I always appreciate receiving feedback and so I was most grateful to receive an email from Edmund Adamus, the Director for Marriage and Family Life in Westminster Diocese.
I have with his permission, published his email in its entirety below. In a stroke of providence, the 2008 Theology of the Body Lecture in Westminster which was delivered by Janet Smith for the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, was one which I attended with Robin and was one of those key moments in his journey towards Catholicism. Janet’s talk should, I think, be delivered in every school and parish up and down the land. Also Mark Lambert has written an interesting response, here.
Thank you for your post on August 1st
A most articulate piece. Janet Smith and I have been in continuous correspondence since she delivered the 2008 Annual Theology of the Body lecture in Westminster to commemorate the 40th anniversary of HV. She and I both agree that the phrase ‘responsible parenthood’ doesn’t adequately reflect a faithful translation of the original Latin in the Encyclical. “Conscious parenthood” would render something closer and with one stroke it would extricate the Church from ‘buying in to’ [albeit in an unintended manner] to the culture that treats conception and birth like a pathology. You may find the quote below useful at some stage in your work. It is certainly one I intend to use again when I address the annual national ‘NFP’ conference on October 12th. *
“It is said that when seeking ways of regulating births, only 5% of you consult God. In the face of this unfortunate fact, we your pastors have been remiss: how few are there among you whom we have reached. There have been some couples eager to share their expertise and values on birth regulation with others. They did not receive adequate support from their priests. We did not give them due attention, believing then this ministry consisted merely of imparting a technique best left to married couples. Only recently have we discovered how deep your yearning is for God to be present in your married lives. But we did not know then how to help you discover God’s presence and activity in your mission of Christian parenting. Afflicted with doubts about alternatives to contraception technology, we abandoned you to your confused and lonely consciences with a lame excuse: ‘follow what your conscience tells you.’ How little we realized that it was our consciences that needed to be formed first. A greater concern would have led us to discover that religious hunger in you”
‘The term ‘Natural Family Planning’ or ‘NFP’ was coined in 1971 at a joint meeting of federal public health officials [in USA] and international leaders of the nascent NFP Movement, and made its first appearance in print in 1973. The implications of this verbal merger were not lost on the population control establishment, which was quick to publicize the idea that the Church had adopted the concept of ‘family planning’ and that the only remaining area of disagreement was over methodology. . . .’ The Final Plague: Sex Education by Randy Engel . Pan Books1993, footnote 400.
Hence my own personal and professional preference to refer to fertility awareness or as you say NFA…. But for now nfp will do when we are starting slowly to reverse a culture …
* The title of Edmund’s talk is “Fertility Awareness; Naturally Serving the Communion of Persons.”
*Reader discretion advised – this post contains discussion of an adult nature*
Fr Tim Finigan has blogged along similar lines to my post of the other day, detailing the type of material that could be used in schools, if the ‘Equal Marriage Bill’ is enacted into law. Teachers and parents who object to having detailed descriptions of anal sex or homosexual practices on the curriculum may be compelled to accept it in the classroom or face legal consequences.
For those who haven’t the constitution to read about the ins and outs of ‘bum fun’, couched in gay street parlance (and to be fair this specific booklet is not aimed at schoolchildren, they would most likely get a watered down version minus some of the expletives), I’ve read it for you which required much clenching of cheeks alongside a dose of mind bleach. This is the trouble with viewing sexually explicit material. Visual images are extremely powerful, they burn and imprint themselves into the brain, you can’t actually ‘unsee’ them and this really isn’t something we want young impressionable children or teens to be seeing and automatically associating with sex. ‘Anal Play’ does not come without considerable risks, listed at the end of this post.
Though diseases and injuries resulting from anal sex occur far more frequently in homosexual men, this practice is not restricted to men – it is becoming increasingly mainstream and is prominently featured on the most popular adult heterosexual porn sites. This is a problem in that young men are now beginning to expect it as par for the course from their girlfriends; that teenagers are drawn to exciting, exotic and dangerous practices which make them feel more grown-up , is not a new phenomenon and teenage girls report that they are under increasing pressure to conform to sexual pressure not only in terms of engaging in activity, but also in terms of performance. Furthermore, some young men who are experiencing same sex attraction, whether fleeting or permanent, report feeling under pressure to experience anal sex in order to be ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ gays.
Speaking in an article for Jezebel(caution a soft porn image and graphic discussion) a popular online feminist journal, Hugo Schwyzer a Professor in gender studies, tries to explain the seeming rise in popularity of the practice, which seems to me to be a symptom of feminism, in terms of the record levels of anxiety that young women are experiencing and how cultural sexual expectations of females have increased considerably over a relatively short time. Women are routinely expected to undergo increasing amounts of physical pain (such as intimate waxing) and extreme dieting, in order to fulfil male ideas of beauty – that this extends to sexual practices is hardly surprising. But at least there is an admission that this a painful business along with the acknowledgement that it is this causation of pain that is most stimulating and satisfying to the male.
