Why Isn’t Married Sex “Hot”? And Should It Be?



At PsychCentral, Dr. Linda Hatch has a thought provoking article that gets at the heart of the difference I draw in my book,  Holy Sex! , between eroticism, which is sex that is hyper-focused on pleasure to the exclusion of intimacy, and what I call “Holy Sex“, which sees pleasure as the fruit of the emotionally and spiritually intimacy that a couple cultivates in a marriage.  She says,

Hot sex is the sugar high of sexuality. It is sex that is amped up to a heightened level by some form of fear or other strong emotion. This is not the same as passionate sex. The sexual intensity of a new romantic relationship, the rapture of falling in love, is described in scientific circles as “limerence.” This is a biochemically altered state. It resembles but is not the same as illicit sex or any sex in which the intensity is heightened by an arousal escalator such as risk, danger, or secrecy.  The state of limerence is time-limited. Heightened sexual arousal which relies on intense feelings such as danger, chaos, threat, even anger, can be rekindled repeatedly. And in some high-drama relationships it is.

…The preoccupation with hot sex tends to devalue traditional, tame, heterosexual sex as “plain vanilla” sex. Married sex is then seen as needing to dig its way out of old puritanical hang-ups using porn, experimentation, equipment or whatever it takes to make it “hot.”

…This quest for the holy grail of hot relationship sex puts pressure on [people] to find ways to make the sex in their relationship equal the hyper-arousal of addictive sexual acting out. If they can’t, then they may be left feeling that there is something wrong with them.

She goes on to note that the more a person buys into the pornified culture (and, in particular, those with sexual addictions) the more that person will have a hard time understanding how emotional and spiritual intimacy drives authentically passionate sex (what I refer to as “Holy Sex”).  Instead, they will rely more and more on outlandish fantasies and kinky behavior to make up for the lack of emotional and spiritual depth in the relationship.

Dr. Hatch’s article isn’t perfect from a Catholic perspective. In her effort to be tolerant and even-handed she finds it difficult to come right out and say that sex rooted too deeply in kink and eroticism is simply unhealthy–which of course, even from a purely secular standpoint, it is.  But her larger point, that there is a distinction between married sex and eroticism that people in our pornified cultured have a hard time understanding is solid and supports the Catholic view of sexuality.  Namely, that what we might call Holy Sex (e.g., passionate sex rooted in the emotional and spiritual intimacy cultivated in a lifelong committed marital partnership) is an entirely different (and superior) animal than eroticism (“hot sex”). Not only should these two experiences NOT be judged by the same standards, it’s unhealthy to do so.

To learn more about creating  a truly joyful, passionate, intimate, and profoundly spiritual sexuality in your marriage, I hope you’ll check out Holy Sex!  I promise it will change your life.

Pornography: A Public Health Crisis

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

The question is no longer just about the morality of porn.  The science shows it is a public health crisis.

From the Chicago Tribune

The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy) the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality – for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah’s resolution simply reflects the latest research.

The statistics on today’s porn use are staggering. A Huffington Post headline announced in 2013 that “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined,” and one of the largest free porn sites in the world, YouPorn, streamed six times the bandwidth of Hulu in 2013. Pornhub, another major free porn site, boasted that in 2015 it received 21.2 billion visits and “streamed 75GB of data a second, which translates to enough porn to fill the storage in around 175 million 16GB iPhones.”

Extensive scientific research reveals that exposure to and consumption of porn threaten the social, emotional and physical health of individuals, families and communities, and highlights the degree to which porn is a public health crisis rather than a private matter. But just as the tobacco industry argued for decades that there was no proof of a connection between smoking and lung cancer, so, too, has the porn industry, with the help of a well-oiled public relations machine, denied the existence of empirical research on the impact of its products.

Using a wide range of methodologies, researchers from a number of disciplines have shown that viewing pornography is associated with damaging outcomes. In a study of U.S. college men, researchers found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn’t be caught) than men who hadn’t seen porn in the past 12 months. The same study found that porn consumers were less likely to intervene if they observed a sexual assault taking place. In a study of young teens throughout the southeastern United States, 66 percent of boys reported porn consumption in the past year; this early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later. A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies between 1978 and 2014 from seven different countries concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression, regardless of age. A 2010 meta-analysis of several studies found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women.”

A 2012 study of college-age women with male partners who used porn concluded that the young women suffered diminished self-esteem, relationship quality and sexual satisfaction correlated with their partners’ porn use. Meanwhile, a 2004 study found that exposure to filmed sexual content profoundly hastens adolescents’ initiation of sexual behavior: “The size of the adjusted intercourse effect was such that youths in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation [in the subsequent year] that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile,” the study’s authors wrote. All of these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Because so much porn is free and unfiltered on most digital devices, the average age of first viewing porn is estimated by some researchers to be 11. In the absence of a comprehensive sex-education curriculum in many schools, pornography has become de facto sex education for youth. And what are these children looking at? If you have in your mind’s eye a Playboy centerfold with a naked woman smiling in a cornfield, then think again. While “classy” lad mags like Playboy are dispensing with the soft-core nudes of yesteryear, free and widely available pornography is often violent, degrading and extreme.

