The Catholic Blueprint (Or Lack Thereof)

Catholic writer Kyle Cupp writes about the difficulties of the anti-contraception argument:

Opponents of contraception face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, not the least of which is their position’s antagonism toward today’s common sense view of sexual morality. Opposition toward contraception is not common; acceptance of it as a personal and social good is. A few voices cry out in the wilderness, but they are just that: a few, and, by today’s standards, uncivilized. {…}

Opponents of contraception cannot easily dismiss its judgments or wave them away as products of a perverse age. The proposition that today’s common sense view of sexual morality is perverse requires careful demonstration. Noting the correlation between widespread use of contraceptives with other social ills does not suffice. Even if one could prove a causal relationship between common acceptance of contraception and, say, the rise of cohabitation, one would still have to show that this growing acceptance of cohabitation is also a sign of corruption.

There is something to be said for not bending with the times. Manytimes, the people telling you how you need to bend with the times… well, don’t have your best interest at heart. They are not interested in your church’s survival so much as that you get out of their way.

Having said that, a church’s perishoners do need clues on how to reconcile their membership in The Church with the modern world. And on this, The Church has failed. Most have, but few so spectacularly on this particular issue.

Now, most churches have a prohibition on premarital sex. But the reconciliation, such as it is, is to say “Well, we can’t stop you from doing it, but don’t talk about doing it, and say with us that you shouldn’t do it.” The RCC takes it a step further, by essentially saying “We can’t stop you from doing it, but we will double up on the sinfulness of it by not allowing you to take comparatively common-sense measures to protect yourself from adverse consequences.”

Most of the time, the result of this is that Catholics are among the most talkative people about their sexual sins than any other group I know. And they use contraception. And they talk about that, too.

What’s missing from all of this is exactly what The Church (and most churches) do want you to do. The focus on don’t makes sense in light of certain things, but it leaves certain logistical questions unanswered. Namely, if people are supposed to wait until marriage, and they’re not marrying until they’re 30, how realistic is this expectation?

The only church I have ever seen really tackle this problem is the LDS Church, and they have planted a flag on not waiting until you’re 30. Not just by saying “Don’t wait until you’re 30” but also by actively trying to hook their youngsters up. The basic Mormon timeline, as best as I can tell, is that boys go to K-12, go on a mission for two years, then they’re 20 and the girls graduating high school are 18 and… there you go. It’s not arranged marriages and they want you to find the right person, but the order of the day is “get moving.”

If churches really want less premarital sex, and to get rid of the 20’s sex culture, they they need to work harder to prevent it from happening. Rather than wagging their finger over the fact that it is happening. Don’t tell me that they can’t do this because The Church doesn’t want to mettle.

Rather, I think they don’t want to do it because it’s politically difficult. Even among conservatives in the US, marrying in your early twenties is rather strongly discouraged for logistical reasons. Particularly among the middle class and upper middies whose money they often need and who don’t want their church telling them they need to marry that kid with the ear-ring that their daughter just swears she’s in love with. In an odd way, it’s here they’ve chosen to bend. Not against church doctrine, but against the inevitable results of failing to do so – the results running against church doctrine. Maybe that’s a crucial distinction, but it does come across as a somewhat disingenuous one.

Now, doing so would probably be a losing battle. The Mormons themselves seem to be losing their grip, with fewer boys going on missions and the prescribed timeline being disrupted. But the Mormons have advantages (an insular entertainment culture, 1.3 states they dominate, and so on). But it’s no less crazy than asking kids to wait for sex until they’re 30.

Of course, on the contraception discussion, this only tackles one part. Once married, The Church’s path is clear. Keep having kids. Clear, but ignored. But at least they went down swinging.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Namely, if people are supposed to wait until marriage, and they’re not marrying until they’re 30, how realistic is this expectation?

    It’s not unrealistic at all. To a very large extent, whether certain kinds of expectations are realistic depends on the culture. If one is in a culture where lots of people remain virgins until they are in their late 20s or early 30s, then the expectation is more realistic. Why? Because norms of dating and other informal institutions which pertain to the interaction of men and women have evolved in order to make it easier to do so.

    Alternatively, you could always try to be this guy

    • What culture is this? And how do you tell that it is REALLY the case, and their dads/uncles/brothers haven’t taken their virginity (close blood relatives have relatively hard times impregnating each other, in general).

      • And we can generally tell that nothing untoward is going on because everyone is well adjusted even if we tend to fall on the prudish side of sexual morality.

        Similar trends are found to a lesser degree in wider society in Singapore. By the time they reach 25, I’m supposing that roughly half of a all men and women are still virgins. (This is anecdotal evidence so it might not be worth much. But I have moved in varied circles.)

        • well adjusted? I’m sorry, but I somehow doubt you’ve got the range of experience to talk about the neural degeneration inherent in delaying sexual activity to age 25. Do correct me if i’m wrong.

