Friday, April 27, 2018

Every Sperm is Sacred

I wouldn’t consider myself an avid Monty Python fan by any stretch. Heck, I’ve only see The Holy Grail once, and I’m not sure I saw all of it. But I’ve heard that little ditty about sperm from The Meaning of Life, and I can’t help but recalling it now as I ponder the topic of birth control, or, more accurately, contraception. (Who really thinks they can control birth? As a labor and delivery nurse, I can tell you that once you get to the “birth” part of sexuality, there is very little control. At best, it’s controlled chaos. So the term “birth control” is a bit of a misnomer.  But I digress.)I listen to “Every sperm is sacred,” and I facepalm. This is what the world thinks of me. Sigh.

The lie at the foundation of this humorous ditty is that people who believe contraception is immoral think that sex is ONLY for making babies, and that everyone ought to HAVE AS MANY BABIES AS POSSIBLE. It implies that every sperm not directed at a ripe egg is being disgraced. As if a gamete deserves the same dignity as a zygote! Certainly, it is a biological fact that sex CAN create a new human person. But sex isn’t ONLY for making babies. That would be a closed-minded proposition indeed, as sex clearly does much more than create human life. It brings people together, it expresses intimacy, it bonds and unites two human beings in an incredibly profound way. It releases all sorts of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Clearly people have sex for the orgasm at least as much as they have it for the babies. And you know what? That’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex. I’m not writing this post to suggest that sex shouldn’t be enjoyable, or that the expressed intention of every sexual act MUST be to make a baby. If this were true, then human reproduction would be like a rabbit's. Even our bodies can’t keep up with the assertion that sex MUST be ONLY for babies.

But sex still makes babies.

We humans are creative. For thousands of years we’ve been coming up with ways to get around the fact stated above. Each generation has come up with their own ways to circumvent this simple biological reality. It started with simply pulling out before ejaculation (the earliest recorded attempt to prevent conception that I know of), and has developed into a variety of medical interventions including sterilization, pills, and implanted devices. And we still use all of the old tricks, too. What do all of these things have in common? The obvious answer is that the couple using these methods doesn’t want to make a baby. While this is true, it neglects to pinpoint the actual thing wrong with their actions. It isn’t that they’re having sex, and it isn’t that they don’t want to make a baby. The thing that they’re doing wrong is that they’re messing with biology. They’re messing with sex. They’re making sex something that it’s not supposed to be: a selfish act.

But I have good news! There IS a way for a couple to have sex, and not want to make a baby, and still generously accept the gift of each other’s fertility. It works with biology instead of against it. See, a woman is only fertile for at a certain time during her cycle. By simple observation of the signs her body gives, she and her husband can know when her body is ready to make a baby. With this knowledge, they decide together whether or not to have intercourse. If they don’t want their love-making to also be baby-making, they wait a few days from when she ovulates to have sex. This does require self-control, disciplined charting of the woman’s fertility signs, and good communication between the couple. I’m not going to say that it’s easier than popping a pill once a day or having a plastic or metal thing shoved up her cervix. It might take a little more forethought than rolling a latex shield over his penis. But think about the difference between the couple who knows the woman’s body versus the couple using barriers or chemicals. One couple is saying to one another, “I know you, and I love you, and I want to share myself with you.” The other is saying, “I’ll take all of you except your fertility. You’d better have some sort of barrier between us while we’re intimate, because I need to be protected from you.”

I don’t even need to talk about sperm. I’m not concerned about sperm in and of themselves, and I laugh just as hard as you do at the assertion that “every sperm is sacred”. This is not about sperm; it’s about love. The love that inspires spouses to say “not only do I want goodness for you, I want to BE good for you, and I want YOU to be good for me.” This is the love that persuades two individuals to become one in marriage. They vow to love each other no matter what, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in wealth and poverty, for the rest of their lives. This vow goes beyond words as they lie together on their wedding night and act out in their bodies the words that they promised to one another. No barriers. No conditions. Just pure, unadulterated love.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chastity Just Isn't Natural

Ok, so I think the blog posts that start with an attention-grabbing controversial statement for a title are becoming a little cliché on the World Wide Web, but I couldn’t resist. Because I recently discovered this concept, and it’s MIND BLOWING.

