Sex Sermonist's Heroes: Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner

A pope and a playboy inspire devout Catholic's sex sermons.

May 7, 2009, 10:51 AM

QUARRYVILLE, Pa., May 7, 2009 -- Christopher West is not your average sex therapist. He's a devout Catholic who believes one of the most important ways we can get closer to God is through great sex.

"As Christians, we are desperately in need of a renewed vision of our sexuality," West has sermonized. "The union of man and woman itself is meant to be here on planet Earth an image, a foretaste, a little glimmer of the eternal ecstasy that awaits us in heaven."

The seeming paradox of West's position is captured in the unlikely pairing of his two big heroes -- his muses, you might say. They are Pope John Paul II, and Hugh Hefner. A saint and a sinner.

"I actually see very profound historical connections between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II," said West.

And it's not just the red slippers?

"No, it's not just the red slippers." Each man in his own way, West insisted, rescued sex from prudish Victorian morality.

"I love Hugh Hefner," said West. "I really do. Why? Because I think I understand his ache. I think I understand his longing because I feel it myself. There is this yearning, this ache, this longing we all have for love, for union, for intimacy."

West said John Paul II took the sexual revolution an extra step, outlining what he called the "Theology of the Body." The pope emphasized how God made Adam and Eve naked and without shame, in his own image. And told them to be fruitful and multiply.

In other words, according to the pope, from the very beginning, sexual love has been at the heart of God's plan for us.

"Catholicism, properly understood ... is one of the sexiest of the world's religions," said West. "But what do we mean by that statement? Catholicism is a very physical, very sensual religion. And indeed the authentic soundtrack for Christianity is a small book in the Old Testament called the Song of Songs. And what is it? It is glorious erotic love poetry."

West goes so far as to call the Song of Songs "the centerfold of the Bible," providing what he sees as a Biblical acceptance of oral sex as foreplay, among other things.

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Small wonder his books have sold more than a million copies and his CDs more than 3 million copies. Small wonder the Christian couples who attend West's "Theology of the Body" retreats tend to leave with smiles on their faces.

"It revolutionized my marriage and the way I saw my husband, and even the way I understood our intimacy," said Kathy Schmugge, an attendee.

Another student of West's, Andy McMurry, agreed. "It changed my life completely," McMurry said. "It changed my marriage. It took my marriage from what I thought was good to unbelievably good."

West admits his take on Christianity and sex is a radical departure from the church teachings he grew up with.

"What I heard in Catholic school, growing up anyway ... [was] 'Thou shalt not.' When it came to questions of sex, 'Thou shalt not.'"

But when West looks at the Bible now, he sees the ultimate sex guide. The "Joy of Sex" as a path to salvation.

"How do we live our sexuality in a way that points us to ultimate love, and ultimate happiness, and ultimate fulfillment?" he asked.

Of course, there is some fine print. West addresses his teaching only to straight men and women, properly married. No gay sex. No birth control.

Asked why contraception is wrong given that the Bible does not explicitly outlaw condoms, for example, West has a snappy reply.

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"Where in the Bible does it say, 'Thou shalt not cut off thy neighbor's head with a chainsaw'? It also says in the Scripture that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. And Christ's love is a life-giving love."

In other words, West believes sex without the possibility of creating new life is a sin, and that using contraception is, if you will, a kind of a sexual bulimia.

"I want the pleasure of the act, but I don't want the consequences of the act, so I am going to vomit out my fertility," is how West describes the mind-set.

But West also believes sex without pleasure would be a sacrilege. In fact, he sees orgasm as a glimmer of salvation.

"Interestingly enough, John Paul II, long before he became pope, in the late 1950s, wrote that if a man is truly to love his wife he must learn how to contain his own climax in order to learn how to bring his wife to climax with him."

As a sexual manifesto, it may not be for everyone. But it is certainly revolutionary.

"Christians must not retreat from what the sexual revolution began," lectured West. "Christians must complete what the sexual revolution began."

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Among a growing number of Christians, his message is finding a receptive audience.

"The problem is we have kicked God out of the bedroom. Do the math on that. If God is love, and we kick him out of the bedroom, then what's going on in your bedroom? It ain't love.

"We have to bring God and sex back together," said West.