A Catholic Guide

to Sex and Dating

by Leah Perrault

and Brett Salkeld

Novalis, 2009

112 pages, $9.95

To order:

(800) 387-7164

This is a book that is considerably better than what its title might suggest. The question “How far can we go?” happens to be the one that young people most frequently ask the authors when they present Church teaching on sexuality. Therefore, it serves as an attention-getter rather than as an encapsulation of the book’s main theme. The real question Leah Perrault and Brett Salkeld want people to ask is: “How am I being called to give myself in relationships?”

Phrasing the question in this manner leads directly to discussions about vocation, gift of self, commitment, respect for human dignity and marriage. It also evokes the spirit behind Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, one that shuns rules and repositions the discussion of sexual morality so that the key question is not “What must I avoid doing?” but “How do I express my sexuality in a way that is consistent with my dignity as a person and as an image of a loving God?”

The authors, both graduate students who are married (not to each other) and have small children, refer to theology of the body only twice. However, Pope John Paul’s influence is evident throughout this small tome, especially with regard to the notions of “gift,” “communion,” the “language of the body” and the “nuptial significance of the body.”

The authors are keenly aware of the omnipresence of the secular world and the powerful influence it has on young people. They know that Christianity is countercultural. Therefore, they approach controversial issues, such as abstaining from intercourse prior to marriage, masturbation and the use of contraception, very gently and with great sensitivity. Nowhere, however, do they depart from Catholic orthodoxy.

They deserve plaudits for their convincing refutation of the tired cliché that the Church is against sex. When you love something, they argue, you want it to be properly respected. It is the abuse that you are against: “You may love hockey, but that does not mean you love tripping, slashing, goaltender interference, cherry-picking, sucker-punching and hitting from behind.”

They are also adept at distinguishing between natural family planning and contraception: “NFP alters one’s lifestyle to accommodate the nature of sex, while artificial contraception alters the nature of sex to accommodate one’s lifestyle.”

Perrault and Salkeld cover a great deal of territory, despite the brevity of their book. They provide clear and helpful presentations on vocation, discernment, virtue, conscience and love. Their presentation of intimacy includes the various levels that are part of the integrated person — emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual and physical — because intimacy includes far more than the carnal dimension.

How Far covers marital issues that go far beyond “dating.” The brevity of the text leaves no room for footnotes or bibliography, nor is there a list of recommended readings. An inquiring reader may want to know more about “studies” indicating that couples using NFP have divorce rates of less than 5%. In addition, readers might want to know about the practice of NFP. The Couple to Couple League, the Billings Method and so on are not mentioned.

This is a useful book, not only because it represents Catholic teaching on sexuality fairly, but also because it will stimulate further discussion. It has much more to offer than the title would indicate.

Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary and Mater Ecclesiae College.