I was jolted awake by a thought: “You have to break up with your boyfriend. Today.” I moved through my day in a fog, replaying the thought over and over, barely focusing on my graduate school classes. As I rehearsed the inevitable break-up speech, my skin would feel hot and my heart would start pounding. Some days, the anxiety got so bad that it would lead to hot flashes and even panic attacks. And yet, despite all the physical and emotional discomfort, something kept me from breaking up with him. The voice was very small compared to the incessant demands of my anxious mind, but it was constant. “Why?” It simply asked, “Why break up with someone you love?”
Relationship anxiety, as the name implies, is anxiety that fixates on romantic partnerships. Mainstream advice dictates that feeling anxiety in a relationship means something is wrong. I agree with this advice, but with one major caveat: Something is certainly wrong, but it might not be the relationship. You can always leave your partner, but if the anxiety stems from something deeper, it’s going to come back the next time around. Eventually, you’re going to have to face the anxiety.
My Experience with Facing Relationship Anxiety
In my case, the process of facing my anxiety took two full years. Frantic googling led me to the work of Sheryl Paul and I took her online course. Yes, it was cheesy, but it was also incredibly helpful. I learned that fear of the unknown, trauma, and even fear of love itself are major causes of anxiety in relationships. Eventually, I found my own therapist and together we started to peel back the layers of my anxious mind. I even went on medication for a while, which was useful in managing my symptoms while I got myself sorted out.
Most importantly, for me at least, I prayed a lot. I asked God to give me peace and clarity, and eventually, He did. The clarity didn’t come in the form of an answer, but rather in the form of self-trust. I trusted myself to make a good decision about who I wanted to marry and when. I stopped obsessing over “what-ifs” and started embracing possibilities. Eventually, I married that boyfriend. And I’m so glad I did.
How Do You Know If Anxiety Means that There’s Something Wrong in the Relationship?
So, how do you determine if your anxiety is an indicator of something wrong in your relationship or of something deeper?
The first and most important step is to determine any signs of abuse.
Do you walk on eggshells around your partner? Does he make you feel unsafe or belittle you? Can you trust him to be faithful? Or, to borrow a phrase from Sheryl Paul, “Is he more interested in controlling you than loving you?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your anxiety is probably telling you to walk away.
Differences in values are the next major deal breaker for most people.
He might genuinely be a wonderful person and you might genuinely be in love, but misaligned values will sound alarm bells in your head. While it’s okay to disagree with your partner, even about important things, you need to be able to respect each other’s perspectives. If your partner looks down on important aspects of your core self, such as your faith, it might be time to walk away. As sad as these situations are, it’s far better to acknowledge incompatibility now than to marry someone who doesn’t share your values.
But what if none of these things is the problem?
In that case, congratulations! It’s time to do a deeper dive into yourself. This is a daunting yet rewarding task that will benefit you in ways well beyond your romantic relationship.
After a lot of work, I discovered that my anxious feelings were rooted in a deep fear of emotional intimacy, risk, and failure. Having a deeper understanding of myself has allowed me to be not only a better wife, but also a better friend and a better artist. I have the immense privilege of loving fearlessly and without restraint, and I never would have gotten there without working through my anxiety.
Here Are Three Pieces of Advice If You’re Facing Relationship Anxiety
If you’re in the crux of ambivalence about a relationship, know that it does get better. In the meantime, here are three pieces of advice from someone who has been there and gotten through it:
1. Try to get to a place of calm before assessing your emotions.
In my case, I often felt like I had "fallen out of love" because my intense anxiety blocked any positive feelings I had. When I was calm, however, I felt so much love. Trust that the feelings you have when calm are the true ones.
2. Get comfortable with the risk of loss and the fear of failure.
No matter how committed you are to marriage, no one can see the future. (If that statement gives you anxiety, it's okay.) Trust that God has a plan for you and your partner, and that He will hold you both in His arms throughout your lives.
3. Remember that real love is not only an emotion.
True love is about choices, shared values, and mutual support.
No one can tell for sure if the relationship you’re in is the right one for you. In fact, there is no one right relationship. Marriage, after all, isn’t about picking the perfect person. It’s a lifelong journey of learning how to love. Let your questions be the first step on that journey.
You sit down for dinner, maybe a scoop of ice cream or a rousing game of mini golf. You’ve been perusing dating apps for what seems like months. You get to know someone and you start to wonder, “How do I bring up the conversation about sex?”
If waiting until marriage is a non-negotiable for you, it's best to let your date know early on so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to continue dating you. This may seem daunting, but it will save you both time and heartache in the long run.
Conversations surrounding sex don’t have to be awkward. I know, I know, that seems impossible – but there is a way. If you find yourself in the position of needing to tell your date that you are saving sex for marriage, here are some tips to help you navigate the conversation.
Choose the right time and place.
The first step is to choose the right time and place for the conversation. This should be a private, one-on-one discussion where you can both speak openly and honestly. It's also important to choose a time when you are both relaxed and not distracted, so that you can give the conversation your full attention.
Be clear and confident.
When it comes to sensitive topics like this, clarity is key. Be honest and straightforward with your date about your decisions about sex. Express your thoughts and feelings with confidence. Your date should appreciate your honesty and sincerity, and it may even bring you closer together. Be open about your reasons for making this commitment and why it is important to you.
If your date is willing to respect your decision, it's important to set boundaries to prevent any confusion or misunderstandings. Let them know what you're comfortable with in terms of physical affection, and be clear about what you're not comfortable with. This can help prevent awkward situations and it will allow both of you to have clear expectations.
Listen to their response.
After you have shared your intentions and set your boundaries, listen to your date's response. They may have questions or concerns, and it's important to give them the space to express themselves. Listen with an open mind and heart, and try to understand their perspective.
Be prepared for different reactions.
Some people may be understanding and supportive of your commitment, while others may not agree with your decision. Be firm in your beliefs while also respecting their feelings and opinions. If your date isn't comfortable with your decision, it may be a sign that you're not compatible in the long run.
If your date is not on the same page as you, be patient and give them time to process your conversation. They may need some time to think about what you have said and decide how they feel about the situation. Avoid pressuring them or trying to change their mind, and give them the space to make their own decision.
Remember that this conversation doesn't have to be a make-or-break moment. If your date doesn't share your beliefs, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your relationship. You can still choose to date and get to know each other better, but it's important to have an open and honest conversation about your boundaries.
Overall, telling your date that you're saving sex for marriage may not be an easy conversation, but it's a crucial one. Being open, honest, and respectful can help you and your date better understand each other's values and beliefs. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what's best for you and your future, and finding a partner who shares those values can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
In recent years, there’s been lots of talk about abortion, abortion restrictions, and the impact of this on mothers. But there has been less discussion about what it actually looks like to support mothers who do choose to parent. And yet, some high schools across the country are doing just that.
One example is the South Bend School Age Mothers Program, which is run through the local public school, the South Bend School Corporation. It’s open to any pregnant student in grades 7 – 12 who is enrolled in the South Bend school system and receives a referral from their home school. The program has been running for nearly 50 years and has served hundreds of students during that time. They show us what it looks like to support teen moms.
An incredibly important aspect of this program is free, on-site daycare for children. Childcare is a primary stumbling block for teenage mothers who want to continue their education. Without having reliable and affordable childcare, many mothers need to drop out of school in order to care for their children. Providing this on-site daycare relieves a huge burden for teen moms, enabling them to focus on their studies while knowing that their children are just down the hallway. Through a partnership with early Headstart, mothers can bring their children to school with them. And because the daycare is on-site, students can leave class to breastfeed their children if they want to.
Transportation for Both Moms and Children
The school district provides transportation through the South Bend schools bussing system for both the moms and the children to get them to and from the school and daycare. This is important structural support for mothers so they do not have to worry about having access to a car in order to continue their education.
Shorter School Days
Recognizing that students who are also mothers have more responsibilities than the average student, the school day is shortened so that they can attend to all of these different responsibilities.
