Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
With the sexual misbehavior of prominent people in the news daily, a helpful read for many would be Sexual Wisdom: A Guide for Parents, Young Adults, Educators, and Physicians (available on Amazon), a book released 20 years ago by California Catholic physician Richard Wetzel (1958-2010). The book presents 17 misconceptions about sex that are widespread in society, and offers arguments to dispel the myths.
His 17 misconceptions begin with Misconception #1: “People, especially men, have specific, genital, sexual needs.” Using natural law and common-sense arguments, Dr. Wetzel argues that sex should be an enhancement of a love relationship between a married couple, not the fulfillment of one partner’s “sexual needs.” The couple’s focus should be on the relationship, not sex. He opined, “We must ask whether genital, sexual activity is part of a relationship or an end in itself.”
Sex, he continued, should “enrich and validate a balanced, healthy relationship.”
Dr. Wetzel discusses the explosion of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among modern man; at the time of his writing in the 1990s, for example, some 45 million Americans had genital herpes (more than 50 million today). One in five Americans suffered from an incurable STD, with 12 million new STDs being diagnosed annually.
Children suffer, too; more than 40 percent of American children going to bed in a home in which there is no father living.
Dr. Wetzel describes how contraception harms a couple’s relationship, and opined that homosexual behavior was both addictive and unhealthy. About 28 percent of homosexual men in America, for example, had had over 1,000 sex partners; fewer than 1 percent had five or less.
His final misconception, which would ultimately lead to a second book, was “Sex education should be ‘values free.’” He laments that much of the sex education in American schools is contraceptive-based and has destroyed the modesty of naïve students.
Grew Up in Southern California
Dr. Wetzel grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. His father was an engineer, and he was one of four children. While the family was more than nominally Catholic, they were not devout, either. He met his future wife, Dominique, at the Catholic Newman Center while attending UCLA. After graduating with a biology degree, he went on to Albany Medical Center in New York. By this time, he had broken with the Church, believing its teachings on sexuality to be outdated and unrealistic.
He and Dominique married in 1985, and settled in Huntington Beach, California. He began working as a family practice physician.
Dominique informed him during their engagement that she would not be using artificial birth control but Natural Family Planning. Richard reluctantly agreed, believing she would soon change her mind. But it was he who would change his mind: “A few years into my marriage and using NFP, I came to realize that something good was going on.”
For reasons he outlined in his book, he came to believe that contraception was harmful to a couple’s relationship and leads to many evils, such as abortion. By 1989, he refused to proscribe contraceptives to his patients. He began studying the Catholic faith intensively and was particularly impressed with Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae. It wasn’t long before he wanted to share his new-found knowledge with others.
Wife Dominique remarked, “Richard always wanted to save the world. He was a dreamer. He even thought about becoming a missionary.”
In his medical practice, Dr. Wetzel saw the harm sexual immorality had on his patients, not just in terms of disease, but in the effect it had on their relationships with others. So, he went to work on Sexual Wisdom to challenge the popular culture’s perspective on sex.
The difficulties of promoting a message of sexual morality are many, but there were many rewards along the way. He kept one letter from a young woman, for example, who was experimenting with being a lesbian but changed her mind after reading Sexual Wisdom.
Dr. Wetzel took special care when it was time to teach his own children about sex, and turned his lesson plan into a second book, Sexual Wisdom for Catholic Adolescents (SWCA), a home-based, comprehensive course for older teens (age 16 or 17). Unlike the first book, SWCA was from a distinctly Catholic perspective, including quotes from Scripture and prayers before lessons.
SWCA begins with a tasteful presentation of the biology of human sexuality, and then transitions into a discussion on the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex. Then, from a Catholic perspective, it discusses such topics as premarital sex, STDs, pornography, HIV/AIDS, contraception, Natural Family Planning, abortion and more.
Dr. Wetzel died of cancer in 2010, but the sexual wisdom he offered many is available in perpetuity through his books.