Study Says,Casual Sex Can Cause Depression

“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause  and which is the effect.  This study  provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that  casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health.” Sandberg-Thoma conducted the study with Claire Kamp Dush,  assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State.  The research was published online recently in  the Journal of Sex Research and will  appear in a future print edition. One surprising finding was that the link between casual sex  and mental health was the same for both men and women.   “That was unexpected because there is still this sexual  double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual  relationships, but it is not OK for women,” Kamp Dush said.   “But these results suggest that poor mental health and casual  sex are linked, whether you’re a man or a woman.”  Read More

I need to give a hat tip to Elizabeth Scalia for pointing my attention to this piece.

You’ll recall I asserted this exact same thing in my interview with drive time shock jock Tracy Jones on WKRP WLW  in Cincinnati several months ago.  The researchers seem mystified as to why it is that casual sex causes depression and why this is true for both women and men.

The Christians reading this will probably be face-palming right about now because we accept these facts–for the most part anyway (I think the male casual sex/depression link would surprise a lot of my Christian friends infected with the secular culture’s double standard about men)–as biblical truths.  But we have to do a better job of explaining why casual sex is wrong beyond just saying “Jesus said, NO!”  (as if he was “Grumpy Cat” or something)

As I assert in my book Holy Sex!  the brain is wired to view sex as a sign of intimacy and unity.  In fact, the brain responds to break-ups the same way it responds to physical pain.  When two people make love, their brains begin to think of the other as part of each self.  The lovers literally become wired together.  When they break-up, the brain responds to the social wound as if the lovers experienced a physical wound; a broken arm or a broken leg.  Now imagine intentionally setting yourself up to get physically wounded again and again.  You would call that person “mentally ill” right?  Well, that’s what casual sex is–setting your brain up to be wounded again and again.   And setting oneself up to get hurt again and again–especially in the name of fun–is a depressing thought.

Sex is a powerful drug.  In particular, it is a drug that literally bonds two people together–not just metaphysically, but neurologically.   The brain can’t tell the difference between a one night stand and an LTR.  It just knows that it is being bombarded by chemicals that make it start to bond with another person and think of that person as part of oneself.  Losing a part of yourself is depressing.  The brain processes a break-up after sex like it would process an amputation and, to respond to the other question the study asked, the reason that causal sex negatively affects both women and men is because male and female brains are more alike than they are different.  Yes, there are differences between the sexes, but those differences tend to be more qualitative than structural. It isn’t as if women have entire swaths of brain territory that men don’t.  It’s just that some areas of the female brain light up a little differently than other parts.  But both men and women have all the parts of the brain that make them human beings, and the bonding process is a basic human response.    The mental health of both men and women is negatively affected by casual sex because we weren’t physically made to do it, and acting in a manner that is contrary to our design causes us to feel broken down and depressed.

The good news is that the flipside is also true.  People who have fewer sexual partners (for instance, one) and who remain faithful to that partner are happier, and both mentally and physically healthier than people with more sexual partners.

If you’d like to learn more about having a healthy, joyful, life-long love, or how to effectively articulate the truth of the Catholic vision of love, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.


How Do We Keep Our Kids Catholic?

A great reflection by More2Life Radio contributor, Kim Cameron-Smith of

So how do we keep our kids Catholic, then?  We build a strong Catholic home culture and we love our children unconditionally.  We respond to their legitimate needs with respect and tenderness.  We parent with grace and authority, but never strident, rude, controlling coldness.  This is a difference between authoritative parenting (clear expectations guided by warmth and acceptance) and authoritarian parenting (an expectation of blind obedience with threat of severe consequences for disobedience).  The fact is, and this statement is supported in the scientific literature, children who are securely attached to their parents are far more likely to internalize the values and religious faith (or non-faith) of their parents; children who are insecurely attached are far less likely to internalize those values or that faith.  That means we can have all the family Rosaries we want, but if we scare our kids, ignore them, threaten them, make them feel invisible, stupid, or bad, then they will be easy pickins for the goofy stuff they’ll encounter in adulthood that masquerades as deeper meaning.   READ MORE

For more information on raising Catholic kids check out a copy of Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids!

14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

In this tongue-in-cheek article, one of the founders of the Family Therapy movement articulates 14 things that people do to make life much harder than it needs to be along with suggested “exercises” for becoming even more miserable.   It’s a lot of fun and educational to boot.  Here’s an example…

Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.   READ MORE

Staying Present to Your Kids When You Travel–Guest Blog by Dave McClow, MDiv, LCSW, LMFT

How do you stay connected to your kids when you travel?