Free Breakfast and Lunch
Because the program provides nutritious meals for two out of three meals of the day, mothers can focus on their studies without worrying about packing or providing a meal for both themselves and their child. This also frees up time and energy so that moms can focus on their other numerous education and caregiving responsibilities.
Child Development Classes
Each semester, one of the classes offered through the school is a child development class. This gives students the ability to learn hands-on, practical information that applies to their daily life as moms, in addition to the academic information that comes in a traditional school setting.
High Graduation Rates
Teen mothers who go through this program have a 95% chance of graduating high school. Contrast this with the fact that only about 50% of teenage mothers graduate from high school, and you can see how a concrete structure of support has a huge impact on the lives of teen mothers and their children.
This program is just one across the country that is specifically targeted to help teenage mothers. The impacts of it are undeniable. So, what is stopping more school districts from implementing programs like this? What does support for teenage mothers look like in your area? Each of us has an opportunity to advocate for programs like this in our local communities and support moms in a tangible way.
As women who were once little girls, I imagine we had hopes and dreams of what our “grown-up” life would look like. However, the life I imagined looked very different in reality. If you had told me I would be divorced and going through an annulment by the time I was 30, I would not have believed you.
From my own experience and ministry in working with divorced Catholics, I heard false narratives from many Catholics (and non-Catholics) that they believed to be true about divorce and annulment:
An annulment means your children are illegitimate in the eyes of the Church.
Getting a divorce means you are a bad Catholic and that God is disappointed in you.
An annulment is just “Catholic divorce.”
I will be judged or treated differently for getting a divorce.
If I get a divorce, I won’t have a place in the Church anymore.
As a woman who went through a divorce and an annulment, I have wrestled with some of these narratives in my own life. I’ve also heard similar perspectives from many divorced Catholics over the years through working in parish ministry, becoming trained to do annulments in my diocese, and writing.
I used to wonder, “Why would God allow me to go through such a difficult experience? Would that be my only experience of marriage – ever? Would I find what I desired and was looking for in a life partner someday?”
The beautiful thing about pain and suffering is that they offer us two options: We can become bitter and resentful – or we can grow, thrive, and experience healing.
In my experience, an annulment is an invitation into deeper healing. But before we dive into that, let’s look more at what an annulment actually is.
What Is an Annulment and What Does It Mean?
A divorce is a civil, judicial act that ends a legal marriage in the eyes of the state. When someone is married in the Catholic Church, they are becoming married both legally and sacramentally. Catholics believe that sacramental marriage is designed by God to imitate the unbreakable bond of love that He has with His people, the Church. This is why Catholics believe that sacramental marriage is an unbreakable vow, “til death do us part,” and why some people say that “Catholics don’t believe in divorce.”
While a divorce ends a legal marriage, an annulment has a different role for a sacramental marriage. An annulment is a decision saying that what was believed to be a valid sacramental, Catholic marriage is declared by the Church to have never been a marriage in the first place.
What it boils down to is this: On the couple’s wedding day, it looked like a marriage took place and it appeared that both people had proper intent and will to live the marriage vows until death. What is required for a valid, sacramental marriage is the full knowledge and consent of both individuals for the vows they make. However, after a thorough investigation, the annulment process can find reasons or circumstances that impact the full, free consent of one or both people. These things include undiagnosed mental illness, coercion, or addictive behaviors that existed long before the wedding day.
In these cases, the Church would say that a marriage never actually happened (even if a couple had the best of intentions and thought they were doing the right thing!). Therefore, the marriage is considered null.
Receiving an annulment opens up the possibility for someone previously married in the Catholic Church to again pursue a sacramental wedding. Sometimes non-Catholics also go through the annulment process to become a Catholic or to marry a Catholic person.
How to Get an Annulment in the Catholic Church
The annulment process is the same in all dioceses across the world. Start by going to your parish and reaching out to a priest, deacon, or trained lay person. Tell them you would like to begin the annulment process. It begins with answering an in-depth questionnaire about everything from your background, childhood, personal emotional issues, the marriage relationship during dating and courtship, and what happened to break down the marriage. As an objective body studying a case, the marriage tribunal wants a detailed look into the marriage so they can better understand it.
After you fill out the questionnaire, you need to provide several witnesses (typically 3 to 5) who have a long personal history with you, and who knew you and your spouse leading up to and during the marriage. These witnesses corroborate your story and experience while shedding more light onto your marriage. They also send in their own responses to a set of questions.
Both parties in a marriage are not required to get their own separate annulment, only one. Typically, one of the two wants the process to begin, and that is the case that will get finalized.
The length of the annulment process varies between dioceses, with a larger diocese usually taking longer. My diocese tells people to expect 12 to 14 months from the time a case is accepted (when the time clock begins) to receiving a decision. My own annulment took 11 months, but I have a friend who lives in my diocese and her case took 6 months. What delays an annulment case the most is the witnesses taking forever to send in their testimony. Choose your witnesses well and help them understand how important it is to submit their testimony in a timely fashion.
A common fear is what will happen if an annulment does not go through. Yes, that is a possibility. However, the vast majority of cases do go through. I have asked this question of several priests I know who work locally in our diocesan tribunal. The United States has the highest rates of annulments in the global Church and about 80% of them go through. If an annulment did not go through, you would still be sacramentally married in the eyes of the Church.
An Annulment is Ultimately about Healing
I have spoken with a lot of divorced people over the years, and this process can feel invasive and even a bit insensitive. Perhaps you are left wondering, “Geez Patty, why the heck would anyone go through such a process?” I won’t minimize that it sounds like a lot to go through for the blessing of being married again in the Catholic Church. However, I would invite you to think about how digging deep like this is healing, because we can’t move forward until we face and acknowledge what has happened.
What I find to be the most healing part of the annulment process is answering the questionnaire on an individual basis because you have to take responsibility for your own baggage, issues, etc. You cannot heal from pain unless you see where you need to learn and grow. This process allows you to see your life, relationship, and marriage with a clearer perspective.
The summer before I decided to leave my marriage, I met with a wise priest at our local seminary and he said to me, “Patty, God hates divorce [the fact that it has to exist in the world], but He does not hate divorced people.”
As I went through my own annulment, I started to believe that this process exists in the Church out of the great mercy of Jesus.
Why? Because whenever one of His children is suffering, that matters deeply to the heart of God. The annulment process is a way through which Jesus wants to bind up the wounds of divorced people. It is not just a set of logistical hoops to jump through – it is an avenue of personal healing, with the grace and friendship of Jesus accompanying you every step of the way.
For Women Like Me, Divorce Doesn’t Define Us
If this is you, or someone you love, I am here to tell you that taking the time to heal is worth it. You are always worth it. It might feel difficult – even painful at times – but the grace of God will go with you.
You are not defined by the fact your marriage did not last. And yes, you 100% still have a place in the Catholic Church. We need you, just like we need every other person. Your experience and your story matter. Our Church needs you because your perspective needs to be spoken, cared for, and understood.
You are not bad. God does not think any less of you. Do not burden your heart with shame. Nurture your heart and speak kindly to yourself. Do the messy, hard healing work with Jesus. I promise He won’t let you down. The annulment process is a sign of God’s compassion, meeting you right in the messy middle of what you are facing.
You are not walking alone through this – you never have and you never will. I am cheering you on.
Editor’s Note: We know that the topic of divorce can be especially hard for adult children of divorce. We believe that both children of divorce and divorced Catholics deserve compassion, healing, and a listening ear. If you’re an adult child of divorce, we encourage you to check out our articles on healing or to visit Life Giving Wounds, a Catholic ministry for adult children of divorce.
What do you keep in your nightstand? Maybe your Bible, a Kindle, the TV remote, or chapstick? I imagine your nightstand harbors the things that you want easily accessible. Well, I kept all of those things in mine, but I also kept my vibrator in there, too. When the mood struck me, or after I read a steamy sex scene in my latest fiction read, I could simply reach over and grab it without even shifting. I made it easy to masturbate. And for most of my life, I didn’t see an issue with this.