          • I’m an almost 27 year old virgin (and likely to remain so for the next 5 years). And lots of my cousins and siblings have presumably kept to similar standards. I know I tend to say very weird things but I doubt my oddness, if I am odd, is the product of such delay. I’m also going to ask you for evidence that there is any such neural degeneration.

          • Not that there’s anything wrong with adhering to your cultural norms, Murali, but if you happened to be interested in changing this state of affairs about yourself, an excellent time and place to find a partner with whom to accomplish this would be in Las Vegas on Memorial Day weekend for Leaguefest.

          • Why would we want to change that about Murali? Better to have him come to Vegas, be hit in the face with a stranger’s boobs at an establishment that specializes in hitting strangers in the face therewith, and go home *INTACT* and talk about how horribly libertine even the social conservatives in America are.

            He’ll have fewer rashes.

          • I meant sensory neurons. specifically, the ones associated with genitalia. When those aren’t stimulated, they degenerate.
            I’m told, by doctors, that this is an issue for many women who delay sexual contact. I’ve found it to be so in my case, as well.

          • I went through a, let’s call it a “dry spell”, between the ages of hrumph hrumph and mumble mumble and let me merely say that the assumption that these same sensory neurons were going unstimulated would have been completely unfounded in my case.

          • talk about how horribly libertine even the social conservatives in America are.

            I already found that out when no one bothered to accused Bristol Palin for shaming her family. In Singapore, if political campaigns lasted for more than 2 weeks, such an outcome would be enough to topple even an MP from the ruling party (PAP).

            Seriously, the cultural attitude at least among the older generation and even to a significant extent on the younger generation is that the parents must have failed horribly if their daughter got pregnant before marriage or their son got someone pregnant.

            If she can’t run her household, how is she going to run the country?

            My hypothesis about the libertinisim of so called social conservatives in the US is that they hooked up their social conservativism to evangelical christianity: A religion that is both radical and iconoclastic.

        • … apologies, but I’d be more sincere if we were talking about a different culture.
          Meh. Every culture has their pecadilloes when it comes to sex. And most of them lead towards much more sex than people want to acknowledge.
          I’m not going to claim expert knowledge of Brahmin culture in particular… but Indian culture is rather known for certain fraternal associations.

          • Consanguinity in marriage is different from incestual rape. I know of quite a few first cousins who are married. It doesnt follow that their parents or siblings raped them. In fact, what happens fairly often when a guy marries his niece is that the two people are both roughly in the same age range.

          • Ah! see, here you’re overstepping the bounds of what I do know, into what I don’t know. I wasn’t referencing consanguinity in marriage.
            (and I apologize if it seemed like I was. … can’t tiptoe around something I don’t know is there, am I right?)

          • from what I’ve heard (and this from someone who’s had a lot of experience in watching what people do…), Indians tend to consider a relationship between a younger brother and an older sister to be relatively more acceptable than other cultures (it’s seen as the boy “practicing” before marriage).

            Because we’re airing dirty laundry in public, and to show a reasonable good faith in not calling your culture “bad”, my ethnic culture tends towards fathers or fathers-in-law bedding daughters (and we’re talking 12 year olds here) — often times on their wedding day. It was a key reason why my culture emphasized getting married so early… Otherwise, the father would be “getting relief” with his daughters. [Interestingly enough, this was because adult women had relatively more power — enough to refuse to have sexual contact with her husband if she wished.]

          • Errm, Kimmi, I suppose that there are really weird cultures in India (its far from monolithic) but I’ve never heard of that happening anywhere, ever.

          • Fewer Irish people in India. (Though, to be fair to the Irish, this is the first time I’ve heard of that as well. Though, in my defense, I was raised Southern Baptist and not Northern Baptist.)

  2. That’s interesting.
    I’m glad you addressed this topic.

    I am reminded of the passage where Paramahansa Yogananda speaks of the mythical swan that can drink from a bowl of a mixture of water and milk, leaving only water.
    I believe that is more of the manner to approach the church.
    What other manner of thing do we have (other than modern day progressivism) is it required of us to accept each and every scrap of dogma as a whole in order for it to be accepted?
    If I were to say that I liked a Nicholas Cage movie, is it required of me that I should see every one of them in order to make such a statement?
    Enough with the continuous whole already.
    We are a segmented society of segmented people.

      • I like that one where he was a prisoner with that collar on his neck. Cheesy sci-fi appeals to me at times.
        Raising Arizona was good. Forgot about that one.
        Don’t think I’ve seen Kick Ass.

        • If given the choice between reading Kick Ass and seeing it, choose to watch the movie.

          It’s much less mean-spirited and even has an amazing moment or two.

