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Posts Tagged ‘Sex’

Crowning_in_Syro-Malabar_Nasrani_Wedding_by_Mar_Gregory_KarotemprelIn part one, I talked about hermits and celibates, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

[Hermits] manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ.

(CCC 921 — italics mine)

(…)

Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, (. . .) are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” By this solemn rite (Consecratio virginum), the virgin is “constituted . . . a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come.

(CCC 923 — italics mine)

If you’ve read part one (and I encourage you to do so), you may have noticed that I’ve changed my use of italics slightly.

In addressing the question of why the Church only recognizes the validity of sex within the bonds of the marital union, I want to draw attention to the nuptial character of Catholic spirituality. (more…)

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La Belle Dame sans MerciINTERLOCUTOR: Catholics are puritanical in their attitude toward sex.

ME: No we’re not.

INTERLOCUTOR: Prove it.

ME: Okay. (more…)

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Episode 6 scene 15

Episode 6 scene 15

For parts one and two, click here

If you love Game of Thrones, chances are you love Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).  But let’s face it: His popularity doesn’t do much to foster a healthy sense of morality in our society.

Take Tyrion, a whoring, cussing, imbibing, lustful dwarf who is at the same time charming and compassionate, and put him against the background of a bunch of  lying, scheming, murdering, brutal scoundrels (his own father, Tywin Lannister, among them), and people will naturally prefer Tyrion.  Not only that, his sins will seem excusable, minor, or even non-existent by comparison.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage  Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)  Peter Dinklage, 'The Wars To Come', (Season 5, ep. 01)  Game of Thrones - 2015

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)
Peter Dinklage, ‘The Wars To Come’, (Season 5, ep. 01)
Game of Thrones – 2015

Okay…there’s a lot we can say about Tyrion.  He is witty.  He is charming.  He has a gentler heart by far than 99% of the show’s many characters.  But he is, for a good portion of the show, a man of lust.

It would be useful, however, to ask why he seeks happiness in sex with sundry women.  Is it simply shameless self-indulgence, or is there something else going on here?

Tyrion-Bronn-ShaeThink back to season one, episode nine — specifically, the scene in which Tyrion drinks and swaps stories with the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the prostitute Shae (Sibel Kikilli).  In the course of their interactions, Tyrion reveals that he was married at age 16 to a woman with whom, in the naivete of youth, he had fallen in love (or so he thought).  But not long after, he learned that it was all a setup.  The woman was a hired prostitute. Tyrion’s father even forced him to watch as Lannister guardsmen had sex with her.

LannistersAnd this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Eventually, we learn that Tyrion’s mother died giving birth to him; for that reason, and because he was a stunted dwarf from birth, he has incurred the lifelong ire of his family (with the exception of his brother, Jaime).  His own father flatly tells him that he wanted to throw him into the sea as a baby, but spared his life only…

(. . .) because you’re a Lannister.

Evil does not subsist in itself.  Evil is to good what the cavity is to the tooth.  It’s existence is entirely parasitic.  Therefore, every form of evil depends on a particular form of good, and every sin  is a misdirected desire for something good.

Tyrion_ShaeSo what good is Tyrion looking for, consciously or unconsciously?  I think it’s safe to say he is looking for love.  Except he’s not going about it the right way, because no one has ever shown him how.

He finally finds love during a brief and secret romance with Shae, which he is forced to end in order to protect the latter’s life.  Unaware of Tyrion’s motives and deeply hurt, Shae turns against him.  During a trial (presided over by none other than Tywin Lannister) in which Tyrion is charged with a crime he didn’t commit, she stands witness against him.  Later, when Tyrion breaks out of his prison cell on the eve of his scheduled execution, he discovers that she is sleeping with his father.

And he kills her.  Hardly the act of a genuine lover, but no doubt he had experienced something with her that, of all of his experiences, most closely approximated the “real thing.”

Tyrion in VolantisOkay — fast forward a bit: Tyrion has fled to the vast eastern continent of Essos and ended up at a brothel in the city of Volantis.  He approaches an attractive young prostitute, strikes up a conversation, gains her interest, and is about to go with her to a secluded room.

But at just that moment, he is surprised to discover that he can’t do it.  He does not appear to be upset about it — it is simply a new fact of life for him.

What can we make of this, precisely?  In order to explore the possibilities suggested by this question, I turn once more to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

John_Paul_II_1980_cropped

In the address titled “Dominion over the Other in the Interpersonal Relation,” the late Holy Father expressed a profound insight that I will try my best to summarize.