I’m a cradle Catholic, and while I understood the Church’s teaching on other sexual issues like premarital sex, pornography, and extra-marital affairs, I had difficulty understanding the Church’s prohibition of masturbation. The blanketed “no, nope, never” sometimes felt unnecessarily severe to me.
The Allure of Masturbation
Throughout college, I was your average Catholic girl who drifted away from the Church – not completely, but enough that I didn’t feel too guilty about partying, binge drinking, and sloppy random make-outs.
When I was a senior, I confided in my roommates, telling them that I had never orgasmed. They laughed and could hardly believe it. Masturbation was so natural to them. Healthy, even. They gave me a few tips and told me to have some fun. So I did.
I felt a little bit of shame after masturbating, but mostly I felt empowered. “I’m sexually liberated!” I thought. I felt like I was stepping out of a dark, oppressive cave and into the light. I even remember feeling smug towards my Catholic friends, thinking, “You have no idea what you’re missing.”
Once I learned the magnificent power of the clitoris, I began to masturbate regularly. Still, I prided myself on keeping my habit in check. I masturbated at most a few times per month. I never used pornography (though this is definitely a topic worth discussing). I occasionally fantasized about men, but that didn’t feel problematic. I didn’t think I was hurting anyone just by letting my imagination run a bit wild. And certainly, I assumed that masturbating was better than sleeping around.
Masturbation became a form of self-love. I convinced myself that rejecting masturbation was equivalent to not loving my body. After all, the general consensus is that the clitoris is purely a pleasure point, something to be enjoyed for its own sake. God designed our bodies and designed them with clitorises. Who are we to reject something that God made for our pleasure?
Masturbation: Self-Love or Selfishness?
After I got married, I continued to masturbate. I justified it by fantasizing less and instead focusing on the physical sensation of stimulation. “It’s just about a physical release. It’s a healthy and natural thing to do,” I told myself. It wasn’t about lusting after a person.
As I grew in my faith, I learned that the Catholic Church describes masturbation as “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” The word “intrinsically” implies that the act itself is problematic, regardless of one’s intent.
This Church teaching just didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand how something that felt so natural and seemed harmless could be wrong. Still, I vowed to take a look at my motives and evaluate whether masturbation was purely physical for me.
I surprised myself – masturbation wasn’t just a physical, mechanical act to me. I didn’t watch pornography. I didn’t read romance novels beforehand. But I did have to recall a previous sexual encounter, whether that was between me and a partner, or between a fictional couple on TV or in a book. Usually, recalling a previous lovemaking session with my husband wasn’t enough to achieve an orgasm.
This was a hard truth to accept: I was essentially getting off on lust. And I was immediately reminded of Jesus’s piercing words in the Sermon on the Mount when He tells us that lusting after another is the same as committing adultery in one’s heart.
I thought masturbation brought sexual freedom, body positivity, and self-love. But what it really brought was detachment from my spouse, separation from God, and an unhealthy attachment to my vibrator.
This wasn’t self-love; this was selfishness.
Abstaining from Masturbation Is Empowering
Once I realized that lust and selfishness drove me to masturbation, I couldn’t do it with a confident, clear conscience anymore. I stopped masturbating abruptly, relegating my vibrator to the back of my nightstand drawer.
Now, I feel empowered when I abstain, even though I used to find abstaining to be oppressive. It’s empowering to know that I can resist temptation. It’s empowering to deny myself something that feels good. It’s empowering to rest in the fullness of my sexuality in healthy ways, rather than through acts that feed my lustful desires.
Abstaining from masturbation has also given me a new outlook on what healthy marital sex can and should look like. Sex is meant to be a beautiful expression of love for your spouse. Yet when I masturbated frequently, I didn’t desire sex as much with my husband. Sex often became a chore, with me reluctantly agreeing to sex but telling him to “keep it quick” and “just focus on getting your orgasm; I don’t need one.” I often looked forward to masturbating more than having sex with my husband. Now, I view intimacy with my husband as the gift that it is, and I strive to give my whole self to him during sex.
I admit I’m a work in progress. I still struggle with temptation, and I’ve given in once since I made the decision to abstain. But as I continue to see the fruits of abstaining, each day becomes a little bit easier.
Can masturbation be boiled down to a harmless expression of self-love and body positivity? Not for me. Simply put, I don’t think I can be the woman God intends me to be while maintaining the habit of masturbation.
How Porn Can Affect Your Marriage and What to Do About It: An Interview with a Therapist
A few weeks ago, I read about a recent study done in the UK that found that “the number of people seeking professional help for porn addiction has tripled since the start of the pandemic,” with a rise from what was 25% to now 38% of women seeking professional help for porn addiction. It’s not hard to imagine that the presence of porn addictions and pornography use has become more pervasive since the pandemic and lockdown. Society has changed; people have become more isolated than before. It’s becoming harder and harder to make connections, sometimes even within your own home. But if porn use and addiction are as common as this study suggests, then why aren’t we talking about it?
We need a conversation that gets to the heart of the issue of porn addiction: why it happens, how it affects a person and the people they love, and how to get help. A national survey report released by The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that 1 in 4 men hide porn use, with 1 in 5 men stating they felt they could not stop using, and 1 in 3 women worrying about talking about it with their spouse and how it impacts intimacy. So, why not talk about it?
I was curious enough to pose these questions and more to Regina Boyd, a Catholic couples therapist.
How to Talk to Your Spouse About Porn
Victoria Velasquez-Feikles: So, the topic that we're talking about today is porn: how it affects the user, how it affects relationships, and if there’s a way out. To start, if someone discovers that his or her spouse or partner is watching pornography, how do you begin a conversation with them?
Regina Boyd: First, I want you to make sure that you're taking that time to reflect before you have that conversation. Think about how it impacts you because I think for each person it can be a little bit different. You really want to take that time to reflect and get in touch with that part of you and once you are there, you tend to be able to be as respectful as possible. I know it's not an easy conversation, but if we can focus on our own experience first, what we’re feeling, that is a way to help the conversation. Sometimes that initial reaction might be, while you're doing that self-reflection, “Does he still find me attractive?” or “Maybe there is something that I am lacking.” It turns the focus to yourself. We want to make sure that we're in a place to have a conversation.
VV: There are likely feelings of shame or worthlessness that spark defensiveness on the side of the spouse who is addicted – but on the other hand, the other spouse likely feels inadequate and hurt. How do you strike a balance so that you can have a vulnerable conversation where both sides are heard and understood?
RB: I think there's a balance there, right? This conversation might bring up some negative emotions and experiences where having their spouse share their experiences of pornography use is going to be very uncomfortable, and that's normal. It’s also important to be willing to hear what he or she has to say as well, receiving what he or she has to say. I think if we can, again, reflect and be in a place where you can communicate your honest feelings and experience you will be able to approach this in a team-oriented fashion to convey some type of message of “I still love you, but we have to seek a better way to handle this,” and to communicate, “I'm here for you, I want to support you but I'm uncomfortable.”
The Support of Accountability for Someone Struggling With Porn
VV: There are lots of online resources for Catholic men who struggle with porn addictions, though not as many for women. Some that immediately come to mind are Covenant Eyes and the Victory App, both of which introduce “transformative accountability” by connecting you with others, usually friends, who help “keep you accountable” without the confrontation of hurting the person who is holding you accountable (e.g., like a spouse). Do you think having an accountability partner is helpful? What about accountability partners outside the marriage or relationship?
RB: I do think it's helpful to have an accountability partner. The important thing in an accountability partner would be to find someone who will see things objectively. You can even be your spouse’s accountability partner if you can be as objective as possible. The tricky part with this within a marriage is that it is hard sometimes for that other spouse to be objective and provide emotional guidance and coaching and encouragement. It can cause your marriage to become a place of stress and tension, especially if you are experiencing feelings of betrayal or infidelity or have previous traumatic experiences dealing with these things. It could cause you to be in the policing mode and lead to another argument, creating another opportunity for you to feel hurt and betrayed again.
