What the church teaches this young bride about sex


What the church teaches this young bride about sex

A good Catholic, the parables tell us, stands guard against any kind of pleasure

By Cheryl-Ann Couto  February 24th, 2015

"Is the priest going to tell us how to have anal sex or not?” the husband-to-be demands. Dragged out of bed too early on a Saturday morning, without time enough to finish a full cup of tea, he is grumpy in the taxi flying across town towards a Marriage Preparation course that fills us with equal amounts of curiosity and dread. Friends who’ve gone before us have raised his hopes with their accounts of this no-holds-barred, usually awkward attempt by the Catholic church to divorce-proof our imminent marriages. “Oh shut up,” I say, very worried — a priest talking about the arse and the penis? He’ll probably be calling them “posterior” and “sex organ”. I couldn’t take it. “They’d better not try to convert me,” he says, petulantly.

We’re about 80 Catholic (and half-Catholic) couples, congregated in Mumbai’s Portuguese church. From the generally alert, open-faced, loved-up weather in the room, you couldn’t tell we all came just for the certificate (no course = no white wedding). Over the next two days, “We’re going to know everything about our partners and marriage, etc, etc,” says (warns?) the pop-culturally-sound-yet-avuncular Father Cajetan Menezes, Vatican-appointed to the cause of the Indian Catholic family. There is some nervous laughter. As we introduce ourselves to the room by turn, and the people we’ll soon be marrying, there is the sense of a precipice.

We’re put in smaller groups (“away from your partners”), handed a table of questions and asked to begin by discussing why we’re doing this at all. The army cadet in my group says “companionship and security” and then adds, “for the girl”. “For both,” I murmur and the air hostess nods approvingly. The gym instructor says it’s for love but he’s also looking forward to better finances. The teaching assistant finally gets to start the family she’s always longed for. The events entrepreneur, I later find, only speaks in sad little slogans. I bring up sex, quite uncharacteristically, seeing we’ve deliberately skipped that in the list of options on our printouts. They all look at me and start at once: “What’s to mention in it?” (air hostess); “Obviously, it’s not the reason,” (army man); “It’s not that important,” (teacher); “Let’s not talk about sex,” (sad sloganeer). Everybody is far more enthused about the “Who comes first after you’re married? Your mother or your wife?” and “What problems do you anticipate with your in-laws?” line of introspection. Opinions are put forth, worst-case scenarios imagined, compromises devised and God’s blessings invoked. How is the priest going to talk about sex to this sea of prudes? 

wedding katrina christian

I’m being a bit glib though because I actually relate to this kind of indignant evasion. The number of (horribly) guilty pleasures you can accumulate when you’re taught things like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24) and that eternal damnation is always just a pleasure-of-the-flesh away, is staggering. The very worst transgression is sex, it goes without saying — no, really, nobody says ‘sex’, we have relations; we also don’t say breasts, vagina or penis, unless under duress of some sort. “Things”, we find, usually suffices, i.e. “She walks around shaking her big big things like the Queen of Sheba.” A good Catholic, the parables tell us, stands guard against any kind of pleasure; and pleasure of the carnal variety especially should bring a special kind of amorphous shame or you’re doing it wrong.

Once we’re done discussing our answers with the group at large, which also more or less pretends sex isn’t on the menu, we’re handed over to Judy Mendonsa, a broad with a preference for sequins, psychology and sexual innuendo. She doesn’t appear to be a big one for Christian austerity, either. Instead she fondly reminisces about her days of meeting, courting and keeping the marital hearth stoked for nearly four decades with Willie, the love of her life (a comely, baffled-looking gentleman who appears to adore and fear her). She never mentions god, but she does hammer home some big truths via discomfiting dialogue exercises (“The last time I felt unloved by you”): we’re each of us responsible for our own bliss and no one owes you your happiness, least of all your partner; you marry all of a person, not just the good bits — and you’re not allowed to hold the bad bits against them; the much-advised “compromise” is stupid because true resolutions come only when both of you win; and finally, when in doubt, touch.