Here’s 7 things to do.  Written to Dads but works for traveling Moms too!

Your kids still need to experience your presence even when you are out of town. Here are 7 ways to extend your presence when you are traveling. Connecting with them in multiple ways can help your wife manage them better.

1) Obviously, plan phone calls, but do Face Time/Skype, and texting. They need to see your face and you may get 30 seconds rather than 10 with 1-3 year olds.

2) Send pictures of what you are doing, where you are going, what you are seeing. “We have the technology,” use it!

3) Do a voice recording or video of yourself reading or telling the kids’ favorite story(ies).

4) Give your kids a “transitional object,” like a teddy bear that you hug and give to your kids, so that whenever they need a hug from daddy, they can hug the bear. Other examples could be a rosary, a medal, a rock, your picture or a picture of you and the in individual child together. Pray over the object in their presence and give it to them. They know it is from Dad and carry it with them and pull it out when they want to connect with Dad.

5) Make sure to put Dad’s picture in the kids’ bedrooms. And Mom could put Dad’s picture at the dinner table or on the counter while he’s away.  Another visual cue that Dad is still present even when he is not there.

6) Write a loving note to each of the kids that lets them know you’re thinking of them while you’re gone, love them, are proud of them, etc.  They could open it on a particular day or if they have a time when the miss Dad.

7) Make a ritual of lighting a candle at Church that represents your prayers and protection of them and you while you are gone.

What do you to extend your presence when traveling?

Dave McClow, M.Div., LCSW, LMFT  is a clinical pastoral counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  To learn more about making a marriage, family, or personal counseling appointment with Dave or any of the associates in our tele-counseling practice, please visit the Pastoral Solutions Institute online or call 740-266-6461 today.

Overcoming Bitterness: 5 Steps for Healing the Hurt that Won’t Go Away

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash

No one wants to be bitter.  It sneaks up on us.  Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.    The more we hold onto past hurts the more we become drunk on our pain and the experience can rob us of the joy we can find in anything.
Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us that we are powerless to get back.  We hold on to the hurt in an attempt to remind ourselves and others of the injustice we’ve experienced in the hopes that someone will save us and restore what we’ve lost.  Unfortunately, bitterness only makes our sense of the injustice grow.  It does nothing to heal the wound caused by the injustice.  In fact, it causes the wound to become infected with anger.

Bitterness:  Wrath’s Little Sister

Bitterness is wrath’s little sister.  Where anger can be just and moral if it propels us to seek solutions for the wrongs we have experienced or witness, wrath is a deadly sin because it becomes anger that feeds on itself and adds to wreckage caused by the original wound.  Bitterness does this too, but instead of burning down the house with everything we value still inside, bitterness is quieter, slowly poisoning our life until we lose it one joy at a time.

Here are some things you can do to begin to overcome bitterness.

1.  Forgive

Forgiveness does not mean pretending everything is “OK.”  It doesn’t mean forgetting the hurt either.  According to St. Augustine, forgiveness is simply the act of surrendering our desire for revenge; that is, our desire to hurt someone for having hurt us.   Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves that enables us to stop picking at the scab and start making a plan for healing.

2. Make a plan

Forgiveness allows you to free up the energy you need to begin healing the wound. If the person who hurt you is willing to work with you, begin mapping out exactly what changes or effort you would need to see from that person to let you know that it is safe to reconcile.  If you are on your own, focus your energy on making a plan for how will you strive to regain as much of what was lost/taken from you as possible.  The more you strive to find alternative ways to recoup your losses, the less bitter you will feel even if the hurt persists.   It can be tempting to give into feelings that “there’s nothing I can do”   but resist the temptation.  In fact, if you feel this way and can’t think of solutions, talk to a professional to check your math before deciding that you just need to grieve your loss.  If, after consultation, you find that there really is nothing you can do to reclaim what was lost or taken from you, focus your energy on developing new goals that will help you reconstruct a compelling future.  The book, The Life God Wants You to Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail can be a tremendous help for figuring out what God is calling you to work toward in the next chapter of your life.


3.  Stop Dwelling and Retelling

When we are hurt, we have a tendency to turn the painful events over and over in our head or tell anyone who will listen about our pain–even over and over again.  It is fine to talk to people we think can help us heal the hurt, facilitate reconciliation or help us rebuild our lives, but other than that, we should do what we can to stop dwelling on the story of our injury ourselves and stop speaking of it so freely to others.  When we are tempted to “dwell or retell” the best course of action is to refocus on what we can do–TODAY–to take at least some small step toward refining or actualizing the plan we’ve developed in Step 2.  The more you are focused on solutions, the less you will experience the sense of powerlessness that comes from ruminating on the hurt.

