Friday, November 7, 2014

Sexuality is a Mess

Subtitle: But Don't Go too Far to Left or to Right Because it is.

Now the Lena Dunham thing is bugging me. I hate commenting on pop culture it makes me feel icky. Fr. Moyle had an interesting and challenging post a few days ago about 'welcoming gays' into the Church, and that added to my thinking about sexual dysfunction and the Catholic view.

First Fr. Moyle. I don't disagree with anything he wrote, and I don't think he really disagrees with any Fr. Longenecker wrote, whose very popular post he was sort of rebutting. After all, how can you disagree with someone who is just joking around? The principle reason I like Fr. Moyle's post is that is provides a pastor's perspective on the matter. It's all fine and good for me to give high and mighty proclamations about 'gays in the Church' but I don't have to actually deal with them. Not all gays are activists trying to manipulate the Church. Some are just plain old lonely, suffering people. The second reason why I liked his post is that he clearly (or maybe this was just in his Facebook comments re. it) makes a parallel with people living in heterosexual sin. Why are they not under the same microscope? I agree 100%, and I have raged about that elsewhere. Contraceptors get a free pass while homosexuals don't? Doesn't seem right to me.

Now Dunham. For those who don't know, poor old purveyor of fashionable New York sexual nihilism, Lena, didn't seem to think that she would get judged for telling the world in her new autobiography that she sexually violated her little sister. First of all, I understand that she was rather young when she did it, like seven. That's, yes, sexual exploration. But in an age when little boys get suspended from school for kissing a girl on the hand, what did she think was going to happen? There are limits to the general population's tolerance of New York sexual nihilism: people want it on late at night, and for it to be about adults, preferable attractive ones, not children. (I talked about the violence threshold the other day vis a vis the CBC guy.) Yes, she wants people to 'ease up' about their sexual scruples at the same time as be so stirred up by them as to be glued to her television show and to buy her book. You can't have it both ways. If people 'eased up' homosexuality and her filth would not longer garner any attention, and we all know that is that last thing most homosexuals want. This goes for unattractive naked girls who like to talk about their weird sexual experiences in books and on TV.

My perspective on what she said about her sexual 'touching' etc. with her little sister: yes, it happens all the time among young children. It is exploration at that age and not pedophilia. What is pedophilia is when an adult attempts to relive the experience by writing a book about it. That is abuse. And as I said previously, abuse has nothing to do with consent, which she tried when she said her sister laughed so hard when she heard about the fuss her book is making. Laughing does not annihilate abuse. Laughter is one of the most common signs of shame and trauma. So is homosexuality: the younger sister is apparently homosexual. Gee, that family sounds like an especially healthy one, doesn't it? If I had heard nothing other than that there is a family with two sisters, one made a TV show and regularly appears naked on it and the other is a homosexual - and that is all I knew - I would not hesitate to conclude that some uncle or stepfather must have been at work there at some point.

It all starts here.
Generally. Sex is a messy, ugly thing. It's one powerful way in which we manifest all our psychological distresses. It is also a place that kids fool around with like they fool around with everything they come across. I have crayon on the walls because kids feel the need to experience things rather than just recognize them theoretically. I don't write on the wall because I can imagine what it would look like. Nor do I need to touch other people's genitals (or my own) out of curiosity. I still feel every bit the sexual drive of any other man, but I know very clearly in my mind and heart that with genitals comes responsibility. When I touch a genital (is there a singular? lol) I now know that I am touching a heart and must therefore take responsibility for that heart - and I don't want to!! I don't want to clean crayon off my wall so I don't put it there; I don't want to take the responsibility to love someone other than my wife, so I don't touch them. It's not abnormal to want to touch another person sexually, we should grant that. But it is immoral because as an adult I know that to do that is to hurt people - me, my wife, that person, my children, etc.

The desire is one thing and confusing desire and action is where our culture gets everything all wrong. People can love people and desire others sexually, and also refrain from being sexual with them. They should refrain when they realize good will not come out of it. Having a sexual relationship with someone and not remaining committed to them is like calling someone fat: yes, you can do it, but it still hurts, whether two people or just one person is laughing.

