although the Church's teaching on Sex and Relationships can be hard to understand, it makes sense because it comes from a God who loves us and it's worth sticking to.
Sorry to ramble but it's something I get passionate about due in no small part to the mistakes I have made and not wanting young people and my son to do the same!
Also, research has shown that young people respond far better to the concept of rewards rather than consequences. This has definitely shaped how I view parenting and teaching in this area.
Thought provoking, as ever! Thanks Betty

Nayhee said...

re Jus' ps: yes, totally. I've been ruminating on some of the tattoo and piercing comments over at E.F's and wondering what the heck.

Jus said...

Nayhee - I am relieved to see this comment. I have been noticing panicked tattoo and piercing posts far more than usual in the last couple of weeks and was beginning to think perhaps I was alone (with my husband and friends) in viewing these externals as on par with with other non-faith related choices. That does not mean, of course, that a non-virtuous person could not have tattoos or piercings or that a tattoo could not be, in its design or conspicuousness , very offensive. It is only that in themselves they have never been, to me, a weather vane for easy-virtue.
We just moved from East Africa where one of the greatest expressions of catholic and orthodox identification is that tattooing of a cross - ON THE FACE (forehead). I have often thought that those women and men they would certainly not be able to deny Christ as did the thief. There is no self consciousness in their witness. The world is large and the Catholic church (and my Orthodox church) allow for any number of expressions throughout the world. I try to keep my perspective between big "T" and small "t" traditions and not become overly dogmatic about matters that are not inextricably connected to fulfilling a role as created.
I can not help but think that there are FAR too many slings and arrows in this world and far too many temptations and opportunities too sin to waste to much precious time for the non-essentials.
Now SEX - that is an area where we truly have the opportunity to either virtue or sin - to make an expression of our desire to be closer to God or to use as a wedge to move ourselves away from the divine.

BettyDuffy said...

I didn't read the comments to EF's post, so I'm not sure what's going on over there--but many Catholics consider getting a tattoo perhaps not quite on par with, but close to, defiling the temple.

That said, the consequences of sex are, as you say Jus, far more serious. And the official teaching of the Church has much to say on sex, and virtually nothing on tattooing.

Culturally speaking, though, I think the reasons that Americans get tattoos have little in common with the reasons an African might get a tattoo. An American who tattoos their face guarantees for themselves a life of unemployment, or a career in the arts (which closely resembles unemployment). And crosses are not typically the image of choice in American face-tattooing.

I know there are millions of reasons why Americans get tattoos, and most of them are benign, but I'd say up until the last decade or so, tattooing has been a counter-cultural thing to do in America. And at the least, for a child who knows that her parents frown on it, it is a sign of rebellion. So some parental indignation is justified.

Jus said...

I disagree - but agree to do so ;) That being said when I imagine my worries, my fears for my children I worry about goodness, virtue and love of god. I do not worry about pink hair.

Hope said...

I read this post and the last one with interest, wanting to say something and yet not knowing what to say. Feeling that because of my history of sexual addiction I couldn't contribute anything positive and had no right to.

Something that I couldn't have foreseen, for all the talking I did with my kids, particularly my only daughter, was how the unspoken stuff got communicated about sexuality because of my unhealed, not dealt with, fallout from childhood sexual abuse. That formed her views far more than any words I said.

If there is anything hopeful at all in my experience, though, it is that the Sacraments have been the greatest source of healing for me in my journey. The Sacrament of Reconciliation especially.

BettyDuffy said...

"That being said when I imagine my worries, my fears for my children I worry about goodness, virtue and love of god. I do not worry about pink hair."

I definitely agree with you on this point, Jus!

Hope, so true. Where would any of us be without those healing Sacraments.

Elizabeth Foss said...

I wonder though. Would you worry about pink hair if it came along with silence, and all black clothes, and black lipstick--on a fourteen-year-old who previously dressed as if she walked off the pages of a Lands' End catalog? Would you worry about it if she dyed her hair with the same friend who taught her how to cut herself? I think we need to give these moms the benefit of the doubt. They know their kids and they know that sometimes these "externals" are signs that something much deeper is going on internally. But when we begin a conversation about it, the externals (I thought) are more objective. You can observe them. Turns out, they're subjective objectives. In my example, it wasn't the pink hair. It was the rejection of faith, the suddenly promiscuous lifestyle with an atheist, and the fact that this girl is 18 and engaged to someone about whom her parents have very vocally expressed grave concerns. The pink hair was part and parcel of this "New Life" she created with him. Not every teenager makes a statement with a tattoo or piercing or hair coloring, but the reality is that many do. And for many, it's the first outward statement. Wouldn't it be great if somehow we could communicate and troubleshoot there, before they made much more damaging statements with their bodies?

Elizabeth Foss said...

:-) Oh, and.
I actually wanted to post in response to your post, Betty, and then I got sidetracked with the comments. My parents never talked to me about sex. My mom handed me a birds and bees book when I was seven and that was that. I did overhear arguments about it, particularly about my father's infidelity. My parents divorced bitterly and were never openly affectionate. My mother is very cold.
All that said, I think my husband would absolutely agree when I say that we have good sex life, even a great one. The most important influence? The man I married is tender and affectionate, self-giving and understanding. HE is the most important influence, though I'm pretty sure he'd turn that around and say I am. We entrust and inspire one another. Does that mean that, despite the way you were raised, the relationship between husband and wife ultimately determines deep joy in all areas of marriage?

BettyDuffy said...


I'm glad for your comment, and the clarification on the externals and internals of the pink hair. It's an important distinction--the note on it being out of character and part and parcel of a larger transformation that includes rejection of faith and values. I think Jus was noting that tattooing and hair-dying are not always indicators of something like that going on. But parents know their children, you're right.

On point II:
"Does that mean that, despite the way you were raised, the relationship between husband and wife ultimately determines deep joy in all areas of marriage?"

I don't know. My guess is it's different for everyone. I'm not sure that every functional marriage experiences deep joy in all areas. Though many good marriages experience fluctuating joy in many areas, and some not-so-good marriages have fantastic sex lives.

I'd say that my family of origin is still my internal gage for "normal" regarding spousal (publicly displayed) affection, disagreement, and sibling relationships. My parents are happily married. Also, my grandparents and aunts and uncles.

I thought it was interesting that in the last post, some people said that their unhappily married parents were examples of how not to be in marriage, but still hugely influential.

Elizabeth Foss said...

"I thought it was interesting that in the last post, some people said that their unhappily married parents were examples of how not to be in marriage, but still hugely influential."

I think this happens both in marriage and in parenting. We often become the parents we wish we'd had. We definitely can learn a lot about what we don't want as children of a dysfunctional marriage. Not sure how much we really learn about intimacy there, though. Honestly, I think it's grace...