This is Part 2 of a series which examines how the Catholic Church approaches marriage, specifically in two critical Red Pill areas: the role of men and women in marriage, and the role of sex in marriage. In Part 1 of this series I examined the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a summary of the official teaching of the church. In Part 2 I will cover a website known as For Your Marriage, which is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I will first look into the issue of sex in marriage, and then the roles of husband and wife.
Sex in Marriage
So here is a section that is all about marital sexuality. The opening seems decent enough:
The Catholic Church, in its official teaching, has always taken a positive view of sexuality in marriage. Marital intercourse, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “noble and honorable,” established by God so that “spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit.”
On the face of it, that seems like a good start. Then it continues deeper, covering the “procreative and unitive” aspects of sex, all geared around the Church’s opposition to contraceptives. The ending also appears agreeable as well:
The Church teaches that human sexuality is sacred. Within marriage, it fulfills its purpose as an expression of deep, faithful and exclusive love that is open to new life. Marital sexual relations involve profound openness and receptivity, a complete and mutual self-giving. Sexuality is an important part of that incredibly rich and mysterious pattern in Creation that comes directly from the mind and heart of God.
All well and good, but there is no mention in this section about spouses denying sex or the like. In order to find anything about frequency, needs, desire for sex or the like I had to look around some. And what I found was mostly contained in “Daily Marriage Tips” which show up every day. They were a mixed bad; some were quite good while others were not. A few examples:
1- November 13, 2012– Sex Secret, #1: “They don’t do it every day (whew!)”.(Lisa Lombardi). Not that frequent sex is bad, but measuring oneself against a Hollywood norm puts undo pressure on love. Find the rhythm that works for both of you. Meet in the middle.
2- November 14, 2012– Sex Secret, #2: “They believe in quickies (yay!)” (Lisa Lombardi) There are times for special, lingering sex and there are times when you or your spouse want to express your love but don’t have much time or are tired. Before saying, “No,” consider a quickie.
3- November 15th, 2012– Sex Secret, #3: “The happiest couples have sex on a regular basis,” (Tina Tessina, Ph.D) It needn’t be every day, but it shouldn’t be just on your anniversary. Agree on a frequency that works for you.
4- May 16th, 2013– Is your lovemaking out of balance? This is a touchy topic but if your spouse is almost always the one who initiates physical intimacy, he or she may not be really satisfied – even if you say “Yes.” The real desire is to be desired. Take the first step.
Tip 4 is rock solid. It emphasizes the need of the other spouse, and the line “The real desire is to be desired” gets to the heart of how men emotionally connect to their wives through sex (at least, that seems to be the general agreement in the ‘sphere). Tip 2 is also good, because it fights against the requirement that all sex be serene and romantic, a common “churchian” requirement. Tip 3 seems satisfactory to good at first, but this line is troubling: “Agree on a frequency that works for you.” One thing the Red Pill teaches is that the partner in a relationship who cares least has the most power. Which means that the partner least interest in sex (often but not always the wife) has the most power to determine the frequency. Tip 1 is simply awful. It creates a false standard to measure against, and then comes to an awful conclusion: “Meet in the middle.” This is wrong for two reasons. The first matches the reason for Tip 3, namely power. But the second, and larger problem, is that meeting in the middle conflicts with scripture, specifically 1 Cor 7:
2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
The old stereotype describes men as frequently having sex on their mind while women are often not “in the mood.” As with most stereotypes this is an unfair generalization. But as is also true with stereotypes, it evolved because there was a kernel of truth in it. Indeed typically male sexual arousal can be compared to a microwave – instant and fast – while a woman’s is more often like an electric stove – slower and steady. But it’s not always that way.
According to research done by Michael Liebowitz, a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, when we feel attracted to a person of the opposite sex, it triggers a neurotransmitter called phenylethylamine (PEA) which combines with dopamine and norepinephrine to create pleasingly positive feelings toward the other. This “love molecule” can prompt euphoria, increased energy, loss of appetite, and less need for sleep. It thus increases sexual desire and the human race continues. But this intensity is impossible to maintain. The effects of PEA start to diminish after about six months and have pretty much subsided by the second year of a relationship – just enough time to mate and procreate.
So are husbands and wives doomed to frustration if one spouse wants to make love more frequently than the other? With love all things are possible and this is where the desire for your spouse’s happiness can make both of you happier. As with most things in marriage, it’s a matter of loving effort and compromise.