4.  Seek Grace

It can be next to impossible to heal some wounds without God’s grace.  Bitterness causes us to shun God’s grace in favor of obsessing over the wound.  If you are holding on to bitterness I encourage you to take it to confession.  Please don’t be insulted by the suggestion.  I know that you are the victim and you have a right to your pain.  Still, holding on to anything except God’s love, mercy and healing grace separates from God and the life he wants us to have. Confession can open your heart to receive the healing that God wants to give you.   It can help you surrender the pain and powerlessness and begin to discover new options.  Stop hoarding your hurt.  Make your desire for healing official by taking your tendency to dwell in the powerlessness to the confessional and seek the grace to leave it there.

5.  Seek Professional Help

If the bitterness won’t let go even after you’ve tried all of the above, it’s time to seek professional help.  Working with a professional can help you see possibilities that your pain has blinded you to and give you new tools to heal the wounds that are holding you back.   If you have a faithful professional in your area that you have worked with before, it may be time to reconnect.  If not, I would invite you to contact me through the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about our telephone counseling practice.  Healing is possible with the right resources.

Hebrews 12:5 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  You don’t have to be bitter or consumed by feelings of powerlessness and sadness.  Take action today to cooperate with the grace God is giving you to break free of the bonds of bitterness.  You can discover that with God’s help, there is so much more to life than pain.


“Mothers Aren’t Important” Or Another Reason “Nobody Does Childhood Like the English”

Years ago, Mike Myers had a character on SNL called, “Simon.”  The segment would often show Myers as a little boy in a bathtub cheerfully and guilelessly talking about his awful family life, which he took completely in stride and wrote off with the catchphrase, “Because nobody does childhood like the English!”

I doubt anyone else remembers the segment, but as a family therapist, it stuck with me.  Well, flash forward a few decades later and The Guardian gives us another great example of why Simon was right with this article by columnist Catherine Deveny,     I’ve copied part of it here for your convenience but you should go read the whole thing.    My response to the article is below.

Being a mother is not the most important job in the world. There, I said it. Nor is it the toughest job, despite what the 92% of people polled in Parents Magazine reckon.

For any woman who uses that line, consider this: if this is meant to exalt motherhood, then why is the line always used to sell toilet cleaner? And if being a mother is that important, why aren’t all the highly paid men with stellar careers not devoting their lives to raising children? After all, I never hear “being a father is the most important job in the world”.

The deification of mothers not only delegitimises the relationship fathers, neighbours, friends, grandparents, teachers and carers have with children, it also diminishes the immense worth and value of these relationships. How do gay dads feel about this line, I wonder? Or the single dads, stepdads or granddads? No matter how devoted and hard working you are, fellas, you’ll always be second best.  READ THE REST HERE.

So let me take a moment to respond to Ms. Deveny because despite the snark, she raises some important questions.  Namely, why is motherhood so important?

Motherhood and The Music of Life

People have a tendency to think that babies don’t start learning until birth, but that isn’t true.  Research shows that babies are learning the entire time they are in the womb.  In particular, they are bonding to mom, learning her voice, listening to the music of her body and using that “music” to begin setting the rhythms of their own body (this process of learning to set the rhythms of their body to the rhythms of mom’s body will continue after birth for quite some time and is called “entrainment”).    The entire time baby is in the womb, he is learning to have a special relationship with mom that will continue for many months after birth.  Dads are important, but as the linked study shows, mom’s relationship is primary and unique.

Motherhood is the most important job because without mothers, life would not exist.  Yes, the man contributes sperm and the woman contributes an egg but the woman provides the environment for that life to grow–and only the woman can do this.  This is part of the “feminine genius” Pope John Paul II referred to and it is not incidental to the development, not just of a viable baby, but also to the development of a human person who is capable of neurological and emotional regulation.    Although it flies in the face of common parenting practices, the reason that mom continues to be primary to the child after birth is that because he has been listening to the “music” of mom’s voice and body (and has been learning to set the rhythms of his body to her music for the last 9 mos) it is actually jarring to the baby’s development to not be able to hear that music after he is born.  Over the next few months and years the baby will be learning many other “tunes” (Dad, Grandma and Grandpap, etc) and discover their own unique beauty, but for the first several months of life–really almost the first two + years–the baby’s body needs to learn mom’s song first so that his body and brain rhythms can be synched to hers.

