The Not Safe for Work Post, Part 3

In this final post, I’ll tackle the words the commentator used: “dirty” and “shame”

So often we start to culturally change the meaning of words as they fit to our understanding at the time and years later hold on to outdated senses of the word…or at least perceive that other people are. When actually…

“Dirty”

One of the commentator’s questions had to do along the lines of why does the Church teaching (or other Catholics) make people feel “dirty” or tell them [check on this] for doing such things as in Post 1 and 2.

Note that in the previous 2 posts, I never used the word “dirty” or used names, but presented the teaching and my understanding of the human person, which, hey, seems like it could be a pretty fair generalization acceptable to everyone, and asked questions. I don’t go for calling people “dirty.” And the world’s come a long way from the Leviticus times of being “unclean.”

In fact, when it comes to this issue, I’ve heard very little use of the word “dirty.” Rather, what I see coming from the Catholic Church is a very pastoral approach—a recognition that these are problems hurting people not just on a spiritual level, but emotional, physical, and relational. So the language is more of healing. Unlike in the past, there is more of an understanding of how addressing the human inclination to sexual sin through a sense of healing and imaging of the beauty of the whole human person is better than just saying “it’s wrong,” “it’s dirty,” or anything else greatly pejorative.

So no, I won’t tell a teen who hasn’t been formed in the principles I have or who is struggling to control impulses or detach from the neurochemical high that s/he is “dirty.” Personally, I’d save that word for someone who deliberately bilks money from the elderly or rapes or murders.

But I will still say both are doing wrong (that which is not right). Part 1 and Part 2 started to unpack why these actions are not right; now let’s unpack why it is right to feel shame.

“Shame”

Is shame a bad feeling? Yes. Should we avoid it? Yes. Can we avoid it by saying that some actions that were considered “not right” are now “okay”? No.

No one likes to feel shame. It means that we recognize we’ve done wrong, have hurt someone or ourselves, and usually wish we hadn’t done it. The awesome thing about us being humans with reason, is that if we feel shame, we have a choice of whether we do it again or not. We’re not animals following a base instinct or urge and can’t help it.

And shame is not without its positives. One of my favorite writers wrote a great blog post about the distinction between embarrassment and shame. Se writes, shame “always leaves room for justice, mercy, and repentance.” http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/embarrassment-vs.-shame#ixzz2uWibZx27

Why should actions like those in Parts 1 and 2 merit shame? Well, hopefully I started to explain how it is not really very just to one’s self to use the body or use a person . If you think about all the uses of your time and capacity as a human being made for higher purposes and authentic love, why not “feel bad” that you used it in such a way that was unproductive and entirely self-serving. If one wants to argue that you can be a good person and because you don’t do something all the time, you are making it subjective. But I believe—and many others, and not just for religious reasons—look it up—that such actions are objectively wrong (“not right”), which means you can’t excuse it or avoid shame by saying you only do the wrong thing some of the time.

I know when we think of shame, we think of the parent who says “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” and feel bad about getting caught, about what we’ve done, or about how we’re now feeling bad because we’re disappointed that someone has called something we thought was okay “wrong.” Are people open to trying to see how the person doing the “shaming” could have a point?  I do think it takes some growth to move from shame just about feeling “bad” or down on one’s self, to it being a call—a call to seek repentance or make amends if you can.

These words can make the Church seem one of condemnation, when actually it is pure, authentic love and mercy. We care about your souls, your dignity, and believe in your capacity as human beings. I personally agree that is not merciful to call someone “dirty,” and not even the act, because too often people associate the act with them as persons (not the case, but that is a larger philosophical point harder to unpack). But I do personally wish shame was seen more as a an understanding and then a call to seek what is right.

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.

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.

Thoughts for Thursday: Online Dating

Ever think about online dating? Hear conflicting advice from trusted people? Well, here’s how your sister-in-Christ manages to find dateable men—without losing her mind. The first and foremost piece of advice: keep the lines of communication open with God—prayer, Mass, sacraments. Those practices help with discernment.

And I know, advice coming from an unmarried woman seems unreliable, BUT but I did meet and date 6 great guys (just not “The One”) over 6 years and am currently dating Mr. Hopefully-Lucky #7!