The spouse with the desire for more frequent sex (often the husband) can go out of his way to prepare a romantic environment. Light some candles, pamper her, take your time. The spouse who may not as quickly be ready for sex (often the wife) can resolve not to say “no” too quickly, knowing that given a little time and attention she may also become aroused.
And the Blue Pill surfaces once again. It is the same garbage advice: be romantic, be tender, treat her like a queen… all of it garbage. Not simply useless, but worse than useless. That kind of supplication will kill attraction, and make the wife feel unloved. Ultimately it will destroy the marriage. It is unfortunate how much is wrong in this article, and in others located on the site. Even more unfortunate is that sometimes they get very close to understanding the solution to the problem, as this article on the Marital Sexual Relationship shows:
One dimension of masculine/feminine sexuality worth exploring is how spouses complement each other. Just as magnets are drawn to each other from different poles, so too men and women are drawn to each other, not only because of similarities, but also for the differences.
For example, men more often show passion by pursuing and initiating lovemaking, focusing on purpose, protection and commitment; while women playfully tend to provoke and entice, focusing on vulnerability and feelings. Exaggerating these two polarities can stimulate passion. In our culture these gender energies often are judged to be too narrow.
For example, women may hesitate to appear “too feminine” for fear of being viewed as unintelligent or manipulative. Men face the possibility of coming across as insensitive. Equality and mutuality can get confused with sameness. But sameness is not very exciting. Within marriage, couples need to cultivate a healthy balance of both certainty and excitement. But therein lies the basic problem: Love seeks closeness while desire needs distance. Too much distance, however, might cause a lack of connection, while too much sameness destroys the attraction of two unique individuals. This is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.
The author of the article almost, but doesn’t quite say the essential truth here: When men act like men, and women act like women, everyone wins. Looking back at what I have read, I can’t say that I am surprised, but I am disappointed.
The role of husband and wife
I had some trouble finding a good article concerning the role of husband and wife. Then I found this article on “The Subordinate Wife.” I am simply going to quote the whole thing and bold the important parts:
The second reading from Sunday Mass this past weekend offered some good material for pillow-talk among spouses: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife,” St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (chapter 5).
Anyone who has met Stacey knows that I am not “head” of her. By the same token, nor is she head of me—telemarketers who call asking for the “head of the family” get a muddled response because we each share decision-making responsibilities mutually.
We didn’t so much make a decision about sharing headship—the balance simply emerged from the nature of our personalities. In the end, though, the balance of power that we share is actually not too far from the encouragement that St. Paul offered the Ephesians.
Paul was writing for a community in which a woman who married a man left her own home and moved in with him and his extended family. She frequently was not given her own living space and had no power in the household.
Paul’s aims in writing these words were two-fold. First, he wanted order and harmony in the community. The equality we share as sons and daughters of God did not mean that everyone’s roles were the same. He wrote elsewhere that there are many parts to the body, and each part is valuable, but each part also has a different function. So, on one hand, Paul was asking wives to avoid disruption and to adhere to the social order of first-century Ephesus.
On the other hand, Paul makes a much greater demand of the husband when he writes in the next line, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ love the church and handed himself over for her.”
People often get tied up in the “wives be submissive” part and miss the rest of the story.
Paul was asking husbands to go well beyond this established social order, which only required them to treat their wives as glorified slaves. He told the Ephesian husbands to love their wives as Christ love the church. How did Christ love? He gave everything—he gave his life in self-emptying, sacrificial love.
In this sense, then, I guess Stacey and I do share headship of the family. In Paul’s words, we strive to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ … (who) is head of the Church.” At bottom, Paul encourages us to love each other with mutuality and with the same self-emptying love that Christ showed us.
Where to begin…
What we have here is a classic example of “mutual submission” theology in action. The author of the piece, a man named Josh, explains that he and his wife share “mutual” headship of the family. Its all mutual with them. Mutual love, mutual headship, etc. Never mind that is not at all what Paul said. I especially liked the careful editing in the final paragraph: “In Paul’s words, we strive to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ … (who) is head of the Church.” Here is what the actual scripture reading says:
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Rev. Darren M. Henson, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Fr. Henson holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake. He has served as faculty at Loyola University in Chicago and adjunct faculty for Benedictine College, Atchison, KS, teaching liturgy and sacraments.