And more than any other sex act, anal simultaneously symbolizes both the capacity to push through suffering and the willingness to please. For a generation uniquely acclimated to pressure, anxiety, and pain, it’s little wonder that this once taboo act has become so celebrated, so popular, so expected.
Almost invariably, the camera focuses on the young woman’s grimaces. More so than with any other sex act in mainstream heterosexual porn, in depictions of anal sex there’s an explicit connection between women’s discomfort and male arousal.
Is this really the authentic and joyful vision of sex that we want to be instilling into our children? An idea that has more to do with twisted, subverted desires and concepts of pain, domination, control and submission than the idea of mutual self gift?
Discussion of sex and sex education is a total minefield for Catholics, not least because as I am painfully aware in writing this post, we don’t want to titillate, be gratuitous, cause scandal or lead others astray. We know what we don’t want to see – like all parents, whether they admit it or not, we are disturbed by the idea of our children being given chapter and verse on sexual practices and techniques, which is wholly unnecessary. As John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility:
This is where the ‘culture of marital relations’ comes in and what it means. Not the ‘technique’ but the ‘culture’. Sexologists often put the main emphasis on technique, whereas this should rather be thought of as something secondary, and often perhaps even inimical to the purpose which it is supposed to serve. The urge is so strong that it creates in the normal man and the normal woman a sort of instinctive knowledge ‘how to make love’ whereas artificial analysis (and the concept of ‘technique’ implies this) is more likely to spoil the whole thing, for what is wanted here is a certain spontaneity and naturalness (subordinated of course to morality).
But we are scared to discuss this for fear of appearing homophobic or even sexually repressed, whereas the reality is that it’s not as simple as worrying that this type of intimate sexual education may, to use the unfortunate term ‘gayify’ children, for which there really is no evidence, simply that we do not want to normalise or give tacit encouragement to a sexual practice that is as harmful to women as it is to men.Given there is a spectrum of sexuality, we do not want organisations such as the Terence Higgens Trust or any sex educators misleading children into thinking that a fairly common fleeting but intense same-sex crush is indicative of a fixed sexuality or that children should seek to define themselves in that way, or sexually explore those feelings.
Laurence England has written an extremely courageous post outlining an experience of sexual abuse as a youngster, which he believes contributes to his same-sex attraction – his abusers being little more than boys themselves. Teaching children about sexual experimentation is not only unnecessary, it also contributes to the hyper-sexualised culture and pressures that are placed upon teens, as well as encouraging them to experiment sexually amongst themselves. If children are taught that they should explore their emerging sexual desires, it logically follows that they may well enculturate other younger youngsters such as in Laurence’s case. It also makes life very difficult in terms of protecting children from exploitation by adults. The recent appalling cases of child sex rings in Rochdale and Oxford, whereby social workers ignored the fact that children were working as prostitutes, deeming them to have made their own sexual choices, stems from such a policy of mistakenly assuming that children and adolescents should have sexual agency. That Peter Tatchell deems it appropriate to lower the age of consent to 14 and has lobbied No 10 to this effect, is cause for concern. Why is a 13 year old able to consent to sex with a 16 year old but not a 19 or 20 year old? And of course that will be the next logical progression, if any such decriminalisation were to occur.
Rather than simply saying that we don’t want this type of material taught in schools, Catholics need to be able to explain why and that this is not born out of the dreaded homophobia or obsession with what other people are up to in the bedroom. Let’s take another fairly niche practice – BDSM, which can take many light or heavier forms. If there was a push to have this as part of the sex education curriculum, there would be an outcry. If educators took the view that people are inevitably going to try it, everyone has read 50 shades of Gray, and so children may as well learn how to do it safely and consensually, we would rightly be horrified. It’s not that anyone is phobic of, or has hatred for those who wish to engage in fringe sexual behaviour, what folk get up to in the bedroom is their concern and theirs only, but the state should not be giving tacit encouragement to or promoting this in schools. After all the Terence Higgins Trust leaflet is aimed at those on the scene, why not continue to target those already engaged in sexual activity and give advice as to safety as required, instead of steering young people in that direction.
And why do schools need to make such a big deal about teaching sex anyway – by the time they’ve clinicalised it and endlessly discussed it and talked children into using hormonal contraception and condoms etc, no wonder it’s lost half its allure and fun and children then feel the need to go and try something bit stronger, more grown-up and edgier, whether that be anal intercourse, unprotected sex, multiple partners or group sexual activity.
