The Not Safe For Work Post, Part 2

In the previous post, I looked at reasons why it would be wrong (meaning “not right”) for a person to m*sturbate. Quite often—so I read and hear—a big factor in self-gratification is p*rnography. It does this by stimulating the mind to think sexually, so the brain will want release, and how to achieve it, but…

And again, a lot of society sees nothing wrong with this, so long as it involves consenting adults with protection against disease and unwanted pregnancies among the willing participants. Here’s the thing—I believe there’s a heck of a lot more people who see its use as wrong than okay.

Did you know:

– In some ridiculously high percentage of divorce cases, use of p*rn is one of the primary complaints? Not “it helps us grow stronger as a couple,” not “its fun,” not “it improves our sex lives.” No. It’s “I hate that s/he does this so much that I cannot live with or be legally united to this person any more because it makes me feel like such crap and s/he can’t even give it up.”  For all those who would call me a prude, just think about it. You’re trying to justify that it is okay to be away from your spouse, pleasing just yourself, by watching complete strangers get it on? That this is healthy; normal? It’s that important to you that you wouldn’t give it up for a person you purportedly love?

– There’s harm to the participants. By buying into this industry, you are financing the spread of STIs, possible human and child trafficking, prostitution, and emotional turmoil. Former “p*rn stars” have written and spoken about their experiences and what it does to them as people. it’s not pretty.

– There’s a very popular and well-trafficked and secular Reddit forum devoted to people both hoping to remove addiction to p*rn and/or “f*pping”? Not for religious reasons or they feel dirty or ashamed (see part 3 for more on that)? But for many, many others?

– There’s a TED talk—also not religious—that delves into what happens to your brain on p*rn. It gets addicted. It can make you want more and want weirder things to keep chasing that high, which gets harder to achieve.

– Many, many books and studies, many of which are by secular people, cite the above problems, demonstrating that it is a harm to yourself—your own brain, that beautiful seat of intellect.

Just like in Part 1, use of p*rn goes against the dignity of who we are and what we’re designed for, reducing our amazing selves to sacks of hormones with just an itch to scratch. Why do that to ourselves?

In the final post, Part 3, I’ll get into the words the commentator used: “dirty” and “shame” and how they relate to this issue.

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7 in 7–The Not Safe For Work Post, Part 1

*Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, pastoral counselor, or medical doctor. I am however a person with knowledge trying to witness to my faith. If any of the below is in error, please let me know!

A little while ago I received a comment from a new reader with a question—a question about a subject not much talked about (at least publicly) in Catholic circles. To be honest, I almost wanted to delete it and apologetically reply that such comments couldn’t appear, lest the blog get blocked; that I wanted to make sure young women and maybe even (older) teen girls, could still find and access the rest of the site. And you know what? Because I believe they need this information, I’m letting the comment stand AND I’m going to address this topic and other “controversial” ones because I think there are things we don’t talk about but should. However, I will likely use asterisk in certain words just in case.

So. M*sturbation. Self-pleasure. Why is it not allowed? Many people view it as a victimless sin; some doctors call it healthy; it relieves the urge without getting anyone pregnant or infected or emotionally hurt; right?

Wrong.

Now, let me say that I do acknowledge the neuroscience behind the physiological response: do an action to stimulate nerves, nerves send response to brain, brain makes you feel either pleasure or pain. But m*sturbation’s end game is what…I don’t know…a matter of seconds? There’s a flood of endorphins, true…but you can get endorphins from: exercise, cuddling with clothes on, petting a cat or dog, heck sometimes even eating delicious chocolate.

But more importantly, the Church teaches what she teaches because there are some universal capital-t Truths about humanity, which help explain the morality of actions or not. Self gratification is not victimless…there’s you and your soul. But I know some people have difficulty with the concept of a soul or allowing for religious explanations in defense of an argument, so I’ll try to use other reasoning. M*sturbation and p*rn (Part 2) are wrong—meaning “not right.” Why?

