By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Review | Published October 6, 2005
Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching; by Christopher West; St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004; 200 pp.; paperback; $11.99.
“The Good News About Sex and Marriage” opens with a surprising confession from the author.
Christopher West admits that in college he hung out with guys who boasted endlessly about their sexual conquests. Then, one night he witnessed a date rape—and after that, everything changed.
Horrified, West began wondering if his treatment of women as conquests was that much different from the way rapists treat women.
For a while, he was angry with God for giving men hormones that seemed to dominate their lives.
Spurred by that anger, West began a journey to understand the teachings of his faith on sex and marriage, and this book is the result.
It is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered about the reasons behind the church’s views on marriage, divorce, contraception and homosexuality.
West, a professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, uses a candid, question-and-answer format. He explores issues about sexuality and love that will be relevant to all Catholics, whether married or single, divorced or widowed.
Like many who were educated in Catholic schools, the main message West remembered about sex from childhood teachers was: “Don’t do it.”
It took research and prayer for him to discover that his teachers had it wrong. Because, West emphasizes, the Catholic Church teaches that sex is wonderful and beautiful.
And here’s a surprise: West discovered the true, sacred meaning of sex explained eloquently in the writings of none other than Pope John Paul II.
Some readers might be shaking their heads in disbelief. The pope was, after all, elderly, and celibate as well.
Still, West’s book presents some startling teachings that are based partly on John Paul’s writings on families, love and sex in “Theology of the Body” and elsewhere.
Any Catholic considering tying the knot—as well as those currently married—should read West’s chapter on marriage. Here he explains the Catholic definition of marriage as a sacramental bond established by the Holy Spirit, which must meet certain criteria.
According to canon law, marriage calls man and woman to mutual self-surrender and links them in an unbreakable union, so they may love and care for each other, and bring forth children from their love.
God is the author of marriage, West points out, and “inscribed the call to marriage in our very being, creating us as male and female.”
In the chapter “What to Do Before ‘I Do,’” West answers questions from engaged couples, as well as those merely dating, and wondering what the limits on their intimacy should be.
In the notes to this chapter, he points out that in a survey he conducted among Catholics preparing for marriage in the archdiocese of Denver, 91 percent were sexually active.
However, his survey also showed that people were vastly ignorant about the church’s vision of sex, rather than opposed to it.
“(The Church’s vision) is not a message of condemnation,” he writes. “It’s a call to live a new life in Christ. It’s inviting. It’s attractive. It’s what every human heart desires, because it’s the truth for which every human life longs.”
West admits that, by the time he got married, the one thing he could not accept about Catholicism was the teachings on contraception. After praying for light, he stumbled upon a book called “Catholic Sexual Ethics” that helped him come to acceptance.
West clears up plenty of misperceptions. For one, he shows that, despite rumors to the contrary, the church does not expect married couples to conceive a child every time they have sex.
Catholic teaching, he emphasizes, does permit family planning, as long as it is based on natural techniques. These methods rely on self-control and have a 99 percent effectiveness rate, which is much higher than many methods of birth control.
In a chapter entitled, “When Saying ‘I Do’ Is Impossible,” West explains clearly and compassionately the church’s teachings on homosexuality. He emphasizes that the church recommends understanding and charity toward lesbians and gays and never condones hatred and violence.
The appendix of West’s book is terrific. It provides phone numbers and Web sites of organizations offering help for homosexuals and for people suffering from sexual addictions.
The appendix also lists organizations offering help to couples seeking information on natural family planning, and for those in need of healing from sexual addictions and post-abortion trauma.