  3. Yawn, well the catholics I knew went with the version that was “anything that isn’t sex is okay” (aka mutual masturbation and stuff like that)

    • There is a way in which precisely this is less boring sexual-religious hypocrisy than an attempt, albeit flailing, perhaps even unconscious, for individual members of the Church to reconcile their beliefs with life in contemporary America. There’s still an insistence on limits that aren’t wholly arbitrary: where the unbudgable one is located is not dictated by personal preference, but by a relationship to religious tradition. There’s a difference (not at all, to my mind, dull) between rejecting a tradition and either viewing oneself as in violation of it (the “bad Catholic”?) or attempting to limit the degree to which one is in violation of it.

      I wish I had more to say to Will’s point that there needs to be institutional support to figuring out the matter of navigation, rather than to re-assert that a series of individuals attempting to do it on their own probably isn’t sustainable.

  4. What I think is an interesting question is what do we do about the new landscape of sexuality? Yes, we’ve unhinged it from marriage. Yes, we can use contraception to prevent pregnancy – although with 41% of all US babies born outside of marriage, it isn’t working too well. My feeling is that we’ve kind of thrown up our hands and said, everyone make their own decisions. But I think there’s a place for redefining sexuality in a way that’s honoring. Okay – we’re doing it before we get married. But shouldn’t it still take place in a context of loving relationship? Perhaps we should think less about tying it to marriage, and more about elevating the meaning of it when we do choose a partner to engage with? Maybe if we took the commitment of that choice to engage in intercourse as seriously as we used to take marriage, we’d all be better off?

    • What would this look like in practice?

      “Keep it to 2nd!”

      (I ask because I would like to write a check to the company that would start putting that on billboards.)

      • Jaybird – I think that’s an excellent question. We need to work out the “practice”. Transitioning back to a society of abstainers until marriage seems unlikely, but I can think of a few rules I’d like to see widely accepted and practiced. #1 “Have children only inside marriage.” #2 “Don’t expose your children to unmarried sexual partners.” #3 “Don’t marry hastily, and get relationship education first.” #4 “Honor the mental/spiritual side of sex by choosing a partner carefully and lovingly.” #5 “Educate all teens on the how-to’s of healthy relationships.” If we could start with those I think we would be on the right track.

        “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” St. Paul

        • Whoa, that’s way too much stuff.

          Pick one.

          I think #4 is the one that would do the most good in the long run. How to communicate that across a society, though?

        • 2 seems odd to me… it seems like if you’ve got a long term boyfriend, then it’s okay. obviously the “merry-go-round” is a bad idea in a kid’s life.

          • Kimmi – I’m speaking about minor children here, not adult children, but multiple attachments and losses are hard on kids. If we’ re not yet sure we can be committed to a person, why let kids become attached? Also, why should they have to see their parent in bed with another adult? At the least, it’s confusing. At the worst, it causes them to have to confront adult sexuality – a boundary that most would prefer not to cross.

          • … when do you set adult to be? Maybe under 5, no opposite sex allowed… Maybe under 12, no long term boyfriends…

            but it doesn’t harm kids to know that their parents are having sex… it’s natural, and it’s natural for kids to not think about it much…

            and I think there’s a difference between “get attached” and “mum’s bf”

          • Actually I think “doesn’t harm kids to know” only when it’s “their” parents – i.e. my own mum and dad. But when it’s “mum’s bf” things get very sticky from a kid’s point of view. If I keep my distance, then I have to deal with a strange man who I probably feel a bit hostile toward, hanging around in my own house. And I don’t get to vote on it. If I get attached, I risk loss, because there’s no commitment for him to stick around. Also, an ugly side of this is the vastly elevated risks of physical and sexual abuse that occur when “mum’s bf” is hanging around the house. And kids internal radar picks this up.

            I firmly believe that a child should not have to deal with an unmarried sexual partner other than as a daytime visitor to the family. Then it can just be “mum’s bf”.

          • What you describe certainly sounds bad.

            I’d say different things, though — a kid deserves some control over who they live with, maybe not to the point of giving a kid veto power, but if they’re honestly saying, “No!” — look for someone else (kids say “no” for a LOT of reasons…).

            I definitely agree that Mom’s newest “good friend” shouldn’t be invited in. When I say long term boyfriend, that’s a commitment. Maybe not a LEGAL one, but one that says, “I’ve got your back.” And that takes about maybe four months, minimum. [bear in mind that people got married in 6 not so long ago…]

            I can definitely see how “staying overnight” is a lot different from “daytime visitor” (even if sex is going on…). There’s a level of “it’s MY house!” involved.

  5. What’s missing from all of this is exactly what The Church (and most churches) do want you to do. The focus on don’t makes sense in light of certain things, but it leaves certain logistical questions unanswered. Namely, if people are supposed to wait until marriage, and they’re not marrying until they’re 30, how realistic is this expectation?

