Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Chocolate, Sex, Valentines and Popes

My ultimate consumerist St Valentine’s Day fantasy would be a dark chocolate Matthew McConaghey with his accent somehow being expressed in the confection (warm, melting caramel perhaps?). Or Matthew McConaughey feeding me chocolate.
This St Valentines Day I’ve a date with my surgery textbook (the chapter on stomas actually – riveting, page turning stuff) but before I do that, I’m finishing Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s 1st encyclical.
And the first fantasy pales into comparison with what Il Papa is saying.
You might ask, why on earth is she reading this stuff? Has she no life?
I have a thing for encyclicals about love. John Paul II started off his philosophy-ing with Love and Responsibility, a book I recommend to anyone who wants to know what the Catholic Church thinks about sex. (And please differentiate it from the Jansenist heresies that have held force here in Ireland for way to long – sex is not dirty, bad, guilty etc) I started reading it because I was quizzing my mother about it after I read Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn and found the mission speeches on sex rather perverted and sterile. My mother, in her maternal wisdom told me that the Catholic Church believes that the joy of orgasm is akin to joy of everlasting love and the communion of saints. Needless to say, given the choice, I preferred reading about the Church’s position on orgasm than listening to my mother talk about it.
I learnt that this is not only true, but JPII, as Karol Wojtyla in Love and Responsilibity, says that husband should make whatever sacrifice necessary for his wife to orgasm. At which point, I was thinking, wow, this is rather far away from Kavanagh’s Monaghan Redemptorist mission.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about romance, love, sex and how we view and relate these things. While it hasn’t taken on here yet, in the US, St Valentine’s Day, a day of soppy poems, red roses and chocolate is being transformed by some into V-Day, a day about vaginas. I’m as fond of my vagina as the next woman, but I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t find discussion of it, either scientific or dramatic (Vagina Monologues) that romantic. I’d much rather schmaltzy red rubbish than reclaiming my vagina’s authentic voice.
Then, this week is SHAG week in Trinity – I’m all for everyone being educated about sex – but leaflets about premature ejaculation just aren’t my cup of tea. (nor do I think decorating the stall with pink hearts makes it romantic either)
I’m not saying anything particular about vaginas or sexual health, but I feel that there is a loss of romance, a loss of mystery, a loss of wonder at human sexuality. And this is lamentable. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice the awe in our desire to be responsible and educated about sexuality.
Anyway, back to B16 (Benedict), Deus Caritas Est is much more readable and accessible than JP2, and JP2 was quite accessible.
He’s pretty straightforward –
Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness…………
Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.
I guess I’m pretty unusual (certainly among my circle of friends) that I accept the above passage and reject the casual sex that is an integral part of our culture. I don’t think it’s just sex –just pleasure, just reproduction, just fun – but something more.
I feel pretty vulnerable even blogging anonymously about this – it’s something I’m kinda reticent about discussing. I don’t like the funny looks or the patronising comments that “you’ll find someone”. It’s not from lack of opportunity (wounded pride screaming out) but rather a conscious decision that I don’t have sex.
There are a lot of things that are taken for granted in terms of healthy sexuality – one is that you must have sex. The 40 year old virgin was a trip in the hilariously uncharted waters of the ultimate middle aged saddo. I guess my life could be viewed as being similarly strange. I don’t even snog randomers on a Friday or Saturday night (or any other night).
Maybe I’ve been reading too many Georgette Heyer novels recently, but I don’t get the romance of scoring. Of “being with someone”.  Of waiting for text messages from someone you’ve shared body fluids with. I don’t believe that sex with someone you barely know is the best way to start any kind of relationship.
I don’t think I’m a prude. I don’t have a problem with everyone else in the world “getting some” (even though I hate that phrase) – I don’t think young teenagers are mature enough to make fully informed and free decisions about their sexuality and should not be encouraged to have sex.
Yes, the sexual revolution brought us freedom. I’m using mine to not have sex.
I had an unusual experience a few years ago during SHAG week in college. I handed back the brown paper bag containing condoms, information and plastic gloves to the girl handing them out. She ran up to me, telling me how important it was to have safe sex. I told her I wasn’t having unsafe sex, I wasn’t having any sex. She laughed and then tried to give me back the bag, saying you never know. I told her I did know and that I would certainly not be having any consensual sex anytime soon. (Even if Matthew McConaughey came along). She then told me that being repressed is not healthy.
No, it’s not. Neither is sleeping with anything that breathes.
But there’s nothing repressed about wanting something more than just sex. There’s nothing passive about waiting for it. There’s nothing asexual about not having any. There’s nothing immature about a little self restraint.  There’s nothing prudish about believing that sexuality is God’s greatest gift to creation, as is its product – a new love, a new person. There’s nothing strange or delusional in expecting that a grand passion will someday come my way and believing that my sexuality is something sacred to me, irreducible to a fleeting encounter, will be worth it.
And there’s nothing quite as romantic as reading a white haired celibate priest on love on St Valentine’s Day!
It is part of love's growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being “for ever”. Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks towards its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.          

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Blogger Simon said...

Nothing wrong with your views at all. No need to be afraid to express them.

February 14, 2006 7:29 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair play to ya

Heartily agree with views

Total overkill in colleges with pushing condoms which are freely available

Might be a good idea to run concurrent abstinence campaigns with the SHAG week fest.

February 14, 2006 8:49 p.m.  
Anonymous erstwhile said...

A lovely post.

You're wrong of course, frogs lead to princes and no harm done, but still, lovely.

February 16, 2006 5:16 p.m.  
Blogger EWI said...

Dear God, Auds. Can you please stop talking about your vagina? ;-)

February 17, 2006 1:07 a.m.  
Blogger Auds said...

I suppose talking about not talking about it does constitute talking about it, even if I don't mention it by name again.


(I'll will probably break that promise - It will force itself back into my consciousness)

February 17, 2006 1:09 a.m.  
Anonymous NineMoons said...

Wow. First off, excellent post auds. Really. I don't think I've ever read anything that so perfectly sums up my feelings on the subject. Maybe it's because I'm a fellow Heyer fan! They could introduce a programme in schools of making girls read Heyer so they will choose love and romance and sex instead of just sex. :-)
And I think college sex ed has gone WAAAAY too far. I worked in a college last year and was badgered to accept latex gloves and free condoms when I came back from lunch. No use to me!
Anyway, bravo Auds.

February 17, 2006 3:54 p.m.  
Blogger P. said...

Yeah, agree with a lot of that. Being male you can imagine some of the reactions I've got when I've told ladies that, No, in fact I didn't want to go the whole way with them. Incredulity being the most common, of course.

September 17, 2006 4:49 p.m.  
Blogger P. said...

Love Tarry Flynn by the way. Great quote from it, (from memory so forgive errors)

"Michael was a true pacifist. He was as yielding as a wet rope. He wouldn't flare up at at insult unless such a display of temper was likely to yield a profit"

September 17, 2006 4:53 p.m.  
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February 09, 2007 2:40 p.m.  

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