Additions, corrections to Greg Popcak’s book Holy Sex?

Gregory Popcak and I were chatting the other day. He’s thinking of writing a second, revised edition to his book Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

holy sex cover

If you have read it, are there things you would like to see included in any future editions (certain problems addressed, topics discussed, sections refined)? Even if you haven’t read it, are there things you would like to see addressed in a book that’s intended to help people live the Catholic vision of sexual love in a healthy way and overcome problems and struggles in a faithful manner?

Let me know in the comments, and I’ll pass it along to him. Please don’t be a jerk. Criticism is fine, but keep it factual, not personal, please!

I will admit, I haven’t read his book in a long time, so I’m not sure if I remember exactly what’s in it. My own suggestion for an expanded topic: a clear discussion about what kind of intimate behavior is moral when you’re abstaining — or at least a guide for how to judge your behavior. Some couples keep a strict hands-off policy, which may or may not work for them, and some couples think that’s everything’s okay as long as no one reaches orgasm.

I do cover this topic in my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, in the chapter called (heh heh) “Groping Toward Chastity.” I said that there are a few things which are always off limits; that we’re not supposed to try to make each other orgasm; that some behaviors are acceptable for some couples and not for others; and that we must remember that we speak through our bodies, so we should pay attention to what we are saying to each other when we do what we do with each other. I don’t know if there’s really a better answer than that, but I’d like to hear more opinions about it, anyway. In my experience, priests have no idea what to say, other than keep praying and go to confession if you think you  need to.

Oh, and I always associate the phrase “toe-curling” with sudden, severe pain, like when the baby latches on wrong. That might be just me. “Mind-blowing,” I’m okay with.

NB: It will be ten thousands times easier for me to pass along your comments if you leave comments HERE, rather than answering on Facebook or Twitter or via email. I understand that it’s a hassle, but if your goal is to really reach Greg’s ears, then that’s the way to go! Thanks.

Additions, corrections to Greg Popcak’s book Holy Sex?

Gregory Popcak and I were chatting the other day. He’s thinking of writing a second, revised edition to his book Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

[img attachment=”78026″ size=”full” alt=”BLOG – SIMCHA – holy-sex-cover” align=”aligncenter”]

If you have read it, are there things you would like to see included in any future editions (certain problems addressed, topics discussed, sections refined)? Even if you haven’t read it, are there things you would like to see addressed in a book that’s intended to help people live the Catholic vision of sexual love in a healthy way and overcome problems and struggles in a faithful manner?

Let me know in the comments, and I’ll pass it along to him. Please don’t be a jerk. Criticism is fine, but keep it factual, not personal, please!

I will admit, I haven’t read his book in a long time, so I’m not sure if I remember exactly what’s in it. My own suggestion for an expanded topic: a clear discussion about what kind of intimate behavior is moral when you’re abstaining — or at least a guide for how to judge your behavior. Some couples keep a strict hands-off policy, which may or may not work for them, and some couples think that’s everything’s okay as long as no one reaches orgasm.

I do cover this topic in my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, in the chapter called (heh heh) “Groping Toward Chastity.” I said that there are a few things which are always off limits; that we’re not supposed to try to make each other orgasm; that some behaviors are acceptable for some couples and not for others; and that we must remember that we speak through our bodies, so we should pay attention to what we are saying to each other when we do what we do with each other. I don’t know if there’s really a better answer than that, but I’d like to hear more opinions about it, anyway. In my experience, priests have no idea what to say, other than keep praying and go to confession if you think you  need to.

Oh, and I always associate the phrase “toe-curling” with sudden, severe pain, like when the baby latches on wrong. That might be just me. “Mind-blowing,” I’m okay with.

NB: It will be ten thousands times easier for me to pass along your comments if you leave comments HERE, rather than answering on Facebook or Twitter or via email. I understand that it’s a hassle, but if your goal is to really reach Greg’s ears, then that’s the way to go! Thanks.

