The St Ignatius Guide to Good Sex

My parish priest – who is not a Jesuit, by the way -- this morning preached on St Ignatius of Loyola’s remarkable insight into the way the movements of the spirit produce feelings that are a sure guide to where God is calling people.

Consolation – the movement of God’s Spirit – produces warmth, satisfaction, joy. Desolation – the absence of that Spirit – produces dryness, frustration, irritation, and a feeling of emptiness. Visitors to this site know that, right?


But this morning was the first time I had ever heard this applied to sex.

"A couple having sex may find they do various things together that thrill each other, and that turn each other on,” said Fr Pat. “But the next morning they find they are more distant from each other, and have a feeling of emptiness and sadness.”

Rather than trying to do things which “turn each other on”, he said, couples may find that doing things that “turn them onto each other” produce the opposite feelings: the next morning they are more bonded, more loving, more united to each other.  

Learning to listen to these feelings, he said, was a way of learning which way to go, and what to avoid.

Sex wasn’t the only example he gave: the way we drink and shop was also part of the same homily.

But it was his application of Ignatius’s spiritual discernment to the difference between good and bad lovemaking  - sex that unites, sex that is self-gratification -- that held us enthralled. No pins dropped: we would have noticed. We all knew exactly what he meant.

Simply brilliant, the 80-year-old lady next to me whispered.

The next time anyone scornfully says celibate priests have no right to preach on such matters, I shall laugh.

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10 years 5 months ago
Waiting with bated breath for the SJs to weigh in on sex and drink in particular and who they think this homily was directed at. I doubt the priest was speaking to those in happy, healthy sexual relationships. It was more likely he was addressing those in dysfunctional ones, perhaps those having affairs or those who engaged in those binge drinking sessions mentioned which are often followed by casual sex. I also think both the priest and Austen confuse sex and lovemaking. Sex is usually a part of lovemaking but with casual sex there is often little or no love there which is what leads to desolation. Whatever goes on in the sexual life of a loving, consensual relationship should never lead to negative feelings and the last thing we need are priests trying to make us feel guilty for thrilling or turning on our partner. What I would have taken away from the homily is the importance of marriage or at least a very stable loving relationship when it comes to intimacy.
10 years 5 months ago
Shanti: I really ought to leave the reply to this to the large number of Jesuits who inhabit this site -- SJs out there, can you help? Roughly what Fr Pat said, on shopping, was that there is a way of buying things which is driven -- we go on credit card-thumping sprees full of the thrill of dazzling new things (gadgets in my case; others prefer shoes) but return home feeling empty and sad. That's a feeling you should listen to, and learn from. Compare it to the joyous satisfaction of buying something you really need, carefully and with due discernment; or of finding just the right present to give someone that will express your appreciation of them. God's on the side of that purchase. It's healthy, good and fulfilling. Compulsive buying is more like egotistical sex. The weekly supermarket shop, obviously, like most sex, falls somewhere between these two. On drink, Fr Pat compared the glass of wine in the company of good friends with the oblivion-seeking binge-drinking which can be witnessed on Saturday nights in most British towns. It's not just that with the second you wake up with a freeway in your head and a noxious tongue; it's the emptiness and tristesse that go with them. Pay attention to these, and you get at why one is wrong and the other fine. John: the 80-year-old concerned is sharp as a button, and a mother to boot. And God save us from ''experts on the psychodynamics of the sexual act''. We're hard-wired with God-given means of knowing what is good, edifying, love-building -- that's St Ignatius's insight. But learning to listen -- that's the challenge. That's the spiritual life. (SJs, that's also your cue.)
10 years 5 months ago
Although perhaps said in jest, Shanti has a good point in wanting to know the Ignatian Way to shop and drink - for discernment in all that we do and how we do it and when we do it is part of the Ignatian Way of Spirituality. That said, while I admire the priest for talking about sex from the theoretical point of view, I suspect that you could have heard a pin drop more from the shock factor than anything else. We of course also wonder if the 80 year old lady had her hearing aid in. You all ''knew what he was talking about'', but did he (the priest)? Pope John Paul II talks extensively about, ''sex that unites, sex that is self-gratification'' in his The Theology of the Body book; so even the pope can broach the subject. This, however, doesn't make the pope or the priest an expert on the psychodynamics of the sexual act or of how to apply the Ignatian Method to said sexual act. In fact, reducing the sexual act and it's after affects to ''sex that unites, sex that is self-gratification'' may have dire consequences in that it sets up a blame game and manipulation about said sex. The human person is just too complicated to ascribe all the after affects of lovemaking to that act alone. Life is much more than sex in other words. So, the priest made a brave attempt to show that actions have effects and really, they do, but not as simply as he presented them; that he theorized at all was impressive and convinced the audience but further examination reveals what might be isn't. This by no means negates the value of the celibate priesthood to know and teach the dynamics of marriage and to deal with things sexual; only they need to well learned in these matters. By the way, my wife agrees with what I've written as we discussed the matter.
10 years 5 months ago
Austen and others - please accept my apologies for the rather agism quip about the 80 yr old lady and her hearing aid. Really, I fell into this trap of seeming opportunity and immediately regreted it. The psychodynamics of sex is not my field either, but to ascribe a certain singular effect to a very complex act is to lay claim to a mechanism that I believe would fall within the purview of such a field. And, as I intimated, our moods are also affected by the overbearing boss, the nasty neighbor, and the boom box that just went down the street; hence, the need for discernment, not just rote conclusions. At this point I also appeal to to a knowledgable Jesuit. Or, anyone else who has studied and learned the application of Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and Methods. And thank you for your points about food and drink and shopping. John
10 years 5 months ago
Thank you for sharing such a good (and liberating) homily. But can you share more ? .....Sex wasn’t the only example he gave: the way we drink and shop was also part of the same homily..... I would really like to know about drink and shop the Ignatian way.


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