It never ceases to amaze me when people make a link between feelings and destiny. I felt strongly attracted to this person, therefore... It would be nice if life worked that way, but we know it doesn't because, in romances, we are never shown what happens after the impulsive act was done, the happy ever after. Simply, passionate impulses are not enough to fuel a meaningful human life. They can sometimes start one, but they can not sustain one.

I love my friends - both the male and female versions. And I am still sexual... and they are still sexual. My love for my male friends does not command me sexually, so why would my love for my female friends? Sexual feelings come and go. They are about me - my physiology, my heart, etc., but they are not me. No fully alive, trustworthy, dependable, respectable person is blindly obedient to his desires.

Now, all that said, let me return to the 'abnormal psychology' part of this discussion. Yes, I have desires, you have desires, whoop-de-do. But isn't it all too human to expect more from our feelings than they can possibly deliver? I have done many dumb things because of my feelings. Now older and more experienced, because I have seen the damage I can do, I am much more restrained and have a more circumspect view of life. What I mean is that I am now better able to see feelings for what they are: sometimes I am lonely, sad, etc., and I know that when we feel this way we look for comfort. The difference between a child and a mature adult is not feelings. It is the mature person's ability to see his feeling for what it is. I often see my children not being able to distinguish their feelings about what they want from right and wrong itself. That's no model for an adult, though. When I go to the grocery store hungry, I am liable to come back with all sorts of unnecessary carbs... but I know this.

A formerly good friend of mine explained his homosexuality to me in part as a result of the fact that his first sexual experience was with a male friend of his. Isn't amazing how we internalize things?

Genitals are curious, sensitive things, even those of children. Raising your kids to have a healthy regard for their sexuality is no easy thing. I have seen damage brought about through both excessive shame and through failing to give children a good sense of privacy and sacredness. For my part, I don't teach my kids through shame, but I try to impart a sense of the sacredness of their bodies. Our kid in high school is being taught all sorts of nonsense about sexuality by people who have no long-term responsibility for him and will be completely immune from any negative things that result from their tutelage. But I am not worried at all: the message my wife and I give him is far better, more attractive, more meaningful than their iconoclasm. People don't want to be simply the sum of their genitals. Our message is simply better.

The damage that the religious do is more upsetting to me because these are the people that mean so well and who have invested so much time and care into raising holy children - yes, more time and care than the irreligious. Often, they home-school. They put so much time teaching catechism, talking them to mass, confession, retreats, etc. And yet sometimes damage is done. Often this damage is done through a process I call Muslim homosexualization. The sexes are so segregated in countries like Afghanistan that homosexuality is rife. So can it be if we segregate our children in this way. Children cannot be raised sexually healthy if the number one goal is to avoid premarital sex at all cost. I would disagree about this being the central concern and goal. No, don't raise your kids to avoid sexual evil, raise them to embrace sexual good, and nothing short of that. There is a big difference between avoiding occasions of sin at all cost and embracing the true human good. Are girls evil or are they so special that we need to treat them with just all the care and love that only a whole life of honoring and cherishing can bring? Yes, seeing a girl in a bathing suit can be hard for a teenager (ya, just teenagers, lol), but good is only truly good when we realize how hard it is to be good. We should be chaste because we have strained our will not because we have never had to strain it.

Sexuality is not innately evil. The curiosity of children is natural, but needs to be educated. Negative sexual experiences are common and do damage, but there is life after them. Pornography is one of the worst causes of sexual dysfunction today, I am sure. But nothing can destroy the grace of God and His grace sustains our nature.

Do you have a sexual dysfunction? I am sure you do. Our sexual dysfunction are products of our experience, of our weird uniqueness and of sin, both our own and that of others. When I think of my own 'particularities' I can see all of this, even if I don't quite understand why I developed this way based upon my history. But you know what, many of the relevant points of my experience is unknown to my conscious mind. That's okay. I have it over to God. It is neither too great for Him nor does it make of me a freak. Nope, it makes me just one other member of the human race.