I think that is a bit of a gray area because certainly any conversations about progress are going to be important: checking in, asking “What progress are we making?” and being as honest with one another as possible during the healing and recovery process. If you determine you can’t provide that objective support, I do think it is helpful to have somebody of the same sex, who has past experience dealing with similar struggles with this addiction but who's a little bit further along the healing process, to offer advice in those moments. I think it really depends on the severity of the addiction that the other spouse experiences.
Eventually, emotionally being this support for your spouse can be a problem depending on the dynamic between you both. We have to be mindful that this is a situation that could cause further trauma for the spouse who is not addicted. Keep in mind your reaction. A spouse isn’t in a place to be that support where they're noticing some impact mentally and emotionally from learning about their partner's use. What you really need to be careful about is this: Is it going to be helpful and productive for you to be the person your spouse contacts if there is a trip up, if we're not meeting those goals as we originally intended, etc.? Understanding that there's work to do, right? That it's a journey, a process. Certainly, though, I think you should be having conversations about it.
How Porn Affects Intimacy in Marriage
VV: It seems relatively common and at times expected that porn addictions affect what goes on in the bedroom. This could be arousal disorders or ED, but what appears to be most damaging is porn’s effects on intimacy in marriage. At times, there are expectations in the bedroom as a result of kinks acquired from frequent porn use, and that often translates to not feeling like their needs are being met when their spouse has certain boundaries. You might see this more for those couples who strove to abstain before marriage with one spouse having an addiction – marriage might mean that “anything goes.” What do you recommend for a spouse who wants to meet their spouse’s needs without feeling like certain boundaries are violated if they don’t “give in”? How do you work towards mutual respect and empowerment in this scenario?
RB: I think it's important to think about how each of you defines the word sex. What does sex mean to you? I think starting at those levels of conversations and really, again, being completely honest. Speaking about what's really happening in the relationship, saying something like, “We need to make sure that, as a couple, our emotional bond is strong and that sex is not just a way to act out your porn use.” But also having that genuine conversation about “this move” or something that “really helps me to get in the mood.” Certainly you don’t want to reenact scenes that your spouse has watched. If you feel that way, be honest: “Whis helps me because I think that you might not want me unless I'm engaging in some type of performance for you.” And, you know, “this is going to help me feel worse.”
Individually, I think there needs to be some reflection on both sides about what's behind those desires and clearly communicate boundaries. That's when you will be able to view the sexual relationship from both sides and hopefully come to a place where you can communicate openly about your feelings and desires. That's going to be what helps you and your husband feel more satisfied in your sexual relationship. If it’s only about what will make your husband/spouse feel more “satisfied” or whatever it might be, particularly if it's something that makes you uncomfortable, I think that is a situation where it's going to be more traumatic and more hurtful for you. It’ll be important unpacking why that is important for him or her and what it is about those actions or behaviors that he or she holds onto that makes you uncomfortable. It’s important to be speaking about it and for you both to have conversations.
VV: There are periods within any relationship where the amount of time spent on sexual intimacy ebbs and flows, or temporarily dries out (e.g., postpartum, during an illness, etc.). For an addicted spouse, lack of intimacy often leads them to resort to porn during these vulnerable situations, creating an environment where the other spouse anticipates or actually catches them watching porn. This then often leads the other spouse who is not addicted to close up and not want to be intimate due to their hurt. What would be the first steps to navigating that situation, especially if it’s a cycle?
RB: Well, it is normal and natural to have periods where you are not sexually active throughout your marriage, but it is important to still try and find ways to share some kind of intimacy. When it comes to not wanting to be intimate due to the other’s porn use, like I mentioned before, I would say to be honest. Have the conversation: “I feel that if I don't perform a particular way for you,” or “Here are some things that I need to feel loved by you.”
I'm sure that those things might make you feel uncomfortable to talk about at first. It can be really challenging to walk that line of being supportive and encouraging but also feeling hurt and feeling like maybe, perhaps, you should say something. But honesty is always going to be better for your relationship because you’re working to stay together. It’s creating a bond between the two of you. I would just encourage you to always bring this to each other when you're in that space and feel it is safe to do so.
Is Porn Use “Natural”?
VV: There is a lot of information out there that addicted men might use to “defend” their use of pornography. Some feel that the resources the Catholic Church has available results in coddling because they speak of porn addictions as if they’re not intentional enough to be grave. How do you recommend confronting these ideas? Do you think the notion that “men are just wired differently” leads to a delay in seeking therapeutic help for those who are addicted?
RB: I don’t think that that is a good compliment to men. It gives the impression that they are incapable of controlling themselves, but you know, we are all human and we each have our struggles, and it's a part of being an adult, an adult man even, to be aware of your shortcomings and work on them. Take the space to really think: What are your shortcomings? Do you have emotional shortcomings? Think of what might lead you down a path towards falling short in one way or another. We all have our responsibilities. If you are looking to help your husband through this, you might be the one who has to just take time to talk about it.
VV: Porn is often seen as a coping mechanism that masks deeper issues, and even sometimes as a form of emotional regulation. This is not a very popular approach in Catholic circles, as it’s not really spoken about. Could you talk about the relationship between emotional regulation and how using porn can be a form of coping with that?
RB: We each have ways we learn to cope that aren’t always productive. Binging TV shows, scrolling endlessly on social media, etc. Boredom, stress, negative interactions, shame, anxiety – they can become triggers that can lead someone to use porn. Porn is seen as a way of relieving these negative emotions. Certain situations can also be triggering, like anything from dealing with a divorce to dealing with a family member who has died. Some people default to porn use in the way others default to mindlessly scrolling.
For porn addicts, there is a choice to use pornography and that’s for many reasons: the stimulation feels good, it floods the brain with pleasure, and it becomes a way to avoid this sense of pain they’re experiencing. But then, when we avoid pain, it makes any experience of pain feel even more painful, it becomes even more difficult to not avoid it and default to using porn. And so it becomes really important to make sure that we give ourselves a space to speak about our emotions and negative feelings. We are designed as emotional beings, we each experience emotions and so we need to allow ourselves to feel them and learn how to cope with difficult situations.
VV: One of the marriage vows is “in sickness and in health.” Addiction is an unfortunate disease that is often hereditary. When is it okay to walk away?
RB: It depends. I think that it’s going to be based on where a couple is at but, absolutely it depends. It depends on the severity: there are more occasional pornography users, and then there are people where this is a full-blown sexual addiction of pornography.
If you think about it from a place of using porn as a means of regulating your emotions and managing stress or, in a different way, to avoid dealing with family or whatever it is – there is hope. Again we are emotional beings, emotions are not bad in and of themselves. If we can learn how to manage our emotions, if we can use what is natural for us, the more we can help heal the addiction. The more we can help someone who is addicted to porn, the less they’re going to feel that they have to go to porn. You can work on communicating, checking in, and supporting one another even if it’s through couples counseling. If you decide to go to therapy together, I would make sure that you go preferably with a therapist who seeks to preserve the relationship.
Hope and Help for Someone Affected by Porn
VV: You’ve shared so much wisdom already, but what would you want the big takeaway to be from all of this?
RB: If you are struggling with pornography or married to someone who is struggling, I want you to know there is hope and help for you if you're in this challenging situation. You are not alone.
VV: Finally, as a therapist, do you have any recommendations off the top of your head for someone who wants to look for help and resources? Where should they start?
RB: For women struggling with porn I would recommend looking into Magdala Ministries. They do really good work there. Another online resource would be Integrity Restored. They offer extremely helpful online coaching programs.
Regina Boyd is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes working with married couples in her private practice. In addition to the counseling services she provides, she also offers online coaching programs. Regina is a practicing Catholic wife and mother and you can learn more about the great work she does by going on her website (reginaboyd.com) or looking up her instagram @boydcounselingservices.
I learned quite a bit from having kids while working – though I don’t know if ”learn” is the right word. “Brought into sharp clarity” might better describe my experience of working while having children. None of the lessons I am sharing were new information to me when I started having kids, but their importance became much more clear. This non-exhaustive list highlights the priorities that I have lifted up for myself as I navigate parenthood and career – and rest assured, these lessons are not exclusive to me as a working parent.
1. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries offers markers for how we exist in relation to one another. As someone who sees their work as a vocation, boundaries can be a little blurry for me. I am also grateful to have had multiple workplaces where my children were welcomed, celebrated, and wanted. But when work comes up against my family life, family life takes precedence.
It used to be much easier to stay late or put in extra time for a project. Now, I have doctor’s appointments, school schedules, ballet, and swim class that hold me to a stricter schedule. This doesn’t mean that my colleagues without kids shouldn’t also be out the door or protective of their time and space.
Delineating between the spaces in your life (even if the lines are sometimes dotted) can be difficult, especially when those lines have to be held firmly. But remember that boundaries offer us the space to be our fullest selves without one space overtaking another.
2. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your life choices.
When, if, and how you choose to build a family is between you, God, and your spouse. Whether it’s marriage, kids, pets, traveling, living in community, or a host of other commitments, there will always be choices that require careful discernment because of how they impact your life, including your career.
Careful discernment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but you do get to choose whose voices you prioritize or include in your decisions. People may struggle to understand why you have made the choices you have – and that’s okay. It’s up to you how, when, or even if you share what you are discerning in your life.
3. Everyone has hard things at different times.
We all have people in our lives who need our care. Kids are an obvious one, but many people have aging parents, or loved ones with a disability or a terminal illness. Family also doesn’t look the same for everyone. This season of my life has required a lot of support while having three kids. This season of my life has also seen death, cancer, infertility, mental health struggles, and other challenges for people I love. Not everyone will share about these kinds of struggles (see above!) and you have no obligation to, either. It is important to remember that you and your colleagues are all likely carrying something difficult at any point in time.
4. You know your potential and your limits better than anyone else.
I got on a plane three days after returning from maternity leave with my 8-week-old baby strapped to my front and my laptop shoved into my diaper bag. We made it to eighteen states before she turned a year old. It wasn’t always perfect, but it worked and it opened up avenues I hadn’t imagined. It brought different conversations and reminded me that most of the hurdles I saw in front of me were primarily in my mind.
Not everyone thought that I could travel the way I did, but I knew I could and so I simply did. Insights from colleagues can be helpful, but don’t lose sight of what your potential is and the things you believe you are capable of – even if others doubt you.
5. People need support, not pedestals.
I am not a hero for getting on a plane with my baby, for going back to work after six weeks, or for any of the other things I juggle with my career and my family. If you find you need a different way of working or some kind of adjustment, ask for it. If you are a manager and sense one of your reports is struggling, ask what you can do to support them. It’s an important gesture to encourage others and to express gratitude, but do what you can for yourself and your colleagues to back up your words with actions.
If you’ve had the great misfortune of being a young Catholic dating in the last ten years, this is for you.
If you met your husband in fifth period biology and life’s been a slow dance to Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You” ever since, then just stop reading, shut your laptop, and fall to your knees in gratitude. Because as those of us still awkwardly swaying, arms crossed and alone on the dance floor, know – the modern dating scene is no boy band song. At best it’s an Avril Lavigne ballad, and at its very worst it’s just “Thnks fr th Mmrs” on repeat for years and years – and years. Whether or not you feel thankful for all those memories, the only thing that you can do is just brush yourself off and put yourself out there again. And in 2023, that often means making a dating app profile.
Now, we can save the debate for whether or not dating apps are the best way to find love for another day. I have coached thousands of young daters and the vast majority of them wish that the apps weren’t the core of our modern dating culture. Many romanticize the way that their parents’ and grandparents’ generations met and fell in love, and they wonder why they can’t have the same kind of love story. There are many contributing factors to the great gap between the ease with which our grandparents settled down and the difficulty Millennials and Gen Z have in finding a long term love, including the paradox of choice that comes with dating apps. But the fact is, we can only do the best with what we have. So, here are my tips for navigating dating apps as a person with Catholic values.
1. Use the Profile Prompts to Your Advantage
You can use the prompts to attract quality or you can use them to attract quantity, it’s up to you. But if you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you’re looking for quality. My advice is to use one of the prompts to share that you’re a woman of faith.
Hinge has a bit of a layup prompt for you to use. The prompt asks for your ideal Sunday, so just tell them the truth: your ideal Sunday includes Mass. And if it includes watching football or going for a run or brunching with the girls, then that’s great! Include that, too. Being honest about your lifestyle will lead to a lot more quality matches and while it may initially result in fewer dates, it will lead to better dates.
2. Know Before You Go
Similarly to the prompts, these apps have built in “basic info” sections that you should use to your advantage. If you can’t autofilter out things that might be undesirable to you (incongruent faiths, smoking or drinking habits, etc.) without paying extra, that’s okay. Just pay extra attention.
People will really tell you a lot about themselves in those basic info sections. Before you start swiping, ask yourself: “What are my dealbreakers?” and only swipe in accordance with those (no matter how cute the guy in question is).
A small but important note on the basic info sections: A man marking himself as “Catholic” in his basic info doesn’t carry as much weight as a man marking himself as “Christian,” unfortunately. A lot of this has to do with cultural Catholicism, especially within Irish and Italian demographics. Men might mark themselves as “Catholic” because their family is Catholic and their mothers forced them to go through with Confirmation. If it isn’t referenced anywhere else in his profile, though, I wouldn’t expect a simple check mark next to “Catholic” to mean that much. However, men that mark themselves as “Christian” seem to have a much higher chance of actually being practicing believers, even if they aren’t Catholic.
3. Zoom In
Alright, now this one might seem a little silly but it’s true: put on your swooshiest detective trench, grab your best magnifying glass, and go to work. Zoom in on anything that might be a crucifix on a chain. Tattoos of crosses or religious themes can also often point to a shared faith background. Message him and ask about his tattoo or chain, people love to talk about that kind of thing!
If this sounds kind of crazy, just know that once while swiping I zoomed in on what I thought might be a scapular and messaged the guy wearing it to see if I was right. Not only was I right, but it opened a whole conversation about how important his faith is to him (which wasn’t marked on his profile anywhere else) and after learning more about him, I set him up with one of my best friends – who he is still with to this day.
4. Be Honest About Yourself and Your Faith
As frustrating and cliché as it sounds, the truth is that nothing will ever work as well as just being yourself. Be clear about your faith in a way that’s authentic to your lifestyle and heart. If you don’t go to Mass every day of the week, you don’t have to pretend you do in order to attract a super devout guy. Hold space for others to have a unique spirituality, just as you would want them to do for you.
Represent yourself as you truly are and you will attract a partner who fits who you are, not who you think you have to be in order to be attractive. And if that yields a small batch of quality men over a large batch of every type of creep and jerk in the world, then praise God for that. Remember: this isn’t a video game where you win points for every match. Your goal is to just find one person whose values align with yours, so don’t worry about the rest!
Good luck! I hope the rest of your love life is like a long, smooth slow dance to a Backstreet Boys song.
Catholic Women Share Why They Did – and Didn’t – Change Their Names After Getting Married
Last Christmas, my mom gave me and my then-fiancé personalized kitchen aprons. I was thrilled, but the name printed across the front gave me pause: Mrs. Freeman. My future husband was ecstatic and raved about how excited he was to marry me and how well my first name paired with his last name. I felt the same way, but I couldn’t get over a strange grief that bubbled up at seeing my new last name in writing. It wasn’t the man I was marrying or the name I was taking that bothered me, but rather the change itself. Why did I have to be the one to change my name? Did I even have to? Could I still be a good Catholic wife and keep my last name?
Does a Catholic Woman Have to Change Her Name?
There is no mandate from the Catholic Church that says women must change their last names after getting married. You can look in the Catechism. It’s not there.
What the Catechism does say is this: “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter… It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving.”
Since the Church places such an emphasis on unity of the spouses, wouldn’t a shared last name be a direct reflection of that unity? Yes, it can be. But the spiritual reality of you and your spouse becoming one flesh begins as soon as you say your vows, not once you get your new passport.
