On a scale of one to ten, with one being the guy who checks the box because his great grandma dragged him to Mass every Sunday until he was eleven and ten being a nun, I am a relatively devoted Catholic, landing at about a six. To define more clearly, I go to church every Sunday and confession at least twice a year. I’ve never blatantly sinned, only to declare that all was well the next day, because I asked for forgiveness with no intention of changing my ways. I try not to say God’s name in vain. I pray and give thanks. I aim to be honest and good. I’m not perfect, but I don’t knowingly break Catholic teachings… or I didn’t, until now.
Jake and I are having sex. I’ve told you that, without too much detail. It wasn’t a slip up and I didn’t get caught up in the moment. I didn’t change some kind of vow I’d made, because my feelings surprised me. No. In fact, I made a conscious decision, long before I met Jake, that I wasn’t going to wait until I was married to have sex: a mortal sin, that requires absolution from a priest, through confession, for one to be considered in communion with the Catholic Church and receive the Eucharist.
All you non-Catholics are either scratching your heads or rolling your eyes, but as Christ granted the apostles the ability to absolve mortal sins, so goes the way of the Catholic Church with priests. Furthermore, despite all the jokes to the contrary, if the confessor does not genuinely intend to avoid further sin, true absolution cannot be received. That’s the deal for Catholics. It’s non-negotiable and this is my faith.
Having been divorced young, I’ve heard a dozen stories about why others’ marriages ended and a sad number of them directly related to sex. A high school friend’s ex-husband had a general, but whopping porn addiction; another acquaintance waited until she was married to have sex, only to find out her new husband wasn’t interested in the slightest; Gaily’s ex-husband was just into really weird stuff; in addition to numerous other issues, even my own former marriage suffered from my ex-husband’s complete lack of interest, because sex is exercise. Of course, a healthy marriage goes far beyond the physical, and each of the above had other severe issues, but there are so many variables that can make or break that relationship, that I just couldn’t bring myself to promise not to explore any and all that I could before making a lifelong commitment, again.
At 23 years old, I sat crying in a judge’s office and I did make a vow. I vowed that the next time, I’d make an educated decision on my partner and over time, I came to decide that this included sex. I’d often read an online dating profile that elaborated (usually far too much) on sexual preference. One man declared himself a dominant, while others revealed that they’d like to act out rape fantasies, and most would simply admit to their appetites and how often they’d like to engage. I consider myself pretty open-minded sexually. There’s not a lot that I think Jake would suggest, that I wouldn’t try. However, if his suggestion was that we only have sex, missionary style, twice a month, I’d object. I’m young and healthy and have the sexual appetite and sense of adventure to match. I don’t want to be with someone who feels guilty at trying new things or lacks interest in that connection. I also don’t want to be with someone who can’t enjoy it without props and gimmicks. I just want to be with someone sexually normal and I’ve known for some time that I could never discover what that meant to either of us, while clothed.
In a lot of ways, the decision has come down to with which sin I could most comfortably live. My previous marriage was never acknowledged by the Catholic Church, but my next one most certainly will be. I won’t get off so easy if I find myself divorced again, because unless you receive an annulment, you are still married. Any relationship pursued, beyond this point, is adultery, so getting a divorce (and living as such) despite the Church’s teachings, is a mortal sin… and one I can never rectify. With Jake, I can once again be in communion with the Catholic Church on the day our marriage is blessed, typically one year after having a non-Catholic wedding. That may be a couple of years away, but if we waited until marriage to have sex, only to realize that some element of our sex lives would lead to divorce, I’d be out of the Church’s graces for good. I know there are a dozen other factors that could lead to divorce, but we’ve explored those as well. Jake knows my financial views and priorities and I know his. We’ve discussed parenting styles and religion. Why wouldn’t we explore a fundamental aspect of marriage, like sex, as thoroughly as we could?
I’m rationalizing. I know I am, just as I rationalize using birth control, because I’m already breaking one cardinal rule and can’t imagine being pregnant and feeling so alone again. According to the Church, my priest, my fellow practicing Catholics, my reasons don’t matter. I don’t know better than God and I am truly remorseful for the weakness and pride behind my decision. I am not criticizing the Church. I love the Catholic Church and I understand and agree with their rules, even this one. God does not negotiate. I just can’t bring myself to risk the pain I felt, sitting in that judge’s office. It far outweighed the pain I feel sitting in the pew, as everyone else partakes in Communion… and I’m sorry for that, as well.