Couples looking for a clear, strong image of sacramental marriage will gravitate toward this passage. It is the most expressive passage in the New Testament regarding marriage. It is also complex. Some couples will dismiss it as objectionable to a contemporary perspective of spousal love. The language within the reading can pose pastoral challenges. Yet couples who pray with this passage might trade in their initial objections for a spirited embrace of the vision of marriage offered here.
The author gives an extended meditation on the second creation story and quotes it directly (Genesis 2:18-24, 2nd Old Testament option). The author is very familiar with the Gospel of Christ Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead. Christ’s actions of suffering, dying, and rising make all the difference in the world, even to husbands and wives. The initial verse (2) indicates how to interpret this passage: “Live in love, as Christ loved us, and handed himself over for us.” Christ did this for the Church, the living body of believers. Married couples constitute the domestic church. Their mutual love should mirror the love Christ demonstrated. They are not expected to give their lives for the whole world, but they are to offer their lives for their spouse, the one they love. It is a love that is offered and given for another, or as the author states, “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (vs. 21).
Some believe this passage unfairly treats women. The passage uses different verbs–to be subordinate, and to love–to describe the actions of wives and husbands, but the intent is the same. Both are to mutually give of themselves and freely love the other all for the sake and unity of their family.
The author stresses the unity present in all creation. When husbands and wives mutually give and love one another in a way that imitates Christ, they help to strengthen the unity in society. All is connected, and this exhortation to spouses to live as Christ is a part of his larger mission “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (1:10).
The shortened option removes the two more glaring references to subordinate wives. This might be the wiser option, especially if the person preaching does not intend to elaborate on this particular scriptural image.
The first word that came to my mind after reading this commentary? Coward. The writer of this commentary, an ordained priest, is afraid. Afraid of women. Afraid of upsetting them, afraid of angering them. He is too afraid of them to teach the bible, to teach Christian doctrine. Instead of confronting the issue head-on, instead of showing the courage many other Christians have shown in the past (when facing far worse fates than some angry feminist), he hides behind mutual submission theology. That is right, a Catholic priest, from the uber-patriarchal, woman-hating Catholic Church, is teaching the same nonsense as any Evangelical Churchian pastor. Unfortunately, this cowardice doesn’t end here, but continues on with the First Letter of Saint Peter. The commentary is shorter but no better:
This letter was originally sent to five Roman provinces in Asia Minor where Christianity had taken root in some small pockets. The Romans were nervous of outside religions like Christianity. Their society was strongly patriarchal, and they feared that strange, new religions would cause revolts. This is why it includes household codes, and ethical statements to wives, slaves, and children.
That bit of background might help to understand the harsh tone of this passage to 21st century readers. The bulk of the reading is directed toward wives. There is mentioned that “husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor.” Readers will resonate more favorably with the vision for married life in the final lines that encourage them to be of one mind, loving one another compassionately and humbly. It challenges the couple to resist the temptation to play the blame game, “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult.” It calls them to a higher way of relating, by striving to be a blessing for one another.
Some of what Rev. Henson writes towards the end is actually sound. His advice against spouses blaming one another, and striving to be a blessing for one another is good advice, and worth following. But the rest of the comment is yet another attempt to try and excuse away what the Bible says. Here again, we see “cultural norms” being the stated reason for the doctrine espoused by an apostle at that time. And once again the fact that Christians were called (even then) to live in conformity to God’s word at all times is ignored. The text in bold shows what is really happening here: Rev. Henson is trying to “soften” Church teaching to make it more palatable to those who are caught up worldly ways. To aid him in this task Rev. Henson even includes a few verses (8 and 9) which don’t address the Christian household, but instead cover how to suffer for righteousness, and tries to pass them off as being part of the same subject. Whether he realizes it or not (and I cannot help but believe that he realizes it), Rev. Henson is fulfilling the role of one teaching to people’s desires:
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
This is truly disgraceful. An ordained priest is teaching myths about Christian marriage on a website which is sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. If these are not the end times, I should hate to actually experience them.
Part of me is inclined to say that the Orthodox Church is looking better and better every day, but I suppose I should look into its teaching before I think of jumping ship. The lesson to be learned here is that Christians should be careful about throwing stones, because we all live in glass houses. The rot infecting Christianity is found found everywhere, and no one is immune from its effects. Instead of engaging in denominational wars, we should be working together to cleanse the Church, the entire Church, of the virus that infects Christian churches and teaching. Only after we have purged that evil from our midst should we fight over spiritual doctrine.