Deciding whether to change your name after marriage is a personal decision, and is one that deserves thoughtful reflection. In examining my own journey toward marriage, I asked married Catholic women about their own choices to keep or change their last names.
Some Reasons for Changing Your Name
Of the women I interviewed who did change their last name, several pointed to the Church’s rich theology of marriage as the reason they chose to take their husband’s last name.
“Married life is my vocation and the taking of my husband’s last name signifies the end of my maiden days as well as my path towards sainthood,” said Katarzyna La Barre, who married over a year ago.
Others mentioned their children as motivation for changing their last name.
“I chose to change my last name especially after finding out I was pregnant because I wanted my husband, my son, and I to share a last name,” said Kelly Urbanski, who has been married for two and a half years.
My own reasons for taking my husband’s last name were much less spiritually motivated. I didn’t want to hyphenate my name or have a different last name from my future children, but I also was willing to keep my name if I didn’t like my husband’s last name. After I met my husband, I loved his last name paired with my first and middle names, so it stuck.
Hyphenating Your Last Name
In many cultures, women do not traditionally take their husband’s last name after marriage. Victoria Velasquez-Feikles said that using both spouses’ last names for children is very common in Hispanic cultures. “If I had just taken [my husband’s] name, it wouldn’t be representative of me, who I am, and my Hispanic heritage is a huge part of who I am as a first-generation Colombian American,” she said. Velasquez-Feikles also said she and her husband may hyphenate their daughter’s last name for similar reasons.
Another consideration is that many women have successful careers under their maiden names, long before marriage. When Alexis Tracey got married last year, she already had a law career – including part of a US Supreme Court amicus brief – using her former last name. In the end, she decided to take her husband’s last name on government documents and practice law using a hyphenated last name. “Especially in the legal profession, continuity is important and closely associated with credibility, so the hyphenation on my legal license captures the original name, but also shows there's been a change that's worthy of recognition,” she said.
What If I Don’t Want to Change My Name at All?
That is, indeed, a valid option for Catholic women. Anna Paone, who has been married for three years, said her decision to keep her last name partly stemmed from her own mother, who also didn’t change her last name after marriage. However, Paone does use her husband’s last name professionally and gave his last name to their daughter. “My mom always says that parents go to great pains to choose a first name that works well with a baby's birth last name. I certainly did – I love the alliteration of my daughter's name,” she said.
In the end, the decision to keep or change your last name after marriage is one as unique as each marriage. Annarose Jowenson, who created an entirely new last name based on her and her husband’s former last names, said, “There are so many ways to honor the Church's rich theology of marriage, its status as a sacrament and presenting an outward symbol of ‘being one flesh’ while still honoring the history you have with your own family name. It can – and should – be a process of mutual discernment for you and your spouse, and it's 100% worth having the conversation.”
No girl dreams of doing IVF. No woman enjoys the painful shots, endless medications, invasive vaginal ultrasounds, or emotional anxiety that accompanies all of that. No couple wants to create babies in a petri dish rather than through the loving act of marital sex.
But with infertility affecting approximately 1 in 8 couples, many women end up reluctantly pursuing IVF. These women are not morally corrupt or cavalier towards the creation of life. Rather, these women are pro-life in the most literal meaning of the term, in that they desire to bring forth life.
I am one of these women.
The Emotional Rollercoaster of Infertility
Infertility is cruelly difficult. Each month feels like an emotional rollercoaster. The arrival of my period brings grief, which blossoms into hope during my fertile days, and then transforms into anxiety during the dreaded two-week wait (“TWW”). Repeat this wild range of emotions month after month, year after year, and you get why infertility can drive one a bit crazy.
During my TWW, I hyper-analyze every little twinge, aversion, and bodily change. I persistently google “early pregnancy symptoms,” even though I know them by heart. I convince myself that my nipples look darker, my pee smells funny, and my food cravings are different. Even though I’ve been trying to conceive (“TTC”) for over 6 years, I still manage to convince myself I’m pregnant every TWW.
At some point, I began to wonder, “Why go through this pain every month if I don’t have to? Why not look into fertility treatments?”
Why I Decided to Move Forward with Fertility Treatments
My husband and I have unexplained infertility, a frustrating diagnosis. After years of religiously charting and timing intercourse, meeting with various doctors, trying different supplements and diets, and undergoing surgery, we finally agreed to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist. He told us that our best option to conceive was through IVF. My two other doctors agreed.
I hesitated, knowing IVF was deemed immoral by the Catholic Church. But I didn’t really understand why the Church said “no.” I am an involved, practicing Catholic, yet no one had ever explained the reason behind the Church’s stance to me.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to understand. I just so desperately wanted a child. It was easier to believe that the Church’s prohibition against IVF was arbitrary, outdated, and anti-woman than it was to start digging and find out I was wrong.
Plus, it seemed simple: Infertility is a medical condition and IVF is the treatment. Nothing more, nothing less. And in my case, three different doctors urged me to do IVF. Who was I to argue?
Even still, I carefully prayed and discerned over whether to move forward with IVF. I felt like Hannah in the Old Testament, bringing my ugly tears and pleas to God, over and over again. During one particular tearful prayer, I finally heard an answer, or what I thought was an answer. A sudden peace washed over me, and I truly felt like God held out His hand to me, saying, “We’ll take this next step of IVF together.”
As soon as I got home, I called our doctor and told him we wanted to move forward with IVF.
What the Catholic Church Teaches about IVF
Even though I felt confident moving forward, I halfheartedly began to delve into the Church’s teachings on IVF. I discovered that the Church has released two relevant documents on fertility treatments: Donum Vitae in 1987 and Dignitas Personae in 2008.
I’m an attorney who often reads dense material and let me tell you: Donum Vitae is wordy, hyper-technical, and difficult to decipher. Just about the only thing made clear was the Church’s staunch opposition to IVF – no exceptions.
Dignitas Personae is slightly easier to comprehend but felt rife with indignation and a lack of empathy towards infertile couples. Frankly, I found it offensive, judgmental, and clearly written by a male lacking personal experience with the pain of infertility.
Regardless, I wasn’t moved by the documents. I had a counterargument to everything.
The Church’s concern over the destruction of embryos? Not an issue. My husband and I decided that we would use every embryo created in our IVF cycle – even if this resulted in more children than what we envisioned, and even if some embryos were abnormal.
The Church’s concern over embryo reduction (selective aborting)? Irrelevant. The standard of care now is typically to transfer one embryo at a time. Long gone are the days of Jon & Kate Plus 8.
The Church’s concern that IVF separates procreation from the unitive act of sex? The joke’s on them. The monthly charting and timed intercourse did a number on our sex life and marriage. IVF sounded far more unitive than timed intercourse.
The Church’s concern for the dignity of every human being? Don’t worry. We planned to respect our embryos every step of the way, loving them as we would any child.
At the end of the day, I was comfortable in my belief that the Church missed the mark on this teaching. So onward we went.
The IVF Process
IVF consists of the egg retrieval, where a woman takes medications to grow multiple mature eggs simultaneously, and the transfer, where an embryo is planted directly into a woman’s uterus to increase the chance of implantation.
After weeks of intense medications, many vaginal ultrasounds, and the dreaded shots, we arrived at the clinic for the egg retrieval. We were overjoyed to learn we had 6 embryos: 3 genetically normal, 2 slightly abnormal, and 1 genetically abnormal. We decided to keep all of our “embabies” — what we in the IVF world lovingly dub our embryos. I felt proud of our decision, of choosing to respect all life. But sometimes I caught myself thinking, “Why did I genetically test my embryos? What purpose does genetic testing serve, if I value all life equally?”
A couple of months later, we transferred one perfect embaby. We could have pre-selected the gender, but we chose to leave that up to God. Again, I patted myself on the back, telling myself my motives were pure and godly.