The Individual (Married or Not)

You are a person—not just a body. You have to admit that people, human beings, whatever you call us intelligent mammals doing our thing—we’re pretty cool. We have brains, emotions, and most importantly reason. I don’t care what descendants we have in common genetically—we are distinct from animals. Animals have instinct and urges and their actions satisfy them. We as people have the ability to control our impulses. So why not the impulse to reach org*sm?

Because it is using our body (or parts) as an object. It is seen as only a means to an end, not a wonderful creation with a distinct purpose. Think about other habits people have that are considered not good, but are done because they satisfy something about the person: nose picking, nail biting, picking at a scab, knuckle cracking, itch-scratching. All those actions use a part of the body for momentary release, but a lot of society has a problem with those habits and we teach children not to do them. Why is m*sturbation different? Oh, because of pleasure?

Is the purpose of our bodies pleasure? Is that really the end game? Twenty seconds awash in endorphins? Anyone reading see Sex and the City? In an early episode, Charlotte gets a vibr*tor and enjoys it so much she starts canceling plans with her friends, other human beings, so she can stay in with a  device. Is that healthy? Even those libertine women didn’t think so, staging a mini-intervention. So do it moderation, some might say—like with junk food or alcohol. But those actions are to fulfill the real needs of eating and drinking—just done in a not-good way. But what need is self-gratification fulfilling?

None.

There is no actual biological need for org*sm. It is a want; and it is a want that has become so hyped and so accepted that society is pretty much going to allow justifying anything to get it. Sorry, but I believe we are mad for more than that; that our bodies have a higher purpose; that there are better uses of our time and mind. It is not the right purpose.

Married Individuals

It may surprise non-religious readers to know that there are actually some liberal interpretations of married love and its bounds that while neither officially “sanctioned” are also not officially discounted so long as the husband finishes inside the wife. This means that it might be okay to start a lovemaking session with the wife stimulating her husband and vice versa.[UPDATE: Edited to Add After Comment] As I understand it, this is not official Church teaching, but the interpretation of some ToB scholars. if you think about the act, its purpose, and what it communicates and put it through a moral test, it may not pass muster. Questions to ask: is it self-seeking? Is it to “get away” with as much as you can either because you dislike something else too much or like it too much? Does it fulfill the two purposes: bonding and babies?

Stimulating yourself in front of the other…well…why? It aids the other person in getting excited? The only way or the best way? Why would that be the case? Because you saw it in p*rn and liked it? See Part 2. A medical issue preventing sex? See a doctor. [UPDATE #2]: A helpful commentator points out below that none other than Blessed-soon-to-be-awesome Saint John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility (as Karol Wojtyla) that mutual stimulation is licit in the context of the entire marital act, which is to be unitive. The concern is with the notions that stimulation with no intention of turning the act into a unitive one being not as licit.

Sex is a union. If you think about the design of the human body, the male form doesn’t really make sense without the female; they were made to go together. The “end game” for both the man and woman is possible babies and, I think discussions of marital love forget to emphasize this, bonding.

So hopefully all of the above have tried to communicate why it is wrong (meaning “not right”) to m*sturbate. Stay tuned for Part 2, which goes into a companion problem of self-gratification, posting later today.

Soulmates: Part 2

Yesterday (link) I wrote about the three main problems I have with the “soul mate theory” and peppered vague references to today’s post, which tries to illuminate how Catholic teaching has helped me form the idea that romantic soul mates don’t exist. (Sorry. But it will be okay, I promise!)

The Beauty of Free Will 

Another one of those mysteries I think a lot of us will be excited to understand in Heaven is the gift of free will. If God is the Author of our lives and is outside of time, then how does it work if we have free will to ignore Him? Well…I think it is that He knows when we will ignore Him, when we will listen to Him, and the results of those choices. And this is just pure speculation: maybe if He sees us doing one thing at age 22, He’ll send the Holy Spirit when we need Him at age 37…only we won’t perceive it as such.