With that she begins to stroke Willie’s neck while he shuts his eyes (this is upsetting) to demonstrate how even on their busiest days, a little fondling can be a great source, evidently, of marital bliss. Now she wants us to try it, she says. There is giggling and shuffling of feet. She instructs us to stand behind each other by turn and massage our partners from head to waist (“The rest at home, people!”). The hall reverberates with the sound of 160 embarrassed people trying not to emit any kind of incriminating sound. Then with little warning, the two break into a love ballad. All of us stare.

marriage couple wedding FB

After lunch and an ’80s musical interlude by the DJ, an elderly brother in a Hawaiian shirt, we’ve come to the sex ed capsule of the course. The husband-to-be is delirious from the chicken xacuti and sheer excitement. A catholic OB/GYN, Kiran Coelho, is called in to first give us a reproduction refresher course. We’re reminded where everything goes and comes out of. She then regales us with tales of her own happy marriage — the little surprises, praying together every morning, forgiving each other, taking holidays together. “This too is lovemaking,” she says. There are sighs from the group, we’re feeling warm and toasty with romantic missives from the OB/GYN. Now she’s asking for audience participatio — what are other ways of making love besides “the sexual union,” she asks. A blowjob seems like the obvious one. “We could visit a bird sanctuary,” offer the couple who didn’t stop holding hands even in the food queue, “My fiancée and I love animals.”

“Good,” she says and asks us to open our Creative Love — The Secret Of Lovemaking textbooks authored by her, the Mendonsas and Father Menezes. “Go for coffee,” someone in the back calls out, “Or visit her parents.” Dear god. “Wonderful,” she encourages. These are all fun ideas for when we’re subscribing to Creative Natural Fertility Management (CNFM) i.e. obliterating the sinful, unnatural use of contraceptive i.e. having sex by the close reading of the viscosity of our vaginal mucous via grainy black and white diagrams in the book i.e. having sex that is always open and vulnerable to pregnancy. The husband-to-be looks over at me, a little pale in the face — “Let’s never have sex,” he mouths.

Some other sins are helpfully outlined: masturbation, mental infidelity when you have sex with your spouse, and even aiding your ungodly partner in “frustrating” the act of creation with contraceptives.

Not nearly enough of us have our jaws hanging loose. Too many heads are bobbing in complete understanding and agreement. This isn’t even a dour, dried-up clergyman droning on about church law; the good doctor is a well-respected medical professional with a nifty bob for someone who doesn’t believe in condoms. The church wants you to have fun, but in a ginger, tedious, baby-making way, with a reasonable helping of eternal-damnation fear, she tells us by way of many euphemisms and sweet anecdotes. I find it hard to believe that any of them —  the Mendonsas, the modern Father Menezes or Dr Coelho really, fully believe what they’re saying, but they must toe the line.

Weary as well as strangely uplifted from the day’s education, we say a prayer and to the soundtrack of Lionel Richie’s ‘Endless Love’, find our way out into the evening. We have to be back again early tomorrow morning, but that’s not going to be a problem for any of us, is my guess. Nobody’s planning a late night. 

"Is the priest going to tell us how to have anal sex or not?” the husband-to-be demands. Dragged out of bed too early on a Saturday morning, without time enough to finish a full cup of tea, he is grumpy in the taxi flying across town towards a Marriage Preparation course that fills us with equal amounts of curiosity and dread. Friends who’ve gone before us have raised his hopes with their accounts of this no-holds-barred, usually awkward attempt by the Catholic church to divorce-proof our imminent marriages. “Oh shut up,” I say, very worried — a priest talking about the arse and the penis? He’ll probably be calling them “posterior” and “sex organ”. I couldn’t take it. “They’d better not try to convert me,” he says, petulantly.

We’re about 80 Catholic (and half-Catholic) couples, congregated in Mumbai’s Portuguese church. From the generally alert, open-faced, loved-up weather in the room, you couldn’t tell we all came just for the certificate (no course = no white wedding). Over the next two days, “We’re going to know everything about our partners and marriage, etc, etc,” says (warns?) the pop-culturally-sound-yet-avuncular Father Cajetan Menezes, Vatican-appointed to the cause of the Indian Catholic family. There is some nervous laughter. As we introduce ourselves to the room by turn, and the people we’ll soon be marrying, there is the sense of a precipice.

We’re put in smaller groups (“away from your partners”), handed a table of questions and asked to begin by discussing why we’re doing this at all. The army cadet in my group says “companionship and security” and then adds, “for the girl”. “For both,” I murmur and the air hostess nods approvingly. The gym instructor says it’s for love but he’s also looking forward to better finances. The teaching assistant finally gets to start the family she’s always longed for. The events entrepreneur, I later find, only speaks in sad little slogans. I bring up sex, quite uncharacteristically, seeing we’ve deliberately skipped that in the list of options on our printouts. They all look at me and start at once: “What’s to mention in it?” (air hostess); “Obviously, it’s not the reason,” (army man); “It’s not that important,” (teacher); “Let’s not talk about sex,” (sad sloganeer). Everybody is far more enthused about the “Who comes first after you’re married? Your mother or your wife?” and “What problems do you anticipate with your in-laws?” line of introspection. Opinions are put forth, worst-case scenarios imagined, compromises devised and God’s blessings invoked. How is the priest going to talk about sex to this sea of prudes? 

