I love writing about theology and I especially love writing about theology and sexuality. And I haven’t done it in a while.
This past weekend I saw Take This Waltz (PS spoiler alerts for anyone who has intentions to see this movie and hasn’t). It’s a rom…com? Rom…dram? Not sure…it is a rom-com-dram about a woman (Michelle Williams) who is happily married to Seth Rogen, but falls for her next door neighbor. I won’t comment too much on the quality of the actual filmmaking (Except for the fact that the color scheme was too heavy handed. I mean seriously? She was always wearing red.) but rather I want to connect this film to Theology of the Body. Because any time a film has sex in it (so basically every movie) I want to run it through my little “theology machine” and speculate about it.
This film is all about temptation. Although her relationship is pretty weird with Seth Rogen’s character, we get that they care for each other. But she’s a little stale and restless. And perhaps a new man (the neighbor she has an affair with) is just the person to spice it up with. As the end proves, “everything becomes old, even new things”.
The movement most pervasive today in American culture is that boundaries in sexuality are bad. Probably because of history, any sign of “controlling”, or worse, “stifling” our sexuality is associated with regress. The media coos “It’s the 21st century! We have pills and shots and devices specifically so you don’t have to have boundaries!”
Yes, sex is natural. Wanting it is natural. But should we always give way to something just because we want it and it feels natural? In the case of this film, Michelle Williams gave into it, and not only did it hurt a lot of other people, she also hurt herself.
I often hesitate to use the theory that “natural is good”. Even though I am a huge proponent of FAM and NFP because they are “natural”, I know that natural doesn’t always mean right. Quite frankly, I don’t think monogamy is “natural”. But I think there’s a lot of benefits to it – and a reason to fight against nature for it. For one, children benefit from monogamy. Monogamy isn’t about pleasure, it’s about family and commitment. Michelle Williams wasn’t able to say no, perhaps, because she hadn’t ever said no before. Sexual temptation and setting boundaries is sort of like a muscle. And if you haven’t used that muscle before, it’s pretty hard to start.
The general consensus amongst my friends and peers is that owning our sexuality makes us more whole. I usually feel flustered with this term because, what the heck does that even mean? I assume, its intention is to eradicate shame within sexuality. But can’t that be done while also upholding boundaries within our intimate lives? Does “sexual empowerment” mean always being available for sex? I am the biggest believer that sexuality shouldn’t be shamed, but we might want to try destigmatizing shame with fertility and pregnancy, first. Because believe it or not, they are related.
I’m scared to say this but here goes….rip it off, quick like a band aid….
Setting boundaries within our intimate lives isn’t just a virtue, it’s an essential part of “owning our sexuality”. Because sometimes you have to say no.
There are times in life where even husband and wife must say no. Illness, temptation from others, family planning reasons (at least for the 3% of people of use NFP and abstain during fertile times) and incompatible schedules. Relationships can not rely solely on intimacy for strength. Don’t misread me, it’s important. But it’s only part of the puzzle.
Quite frankly, I think we need to reevaluate the definition of “owning our sexuality”. Because in of itself, it’s a good thing. I just think a lot of women aren’t sure how to go about it. As portrayed in the film, lust is fleeting. It isn’t anything to grasp or root yourself in, because “new things get old”. But when you “flex” that muscle of setting boundaries, it gets a little stronger each time.
I think people are always surprised that I can talk so fluidly about sexuality, fertility and theology. Catholics aren’t supposed to talk about that stuff, right? I was having coffee with a friend a few weeks ago. She told me, “The church needs people like you – everyone is so hush hush about it, that no one wants to bring it up when they have questions.” The church often enforces rules and leaves people without satisfying answers as to why they teach that in the first place. The church’s teaching on sexuality, I promise, isn’t just about suppressing and stifling our natural tendencies. There is a greater picture and a greater good. Something so much bigger than personal satisfaction.
So yes, I do think it’s important in an ever-increasing secular world, that someone is able to challenge modern mantras. That’s why I think “owning our sexuality” and “setting boundaries” aren’t mutually exclusive events, but in close cooperation. And for the record, sexuality is not shameful. But then again, neither is fertility.