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Catholic Student Association Hosts Inaugural 'Catholic Sex Week'

Emerson Hall
Emerson Hall

Theologian Janet E. Smith delved into the Catholic Church’s stance on sex and sexuality in a lecture hosted by the Catholic Student Association in Emerson Hall Thursday evening.

The event was the capstone of the inaugural Catholic Sex Week, a series of talks organized by the CSA intended to provoke thought and discussion about the relationship between faith and sexuality. It follows last week’s Harvard Sex Week, an annual series of workshops, lectures, and discussions that aim to empower and educate College students on sexuality and sexual health

Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, a Catholic teaching institution in Detroit, and member of the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council on the Family, spoke on why the Church prohibits premarital sex and the use of artificial contraceptives. Her talk drew several dozen Harvard affiliates and Cambridge residents.

Smith said her position is based on the idea that sex should be a commitment to parenthood.

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“Contraceptive sex is all about the physical relationship,” she said. “You don’t have to know a person, it’s just two faceless people in a sensual moment. When you engage in a sexual act — [Pope] John Paul II says — the very act says, ‘I’m willing to be a parent with you.’”

In a 90-minute speech delivered without notes, Smith spoke on the differences she perceives between men and women, especially in terms of what drives them to have sex.

“Men learn to love because they want sex, and women learn to love sex so that they can have love,” she said.

Smith’s talk followed two other events centered more specifically on the use of contraception. The week kicked off with a discussion led by Patrick J. Fiorillo, undergraduate chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Center, on Humanae Vitae, a 50-year-old papal order written by Pope Paul VI banning artificial contraception. Fiorillo’s talk was followed on Wednesday by personal testimony about the Humanae Vitae by married couple Steve and Helene Bowler of Hudson, Mass.

CSA Steering Committee member John H. Clark ’19 said Catholic Sex Week programming was not a rebuttal to Harvard Sex Week, but rather an extension of the conversation.

“It was more of a catalyst to get us thinking about it rather than a direct response,” Clark said.

After Smith’s speech, several audience members stayed to discuss what they learned, which Clark said was what made Thursday’s event a success.

“That’s the goal; it’s to create conversation. It’s not imposing anything,” Clark said. “I think it’s for us to learn more about what the Catholic Church teaches and for us to then go back to our dorm rooms and our communities and to discuss those and grapple with that.”

Though Catholic Sex Week was primarily attended by members of the CSA, events were open to anyone with interest, according to event organizers.

“It’s as much to educate us as it is to educate those outside of the Catholic circle,” CSA President Connor J. Richardson ’19 said.

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