What I Kept in Mind:

–         It’s a strategy, not the strategy.

  • You know that expression, “When one door closes, God opens a window”? Well, I decided that I was going to open every window, door, and chimney flue to help God in. Online dating is just one portal through which He can reach me.

– The profile doesn’t have to always be “on.”

  • Sometimes it’s good to switch off the site to better tune into the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

–         Remembering that I am trying to connect with a possible future spouse, not shopping for emotional satisfaction.

  • To me, online dating is like utilizing LinkedIn in to find a job, not browsing through images of shoes and putting my favorites in a cart. LinkedIn is an additional tool to a job search—and that’s just for how you spend your day and earn your money. Why not utilize an additional tool to find who I spend my life with and earn my salvation? When looking for a job, you have to be discriminating; with shoes or clothes, it’s a lot more impulse-based. Bottom line: Dating is a process of discriminating discernment.

Before Beginning

–         Figure out what I wanted in a guy.

  • More than just physical attraction (to me): his spirituality, his attitude toward life, how he spends his spare time, how he thinks of his family, what his ideal 3-5 year plan looks like compared to mine, etc.
  • List non-negotiables: spiritual life, personality traits, vision of future, acceptance of Church teaching on marital life, etc., acceptable distance
  • Rank areas I’d give wiggle room to: compatibility with type of political views, hobbies, music, TV shows, etc.
    • I didn’t want to discount a great-sounding guy because he doesn’t like Doctor Who or Mumford and Sons, but I also don’t want to butt heads about policy or have nothing we can share.

–         Figure out HOW I would be able to tell if his responses seem legit

  • Ex: If there’s a faith litmus test and he enters “7 of 7” but leaves any more specific questions (favorites, etc.) blank, I will know to message him/converse on the first date about his faith life.
  • Ex: Know how I would feel about photos of drunken shenanigans with friends vs. ones holding an adorable baby.
  • Ex: Know how I would feel if there’s a great photo, “7 of 7,” but virtually no specifics. Having a plan of action (See below if that’s the case).
  • Ex: What have I learned are really just codes for casual hook-ups:
    • “looking for someone to hang out with”, “not looking for anything serious b/c of school, job, whatev,” “I just want to meet new people,” “got tired of the bar scene” (but the pictures say I still go!)

–         Decide how much I will invest:

  • Money
    • Hint: in many cases, plunking down at least some small amount of money to communicate indicates some level of seriousness
  • Time
    • Hint: this is just one task on a list of many, and not your first one
  • Emotions
    • Hint: keep this low. My friend once told me she likes to think of her matches as imaginary friends until they meet. Helps A LOT.

–         Pick one, and only one, site

  • Some ladies can manage multiple log-ins and many guys, but I found more opportunities does not always equal better.
  • Considerations
    • Price
    • way to gauge faith practice
    • reports from friends about their experience
    • user features
  • Most sites (even paid ones) allow you to browse. Explore the following:
    • number of guys that meet your search criteria
    • type of guys that meet your search criteria
  • Matching Process and User Elements
    • How do they pair you? Is it just a survey with boxes you tick about physical (and sometimes faith) characteristics and the like?
    • Or do they have a special algorithm based on more in-depth qualities?
    • How do they let you communicate with your matches?
    • Any extras that you find helpful to your particular needs?

Whew! That’s a lot of background mental work BEFORE I even signed up. But it was so worth it. Asking and answering these questions of myself really helped when it came to using the site prudently.

So, I’m going to actually skip the section of “how to create a profile.” Just KISS: Keep it Simple, Silly!: be myself, be honest, include variety of photos of me, me+friends, me+family in assorted activities/times of year; etc. I will tell you that a trustworthy male friend looked at my profile and told me not to reveal too much (list favorite genres of music and no more than two examples of specific artists, for example).

