Ye Olde Sparke

Favorite quotes from this piece about two couples who had sex many nights in a row and then wrote books about it:

“That they thought a sex marathon would reinvigorate their marriages might say as much about the American penchant for exercise and goal-setting as it does about the state of romance.”

“…the sexual marathon in 2006 was his wife’s idea, a way to banish suburban boredom after they moved to Boulder two years earlier from the East Coast. ‘I thought we don’t have anything else going on,’ Annie said in an interview. ‘It might kick-start our marriage.'”

“Shoshana Bulow, a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in Manhattan, pointed out that sex is a lot more complicated than frequency. ‘There’s all sorts of reasons people lose interest in sex with their partner — disappointments, life cycles, financial issues,’ she said. ‘Just having it isn’t going to resolve those.'”

But then there was this, which was actually human and heartfelt:

“Charla Muller and Annie Brown both talk about how mandated physical intimacy created more emotional intimacy. ‘It required a daily kindness and forgiveness, and not being cranky or snarky, that I don’t think either of us had experienced before,’ Charla said.”


  1. notrelatedtoted says

    What a bunch of crap. From the annals of NFP, we all know that it’s abstinence that makes the heart grow fonder….

  2. Matthew,

    As you may recall, I’ve been wading through the Ancient Christian Writers series as spiritual fodder (and rich fodder it is, I might add).

    Here’s what ol’ Pope St. Gregory the Great (Pastoralis Curae: ACW #11) has to say about marriage and married couples:

    “Now, then, the mind of married Christians is both weak and steadfast, inasmuch as it cannot altogether diregard temporal matters, and yet is able in desire to unite itself with the eternal. …

    …The married must be admonished to bear in mind that they are united in wedlock for the purpose of procreation, and when they abandon themselves to immoderate intercourse, they transfer the occasion of procreation to the service of pleasure. Let them realize that thought they do not then pass beyond the bounds of wedlock, yet in wedlock they exceed its rights. Wherefore, it is necessary that they should efface by frequent prayer what they befoul in the fair form of intercourse by the admixture of pleasure.”

    This is about as controversial as it gets – and there’s a lot to unpack here. I assume hackles are getting up regarding the saint’s disregard for and even suggested disparagement of the unitive end of marriage(I don’t think he is, but that’s another story). I simply bring this text up as a way of addressing the incontinence which is POSSIBLE EVEN IN MARRIAGE. Whether Gregory means that all carnal pleasure is bad (which I don’t think he does) is an argument for another time.

    But, when it comes to sex marathons, at any rate, the Church has spoken – perhaps not definitively, but certainly decisively.


  3. Anonymous says


    “Wherefore, it is necessary that they should efface by frequent prayer what they befoul in the fair form of intercourse by the admixture of pleasure.”

    Yikes! Are you giving Pope St. Gregory the benefit of the doubt because he is a Saint? It’s going to take an awful lot of unpacking to make this sentence seem like sound counsel. It’s not that I’m against frequent prayer, it’s just that I don’t think it should be directed toward trying to un-befoul the marital act(s) from its incidental (or not so incidental) pleasure.


  4. ML,

    Yikes yourself.

    I’m giving the Saint the benefit of the doubt because he’s a pope…

    And because I think it’s pretty clear that he’s speaking of pleasure in a qualified sense – that is, in the context of what he refers to earlier as “immoderate intercourse.”

    My point in bringing up Gregory is just this: lust is possible – as the folks in the original post show – even in marriage. You don’t get a carte blanc because you have a ring on your finger. The popes at least as far back as Gregory have maintained this.


  5. Anonymous says

    what the heck is “immoderate intercourse”….thank god for pope JP II. not to disparage pope gregory, but we have evolved from the days when enjoying something therefore meant it must somehow be evil. i get your general point job….but pope JP II has clarified this for us by saying that the two things-unitive and procreative, cannot artificially be separated….. that doesn’t mean that if i am having a great time just simply being unitive….(as long as i haven’t “done” anything to stop myself from maybe possibly procreating if my body is so capable) that hence i am desecrating the marital act. GO UNITIVE!!!! (and, you know if a baby comes along bonus.) mcm

  6. Anonymous says

    my point being, you don’t have to want a baby nor even be physically capable of conceiving a baby (say for example a couple with infertility or an older couple or a couple who is already with child) to still keep the integrity of the act sacred. ones intention does NOT have to be procreation, one only has to keep the unitive and procreative elements integrated and organically there to remain true to it’s sacred nature within marriage. GO UNITIVE! mcm