The Best Music Teacher:  Mom vs. Many

Imagine that it is your job to learn a difficult song.  Imagine that the person teaching that song to you keeps patiently humming that same song over and over.  Bit by bit, you learn each measure, each key change, each crescendo and decrescendo until you have mastered the song.  Although we are using poetic language, the “song” in this metaphor represents the neurological work that is going on in the baby’s body. The baby has been taught in the womb to listen to mom’s body to learn to set his biological rhythms.  Those rhythms are not completely established at birth.  For instance, babies still get days and nights mixed up, they can’t reset their heart and respiration after stress on their own, they can’t self-soothe.   They need another person’s body to help them do that.  Mom’s body is actually best suited–biologically and neurologically speaking– for this job.  The more mom keeps baby close to her, the easier the child feels it is to learn the neuro-biological “song” that wires the different parts of his brain that enable him to have good emotional health, biological regulation and relational acuity.

Now, other people can soothe the baby, but their body sings a different music.  It may be beautiful in its own way, but it is different.  If someone else tries to comfort the baby the child will be confused, at least at first.  He has not been taught to listen to this strange song and will fight it at first because his brain and body viscerally react to the different rhythms contained in this other persons’ “song”; rhythms that conflict with the neurological  song the baby has been learning from mom for months in utero.  Imagine having to learn a very complicated bit of music, but instead of hearing the same bit of music over and over again, you hear a half dozen songs covering a half dozen different genres (classical, hip hop, rock, alternative) and then you are tested on how well you’ve learned that original, complicated piece; that very piece of music that is supposed to serve as the neurological foundation for the rest of your life.

Many Songs = Attachment Deficits

Eventually, most babies cared for by someone other than mom can learn to put enough of a song together to learn to at least basically regulate their neurological and emotional systems.  These babies will exhibit some degree of secure attachment but they will not be as securely attached as a baby who got to spend the majority of his time with mom.  That said, the more people who are caregivers to a baby and the less consistent those caregivers are the harder it is for the baby to learn any song at all.  This child develops an attachment disorder which, more than a psychological problem, is a neurological disorder that indicates that the child has not developed the structures of his brain that are responsible for bodily/emotional regulation and interpersonal attunement.

More than anyone else, it is the mother who is primarily responsible for setting all the baby’s basic brain and body functions that not only allow a child to be born, but allow that child to be a human being capable of bodily/emotional regulation and interpersonal connection.  Without mom, this process is significantly, and sometimes catastrophically, impaired.  This work is not only important, it is challenging but it is absolutely worth it.  In fact, it is essential for the optimal development of the person.

Motherhood:  It’s Elementary

Of course there are many more reasons why motherhood is important and challenging, but the reasons articulated in this response to Deveny’s article are not widely-known and are often unappreciated by even the most sensitive parents and even professionals.  Biologically, neurologically, and psychologically speaking, motherhood is important in basic and essential ways that fatherhood is not.   Fatherhood is tremendously important, and dads bring many unique gifts to the parenting table, and their absence is profoundly felt, but motherhood brings the more essential, and, in many ways, more elementary gifts to the parenting table.

People like Deveny, who are ignorant of science and psychology and buy into the unscientific feminist paradigm that says gender is just a social construct and that the body doesn’t really matter don’t get motherhood, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.  It just means that that they are blind to reality.

If you’d like to learn more about how moms matter and how to help your children experience the attachment they need to become everything God created them to be, check out Parenting with Grace: The  Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

St John Chrysostum (& Other Saints) on Whether Catholic Parents Should Spank.

I came across an interesting sermon by St. John Chrysostum (c. 347-407) titled, An Address on Vainglory and The Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children.  I’m not all the way through yet, but I had to share this bit for those of you who wonder whether Catholic parents should spank.  I was stunned at what I read.

If thou shouldst see him (your son) transgressing this law, punish him, now with a stern look, now with incisive, now with reproachful, words; at other times win him with gentleness and promises.   Have not recourse to blows and accustom him not to be trained by the rod; for if he feel it…, he will learn to despise it. And when he has learnt to despise it, he has reduced thy system to nought.

Here we have a Doctor of the Church, from the 4th century, counseling Christian parents against the harsh discipline that was the norm of the day.

It reminds me of St Jean Baptiste de la Salle’s (1650-1719) counsel to avoid “the birch.”

The birch is used only out of bad temper and weakness for the birch is a servile punishment which degrades the soul even when it corrects, if it indeed corrects, for its usual effect is to burden (c.f., On the Conduct of Christian Schools)

And, while we’re at it,   St John Bosco’s  (1815-1888) advice on the training of children…

Force, indeed, punishes guilt but does not heal the guilty….In the case of some boys, a reproachful look is more effective than a slap in the face would be. Praise of work well done and blame in the case of carelessness are already a great reward or punishment.  A reproachful or severe look often serves as an excellent means of moral restraint over the young. By it the guilty person is moved to consider his own fault, to feel ashamed, and finally to repent and turn over a new leaf.  Never, except in very extreme cases, expose the culprit publicly to shame. Except in very rare cases, corrections and punishments should be given privately and in the absence of companions; and the greatest prudence and patience should be used to bring the pupil to see his fault, with the aid of reason and religion.  To strike a child in any way…must be absolutely avoided…[these punishments] greatly irritate the child and degrade the [parent].

