Can You Teach the Theology of the Body to a 10yo? Should you?

Catholic Patheosi, Elizabeth Husted Duffy, posts her suggestions on what a “true” sexual education out to look like.  I like and agree with all of her recommendations and I encourage you to check them out forthwith.

One point I thought could benefit from a little more reflection, though, is Elizabeth’s initial reaction to a call she received during a recent radio interview.  She says….

One mother called into the show wondering about how to present the Theology of the Body to her ten-year-old daughter.  My answer, or rather, my non-answer was that Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was developed over a series of audiences during the seventies and eighties. It makes for complex and sometimes difficult reading, and many intelligent minds disagree on its practical application.  I think it might be a mistake to use Theology of the Body as a starting point for thinking about or talking to our kids about sex.

I would both agree and disagree with her point.   For example;  if you see TOB as a series of philosophical reflections on the nature of the person broken up into 130-ish segments and delivered over 5 years and intended for a largely academic audience, well, yeah.  TOB would be a terrible place to start talking to kids about sex–or anything for that matter.

This view of TOB is certainly correct as far as it goes, but I would respectfully suggest that it misses the larger point, and this would be where I have my limited disagreement with Elizabeth’s otherwise terrific post.

What Does it all Mean?

Pope John Paul II said that he developed TOB in an attempt to provide people with an “adequate anthropology.”  What does that mean?   Well, you’ve probably noticed that lots of people have lots of different opinions about what it means to be a healthy person, what it means to be in a healthy relationship, what it means to be authentically Christian, and even what it means to be authentically Catholic.  When Pope John Paul II said he wanted to present an “adequate anthropology” he meant he was presenting his answer to those questions.

If we accept that he knew what he was talking about, then I think that makes the case for why it is completely appropriate to ask the question, “How do I teach TOB to a 10yo?”  Or a 7yo, or a 4yo, or a baby for that matter.


Well, again, if TOB is just a phenomenological reflection on both the Book of Genesis and the nature of embodied love, then TOB would be a tremendously stupid place to start the sexual formation of any child.  BUT, if the TOB simply uses this academic reflection as a launching off point to answer the rather profound but straightforward questions I mentioned above, then its exactly the place to start.  What parent doesn’t want their child to know what it means to be a healthy person, to be in a healthy relationship, and what it means to be an authentically Catholic Christian person?

TOB proposes to help parents answer exactly these questions.

TOB:  A Lesson Plan

Another reason the TOB is exactly the place to start the sexual education of our children is that it gives a parent the lens through which to apply all the other recommendations Elizabeth makes.  She is absolutely right to recommend teaching children the bible, the catechism, the rules, and being a good model of love in marriage.   But there are lots of different ways to do these things.  

For instance, there are many ways to read the Bible (a book of stories?  a book of commands?  a book that proclaims an angry God?  a book that proclaims a cuddly God? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to read the bible (e.g., a book that reveals the evolving love story between God and his people; a story that begins and ends in nuptial union with God).

Likewise, there are many different ways one could view the Catechism (a book of rules?  a book of answers? a doorstop? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to view the Catechism (e.g., a book the reveals the basics of our quest to understand the heart of God and his plan for humankind).

Similarly, there are many ways we could teach morality (a list of don’ts?, a list of reasons “God’s gonna getcha”?, a list of ways to be impure? etc.).   TOB gives us a very specific way of talking about morality (e.g., a call to love ourselves and others as persons instead of viewing ourselves and others as things).

Finally, lots of couples think they are presenting a healthy model of love in their homes (be strict? be indulgent? put kids first?  put marriage first? put work first?  use contraception? be providentialist? etc.).  TOB provides a very specific model of what love looks like (e.g., it is embodied,  dedicated to meeting the needs of the “unique and unrepeatable” other, and always images the intimate and extravagant nature of God’s love for us).

Teaching a 10yo TOB

Teaching TOB to a 10yo, or a 5yo or a baby doesn’t mean sitting them down and saying, “Repeat after me, child.  ‘The body and it alone makes visible that which is invisible…’ “)

Oy, vey.  I can’t imagine something more stupid or horrible.  Elizabeth and anyone else would be absolutely right to be allergic to that idea.  Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what teaching TOB to kids really means.

