Chastity Talks, Sex Talks, and Where Teaching the Theology of the Body Went Wrong
I honestly don't fully understand why sex and theology of the body became so warped and just blew up expectations so wildly, but where I've seen it prevalent is in NFP circles, especially NFP circles of people pissed NFP isn't working for them and/or their sex becomes severely limited. Somehow along the line we took on an expectation of theology of the body=great sex, all the time. So when there are those of us who really have to take NFP seriously which results in much less sex it's almost as if our marriages are sub-par because theology of the body said marriage and sex was amazing all the time! The idea that we're also owed tons of sex somehow comes out of that. When speaking about abstinence in marriage in cases of severe need to avoid conception the amount of fear women have about their husbands leaving them, and then the assumption that their marriages will fall apart because sex is so important because theology of the body is really common in very Catholic circles. But nowhere in theology of the body say we're owed sex, or good sex, or sex all the time. It's such a weird extrapolation.
This is so convicting, Emily. I've not read all the original Audiences, but somehow have read enough ToB content to distill it down and form a more holistic understanding of that sacramental worldview. I don’t really know how, my parents never told me anything about it. It must be a result of voracious reading, trying to make sense of being single for longer than I wanted, and trying to understand the clash between the issues of our culture and Catholicism.
I wondered if the transition to married life would be difficult for me (last year), but praise God, it has been so joyfully intimate. Intimacy with God and others is what we’re made for, and that doesn’t depend on having good sex. Intimacy with your spouse improves sex, and I think too many people got the “just wait for it, then sex will be miraculously good” talk like you said. That falls SO short, and I am eternally grateful that somehow I escaped that. We’re now dealing with infertility, so it’s not as if my experience is sunshine and rainbows. It is devastating at times, but my understanding of children as an undeserved gift, marriage as a means of sanctification, and fruitfulness being possible in many ways, makes the burden lighter. I don’t think I would be surviving our struggles nearly as well if I lacked this very deep appreciation of my femininity and personhood. I cannot put into words how much this has changed my life in a good way, and how much I wish more people got this full picture (which I still have so much to learn about!). If we are ever blessed with children, it is so important to me that we gradually communicate this dignity, understanding, and appreciation of the value of every life. The implications are endless, and so is the damage when this piece is missing. It changes everything.
Beautiful and poignant piece, Emily. Such an important point that greater, deeper, and more fulfilling intimacy in the bedroom comes from the vulnerability and emotional intimacy outside the bedroom in the daily challenges and sacrifices as well as bearing the heavy crosses together. I’ve found that the longer we’re married, the more true and deeper our intimacy in the bedroom precisely because of growing together through crosses and challenges and choosing each other in love. Like a fine wine, marriage and intimacy get better and better with age as you come to more deeply know and live and love with your spouse---God wants us to have the freedom of Eden, of being freely known and seen and loved by our spouse in marital intimacy, which I feel comes with time and trust of each other in marriage.
So glad you also took aim on those chastity talks. Theology of the body is as you said a beautiful anthropology of the person and intimacy of persons. Those chastity talks of the 90s and early 2000s often cheapened the fullness of theology or the body and have definitely done damage to Christian women and their understanding of their bodies, their marriages and their self-worth.
Thank you for writing this!
Thank you so much for this.
Besides Ruah Woods, are there other TOB programs that you think have a holistic and complete view of it all?
My husband and I going through Ascension’s YOU; Life, Love & TOB with our teenagers and I think they’re doing a MUCH better job than the TOB I heard as a young adult.
I’ve had this essay percolating in the back of my mind as I listened to the most recent episode of The Witch Trials of JK Rowling. I’ve been wrestling with these ideas and even how I’m subject to my own short sightedness and loss of sacramental worldview AND how to counter this for my children in my parenting. I found this talk by Msgr James Shea that is a complement to this essay and worth sharing to anyone who is interested https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz6Fx2rma8o&t=787s