  7. MCM:

    “immoderate intercourse” = “sexual marathon”


  8. Anonymous says

    why is that bad? if each time both people self donate completely? (don’t get the wrong idea…..although my husband might love the idea it just ain’t happening with four small kids around ;-)))) i just don’t think it’s wrong at all. what, wasn’t it just sex once a day? what’s wrong with that? i actually thought the idea kinda cool. i mean, so often, we are putting EVERYTHING ELSE before intimacy. why not make it more of a priority? like, exercise for a healthy body, prayer for a healthy spiritual life, sex for a healthy marriage? this probably isn’t doable during the procreative years because the reality is most people just aren’t up for marathon procreation. however, i know some catholics are in fact open to any and all kids god gives them (meaning not practicing nfp), would it be wrong for them to have sex once a day?under these circumstances? i just don’t see a problem with it. the only reason i am not having sex once a day, is because i practice abstaining for the sake of child spacing….if i wasn’t worried about that, then i wouldn’t be worried about how often i had sex. period. mcm

  9. Anonymous says

    I think JOB insight is sound nevertheless. Those arguing “GO UNITIVE!” aren’t really arguing against him, I don’t think. What he is saying, if I understand it correctly, is that it is still possible within marriage for the marital act to become one that tends towards lust and objectification rather than union, let alone procreation. To put it one way “GO UNITIVE!” does not equal “GO ORGASM!”

  10. Anonymous says

    i don’t know. honestly, i am not sure i would have a problem with that either as long as, as i said before, there was complete self-donation and the marital act was intact….i wonder what the problem would be with
    “GO PLEASURE”….not my own selfish pleasure, but joy and pleasure for both people. i think there is a danger in buying into these ancient and un-evolved view points on sexuality. there is good reason why JP II wrote on the subject as much as he did. what i found interesting about the experiment, of marathon sex, is that doing it actually brought about a sense of unity. i think this is an important insight. and often gets lost in marriage that becomes about work and about kids and about housework and about babies and about finances etc. and looses it’s sense of this being about the joining of two people together to deal with all that stuff. maybe there is something to be said about those two people taking time to celebrate their union and making the celebration of that fact an actual priority. most of the ancients, often argue about sexuality from the premise that it is inherently bad, but if a child comes about then that elevates it. this is exactly what JP II is trying so hard to get away from. he wants to celebrate the body and give sex it’s own sacred meaning. it’s own sacramental meaning. i was curious to see that maybe a marriage could in fact be healed by requiring couples-again with the premise that it remains a complete self-donation by both couples-to be intimate. which would then result in a better union overall. in other words…if you direct the “matter” of the marriage toward unity, then the spirit follows. rather than making the assumption that marriage works the other way around. it was really that aspect of the study that i found particularly interesting. i don’t think anywhere it was called an ‘ORGASM” marathon… mcm

  11. MCM,

    I fully acknowledge that JPII has some important things to say about Church teaching regarding the joy, holiness, etc. of marriage and sex. On the other hand, it is highly imprudent to set pope against pope unless there is some explicit text on which the two disagree *without qualification*. As far as I know, the theology of the body has not risen to the level of doctrine, nor has it contradicted any Church teaching, nor has it superceded any Church teaching. That said, the prohibitions against lust are older than the Church herself, let alone JPII’s writings.

    Indeed, Pope John Paul II himself in his Wednesday audiences on which his Theology of the Body is based warns against the sin of concupiscience in marriage. Now for those willing to give JPII the benefit of the doubt – “He was referring to contraception, not sex per se” – I say, fine: what’s good for the 20th century goose should be good for the 9th century gander: give Gregory the same fair shake, again, keeping in mind that he was every bit as much a pope as JPII. I say Gregory was offering prohibitions NOT against the licit pleasures of the marriage act per se, but against the illicit pleasures one derives through concupiscience in the marriage act.

    By the way, St. Thomas also chimes in on this in the Commentary on the Four Books of Sentences: “There are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the [marriage] debt. Otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.” This is not just the opinion of some prudish wackadoodle – but traditionally represents the voices of the Church Fathers in unanimity.

    Which leads to my final point: you’re idea that somehow we’ve “evolved” in our understanding of sex: I just don’t see it. I look around – you need only look at the various posts which Matthew has blogged regarding “Today in Porn” to see for yourself that we have in fact NOT evolved – and given the disintegration of Christian culture, may even have devolved in our understanding of sex – (the Magisterium excepted, of course, ever new, ever ancient in its teachings…).

