Sex, Lies, and Theology

“…sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married.”

There’s an article making the rounds entitled “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn’t.” In it, the author explains that she waited to have sex until her wedding night like a good little Christian, and then proceeded to have a miserable experience and feeling that she had lost an integral part of her existence—her virginity. She wishes she hadn’t waited and wants everyone to know that. Here’s a tough pill for many people to swallow, especially the author of that post: it’s not waiting for sex that’s the problem, it’s your idea of what sex is that’s the problem.

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I felt so bad for this girl while reading the article because she had been lied to—not once, but twice. She had fallen for not only one of the greatest lies about human sexuality told but both.

Lie #1: Sex is Bad

When the author was ten, she gave a pledge to remain pure until she got married—an admirable stance in a promiscuous world. Bolstered by her family, friends, and church, she would be the shining example of virginity, rejecting the “sinful and dirty” act, all along building up this implicit understanding that sex was bad. This is a common misconception popular throughout history but most celebrated in the Puritanism of early America.

Well, on her wedding day she felt the betrayal of that lie on what should have been one of the most beautiful days of her life. As she said, sex made her feel, “dirty and wrong and sinful,” even though she was married.

There is a reason for that. Throughout her life, the author had developed a flawed understanding of sex. She came to think of sex as being bad, but that it was somehow okay to be bad with one’s husband. She had made a vow of purity until she got married, at which point, presumably, it was okay to be impure. This type of thinking will inevitably lead to overwhelming cognitive dissonance and a horribly awkward wedding night.

The problem is that the author associates purity strictly with abstaining from sex. As she wrote about her wedding aftermath, “Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers. They all knew I was soiled and tarnished. I wasn’t special anymore.” But chastity isn’t just about sex; it’s about having a pure heart. Married people can still be chaste—they can still be pure—even while engaging in the marital act. Sex for the wrong reasons is bad, but sex itself isn’t and, as we’ll see, it’s actually a path to holiness when done correctly.

Lie #2: Sex is Nothing

The second lie that the author fell for is that sex is nothing—that it’s not a big deal. The author seems to have fallen for this lie after her miserable wedding night as she came to grips with her sexuality. In her article, she wrote, “If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn’t go to hell for it.” In other words, sex isn’t a big deal. This is a devastating lie (a video called The Economics of Sex shows us the result of this societal attitude) and dominates popular culture today.

But the author didn’t fall for this lie after coming to grips with her uncomfortable wedding night experience. I seems she had always believed this lie. Paradoxically, even when she believed that sex was bad, she also thought it was nothing or rather it was just a physical act in which two people use each other to achieve pleasure. A clue to this is in her description of her first time, “It was just me and my husband in a dark room, fumbling with a condom and a bottle of lube for the first time.”

How sad. How cold. How completely devoid of love.

The marital act should be a complete gift of one another to each other in love. The fact that they used a condom reveals that this was not the case—they weren’t being completely open—they were holding back. They were treating sex like nothing when it should have been the one of the most beautiful experiences of their lives.

Of course, when you treat sex like it’s just a skill used in order to get pleasure, the first time is certainly going to be awkward. But the author acts like doing it before marriage is going to solve that problem. It won’t, it will just move it up a couple years. Only when you stop treating sex like nothing and start treating it like the amazing gift that it is will it cease being awkward.

The Theology of the Body

I admit that I fell for the lies too. For much of my formative years and early adulthood I bounced between the above falsehoods and just dealt with the cognitive dissonance in my head. That was until I heard about a theology that would shatter those misconceptions. Saint John Paul II’s theology of the body showed definitively that sex is not bad and it’s not nothing.

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Quite the contrary, he explained that sex is good—sex is very good. That may sound odd—perhaps oxymoronic—coming from the one of the most preeminent religious leaders of our time, but it’s true. Our sexuality is one of God’s most amazing gifts and as such it’s one of the most important things we can do as human beings—a way to participate in the life-giving creative process. As John Paul said, nuptial love is, “the fundamental element of human existence in the world.” To treat it as anything else does a disservice to the gift-giver and an injustice to the participants.

With the Theology of the Body, we come to understand that we are vehicles for godliness. As JPII writes, “The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.”

I can’t do justice to the JPII’s ideas in this post, but for those interested in gaining a deeper realization of our bodies and relationships, I highly recommend Love and Responsibility or Man and Woman: He Created Them, both by John Paul II. Here’s a brilliant synopsis in sketch format: