In July of last year, a post on Facebook shared a link to the website OMGYes. OMGYes is advertised as an educational website that “takes an honest look at the specific ways women actually find pleasure.” The person who posted it asked, “How can we talk about female sexuality more openly, but in a way that honors the Church's sexual ethics?”
As a convert, I was drawn to this discussion because I have always been passionate about framing sex and sexuality within a feminist perspective. Before I was Catholic, that perspective was from a secular feminist ideology. In fact, I came across this website during my college years, when I was knee-deep in my own research about female sexual politics. I loved that such a website existed, but I eventually forgot about it. When it came up in my newfound Catholic feminist sphere, I felt my past and present self collide.
In the discussion, I don’t know if we ever found an answer to the question. Unfortunately for my like-to-have-all-the-answers self, I don’t know if we can really get a solid answer. However, I do think we can get a lot closer to an answer than we did, so I want to revisit the question.
A personal confession that is relevant to this topic: I struggle somewhat with the Church’s teaching on masturbation, and mostly because a lot of women don’t even know how to derive pleasure from sex (it’s just not as intuitive or automatic as it is for men). There are so many different physiological, psychological, and social aspects involved in female sexual pleasure.
John Paul II’s Theology of the Body tells us that physical intimacy through sex is meant to express an even more profound personal intimacy. In my mind, aiming to ensure that both parties experience sexual pleasure can reflect such a deeper personal union. This is not meant to say that peak pleasure is the ultimate goal of sex. Rather, sex is reflective of communion with Christ; there are ebbs and flows, and the short-term goals sometimes change, but the ultimate goal is always love and self-gift. At the same time, I think a husband and wife can strive for pleasure, together, in the process of self-gift during sex.
One of the criticisms of OMGYes was that it is “pornography disguised as education.” In some ways, I agree. The Catechism states that pornography “consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties” (CCC 2354). The website has videos of self-stimulation, which means that it removes a real sexual act from the intimacy of two partners. (Not to mention that the purpose of these videos is to show them to other people - and for money.) And yet, as someone noted in our Facebook discussion, there are no practical, how-to sex manuals from a Catholic perspective. Some people therefore turn to secular sources like OMGYes and then are shamed for doing so.
My overall question is this: are female sexual pleasure and ethical Catholic sex really at opposite ends of the spectrum, or can we aim for a both/and situation? Can we strive to increase our pleasure with our husband while recognizing that physical intimacy reflects a deeper spiritual union?