Art Imitates Life (Plus Some Religion)
Being cheap—and, at the moment, broke—I don’t have television service. That’s no cable, no satellite. The only things I really miss watching are the local sports teams, but I can get those on the radio. Still, it’s nice to watch a movie or program occasionally, and for that reason I compromised and sprung for an $8/month subscription to Hulu.
The nice thing about Hulu is that it isn’t just a site where you can stream, at your convenience, programs other people watch on television. It has its own original programming as well, some of which is quite good. I’m currently watching a Hulu original series called Casual, about a woman in the process of getting a divorce who temporarily moves, with her teenaged daughter, into her brother’s house. The story follows the three of them as they navigate the various relationships (I use the term loosely) arising from each character’s pursuit of casual sex. What’s interesting is that for three people who are getting the no-strings-attached sex they actively seek, they are remarkably miserable
All of which has me thinking about Catholic teaching on sexuality, something about which I’m preparing to lead discussion as part of an adult faith formation program I coordinate at my church. Even people with absolutely no connection to the Catholic church know that its teachings prohibit pre-marital, extra-marital, or same-sex sex. (Yeah, I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to say that last one in a less redundant way but came up empty. Sorry.)
The teaching goes basically like this: the purpose of sexuality is that it be shared between two people who are joined in marriage, for the purposes of uniting them to one another and producing children. As someone who has had sex and given birth without being married, I often questioned why the marriage part was a requirement.
More recently, I have come to some understanding of that teaching, from two perspectives: practical and emotional. My pregnancy was the result of a relationship that wasn’t in any way serious or committed. I ended up raising my child alone, a difficult task materially speaking. On the other hand, when I had sex for love (with someone different), it was indeed unifying. But that relationship ended, and in three decades I still haven’t gotten over it. I wonder if it would have been easier to move on if we had never shared those sexual experiences that seemed to cement the emotional connection between us. For the record, I also had a wild phase when I sought sex for fun, but it wasn’t remotely fulfilling and didn’t make me feel very good about myself. I don’t do that any more.
Maybe that’s the wisdom of Catholic teaching. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, sex is profoundly different from other human interactions. For people who don’t take it seriously, like the characters in Casual, it can be unsatisfying at best and hurtful at worst.