    Again, my original point in bringing up Gregory is simply to indicate that as far as the Church is concerned a so-called sex marathon is really nothing more than lust in marriage gussied up to look like something it isn’t. So when you speak of such things as “sex marathons” as a good thing – I believe you must tread lightly. The power of sex is so great that Christ (long before JPII came along) already saw fit to prescribe it solely for the sacramental union of man and woman – and it is this union which one toys with when one engages in sex games – even in marriage. Far from being some prudish, neo-manichean wacko, Gregory was, as I see it, prophetic in his warning to all married couples – esepcially married couples in our sex-saturated culture – not to toy with a such a precious gift from God – for you do so at your own risk.


  12. Anonymous says

    just to quickly clarify-i don’t think the world has evolved, i think the church has evolved-meaning, that the understanding of sex has evolved. st. thomas may not be a whackodoodle but the notion that sex either has to be intend to make a baby or pay a debt? that’s whackodoodle. all respect to st. thomas, i mean everything he said was NOT perfect NOR was it considered doctrine. i have complete respect for pope gregory-however his being a pope is NOT in and of itself a justification for every view point he may have. there have been some horrible pope’s in the history of the church. his being a pope does not necessitate that i have to accept his rightness unless he speaks excathedra. i just do not get what you are saying-unless of course there is some sort of abuse going on meaning one person forcing himself (or herself) on the other. but that negates what i was saying about the necessity for self-donation. you seem (i may have read you wrong) to be giving pope JPII less credit than you give thomas or pope gregory. i am not sure why that is. humanae vitae is doctrine as far as i understand (maybe i am displaying my ignorance here?) i know theology of the body is not, but these
    issues are addressed in humanae vitae. gotta go i have guests here. mcm

  13. MCM:

    “his being a pope does not necessitate that i have to accept his rightness unless he speaks excathedra.”

    I would think that when a pope speaks on anything touching on faith and morals – such as lust in marriage – it might be of interest to Catholics. And more than interest, it might be something we would want to heed.

    Let us investigate our own God-given patrimony – Gregory is speaking as part of the very Tradition which has endowed the Church with the grammar necessary to say anything intelligible about sex at all.

    Could you cite the relevant texts where the Church’s view of sex has changed – evolved, if you will – in either Humanae Vitae or JPII?

    As far as I understand it, the only doctrine that can “develop” is that which applies to matters of faith. (i.e. Purgatory or The Virgin Mary or Papal Infallibilty) There has never been, and can never be a development of “morals” as such.

    If we agree that human nature cannot change – then we have to say that it’s fallen state will remain so until judgment day. So what does the Church say will guide us to our supernatural destiny? Regarding morals, the Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments pretty much cover it. This has been the matrix for every authoritative catechism ever written. It is what we’ve recieved as the Truth. And it is to this point that the Lord speaks when he says that there is “nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl.1:9) Moral doctrine does not change because human nature does not change. Again, as far as I understand it, any pope weighing in on matters of morals amounts to a profound elaboration of the 10 and the 2 – but an elaboration nonetheless. This includes the Church’s teaching on lust – even lust in marriage.


  14. Matthew Lickona says

    Without wading in too deeply, surely what is moral may shift somewhat according to prudence, no? The application of the death penalty comes to mind…

  15. Matthew,

    Yes, I wholly agree: on the prudential level, moral teaching may “shift” as you say. But a “shift” in the application of doctrine does not represent a “development” as such.

    For example, your parents have given you an 11 o’clock curfew. Your house catches fire at 11:01. It is not a “development” of your parents policy on curfew when they tell you to get the hell out of the house.

    So too, regarding CP – it is, as you say, a shift of application, not principle. The basic Church teaching on CP has not changed one jot or tittle.

    “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and repsonsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” (CC; 2267).

    But regarding Gregory, my question remains: how exactly do the writings of JPII or Paul VI (HV) represent a shift in the Church’s basic teaching on sexuality – even in application? If anything, I understand both writings to be a reaffirmation of principle. And more importantly, how exactly do either HV or JPII’s writings exonerate something as distasteful as a “sex marathon”?


