All That Sex I Could’ve Had

As might be common for folks who grew up Roman Catholic, my relationship with sexuality was rather twisted, for much of my life. I was preoccupied with obedience to Church teachings, likely more than most of my peers; the Church was preoccupied with teaching me how to approach sex, likely more than most other moral topics. And that approach was little more than “Just Don’t Do It,” at least until such time as you’re married to your lifelong partner (who, for me, would have to be a woman). The virtue of chastity as the Church defined it meant no masturbation, no pornography, no physical intimacy beyond the most platonic of hugs and hand-holds. So I became a horrible sort of chastity crusader, to the point where premarital hanky-panky on others’ parts filled me with righteous rage.

To my friends from those days whom I subjected to one rant or another on the topic: you have my sympathy and regret!

Surprising no one, I found these strictures difficult to obey, despite how fervently I believed in their value. Failures sent me into little spirals of shame. That was trouble enough when the “sin” was mine alone, like perusing some vault of erotica or other, but the impact on my romantic partners had to have been far worse. Whatever intimacy we engaged in beyond the previously-described chaste touches, I would revel in it in the moment, then backpedal with guilt later. I established boundaries, then broke them, then reestablished them, in a terrible cycle. (I can only claim the meager credit that I didn’t lash out at these women for “tempting” me or something, which I understand is not uncommon in some Christian circles. I assumed all the pointless blame, which is problematic enough.) I can only imagine how horrifically frustrating that must have been, from my partners’ perspectives.

To my girlfriends from those days, then: you, too, have my sympathy and regret. It was ultimately for the best that we parted ways, but I treated you badly, and for that I am sorry.

When eventually I fell away from the Church, the realization that I no longer had need to abide by those restrictions came in a slow and surreal awakening. Here I was, the door of adult sexuality open to me as it had been for years, but barely knowing what to expect should I choose to walk through. When I began dating again, I wrote a letter to my new girlfriend warning her of and apologizing in advance for my hangups in sexuality and my relative inexperience. We did all right, thankfully: we got married a little over a year ago, and continue to get along fine, in all respects!

I do wonder sometimes what my maturation would have been like, absent those dubious burnt-in lessons–if, perhaps, I’d grown up under the Liberal Catholic Church instead of the Roman one. A different set of awkward memories and little regrets, no doubt, but probably a healthier path overall. As I continue my search for abiding truths to fill the role that religion once served for me, the matter of sexual morality becomes a crucial criterion. Only those philosophies with a greater emphasis on concepts like consent, tolerance, joy, and exploration than shame and repression make the cut.

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6 thoughts on “All That Sex I Could’ve Had

  1. phadde2 says:

    I would say, in accordance with the historical context of Christianity, you’ve chosen the City of Man rather than the City of God. The Liberal Catholic Church has done the same in the concept that you and they have chosen the acceptance of man. A Bishop of the Catholic’s reply to all those who’ve left the Church wasn’t “Why did you leave?” Instead, he’d ask, “What was your sin?”
    The point of following Catholicism is to obey the commands of God, as the Church teaches. You can, of course, disagree, which you have, but I would be concerned with any ‘faith’ or philosophy that evolves its principles to whatever new modern desires fashionable. The secular world has deemed morality relative; however, the conflict between Christianity–Catholicism with modern movement is nothing new. The concept between City of Man and the City of God is one that was forged by Augustine in the 4th-5th century AD.

    Those philosophies that you seek were ever present in Augustine’s day with the Manicheans. So be advised that Christianity and Catholicism have always rejected that temporal desire for tolerance and worldly joy. I’m sure you’ve considered all of this, but the comment was one that applied the Christian notions within philosophy. When one so to speak, “takes up their Cross” they give up their desires for Christ–“the anointed one.”

    • SabreCat says:

      I actually don’t hold that morality is relative; I’m quite comfortable declaring that there are Things One Should Not Do and Things Worth Doing. Even in the sexual sphere! I do, however, believe that we continue (as a society, as a species, etc.) to learn more of what those Things are as time passes. It’s not the fashionableness or pleasure of a progressive sexual morality that appeals to me. It’s that it’s straight-up better, in that exact objective moral sense: it’s more just and less hurtful, more conducive to human flourishing, than the patriarchal shame-and-control morality of the RCC.

      It’s easy to write off those who disagree with Church morality as thoughtless pleasure-seekers. I know; I used to think that way too. But I didn’t come around merely because it’d be more fun. Rather, once I allowed myself to question the moral authority of the Church (for reasons I may get into some other day), the true value–again, objectively–of those rules became more clear. The way the Church does things in this area is unjust, hurtful, and impractical, and I am a better person for having left that behind.

      • phadde2 says:

        “It’s easy to write off those who disagree with Church morality as thoughtless pleasure-seekers.”

        It’s also easy to declare the Church “unjust, hurtful, and impractical” when you disagree with its teachings and overall philosophy of Christ as those are metaphysical concepts.

        However, regardless of our difference in thought or your difference with the Catholic Church, the idea of what you believe is “unjust, hurtful, and impractical” is purely metaphysical by nature in the same way with one who practices Catholicism.