wedding katrina christian

I’m being a bit glib though because I actually relate to this kind of indignant evasion. The number of (horribly) guilty pleasures you can accumulate when you’re taught things like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24) and that eternal damnation is always just a pleasure-of-the-flesh away, is staggering. The very worst transgression is sex, it goes without saying — no, really, nobody says ‘sex’, we have relations; we also don’t say breasts, vagina or penis, unless under duress of some sort. “Things”, we find, usually suffices, i.e. “She walks around shaking her big big things like the Queen of Sheba.” A good Catholic, the parables tell us, stands guard against any kind of pleasure; and pleasure of the carnal variety especially should bring a special kind of amorphous shame or you’re doing it wrong.

Once we’re done discussing our answers with the group at large, which also more or less pretends sex isn’t on the menu, we’re handed over to Judy Mendonsa, a broad with a preference for sequins, psychology and sexual innuendo. She doesn’t appear to be a big one for Christian austerity, either. Instead she fondly reminisces about her days of meeting, courting and keeping the marital hearth stoked for nearly four decades with Willie, the love of her life (a comely, baffled-looking gentleman who appears to adore and fear her). She never mentions god, but she does hammer home some big truths via discomfiting dialogue exercises (“The last time I felt unloved by you”): we’re each of us responsible for our own bliss and no one owes you your happiness, least of all your partner; you marry all of a person, not just the good bits — and you’re not allowed to hold the bad bits against them; the much-advised “compromise” is stupid because true resolutions come only when both of you win; and finally, when in doubt, touch.

With that she begins to stroke Willie’s neck while he shuts his eyes (this is upsetting) to demonstrate how even on their busiest days, a little fondling can be a great source, evidently, of marital bliss. Now she wants us to try it, she says. There is giggling and shuffling of feet. She instructs us to stand behind each other by turn and massage our partners from head to waist (“The rest at home, people!”). The hall reverberates with the sound of 160 embarrassed people trying not to emit any kind of incriminating sound. Then with little warning, the two break into a love ballad. All of us stare.

marriage couple wedding FB

After lunch and an ’80s musical interlude by the DJ, an elderly brother in a Hawaiian shirt, we’ve come to the sex ed capsule of the course. The husband-to-be is delirious from the chicken xacuti and sheer excitement. A catholic OB/GYN, Kiran Coelho, is called in to first give us a reproduction refresher course. We’re reminded where everything goes and comes out of. She then regales us with tales of her own happy marriage — the little surprises, praying together every morning, forgiving each other, taking holidays together. “This too is lovemaking,” she says. There are sighs from the group, we’re feeling warm and toasty with romantic missives from the OB/GYN. Now she’s asking for audience participatio — what are other ways of making love besides “the sexual union,” she asks. A blowjob seems like the obvious one. “We could visit a bird sanctuary,” offer the couple who didn’t stop holding hands even in the food queue, “My fiancée and I love animals.”

“Good,” she says and asks us to open our Creative Love — The Secret Of Lovemaking textbooks authored by her, the Mendonsas and Father Menezes. “Go for coffee,” someone in the back calls out, “Or visit her parents.” Dear god. “Wonderful,” she encourages. These are all fun ideas for when we’re subscribing to Creative Natural Fertility Management (CNFM) i.e. obliterating the sinful, unnatural use of contraceptive i.e. having sex by the close reading of the viscosity of our vaginal mucous via grainy black and white diagrams in the book i.e. having sex that is always open and vulnerable to pregnancy. The husband-to-be looks over at me, a little pale in the face — “Let’s never have sex,” he mouths.

Some other sins are helpfully outlined: masturbation, mental infidelity when you have sex with your spouse, and even aiding your ungodly partner in “frustrating” the act of creation with contraceptives.

Not nearly enough of us have our jaws hanging loose. Too many heads are bobbing in complete understanding and agreement. This isn’t even a dour, dried-up clergyman droning on about church law; the good doctor is a well-respected medical professional with a nifty bob for someone who doesn’t believe in condoms. The church wants you to have fun, but in a ginger, tedious, baby-making way, with a reasonable helping of eternal-damnation fear, she tells us by way of many euphemisms and sweet anecdotes. I find it hard to believe that any of them —  the Mendonsas, the modern Father Menezes or Dr Coelho really, fully believe what they’re saying, but they must toe the line.

Weary as well as strangely uplifted from the day’s education, we say a prayer and to the soundtrack of Lionel Richie’s ‘Endless Love’, find our way out into the evening. We have to be back again early tomorrow morning, but that’s not going to be a problem for any of us, is my guess. Nobody’s planning a late night.