Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lectio: Holy Sex

{recommended reading}

photo source
One of the most convenient things about being engaged, I pretty quickly found out, was having a few other friends who were engaged whom I could bounce around ideas and share my discoveries with.  I'll be forever thankful to my friend Kristin for introducing me to Dr. Gregory Popcak, a Catholic sex and marriage therapist whose books specialize in building an intimate, lasting marriage.  His book Holy Sex, she told me, was a great resource for not just learning the theology of marriage and the basic moral guidelines surrounding Natural Family Planning, but a way to actually apply them in real life.

Kristin was right.  Reading this book was like having someone explain to me, in an honest, unafraid way, what all of the beautiful teachings on marriage that I loved so much and had read so much about really looked like in the day to day.  Popcak spends the first part of this book breaking down what Holy Sex is, in his view, and in light of the Theology of the Body, and how it opens up a couple to receive as many graces from their sacrament as possible.  He also makes the super interesting point that sex isn't a single, separate part of a husband and wife's relationship, but a microcosm of their relationship as a whole.  For instance, if they have difficulty communicating in the bedroom, he points out, it's likely that the problem isn't the couple's sexual relationship, but a deeper communication issue within their marriage.

The second part of this book gets real about living out NFP and expressing sexual love in the fullest, purest way, in a voice that's sensitive without sparing technical details.  I've heard criticisms of Popcak here and there, saying that he's too frank and not reverent enough, but I'd actually argue that this kind of honest talk, by someone faithful and well-formed, is just what the doctor ordered.  We're all aware of how saturated the culture is in sexuality, and in my opinion, the frankness of the culture should be met in an appropriate, corresponding way, not a way that tiptoes.  The Church has such beauty and richness in its teaching on sexuality, one that certainly isn't prudish and doesn't tiptoe, and I think wisdom like Popcak's is a needed response to what the world has to offer.  Additionally, it's not uncommon for engaged Catholic couples to be unfamiliar with some of these more delicate matters, and the way I figure, if there's a more noble and more holistic view, like this one, that offers insight into these things, then it's one less thing these couples need to turn to things like Cosmo for.

I have to admit, there were times where I rolled my eyes at this book, thinking that Popcak's corny jokes and acronyms are like listening to your out of touch uncle, but on the whole, I can't recommend it enough.  One of its biggest strengths, aside from its honesty and the reverence with which the Church's teaching is presented, I think, is the fact that it can bring peace to scrupulous hearts (I wrote more about scrupulosity in sexual matters here) through Q+A chapters and discussions of specific acts, allowing newlyweds to enter into marriage with complete joy and peace, not with fear.  St. Augustine said, "peace is a tranquility that comes from right order."  Amen.

Have any of you read this?  Tell me your take!


  1. A couple of our married friends have recommended this book to us, and we've been wondering whether it would be appropriate and helpful to read it now, during our engagement, or whether it would be better to wait until we're married. Sounds like you'd recommend it now? Or parts of it?

    1. Good question; I didn't think of that! I second Kristin on holding off on some of the nitty gritty chapters. We read the book in its entirety while engaged, and at times it did make chastity a LOT harder because of how strong the imagery can be. Looking back, it probably would've been more prudent to stick to the first part of the book at the time.

  2. Hi :-) I'm the Kristin. I might wait on p. 190-264 til marriage, but rest is great for now :)

  3. I haven't read this yet, but I love his More2Life Podcast with his wife, Lisa! I plan to read their book, Parenting with Grace soon! I agree with you that an honest, frank approach is much needed, especially in today's world!

  4. Love that you are promoting this topic. Hope you are feeling well and everything is going well in your pregnancy!!

  5. Stephanie, my husband and I stumbled across this book when we were engaged and really loved it! I think it is a helpful book for Catholics thinking about marriage or already are married. We did read parts of the book after we married and got back from our honeymoon, so we wouldn't be tempted to put "theory into practice" ;)
    Two thumbs up from me!

  6. I recently got a copy of this book and have been reading it.

    I HIGHLY recommend it.

    Dr. Popcak is a psychologist. He is not a theologian or a Church historian. If you are looking for a deep theological book, this isn't it. (A lot of the criticism tries to make the book something it's not.) Instead, this book is a practical, direct, funny, and frank guide for couples, which is desperately needed in the Catholic world.

    We've been married nearly 11 years, so there wasn't that much that was new for us. Still, I wish I had received this book when I got married instead of the useless "advice" books some of K's well-meaning relatives got us. We learned a lot of this stuff the "hard way", and many long-married couples will find it as valuable as newlyweds.

    My only criticism is his chapter on when NFP is too hard. To a hammer, every problem is a nail and to a psychologist like Popcak, every problem with NFP is a relational or psychological one. Yet some couples do have health or medical issues that make NFP unusually difficult due to long periods of abstinence or ambiguous signs of fertility. A couple who is struggling with a medical issue may find NFP to straining in even a very strong and healthy relationship. This chapter may have a couple worrying about for relational problems that aren't there instead of seeking to fix the medical problems.



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