I would suggest that teaching TOB to kids means presenting the Bible as the love story between God and his people that begins and ends in union with him.   It means discussing the Catechism in a manner that conveys that it reveals the basics of our quest to understand the intimate heart of God and his loving plan for his people.  It means discussing morality, not in terms of rules and punishments and lines we may tiptoe up to but never cross, but as a guide to what it means to be truly loving to ourselves and others.  And it means presenting a model of love that is openly physically affectionate, ordered to meeting the unique needs of every family member, is extravagantly generous (and expects extravagant generosity in return), and is rooted in a life of both communal and individual prayer.

Anytime  parents do these things, they are teaching TOB to their kids.  TOB isn’t supposed to be a subject we study.  If that’s all it is, then it is useless even as an intellectual exercise.   As an “adequate anthropology”  TOB was always intended to be a message we live; the internal structure that guides our thinking, relating, and decision making as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and labor to build his Kingdom (aka the “Civilization of Love.”)

TOB Not an Idea.  A Way of Life.

TOB’s power is not as an intellectual property.  It’s power is as a lifestyle that takes our narcissistic, disposable culture by the collar and shocks it into reality through both a stunning display of what real, self-donative love looks like and by bearing witness to the amazing ability self-donative love has to facilitate the flourishing of the human person.

And I do happen to think those are lessons that are worth conveying to a child of any age.

If you’re interested in how to make these lessons a reality in your family, I’d invite you to check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids and for a look at what it means to build a family around the principles of the TOB, pick up a copy of Parenting with Grace:  A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Dirty Sex, Accidental Heretics, and the Cult of Purity

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people”  (Psalm 22:6).

In the Catholic Patheos community, we’re having a continuing conversation on the nature of healthy vs. unhealthy perspectives on sex ed.  Calah Alexander offers a terrific post contradicting the false notion that sex outside of marriage makes one “dirty.”   She writes,

“Contemporary American culture, a culture that has so influenced other first-world cultures, is profoundly shaped by the heavily Calvinist-influenced Puritanism at its roots. Sex is dirty, according to common Puritan tradition, a dirty (but lamentably necessary) function of a dirty and depraved body. In Calvinist theology, the whole body is dirty, corrupt, depraved, and sin can never be removed. Forgiveness only means that Christ moves to stand between us and God, so that we look clean, although we never really will be. Snow covered dung-hills, that’s what we are. So sexual sins just make us even dirtier, even filthier, even more irreversibly ruined. This is the antithesis of Catholic teaching; even so, the mentality has shaped and molded our culture, which has shaped and molded us, to the point that professed Catholics will say, “Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)?”


Calah is absolutely correct and her comments cut to the heart of why Catholics need to avoid the unfortunate language that personal sin, in general, and sexual sin in particular “makes” us dirty.   I can hear the objections, and I appreciate the intention behind such comments, but the spiritual and psychological problems of this approach  significantly outweigh the hoped-for benefits.

The Accidental Heretic

One thing I have not read, so far, in the wider conversation on this issue, is that the idea that “we must keep ourselves pure” is actually not a Christian notion at all but quasi-Pelagian.   Essentially, Pelagius taught that Original Sin did not affect all of mankind and that man could save himself through his good works.  Pelagius lived a life of harsh asceticism in an effort to protect his purity.  His efforts were rewarded by his being denounced as a heretic.  Why?  Because our purity, our justification, is rooted in Christ’s saving work, not in our actions.  It’s true that sin separates us from God’s love and it is likewise true that that separation can make us feel dirty.  But because of Christ’s incarnation and his subsequent passion, death and resurrection we are not dirty, we are divinized.    Through God’s saving work, we are made, “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Ptr 1:4).    As Calah observed, Puritanism and Calvinism lack the courage to stand upon the promises of Scripture that proclaim us to be new creations and not merely piles of snow covered dung.  As 2 Cor 5:17 tells us, “So, whoever is in Christ is a new creation:  the old things have passed away.  Behold!  All things are made new!”

