I'm Catholic and I don't feel like having sex with my boyfriend is wrong.
Emily Joy replies:I'm a Catholic. I have had sex with my boyfriend and intend to keep doing so. The problem that arises here is my beliefs. I was supposed to have waited until marriage and now that I haven't the 'punishment' is that I'm not permitted to receive the Body of Christ during Mass because I have committed a grievous sin in Christian beliefs. The only way to absolve the sin is to confess through absolute repentance for it but that's the dilemma. I don't feel guilty about having done it! I love him and I'm certain he loves me, and surely Christ would not condemn something borne out of love when that is the key message promoted in the New Testament. I'm sorry if this is too religious for this forum but I am quite worried, because I do believe in my faith; just not this rule of it.
Thank you for writing in with your question; I completely identify with the anxiety of searching for acceptance from your faith community when your life choices are at odds with religious dogma. It’s a hard place to be in.
I want to say two things unequivocally that I think can both be held in balance with one another:
- Religious dogma and the precepts of any faith can and should be questioned and held up to scrutiny, and
- You can absolutely be a person of faith and be sexually active outside the context of a monogamous legal marriage between a cishet man and a cishet woman.
It sounds like your faith community, like a lot of churches, operates out of purity culture, which states that the only acceptable expression of sexuality is a man and a woman in a legal marriage relationship with only each other for life.
That’s a common teaching. Unfortunately, that teaching is often adopted as a universalized rule that has to apply to everyone regardless of their individual wants, needs, experiences and beliefs. When faith traditions and communities do this, it fosters objectively unhealthy sexual and relational dynamics and causes people to operate in relationships out of places of shame and guilt rather than consent and enthusiasm. Kudos to you for not playing that game! That you’re willing to critique that aspect of your faith and make choices that are healthy for you, regardless of what a religious teaching says, speaks volumes about you.
That being said, as a person with a degree in Christian theology, let me also quote you the most important words that the gospel writers record Jesus as saying about premarital sex:
(In other words, nothing. As far as we know, Jesus said absolutely nothing about premarital sex.)
The reality is that the Christian tradition is a lot less clear about sex and sexual ethics than most people make it out to be. Even though relatively speaking the Bible doesn't say much on this topic, there are a lot of Christian writers, thinkers and theologians who have said a lot more. If you want to do some research about sex-positive Christian sexual ethics that will help you educate yourself and others as you have these conversations with people in your family and faith community, you can start with books like A Lily Among the Thorns and Liberating Sexuality by Miguel A. De La Torre, Good Christian Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan, and Damaged Goods by Dianna Anderson.
Now, the hard part is that even if you read all the books, educate yourself and have positive conversations with individuals in your life, it’s unlikely that you’re going to formally change the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
Church is a really important part of many people’s lives (mine too!), and I think that everybody who wants to go to church deserves to be a part of one that affirms them in who they are and allows them full access to all of the things that can make faith communities so wonderful. Obviously, the Eucharist is a very big part of that for you, and if you really can’t take it while also continuing to make your own sexual choices, would that be a deal-breaker? I think it’s a question worth asking yourself.
You can definitely be a sexually active person of faith, but not every faith community will be right for you. The website ChurchClarity.org doesn’t deal with premarital sex specifically, but is a great resource for finding churches in your area that are affirming of LGBTQ persons as well as women in ministry leadership, which is a good place to start. This may be less about absolving and more about resolving… by perhaps choosing a faith community and framework that better supports your faith and your loving relationships like the one you're in now. And when things get tough, I think that's an important thing to remind yourself of: you're making the choices you're making out of love, for yourself and for your boyfriend. That's all you can ask of yourself and of others, and at the end of the day, you absolutely shouldn't feel guilty for that.
Sometimes those of us who were raised in purity culture got pressured into making abstinence pledges or accepting purity rings when we were young, and then as we get older, even after we’ve left those beliefs behind, it can be hard to shake the feeling that we’re disappointing our family or our friends or our church or even former versions of ourselves. But you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, and I’m sure your childhood self would be extremely proud of who you are today.
Lastly, I just want to reiterate that the only thing you -- any of us -- are “supposed” to do is make safe, healthy, consensual sexual choices that make sense for you and for others.
Is the sex you are having emotionally and physically safe? Are you and your partner(s) openly and honestly communicating with each other about your feelings, needs and wants? Are you able to seek medical care when you need it? Are your experiences pleasurable and beneficial for you and your partner? If so, then you’re doing everything you’re “supposed” to be doing. If not, those are good things for everyone -- whatever their spiritual beliefs or religion -- to work onto have the best shot at happy, healthy and satisfying sexual lives.