How to Bring the Virgin Mary Into Your (Sex) Life


A new book of prayers for married couples, published by a British Catholic group, includes a pre-intercourse prayer:

Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts. Place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes.

Open our hearts to you, to each other and to the goodness of your will. Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations, for your glory, forever and ever. Mary, our mother, intercede for us. Amen.

There’s a lot to laugh at, as Ed Brayton points out in his parsing of the prayer. But his final joke gets at something serious:

The Catholics have done enough for sex by A) making it dirty and naughty, and B) giving us the schoolgirl costume. God bless ‘em.

This prayer might actually be an attempt to make sex "less dirty and naughty," or, at least, an attempt by the Church to relate to sex in a more positive way. The prayer is only intended for married couples, of course (though I doubt it is meant to include certain married couples in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa), and the Catholic Church has always sanctioned married love—including married sex—even if they don’t always make a point of discussing it. But this prayer is notably forward; a British Bishop calls its inclusion “brave but good.”

The prayer reminds me of the debate in other Christian faiths over the way sex should be talked about. Margaret Talbot’s important New Yorker piece from last November, “Red Sex, Blue Sex,” considered the argument, by a (precious) few in the Evangelical community, that if the church is serious about the sacredness of married love, it should encourage its faithful to think about sex in a healthier way, even if sex is, for the time being, off limits:

The savvy young Christian writer Lauren Winner, in her book “Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity,” writes, “Rather than spending our unmarried years stewarding and disciplining our desires, we have become ashamed of them. We persuade ourselves that the desires themselves are horrible. This can have real consequences if we do get married.” Teenagers and single adults are “told over and over not to have sex, but no one ever encourages” them “to be bodily or sensual in some appropriate way”—getting to know and appreciate what their bodies can do through sports, especially for girls, or even thinking sensually about something like food . . .“the church ought to cultivate ways of teaching Christians to live in their bodies well—so that unmarried folks can still be bodily people, even though they’re not having sex, and so that married people can give themselves to sex freely.”

Can a religion be sex-positive if it limits sex to married, heterosexual couples? I don’t think so. But trying to untangle sex from shame is a good step for Evangelicals or Catholics to take. The pre-sex prayer may or may not do that. What do you think? Is the prayer a silly red herring? Or is it a step toward greater sexual awareness?

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  • derekp

    It’s interesting that on "progressive blogs" when someone writes about sparking up their sex life with esoteric techniques like "pile-driver" or "Swedish pump" or with consensual BDSM or role play it is admired under the veneer of "tolerance", "non-judgment", and the understanding that we should respect the right of consenting adults to pleasure themselves however they wish.


    And yet, when religious people want to simply ask the omnipotent God to help them overcome awkwardness, mis-communication, or the toll gravity, age, and childbearing can take on their sex life so they can express a love that burns passionately regardless of whether it’s been 50 days or 50 years since they first said "I do," it is met with ridicule and derision.


    If you’re going to tolerate and withhold judgment for whatever the non-church or GLBT communities consensually do on their knees, then why does one more innocuous activity on bent knees invite such scorn? Unless (as I suspect) this is more about a grudge against the Church then a "positive-sex" mentality.

  • paul-bradford

    Today, as some of you might know, is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mother — that is, Mary’s birthday.  I bring that up, partially because I’ve been thinking about her birthday all day but also because the prayer you’ve been laughing at contains a request for Mary’s intercession.

     

    The Church teaches that Mary was conceived ‘without sin’ and celebrates that fact in her teaching about the Immaculate Conception.  That immaculate conception refers to the sexual act between her parents.  The act of intercourse between two mortal human beings is the source of great holiness.  How does that grab you?

     

    The Church teaches us to be pro-body and pro-sex.  Why shouldn’t we pray before having intercourse?  Prayer is about celebration and gratitude.  Name something you can celebrate more wholeheartedly than your sexual capacity.  Name something you’re more grateful for.

     

    Explain what’s so funny about treating the body — the source of sensual joy — with reverence?  Maybe you can’t imagine that God, our Our Lady, approves of the hot and sweaty reality of sexual contact.  If you can’t, you’re taking a really limited view of God. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    Thanks, Derek, for pointing this out.  Sex is a physical, mental, psychological, inter-personal, emotional and spiritual activity.  Some people want to take the trouble to acknowledge all the dimensions of sex.  That sounds pretty ‘pro-sex’ to me!

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • colleen

    I read a lot of progressive blogs, Derek and not once have I come across a discussion like that. Occasionally we mix it up on issues like prostitution or AOC laws but I’ve never read a discussion like the one you describe. Indeed I tend to avoid the sex blogs and websites entirely and never confuse them with political blogs as you appear to have done.
    Do you spend a great deal of time fantasizing about the sex lives of ‘progressives’?

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • colleen

    Sex is a physical, mental, psychological, inter-personal, emotional and spiritual activity.

    You think that’s what Derek was trying to convey in his ‘nice’ comment?

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • cmarie

    Reality check should just be honest and rename themselves the Know Nothings. How they manage to find something to be offended about in a prayer that doesn’t even mention sex is beyond me. Derek, I’d also like to thank you for your comment. You may think certain things don’t need to be said because they’re so obvious, but its amazing what isn’t obvious to the authors of this site. To preach non stop about respecting privacy then getting all worked up about a harmless prayer is beyond hypocrisy. According to colleen and “Dr. Herd” say a few words and you are no different from the Taliban. Its sad, but that’s the logic we’re trying to argue with.

  • derekp

    Do you spend a great deal of time fantasizing about the sex lives of ‘progressives’?

     

    Not nearly as much time as they spend fantasizing about me.  But with this witty charm and awesome bod, who can blame them?

  • colleen

    According to colleen and “Dr. Herd” say a few words and you are no different from the Taliban. Its sad, but that’s the logic we’re trying to argue with.

    What are you talking about, cmarie? I don’t care if you folks want to pray to the Virgin Mary before having sex. It’s a funny image and, IMHO, a genuinely absurd expression of pseudo spirituality but I didn’t even care enough to comment on it. Nor did I write the essay, Kathleen Reeves did. I was simply pointing out to Derek that he was confusing ‘progressive’ blogs with sites he visits on a regular basis but have nothing to do with politics. I was also pointing out that he was confusing his rather unattractive fantasy life and characteristic homophobia with, well, reality. Do all Catholics sit around and compare the purity of their sex lives with their fantasies of what the ‘ungodly’ and members of the GLBT community engage in?

    As for my sig line, I started appending it to my posts after you folks murdered George Tiller because he saved the lives of women (and raped little girls) by performing medically necessary late term abortions. I keep it because I’m amused by the rather strident responses to the truth of Warren Hern’s social analysis.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • cmarie

    Obviously this doesn’t deserve a response; just wanted to quickly point out the following quote from above: “You folks murdered George Tiller”