Some discussion of sex in schools these days in unavoidable and probably rather sensible. The question needs to be, what vision should we be presenting to children? The idea that sex-education can be morally neutral is a fallacious one. Sex education is always taught from an ideological viewpoint – an allegedly neutral stance which allegedly imparts only facts, is an ideological viewpoint in itself, leaving the decision as to when or whether to start sexual activity up to the individual. It is the moral relativistic stance of ‘whatever is right for the individual’. Children and adolescents possess neither the emotional intelligence, the wisdom or experience to make wise choices in a moral vacuum. Even the so-called ‘relationship advice’ does not advise children other than to tell them that they should wait until they feel ready, which is meaningless. When are you ready to have sex? When you are ready to face the consequences that a baby might occur from such an encounter and both partners are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child together.
But all in all carrot needs to accompany stick and carrot is generally a much better tactic in terms of motivating and encouraging people to reach their aims and goals, rather than a tactic that consists of scare-mongering, i.e. you’ll get pregnant, an STD and here are the harms caused both to your body and the environment by hormonal contraception…
Catholics and Christians are rather poor at presenting a positive vision of sexuality, instead appearing like a bunch of miserable party-pooping puritans out to spoil everyone’s fun. It all seems to be about ‘thou shalt not’, rather than the beautiful, authentic, joyful, wonderful vision of sex, love and sexuality by our faith. We should be shouting this from the rooftops. Catholic doctrine on sex is fabulous stuff, it’s not about power, domination, submission, control or cultural expectations of beauty and behaviour but about mutual self-gift, taking delight in the other and real love, a love that is not solely based on selfish personal sexual satisfaction, but a love based in body and soul. It’s heady and empowering stuff that really does set you free.
Here are some more extracts from Love and Responsibility:
From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.
There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.
There is a need for harmonization, which is impossible without good will, especially on the part of the man, who must carefully observe the reactions of the woman. If a woman does not obtain natural gratification from the sexual act there is a danger that her experience of it will be quali- tatively inferior, will not involve her fully as a person.
A woman finds it very difficult to forgive a man if she derives no satisfaction from intercourse.
The natural kindness of a woman who (so the sexologists tell us) sometimes ‘shams orgasm’ to satisfy a man’s pride, may also be unhelpful in the long run.
There is here a real need for sexual education, and it must be a continuous process. The main objective of this education is to create the conviction that ‘the other person is more important than I’.
Not the kind of stuff that one would expect from a celibate old man in a dress! The reason that I, and I suspect most Catholics who have read anything of Theology of the Body, feel so strongly about sex education in schools is not only because it is the parents’ primary duty (and why aren’t schools empowering parents to be able to talk to their children openly, instead of assuming that they won’t and usurping our roles) but also because children deserve so much better. I really wish I had been taught this in school, it would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. I recently read Dawn Eden’s The thrill of the Chastewhich should be required mandatory reading in every school – confirming and endorsing my experience (as someone who has previously co-habited and then was entirely chaste up until my marriage to Robin) that actually waiting until such time you are married, is awesome and improves your marriage, your intimacy and the quality of your relationship no end. The rewards of chastity are immense and more than outweigh any temporary frustration, temptation or impatience. Instant gratification is a false god, leaving you impatient, restless and hungry for the next thrill or hit.
By all means teach children about reproductive biology, teach them about contraception, how it works both physically, emotionally and spiritually, but also teach them the really good stuff – what it is they should be aiming for and why. And for non-Catholics or non religious schools who may grumble about indoctrination or religious belief, ask why it is that they should want to expose their children to early sexual activity, multiple partners and whether or not this is in anyone’s long term best interests, be that emotional or physical, because sooner or later, your past will catch up on you.
Which vision looks more attractive, a series of passing transitory encounters for which you need to take precautions in order to mitigate risk, in the hope that one day you might find the right person and do the same thing with them for the rest of your life as you have with umpteen other people, or one intimate life-long relationship which from the outset engenders mutual love, respect and responsibility?
For those in any doubt here’s the ewwww part from the Terence Higgins leaflet. Diseases and injuries Are we still sure we want this stuff taught to our kids?
anal herpes (no cure for this one and it makes HIV transmission more likely)
anal syphilis (making a comeback according to THT due to multiple partners, often symptomless until its spread)
anal warts (treatment for this is ouchie. Frozen off with liquid nitrogen or acid, treatment takes months and they may reoccur)
LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum) – rare type of chlamydia, first made its appearance in the UK in 2004
Moving onto gut infections now which are more common (you really don’t want to know why)
Giardiasis (invisible parasite, chronic infection can last months or years and be hard to treat, known as Beaver Fever in the US due to polluted rivers)
Amoebiasis (very nasty if it spreads to the liver)
Shigellosis and Salmonellosis
Then of course HIV. Not a death sentence these days, but certainly a very serious disease requiring an enormous cocktail of retrovirals to be taken for the rest of your life and constant tests and check-ups
Next we have prostatitis which comes in three different forms