Purity:  You Can’t Lose What Isn’t Yours

What does all this have to do with sex?  The short version is that sin, in general, and sexual sin, in particular, cannot take away our purity because we cannot give away what does not belong to us in the first place.  As the psalm that began this reflection points out, on our own, we are nothing.  Without God, we are nothing.  But with God, we are everything.  Our purity is not dependent upon our actions.  Nothing we could do or not do could make us pure.  “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…”   Rather, our purity is received as a free and unmerited gift from God, “…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Purity: An Unmerited Gift

Personal sin does not make me more impure than  I already am in my fallen state.  Committing sin simply impedes my ongoing process of purification.  It delays my healing. Without God, I cannot be pure.  With God, my basic purity cannot be lost.  If I sin my full purification (i.e., “theosis”  or “deification”) can be delayed, but my essential purity–which rests in the saving work of Jesus Christ and has already divinized all humankind, believers and unbelievers alike–cannot be denied by anything I could ever do or have done to me.

Fear Leads to Perfect Love?

The whole negative emphasis many abstinence education programs take is, in my mind, completely wrongheaded.  They want to say that it is important to avoid sex before marriage because if you don’t you will be dirty, you will get diseases, you may die.  This entirely misses the point.  Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:8).  Sex ought to be about a celebration of a more perfect love.  It makes no sense to me to encourage people’s pursuit of a more perfect love by attempting to terrify them.

The Christian View of Sex:  A Positive Option

I think that we need to send a much more positive message.  I think the message needs to be that God has made each and every one of us to be so beautiful, so precious, so special, that we deserve the best, and sex in marriage is what’s best.  Sex outside marriage can feel good (and sometimes very bad), but regardless of how it feels in the moment, sex outside of marriage always, ultimately,  brings heartache, and pain, and a sense–in fact, an illusion–that somehow our value has been diminished.  By contrast, in the context of marriage–a relationship founded on public promises to live out a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful–we are empowered to celebrate all the good feelings that sex can bring in the context of a life that encourages health, wholeness, and happiness.

Sex is not bad.  In fact, sex outside marriage is not bad, per se.  It is simply less good than sex inside marriage.  Sin represents our tendency to settle for less than what God wants to give us (or, in more classic terms, sin represents “a privation of the good”).  It is a failure to believe that we are worth so much more than what we are settling for. Sin does not make us less pure than we are.  It convinces us that we should settle for less than what God wants to give.  Rather than trying to tell young people that sex outside of marriage takes away our purity, we need to be sending the message that the purity we receive as a gift from God empowers us to expect the best from ourselves, our life, and sex.

By no means is this post complete, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging more on it as the conversation continues, but if you are interested in discovering the positive vision of Christian sexuality, I’d invite you to check out Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Mind Blowing, Toe-Curling, Infallible Loving  and if you’d like to communicate this positive vision of Christian sexuality to your children, I’d invite you to pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.


What Does a “True” Sex Education Look Like?

Last week, while I was on vacation, several of my Catholic Patheosi colleagues were engaged in vigorous discussions on abstinence education that were precipitated by Elizabeth Smart’s negative comments on the, frankly, unhealthy approaches some abstinence programs take to promote their message.

The conversation is continuing among Catholic Patheos bloggers, and earlier today, it was proposed that we all reflect a bit on what a “true” sex education would entail giving lists on what we think that should look like.   My book,  Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids addresses that exact question in depth, so I thought I’d briefly throw in my .02.

Sex Ed:  What Does the Church Say?

First, I would encourage every parent to read the Pontifical Council for the Family’s document, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.  I think any reflection on this subject that doesn’t take the Council’s recommendations into account would be seriously lacking.   It is very accessible.  It contains a lot of practical wisdom on what the Church actually expects of parents when it comes to the sexual and characterological formation of our children.   That text forms the framework of a lot of what my wife and I included in Beyond the Birds and the Bees.

I’ll probably end up doing several posts on this so I want to keep this short.  I’ll save citations to Church docs and studies for future posts if necessary.   That said, I need to begin by defining what sexuality is.  Here is how the Catechism defines it.

“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others”    (For more, go here.)

In other words, sex, and sex education, has to be about more than doing the deed, as it were.  It has to be about the formation of the whole person.  That’s why I would argue that a proper, healthy and comprehensive sexual education actually has very little to do with the sex act itself.  Obviously, at some point, information about the sexual act and its physical and spiritual significance has to be addressed, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.  As you know 90% of the proverbial iceberg is actually below the water.  THAT’s the part that really counts, especially when it comes to the sexual education of persons.  If you don’t have that element (what the Church calls “remote preparation” i.e., character/relationship /spiritual formation) then nothing you say to a person about the dignity of sex and the importance of saving sex for marriage will make a hill of beans worth of difference.  They might learn some interesting concepts, but they’ll end up doing what their gonads tell them to do–or they’ll end up  hopelessly repressed trying to run away from what their gonads are telling them.