In a content analysis of best-selling and most-rented porn films, researchers found that 88 percent of analyzed scenes contained physical aggression, generally spanking, gagging, choking or slapping. Verbal aggression occurred in 49 percent of the scenes, most often in the form of calling a woman “bitch” and “slut.” Men perpetrated 70 percent of the aggressive acts, while women were the targets 94 percent of the time. It is difficult to account for all of the “gonzo” and amateur porn available online, but there is reason to believe that the rented and purchased porn in the analysis largely reflects the content of free porn sites. As researcher Shira Tarrant points out, “The tube sites are aggregators of a bunch of different links and clips, and they are very often pirated or stolen.” So porn that was produced for sale is proffered for free. READ MORE

A Crisis In Catholic Fatherhood


A recent caller to my radio program said that she and her husband weren’t on the same spiritual level.  He didn’t go to mass or pray with her. He zoned out when she talked about the faith.  As a result, her children were starting to buck her efforts to form them in the faith.  The problem, as she saw it, was that “he’s a convert so it just isn’t reasonable for me to expect him to be in the same place that I am.”  Thinking that he might be a recent convert, I was hopeful that there might be some positive momentum to build on.  I asked her when her husband came into the church.

“Twenty-five years ago” was her surprising answer.

My initial reaction was to think this was an extreme case, but I wonder if it isn’t indicative of the reality in the church.  Catholics simply don’t expect husbands and fathers to do more than warm pews, and we think we’re lucky if we can get that.  In almost two decades of marriage ministry, I have spoken to Catholics around the world and I cannot count the number of times I have heard wives complain, on the one hand, that they do not have a husband who can share their spiritual life or help raise their kids in the faith but, on the other hand, simultaneously dismiss their own concern by saying in the next breath, “but I can’t expect him to be in the same place I am.”

Why in heaven’s name not?  We expect men to do all kinds of hard things; be faithful, provide for their families, be there for their kids, not abuse their wife or children, not drink to excess, be, generally speaking,  decent people.  Do all men do these things? Of course not, but when they don’t, we insist that there is a serious problems to be dealt with and we offer help and guidance to those who struggle with those problems.  Sadly,  for the most part, when Catholics hear that that a father doesn’t know how to take point, spiritually, at home, we collectively shrug. “That’s just the way men are.”

True, Catholic men’s ministries are trying to address this problem, but in all but a few instances these ministries are struggling for survival.  Why?  In my experience it is largely because Catholics don’t really expect men to be intentional disciples.  Furthermore, with so many crises in the world, it’s hard to find the energy to prioritize what seems like a middle-class problem. We just don’t appreciate the true social cost of spiritually absent fathers.

But it is a huge problem for both our Church and society as a whole.  One major study found that children raised in households where fathers are not active in the faith have about a 3% chance of being faithful as adults.  Concerned with social justice?  Another major study found that the biggest difference between those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust versus those who collaborated in the persecution or simply stood silently by was not their levels of church involvement or educational attainment, political affiliation, or socioeconomic status.  The biggest difference was that rescuers were raised in homes where fathers took the lead in forming their children’s character.

Why are fathers so important?  For the first several months of life, babies  do not know that they and their mothers are different people.  They grew inside their mothers and, once they are born, they continue to believe that they and their mother are one being.  Father, in a very real way, is experienced by baby as “the first other.”   Biologically and developmentally speaking, father is “the world” to the child.  If the role of mother is teaching baby how to think about the more private realms of life and home, it is the role of father to represent how “the world” works .  If mom is prayerful, the child might see prayer as important, but, primarily,  a private matter.  If dad is prayerful, the child is socialized to believe that prayer and faith are public, pro-social activities that are meant to positively impact the world.

The ability of fathers to be spiritually engaged in their families is not merely a quality of life issue.  It is a foundational crisis that is at the root of a host of serious social problems.  Church leaders must insist that Catholic men step into the spiritual vacuum in the home.  Catholic women must demand that their husbands open their hearts to becoming spiritual leaders.  Catholic men must challenge themselves to cultivate spiritual leadership skills like they learn anything else.  The future of our Church and our society depend on it.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the host of More2Life Radio and the author of many books, including The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too)!  Visit him at www.CatholicCounselors.com

So, What IS Modesty Anyway?

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Fellow Patheosi, Rebecca Bratten-Weiss posted a terrific article that cuts through a lot of the nonsense people say about what modesty is and what it isn’t.  You should read the whole thing, but here is a sample.

If modesty is a virtue, it should be for everyone, but in the usual account, if one is not young and hot, or if one lives in a culture which accepts nudity, is there no need for modesty? Some might respond that to be comfortable with nudity is itself immodest, but such a view is very Euro-centric, as well as ignorant, since even our own trends are fluid, so today’s “modest is hottest” poster girl is yesterday’s vile temptress. Cultural codes of fashion have to do with creating sartorial texts, languages, even, that enables wearers to project messages about themselves, but every “language” is different, and within each language there are shifts and miscommunications, so a woman wearing a short skirt is not necessarily broadcasting to you “I’m sexually available.” She might be wearing a short skirt because emphasizing legs means emphasizing freedom and mobility (which is why men flaunted their sexy legs, in many cultures, while women kept covered all the way down to the ankles). If a man feels sexual desire for her (and he may not, if he isn’t into legs or women’s legs, or if he is sexually mature enough not to go around with a hair-trigger sexual response system) – this is his own act, for which he himself must take responsibility.  READ THE REST

She develops these themes well and her thoughts are well-worth your time.  The only thing I would add is that the the term for the false belief that I am somehow responsible for someone else’s emotional reactions is “internal control fallacy.” It’s a recognized cognitive distortion (i.e., what psychologists call a logical fallacy or disordered thinking process) that sets people up for anxiety as they try to “make” others feel a certain thing–and inevitably fail.

I’ll also note that this is exactly the approach Lisa and I take on modesty in our book, Beyond the Birds and the Bees, which takes a developmental approach to raising sexually and morally whole and holy kids from toddlerhood through young adulthood.  If you’re looking for resources to help you raise kids who have their heads on straight about sex and morality (never an easy task and getting harder every day) I hope you’ll give it a look.