Is there such a thing as pleasure without consequences? I found myself pondering this very question after hearing Christopher West’s interview on on Nightline. Christopher West is a speaker and author that has been dedicating his life’s work to bringing the message of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of The Body, to the world. In his interview with Nightline, he likened contracepted sex to a form of sexual bulimia. To better understand what he meant, we need to have a basic understanding of what Bulimia is.
Bulimia is an illness characterized by the taking in of food through binging or eating to excess only to purge or vomit out all that was taken in. The person with this illness desires to enjoy the pleasurable sensations of the food through the physical act of consuming it but does not want to bear the responsibility or consequences of their actions therefore they vomit out the food after they are done consuming it (this is a very basic definition for use in this article and not intended to be a through medical explanation).
So how does Bulimia liken itself to contracepted sex? Well, perhaps he was stating that both examples are of a person seeking out pleasure through a physical means, one in the sexual act the other through the pleasure of eating. Just as a bulimic vomits out the food to purge themselves of the undesired calories, the “sexual bulimic” vomits out the fertility, the unwanted part of sexual intimacy through the use of contraception. I was struck by his wonderful use of imagery in this comparison.
It reminded me of when I was a freshmen in high school. I had been removed from my home in Wisconsin a year before after the state discovered that my step father was sexually abusing me for the past 5 years. I was sent to live with my father in San Jose, California. My world was turned upside down as I was thrust into a new life thousands of miles away from my mother, my brother and sister and all my friends. I was living with a father that I barely new. I was desperate to fit in with the local tanned and totally fit student body at my new High School. I dyed my hair, made the varsity cheerleading squad, started dating one of the most popular foot ball players (his family is actually famous) and started using food to sooth and comfort me during the stressful transition. The calories posed a problem to the body I was supposed to maintain so the balance I found was not moderation and exercise but binging and purging. It allowed me to continue to abuse food without consequences (so I thought).
After reflecting on my own bulimic past, I found the imagery of Christopher’s example compelling because it likens itself to so much of the truth. For example, food is life giving. It takes a physical act of consuming it to put it into ones body and the process begins with our tongues, filled with taste buds and saliva glands as well as the nose, integrating these somatic parts to what can often be called a pleasurable experience (depending upon what you are eating of course). Now, the main purpose of eating is not pleasure, however if you think about it, it is quite amazing how many things God has made pleasurable yet the main purpose is not pleasure alone. So to eat to excess, only to vomit out the life giving substance, is analogous to contracepted sex because it seeks to take in physically the pleasure and the contents but rejects the life giving component; fertility.
Where I binged on Ho Ho’s and then purged them out, my goal, my purpose was to feed that urge and desire that my body was screaming for, pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, comfort. The desire was not bad but the way in which I was seeking to fulfill it was twisted. The purging was a way I tried to balance out or cancel out the reaction to my actions. I was trying to overt the natural purpose and consequence of food, which was calories.
So seeking pleasure wherever I could find it continued to be a theme in my life. Contraception allowed me to take in the physical pleasure and the gift of another but then vomit out the part that I did not want to affect me or my life, just like I had once vomited out the food. It would be years later that I would discover the truth about contraception. You can read that journey in my article on “Living your yes is loving God”.