Evaluating the Profiles

When it came to this point, I got a little overwhelmed—not only does CatholicMatch match you based on a Match Portrait that’s essentially a pre-marital survey about your views on, well, everything, but also your “Primary Search” (where you check boxes about height, eye color, distance, level of faith, etc.). This is good because sometimes some guys are on one list, but not the other. But I reminded myself that Match Portraits and the like are algorithms with thresholds, not an exact science. Plus, I found that my Match Portrait netted results halfway across the country, and I am too poor to fly and too not-the-person to have a phone-based relationship for several weeks or more. Here’s what helped:

–         Set limits for how often I log on.

  • I started out only logging on once a week, when I had time carved out. A god solid hour to consider new profiles and manage messages. Then I logged off and lived my life. It helped me detach from the idol that online dating could turn into.

–         Stay focused.

  • Remember that list from before I began? I kept checking the profiles against that. I wouldn’t give a non-negotiable wiggle room just because a guy was really hot.

–         Be open-minded, but honest with myself.

  • Read the entire profile before declining or deciding against a flirty first move.
  • Don’t decide I’m not attracted to him based off of one photo or even all 37 he’s posted. I need to see his flesh, hear his voice, and experience his presence.
  • But if lack of immediate attraction is just one of many hesitancies I had, (distance, iffy on the non-negotiables), I found it okay not to make the first move or to play it extra-guarded if he messages me.
    • Special point about attraction regarding husbands: I firmly believe that because I will have to kiss, sleep with, wake up to this man for many many years, it’s okay to move on from a profile if there’s sincerely not one thing I personally am attracted to. I’ve heard love helps beautify the beloved, but I feel that so long as I’m not demanding super-star levels of hotness, I feel I can be honest about what is attractive to me or not.
    • Case in point: all 7 guys (plus Former Crush Friendboy) have very different body types, hair color, eyes, facial structure, etc.

–         Don’t spend too much time with Mr. Vague: the guy who has no specifics, no quiz questions, no temperament test, etc.

  • Mr. Vague doesn’t put in a lot of effort. How serious is he taking his search?
  • Mr. Vague doesn’t stand apart from other guys who want to give a sense of who they are and what they’re about.
  • Mr. Vague brings out the superficiality in me, for aside from generic interests and faith/location compatibility, all I have to go on is immediate response based on looks. That’s not fair to me, or even him, actually.
  • Mr. Vague will get the notice that I looked at him. If he only looks at me and doesn’t send anything, I’m moving on.

Managing the Messaging

– Set limits for how often I messaged.

–         I realized I needed to after one particularly crazy phase in which I lived and died by the announcement of a message or not. Cindy over at Veil of Chastity, recommends picking just one day a week to manage an online account. Worked for her:  She’s married to The Man Who Waited!

–         It sounds scary at first—what if great guy loses interest or gets snagged? Well, that’s a risk. But it can be a test of trust in God that a great guy for you will still be around or willing to wait. Remember that verse: trust in the small things means trust in big things? Ability to patiently wait for you online could indicate capacity to patiently wait for you in other respects, too.

– I preferred waiting for a full message from the guy first before responding.

– I allowed myself to send an emoticon/flirt, answer his quiz questions, but did not send a chatty message first thing during my latest go-around.

– I think this strategy allows for you to tell if he genuinely has some interest in you and isn’t just flattered by female attention.

– If you find yourself saying “he’s not responding because he’s shy,” think about the conclusion I came to: “if he’s so shy as to be uncomfortable sending an Internet message, then is that degree of bashfulness something I really want to take on?”

– I refused to send “where are you???” messages when guys just “poofed.” (TM my NAS prayer partner. J). I’ve learned no matter how busy men say they are, they always make time for the woman they want to make time for.

– I insisted upon quality messaging.

– Don’t get locked into a dozen-long chain of two-line, uncapitalized, veritable text-message-like emails.

– But don’t get so long-winded there’s nothing to talk about on Date 1, either.

– Use the initial emails/online chat functions to figure out questionable things from his profile or get answers to what was missing.

– Set a meet-up deadline.

  • Of course I was flexible if needed. But in general, state a “meet-by-X” timeframe.
  • If he lives under an hour’s driving distance/public transit ride from me, I wanted a date—even a simple coffee date—by exchange #5.
  • If he lived within a reasonable day–trip distance (under 3 hours drive each way), I’d ask how he felt about a phone call (if he didn’t ask first) after exchange #5 and things were still going good.
  • If phone call went well, I’d try not to make it take more than 2 months total—barring true conflicts, like moving or trips away—before we met in person.

