Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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September 6th, 2011

Rethinking Sex


My last La Lupe blog post generated some comments about what people believe leads to so many abortions. You know why I think there are so many abortions? Society no longer associates sex with babies.

If we really stop and think about the most natural things about our bodies, sex creating babies is right up there with being hungry and eating. Sex resulting in pregnancy is the natural order. When we’re hungry we eat. When we are tired, we sleep. When we have sex, we sometimes get pregnant.

But we don’t hear this message anywhere in society. Everything in society tells us that sex is for pleasure. Sex is for fun. Sex is for getting closer to another person. Sex is no big thing. Sex has nothing to do with babies. And this attitude is not just among non-married couples but married couples as well.

When we separate sex from babies then I can see how it might not take a huge leap for some people to believe it is ok to have an abortion. If sex is not “supposed” to end in pregnancy then having an abortion is just getting rid of something that was never supposed to happen in the first place.

A while back I read this article in America magazine that so clearly articulates why it is imperative to change the way society talks about sex. The author writes about her journey from being a pro-choice atheist to a pro-life Catholic. Along this journey, she found that her language changed a lot.

Here are some snippets of her writing that really resonated with me:

“In high school sex education class, we learned not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies.”

This is so true. The term unprotected sex is thrown around all the time. In fact, when a teenage girl gets pregnant, society does not question her decision to have sex but calls her irresponsible for having “unprotected” sex. The term unprotected sex is very misleading. Any sex outside of marriage is “unprotected” whether using birth control or not. The Church teaches us that only within the Sacrament of Marriage, with its permanence and lifelong commitment, can sex can truly be protected. Under this “protection,” sex is good, sex is sacred; it is clear that babies are the natural fruit of the relationship, babies are blessings; the couple knows each other as intimately as two people can and does not use each other as objects. We must teach kids about this kind of “protection.”

“The generally accepted view was that babies were burdens, except for a few times in life when everything might be perfect enough for a couple to see new life as a good thing.”

The idea that everything has to be absolutely perfect to have a baby is pretty unrealistic. Yes, the Church holds that couples can use Natural Family Planning in grave circumstances to avoid pregnancy, but really, there is never a “perfect” time to have a baby.  Having babies is hard but when we sign up for marriage, they are part of the package. People are constantly asking us if we are “done” having kids or asking us when we are going to “try” for some more kids. The default understanding should not be that married couples are actively and purposely avoiding pregnancy. Instead, the default should be to think that they are probably having a normal amount of sex and, God willing, will get pregnant because that is what happens. Then no couple will ever have to say whether or not they are “trying” or when they are “done” because, truly that decision is way above our pay grade.

“[Having an abortion] was the sacrifice that had to be made to prevent women from becoming victims of unwanted pregnancies…I thought of unplanned pregnancies as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street.”

I know that there truly are “victims” of unwanted pregnancies — women who are raped, women that are trapped in abusive relationships, etc. If the phrase “victim” was used just for these women, then fine, but it’s used for anyone who gets pregnant and didn’t plan on it. People treat pregnancy as if it were this ambiguous entity just waiting to land on its random prey. If a woman chooses to have sex, she could get pregnant. It might be unplanned but should not really be unexpected.

People feel “entitled to the pleasure of sex while loathing (and perhaps trying to forget all about) its life-giving properties.”

In general, society tells us to do whatever gives us the most pleasure. And there is nothing wrong with pleasure. Sex should be pleasurable but that can’t be the one and only goal. We have to be open to all that sex brings including pleasure, unity, and babies. We may be entitled to do what we want because God gives us free will, but we are not entitled to pick and choose what happens as a result of our free will.

“Terminating pregnancies simply had to be acceptable, because carrying a baby to term and becoming a parent is a huge deal, and society had made it very clear that sex was not a huge deal.”

This is so succinctly said. Because society has told us that sex is only for pleasure and not babies, we have come to believe that sex is not a big deal at all. But everyone knows that getting pregnant is a big deal and becoming a parent is a huge deal. We need to teach kids that sex is a really big, enormous, gigantic, life-changing deal. Because it is.

