I was brought up by a Catholic mother and a Church of England father and the main religion of the house was the Roman Catholic faith: we went to church every Sunday and I went to a Catholic Convent Boarding school in the UK, which was run by nuns. I was a boarder there from age six to thirteen and continued as a day girl until I was seventeen.
There’s one aspect of my upbringing that is really only now sinking in, and that is the sexual repression.
There was always a joke about Catholic girls being rather naughty when it came to sex and that’s probably a form of rebellion from the complete repression that takes place within the Catholic Church. The opposite is also true, with some girls growing up very nun-like in their prudishness.
Where does the rebellion come from? A celibate life is celebrated and priests and nuns are not allowed to marry, but is a celibate life normal or healthy for everyone? We are taught that Jesus was single, but that would have been very unusual in his day: he is more likely to have had a wife and at least three children. Is it possible that the Catholic Church rewrote history to suit their agenda?
I don’t remember anything in the bible specifically that talked about relationships between men and women, but I am aware of the messages that have constantly played out in my head to this day and I’m sure they are as a result of my Catholic upbringing, because my parents never talked about sex and at school conversations were very limited, and the nuns didn’t offer any support when it came to relationship issues. In the 60s, I recall one religious education class where we were discussing how far you could/should go with a man before marriage and the answer was holding hands at the garden gate. We all laughed in disbelief. Sex before marriage was definitely not supposed to happen and the pill or other forms of contraception were banned. Just the natural rhythm method, guaranteed to fail. And, of course, many Catholic girls did get pregnant and their babies were adopted away, leaving young mothers distressed for the rest of their lives.
The main message I received growing up in a Catholic boarding school for girls was that “Boys are only after one thing,” i.e. all boys want to get their hand up your skirt. I am sure that, like me, many women have experienced boys at parties trying to touch their breasts or their genitals, or seen men exposing their penis in the street (flashers); and on London’s busy underground trains there are numerous opportunities for men to push themselves up against women. These kinds of activities support the generalised belief that all men are only interested in sex.
Judgements about men and sex were embedded in my education, and I grew up with an unbalanced view of men. I cringed whenever any man I was with would ogle a girl, focussing on her breasts. I felt offended but the men would see it as a ‘healthy appreciation,’ whereas for me it has always felt sleazy.
I have always wanted men to see me for who I am, not just a sexy body, and I’m sure many women feel the same.
Some women hide their bodies by wearing totally frumpy clothes or the opposite, using sexy, revealing clothes to have power over men. Neither offers equal respect between men and women.
At our Catholic school sexual relationships were never openly discussed so we were not encouraged to speak openly with each other about intimacy in relationships. I have since learned that intimacy is not just about being close in bed with a man or a woman, but about being deeply honest and sharing what we feel in all our relationships. That requires us to be deeply honest with ourselves first. We create ideals and pictures about how we think our relationships could or should be instead of feeling in each moment what is going on and being able to express and honour those feelings and our awareness.
In our history, and continuing today, there are many stories of women being raped by strangers, by family members or by their husbands. Nowadays, through the teachings of Universal Medicine and Serge Benhayon, I am slowly learning that there is a way of making love that is truly love, where the woman’s body is treated as sacred and nothing takes place that does not honour that.
Whilst in the past I may have used sex with men to make me feel better about myself, these days I know that in order to make love, rather than have sex, I need to start off feeling good about myself. I need to love myself first and feel the sacredness that my body was born with before I can truly offer my love to another. This is not something that I was taught by the Catholic Church.
My experience of the Catholic Church was that the teachings made all women feel unworthy, like second-class citizens, fit only for being a dutiful wife and mother and exclusively defined by their relationship to a man and their babies.
Why is it not part of the Catholic doctrine to teach about the sacredness we women are born with in our bodies?
Why are we women not taught to honour and express how we feel? We have been encouraged to be martyrs, do ‘good deeds’ and to put everyone else’s needs before our own. The natural sacredness and natural sexiness (not sexual) of a woman is deliberately suppressed. The Catholic Church is not alone in this but it is the only church I have personal experience of.
The sexual repression evident in many institutionalised religions, including the Catholic Church, is carefully crafted and can pass on through several generations if not caught and turned around. We women need to reclaim our bodies for ourselves and then what we can offer our partner is a woman in her fullness: tender, precious and full of love, a woman who doesn’t want sex but who can be very sexy in her sacredness when she is truly making love.
By Carmel Reid, NSW, Australia, Student of The Way of The Livingness rediscovering God and true love.