hrkach_ellen_gableIn a perfect world, lust would be non-existent; women wouldn’t get used for the sake of men’s pleasure and men wouldn’t be lured by women to solve despair. All women would honor their husbands and all husbands would love their wives as Christ loves the Church.  No one would have abortions, indulge in pre-marital sex, commit adultery, use contraception.

Obviously, we don’t live in a perfect world.  We live in a society of misused free will and disordered passions, a world where many people embrace their fallen human nature.  However, this is also the world in which we try to prepare our children as they grow older and become young adults.  While we can shelter our kids from the perversities of our secular culture while they’re young, there will come a time when it will be necessary to give some account for the sexual attitudes so prevalent in our society.

This became fully evident to us several summers ago.  We were away from home and traveling on an unfamiliar road and one of our sons, then about 14, brought attention to the fact that we were passing an "Adult Entertainment Center."  On the board outside, it advertised, "Private booths, XXX movies" (and a few other choice services which I will not list...)

"Mom," he said, "what’s that place all about?"  As I turned to look at it, I cringed.  My husband groaned.  His brothers turned and stared.   I took a deep breath and said, "Dad and I will explain that to you later.  For the time being, please turn your heads away from that building."  Of course, the two foot high bold black lettering on the building's signs did its best to drag their attention back.

Later on, when the younger boys were asleep, we discussed with our teenagers how the world views sex and how it is so much different than how God views it.  We had already explained to the older boys that sex was meant to be the renewal of a couple’s marriage commitment -- to unify a married couple and to bring forth children.  What we still needed to discuss was that secular society sees sex as something for fun and pleasure, period.  It sees lust as a good thing, not as disordered love.  Many in society view pregnancy/children as a sickness which needs to be fixed with contraception/abortion and not as a wonderful, eternal gift from God.

A few summers ago, there was a survey done by the University of Texas at Austin and reported by most the major news channels and newspapers.   It asked thousands of American college students why they had sex.  1549 undergraduate students, 503 men, 1049 women, took part in the survey.  Of those, 73% of women and 68% of men reported having sexual intercourse. To have babies was not listed in the top ten reasons (although this could be because the majority of those surveyed were not married).  The top three reasons?  1) "I was attracted to the person," 2) "I wanted to experience the physical pleasure" 3) "it feels good."  On the women’s list, "I wanted to express my love for the person," was number 5.  Under the 50 "most infrequent reasons to have sex" in the male category, listed at number 45 was "I wanted to have a child."

(Why Humans have Sex, July 2007, University of Texas at Austin)

So it’s not surprising that secular society fails to encourage the notion of waiting until marriage to have sex.  Unfortunately, even many Christians and Catholics are influenced by what they see in the media and, these days especially, on the Internet.  Some young people are poorly catechized and don’t fully understand that having premarital sex and using contraception are serious sins.   Generally speaking, many young adults don’t understand that sex is holy, meant to be a renewal of the couple’s marriage vows.

Our current society’s permissive attitude towards sex is not a new thing.  In 2007, my husband and I traveled to Europe.  One of the cities we visited was Pompeii.  It was fascinating to walk through the ancient city which had been destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and has been excavated over the past 200 years.  Our tour included a stop at the well-preserved brothel, a dark, small building.  Each of the tiny chambers had a stone slab of a bed and a window.  On the outside walls of each room were graphic paintings of the particular specialty of each girl.  People laughed and joked but I found the whole experience sad.  These girls had been slaves, forced to be prostitutes.    As we were leaving the main area, my attention was drawn to the vendors’ tables, where there were beautiful lava stone statues of Our Lady and Jesus.  I was shocked to find that immediately next to these statues were pornographic items, graphic statues and pictures, paintings and even key chains and postcards which all carried pornographic images.  "This is wrong," I blurted out to the vendor.  His response, in English was, "People buy these, I sell them."

"Well, can’t you put these behind a sheet or something?  They’re offensive," I said.

"No," the vendor replied.  "I sell too many to hide them."

"How can you sell these obscene images, especially right next to sacred images?"  He shrugged and smiled, then walked away from me.

Of course, there is probably no more appropriate place to talk about modern sexual attitudes than to take a trip to the beach.  We always prepare our sons for the fact that most of the girls will be wearing very little clothing.  We pray that our sons will, through grace, be able to love and respect these young women and to not allow lust to surface (even if, through ignorance, most of these young women do not respect their own bodies by wearing suits that are so revealing.)   Christopher West includes a prayer in his book, "Theology of the Body for Beginners," which we have encouraged our teenagers to pray every day.  It begins, "Lord, help me to discern the movements of my heart.  Help me to distinguish between the great riches of sexuality as you created it to be and the distortions of lust..." (See page 52 of TOTB for Beginners for the entire prayer.)

The influence of secular society on our views of sexuality is overwhelming.  It takes a lot of work to bring up children who are innocent and who embrace the Theology of the Body and God’s beautiful design for marriage.  Daily prayer and, at minimum, weekly Mass is essential.  Parents need God’s help so that we can be good examples to our children and live a pure, godly life in a secular world which views sex as merely fun and pleasurable.   Being open with our children and having "adult" conversations with them as teenagers can help prepare them for our secular world.

Copyright 2010 Ellen Gable Hrkach