Sex Ed Requires Forming the Person First and Most

The most important part of sexual education is training in what it means to be a loving, prayerful, joyful, healthy person.  When parents model and teach their children how to live as loving and prayerful people, they are engaging in the sexual education of their children.  The Church teaches that sex is the one person communicates the intimate core of their personhood to another person.  In other words, to have healthy sexual attitudes, I have to be a healthy, virtuous person capable of intimacy with both God and the people he has placed in my life.   To that end, in Beyond the Birds and the Bees, my wife/co-author and I describe 8 virtues that impact our ability to have healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors.  The more parents help their children cultivate these virtues in family life from birth through young adulthood, in all the interaction with brothers, sisters, parents, friends, authority figures, etc.  the more complete, comprehensive, and healthy their children’s sexual formation will be.

8 Virtues that Constitute a Healthy Sexuality (and a healthy person)

Here are the virtues with a brief description of how they relate to sex (I have an entire chapter dedicated to this in Beyond the Birds and the Bees so please realize this is the briefest of summaries).   As you read these virtues, don’t just think of them in the abstract or as they relate to sex alone.  My point in listing these virtues is to show that when parents actively work to teach the behaviors associated with these virtues in any context in their day to day interactions as a family they are actually, albeit unknowingly, engaging in the sexual education of their children.

1.  A capacity for Self-Donative love– i.e., the ability to look for opportunities to work for the good of the people in my life and to actively seek out ways to use my time, treasure, talent, and physical abilities (i.e., body) to make the lives of those around me easier, better, and more enjoyable.  Relates to sex in that it helps me see sex as another way to work for the good of another person as opposed to viewing sex as mere recreation.

2. A capacity for Responsibility–i.e.  the ability to delay gratification, to set worthy goals and meet them, and to understand how to set priorities so that everything I have and do asserts the value of people and relationship over things.   Relates to sex in that I must be able to see that sex is a good that deserves to be saved for marriage, and that the things I have–including my body–are not ends in themselves, but given to me as a gift from God to be used to work for my well-being and the good of others.

3.  A personal and prayerful Faith life–i.e., the ability to see that there is more to life than meets the eye.  That God loves me and has a plan for my life and relationships and that I know how to understand that plan through intimate communication with God in prayer.  Relates to sex in that it is impossible to see that sex is about more than pleasure if I cannot see the spiritual significance of every day life and that God has a plan for every part of me including my sexuality.

4.  A healthy sense of Respect for myself and others–i.e., the ability to know what I and others are worth in the eyes of God.  The ability to demonstrate respect for myself and others communicates a gut-level sense of my awareness of my dignity and yours.  Relates to sex in that in order to have a healthy sexual relationship with my spouse, I must be able to see myself and my partner as a son and daughter of God.  I practice this attitude by being respectful in all my interactions with others.

5. A capacity for Intimacy— i.e., intimacy is the deepest call of the Christian life which is ultimately about spousal union with God and participation in the communion of saints.  My ability to make myself vulnerable in a healthy way to another person, to share my needs, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams  AND to receive the gift of the other’s needs, feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams will largely decide whether I am capable of living out the Christian vision of sex or if I will be tempted to compulsively engage in a series of pleasurable acts of friction that may or may not have anything to do with relationship.

6.  A capacity for Cooperation–i.e, the ability to work for the common good.  To know how to meet my needs in a way that is considerate of the other person’s needs as well.  Relates to sex in that a healthy sexual relationship largely depends upon my ability to know how to express my needs honestly and receive other’s needs willingly so that we can work together to create something beautiful, intimate, and fulfilling.

7.  A capacity for Joy–i.e., the ability to celebrate life to the full.  To be–in a healthy way–playful, fun, spontaneous and open to new experiences.  Relates to sex in that sex should be a joyful, celebratory experience.  Not a duty or chore.

