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Sex and Guilt

by John Wijngaards

Because of hang-overs in our Christian past, there are many good Christians who constantly feel guilty about their experiences with sex. Our purpose with this page is to set the record straight and to give advice.

Why do many suffer exaggerated sexual guilt?

The main reason is misguided indoctrination.

The Church has been flooded with many harmful opinions in the past. These views influenced moral handbooks, as well as the teaching of the catechism and the pastoral practice of confessors.

Under influence of St. Augustine, all sex even that in legitimate wedlock was considered tainted by sin. Sexual desires were seen as a trace of original sin. All sexual feelings were ‘dirty’ and often considered sinful. In the Catholic Church this Augustinian hostility to sex was revived by Jansenism.
The return to personal Bible reading among the reformers led to extreme literal interpretations. Socially it culminated in 19th-century Puritanism.
The traditional Catholic Moral Handbooks used in seminaries, schools and parishes reflected extreme and negative views on sexuality which are not accepted by most Catholic scholars today, but which still exercise their after-effect.

What is sinful and what is allowed in sex?

1. The traditional view, still held by the Congregation for Doctrine in Rome, judges the morality of sex by its main purpose of producing offspring. Any sex that is not open to procreation is consequently condemned as ‘disordered’ and sinful:

Theologians now reject this view because there are more purposes to sex than only procreation.

2. A safe modern approach is to consider sex a gift from God. Sexual activities in themselves are morally neutral. They derive their meaning, and therefore their ethical value, from how they function within a person’s overall wholeness as a loving individual.

Study this comparative table:

 Smoking  Sexual activity  Horse riding or motorcycle riding
 Basic moral context  not very natural  neutral in itself, positive functions for self affirmation, for bonding with one’s partner and for procreation  good bodily exercise
 Sinful context  damage is done to one’s health or that of others  unfaithfulness to one’s partner, violence to others, risking venereal infection, bad example to family members, etc. etc.  endangering one’s own safety or that of others, etc.
 Dangers  addiction  making selfish pleasure a priority  taking risks

How to rid oneself of unfounded feelings of guilt?

      • Accept yourself as you are!

        This includes: accepting your being body, your basic sexual orientation, your past experiences and your own limitations.

      • Do not hold exaggerated views!

        Rid your mind of the ‘traditional’ hostility to sex. Make sure you understand the reasons why modern pastoral theology has a more relaxed approach to sex.

      • Adopt good habits!

        Avoid situations that might make you lose control of the situation. Refuse to become addicted to unhelpful practices.

      • Ignore unfounded negative feelings!

        Misguided indoctrination in the past may leave feelings of unease even when we are engaged in activities that we know to be alright. Such feelings will fade in the course of time if we simply ignore them. — Ignoring is different from suppressing. Ignoring means: we acknowledge the feelings, but, for good reasons, we decide not to act on them. We allow them to buzz around us like annoying flies.

John Wijngaards