There’s also the issue of other people’s free will. What if you meet Antiochus on CatholicMatch, and he gives good email, seems like he’d be a “soul mate,” but he is far from you, and you can’t afford long distance and can’t mentally handle a never-meet-till-engaged type of relationship—and the hiring manager at a firm in your town uses her free will to reject his job application and you never meet? It is horrible to think about “right now, someone could be married to your husband” (When Harry Met Sally…it turned out to be true. :P). But that’s only if soul mates exist.

No, we were given the gift (love that it is that word) of free will to either cooperate with God’s grace or not, and God will cooperate with us however we choose to act. So if I freely choose to enter into marriage with Innocent and ask for God’s grace, He’ll give it to me. Simeon could use his free will to ditch me at the altar, and God will help heal my wounds. If we ever applied the “soul mate” test to those relationships, we’d be ignoring our free will.

The Beauty of Marriage

When we think of “soul mates” (particularly Catholics), we think of the men who are supposed to be our husbands and we will be married to them. Catholic Church teaching on marriage actually lends itself more to an image of man and woman coming together for God, not man and woman coming together because of God. This idea can be extrapolated in the way the Church thinks about marriage, and even in the wedding.

According to the “How to Have a Catholic Wedding Mass/Rite” things I read for work, there are some elements that really illustrate how marriage to a person is for God, and that making this sacrament doesn’t mean you are soul mates (I acknowledge you might feel like you become soul mates after the sacrament), or that if the groom is your “true” soul mate, this marriage will be happy and last until death.

  • Tiny, but important detail: For the entrance, the actual proscription is for the bride and groom to process down the aisle together. The escorting of the bride by the father is permissible (as is, of course another male family member or both the parents*, etc. And grooms can get a special walk, too). This idea symbolizes that the man and woman are entering the marriage together, freely.
  • The bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament! Think of that! It’s the only one! It reinforces the teaching that a man and woman give the gift of self to one another freely and consent to the sacrament. They are quite literally making the marriage. In a sense, because we are body+soul, when a marriage is consummated, the two do become one, but the souls are not inextricably linked by supernatural forces before.
  • Also, referenced yesterday (link), one of the ideas behind marriage is that, as a vocation, it is a way in which to enter union with God, get to Heaven, what have you. Your choice of husband can help or hinder your own progress or your husband’s progress on the way to God if you let it; but ultimately, you are responsible for the care and keeping of your own soul and together, the raising of little souls.  The sense I get from the concept of “soul mate” would mean that I ethereally “belonged” to someone, and if I decided on my own that a man was a “soul mate” and he was wrong for me in a marriage, I am not free.

The Beauty of Existence

In the opening pages of most Catholic catechisms, we are taught that we are “created by God, for God, to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.” Our bodies and souls were always designed to end up in union with Him. Our husbands may be the “vehicle” through which we finally encounter Him, but this other human being is not who we were created for, and union with lowercase-h him, is not our ultimate calling.  Each one of us is called to relationship and authentic Love, and it is ours for the taking. God is our actual soul mate.

Right now, I feel content sitting with the notion that my “one-and-only,” “one true love,” “soul mate” is not out there, does not exist. That attitude might belie a lack of hope in the future, but rather it is more comforting (to me, anyway) to know that with the help of God’s grace, I can find someone, anyone, who might make a good marriage with me, and not have to ever wonder if a good man measures up to the yardstick of “soul mate.” In a way, it is freeing to not have to worry if Cyril is my “soul mate” and potentially not marry him because I do not feel he is; or if I do, never worry that I will never meet him or that he will never grow up and get a job that can support a wife and children. And if I’m 43 and still single, it will just be another birthday to chat with God about why I’m at where I’m at right now. Is it me? Is it You? Is it Methodius, who is ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to just propose already?

Whatever it is, I know that I am loved and have the opportunity to love my soul mate back, because He will always be right there with me.