  16. Anonymous says

    i really do not agree that there hasn’t been some let me call it “revelation” with respect to sex rather than evolution or progression (which seems to implicate that it comes from man rather than god) in church teaching. i am pretty sure the idea that there are two equally relevant and equally good and therefore unseparable ends in married sex IS a relatively new idea or at least newly expounded upon. what pope gregory seems to implicate in his writings as he is quoted by you (because i have not read him) is that one of those goods, the procreative good, is higher than the unitive good. i just wanted to make the simple point that this isn’t true. that a couple can, now according to church teaching, come together to be unitive as long as they are not artificially destroying the chance of being procreative. this is an important revelation-without it we would not have nfp. and i do think it really represents a shift in church teaching. i agree that the underlying principles behind this remain the same. but the level of understanding has advanced. mcm

  17. Anonymous says

    further….sorry i am trying to make my points but i am so darn busy with all these kids i have from procreating so darn much :-)))…further, i just don’t see the issue with a “sex marathon” i know it’s awful terminology, but, weren’t they just mandated to sex once a day? i don’t see a problem with that at all. given that a couple is remaining true to church teaching and keeping unitive and procreative integrity intact, why not? why the heck not? if you have the time, the energy, and still are blessed with the desire? why not? mcm

  18. MCM:

    “i am pretty sure the idea that there are two equally relevant and equally good and therefore unseparable ends in married sex IS a relatively new idea or at least newly expounded upon.”

    Although not authoriative in the sense we’ve been speaking of up until now, Romano Amerio, a peritus at the Second Vatican Council puts it better than I can that the Church teaching on the unitive and procreative ends of marriage being inseparable has been around for a long time – at least since the late 17th century.

    “The objective priority of the procreative end of marriage seems to require a corresponding subjective priority in the intention of the spouses during sexual relations. Innocent XI (1676-1689) censured the opinion that the conjugal act is free from fault when performed without any procreative intention, motivated simply by pleasure. If goodness of conjugal union is compromised by the lack of a positive intention regarding its procreative effect, it seems marital relations must necessarily include a procreative intention. It amounts therefore to a change in doctrine to allege that the perfecting and reciprocal gift of the spouses is a sufficient intention to make conjugal relations morally good.”
    – Iota Unum; 660

    I’m willing to admit that there may be couples – even virtuous couples – out there with the stamina of which you speak. I just don’t see how a sex marathon, as presented in the article, can maintain both ends (or either end, for that matter) – especially when, I repeat, sex is reduced to a game or a contest (in fact, the “terminology” reveals something of the character of the act.) That the couple may have benefited from the game is accidental to the fact that they reduced sex to something less than it truly is.


  19. Anonymous says

    isn’t he saying exactly what i am saying? or am i just dense. what does he mean by this “it amounts, therefore to a change in doctrine to allege that the perfecting and reciprocal gift of the spouses is a sufficient intention to make conjugal relations morally good.” ? okay, maybe that happened earlier than i was aware of. but he does seem to be saying it was a change in doctrine. we know, that, and thank god he did, pope JPII explains what this means more clearly, you don’t have to have specific intent to procreate….infertile couples being a good example. but this makes my point. that if complete self-donation is present, then to use that rather arcane terminology-just as bad in my book as “sex marathon”-it would be “morally good” for couples to have “conjugal relations” even without specific intent to conceive…..mcm

  20. Anonymous says

    that being my reason for not understanding why it would be wrong for married couples to “relate conjugally” as much as they like. as long as they continue self donation, and are willing to accept the requisite number of children that come along? this PRESUMES as i have continued to maintain, complete self donation on the part of both people. meaning, that both people are aware and content to come together and if it’s during a time a child could come along, they are both open to that. not having read many of the ancients….i have to rely on current writings-those of pope JP II and pope Benedict, for my understanding. trusting that they have in fact read the ancients and that their understand and their writings include what they have studied and read. otherwise, you are just quoting partial texts to me…i have no real idea what came before or after what you just quoted, so it’s difficult for me to adequately address your quotes. mcm

  21. Anonymous says

    one last final thought…i do get why “sex marathon” sounds bad. i think we can only imagine such a thing as being separated from the desire for children. but i think this could happen, for the sake of trying to conceive a child. i think it’s important not just take the terminology and assume bad motives or assume “reducing sex to something less than it is.” it’s bad verbiage i get that….but i do think there is freedom enough in the catholic bedroom to allow for something like that (maybe an older couple who needs to reconnect) without it being “morally bad”-marathon may be a bad word to describe it. mcm

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