Ten days after the transfer, I took a pregnancy test. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, staring at the negative pregnancy test and willing a second line to appear. It never did. It took me a long time to get off the bathroom floor. Feeling devastated doesn’t even cover the depth of emotion I felt.
The second embryo transfer failed, too. The grief over this loss was even deeper than the first.
Soon, an unsettled feeling started gnawing at my heart. For the first time, I wondered if I was wrong. My unapologetic, confident attitude towards IVF began to chip away. I worried about my frozen embabies. “We don’t freeze infants, so why do we freeze embryos? Are they okay while frozen indefinitely in time? If they grow into healthy babies, how will I explain their conception to them?”
Above all, I questioned if my desperation to have a child blinded me to what God really wanted for me.
My Discussions with a Priest about IVF
It took me months to work up the courage, but I eventually requested a meeting with my priest. I was a jumble of nerves when I arrived at his office. I word-vomited all I had done, the fears and guilt that consumed me, the arrogance I possessed when dismissing the Church’s teaching on IVF, and the worry over my frozen embabies.
I expectantly waited for his rebuke. But none came. Where I expected judgment and disappointment, he responded only with love, compassion, and hope.
My priest commended me for having the courage to speak to him. He acknowledged the depth of my sorrow, affirming that infertility was a great suffering. I felt seen and safe.
He mentioned something that I hadn’t yet considered or even heard about. He said, “The problem with IVF is that it treats babies as commodities rather than human beings. IVF is a business, and babies are the product.”
I timidly asked what I should do about my frozen embryos, afraid of the answer. He responded, “Sometimes we make a mistake and later come to a better realization. These mistakes can be hard to correct, and in the case of embryos, we can’t undo their creation.” He continued, “What we can do – and are required to do – is to treat those embryos with dignity and honor.”
He affirmed that I could transfer my remaining embryos without shame, going so far as to call my future transfers “acts of charity and courage.” He absolved me of my sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation, replacing my guilt and shame with lightness and joy.
“And Julie,” he said before I walked out, “I’d love to walk with you and your husband through your next embryo transfer, if that’s okay. At the very least, I can pray for your baby.”
Tears sprung to my eyes.
Just a few days later, I received an email from my fertility clinic notifying me that my remaining embryos were being transferred out-of-state to a storage facility. I cried in disbelief and anger. How can they just take my embryos away without even so much as a phone call? These are my babies!
I sucked in a breath, remembering my priest’s words. “Commodities.” My embryos were merely commodities to my clinic. Now, I saw the Church’s position on IVF in a different light. Now, I understood Dignitas Personae’s insistence on keeping procreation out of a lab. I could even forgive its harsh tone. After all, these are human lives at stake.
My Heart Yearns Both for a Child and to Follow Catholic Teaching
To be honest, I still feel a bit confused over IVF. Some days, IVF doesn’t seem like such a big deal. If Jesus walked the earth today, would He really dissuade us from using technology that is literally lifegiving? After all, God is the ultimate creator, and if having children isn’t a part of His plan, then IVF won’t circumvent that. Are those opposed to IVF like the Pharisees in the Gospels, wagging their fingers and looking to enforce rules without thought to one’s heart? And, what if my embryo transfers had worked? Wouldn’t the birth of my own child make the whole journey worth it?
But on other days, I feel confident that IVF is not something God wants us to do. Playing with the creation of life is just too delicate for us humans to dabble in. It reminds me of Eve wanting to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Are we like Eve, trying to achieve something that was never intended for humanity to achieve? I am also reminded of Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7:15 to beware of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.”
All I know is that IVF unsettles me. Please pray for me and all couples walking through infertility. May my desire for you, God, be greater than my desire for a child.
Why Catholic Women Should Stand in Solidarity with Muslim Women Facing Discrimination
Protests erupted in Iran last September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, died in custody after being arrested by the country's morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly and for wearing skinny jeans. These protests have been led by women, who in many cases have been bravely refusing to wear their own hijabs, or even burning them.
Two and a half months later, these protests continue, and Iran’s government has violently cracked down on them, with more than 450 people killed by security forces according to the activist news agency HRANA. The Iranian court recently sentenced one protester to death, and there are widespread fears that more of the 18,000 protesters who have been detained will face the same fate.
Muslim Women Face Discrimination Across the Globe
The recent protests are the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women’s rights in Iran. After a 1979 revolution overthrew the country’s dictator, the Islamic Republic was formed based upon Islamic law, with clerics serving as heads of state. They began to require women to wear the Hijab in public in 1983.
The recent events in Iran are particularly egregious, and Iranian women undoubtedly deserve our prayers, support, and advocacy. But even before these past few months, the head covering of Muslim women has been extremely politicized on a global level. Various European countries have instituted laws (some of which have since been repealed) that mandate the opposite extreme by banning the wearing burqas (which cover the face) or headscarves in public. In the United States, women have the freedom to dress as they choose, but women who do choose to wear head coverings often face discrimination.
I would like to propose four reasons why Catholic women should stand in solidarity with Muslim women, even when they are no longer at the center of our news cycle.
1. The taking of human life is unacceptable.
This first reason is perhaps the most obvious: Both Catholicism and Islam maintain that all human beings are created by God, with inherent dignity, and any time that a life is lost is tragic and unacceptable. As Zailan Moris quotes in “Beyond the Veil: The Sufi View of Women and Femininity,” according to Islamic sacred tradition (hadīth qudsī), “I [God] was a Hidden Treasure and I desired to be known, therefore I created creation so that I might be known.” Similarly, Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (emphasis added)
Both of these traditions hold that all of creation (including women, which unfortunately needs to be clarified) reflects God’s nature. To lose any one part of creation is to lose a portion of the revelation of God, and as a result of the events in Iran, we have lost more than 300 unique images of God to violence – with more likely to come. Violence against women (and those supporting women) needs to stop.
Catholic leaders have urged the Church to respond. Earlier this year, Pope Francis condemned violence against women as something “almost satanic.” He echoes the sentiments that Pope St. John Paul II expressed almost thirty years ago. In 1995, Pope John Paul II noted the concerning rise in violence, saying,
“With astonishment and concern we are witnessing today a dramatic increase in all kinds of violence. Not just individuals but whole groups seem to have lost any sense of respect for human life. Women and even children are unfortunately among the most frequent victims of this blind violence. We are speaking of outrageous and barbaric behaviour which is deeply abhorrent to the human conscience.
“We are all called upon to do everything possible to banish from society not only the tragedy of war but also every violation of human rights… I urge everyone to help women who are suffering.”
2. Catholic women know what it’s like to face unfair stereotypes because of our faith.
With the situation in Iran prevalent in our minds, at this moment the hijab has understandably become associated with oppression and violence. Even before this, it has been a common stereotype of Muslim women in the Western world that they are, as Moris explains, “completely defined by their function and role in the family as daughters, wives, and mothers in a patriarchal social structure that does not allow for individual development apart from and independent of these gender-based roles.” This is what has led to so many European countries wanting to restrict women from wearing head coverings: They view it as a regressive step for women.
But Muslin women cite many different reasons for wearing the hijab, and especially in the Western world, it is generally done as a free choice (according to a 2017 PEW Research survey, only 4 in 10 Muslim women in the US wear them at all). It is usually worn as a form of modesty, allowing women to avoid revealing the fullness of their beauty to any men other than their husband (or close relatives).
When interviewed by Allure in 2020, Habiba Da Silva said, “Some people assume that a woman in hijab is chained to her home, probably slaving after her husband, but they don't realize that we are businesswomen, we are surgeons, mathematicians, mayors. We are powerful, and the hijab doesn't deter us from reaching our dreams or goals.” Da Silva continued, “As difficult as it can be for people who are unaccustomed to the concept of the hijab to understand, it makes me feel so empowered and gives me agency. I have control over who can see special parts of me.”