Usually arguing about word choice is not my cup of tea but I believe that the way society talks about sex is harmful. Most kids learn sexual morality from TV, music, and movies. How can we really expect them to get it right? How can we expect them to be open to life? These medias hardly ever convey a healthy relationship or a true understanding of sex.  I know that there are a lot more reasons that people have abortions than the type of language that is used to talk about sex in society but changing the way we speak about sex could really make a huge difference. If we could make that connection between sex and babies in kids’ heads then it could re-shape the way society as a whole thinks about abortions.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Jim

    The new YouCat, recommended by Pope Benedict XVI says “The Church does not demonize masturbation, nor does she trivialize it.” It seems that the Church currently sees it a bad habit that can lead to much worse.

    The Church is heavily influenced by Aquinas who (incorrectly) thought that masturbation was a form of abortion based on the flawed understanding of biology of his time. Thus the undue emphasis on “wasting seed”.

    Chastity calls us to either the vocation of marriage or of continence. Homosexual relationships are neither. Homosexual acts only serve to deepen the disordered bond.

    Replacing Aquinas’s bad biology with the “bad habit” line of YouCat and the Church’s teaching on sexuality makes sense.

  • Ari

    Bella, are you serious? Those that molest/rape children would do so whether they were priests or not, whether they were having natural sex or not (also not ALL Catholics behave this way and it is not Catholic teaching to behave this way). People who use your kind of logic are clearly failing to think at all. Sex is primarily used to procreate; though it is also used for pair bonding. When you try to deny what sex is really for, you end up with horrible perversions that bring down sexual ethics in society. Male “hang-ups” have nothing to do with a fear of producing unwanted children…in fact that should be a clear observation in America since we’ve had several decades to see if these “hang-ups” resolve themselves with contraception practices (Notice that they have gotten worse and it has nothing to do with Catholic policy).

  • Bella

    I think it is funny that Catholics can preach this, with their history of touching up young boys and such. Matbe if they felt that they could have sex without needing to procreate, then there would be fewer males out there with hang-ups and horrible memories of the Church.

  • Winston

    To those who question why homosexuality is wrong – i do not understand how you can say that God created the homosexual. He only created the person – not the evil in him. We all have been given free-will as well as the knowledge of right and wrong. We have to use these tools wisely. And if any of you hold the view that homosexuality is okay and that it is a natural act – then at least reconcile yourselves to the fact that God himself has condemned homosexuality. Isn’t that why he destroyed Sodom?

    Forthermore, what about paedophiles. They do what is natural to them. Does that make it okay? I believe anyone who says homosexuality is okay, in a way, also says paedophilia is okay. Both are sicknesses of the mind and need God’s grace and strength to be overcome.
    There is no human weakness/fault which cannot be overcome by God’s grace.

  • Tota Tua

    But we aren’t animals, we are humans who are blessed with eternal souls. We need to focus more on the forever than the pleasure du moment. We are blessed to be able to bring humans to this world. We are also blessed to have free will and be able to say no, not now and to be obedient. One cannot be disobedient to the Church and call themselves Catholic, them the rules we promise to play by.

  • Jasmine M

    We live in a society where delayed gratification is a foreign concept. “I want what I want now, and I don’t care if there are any consequences!” Examples of this include being a credit card nation, signing up for home loans you can’t afford, having sex with anyone within arm’s reach, having an abortion instead of giving the child up for adoption after birth, and masturbating because you just can’t wait for marriage (pre-marital sex included).

    Selfishness breeds discontent. All of the aforementioned circumstances are shining examples as to why our society has been plummeting further into a cesspool of vanity and greed.

    We need positive role models more than ever to show these young people what it means to have a spine, make sacrifices, and genuinely hold other people in their best interests.

    Remove the recreational label on sex. It isn’t just about gratification. God gave sex to humanity for the perpetuation of the miracle (not burden) of life, and as an expression of intimate love between spouses.

  • tina matilde

    i appreciate and value your article and the opinions of your commentators. i did, however, want to ask that you take this perhaps one step further and discuss the difficulty or challenges that arise while abstaining or maintaining celibacy for young adults in contemporary US, would that at all be a possibility?

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    I think it is important to remember that the Church actually has beautiful things to say about sex and the intimate relationship between a husband and wife. It’s not just a list of don’ts. I know it’s not a short read but JPII’s Theology of the Body explains sex in a much, much better way than I ever could.

    Chelto – Thank you so much for sharing. There are many different reasons why women have abortions. I agree with you that a big problem is the way women see themselves and that raising girls with a positive self-image and healthy self-esteem would help greatly, as I’ve written in the past. But my point is while people might know that biologically sex could lead to babies, they don’t ever think it could happen to them because everything in society says that sex shouldn’t lead to babies. I appreciate your comment.