8. A healthy sense of Personhood–i.e., a sense of the goodness of the body combined with a healthy sense what it means to be a godly man or woman.   Relates to sex in that to have a healthy sexuality a person can’t hate, or be disgusted, or be cavalier about his or her body.  Likewise, a person needs to be secure in his or her identity as a man or woman.

Beyond the Birds and the Bees offers  hundreds of practical suggestions for teaching these virtues in the daily interactions of family life from birth through young adulthood.

Giving Kids a Healthy Moral Mindset

Teaching these virtues in family life produces children who have a moral ethos as opposed to a moral ethic.  What’s the difference?   If I have a moral ethic, I always want to know how far I can push the limit before its sinful.  I’m concerned with “where’s the line?”  With a moral ethos,  I want to do what’s right because it is good for me and for you.  The man with a moral ethic doesn’t cheat on his wife because he doesn’t want the hassle.  The man with a moral ethos doesn’t cheat on his wife because he loves his wife.   The teen with a moral ethic doesn’t have sex before marriage because it’s “wrong” in some vague way or “dirty” or “dangerous.”  The teen with a moral ethos doesn’t have sex before marriage because he doesn’t want to degrade himself or use someone else that way.  Sound pie in the sky?  It’s not.  When you raise kids according to the points I’m laying out here, this is the exactly kind of kid you are more likely to see.    A “True” sexual education needs to communicate a moral ethos as opposed to a moral ethic.  Anything less will fail given enough pressure and time.

And Finally, “The Talk.”

Finally, of course, at some point, parents will need to convey information about the sexual act.  We talk about how to do that in Beyond the Birds and the Bees as well, but as I’ve already said, this is the least important part of the process.  It’s important, but if it doesn’t stand on everything else I’ve put forward above, you’re wasting your breath.  When it comes to conveying information about body parts and intercourse, be straightforward, honest, and simple.  Ask questions to assess what your son or daughter knows and help them fill in blanks.  Be a mentor not a scold.   Assume that you will have multiple conversations about these topics over the course of many years, not just one conversation and then done.

Well, 1800 words is too much already.  Obviously I could say a lot more.  Feel free to ask questions.  Or, just read the book.  The bottom line is that, as far as my reading of the Church is concerned, a “true” sexual education has much less to do with talking about body parts and intercourse, and everything to do with the formation of a whole, faithful, respectful, virtuous person who knows how to properly share him or herself with another whole, faithful, respectful, virtuous person.  The better we do that as parents, the more likely our kids will be sexually whole and holy as well.


Shame on You

I’m So Ashamed.

Shame, guilt, embarrasment.  Emotions that are as universally experienced as they are universally unwelcome.

Elizabeth Duffy has a great post on shame on her blog.  Personal, poignant, and thought-provoking.   But I thought I would chime in to offer some additional insights from Pope John Paul II.

In Love and Responsibility, then Karol Woytyla, wrote a great deal about shame.  He argued that shame is a protective emotion that warns us that we are being treated as an object, not a person.  I think Elizabeth’s example of discovering her friend’s dad’s Playboy magazines is particularly apt.  Looking through the magazines, she saw plenty of examples of people treated as objects, and she felt a sense of shame.  God has hardwired us to expect to be loved as persons and not used as things.  Shame is the feeling that warns us that we are in proximity of a situations where people–and possibly even I–might be used.

Shame is a protective emotion like fear (which warns us about physical harm) and guilt (that warns us about harm to our integrity) or even embarrassment (which warns us of potential threats to our social well-being).

Like any emotion, protective emotions like shame, fear, and embarrassment can be healthy or unhealthy.  They are healthy if they help us identify a threat, take corrective steps,  and move on.   They are unhealthy if, instead of protecting us, they paralyze us and stop us from doing things that would be good for us to do.  Fear becomes anxiety when it stops us from taking healthy risks.  Guilt becomes scrupulosity when it stops us from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Embarrassment become social anxiety when it stops us from engaging with others.

We shouldn’t be afraid or resentful of these protective emotions, but we should be careful to use them as they are intended.  They aren’t supposed to paralyze us.  They should move us to solutions that resolve the problems to which they bring our attention.  And if these protective emotions are more suffocating than helpful, we should seek help, because that is not how we were created to be.

 For more information on overcoming unhealthy manifestations of shame, guilt, and anxiety, check out God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy! 