Before you go freaking out that Joan has totally lost her morality, let me qualify. Chastity isn’t natural, just like getting out of bed in the morning isn’t natural and running marathons isn’t natural – it’s SUPER-natural. Chastity is a beautiful virtue that acknowledges the worth and dignity of a whole person. But it’s not something that comes instinctively to us humans, at least not in a bodily sense. We’re wired to, uh, keep the race going. (Ask Karol Wojtyla, ok!? I’m not making this stuff up.) So when you find someone that you’re attracted to, you’re going to want to do things that will ultimately lead to procreation. You’re not going to want to stop at holding hands. Or hugging. Or kissing. Because all of those little things are supposed to draw you farther in and farther up to the climax of intimacy that leads to the creation of another human being. This doesn’t seem earth shattering, I know, but believe me it is. The fact that a couple would intentionally stop this chain of reactions that starts with a light touch and ends with a baby seems almost absurd. And to the body, it is. But to the soul, before marriage it must be so.

But why!? Is it wrong to desire someone? Is it wrong to take pleasure in doing physical things with them? Is it wrong to hug and kiss and cuddle? Absolutely not. It’s good. We were made to respond to one another physically in that way. Then why is sex outside of marriage wrong, if the things that could lead up to it are not wrong, even outside of the covenant of marriage? 

These are hard questions, especially in the face of an urge as strong as sexual desire. But let me tell you, once and for all, the truth about humanity that our culture attempts to hide: we are not merely our desires and appetites. In the same way that we don’t eat everything in sight as soon as we feel our stomachs growl, we also don’t sleep around because our bodies are telling us to keep the race going. We are more than our bodies, we have minds and souls and wills, and we need to act like it. Sexual union is a big deal, because it’s not merely two bodies coming together for pleasure or reproduction. It’s two people, performing the most intimate physical act of which humans are capable. It’s not just their bodies affected by it. Hearts become united. Sexual intercourse is not merely a natural phenomenon, but also a supernatural phenomenon. Therefore, it requires a supernatural response. The only appropriate response to the gravity of the sexual union is a total, lifelong commitment. In other words, marriage. 

Here I also feel I should insert a small caveat on the dignity of each human life. Each person is so unique, unrepeatable, and sacred that even the potential to create one requires a supernatural response. The two creating this new life ought to be permanently united in marriage, because the child deserves that. Each person deserves to be nurtured in love by both mother and father. I realize that in our world, this often doesn’t happen. Many children are not raised by both their mother and father. To put it bluntly, this is a violence to the dignity of the human person. I’m not saying that sometimes it isn’t better for a child to live with just mother, or just father, or grandparents, or adoptive parents. What I am saying is something that I think each child in that situation would echo: it’s not how it’s supposed to be

Whoa, who would have thought that chastity (usually understood as merely the abstention from sexual intercourse) could be something this monumental? Everyone, even married couples, should practice chastity. What I mean is that everyone ought to subject their physical desires to the fact that they are more than just their bodies. Chastity is not merely saying “no” to your body. It means saying,  “wait, there is something greater here.” And once you can acknowledge that in yourself, that there is something great, and worthwhile, and utterly dignified about you, everything else starts to fall into place. So maybe chastity really is natural, after all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

She Don't Know She's Beautiful

My dear Men,

You’re handsome.

What did that do to you? Just reading those words, imagining a woman saying that to you, what does that do to your insides? Are you deeply moved, or hardly affected? My guess is that your response to those words would vary a lot depending on who you are and who said it to you. By my guess is also that it would not mean nearly as much to you as the words “You’re beautiful” mean to a woman.
This post is not going to be filled with advice, or a chastisement, or even a challenge. No, I just wanted to give you some insight into how powerful it is to tell a woman that she is beautiful. What you do with this information is totally up to you.

When I was a freshman in high school, a senior I barely knew wrote me a letter. He was not attracted me, and I was not attracted to him. Like I said, we barely knew each other, and the letter didn’t change that. But in this letter, he told me that I am beautiful. This is my first memory of a young man ever telling me that, and it’s stuck with me. And I have kept that letter for the past 10 years. I can remember almost every instance of a young man telling me that I am beautiful, regardless of how I felt about him or how he felt about me.  Sure, I’ve been called “pretty” and “cute” and “nice” and even “stunning” and “gorgeous” on fewer occasions, but I can’t remember those moments very clearly. They didn’t stick with me like the words “You are beautiful.” Not, “You look beautiful” but “You are beautiful.” 