  • Dorothy

    A couple posters try to justify homosexuality because it has been observed in animals. Animals can make cute, lovable companions, but are poor subjects upon which to base our moral behavior. Most male animals will cohabit with a series of females if given the chance, so that would put marital fidelity out the door. I have observed, on more than one occasion, quicker dogs snatching a desired treat from an unsuspecting slower dog, so that would justify theft. Animals have been known to visously fight with and kill even their own kind, so that would justify murder.
    As Catholic Christians our model should be Christ, or Mary and the Saints who lived their lives to the best of their ability in imitation of Christ. We can also read the Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers and other Saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other Church documents to help us better understand Catholic moral behavior.

  • Christy

    I think the issue is much more complex than what you have written. I agree with Adam. I completely disagree with Dorothy.

    If sex is supposed to be a natural, unimpeded act, then why is homosexuality wrong when it is quite often a clearly natural act. Many animals exhibit homosexual tendencies. It’s a bit of a conundrum really: If God created homosexual beings, and yet we’re not supposed to go against the natural order of things, then why is it so wrong to act on your homosexual tendencies? I don’t think I will ever be able to reconcile that teaching with reality.

    Also, Vanessa wrote that most women know what they’re doing and are not “victims” in sexual acts. Yes, they are consenting to sex. There is a lot more to this though than the actual consent to sex, or the consent to unprotected sex. coming from past experiences, I found it hard to say no to sex, let alone convince a very unwilling guy to use a condom during sex. They may not be explicitly saying yes to the unprotected sex. there is still some victimization.

    I have big issues reconciling church teachings on sexuality with reality. For example, the use of artificial birth control is looked at as evil, even if a woman is using it for medical purposes. It very clearly states in the catechism that even if the ABC is used to help the woman, it is still intrinsically evil, because the ends do not justify the means. I know that Pope Benedict XVI has stated that condoms are OK to prevent the endangerment of another (duh! makes sense to me!)

    Perhaps in regards to sexuality, the church is still stuck in the mindset that the fall of man was all due to Eve. I don’t understand. It’s OK for people to take drugs for diabetes and heart disease and cancer, but I take birth control pills to control endometriosis & that act is evil, while the others would be considered life-promoting? Makes no sense to me. I took the BC pill for 14 years from doctor’s orders. They highly suspected endo when I was a teenager, and with the amount of that disease running through my mother’s family, the doc figured that was the best solution. you know what? I was able to have a child. Doesn’t that make my use of the pill life-promoting instead of life-inhibiting?

    I really don’t understand.

  • chelto

    I was raised a Catholic but now do not subscribe to any religion although I do consider myself spiritual. As someone who had an abortion as a young girl, I can say it had nothing to do with that I did not understand that unprotected sex can result in a pregnancy but it was wholly because my upbringing and experience of being molested as a child by my grandfather making me feel like I was worth nothing and it being reinforced by my father throughout my childhood that I was worthless and never good enough that led me to become pregnant. I also attempted suicide once but was unsuccessful. I did not care about myself because I had never been taught to value myself or care about myself. I did not understand I had to learn to love myself and not seek it from anyone else because if you do not love yourself, no one can ever come along and give that to you. Now as an adult, I know this is what we need to teach our young women to ensure they have worth and value in themselves and they will have no desire to allow their bodies to be used ever. It is not a religious issue but a self esteem issue. I know what I did was wrong and I will be made to pay for those sins in the afterlife in addition to what I have done in this life to atone for it but I am strong enough now to be able to admit what I did and why. It has been a long road of healing and self discovery. I would love to say I have forgiven my grandfather but I would be lying if I said I had. I dont know that I will ever be able to. It is an ongoing process.

  • Susan

    Does the Church really teach that masturbation is a mortal sin? If so, I am one Catholic that does think the Church teaching is wrong.

  • Dorothy

    In response to Adam,comparing the use of contraception to healing a heart attack victim–what we have to ask ourselves is whether the intervention heals and helps to continue the process of life, or whether it stops the process of life. A heart attack is a malfunction, like a broken pipe, to fix it will allow life to continue. Contraception on the other hand, is akin to murder because it stops the process of life from continuing.
    As for masturbation and homosexuality, they are the misuse of a part of ourselves. Our body is not our own, but a gift from God. To abuse it in this way might compare to the use of our Mother’s nice table linens or dish towel to clean the carburator or the commode–it’s just foul and disgusting.
    Perhaps the animals do these things, but we’re not animals. God has given us an intellect and the capacity to discern right from wrong.