How to Put this Charitably? “Conrad Black, YOU are the Dumbass of the Day.” (Or, Why The Church Need not Get Jiggy with the Pill)

Conrad Black, for failing–despite your obvious intellect–to bestir yourself to read a single book on Catholic sexual ethics, YOU are the Dumbass of the Day.

Sadly, the National Review has taken leave of the remains its senses and published a rambling essay on the need to overturn Humanae Vitae by Conrad Black, who, besides being Sirius’ older, less Catholic, and more sesquipedalian brother, would appear to be leaning on his extensive experience as a biographer of dead presidents (FDR, and Tricky Dick) as evidence of his authority  to lecture the Church on contraception.  Well, why the hell not?  Everybody else is doing it. Why shouldn’t an overblown, walking dictionary like Connie take a crack at it too?

Now, far be it from me to criticize the size of a man’s…vocabulary, but truth be told, Black’s apparent penchant for utilizing grandiloquent verbiage where a more prosaic lexicon would suffice is simply bedeviling.  Frankly, his literary posturing unnecessarily increases the opacity of his preternaturally inebriate points by an order of magnitude that is inestimably superfluous.    If you know what I mean.

But if you don’t have the patience (or hipboots) to wade through both pages of Black’s voluminous logorrhea, here is an English translation of his thesis.  “Hey, Churchy-dudes, get with it!  Nobody agrees with you on this whole contraception dealio.  Your opposition to the pill makes you look like cavemen.  Mix it up with that whole pervy-priest thingy and you end up making it really hard for me to admit I’m Catholic to all my ‘Piskie friends at the club.  I mean, they just started letting papists like me in last week!”

Well, hells bells man, why didn’t you just say so?

I know that both  Mark Shea and Simcha Fischer have already had a little fun at Mr. Black’s expense, but as the author of Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving, I couldn’t restrain myself from joining the virtual pigpile.  (Note to Conrad, maybe you should take some time to read my book before you pen your next idiotic missive on morality.  I know you can read.  In fact, you’ve apparently fellated every page of the OED.)

To all my regular readers, my first response to Black’s nonsense is, ” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And what?  Did it take about 3.5 seconds to prove my point?  And this from an allegedly conservative publication.  But pardon me for a moment while I turn my attention to the object of this post.

(Deep cleansing breath….)

Conrad, bubbeleh, let’s talk.  You graciously admit that you are “not qualified to discuss…the theological arguments involved.” (Although that doesn’t stop you from accusing the Church of, “joyless behavioral philistinism.”–Ouch, buddy.)   Well, that being the case, allow me to take a moment to exercise a spiritual work of mercy and instruct your ignorant ass.

First, read this.   Although it’s about celibacy, it applies to your point about the Church needing to get with the times.  Here’s a taste…

…it’s the Church’s job to look as little like the world as possible so that we can tweak your conscience, make you think twice, get under your skin.  We MUST be different because we, quite literally, are called to irritate the hell out of the world.   The more the Church does any of the things you want it to do, the less it functions as Church and the more it becomes some benign social club.  But be honest.  You’d love that wouldn’t you?  Because you’re tired of the Church making you think twice about questions you can barely stand to think once about. (Seriously, go read the rest of it.  It’s good stuff if I do say so myself.)

Second, just FYI,  the Church cares so much about sex because families are made through sex and families are the building blocks of civilization.  Just try to build a civilization around the rights of the individual, corporation, military, state, or even a church and see what you get.  (I’ll make it easy: anarchy, company stores, juntas, communism, and the taliban, respectively).  That’s why the only just society is the society that takes as its foundation the traditional family because, as a social unit, the traditional family is both small enough to care for the needs of the individual and large enough to promote the common good by preventing rampant individualism.

The thing is, since familes come from…(wait for it) having sex (shocking, I know) and society is made up of families, if you get sex wrong, then your view of family gets screwed up and, by extension, your view of civilization becomes disastrously wrongheaded as well.  Getting the meaning and purpose of sex wrong is a bit like NASA launching a rocket that is just a half-degree off target.  It doesn’t look like that big a deal up close, but 60 million miles later it starts to add up.

The former New Yorker editor, Peter Devries, once quipped that “The miracle of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.”  If that’s true, then the misery of contraception is not so much that adults fail to produce infants, it’s that adults become infantilized.    Contraception teaches us to treat sex as recreation, fertility as a disease, and children as parasites. A society founded on such “principles” is a culture of narcissism, a culture where marriage becomes obsolete, and the murder of the least becomes a virtue.