I think people in general make two mistakes about sexual dysfunction: exaggeration and normalization. Neither one is helpful. Sexuality has healthy forms of expression, and unhealthy ones. When we deviate from the healthy, harm is done. It's that simple. Some damage is worse than others. One way people attempt to heal sexual trauma is through normalization: this is what homosexualism attempts to do, pederasts, those involved in S & M, group sex, etc. You cannot erase nature and human psychology through redefinition, as much as we'd sometimes like. Divorce doesn't cease being traumatic by being multiplied.

And I have seen some exaggerate the harms of these unhealthy expressions. I have heard people talk about the time they saw pornography at eight as if it was the end of the world. Unfortunately this happens, it's not good, and I wish it would never happen to any kid (or adult)! And yet, its not the end of anything. It won't be popular of me to say, but I think one exposure to pornography, more or less, has the same effect of an eight year old seeing the picture of an aborted baby. Horrifying, shocking, in a way, scarring, but not soul-destroying. The loving example of the child's parents can do so much to offset this awful thing in the child's memory. Is sex a positive thing or not: that will be a conclusion made out of the accumulation of the evidence of childhood. Bad words, bad examples and pornography will be on one side of the scale. I include in this our 'toleration' of divorce, cohabitation, bad lyrics, TV shows, etc. On the good side of the scale, principally the example of the parents, and then extended family and family friends.

It seems to me that some people want to have a trauma story. But people who come from loving families, families that, yes, argued here and there, that is not a traumatic upbringing, relative to the things that some people have to contend with. And don't use these 'little traumas' to explain to yourself your basic sexual feelings and quirks: you are not a freak; you are not an addict; you are a boring person who has to boringly contend with sexual desire like the rest of us. Quotidian sexuality.

It's said that the two mistakes you can make about the devil is to give him too much and too little 'acknowledgment.' So too sexuality.

The world is full of sex because it's full of people. Sex touches us all in some way, whether celibate, married, young. And sex goes wrong all the time. And it fails to be just what it is meant to be by God all the time. But it cannot give more than it can, and the fact that it is not perfect in your experience does not mean that you are sick or perhaps in need of anything other than the same healing of which we are all in need. Sex is, in the end, a challenge not salvation. The heart is like an eyeball, sensitive to the touch. But that it's sensitive is it behaving exactly as it is supposed to.


  1. I read Fr. Moyle's post and didn't like it. He wrote as if to chide Fr. Dwight, and yet he himself simply restated Fr. Dwight's position - which makes Fr. Moyle look rather obtuse. If you want to criticize someone, you should at least disagree with him about something. Beyond that, lots of good points, Colin. Re. the "one exposure" point: not a good point, I'd say. An 8-y-o's first exposure to porn (or abortion imagery) is very unlikely to be horrifying and shocking. (I guess it may depend on the kind of porn, but certainly not all porn is "horrifying and shocking." I've read Jonathan Van Maren moralizing about porn where he tells his readers "don't look at it - it's disgusting" - but considered in itself a picture of a beautiful naked woman is certainly not 'disgusting.') If a first exposure is horrifying and shocking, it is very unlikely to be horrifying and shocking in the same way in the two cases, as subsequent processing (and in particular, "moral integration") of the "shock and horror" in the respective cases will no doubt make evident. -DM

  2. Ya, I hate to say it, but, yes, not all porn is created equal. Some, well, a great deal (how can we talk quantity here?) is disgusting. But porn refers to anything that is meant to incite lust. Rubens might incite lust, although I don't think it was meant to (though, since I don't know Rubens I can't say for sure), but - in my humble opinion, a naked woman is beautiful and so nude = disgusting is not something I can endorse either. But why split hairs when it comes to porn? Yes, we can make distinctions, but when we are dealing with something so harmful, why bother? If I thought nude = disgusting I would not have gotten married. But porn is a word like murder, it implies bad. Nude is like killing: maybe it's good, maybe it's not.

    It's hard for me to sympathize with exaggeration, though, but not everyone has a mind of subtle distinctions and many people just want you to follow their lead... like your buddy CWest. lol.