On complaining honestly about NFP (and other crosses)

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Want to complain about NFP? Far be it from me to stop you! You could even go ahead and write a whole book about how hard NFP can be, and see where that gets you. (Psst, it’s still on sale! $5 paperback, $2.99 eb0ok)
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Couples who are struggling are very grateful to hear that they’re not the only ones who hate NFP. There’s nothing worse than feeling like, not only are you having a miserable time, but you’re the only ones who aren’t lovin’ every minute of it.
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Happily, the conversation about NFP has been slowly, steadily becoming more realistic, and fewer NFP promoters are resorting to sunshine-’n’-buttercups tactics as they sell NFP. Instead, we’re seeing more frank and honest discussions of the what NFP can (but won’t necessarily automatically) do for your marriage. (See a great reading list at the end of this post.) Honesty may  not be the most immediately attractive approach, but in the long run, it’s more helpful.
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However! There’s such a thing as too much honesty — or, rather, there’s such a thing as misleading honesty, honesty that is one-sided, incomplete, or even dishonest.
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Here are a few of the things I try to achieve when I talk about NFP, along with just being honest:
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1. NO CROSS-COMPARING.
I try not to make it seem like only couples who struggle are couples who are doing it right. I used to do this, and I’m sorry about that!  It’s kind of like the “real women have curves” sloganeering. Well, I’m a real woman, and I have curves; but I have skinny friends, and they are real women, too. Let’s not overcompensate and end up insulting people who simply have a different cross from our own.
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If those of us who really struggle with NFP are going to plead for or demand more sympathy and understanding from people who find it a light cross at worst, we should extend the same courtesy to people who are bearing up well under the cross of NFP. We shouldn’t imply, even jokingly, that couples who like NFP are probably just some kind of low-drive tea bags in the bedroom. Comparing crosses, and taking jabs at people with other crosses than your own, is a shitty game. Talk about missing the point.
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2. NO FALSE HOPES
I try to make it clear that, while Catholics can certainly improve the way they deliverthe Church’s teaching about sexuality, the Church is not going to change her teaching about sexualityIt’s one thing to say, “I feel comforted when someone in the Church recognizes that this is a hard teaching.” It’s quite another to say, “I feel comforted to think that the Church is getting closer to fixing this unreasonable demand she makes on us.” Certain things are simply not in flux.
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If we’d like an acknowledgement from the bishops or from the local marriage prep teacher that NFP is sometimes nothing but a cross for couples, then I agree with you. NFP is “challenging” in the same way that unmedicated childbirth gives you “discomfort.”  But let’s not encourage people to hope for some kind of change in the Church’s teaching. I know that as long as I was hoping for that, I was unable to look suffering in the face. Which is a bad thing.
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Which brings me to my third point:
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3. NO INSISTING ON HUMAN STANDARDS 
When we are avoiding or postponing pregnancy, we don’t use NFP primarily because of its magical marriage-building properties! We use NFP because it allows us to have sex sometimes instead of never. We’d be smart to pursue any benefits that we can, but they are not why we reject contraception. We reject contraception primarily because it is immoral, and we can thank the Holy Spirit if rejecting contraception also brings us various goods, like better physical health or better relationships with our spouses and with God.
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NFP is not necessarily going to “hurt so good,” with measurable payoffs for the ordeal. It might just plain hurt, without any discernible benefits or rewards, because of original sin. When we preach solely about the rewards of NFP — even hard-to-achieve spiritual rewards — and never talk about our duty to reject sin, we imply that suffering is only worthwhile when it has some immediate and obvious purpose, goal, or benefit, such as “marriage building,” or making couples happy or fulfilled, or giving life, or making our spiritual life more fulfilling. Is this what suffering is really like, though?
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Not that I’ve noticed. When Jesus was on the cross, I’m pretty sure that everyone around Him experienced His sacrifice as nothing but a cruel, senseless, loss. He had only been in public ministry for a few years, and now it was ending already, and they were all losing a teacher, a savior, a friend, a son — not to mention that they were seeing Him in pain and disgrace, and were all in danger of being arrested just for knowing Him. Plenty of people saw what was happening and ran away and lost their faith. There was nothing happy or fulfilling life-giving in sight with that sacrifice. I am quite sure it seemed senseless and intolerable — probably, if we listen to His words, even to Christ Himself.
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Oh my gosh, what a downer, right? But really, it’s a trap to use human standards (“Is this making me happy? Is this making life better? Does everyone around me agree that this makes sense? Does it seem like I’m making progress?”) to make judgments about what kind of suffering is tolerable. When we do this, then really serious suffering, the kind that doesn’t make sense, will seem like a sign that something is wrong — that something has to change, that we deserve a pass of some kind (see point #2).
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If we look at a crucifix, suffering may or may not make sense, but at least we can’t claim that God couldn’t possibly expect us to choose that path just because of religion.  Look to Him. Look at Him. See Him hanging there, abandoned. Sometimes there is no answer — not for you, not right now. That’s not a good reason to stop.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in redemptive suffering. It’s just that I no longer expect it to feel redemptive.
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For further reading, do yourself a favor and check out the invaluable Jen Fitz’s series:
What Is the Point of Pointless Suffering?
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I want to be Jen Fitz when I grow up!
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And also don’t miss Greg Popcak’s helpful advice specifically about NFP in his series from this year:
and a good reminder to those of us with big families that hyperfertility is a cross, but it’s not the only cross, so watch your words.