    It could be realistic if, for example, there were wider cultural support for purity and chastity, but there isn’t this support, either positively through practical encouragements of developing virtue or negatively through cultural taboos. The Church today has very little influence over the culture, even the culture of Catholics, so its measures to promote its teachings go unheard or unheeded.

    I agree with you that the Church, if it wants Catholics to follow its teachings in matters of sexuality, needs to do more than admonish sinners: it needs to promote concrete, practical, feasible, and non-repressive “lifestyles” that appeal to people where they are. This is being done here and there, but no where near universally, and I’m not sure how well it’s being done. I sometimes joke that attempts in the church to do this sort of thing boil down to the proposition “women should be virtuous so men don’t sin.”

    • It could be realistic if, for example, there were wider cultural support for purity and chastity, but there isn’t this support, either positively through practical encouragements of developing virtue or negatively through cultural taboos.

      I dunno, Kyle. Thirty is tough. Even if a culture in Singapore manages it. It is spending half of one’s reproductive years – the years in which our bodies are most sharply sexually driven – as a virgin. Outside of relatively narrow cultures, I just have tremendous difficulty seeing it work out.

      • A lot of it is in the selection of our social circles.
        I haven’t had sex in 3 1/2 years, and I wouldn’t have sex with a woman that I didn’t intend to marry. I thought we were going to be married the last time I was with a woman. And it was she who was determined not to wait.
        I also fast for a month every year. It’s really not odd if other people who are close to you are doing it. In fact, it gives a strong sense of unity.
        I’m not saying it’s for everybody, but the choice is there if you make it.

        I find Murali’s position to be quite admirable.

        • Perhaps, but it doesn’t seem to take that many betrayers of the faith (such as it were) to bring the house down. And, of course, there is a whole lot outside influence, egging the bodily urges on. Most people, I don’t think, are as principled as you.

          One of my early posts involved evangelicals and premarital sex. I actually took the position that there might be less than met the eye on a statistic that 80% of evangelicals are not virgins compared to 88%. But the statistic is there. Even among a group that is quite stern on the subject, failure is more common than not.

          Now, as I said in the Pins & Feathers post, all failure isn’t all the same. You have had sex, but are now saving yourself for the right person. So there is the ability to get back up, dust yourself off, and try again. This is good! This is also harder in the absence of contraception and a kid in tow.

          That seems to be what the Catholic Church is bent on. Absent something that is going to reduce failure – such as earlier marriage – I see failure and more serious consequences for that failure. I see it hard to build up the solidarity to create the sturdy subculture and its concomitant network of support.

        • Will H. – I think your attitude is one that is missing for too many today. Thinking you love someone so much you want to be with them forever before engaging in intimacy ought to be a line commonly drawn. If it became the social norm, there wouldn’t be so many “eggers on of the bodily urges” that Will T refers to.

          As to contraception, the oldest one (withdrawal) was probably always in common use, no matter what the church said. The big difference now is that children used to be an economic advantage when households produced the goods they consumed. Now they are very expensive and do not “produce” for the household.

          But to Will T’s point about the difficulty of creating a sub-culture, that’s what MADD and others have done successfully. It only requires a group of people to commit to it and be blabbermouths about it.

          • They had to put forth arguments that convinced people. I think being against drunk driving is a much easier sell than being against sex.

          • LOL – MADD was only against drunk driving, not driving. It’s not about being against sex (it’s good stuff after all!) but about being against irresponsible use of it.

          • The problem isn’t doing it, it’s doing it IN A CAR.

            And, like most things, this was less of an issue in the 70’s and/or 80’s when the cars were bigger and made of steel.

  6. Let me say this, just to add the wrinkle.

    In my twenties, I would have had a lot more energy and a much easier time dealing with the physical demands of caring for a newborn. In my twenties, I also would have had a much less constructive grip on my own limitations, so I probably would have had freakout moments about as often has I had them in my thirties, just with different root causes.

    There’s nothing really wrong with the idea of getting married younger, but you need a more transgenerational household, because you’re just not as established as… well, I don’t want to say, “ought to be”, but goldurn, it’s a lot easier to deal with the financial hardship of newborns in your thirties, anyway.

    On the gripping hand, if you get married at 22 and you don’t use any contraception either, you’re going to have 11 children and… well, that seems to be a bad allocation of resources, too.

    • Try five (to eight) if you breastfeed. Breastfeeding was the traditional means of keeping down the number of babies.

    • I agree that transgenerationalism would help. Or help from the church itself. Or more robust government support. In Deseret, they seemed to rely on all three.

      If you utilize the fertility awareness method, you’ll end up with approximately four kids. If you do it well, you should only have one or maybe two oopsies. Not that it’s anything I would do. I would much prefer have an idea of when the kids come out, rather than relying on mistakes to procreate.

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