Catholic women also face stereotypes that arise from a failure to account for a nuanced understanding of our faith. We adopt counter-cultural customs that are often labeled as regressive or anti-feminist, but that we experience as empowering in our own lives. These customs are generally less visible than wearing the hijab, although some Catholic women choose to dress more modestly or to wear a veil during Mass. Because of our beliefs, we choose to wait until marriage to have sex, and we often find it empowering to know that we do not have to have sex with every man who expects it. We choose to avoid hormonal birth control and chart our cycles to avoid pregnancy, and we find it empowering to learn more about our own bodies.
There are challenges that come with these choices, and no two women experience them in the same way, but many Catholic women I have spoken to over the years (myself included) find them to be overall empowering practices, rather than the oppressive customs they are often made out to be. So when we see a Muslim woman who has chosen to wear a head covering, we should cheer her on for adopting a practice that she feels empowers her and brings her closer to God.
3. Catholic women also know that bad interpretation of theology can be harmful to women.
Being a Catholic woman means living in the tension of embracing the ways that our beliefs empower us as women, while not being afraid to speak up when the religious practices around us fail to acknowledge our equal dignity. Sometimes there is a fine line between these things. For many Christian women in the millennial generation, purity culture is a prime example.
Too many of us grew up listening to “women’s talks” that told us that we were stumbling blocks for men, and it was our fault if they felt lust toward us. Or we were told that if we had sex before marriage, we were irrevocably harmed, like a crumpled flower. Often, at some point in these talks, we were told exactly what sort of clothing was sinful to wear – perhaps tank tops, yoga pants, or shorts and skirts that are above the knee. At their worst, these practices led to victim blaming women who were sexually assaulted.
Men were not given similar guidelines, so this form of shame and objectification was uniquely targeted towards women. As Linda Kay Klein wrote in her book Pure, “the implication that my friends and I were nothing more than things over which men and boys could trip was not lost on me.”
Women exposed to this interpretation of theology know what it is like to face pressures to conform to others’ standards of modesty, rather than to strive for the standards they set for themselves through prayerful consideration. We know that the choice not to wear a bikini because of a preference to save parts of our body for serious partners is different than feeling forced to do so because of something a priest or youth minister told us that made us feel ashamed of our bodies.
The stakes are not as high for those of us living in the United States because we generally have the freedom to choose whether or not to engage in religious practices, and we will not be arrested – or worse, killed – for our choice of dress. But we know that different people interpret our own Christian values of modesty in different ways, and we can imagine what it might be like if one of those interpretations was legally imposed upon everyone.
4. We each have a conscience and the free will to follow it.
This leads me to my fourth and final point. Both in the case of Iran – where head coverings are required – and that of France – where head coverings are legally restricted – the government is claiming that they know what is best for these women, rather than leaving it up to them to make a decision based on their conscience.
Catholics believe that all people have “the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions,” and that they should not be forced to do anything that goes against their conscience. While we have a responsibility to seek out what is true and good in order to form that conscience, it is ultimately up to each individual to decide what they believe God is asking them to do. Accordingly, women have a right to determine for themselves which religious practices respect their God-given dignity and which are harmful. Whether a woman chooses to cover more of her body or not should remain her choice, informed by her well-formed conscience.
Ultimately, this is what the women in Iran are fighting for: the right to decide for themselves how to act upon their faith, or whether to practice it at all.
As Catholic women who live in the tension of sometimes loving our Church and sometimes wishing those within it would better respect our dignity, we ought to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who desire the right to speak and act according to their conscience, whether that means fighting against an oppressive regime for their right not to wear a hijab, or fighting against discrimination in our own country for their right to safely wear one.
As the new year begins, the internet floods with lists of the top trends to add to your resolution list. Since the pandemic, the trends have emphasized holistic wellness and mental health (think less beach bod, more self-care). This year, the focus on wellness continued, with creators promoting trends from “movement snacks” to creative emotional expression as the latest ways to care for our minds and bodies. Perhaps surprisingly, some of these wellness trends have Catholic roots.
The Catholic Faith celebrates the whole person, body and soul. Think about what we celebrate at Christmas: In the Incarnation, God takes on human flesh and shows us the dignity of our bodies by becoming one of us. Our movements at Mass also reflect this emphasis on the physical: we make the Sign of the Cross when we pray, we kneel, and we stand.
This year, some of the practices that Catholics have long incorporated into daily life are making an appearance on social media. Take a look at these three wellness trends that have Catholic roots.
Poet and activist Tricia Hersey has sparked conversation about what it means to rest. Her phrase (also the title of her recent book) “rest as resistance” has social media buzzing. She argues that resting resists America’s toxic grind and productivity culture. It is not laziness, but rather a necessity, and even a type of activism.
Her website, The Nap Ministry, argues that our bodies “are sites of liberation, knowledge, and invention that are waiting to be reclaimed and awakened by the beautiful interruptions of brutal systems that sleep and dreaming provide.” All over the internet, people are taking up Hersey’s call to celebrate the kind of rest that fills us up and honors our bodies, whether it be napping, reading, playing music, or just laying around.
The command to rest is one of the most fundamental in both Judaism and Catholicism. Genesis tells us that when God created the world, He rested on the seventh day. In Judaism, the third commandment instructs God’s people to follow this model and rest on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath.
For Catholics, the Sabbath commandment is fulfilled by Sunday, a day devoted to God and when we rest from work to relax our minds and our bodies. In fact, the Catholic Church describes it as “a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” – in other words, a protest against the grind.
The commandment to rest is a gift: Jesus himself tells us that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” This gift teaches us a truth that the wellness trends echo: We are not made for work alone. Not only is it physically necessary to slow down, but also a consistent practice of rest teaches us to care for ourselves and for each other. It allows us to listen to our bodies and cultivate grace and space for them to just be.
Mindfulness and Meditation
One popular form of resting has been on the rise for years: meditation. Currently, TikTok has 5.3 billion hits for #meditation. Creators walk us through various practices from sound baths to nature walks. The goal is usually to achieve peace and feel in touch with one’s inner-self or the universe. Methods engage the body through breath, movement, or touch. Creators say that practicing meditation will bring clarity, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and even provide health benefits like lowering blood pressure. And studies do show a significant link between meditation and improved physical health and mental health outcomes.
People usually think of the Eastern religious roots of meditation, but Christianity has a long-standing tradition of meditative prayer. During this prayer, we focus the mind and imagination on holy images or words in order to seek what God is asking of us. The goal is to grow in love of God. St. Teresa of Avila, a nun and reformer from the 16th Century, described mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”
“Cycle Syncing” and Natural Fertility Awareness
Natural fertility awareness is another trend sweeping TikTok – the tag #naturalbirthcontol has over 4.1 B hits. Creators express concern with hormonal birth control and its side effects, and share their experiences switching from birth control to fertility awareness methods (FAMs). They advocate a variety of natural methods that allow women to track their bodies and cycles for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, as well as to identify and heal numerous hormonal health issues.
Advocates of “natural birth control” and fertility awareness have also pointed out that much of society is arranged to align with the male cycle - one that runs its course and starts over every 24 hours. Meanwhile, the female hormonal cycle aligns to a different rhythm, one that lasts an average of 28 days. Many influencers have begun sharing how women can begin “cycle syncing” everything from self-care to exercise to better align with their hormones and maximize results.
This more seasonal focus on life mirrors that of Mother Nature, but also the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. Throughout each year, Catholic traditions are aligned to different “seasons” - like Advent, Lent, Ordinary Time and special feast days for saints. Living life “liturgically” or “seasonally” can help us maintain balance and fulfillment - both spiritually and physically. This approach is an important counterbalance to the daily grind and pressure to function more like machines than human beings.
This concern for the whole human person is also what prompted the Catholic Church to express concerns about birth control in the 1960s, including that it would promote objectification of women. Therefore, many Catholic doctors and organizations actually pioneered research into fertility awareness, cycle charting, and how this information can allow doctors to better treat many women’s health conditions.
Want to Try These for Yourself?
If you’re looking for practices that are spiritually and physically enriching, consider adding these to your list of resolutions:
Learn how to schedule rest into your calendar.
Take this quiz to find the best meditative prayer option for you.
Learn the scientific benefits of charting your cycle.