The Language Of Sex


The Language Of Sex

I just made an interesting discovery.

I was going through my old Catholic Match columns, trying to remember what I’ve written about in the past so I could figure out what to write about in the future. And I found a little bit of unfinished business.

Apparently, a few years back, I started to write a series of articles on, well, Sex and the Single Catholic. I wrote one overview article on the need for more discussion on chastity among dating adult Catholics (as opposed to dating teenaged Catholics), and then I wrote one about the meaning of marital sexual union. And then my condo was burglarized, my laptops were stolen, I wrote about that, I wrote about something else and the whole chastity discussion kind of fell by the wayside.

This strikes me as a good time to revive that discussion, for many reasons. First, of course, it’s important. Most discussion on chastity is aimed at teenagers and features such adult-relevant themes as “obey your parents’ rules about curfew.” Single adults have very different issues, but are often still very much interested in guidance on the subject of chastity.

Second, I’ve noticed something here in the land of Catholic Match. Whenever I write a column that isn’t about sex, the article gets a smattering of comments. But when I write about anything related to sexual morality, all you-know-what breaks loose on the comments page. People agree. People disagree. People call me names. Impassioned arguments spring up, people get mad.

I kinda miss that. Okay, so I could probably do without the name-calling part, but I do like the idea that I’m striking a nerve.

Third, I recently ran across some interesting information related to this topic that I’d like to share.

I really don’t want to regurgitate three year old columns, so you may want to go back and check out “Chastity for All Ages.” In that article, I talked about how God created sex to speak a very specific language – the language of self donation, of “I give myself to you forever.” Sex speaks the language of marriage.

Part of that language, and the subject I’d like to pick up today, is found in the way God designed our hormones. I wrote about how, during sexual activity, the brain releases large amounts of a powerful hormone called oxytocin.

I’ve known about oxytocin for years, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching its effects. I knew that it causes forgetfulness and a decreased ability to think rationally, and that it causes a strong emotional attachment to form between the two people involved. Oxytocin has been called the “superglue of the heart.”

What I didn’t know, and I just recently discovered, is that oxytocin also causes a person to experience strong feelings of trust in his or her partner. Trust. It doesn’t matter if the person involved is actually trustworthy, or whether or not they have done anything to earn that trust. The feelings just show up.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see how all of this could be problematic in dating?

The general purpose of dating, as I understand it, is supposed to be to figure out a) if you want to get married, and b) if so, to whom. Basically, it’s interviewing for the job of spouse. Since that’s a pretty important decision, it seems to me that one would need, above all, to have a clear mind throughout the process. You need to see the other person honestly and objectively – as he or she really is.

Sex in a dating relationship is going to seriously compromise that process. Sexual activity, as we saw above, causes people to be forgetful, decreases their ability to think rationally, and forms a bond and feelings of trust between them. How objective will they be after all of that?

Have you ever looked at a couple and thought “Why does she stay with him when he treats her so badly?” Or “Why does he trust her when she’s so obviously playing him?” Or, worse yet, have you ever seen one of those 20/20 shows where they profile the wealthy woman who was scammed by the charming con man?

That’s oxytocin at work.

The breakup of a sexual relationship can be devastatingly painful. God intended this bond to be permanent, to speak the language of “I give myself to you, forever.” It binds two people whom He has joined together ‘til death do they part. It was never intended for temporary or conditional relationships. And when those relationships end, it’s the emotional equivalent of divorce. The superglue of the heart tears apart, and it’s never a clean tear. Pieces of her heart stay with him, and vice versa. And, over time, all of this bonding and breaking creates a certain level of emotional “scar tissue” that makes it more difficult for couples to bond within marriage.

This doesn’t just affect teenagers. It applies to all of us. When somebody comes to me, crying, after I’ve given a talk on chastity, it’s always about this. There is enormous pain out there – not only among singles of all ages, but also among the married who are still struggling with their pre-marital experiences. I suspect there is more than a little experience with this – and more than a little pain – across the membership of Catholic Match. I will tell you what I tell the others – that there is always hope and healing in Christ.

One of the main reasons I fell in love with the Church’s message on chastity all those years ago was the freedom that it offered. Freedom to live our dating lives without this kind of pain. Freedom to determine what God is calling us to in life, and freedom to respond. Freedom to get out of relationships that aren’t working out, and freedom to find the right one – no matter how long that might take.

And the more I learn, the truer that is. God’s way is the best way.




  1. Autumn-336544 April 8, 2009 Reply

    But it would be devastating to get married only to find out you are not sexually compatible or that the other person had serious sexual hang ups.

  2. Sarah-370894 April 10, 2009 Reply

    Hi Mary Beth, I actually heard you speak way back when I was in high school! I was very impressed by what you said and it has had a huge impact on me. I am a grad student in psychology and I have to say that I could not agree more with your stand on premarital sex. Even if we take religion out of the discussion (which I think is necessary because a lot of non Christian people could benefit from this logic), sex is a union that really strong. I have so many friends who choose to have sex with their boy/girlfriend and then end up breaking up later. The pain they suffer is really intense. I think that in order to get to know another person- even a person that you are already in love with- it is crucial to be objective and spend your time together talking and interacting without sex in the mix. The marraiges that were built on passionate premarrital sex are the ones that do not last through the hard times. Throwing God back into the mix I am so grateful for everyone of His rules because the more I think about them the more I see that they are there to protect us from ourselves and make us ultimately more happy and fulfilled in life. I know how hard it is to wait until marriage, premarital sex as a norm has so permiated our society that we are not able to see clearly any more. But God's grace is enough for us to fight all temptation. I really hope that those who read your articles and hear you speak will see that what society is telling us about sex is truly evil and will not lead us to happiness in this life or the next. The Chruch's view of sexuallity is beautiful and though difficult to follow in today's society, it will lead us to joy in this life and the next.

  3. Patra-410296 November 25, 2009 Reply

    Excellent article!!! More than shedding a light on the areas of doubts I had, you clarified a lot of questions and strenghtened my standpoint. Thank you, Mary Beth!

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