Holy Sex! Part 4--Problems?

We come now to the last section of Holy Sex!, which consists of a series of short chapters that attempt to address problems that might crop up along the path to Infallible Loving.  By definition, this section is a mixed bag, and I have already addressed the most substantive chapter that deals with objections to NFP.  So, I'm just going to hit the chapters that stand out.

Chapter 16 is about female sexual dysfunction.  I am pleased to see that he identifies "poor technique" as potential cause #1 of why a woman can't orgasm, and he advocates manual stimulation of the clitoris as a potential (at least partial) solution.  He also suggests that excessive negativity one's upbringing around sex can be a cause, which is also constructive.  But then he drifts into "guilt about past promiscuity" as a possible cause, which is problematic.  While Popcak is sticking to the story that "eroticism" leads to massive psychological wounds around sex, my experience is that people who are deeply wounded by past sexual behavior (barring cases of rape or other abuse, which Popcak properly considers to be a separate category) are really wounded by the derivative effect of shame-based attitudes toward sex.  So, cause #3 is really a variation on cause #2, but Popcak can't say that because he has to carry the torch for how terrible eroticism is.

He also sounds the alarm on the dangers of vibrators (which he charmingly refers to as "marital aids").  They can be OK as a supplement to intercourse, Popcak says, but be careful to ensure that the vibrator is not a "substitute" for real intimacy with your partner.  In other words, it's the cliched male fear that she will prefer the vibrator over you.  I will confess that I find this anti-vibrator complex to be one of the more bewildering parts of the male psyche--I just don't get it.  Look, there is no part of my body that can move at thousands of rpms--it's just not physically possible.  On the other hand, I can cook pretty well, and make witty conversation.  Most women see that kind of stuff as a worthwhile trade for reduced horsepower, and if a woman chooses the rpms over the personal elements, well, there is not much I can do about that.  Get over yourselves, guys.  

Chapter 18, entitled "Overcoming Infertility" should be subtitled "Don't Use IVF."  He begins with the assertion that using IVF means that you believe you entitled to a child, and thus the resulting child is your slave.  As the kids say, "what is this I don't even..."  That strikes me as a shitty thing to accuse parents of, regardless of what you think of the methods under which they became parents.  He also accuses the IVF industry of fudging the success rates and basically scamming people out of their money.  He also touts the Paul VI Institute that provides Church-approved fertility assistance that is way better than IVF, according to Popcak.  I know nothing about IVF so I can't really evaluate these claims, but this entire chapter reads like a propaganda piece.  I am very skeptical of Popcak on this one.

Chapter 21 deals with masturbation, and Popcak deploys an evocative image to describe how bad it is--the obsession with the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings.  His credibility with regard to this analogy, however, is blown out the window when he refers to the character who obsesses over the One Ring as Golem.  The Golem is a man-made giant animated statute from Jewish folklore, seen most famously in the stories of the Golem of Prague that defended Prague's Jewish community from anti-Semitic attacks.  Tolkien's character, the one who talks about the One Ring as "My Precious," is Gollum.  In addition, Popcak argues that Gollum is a proper analogy because Gollum is obsessed with himself in the same way that people who masturbate are self-absorbed (at least, in Popcak's view).  Of course, readers or viewers of the Lord of the Rings know that Gollum is obsessed with the One Ring (not with himself) because it contains the power of Sauron and attempts to corrupt the holder of the ring to Sauron's will.  So, I suppose you could analogize Gollum's situation to addiction generally (with Sauron standing in for the addictive force or quality), but there is nothing self-absorbed about Gollum's situation.  This analogy is a Fail on every level, and the 13 year-old D&D nerd living inside me is deeply saddened by this whole discussion.

Beyond his terrible analogy, the basic concept of the chapter is that, if you masturbate, you will almost inevitably slide into sex/pornography addiction (among other terrible outcomes).  First off, it is not clear that there is such a thing as sex addiction, which is probably something Popcak should have mentioned.  More importantly, we are once again in parade of horribles-land.  If it were true that masturbation inevitably leads to compulsive behavior, you would expect a double-peaked curve of masturbation frequency--a large segment of folks on both the "no masturbation" and "masturbate all the time" parts of the curve, and a few transitional folks in between.  Yet when we look at actual sexual behavior, we get a fairly normal bell curve.  Now, I will say that I have some trouble believing some of these numbers--I think they are low (18.5% of men 18-24 have not masturbated in the last year?).  But there certainly is no double-peaked curve.  Like almost everything else, some people masturbate very frequently, some folks every once-in-a-while, and some folks almost never.  Surely some folks have an unhealthy relationship to pornography, but it doesn't follow that this is an argument against masturbation per se.  Otherwise, no one should be drinking alcohol or using opiod pain killers.

Finally, Chapter 22 explores when you should get outside counseling.  Of course, Popcak insists that you only pursue counselors with the proper, Catholic-approved attitudes toward sex, lest they encourage you to engage in eroticism.  But how will you find such counselors?  Through Dr. Popcak's Pastoral Solutions Institute, of course!  As NBA analyst Jalen Rose says, keep getting them checks, Dr. Greg.

So, Holy Sex! ends with a bit of a whimper.  I'll have some final thoughts in the last post.


Anonymous said…
I read your entire post over Holy Sex and find that your opinions are more based off your experience and preconceived notions than facts. The conversation about what sex inside of marriage should be like is greatly needed in our society. You tend to take a relativistic point of view and your arguments against Dr. Popcak and other TOB advocates. It appears to be more of an article where you are trying to justify your positions at any cost and without truth as your primary objective. The problems in our society (Western Society) are largely derived from the Sexual Revolution and henceforth Dr. Popcak's book and others like it are a necessary solution to our society (families) that are falling apart. To justify and defend your positions I ask you whether or not to status quo is truly working for our society. A society that has gone down the path predicted in Humanae Vitae. I ask that you prayerfully ask God if your positions are more a part of the problem or the solution for creating a better society. And the answer that we should let everyone live and let live however they want is not a sufficient answer. It is a response that fails to address any problems and truly state that the status quo is great (when any semi-realistic person knows that is not true).
Michael Boyle said…
You assert, as "facts," that things are objectively worse now than they were in the past with regard to families and sexual relationships. I simply disagree. There are elements that are better and their are elements that are worse. To say that everything has gone to hell in a handbasket, as "predicted in Humanae Vitae," is to ignore the dark underside of relationships in the "good old days"--abuse, exploitation, misogyny.

The Status Quo is what it is--it works imperfectly, and is capable of improvement. Just like any time in history.

Your narrative, and the narrative of Dr. Popcak, is based on an idealized, fantasy version of the past.

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