In my previous research, I had seen references from Catholic educators going back to the 1700’s (St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle 1651-1719) eschewing corporal punishment, but Chrysostum’s injunction against a parenting practice that is common even today shows that there has been a unique relationship between Christianity and gentle discipline going back to the Patristic era, which even I couldn’t have imagined.  This finding really offers some food for thought.   To me, at least, it shows that the Church has been encouraging Catholic families to bear witness to a different and more loving model of family life from its earliest days.  That shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose, but considering that most parents today think that being a good Christian parent requires an almost sacramental devotion to corporal punishment, I think it would be surprising for a lot of well-meaning moms and dads.

If you would like to follow the advice of these saints and others, Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids offers dozens of techniques and ideas that can help you use gentle methods to achieve even higher standards of behavior than you could with corporal punishment.  If you are looking for a truly Catholic approach to childrearing; if you’re ready to begin parenting with the loving spirit the saints have counseled us to have toward our children going all the way back to the 4th century, check out Parenting with Grace.



Build a Marriage that Taps Into God’s Love: The Popcaks on Christopher Close-Up

Toni Rossi interviewed Lisa and I on our new book, Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.  You can read the whole thing here, but here is a snippet.  We hope you enjoy!

“This is a generation that has a real fear about making marriage work, and they’re hungry to figure out how to do it so they don’t end up making the same mistakes they see everyone else making and experiencing that agonizing pain.”

That “agonizing pain” is divorce, and marriage counselors Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak say they’ve had many couples approach them for help because they want to avoid the devastating break-ups they witnessed among their own parents, family members and friends.

To help newlyweds avoid those pitfalls, the Popcaks have written a new book called “Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.”  It incorporates the latest relationship research, their personal experience of 24 years of marriage, and their work through the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which offers both in-person and telephone counseling. 

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

During a recent interview on “Christopher Closeup,” the Popcaks discussed their belief that “no newly married couple knows what they are doing when it comes to marriage” – and they admitted that held true for them as well.

Lisa said, “Greg and I went to a university that had a whole course on Christian marriage, and we had a wonderful advisor, Father Angelus, who said, ‘If you get past me, you’ll make it forever!’  But even with that, there’s a culture shock to being married: joining your traditions, working out the everyday ins and outs of life, having to live with somebody during all their moods.  The Church knows what it’s talking about when it says the vows are ‘for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ Most people don’t realize how quickly you’ll go through all those stages, even in the first year of marriage!”   READ MORE

A Perfect Storm: Dr. Scott Stanley Sees A Dark Future for Family Life

University of Denver family researcher, Dr. Scott Stanley, offers a particularly insightful perspective on the co-occurrence of three factors that don’t bode well for the future of the family, and society, as we know it.

Although much evidence suggests that we are becoming a better world with increasing prosperity and health, I worry about some large, dark clouds on the horizon. Left unchecked, the trends on the horizon threaten to become a perfect storm in such a way that the vessel of society has some serious difficulty staying on course or even afloat. My worries arise from three basic assertions, which I’ll list and then explain:

1. Attachment is an unalterable, important human need and reality, and the formation of attachment systems in individuals dramatically affects their ability to have healthy relationships throughout life.

2. With an ever-greater amount of family instability for young children, I believe we must be raising the greatest number of children ever who will grow up with serious attachment issues.

3. The cultural systems and structures that always have helped couples clarify, form, and maintain strong commitments have been steadily eroding.

I’ll take these assertions in order.   READ MORE


I hope you’ll click the above link and actually read the article. It’s tremendous and eye-opening.

That said, his message highlights an important call for Catholic families.  We MUST stand in the gap.  It isn’t enough to just parent like everyone else any more.  We must lead the way by putting forth a truly loving model of family life rooted in the vision of the Theology of the Body.  That’s why Lisa and I have written the books we have and do the broadcasting and counseling work we do.  This is the moment where Catholics have to stand in the gap and show the world what family life can be.  I hope you will join us in this mission by picking up a copy of Parenting with Grace and discovering for yourself what the Catholic vision of love can do for your family.

God wants to change the world through your family.    Let him start today.