Honest Answers to 6 Questions Catholic Singles Have About Sex
If you’re a single Catholic living in today’s world, you probably have some questions about Catholic teaching on sex and marriage.
Christopher West’s book, Good News About Sex and Marriage, is a great resource for anyone in the Catholic church. In his book, West provides down-to-earth answers and explanation of Catholic church teachings on marriage and sexual acts. He reminds his readers about the dignity that they possess as men and women made in the image of God.
Do yourself (and your future relationship!) a favor and read through West’s answers about questions you may have about sex as a Catholic single.
1. What does chastity mean for me as a Catholic single?
Some say that chastity is an old-fashioned thing of the past. Others believe that as long as you don’t have sex with someone before marriage, you’re practicing chastity.
But neither of those polarized positions encourage conversation about the virtue of chastity, or what that virtue really is.
“Admittedly, the word ‘chastity’ itself tends to have negative connotations and is in need of rehabilitation. For many it’s synonymous with a repressive ‘just don’t do it’ approach to sex. But chastity is actually a positive virtue, because it orders our sexual desires, thoughts, and behaviors towards the truth of authentic love,” West explains.
So if chastity isn’t a repressive no, what is it?
“Chastity is first and foremost a great yes to the true meaning of sex, to the goodness of being created as male and female in the image of God,” West continues. “Chastity isn’t repressive. It’s totally liberating. It frees us from the tendency to use others for selfish gratification and enables us to love others as Christ loves us. The virtue of chastity is essential if we are to discover and fulfill the very meaning of our being and existence.”
If you’re a Catholic single, the Church invites you to live a life of chastity. But the Church doesn’t just invite those of us who haven’t taken vows of celibacy to practice this virtue. In fact, the Church calls everyone, including Catholic bishops and Catholic priests, to live chastely.
2. What if I’ve had sex before marriage?
If you’ve had sexual intercourse before marriage, that doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church thinks you’ve blown it.
“Nothing we’ve ever done could possibly be more powerful than the cross of Christ,” West assures. If you had sex before a wedding ring was in the picture, there’s always room for mercy, conversion, and experiencing the beauty of authentic human sexuality.
What should you do if you’ve already had sexual intercourse? West has a few suggestions.
“If I may paraphrase Saint Paul’s words to the Romans: I appeal to you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your sexuality as a living sacrifice, whole and entire to God. You need not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will understand and desire God’s will for your sexuality—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. And living according to God’s plan will bring you the joy and happiness for which you’ve been searching for your whole life.”
3. Why is the Catholic Church against artificial contraception?
In marriage, couples vow to love each other freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. But if artificial contraception is in the picture, this stops the couple from loving each other in the way God desires. Pope Paul VI wrote about this in his encyclical Humanae Vitae.
“Every time a couple chooses to have sex, they must speak the ‘I do’ of their wedding vows,” West writes. “We can rant and rave and resist all we like, but an integral part of that ‘I do’ is openness to children.”
This doesn’t mean that catholic married couples will end up with twelve kids. Nor does it mean that the Church expects all sexual acts to result in children. But the Catholic Church does invite all married couples to be active participants with God in their marriage. This invitation means passing up birth control in favor of unitive and procreative sexual intercourse.
“Sex is meant to proclaim to the world that God is life-giving love. An intentionally sterilized act of intercourse proclaims the opposite: God is not life-giving love. Contraception turns sexual union from prophetic act into blasphemy.”
4. What’s the big deal with pornography?
While a growing number of men and women are looking at pornography on a regular basis, many are unaware of the long and short term consequences of pornography. Too many people think that pornography is a private vice that doesn’t really hurt anyone, or have any effect on sexual relations.
But pornography can hurt you now as a Catholic single, and it can hurt your marriage in the future, too. Pornography can damage the way you think of human sexuality.
West points out that pornography is alluring. Sexual images can suck you in with what seems like an irresistible force. But it’s much more than just a personal vice.
“It robs us of the very meaning of life,” West explains. “It’s an anti-gospel message, because it seeks to foster precisely those distortions of our sexual desires that we must struggle against in order to discover true love.”
If you’re stuck in a habit of pornography use, if you’ve stumbled across pornography at any point, or are seeking to undo its effects, don’t despair. Instead, look for help.
5. Just what is okay before marriage?
When you’re in a new relationship, the subject of boundaries can (and should!) come up. But far too often when we think about the subject of chastity, we think of it as something that keeps us from having fun. You may have asked yourself about how far is too far, or whether you need to bring something up the next time you go to confession.
“When there is simply no moral possibility of consummated love, it is, in fact, unloving to arouse someone to the point of physical craving for intercourse,” West writes. “If we must talk about physical lines to keep our hearts honest, we can say this: if either man or woman is brought to the verge of climax, or has reached climax, or is aroused to the point of being tempted to masturbate, the couple has crossed the line a long time before and is in serious need of examining their hearts and motives.”
But this is a much deeper issue than a line drawn in the sand that you shouldn’t cross to avoid sin. It’s a heart issue. Transform the way you think about intimacy before marriage by focusing on what you can give versus what you can take.
“Don’t seek to get anything,” West continues. “It’s seeking to give and affirm. It is not interested in it’s own satisfaction. It’s interested merely in loving the person for his or her own sake, and receiving the same love in return.”
6. What’s wrong with two people of the same sex loving each other?
“It’s never wrong to love,” West writes. “We run into a problem, however, when we project our understanding of love onto God. It goes the other way. God is love. If we are truly to love others, regardless of their sex, then our own love must conform to God. It must be in his image. Otherwise, it’s simply not love.”
What does this mean for same sex couples and same sex marriage?
The sexual act images God uniquely. But it’s impossible for same sex couples to express this commitment to each other.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong about two persons of the same sex loving each other,” West continues. “But erotic love between two members of the same sex is an oxymoron. Love always chooses the good of the person loved. Love never does wrong or entices another to do so. Members of the same sex who truly love one another will never to seek to engage in erotic behavior with each other specifically because of their love.”
Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband, geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. You can find more about her on her blog "Old Fashioned Girl."