In forfeiting their relationship with God, our first parents also seriously compromised their relationship with one another.  No longer could they enjoy that same deep, intense, personal, self-giving union that they enjoyed in Eden, because sin has introduced the element of selfishness into their relations.  Hence we have the phenomenon of lust, which is “insatiable” because the genuine goal of human sexuality by nature eludes it.  Seeking pleasure in the indulgence of sexual appetite for its own sake, as Tyrion does for most of his adult life, is much like seeking relief from an itch by constantly scratching at it: It provides momentary relief from — one might even substitute the word “forgetfulness of” — the problem, but does nothing to solve it; in fact, it only makes the problem worse.

Tyrion on trial I think it’s safe to say that Tyrion has finally realized this.  The experience of true love has shed light on a void within him that he now realizes cannot possibly be filled by random sex.

Sorry, but I was wrong again.  I’ll need four posts rather than three.  We’ll cover Dany next time.

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Top image of Tyrion and image of Pope John Paul II from wikipedia — full citations:

1. “Tyrion Lannister-Peter Dinklage” by Uploaded by TAnthony. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg#/media/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg

2. “John Paul II 1980 cropped” by Fels_Papst.JPG: Nikolaus von Nathusiusderivative work: JJ Georges – This file was derived from: Fels Papst.JPG:. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG#/media/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Jaime-Cersei-jaime-lannister-23339624-1226-816

Just for the heck of it, I’ll be both unoriginal and narcissistic and start by quoting myself (the following is from part one of this series):

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, (. . .) has nothing like [Game of Thrones‘] candid material.  But leaving that aside for the moment, let us note another key difference between the two: Tolkien drew his inspiration primarily from myth; George R.R. Martin, author of the novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, draws his inspiration primarily from history.

You may be thinking, “There you go.  Martin’s work is realistic; Tolkien — along with all you other religious crackpots — have your heads stuck in an airy-fairy world where everything is just the way you think it should be.”

As you may have guessed, I look at the distinction a little bit differently.  In order for this discussion to be fruitful, we must broaden our understanding of the term “myth”:

M. Eliade discovers in myth the structure of the reality that is inaccessible to rational and empirical investigation. Myth transforms the event into a category, and makes us capable of perceiving the transcendental reality

(. . .)

According to P. Tillich myth is a symbol, constituted by the elements of reality to present the absolute and the transcendence of being, to which the religious act tends.

H. Schlier emphasizes that the myth does not know historical facts and has no need of them, inasmuch as it describes man’s cosmic destiny, which is always identical.

(Pope John Paul II, from the notes on his address titled “The Second Account of Creation: The Subjective Definition of Man”)

So what does this have to do with sex?  Quite simply, it tells us that there is meaning in sex.  And this meaning is older than and prior to history.

Bundespräsident empfängt Papst Johannes Paul II.

It is primarily in light of Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” that I want to treat this matter.  The late Holy Father contributed to the treasury of the Catholic Church’s teaching much wisdom and insight into the nature of human sexuality, noting that sex is not only something people do, but is in fact fundamental to the definition of the human person…

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2

…which brings us right back to the beginning, to the story of Adam and Eve (see Genesis 2) — which, as John Paul II said, tells us about man’s “theological pre-history.”  We should not get too caught up in the details of this story; what we are meant to gather from it is humankind in its original perfection, made in the image and likeness of the God who is love.  Man and woman, in their physical, psychological, and spiritual complementarity, image the Trinitarian God in total self-gift, expressed in a special way through their bodies.

And there we have the original, primordial, and always valid meaning of sex and sexuality.

Original Sin

But then comes the Fall.  Adam and Eve defy the Divine command and lose Eden.  With that, they cross the threshold into history — into the drama of sin and salvation.  “History” envelops all aspects of human life, and sexuality is so fundamental that it is impossible for it not to be included.

Game-Of-Thrones-Couples-image-game-of-thrones-couples-36783350-599-400The problem with Game of Thrones is not that it is honest about the place of sex in human life.  The problem is that it confines it to the vicissitudes of history — which, in this area as in many others, does not change all that much.  With regard to sex as well as other matters, the series seems to espouse a “that’s-just-the-way-it-is” philosophy, without any reference to transcendent standards or to the inherent dignity of the human person.

The Lord of the Rings, meanwhile, has almost no reference either to sex or to romance (except for a treatment of the Aragorn-Arwen romance in one of the appendices).  And no, this is not because sex and romance are evil or unimportant.  But sexuality itself, fundamental as it is, points beyond itself to a Higher Love, to which people’s hearts may be drawn by a wide variety of experiences (see my first post on the movie Frozen for more on this).  For that, myth tends to do the job better than history.

In order to flesh this out, I’d like to apply the Theology of the Body to two of Game of Thrones‘ most beloved characters: Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.  Stay tuned.