Life is too short for bad sex with a good husband.

This is the greatest letter I’ve gotten in a million years. It’s from MightyMighty atLetters To Us. I’ve bolded the best lines. She mentions Greg Popcak’s excellent bookHoly Sex, which I’ve been meaning to review for a long time; and also references theReal Catholic Love and Sex blog, which is full of good and honest discussions. Here’s the letter:

I don’t want to be a freaky fan girl, but would like to take a sec to tell you how awesome your book is. I read it during a loooooong period of abstinence after our 3rd was born. It was sort of funny the way it worked out. I was reading a book about how sex is good and not a joke on women & reading similar things on realCatholicloveandsex.com. All while waiting for some clear signs of fertility to start showing up so that we could chart. By the time it happened at 11 months postpartum, I was actually enthusiastic about sex for the first time since before our first was born.

Normally my interest is completely tied to what’s going on with me physically, but thanks to your book, I’ve realized how that’s not being very loving–it lowers sex into something that is just about scratching an itch. If it’s really about love, it is worth making the effort to be together throughout whatever parts of the month are open to the couple. My husband has now read your book (he wanted to understand the huge change in attitude) and he is working on making some similar changes himself. We’re both pretty guilty of first asking, “Am I in the mood?” instead of asking what our spouse/marriage needs in this moment. I pointed out, “We don’t do that about other things that are good for us, like exercising or paying the bills or eating. Maybe we ought to stop acting like being together is as optional as watching Netflix together.”

I feel like reading Popcak’s “Holy Sex” helped me start shedding some of the prudery I had about sex being a little bit frivolous/selfish and your book helped me shed the rest of it + the poisoning lies the culture teaches about sex. (Men are animals, women are the gatekeepers, sex is mostly about getting pleasure, God sorta hates women for setting them up for either 20 pregnancies or no sex when their hormones are cooperating, etc.) At some point I thought, “Life is too short for bad sex with a good husband. I am going to get to middle and old age and really regret spending the healthiest years of my life this way, just like I already regret spending my teens and twenties dressing like a frump.”

My dad died at 61 last year and my mom just said last week, “I really regret not lavishing more affection on your father. He shouldn’t have had to coax me. I should have been more….[hand gesture indicating va-va-voom]! He deserved that!” I was shocked, but glad to see that it’s really never too late to get a healthier view on sex.

 

PIC dancing peasant couple

In another letter, she says:

 

It was very helpful to read your (semi-sarcastic) comments about developing some skill in bed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has put minimal effort into any session that I was participating in out of duty/charity. I find that putting in the same effort as I do when I’m all gung-ho (when I’d honestly rather just read in bed) takes the session (is there a better word??) from kind-of-degrading-to-both-of-us-because-I-feel-used-and-he-feels-judged to just as good as when I was up for it. For whatever reason, I needed permission to stop acting like a prude and start trusting that my husband wouldn’t be scandalized by me being enthusiastic.

I now realize that acting like sex is dirty if it’s too enthusiastic gives power to the smutty culture that reduces sex to “consensual pleasure.” God made sex awesome and me participating in it fully is good, not dirty. What’s dirty is when two married people feel smug for having sex without having given each other their all, including the trust needed to let go, unconditional acceptance for each other’s everything, and the effort to really be generous with one another, not just their fertility. Good job! You ate a protein bar at a 5 star restaurant! You went to Italy and never left the hotel! Good job, you’re Catholic and you still managed to separate love from sex!

 

 So smart. Thanks, MightyMighty!