        If one were to separate their self from spiritual world and live purely in the temporal material secular world, is it possible to answer the question, “Where do one’s ‘rights’ originate from?” One under the moral teaching of the Church or even another religion could say, “My Rights come from God.” However, the secular, what would be their response be? “My humanity.” Of Course, the truth of he matter is that if one only operates in a world of humanity then they only operate in the nature and within the state of nature, the only ‘rights’ of those in that world are the rights of the strong. The state of nature dictates the “survival of the fittest,” because in the end I ask if the secular has ‘rights’ please show them to me, please place them in my hands for me to admire their material essence. Of course, this isn’t possible, because ‘rights’ and therefore the concept of justice is completely metaphysical by their nature.

        In this sense, one who believes that the City of God creates the rules and laws and there defines justice or if one operates in the secular world the state acts in its place. However, as the temporal world changes “at time passes” those ‘rights’ are and will be completely relative to those who function in the state. Again, as those who operate in different governments have proven they’ve often chosen the state of nature as their justice.

      • phadde2 says:

        Sorry, submitted too soon, internet issues and the typos are abundant.

        Here is a clearer response:

        “It’s easy to write off those who disagree with Church morality as thoughtless pleasure-seekers.”

        It’s also easy to declare the Church is “unjust, hurtful, and impractical” when you disagree with its teachings and overall philosophy of Christ as those are metaphysical concepts. The philosophy you’ve chosen merely represents one that’s prevalent in Western society, which is Classical Liberalism: individualism.

        However, regardless of our difference in thought or your difference with the Catholic Church, the idea of what you believe is “unjust, hurtful, and impractical” is purely metaphysical by its nature in the same way with one who practices Catholicism. The philosophy of the Church is not that of Classical Liberalism, but of Orthodoxy.

        If one were to separate their self from spiritual world and live purely in the temporal material secular world, is it possible to answer the question, “Where do one’s ‘rights’ originate from?” One under the moral teaching of the Church or even another religion could say, “My Rights come from God.” However, the secular, what would their response be? Perhaps, “My humanity.” …. Of Course, the truth of the matter is that if one only operates in a world of humanity then they only operate within that nature which is the state of nature. The only ‘rights’ of those in that world are the rights of the strong. The state of nature dictates the “survival of the fittest,” because in the end, if the secular has ‘rights’ please show them to me, please place them in my hands for me to admire their material essence. Of course, this isn’t possible, because ‘rights’ and therefore the concept of justice is completely metaphysical by their nature.

        In this sense, one can believe that the City of God creates the rules and laws and therefore defines justice or if one operates in the secular world the state acts in its place. However, as the temporal world changes “at time passes” those ‘rights’ are and will be completely relative to those who function in the state. Again, as those who operate in different governments have proven they’ve often chosen the state of nature as their justice.

    • SabreCat says:

      Let’s get one thing clear: I’m not a materialist. Heck, I’m not even sure I’m an atheist. So you’re barking up the wrong tree with a lot of what you’re saying, if you intend to aim your arguments at me personally. Perhaps your intended audience was some third party you picture reading the comments thread here, though, in which case, carry on.

      The RCC is happy to admit that human understanding of morality and of God grows over time, when the implication is that Christian understanding is superior to Jewish understanding. The New Testament that has superseded the old, etc. But when the implication is that human understanding may have advanced still further since the time of Christ (or Augustine, or wherever you set the endpoint), that is a symptom of moral decay. No great surprise: those in power tend to do what’s necessary to remain in power. Admitting error in long-standing teachings would be an erosion of authority: (more) people might question the Church’s direct and exclusive line to God. Never mind the hurt and the hatred those teachings engender, eh?

      • phadde2 says:

        The comments are implied to a more general readership, folks operate within both spectrums of spiritual and secularism; however, the example was also to show the metaphysical model of ‘rights’

        I would surmise that Catholic Theologians would press you to show examples of change doctrine, although I think they’d agree with understanding does expand.

        The Church, for instance, is responsible for crimes against humanity with the deaths of indigenous​ peoples in the new world. However, any good Catholic, as John Paul explained, would ask and explain for forgiveness for such non Christian methods. However, the use of terror was never approved by Christ.

        The two most pressing modern issues are abortion and same-sex​ marriage. The Catholic doctrine explains that conception is of course a stage of life. Is this Wrong? Once an egg becomes fertilized will it become anything more than a human life? The answer is no. Why is it so easy then to condemn Church teachings on this matter?

        In respect to not following Christian methods, wouldn’t doing nothing in regards to this issue being acting in a non-Christian​ way?

        Same-sex marriage, shouldn’t be viewed in the same light, although it is by many Catholics. Anyone who is gay should be treated with respect and courtesy, although they may not be married in the eyes of the Church, Pope Francis has it right when he declares, “Who am I to judge?” What does he mean by this? Pope Francis also spends time with Gay couples, as the Church teaches the act to be sinful and not the state, Christ ate frequently with those who sinned in their actions. It also means that in modern society, one is free to disagree and leave the Church as you have illustrated. I think it’s futile to fight marriage laws in the respect that Christ taught that followers must allow the tares to grow with the Wheat, as pulling the tares may pull the Wheat out as well, of course, meaning that if by pursuing​ such actions more will Christians will be lost in the process.

        I know from reading some of your posts, you will reject those teachings. It’s a message that important to explain even for those of faith who may seek to differ from the actual teachings of the Church.

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