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Acknowledgements

Game of Thrones images obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia — full citations: 

  1. By Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F059404-0019 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38478464

2. “Albrecht Dürer – Adam and Eve (Prado) 2″ by Albrecht Dürer – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg#/media/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg

3. “Michelangelo Sündenfall” by Michelangelo Buonarroti – http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Fotos/Eva2.jpgTransferred from de.wikipedia to Commons by Roberta F. using CommonsHelper., 9 September 2007 (original upload date), Original uploader was Nitramtrebla at de.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

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Christian-AnastasiaI can think of no better way to start than by quoting the hypothetical question with which I ended the previous post, “Why ‘Grey’ is Not Okay

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Not at all.  The informed consent of two mature adults makes a difference most of the time, but there are some things that even consent cannot justify.

First of all, the kind of behavior connected with BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism) sex is harmful to both partners.  The dominant partner reduces himself to a brute, while the passive partner — if she consents willingly — reduces herself to the dignity of a toy (actually, less than that, as most would agree that using a toy to gratify one’s sexual appetites is inappropriate and disturbing).  We must therefore conclude that there is a mutual injustice here, because the passive partner does the dominant partner an injustice by enabling him to degrade himself as well as her.

So consent, rather than making a positive difference, actually makes things worse.

Grandma Kiss“Sri Lankan woman and child” by Steve Evans from India and USA – Sri Lanka. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg#/media/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg

Let us consider for a moment the paradox of the human person: We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.  We are made and called to make a gift of ourselves to others.  This makes total sense.  We are an interdependent species.  We need each other, and therefore each one of us is needed.

But making a gift of ourselves to others demands that we take proper care of ourselves, and that we do our best to preserve our own proper dignity.  If we fail to care for ourselves physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, then realistically what do we have to give our fellow human beings?  So no one may in good  conscience submit to BDSM sex, because each person owes the protection of personal dignity not only to him/herself, but to others as well.

3D“The National Archives UK – WORK 25-208” by The National Archives UK – Flickr: The Fifties in 3D. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg#/media/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg

The very same  consideration must occupy our minds in the discernment of whether it is a good idea to expose ourselves to such material.  We must consider whether making ourselves spectators of this spectacle wherein human beings become degraded specimens does not significantly harm our own personal dignity as well.

And with that, let us put “Grey” to bed…though without the ball and chain.

Movie still obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover“Fifty Shades Darker book cover” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg#/media/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg

I hate to sound like a Puritan.  Believe me, I despise Puritanical negativity as much as the next person.  But there comes a time when one must either call a spade a spade, or cease to speak altogether.

Okay, okay — so let’s start by summarizing the main point of the first post, “Is ‘Grey’ Okay?”  Throughout E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy there is a vague hope of sweet Anastasia “Ana” Steele saving Christian Grey from the sordid world of BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism), but in reality it is he who drags her into his dark world.

Christian and AnaI should, however, modify that conclusion with the admission that Christian and Ana do, in fact, get married by the end of the series.  By the end of the third book, “Fifty Shades Freed,” they have a two-year-old son and a daughter on the way.

The problem is the material itself.  One can get the impression that even granting a BDSM relationship to be a questionable thing, it can lead to a truly intimate and healthy relationship.  I don’t want to make this post too long, so I will just hope that the dubiousness of this premise is obvious to the reader and leave it at that.

But beyond that, let’s be honest about something: The “torture porn” element of the books — and of the film based on the first book — is clearly the selling point.  It is so embedded in the narrative that it cannot be otherwise.  Many readers and viewers are much attracted to this element, seeing in it nothing worse than the proverbial guilty pleasure.

And that’s what troubles me so deeply.

Let me step back a moment.  Why is pornography a problem in the first place?  The problem with pornography — whether involving people having sex or individuals posing naked and in erotic poses — is that it shows too much of the person, right?

Wrong.

As Pope John Paul II once said, the problem with pornography is that it shows too little of the person.  It reduces him/her to the least common denominator, and it renders him/her a spectacle for the pleasure of viewers.

Think about it a moment.  A woman depicted in a pornographic image has no story, no personality, nothing to say, and no purpose other than to stimulate sexual feelings.  She is robbed of her human dignity — in fact, as far as the spectator is concerned, such dignity was never there to begin with.  In other words, for all intents and purposes, there is no person behind the image.

Romeo_and_juliet_brown“Romeo and juliet brown” by Ford Madox Brown – http://www.whataboutclients.com/archives/2009/07/_ford_madox_bro_1.html , museum link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg#/media/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg

This is not to disparage sexual attraction, by any means.  Sexual attraction is in itself not only good, but fundamental to the identity of human beings.  But its purpose has nothing to do with what one can get out of one’s sexual partner.  It’s purpose, rather, is self-gift.  That is why the sexual act is meant to be reserved for marriage, for the lifelong and exclusive commitment between a man and woman in genuine love for one another.

