Retro Dear Michele: How Far is Too Far?

Dear Michele,

I understand that we must refrain from intercourse prior to marriage. Men have great difficulty accepting this. Would sharing orgasms with a committed partner, without intercourse, be acceptable for couples in their 50s?

How Far Is Too Far?

Refraining From Intercourse Prior is the Church’s Teaching

Refraining From Intercourse Prior is the Church's Teaching

Dear How Far,

I want you to know that many, many people across all ages have your same question but do not have the courage to ask it. You are not going to hear the same “just don’t do it” message from me – because it does not work. It sounds like what you need are the reasons why, not just the restrictions.

You understand that refraining from intercourse is the Church’s teaching. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the theology behind the principle? The idea is that sex is an amazing, sacred gift, designed to be shared within the commitment of a marriage.

Why? Because when we become “one flesh” with our bodies, our hearts and souls are joined together too. And not ironically, science proves this idea to be true.

That Good Ol’ Wonderful Oxytocin

That Good Ol' Wonderful Oxytocin

During intercourse, our bodies produce “bonding hormones” that foster an attachment with our partner, an attachment that is meant to strengthen the couple’s relationship so they may remain together to raise children. Our church has been teaching that intercourse is meant to unite the couple and produce new life thousands of years before science could measure brain chemistry.

So the idea is to devote your sexuality to God as a way of preparing you to devote your sexuality to your spouse. Rather than simply refraining from intercourse, you are honoring the meaning and experience of intercourse.

Before I was married, I meditated on the visual image of a rope going up from my body into heaven, and I would send my desires up that rope to Christ to care for until the right time arrived. I could also grab that rope as a connection to God, and hold on when I needed strength.

So what about sharing organisms, which basically means some form of mutual masturbation? You likely know that the Church also teaches masturbation is wrong, either within a marriage or while single. This is because masturbation takes the gift of our sexuality and turns in inward toward the self.

Mutual masturbation – or oral sex – reduces the meaning of our sexuality to simply pleasure, and the pursuit of pleasure denies the gift of physical and emotional intimacy found through the nuptial embrace.

Simply put – you are walking a tightrope in hopes of finding a loophole, but it’s likely you can fall off into unplanned intercourse on one side and using the other as a means of sexual gratification on the other.

Neither prepares you for the demands of fidelity found in marriage.

Chastity is a Priority for Every Age

Chastity is a Priority for Every Age

Think of refraining from sexual contact as a way to practice faithfulness. I would assume that being a couple in your 50s would mean that you have been sexually active in the past, or possibly even married. It may also mean that you do not wish to become married again.

Your sexual past has nothing to do with offering the gift of your fidelity now – from here forward. If you still have your body, then you can still offer your gift to God.

If you do not want to get married or married again, then you are hoping to have the “goodies” of a relationship without the work or commitment. Again, you are in danger of using the other person for your own needs.

I will acknowledge that this teaching is very hard for men, but it’s not easy for women either. I’m hoping that you are not feeling pressured to be sexually active in any way in order to keep the peace in your relationship.

I won’t pretend that real chastity is a popular notion in our culture. I know it’s not. I know that many people believe this teaching is just for teenagers, not for mature adults.

I can assure you that this teaching holds the fruit of peace and fulfillment, at any age, while protecting both you and your partner from reducing the dignity of the person to the pursuit of pleasure. Just remember, the teaching of chastity is saying “yes” to God, which is supernaturally more than saying “no” to sex. You’ll both need God’s help and guidance to live this teaching.

God Bless,

Michele Fleming, M.A.

This post first appeared November 23, 2012.