There is something inherent in a woman that desires to be beautiful and to have that beauty acknowledged. Every woman, in the depths of her heart, just wants to know one thing from you: “Am I beautiful to you?” Because if she is beautiful to you, then she knows you have accepted her, and that she is safe to act. When she acts, it will be to give this beauty to you, whether she is your lover or your friend or your waitress or your nurse or just someone you pass on the street.  In this culture where human value is judged largely by what you do and not who and what you are, women are deprived of hearing the word “beautiful” as a description of themselves. Even worse, women are getting used to hearing “You’re beautiful” as a poorly disguised “I want to have sex with you.” Not only are the words lacking, but now even a woman’s receptivity to hearing them is diminished. But ability to be moved by an affirmation of beauty is still buried within the heart of every woman. And once uncovered, it can make a woman’s heart soar.

Tell a woman she’s beautiful, and for a brief moment in time, her world stops. She forgets the demands clamoring for her attention, the expectations from work and school and family and friends and society. She stops fighting for an instant, pauses and just breathes. You have essentially told her that it is good simply that she exists. And although there are parts of her that won’t believe you, and will shout out their objections that will eventually ruin the moment, she starts to wonder if what you have said is true after all. The more she hears those words, the more she starts to believe them.

 I hear the words “You’re beautiful” every day now. Far from getting used to them, I’ve found my heart responds even more strongly each time. Imagine if every woman got to hear that every day. Tell a woman she’s beautiful, and she’s going to start acting beautiful. Not strong or sexy or successful or productive or efficient or tough or any other description that has been thrown her way. She will start to be all of these things, but it will flow out of her underlying ability to be beautiful. 

A woman's heart is a fragile thing. Humans are fragile. Femininity and masculinity are even more fragile. So when I tell you that a woman’s heart is a fragile thing, I don’t mean that a man’s isn’t. I just mean that both need to be treated with the utmost care. Maybe some day I'll endeavor to explore a man's heart. But today, I just want to call your attention to what happens when you build up the feminine heart. And it starts by calling her beautiful.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Real Men Die

Years ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman I knew in college. He said to me “You know what I think the ultimate love story is? One where the guy dies for the girl.” Well, my knee jerk reaction was that I don’t find that romantic at all. They don’t get to live happily ever after or anything! But now I think I understand better.

I was talking to a particular Marine about what he calls his “death wish”. He was explaining to me how he joined the military with the full knowledge and acceptance of the fact that he may be called upon to lay down his life for his country… and he kind of likes that. For him, it was the fullest way he could think of to express love for his country, and ultimately his family and friends that live in this country. This baffled me.  You see, I also serve our country and am willing to lay my life down for her. But if I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t really want to. I would see death as a side-effect, and not the climax of my service. In my mind, I’d rather be alive to continue serving. He doesn’t care one way or the other. 

Upon further reflection, I realized there are very few things I would be willing to die for, and that my list was much shorter than this Marine’s. At first I honestly felt kind of selfish compared to him. But then I realized there was something deeper afoot. It occurred to me that perhaps we had touched on some greater reality about the difference between men and women. 

In courtship, the archetype is that the man offers flowers, candy, rides in his cool car (or truck), and meals. The woman, however, does not express her affection for him in the same way. If she has feelings for the man, she expresses them by receiving his little gifts, not in giving her own. Think about it. When did they write a love song about a girl sending a guy a dozen roses? When has it ever been “cute” or “romantic” for a girl to pay for a date? (Practical, yes. Modern, yes. Equal-and-fair, yes. But never romantic.) If a couple finds themselves in a dangerous situation, is it not typically seen that the man throws himself in front of the woman, and that the woman hides her body behind the man?  Men are wired to give, to lay down their lives, to fight and die for what they love. Women are wired to nurture, support, and receive life, which requires that she NOT die.

This all may seem very unbalanced. But I posit that it’s only unbalanced if you’re functioning from the viewpoint that mutual affection is the ultimate end of romantic relationships. If men and women had the same protective instinct, then they would run into each other trying to guard the other one from some impending danger, and they’d probably both die. So much for mutual affection.

