A Treatise Concerning the Decisions of Certain Persons to Abstain from Sexual Activity for Religious and Other Reasons Herein Explained and What this Means for Them as a Proponent of Feminist Theory and Practice
I didn’t decide to not have sex because the Catholic Church told me I couldn’t or else I’d go to hell. The Church tells me plenty of things—Don’t be greedy! Don’t be proud!—that I’d go to hell for long before they got around to chastising me for having sex. Besides, it’s silly to not do things just because people tell you not to do them—those are usually the best kinds of things, and sex is no exception.
That being said, I made a decision a while ago to not have sex before marriage, or perhaps more accurately to make the bar for sex in a relationship high enough that it represents a serious life commitment.
And that’s like, kind of weird, right?
Moreover, I consider this a feminist decision on my part, and I will defend to the death everyone else’s right to have sex the same as I will defend my right not to.
I won’t deny that the Catholic Church had something to do with this, but it’s not the way you think.
It starts with the book of Genesis—stay with me here—and the fundamental revelation that creation is good. Creation is good! The physical world is good! Trees and wallabies and fish in the seas, kangaroos and zebras too, it’s all wonderful and beautiful and the best thing that God ever did.
What does this mean for us? First, it means that people who think that Catholicism is about denying earthly pleasures because the physical world is evil—well they’re wrong. And you know what is included in the physical world? You are. I am. My family. Friends. Sex.
Wait, did I just say that?
I did, and I meant it. But more on that elsewhere.* Let’s just talk about this idea that I am a good thing.
What this taught me is a great respect for my body. In all its intricacy and beauty from neuron to neuron and head to toe, my body is extraordinary. It is godly. It is good. (We can—and should—have conversations about body-positive messages, but let me just say that Genesis beat us to the punch by about 3 millennia. Why doesn’t it ever get credit for the cool stuff?) I was lucky enough to grow up in a Catholic environment that taught me that I am worth something, in fact I am worth the world, and my body is a very special part of that.
And call me a narcissist, but this means I don’t particularly feel like sharing my body with you if you’re not going to appreciate its awesomeness.
If I suspect that you’re just using me for your own pleasure—if I feel like I’m just some interchangeable body parts rather than the best thing that’s ever happened to you—if I think for a second that you would dare disrespect my bodily or emotional well-being for the sake of your pleasure—fuck off, asshole.
If, on the other hand, someone loves all of the goodness that is me, including my intellect, my humor, and all of my quirks, then I trust that they can love the goodness of my body and they don’t just think I’m a convenient solution to their physical desires. I’m not convenient, I am the Daughter of the Lord of the Universe. Show some respect.
You can see that it’s a high bar, and it’s going to stay there.
I understand that different people have different ways of showing this respect for their body. For many women, it is celebrating the fact that they are sexual beings after centuries of repression. This could mean having many casual partners or a few serious ones, or any combination in between. That’s great! It’s different than me, but no one said we had to be the same.
I will say that I don’t appreciate those that tell me I should be having sex, and if I’m not having sex then I’m repressed or (more commonly) weird. I don’t feel weird, I feel like I’m biding my time, waiting for someone to come along who is as obsessed with me as I am. I know most people don’t mean to pressure me or make me feel like “true” feminists have lots of sex. I know that spreading the message that sex is not taboo and that we, as women, are allowed to enjoy it is incredibly important. I endeavor to spread it myself, and it’s because of conversations like that that I am able to write a blog piece that mentions women and sex in the same sentence. I am forever grateful for those who have worked for this freedom. Still, I wanted freedom, not a mandate in the opposite direction!
I want women to feel like they can be feminists and not have sex. I think it’s one of the most feminist things in the world to assert that you control your body, and that you have the right to turn down every person who wants to have sex with you if you so choose.
In conclusion: I like sex a lot. I can’t wait until I can have sex all the time with someone who respects me and my body as the life-changing experience it is. However, I am constantly walking a tightrope between celebrating Creation, supporting my fellow feminists in their expression of their sexuality, and making sure that I love others in a way that affirms them as part of God’s beauty and not as sex objects for my pleasure. It’s hard and I’m not very good at it. However, I think the struggle is worth it—most struggles are.
For what it’s worth, I would love to hear responses on this—does this sound like repression to you? Do I sound brainwashed, like I’ve internalized the patriarchy? It’s entirely possible. Alternately, am I bastardizing the Catholic faith into something it was never meant to be? These views make me a black sheep in almost any community around here because they’re not traditionally “liberal” but they’re sure as heck not conservative Catholicism.
At the end of the day, let’s support each other no matter what our sexual choices are. Feminism is about choice, and this is mine. The Daughter of the Lord of the Universe has spoken.
*A word on Catholic views on sexuality as I understand them: Much of what I said contradicts the popular imagination of Catholics as sex-starved idol worshipers. I promise I’m not a heretic and this is coming from somewhere. Catholic theology does celebrate the body as part of physical creation, and therefore as a good thing. Sex, too, is a beautiful gift from God. In fact, the Church thinks that sex is so good that’s it’s not something we should treat lightly. It’s actually part of an encounter with the divine, you know? So I would challenge anyone who says that the Church doesn’t like sex—to me, it sounds like the Church gives sex a lot more credit than contemporary society does. The Church does have some fears; for all that it wants to affirm the goodness of God’s creation, it also constantly reminds us that this earth is not the point of our existence. We are spiritual beings as well, and even while we should celebrate God’s creation, we also should know that it is ultimately another channel to Him, a place where we can find his presence and marvel at it. Those who focus too much on the physical—be it on food or sex or drugs or whatever else is considered an earthly pleasure—they’re missing the full experience of those things bringing them closer to God. Moreover, there is a real danger that focusing too much on sex leads to people viewing other humans as objects, and the Church rejects that wholeheartedly. Everyone is a person and deserves to be treated as such. We are better than sex toys. I have more inherent worth than a vibrator. I’m leaving out a lot of nuance here—Pope Francis, please don’t excommunicate me—but that’s the gist. Corrections welcomed.