This one contains adult themes. Some of you might be uncomfortable reading it. Reader discretion is advised. Much of the content was inspired by Dr. Ana Bridges and her presentation on pornography which can be viewed here.
It is a difficult time to live Jesus’ teachings on marriage and sexuality, including monogamy. Even though many have not committed adultery with their body, we know from Jesus’ teachings that even if we look at another person with lust we commit adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28). What a difficult teaching to live!
Being in a Catholic marriage requires you to be monogamous in body, mind, and heart, and being monogamous requires you to be a good lover. While this definitely includes the bedroom, I’m mostly speaking about being a good lover outside of the bedroom. You must be good at loving outside of the bedroom to live marriage the way that God intends.
Let me explain using an episode of Seinfeld as a jumping off point. In the episode titled, “The Apology,” Jerry’s girlfriend, Melissa, begins walking around the apartment completely naked (please don’t use the fact that I’m using this as an example as an excuse to cohabit). At first, Jerry loves the frequent nudity, but then Melissa starts to do some things that Jerry would prefer not to see. The comedic high point of these activities was when she awkwardly crouched down to open a jar with a very stubborn lid. Jerry’s face contorts in disgust and he begins to refer to this as “bad naked.”
Jerry tries to teach her about “bad naked” by walking around his apartment naked as well, making his first appearance while carrying a heavy belt sander. Melissa is not happy about it. She even tells him, “That’s not good naked.” Unfortunately for Jerry, she could not get the image of Jerry’s “bad naked” out of her mind and, as is the case in every episode of Seinfeld, the relationship between Jerry and his girlfriend ends.
This is obviously a humorous and relatively shallow take on what is actually a very real challenge to married life. To live marriage authentically, which is monogamous by definition, a couple must overcome an awful lot of “bad naked,” and I’m not talking about only bodily nudity. As a married person, you’ve seen your spouse at their worst. You’ve seen (or will see) their body decline a bit over time. You’ve also seen them sick. You’ve fought with them over stupid things. You’ve also fought with them about important things. They’ve said things to you and done things to you that hurt deeply, and have made you angry and sad.
And according to what God has revealed to us about the nature of marriage, this is the only person in the world that you can share marital intimacy with. This is why monogamy – both of body and of heart - requires you to be a good lover. This is why remaining faithful in body and mind requires spouses to constantly deepen their love over time. You have to know your spouse so well that you can see past their imperfections and still see a beautiful person. In order to remain monogamous – both in body and in heart – you must be able to courageously forgive. All of this requires us to love like God loves.
The type of love that God reveals is far from easy and there are no shortcuts, and yet we find that people are increasingly prone to attempt shortcuts in their marriage, especially when it comes to sexual activity. These shortcuts involve swinging (open relationships) as well as pornography and masturbation. The problem with all of these shortcuts is that they do not require the courageous, sacrificial love that our hearts desire. They do not make us better lovers. In fact, they rob us of our ability to love and make us selfish and weak.
If what I said about “bad naked” above has any truth in it, it is understandable that a man or woman might enjoy looking at pornography and masturbating more than they enjoy having sex with their spouse. It is understandable that it might be easier for a person to become aroused at an image of a porn star rather than their spouse. The reason is that they’ve never seen a porn star’s full humanity. They haven’t seen the porn star’s “bad naked.” They’ve only seen that person when they are made up and at their most desirable, and that doesn’t require any of the virtues required for real love.
Everything I said of pornography can be applied even more so to swinging. I can understand why it might be easier to have relations with a person you are not married to for the exact same reason that it is likely easier to view pornography. You’re blissfully unaware of many of that person’s imperfections and you have much less, if anything, to forgive that person for. Similarly, they have never seen your imperfections to the degree that your spouse has and might actually be more attracted to you than your spouse is. That is understandably a thrilling experience.
Swinging is exciting because you get an evening away from your spouse and their humanity and in exchange everyone gets an evening of easy sex. But this doesn’t require any real love. It might stave off some conflict and frustration in a marriage temporarily, but it isn’t going to heal the source of those conflicts and frustration. They are just going to fester and grow worse, like an infection. Only real love can heal these wounds, and real love requires forgiveness and the ability to accept a person in their imperfections. In marriage, this requires monogamy.
There are no shortcuts to real love. As stated above, the problem with all of these shortcuts (pornography and masturbation and swinging) is that they do not require the courageous, sacrificial, patient love we all desire. These shortcuts do not make us better lovers. They rob us of our ability to love and make us selfish and weak. If you are engaging in any of these shortcuts, I want to encourage you to get the help you need to stop. It isn’t worth it. There is something so much better than this that God wants for you.
True love requires so much. Marriage requires so much. It is not possible to do it on your own, but nobody is asking you to. God has already loved you and your spouse the way that you are called to love. He looks past your imperfections and sees somebody beautiful and worth loving and he has forgiven you and your spouse of your sins. His love for your spouse can be poured into your heart, and it is only when his love begins to operate within you that you can live the demands of marriage and sexuality in our world.