 Why would it be more beneficial for the woman to survive? Could it be because she has the potential to bear life within her? Think about it. In the most intimate act where man and woman do what they do to become mother and father, the man gives himself and the woman receives, quite literally. It is only when the man gives his life that the woman can give her life… but not back to the man. No, she, in turn, gives her life to his child. The pattern of giving and receiving is not circular, but linear. The man does not give so that he can receive. He gives so that the woman can also give. My Marine does not wish to die for the sake of dying. He wishes to die so that the lives of those he loves can continue.

It makes perfect sense in light of the fact that man and women were designed to complement one another. We weren’t made to be the same as the other, to act the same as the other, to love the same as the other, or even to die to ourselves in the same way as the other.  Everyone dies. Real men die and real women die. The point is to help the other die well

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm Not Waiting for My Future Husband

Imagine a good steak dinner with all the trimmings. Thick, juicy, tender, with potatoes and green beans, fresh bread, and a good mug of beer. Now imagine that you’ve just completed a marathon, and you’re ready to sit down to this fantastic meal after rehydrating and showering. A delicious dinner, well-earned from a long day of pushing yourself to the max. How would that taste to you? How would it make you feel?

Now imagine that same steak dinner. Only instead of completing a marathon, you spent the day on the couch. You have gorged yourself with chips and salsa, numbed your mind with mediocre television, and the most exercise you got was in your thumbs as you flipped through channels. When you sit down to this succulent meal, how would it taste? How would it make you feel? 

It’s the same meal, but the experience would be entirely different depending on how you spent the time before the meal. This is a simple analogy, but it applies to many different scenarios in life. The bottom line is that the reward for something is much more gratifying when we've made room for it

I am a virgin. I’m keeping my heart and my body as pure as possible for marriage. Maybe you’ve heard dozens of talks and read myriad books and essays on this topic, the “I’m-saving-myself-for-a-man/woman-who-is-worthy-of-me” spiel that eventually gets nauseating. This isn’t exactly what I’m writing about. I’m writing about the glory of waiting. 

Anticipation enhances an experience. Food tastes much better when we have worked hard, allowed ourselves to feel hunger, and waited for a good meal to be prepared. There is a rhythm to it. Fasting before feasting, working before resting, waiting before receiving. We can apply this same concept to abstinence before marriage. While this is not the only reason (by a long shot) that everyone ought to wait for marriage to have sex, it's certainly a darn good incentive. To experience all that sexual intimacy should be, it has to wait for the marriage bed.

I’m not living chastely because I think I’m better than other people. I’m not saving sex for marriage for the sake of my future spouse.  I’m waiting for marriage to have intercourse because I want the best sex. I want to fully appreciate that complete gift of self to only one other person for the rest of my life. 

I admit that’s over-simplifying it. Virginity before marriage does not necessarily equal better sex within marriage. Heck, my wedding night will probably be incredibly awkward at first (I hear everyone’s first time is, no matter when it happens. This is kind of irrelevant.) But the fact that I’m waiting right now is going to help me appreciate sex for the gift it is instead of using it as a tool for pleasure. Waiting for something reminds me that it is GOOD. Sex is so often demonized in our culture because it has been corrupted by human selfishness. Keeping that kind of  intimacy exclusively within marriage is a way of building a shield around it to protect its goodness from this corruption. 

My cry to you is this: wait for marriage to have sex! Do it for yourself, for your own health and happiness. The goodness that comes from waiting will pour out into your marriage bed and into the life your spouse. In the end, though, you’re not waiting for your future spouse. You’re not waiting for good sex. You’re not waiting for the time when you finally get to stop being pure. Purity is a habit that you will have to work hard at for the rest of your life, just like marathon running is something that you have to continue training for between races. Waiting to have sex until marriage is just one way to build habits that will train your body and mind and soul to be the best person you can possibly be. And that, my friends, is worth waiting for.

Friday, May 23, 2014

500 Days You Should Avoid This Summer (and Your Entire Life)

Ever seen a movie that just gets under your skin? You kind of hate it, yet somehow you want to watch it again. I recently had the pleasure/pain of one such motion picture: 500 Days of Summer. This indy film with Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hilariously thought-provoking account of a failed “modern” relationship. It recounts how this guy Tom tries to woo and win over a new girl in his office, Summer. In a series of flashbacks and flash forwards, you learn how Summer has no interest in being anyone’s girlfriend and doesn’t believe in true love. However, she has no problem being seriously intimate with Tom, as long as they can go on saying they’re “just friends”. You can imagine the turns it takes as Tom is swept along, trying to convince Summer that love really does exist. But this film, as it asserts from the very beginning, is not a love story. I won’t bore you with details, mostly because I want you to watch the movie and be tortured like I was. Seriously, go watch it now. Then come back and hear the 500 reasons we should NOT do what Summer and Tom did. Ok, actually more like 500 divided by 100. 
1. Sex outside the commitment of marriage is lying with your body

Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it was my biggest problem with this relationship. All Tom heard was “blah, blah, blah,” when Summer asserted that she didn’t want to be in a committed relationship. The reason is obvious: she was touching him in all the right places, giving him all the right looks, and doing all the right things to make him want nothing more than to get into bed with her. Tom is not a pervert; he’s human. We were made to respond to one another physically and emotionally. When you make that physical attachment in intercourse, when it’s like the two bodies have become one, crazy emotional bonds are formed. Bonds that in emotionally healthy individuals are supposed to last a life time. I won’t go into all the chemicals at work in your brain during sex that make you attached to that individual, but believe me, it’s intense stuff. When you have sex with someone, you’re saying “I want all of you, forever.” I can’t blame Tom for hearing this message over Summer’s verbalizations that she doesn’t believe in love. After all, only 10% of communication is the words you say. Body language is a lot louder.
2. Leading someone on is not being a good friend
Sure, they were “just friends.” Tell me, do you view lying and hypocrisy as good traits in a friend? Because I sure don’t. Summer lied to Tom (see #1). She allowed him to get very attached to her, thinking that as long as she continually asserted that they were “just friends,” anything was permissible. The absolutely maddening part about this movie is watching Tom get strung along like a puppy dog, hoping somehow that things work out for this “nice guy”. It will stir up in you all of those times a guy or girl lead you on and then let you walk off a cliff. I’m actually glad they depict the woman as the one leading on in this story, because too often we pin guys as the ones who just want sexual satisfaction and don’t care about a woman’s feelings. But it can and does go both ways. And it’s the farthest thing from being a good friend. 
3. The let down is totally not worth it

The 290 days of bliss that Tom enjoyed with Summer lead to about 200 days if acute misery. At one point he’s so depressed he can’t get out of bed. When he finally does get up, he won’t leave the house except to buy alcohol and Twinkies. He sucks at his terrible job. There is nothing about his life that isn’t affected by Summer’s lead-on and let down. And he allowed it to happen to himself. That’s right. In #1 and #2, I sympathized with Tom. But it takes two to tango. Tom allowed Summer to break his heart by ignoring all the red flags of an unhealthy relationship. And he wasted 500 days of his life over it. Sure, he learned some valuable lessons; we all do when we hit rock bottom. But rock bottom sucks. Have some respect for yourself, don’t allow yourself to be lead on, and you’ll probably still become an architect. Or whatever it is you want to be.
4. It shouldn't take a bad relationship to make you follow your dreams

We learn early on that Tom wants to be an architect, but he’s settled for a job designing greeting cards instead of buildings. Tom’s rebound after his disastrous relationship with Summer is not another woman, but architecture. He finally decides to set and pursue goals, since his dream of true love was shattered. I am SO GLAD that Tom finally takes initiative in his life. However, it’s pretty appalling that it took Summer’s rejection to get him off of his rear end. I cannot even begin to tell you how important it is to have dreams and goals and to pursue them. We can’t look to other people for motivation to live passionately. We were made to be fully alive! Laziness and complacency rules Tom’s life. Don’t be that guy. 
5. Everyone deserves better than that 

This is the takeaway from 500 Days of Summer: true love really does exist, and you deserve it. Often we’re so hungry for love that we’re ready to settle for a lie. Don’t do it! Love grounded in truth is out there, and we need to patiently look for it instead of frantically grabbing for anything we can get. Human beings are such beautiful, wonderful creatures. Every person is infinitely fascinating and unique. Something with that kind of dignity deserves authentic love. It’s much harder to lie to yourself or to the other person when you’re thinking about their dignity. So walk into relationships with your eyes wide open, and truly appreciate the treasure in front of you. 
So as much as this movie made me feel angry and vindictive, it also made me think. It contained some incredibly honest points about relationships that most people don’t want to face. I think that’s why it made me so uncomfortable. But we need to talk about these things, because there are a whole lot of lies floating around out there, and we need to call them as we see them. I’d recommend anyone above the age of 16 watch this movie, and then challenge them to live differently because of it.