Holy Sex!--Part 3.3 Getting Down to Business, Part II

Chapter 12 is about foreplay.  Most everyone acknowledges that foreplay is good, and this chapter is no exception.  Popcak makes the interesting but seemingly effective choice to break foreplay down into the various senses.  So, for example, under seeing he discusses things like wearing lingerie, under smell he suggests to use scented candles, etc.  There is nothing revolutionary or earthshaking here, but the suggestions are solid and reasonable.

He also provides an unambiguous defense of oral sex.  Some might be puzzled as to why oral sex needs defending, but the traditional position of the Church opposed oral sex--hence the reason it was traditionally grouped with anal sex under the heading of "sodomy."  So, Popcak is stepping out a bit on a limb here, and he deserves his kudos for that.  He also makes clear that oral sex goes both ways, subject only to the One Rule.  Good on him for recognizing the needs of the ladies in this realm.

I could see how his constant use of religious imagery to justify foreplay could come off as a bit jarring.  For example, he defends wearing lingerie on the basis that, since priests wear vestments for Mass, wearing special clothing for sex is OK as well.  The direct parallels between the church and the bedroom can be off-putting, but I think it is a product of his continuity idea from the previous chapter--everything about sex should reflect your attitude toward the rest of your life.  If your life is focused on God and the Catholic Church, then your sex life should be about God and the Catholic Church.  I've mentioned my hesitations about the absolute application of continuity before, so there is no need to repeat them, but Popcak's approach here is consistent with his approach to everything else.

In addition, I think a key goal of the chapter is to try to convince couples that are not sure it's morally OK to engage in this behaviors to go ahead.  By linking everything to examples in the Church, I think he is providing cover for couples who aren't sure they can "go there."  It makes sense, and so I am willing to give Popcak the benefit of the doubt here.  It may not be the way I think of foreplay, but I could see how it would be helpful for some in his audience.

In truth, there is not much to say about this chapter, other than it is the best chapter of the book so far.

Chapter 13, where he gets down to talking about intercourse, also has some good stuff.  Here Popcak describes, in rather specific detail, various sexual positions, why you might want to use those positions, etc.  Again, nothing earth-shaking, but solid and useful, especially for folks with a limited knowledge-base.  He even endorses consulting other sex manuals, though he cautions to avoid books with photographs of couples having (or simulating) sex, as he considers them to be pornography.  I am not an expert in this area, but I suspect that his limitation reduces the universe of available sex manuals to a null set, but you have to credit Popcak for encouraging more openness to other sources of information.

He also drops a completely necessary, yet unsettling, footnote.  Evidently, Christopher West, the #1 Theology of the Body advocate in America, endorses anal sex (I presume he means penetration of the woman by the man).  Popcak points out, correctly, that the One Rule makes this an extremely risky undertaking--having condom-less anal sex and then immediately putting the penis in the woman's vagina is an excellent way to give her a extremely unpleasant infection.  Good on Popcak for pointing this out, but it makes you wonder about the quality of medical knowledge on the part of the other Theology of the Body types.  Yikes.

The main concern I have with this chapter is his discussion of "harmonization" of orgasm, and my concern is primarily that I am not sure exactly what he means by this.  He begins by pointing out that men and women have very different "schedules" for orgasm, as the vast majority of women take far longer to orgasm than men.  He cites to Pope John Paul II for the idea that men have a duty to please their female partners, and that men need to learn how to slow down their arousal in order to please their partners.  In other words--guys, you can't just get yours and then call it a night.  This is good and necessary advice, and if that is all Popcak means by "harmonization," then I have no problems.

The problem is that Popcak seems to suggest (though he doesn't come out and say it), that the end point of "harmonization" is for the couple to orgasm simultaneously.  As an experiment, I conducted an informal survey of friends of both genders, and the reaction to attempts at simultaneous orgasm was uniformly negative.  Some people endorsed the "ballpark" idea--as long as the parties are having orgasms in the same general time-frame (and, as a practical matter, the woman is orgasming first if the couple is having intercourse), then it isn't necessary to try to hit the precise mark.  Others found that to be more trouble than it was worth, and advocated the couple "trade-off" working on the other's orgasm.  Only one person ever had a true simultaneous orgasm, and she characterized it as a product of "dumb luck" as opposed to a pre-planned goal.  Everyone pretty much said that trying to exactly match their orgasms would be more a negative to good sex--the couple would have to spend so much energy and mental effort that it would take the fun out of sex.

I suppose I can see why simultaneous orgasm would have a certain romantic appeal, particularly if you are focused on "mutuality" in sex.  But, again, we come back to the distinction between macro and micro levels of analysis.  If, over the course of a particular sexual encounter, both partners achieve orgasm, then it seems to me (and, it seems most people) that the encounter was mutual, even if at one point it was "her time" to orgasm and at a different point it was "his time."  But if you insist on looking at everything in a piece-by-piece way, that kind of give-and-take doesn't work.  Everything has to be mutual at every specific point in time.  Even orgasms.  That's just not realistic.

With those caveats, Popcak delivers on his promise to provide reliable information on how to have good sex.  There is nothing remotely ground-breaking in these suggestions, and any promise of "toe curling" sex is clearly grounded in the elevated spiritual Popcak asserts a couple will achieve, as opposed to any secret sexual techniques.  Still, this is a good chapter, especially for people that are hesitant to experiment sexually.  For those people, Popcak tries to help them let go a bit and join in the fun.


Frank said…
"For example, he defends wearing lingerie on the basis that, since priests where vestments for Mass, wearing special clothing for sex is OK as well."

That is a very, very problematic comparison. I commend you for your evenhanded, mature treatment of these chapters. I would have cracked a dozen jokes.
Michael Boyle said…
Yeah, I would never talk about sex in the manner he does, and I certainly would never consider lingerie to be a "vestment." All of this, I think, is a product of his continuity idea--everything must be explicitly religious all the time.

Which perhaps goes to show why continuity is a bad idea.

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