Seen in the proper light, sex is far from evil or “dirty.”  On the contrary, sex is sacred.  It is perhaps the holiest encounter two people can have with one another in the natural course of human life.  And so when it is wrested out of its proper context, trivialized, and made a spectacle of, it is almost a sort of sacrilege.

Fifty Shades BDSMI would not say that the BDSM style of sex one sees/reads about in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the logical extreme of sex gone wrong (that, of course, would be rape); but it does come close.  Again, remember the contract: Ana is to be an object of use; Christian is to have his enjoyment of her, which enjoyment is going to involve the infliction of pain.

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Next time.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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50ShadesofGreyCoverArt“50ShadesofGreyCoverArt” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg#/media/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg

I am not in the habit of commenting on movies I haven’t seen, nor on books I haven’t read.  But the buzz that the recent film adaptation of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” has generated compels me to make an exception.

The massive commercial success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy and of the film based on the first book, the “Fifty Shades”-themes menus at popular dining establishments, and the fact that even children’s toys are clothed with Christian Grey attire speak to the fact that the time has long passed since “Fifty Shades” was merely a story.  If it ever was so, it has long since become a phenomenon.

Okay — so I haven’t seen the movie or read the books.  I have, however, read the synopses online, so I can offer some very basic commentary based on what I know of the overall story.  I will begin by reflecting on some of the positive aspects, before proceeding to offer what I consider to be some much-needed criticism. fifty-shades-of-grey-dakota-johnson1College senior Anastasia Steele (portrayed by Dakota Johnson in the film) meets wunderkind business tycoon Christian Grey during what can best be described as an accidental journalism assignment.  In short order, she is drawn into his dark and shady (no pun intended) world of BDSM (short for bondage/discipline and sadomasochism).  Eventually, he has her sign a contract to the effect that their relationship will not entail romance or commitment; she is to be an object for his pleasure, and nothing more.

All that said, literary person that I am, I’d like to play the same “name game” that I played in my commentary on “Frozen.”  If you think I’m reading too much into it, all I can do is ask you to bear with me. fifty-shades-clip2The name “Anastasia” means “resurrection.”  As such, it is an appropriate name for the sweet, beautiful, innocent young virgin who comes into the life of this seductive and dominating tycoon (played by Jamie Dornan in the film) with twisted fetishes.  I think what many of the women who read James’ novels admire in Anastasia’s character is the desire to “save” him — to draw him out of the dark underworld he has built for himself and for his lovers, and back into the light.  Indeed, she does seem to hold onto hope that he will eventually relent in his determination to keep their relationship out of the realm of genuine affection.

If Anastasia’s name is interesting, her nickname is even more so.  Many women with the name Anastasia go by Stacy for short, but James decided to shorten her protagonist’s appellation differently: Ana.  That name means “grace” — which, among other things, can refer to unmerited favor aimed at another person’s betterment.  Surely this should remind us of the aforementioned point. But it is even more interesting when we meet Christian’s mother, whose name is…wait for it… Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-17-Marcia-Gay-HardenGrace.

So Ana shares with Christian’s mother the same name, but couched within “resurrection.”  It is as if she hopes to do what Christians mother was, for whatever reason, unable to do.

And that brings us to how Christian got into this lifestyle to begin with.  When he was fifteen years old, he was seduced by a woman named Elena Lincoln.  Unbeknownst to Christian’s parents, Elena drew him headfirst into the realm of BDSM sex — only she was the dominant partner in this case.

This is very telling.  At a young and relatively vulnerable age, Christian had a sexual experience in the form of being dominated.  We could perhaps infer that his sordid activities as an adult bespeak a subconscious quest to regain and reassert his compromised masculinity. helen of troy“Helen Moreau” by Gustave Moreau – World Gallery; see also Maguire, Helen of Troy, 41. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg#/media/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg

Back to the “name game” a moment: Elena is a variant of Helena or Helen, which immediately brings to mind Helen of Troy, the proverbial “face that launched a thousand ships” during the Trojan War.  The name itself means “light,” but it is clearly a false light in the cases of both Helen of Troy and Elena Lincoln — a light that distracts and leads to ruin, as opposed to one that enlightens and leads to life.  So Christian’s dark sexual escapades are bookended by two women: Elena — false light — and Anastasia or Ana – resurrection and grace.

But there is a problem: Rather than being Christian’s salvation, Ana becomes another one of his conquests.  Rather than him being rescued, she is corrupted.  This gives us our segue into my more “negative” comments on the story’s subject matter.

Next time.

Top image from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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