RELIGION

Love And Sex Advice From The Pope

Not bad for a celibate holy man

RELIGION
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Apr 09, 2016 at 9:54 AM ET

Pope Francis has some surprisingly insightful tips on relationships and the “erotic dimension of love” for a man who is married only to Jesus.

On Friday, Francis released a much-anticipated 256-page document that explained the Vatican’s views on homosexuality (gay marriage is wrong, but so is discrimination), divorce and family life. But the fittingly titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “the Joy of Love,” focused largely on how to have a healthy, meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Here are some of His Holiness’ best tips for a sustainable marriage filled with love and lovemaking.

Tinder is bad. Meaningful, committed relationships are good.

I think, for example, of the speed with which people move from one affective relationship to another. They believe, along the lines of social networks, that love can be connected or disconnected at the whim of the consumer, and the relationship quickly “blocked.” … We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye. Narcissism makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs. Yet sooner or later, those who use others end up being used themselves, manipulated and discarded by that same mind-set.

Marriage is a gift. So is sex. Don’t refuse the gift of sex.

Marriage is “a gift” from the Lord (1 Cor 7:7). … This divine gift includes sexuality: “Do not refuse one another” (1 Cor 7:5).

But make sure that “gift” is consensual.

Sexual union, lovingly experienced and sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path of growth in the life of grace for the couple. It is the “nuptial mystery.” The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent, in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely. Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity.

Because dominating and raping your spouse is bad.

We also know that, within marriage itself, sex can become a source of suffering and manipulation. Hence it must be clearly reaffirmed that “a conjugal act imposed on one’s spouse without regard to his or her condition, or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife”… Every form of sexual submission must be clearly rejected. This includes all improper interpretations of the passage in the Letter to the Ephesians where Paul tells women to “be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22).

Talk about your feelings and desire.

[A] love lacking either pleasure or passion is insufficient to symbolize the union of the human heart with God… Why then should we not pause to speak of feelings and sexuality in marriage?

Eroticism isn’t evil.

A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder, and for that very reason can humanize the impulses. In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses.

Give and receive. 

We need to remember that authentic love also needs to be able to receive the other, to accept one’s own vulnerability and needs, and to welcome with sincere and joyful gratitude the physical expressions of love found in a caress, an embrace, a kiss and sexual union.

Sexual desire fades.

Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed. While one of the spouses may no longer experience an intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging and the knowledge that neither of them is alone but has a “partner” with whom everything in life is shared.

That’s why the first five years are the most important.

When love is merely physical attraction or a vague affection, spouses become particularly vulnerable once this affection wanes or physical attraction diminishes. Given the frequency with which this happens, it is all the more essential that couples be helped during the first years of their married life to enrich and deepen their conscious and free decision to have, hold and love one another for life.

Create a routine, like one that includes a morning kiss and an “evening blessing” (sex?).

Young married couples should be encouraged to develop a routine that gives a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals. These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events. We need these moments of cherishing God’s gifts and renewing our zest for life. As long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle our love, to free it from monotony and to colour our daily routine with hope.

Renegotiate your partnership and figure out your own special arrangement.

As love matures, it also learns to “negotiate”…. At each new stage of married life, there is a need to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that there will be no winners and losers, but rather two winners. In the home, decisions cannot be made unilaterally, since each spouse shares responsibility for the family; yet each home is unique and each marriage will find an arrangement that works best.

Crises can be good for a marriage.

The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union.