  • Jill

    I thought this was particularly interesting:

    “When we’re hungry we eat. When we are tired, we sleep. When we have sex, we sometimes get pregnant.”

    She put sensations before actions: hunger –> eating, tiredness –> sleeping. Then an action, sex, before a potential outcome of that action, pregnancy.

    Sex is one of the healthiest things a couple can do. Couples who have more sex stay together more often. The partners are less likely to have depression and they live longer. It is honestly a great form of exercise, a great stress-reliever and I have a sneaking suspicion that God made it so enjoyable for more a reason.

    Having said all that, I don’t think sex should be reduced to something like eating or sleeping. Oh I’m really stressed so I’m going to have sex or masturbate! I do think there is a special role for sexual relations, I think we can and should work to control our biology and hormones, but I think the biology is also there for a God-given reason. Sex is really healthy for you as an individual and really healthy for the couple. And we don’t ask or expect married couples who can’t have children to not have sex.

    I’m a physician and I am struggling mightily right now with many aspects of Church teaching regarding sex, homosexuality and contraception. All I can really say at the moment is that I’m praying, I’m thinking, I’m asking questions and I’m trying to see the wisdom in the Church’s teaching.

  • P. Edward Murray

    It’s always the same isn’t i?

    Fire and Brimstone but no salvation right?

    That’s where prayer comes in, isn’t it?

    Chaplet of Divine Mercy, please!

  • AnitaH

    Andy- yes, I agree with Church teachings on masturbation. I’ve run across those who admit “I know it’s wrong but I do it anyway” but not anyone who took the position that the Church was wrong in its teachings on masturbation.

  • andy

    AnitaH – current Church teaching states that masturbation is a mortal sin, along the lines of murder. Do you agree with this?

  • AnitaH

    I couldn’t agree with you more in what you wrote. Last week I had dinner with three friends from church (all in their 30′s) who each said that the Church was wrong on the topic of masturbation and needed to change its position. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. Sadly, this is more the norm than the exception nowadays.

    I recently visited the Catholic Student Center at my alma mater and was happy to see that the current priest was talking about sex and Theology of the Body with the students. I wish we had had programs and discussions like that when I was in college. Instead my ideas on sex were shaped by books, movies and music over the years. How I wished I had at least been taught or exposed to both sides and had the information to make a truly informed and educated opinion about sex in my younger years.

  • andy

    great article, and a good reminder to a pro-lifer like myself about the whats and whys we choose this stance. towards the end of the piece, however, a thought struck me – somewhat similar to Adam’s remarks. mainly, it’s your argument that people should always remember that sex and babies go together and that pregnancy should never be separated from sex. well, biologically and chemically, unless a couple is purposely planning on getting pregnant and has “making a baby” on the brain, then babies are the furthest thing from their mind during the time surrounding intercourse. there’s something more than babies happening here – a biological impulse and directive with some kind of physiological and chemical pleasure at it’s core. if this wasn’t occurring naturally, this yearning for pleasure, then none of us would be here anyway. since creation, people have not had sex because it makes babies, but because it feels good.

  • Adam

    While I respect the author’s views, I feel this article highlights a troubling and recurring thought in Catholic sexuality; namely that things should be as “natural” as possible.

    The Church says that homosexuality is wrong because it is not natural, contraception is wrong because it is not natural. This is odd thinking on two levels. First, it ignores the homosexual behavior and pleasure seeking sex of many animals. If it is occurring in other species how is it not normal?

    More importantly though it draws an artificial line regarding what natural processes we allow to run their course and which we do not. If someone is having a heart attack the Church says it is ok to administer drugs and perform surgery. Why? A heart attack is a natural process. Children who are born with deformities are routinely given cosmetic surgeries by Catholic funded organizations. Aren’t their abnormalities natural? The point is that the Church is arbitrarily deciding what is natural and what is not based on what fits with existing theology.

    At one point in the Church’s history, “sexual deviancy” was decried as being too natural and animalistic. Now it is decried as being unnatural. Bottom line for this line of thinking is old argument new face, and neither of them are correct.

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