Dr. Gregory Popcak
The following has been excerpted from the new, revised and expanded edition of Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.
As Catholic parents, talking to our kids about sexuality is a tough job, but it’s our privilege to do it. In both The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality and in Pope John Paul II’s writings on family life, it’s pretty clear that the very point of parenting is forming our children’s capacity for love. Of course, a huge part of that formation has to include teaching our children how to express the donative meaning of the body (i.e., that our body was given to us by God to work for the good of others) and live the gift of embodied love which, in marriage, includes sex.
The Catholic Vision of Love: Not Second Best
The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking and talking about Catholic sexuality is that it offers a very different–and ultimately superior–vision to every other approach to sexuality on the planet. When we are preparing to talk to our children about sex, it is not enough to try to explain why Christians think differently about sexuality. Such approaches end up inadvertently sounding as if the secular approaches to sex are infinitely more rewarding, except that Christians are more “disciplined” about their sexuality. Rather, the Christian view is that the secular approach doesn’t even express true sexuality, which is often merely self-serving sensuality masquerading as “sexuality.”
Catholic Sexuality: The One. The Original. The Real Thing.
The true Christian version of sexuality is what God intended when He gave us our sexuality in the first place. It is infinitely more real, more beautiful, and more satisfying than the shabby imitations the world attempts to foist on us. Let’s take a closer look at this point. Imagine that you wanted to put some flowers outside your house. You have two options available: artificial (plastic or even silk) or real flowers. At first thought, you might be leaning toward the plastic variety because of all the benefits artificial flowers give. You would get instant gratification by being able to see what your garden will look like. You wouldn’t have to water or fertilize, animals wouldn’t eat your flora, and you would never have to trim or transplant them.
While artificial flowers might look good at first–from a distance–they look pretty tacky on closer examination, especially sticking up out of the dirt, where they look downright ridiculous. Furthermore, artificial plants get dirty when it rains and will fade in the sun, and they don’t grow back when you accidentally hack them up with the weed-whacker. Last but not least, even the most expertly made artificial flowers don’t smell like anything. So you begin to consider the second option: real flowers. Yes, there is more work involved. You have to water and fertilize, keep out rodents, and trim and occasionally transplant. But these flowers do not fade with time; in fact, they become more beautiful. Sure, older blooms may wilt, but with some simple maintenance, new buds are constantly sprouting. Even over time, real flowers bear up under close scrutiny. Unlike the tacky plastic flowers, real flowers actually become more delightful when you look at them carefully. They are constantly changing, growing, and becoming more alluring, continually bursting forth with new life and new color. Likewise, few things are more wonderful than smelling the delicious fragrance of lavender, roses, freesia, lemon grass, and hundreds of other kinds of real flowers.
How Does YOUR Garden Grow?
In the same way, what passes for “sexuality” in our culture is merely a shabby, tacky imitation of what sex really is. They don’t have the real thing; we do. Honestly, most of secular society can’t handle the truth, so they try to come up with a cheap, “plastic-covered” approximation of what sex is supposed to be. Then they offer it to the rest of the world as the best kind of sexuality, just like the fake flowers in our analogy. On closer examination, though, this view of sex doesn’t hold up. It isn’t vital, because it is openly hostile to new life. Rather than flowing from a deep spiritual friendship between two people, it seeks to replace and subvert that friendship. It doesn’t improve with time (in fact, it fades), because no real intimacy can exist in the absence of a spiritual friendship. Without intimacy, lovemaking of any kind becomes, over time, boring and less interesting. It doesn’t stand up to conflict and stress (the weed-whacker in the analogy) because, in the secular version of sexuality, there isn’t supposed to be conflict and stress, only blissful ecstasy. At the first signs of trouble, then, the passion dies, and the couple breaks apart.
What Catholic Sexuality Offers
- It offers spouses the chance to love and be loved (rather than use and be used) in the way we yearn for the most.
- It offers a couple the freedom to be playful and joyful in a way that is never demeaning or degrading.
- It allows a married couple to experience their lovemaking both as a physical sign of the passion God has for the couple and as a foreshadowing of the divine ecstasy that awaits us in heaven.
- It allows a couple to communicate their whole physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational selves to one another every time they make love.
- It invites the couple to renew their wedding vows with the “language of their bodies”–and celebrate their sacrament–every time they make love.
- It offers protection from disease and heartbreak.
- It encourages the couple to celebrate a love so powerful, so profound, that, in many cases, that (to quote Scott Hahn) “love has to be given its own name in nine months.”
- It encourages a couple prayerfully to consider God’s plan for their lives every month, asking whether God is calling them to expand their “community of love” by being open to adding another life to the family.
- It challenges a couple’s capacity for vulnerability and helps them overcome the basic shame that all humanity experienced after the Fall. It plays a part in preparing them to stand, completely exposed, before our Divine Lover when they arrive for the eternal wedding feast with God–heaven.
In short, the comparison between Catholic sexuality and the eroticism served up by secular society is like comparing real flowers to fake ones. There is no comparison. The reality is that the kind of sexuality espoused by the Church and especially illustrated in the Theology of the Body beats every secular alternative. It represents the fullness of sexuality as created by God, and as such it is absolutely good. It is far better than anything the world has to offer. I understand how parents might feel tentative, nervous, or a little intimidated at that thought of discussing sex with their kids, but there is one thing no Catholic parent ever has to feel and that is ashamed. The Catholic vision of love is the real thing. Love your kids enough to give them the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.
If you enjoyed what you read here, we highly recommend you pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids for yourself. If you find yourself struggling or questioning anything you read here, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the answers you are seeking as well as the skills you need to succeed.