And there you have it! A complete system by which to approach online dating that respects you and the gentlemen. It’s not a fool-proof way to actually get a husband, but it is a pretty successful way to “get on the market” and keep your sanity.

As a reward for sticking through this super-long post, be sure to check out the blog next Wednesday, 11/20 for a special giveaway!

Thoughtful Thursday: Why I Believe What I Believe: NFP and Humanae Vitae

Today marks the 45th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, an encyclical from which all our beautiful teaching on fertility and life issues flows. We’re also in the midst of NFP Awareness Week. There are many posts about this issue, so here is mine, which I think takes a very different approach.

Ladies, I am not brave enough to post this on my own Facebook, but please, please, post on yours, especially those of you whom have lots of young, secular friends. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to start sharing this aloud, person by person.

All too often the voices of women who support the creation and sustenance of new life and wish others would see the same beauty in it get drowned out or go unheard. We are told to go out and spread the Good News, but I am sorry to say we do not do so very well. We get snarky, defensive, screechy, preachy, or entirely religious or philosophical and impractical. Our intentions are good: we want others to discover hope. But sometimes our tone means we treat them as if they are hopeless: jumping to conclusions, proclaiming judgment, or outright doling condemnation.

I believe people need to hear “I believe” statements. Not the Church says, this document says, this study from 5 years ago says, this 67-year-old white man says…. I believe people need to hear positive-only messages. Not what’s negative about a product, behavior, or motivation. So here is me, speaking up, positively:

I believe that fertility is a gift. And what’s more–I like it.

After a childhood marked by pituitary issues and an early adulthood punctuated by digestive issues, I like that at least this particular system of my body is functioning correctly. I like that instead of deliberately overhauling it with a substance that has side effects, I can work with it to achieve a desired outcome (pregnancy or not).

I like that by working with it, my husband and I must engage in dialogue about our future  and force the question: which is more important: a few-second rush of endorphins this particular week, or avoiding a baby. I like that it forces my husband and I to see each other as potential co-creators and not just as bodies of hormones and sources of orgasm.

I like that I have been born with a whole set of organs whose sole purpose is to support the creation and nurturing of a new human being. It’s kind of funny to think about, isn’t it, that as individuals, we do not need our reproductive systems to continue living, but yet we still have them. Why? I believe it’s because there is some grander design at work that intends to compel people to continue making more people, not fewer. I like that I belong to the one gender that supports the development of an entirely new human person who will mature and be in this world, hopefully after I am not.

I believe in the concept of a soul, that there is some part of me and you and children that distinguishes us from animals. I believe the soul is so integral to the person, that the soul is there from the moment the person starts, which I believe is when sperm meets egg, and that suddenly these two tiny facets of two individuals become one tiny being entirely distinct from the two. I like that in good health, the new little being is automatically human and could never be anything else—not canine, feline, lupine. I like that within weeks, entirely new biological systems are developing or finally developed. I like the fact that there’s a heartbeat in a uterus that is not the mother’s.

I believe that all of the above is so special it deserves respect. I believe society should change to accommodate the growth of itself, not change biological processes to accommodate society. I believe there are no hierarchy of rights when it comes to two individual human beings. I believe every life is worth living, however short or long or easy or complicated. I like what it says when we don’t end life in-utero because of a disease or condition—that “No mater what, we value your presence in this world and are worth being born, worth figuring out how to ease your pain or heal your body. We see you as worth being a part our family, just as we saw your healthy siblings as belonging to our family when they were growing.”

I like belonging to a community that believes and likes all of the above. I like that it affirms a society that promotes and cultivates new human life. I believe it’s not so much a matter of political or legislative solutions, but one of hearts and minds. I believe that seeing fertility and fecundity as a gift is one that supercedes creed, party affiliation, or philosophy. It is simply a very human vision of the human person. I believe if we all stop shouting at you and each other, we can work together to make a world where such beliefs are liked by everyone.