*I could get all “feminist” on this issue, which is why I love the Church’s way and the meaning behind it, all the much more.

Soulmates: Part 1

The good news: We all have one.

The great news: It’s God.

The bad news: That’s it.

As a single woman, the notion of a “soul mate” does come up every now and then. I may have wondered to myself if I had one, who he is, where he lived, and how we would find each other. Like my romantic life is a game of “Clue” and I will either be validated or surprised by whether I’ve figured out it’s Athanasius* in the city of Chicago, whom I met because I caught his debonair hat off a gust of wind.

But as I thought about it more (part of my discernment-link), my rational brain came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in romantic soul mates, primarily because there is no official Church teaching, philosophy, encyclical, or what have you, written by people infinitely smarter than I that makes a solid case for one human being (who’s been called to marriage, natch) destined to be made for another human being. I also believe that there are some distinct problems with the defense of the concept and some validation in my point of view from the beauty of real teachings from the Church, official and everything.  See tomorrow’s post for that. Yes, I’m making you wait! But we’re Catholic; we’re used to it. 😉

Special note: I don’t mean for this post to judge or belittle the many lovely people married to wonderful-sounding spouses who earnestly believe in the concept of soul mates and point to their relationships as evidence. Perhaps in time it will be like those who proffer evidence of a miracle and some Church tribunal does proclaim romantic relationships as “soul-mated.” But until then, I’d like to enter the conversation as a single person.

The Problem of Privilege

I find that many supporters of the concept are already married, and this is a problem, because really, they’re coming from a place of privilege. Privilege meaning that they have had certain formative experiences that naturally (not negatively) limit the ability to understand or speak to the experiences of another group.

And married privilege is just that. Of course, you believe your spouse is your soul mate and couldn’t imagine being married to anyone else. He’s your husband! You chose each other (come back tomorrow) and know each other so intimately now, that of course you can’t imagine being married to Barabbas, who had a nasty addiction, or Mordecai, who was nice, but boring, or even Ephrem from Marketing, whom you loved, but he got transferred, and the long distance killed an otherwise loving relationship.

As a single person (especially a young one, new to Catholic thought), it can be dangerous to be told there is just one person for you.

  • A friend of mine believed this and agonized, “What if I never meet him?!?!” Well…that’s..silly..if God knows you have a husband (see below), you will meet him and decide to marry him. Oh, she meant soul mate. Then you will use God’s grace to make your marriage with another man as holy as possible. God isn’t arranging things so that our true happiness is solely dependent on only one person. It’s dependent solely on Him.
  • It also clouds discernment (link). “Lady Blogger Awesome says I have a soul mate arranged for me. But I have this job offer in this other city. Does it mean I take it and he’s there? What if I leave and it turns out he was here? How do I know I’ll find him again? And what if we’re old? Like forty!” For the sake of Nervous Nellies, let’s please can the talk that free will choices mean we’re not going to attain true happiness. We will, no matter what—with God.

These two issues illustrate that “soul mates” imply that your greatest happiness is found in one person, and if you end up with another person, you’ll have less happiness, so hold out for your soul mate, and you’ll know when you know.**

I do think though that there are ways in which people cooperate with God’s grace that helped them end up with a man of their dreams. Hang on till tomorrow, okay?

The Problem of Star Trek God

Probably one of the hardest mysteries to contemplate is that God is outside of human perceptions of space and time. That He is simultaneously present in the woman who’s just received Eucharist in India, in the company of the praying children in a school in 1962, and with His Son, dying on the cross. Because we know the basic fact of “God is outside of space and time,” people sometimes use this to make certain conclusions. One of which is that “because God is outside of space and time, the Author of your life, knows how you will use your free will [hang on], He knows whom you will end up with, post ipso facto ergo propter hoc, you have a soul mate.” Um. No.

Here’s why: While God is outside of space and time, can see everything, know our decisions (tomorrow!), this does not mean He has ordained that person to be yours in a romantic context, or that your souls will unite perfectly and you will have a perfect marriage, or that there was a soul mate, you didn’t pick him, and there was someone better for you and you’ll find out who when you get to Heaven.