Sound familiar, Connie?

Look, I understand the Church is unpopular on this issue, but you’re a smart guy.  All it would have taken you is about 15 minutes of reading to at least understand the Church’s point of view.  I don’t even expect you to agree with the Church, but it would have been nice if you gave some evidence of understanding it’s reasoning.   It’s just sad that you think that the whole point behind the Church’s teachings on sexual morality is that it wants to “avoid trendiness and pandering.”  In the words of the social philosopher, Seth Myers, “Really?!?  Conrad Black?  REALLY?!?”

As we’ve already observed, you know how to read. Why could you not bestir yourself to read anything about this topic?  Surely, a biographer such as yourself knows the value of researching your subject.  No?  Well, God help the readers of your biographies if this is what you consider responsible authorship.   So, Conrad Black, that’s why you get the Dumbass of the Day Award.  Because a smart guy like you doesn’t have the right to write such lazy excrement.  Congratulations, Dumbass.

—Dr. Greg Popcak, is the author of over a dozen books including  Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Manning Up Through NFP

Here’s a sneak peak at an article I have in the upcoming edition of Family Foundations magazine.  What?  You don’t subscribe?  Well, there’s a simple fix to that problem!

Regardless,  check it out.

Manning Up Through NFP. 

Dr. Greg Popcak


We hear a lot about the benefits of NFP and there are many.  But it’s also true that NFP requires a great deal of sacrifice and struggle that is neither fun nor easy.  Worth it? Sure.  Fun?  Not really.

That said, I think that NFP helps a man become more manly.  I’ve seen this in my own life and in the lives of the men I’ve supported through the struggle to make NFP the blessing it is supposed to be in their marriage.  When I say that NFP helps a man become more manly, I mean that, as Catholics, we believe that manliness is tied up with a man’s ability to work for the good of others and especially to work for his wife’s good.  Inevitably, that means putting her dignity above your own needs and wants.  Incidentally, that’s not the same thing as giving up on your needs and wants as some men do.  That’s not a man, that’s a martyr. The difference is this.

The Martyr says, “Honey, can we be together tonight?”

She says, “We’re still in phase two.”

He says (mostly to himself),  “Fine.  We can’t be together tonight.  Fine.  Just one more thing getting in the way.  FINE.  I’ll just let it go.”  We tell ourselves we’re making some huge sacrifice for the good of our spouse, but then we pout about it for the rest of the night as if to say, “See what a pain in the butt taking care of you is?  See how sacrificial I’m being?”

Nice, right?

In contrast to the martyr, here’s what a man does.  First, he doesn’t have to make his wife the sexual gatekeeper because he’s already taken the responsibility of either recording temps himself or has at least read the chart for himself and knows what it means.  Second, if they can’t be together, he realizes that its actually hard on her too and tries to be empathetic and sensitive about that.  Third, he makes as much of a gift of himself as he can.   He helps her with the kids.  He looks for ways to be emotionally present.       He seeks out ways to show her that she is important to him.  He initiates affection that’s not designed to “sneak” her into sex, but just about being loving together.  He is respectfully playful.  Fourth, when it does get too hard for him to bear his frustration alone, he’s honest about it in a non-blaming way. He invites his wife to share how she’s dealing with her frustration so that maybe they can support each other. They respectfully talk and pray through it together. Finally, he takes care of her and plans for when they can be intimate again.  He lets her know how desirable she is without pressuring her or trying to guilt her. He just loves her.  He desires her, but he doesn’t prey on her.

While all that seems like a tall order, channeling frustration in these directions is exactly what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was referring to when he wrote, “True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasytowards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification.”  When a man can channel the sexual longing he feels in a direction that creates connection between him and his wife, the pain of the longing decreases and is replaced by a purer desire that leads to transformation; the transformation that takes us from needy, hormonally driven adolescent to man of God.


Dr. Greg Popcak, the author of Holy Sex!, directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling services to couples, families, and individuals.  Contact him at 740-266-6461 or

What’s Your Moral Mindset?

