In honor of wedding season, I repost this controversial piece from 2009. The comments on the original post are worth reading as well.
This being our anniversary, it's time to talk about sex.
When I was a newly-wed, I worked at a theater. One afternoon, as I was working on tech with two other girls, the subject of sex came up, and both were surprised to hear that I had been a virgin when I got married. That set them off reminiscing about their first times. For all our cultural and moral and experiential disparity, we could all agree on one thing: the first time had been awkward, painful, and kind of alarming. This was a bit surprising to me -- surely the heat of the moment ought to be more conducive to getting it on than after a long and stressful wedding day? Not so much, it seems.
There's this pervasive myth that sex always equals pleasure. Sex, so the thinking goes, should always be mind-blowingly fantastic, and if it isn't, something is wrong. How better to insult someone by denigrating his or her sexual prowess? To insinuate that a woman is "frigid" or a man can't get it up is, in essence, calling that person abnormal. Fictional characters do it with a frequency and ease that leaves a subconscious impression that anyone can just hop in the sack and perform with aplomb, or else something's wrong.
Modern orthodox Catholics are justly proud of the way that we've made strides in reclaiming sex from the secular culture and proving that we can do it better because we've placed it within its proper sphere. That's all quite well and good, but it also tempts us into the mindset of "awesome sex through understanding!". Ask a teen why he or she is saving sex for marriage and one of the answers will be, "Because I want the first time to be special." One of the implied benefits of NFP is a better sex life. Listen to a Theology of the Body presentation and you hear that sex is pretty much heaven on earth. A young couple, all in love and high on hormones, could be forgiven for thinking that since they've done everything the right way (waiting until marriage, taking all the classes, having a basic grasp of biology) they're on the way to instant bliss -- just add vows! Unfortunately for our eager friends, the first time is not guaranteed to be fabulous -- in fact, it's pretty much the opposite. For the woman, it's awkward and it hurts (a lot). I don't think I'm the only girl in history to have cried in pain and frustration on her wedding night.
For a while I felt gypped. Maybe if we'd gone on honeymoon right away! Maybe if I'd had more champagne! Maybe if we'd waited until the next night! But you know what? I don't think it would have mattered. There were plenty of times before we were married that I felt more "in the mood" than I did on my wedding night. I'm glad we waited -- not only because God intended sex to occur only in a marital relationship, but also because the bitterness of committing a mortal sin would have been compounded by the shock that sex for the novice is not all it's cracked up to be. I sold my soul, and I got was this lousy lay!
Since sex has a spiritual component, it's important to learn about the Theology of the Body. Since it has a biological function, one must understand the basic principles of Natural Family Planning. But as it's a physical activity, it's the same as any other athletic venture: if you want to be good at it, you've got to practice. For a while. With a dedicated partner. Sex is a learned activity, and it takes more than one roll in the hay to get the basic skills down, and that's before you kick it up to notches unknown. There are better things than instant gratification.
For those shocked and appalled at the idea of talking about sex with my theater compatriots: that conversation turned out to be one of the best evangelization opportunities I've ever had. Using Theology of the Body terminology and a bit of NFP, I was able to explain, to their great amazement, that the Church's opposition to birth control was because sex has an intrinsic meaning of unity and total self-giving that is violated by divorcing fertility from sex. "Wow," said one of them. "I always thought the Church just didn't like people to have sex." So there you have it.
UPDATE: From about half the comments and some private correspondence, it becomes plain that I need to clarify one thing here: all I'm trying to say is, as "a guy" puts it in the combox: "It's sort of surprising that for all we supposedly know about sex, we don't teach the fact that structurally a woman's first time just isn't made, by nature, to be automatically pleasurable. " Perhaps this post is only applicable to young Catholic newlyweds (or those who once were young Catholic newlyweds) who wonder on their wedding night, "Wait a minute! What are we doing wrong? Isn't this supposed to be a wonderful experience, mirroring God's love for the Church, etc.?"
Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XV
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