What I believe is that because God sits outside of space and time, it simply means he sees all our decisions, how we cooperated with His grace (or not), and our earthly lives were being shaped by us and Him for that moment when we are called to Him and we our either welcomed into His company with the saints, are told we cannot see Him just yet and are told to wait in the vestibule (Purgatory), or we choose to reject his company forever and permanently. In the end, perhaps God knew I ended up with Malachi from CatholicMatch, who was only okay, but saw that Joachim in Miami was a good and holy man and may have made me happier, given me more children. Yet, at the “End” of the literal Day, I do not believe it matters whether my soul “mated”*** with Mal’s soul over Jo’s. What matters is that I and my own soul said “yes” to union with God.

Which leads me to:

The Problem of Yenta God

The very notion of a soul mate precludes the possibility that someone else could make you just as happy or happy in different ways. Or that one person will lead you to Heaven and anyone else will take over your entire decision-making skills and you will be led astray. Or that there is just one person whom you are called to lead to Heaven (marriage: visit tomorrow!) and if you don’t get together, he’ll end up in the darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. My goodness, the pressure!

But very often we don’t think of these issues when we think “soul mate.” We think about how companionable the person is, how his good qualities make him a good husband, and because by the time we end up married to him, we can’t imagine anyone else making us feel (this word very deliberately chosen) this good about ourselves and relationships with God. And it seems like to us that we were destined to be together, MFEO, and God wanted us with this one man.

Well, He does and He doesn’t. God wants us to be happy; He wants us to make choices that draw us closer to Him; He wants us to be in communion with other persons. But I don’t think God necessarily appoints Charbel to be matched with Hildegard. He may lead one to the other through promptings of the Holy Spirit and guardian angels, but he doesn’t have a web site of profiles that he divinely pairs together. There are two issues with thinking God arranges a soul “mating” between two individuals:

a.: It conflicts with the gift of free will (tomorrow, I love ya)

2. The very idea smacks of predestination, and we are not Calvinists. We’re Catholic.

A dangerous line of thinking here is that if you believe God has destined you for one particular man, say, Clement, and because you’re supposed to meet, fall in love, and have babies, God will make it so, and you have to do nothing. Unless Clement turns out to be the Fed Ex guy you see every day all along (and also just so happens to share your views on faithful married life) or that Ephrem from Marketing (and unlike in the 1st problem, you’d “know” to move with him) who is the only man you see because you live at your job, it is quite easy to remain single. Why can’t your future spouse be Boniface on the bus, whom you’re too shy to talk to? And oh, dear, what do you do if your “soul mate” uses his free will and does something that necessitates you end the civil part of the marriage and remain single the rest of your days? Does that mean you never had a soul mate?

Conclusion:

It’s like the old joke priests love to throw into the homily at least once a year: A flood is coming. A man prays to God to save him. A warning goes out that the waters are rising, to get to the shelter. The man stays. The waters rise, and someone in a canoe passes by to bring the man to safety. The man stays. The waters rise, and a helicopter hovers over to pluck the man from the roof. The man stays. And dies. When he gets to Heaven, he asks God, “Lord, why didn’t you save me?” And God replies “What do you mean? I sent you a warning, a canoe, and a helicopter!”

Dear hearts, God wants us to be with Him in Heaven, and that may mean we get there through marriages. He will send us only good things—and He will send many, especially if we miss Him the first time around! It’s just up to us to practice the art of discernment (link) and really listen to understand what He knows we have ahead of us.

*I think it’s fun to use random Catholic saints/historical people as my example characters. Any similarity to persons living or with God unintended and not deliberate, either.

**Please stop telling single people this statement. Instead, describe the feelings, the result of prayer, the comparison and contrast between this girlfriend and your ex.

***Whatever that means! There’s no single, solitary definition. Yet another Problem.