New research suggests there are two basic moral mindsets.  I’ll call them “Balancers” and “Principled Deciders”

“Balancers” are the folks who are nervous about being “too good” or “too bad.”  Moral Balancers tend to make their next moral decision based on the last moral choice they made.  If they were generous last time, they might be more likely to give you the short end of the stick this time.  By contrast, if they feel that maybe they were a little selfish last time, they might be more likely to be more generous this time.

“Principled Deciders” are people who make decisions based on their understanding of more objective moral principles.  That’s not to say that they always choose what’s good, just that whatever decision they make–for good or ill–they make it because of what they understand to be a universal standard of right or wrong.

The downside to balancers is that they tend not to be particularly reliable.  Their choices are all relative to their self-perception.  If I think well of myself, I can allow myself a moral “cheat day.”  If I feel a little guilty, I’ll balance it out by letting the old lady have the parking space…this time.

What’s most interesting is that the research shows  the Principled Deciders can actually do the most damage.  If they manage to convince themselves that a bad moral choice is actually the right one, they’ll keep making it time and again and they won’t feel much guilt about it.  It can be difficult to convince a Principled Decider that they are wrong even when there are serious consequences to their actions.

What I think all this highlights is the importance of forming our conscience according to the mind of the Church.  Neither personal feelings or reason alone is sufficient to empower us to consistently do the right thing.  We need an objective standard to weigh our decisions against and we need the accountability and humility that comes from submitting our will to that of Christ in his Church.  Good pastoral guidance and confession can provide important checks and balances no matter what our personal style of moral decision making happens to be.

Coming Monday on More2Life Radio: Faith Complications

Coming Monday: Faith Complications–In this Year of Faith, we celebrate the great gift our Lord has given us. But there are times when our faith can make relationships more complicated.  Today on M2L we look at those times when faith and relationships with a spouse, friends, family, and co-workers collide.  Call in with your questions about the times faith has made your relationships more complicated or uncomfortable from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon C) at 877-573-7825.

MON Q of the D:  Describe a time your faith has made your relationship with someone else more difficult or uncomfortable.


—-Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C).  Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you?  Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

Kids W/out A Conscience–Where Do They Come From? Next Door.

As Catholic parents, we are eager to raise truly moral kids; that is, children who can do the right thing, not because we are breathing down their necks, but out of a genuine sense of love and responsibility.  When we read news stories of kids doing horrible things like the recent shootings in Connecticut, we wonder “what happened?” and struggle to understand how some kids can grow up without a conscience.

The technical name for “kids without a conscious syndrome” is Radical Attachment Disorder (RAD).  It is not caused by genetics or biology.  It is caused when a child fails to receive the consistent caregiving and ample affection he needs for the moral and social processing centers of his brain to develop.  Reading that, most of you will probably think of levels of neglect consistent with that of a Romanian orphanage.  While those conditition certainly qualify as veritable RAD factories, RAD can develop under far less insidious circumstances.

A few other bloggers on Patheos have linked the article,  I am Adam Lanza’s Therapist.  It is a chilling look at how normal, well-intentioned parents are unwittingly raising conscience-less kids in neighborhoods near you.  The author writes,

This is not about blaming anyone. It’s about understanding the infant’s point of view and our evolutionary design to stay with our mothers through our first years. It’s about how important mothers or primary caregivers are. I have heard mothers say, “I didn’t abandon my child. I went to work to pay for her food.” I so understand. Their intentions were noble, but their infant doesn’t understand. She thinks her mother prefers other places and other people more than her….

My son and daughter-in-law just told me of a couple they met that had an infant. When sharing with this couple their plans for parenthood, a vitriolic debate ensued about the Ricki Lake Show on natural childbirth and how to treat an infant. “Infants don’t think,” the couple said. “They don’t care who is taking care of them,” they insisted. “They aren’t smart enough to care until they are older,” both parents argued. I predict they will have a RAD child.   At the beginning of every violent person’s life there is some version of neglect, even if not abandonment.

No parent wants to raise an amoral, violent child.   Children and parents both deserve better.  Getting this message out–that the biological roots of moral reasoning are nurtured in the soil of strong attachment and extravagant affection–is a job that’s especially close to my and Lisa’s heart.  That’s why we wrote Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids (2nd Ed. Updated & Expanded).   If you’d like to discover what it takes to raise uncommonly loving, responsible, moral kids, from birth to young adulthood,  I hope you’ll take a look.