Wanderlust: Catholic priest becomes unlikely sex guru

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Wanderlust is a regular GlobalPost series on global sex and relationship issues written by Iva Skoch, who is now traveling the world writing a book on the subject.

WISNIOVA, Poland — Father Ksawery Knotz doesn't see himself as a sexpert.

Dressed in a brown habit of the Capuchin friars, he certainly doesn't look like one. Yet, since the celibate Catholic priest started publishing his online sex guide in 2003, he has developed a healthy following of couples from all over Poland who seek his advice on matters ranging from God-approved birth control to the morality of oral sex.

"People want to read about sex," he said. "It's a good way to communicate with people."

He compensates for his lack of practical experience by reading books on the subject, going to seminars and listening to people. To hear him tell it, one doesn't need to have a heart attack to be a cardiologist.

Father Knotz, 45, posts his erotic insights on his website called Szansa Potkania (Chance to Meet) and they are relatively explicit, at least by the standards of the famously rigid Catholic church.

"Woman, who has not experienced an orgasm due to the fact that sexual intercourse has been too fast, could let her husband satisfy her in any other way," he writes in a section called Ending of Marital Intercourse. "Only after experiencing an orgasm (sometimes several orgasms) an excited woman could feel fully-appeased."

Needless to say, his website has been extremely popular, and not just among women.

The notion of "sex compatible with Catholicism" has struck a cord in one of the most religious countries in Europe and Father Knotz has been busy answering readers' questions, giving lectures and writing books for the past seven years.

His newest book, "Sex is Divine," hit bookstores in Poland in early September. His last book on the erotica beat, "Sex as You Don't Know It: For Married Couples Who Love God," published last year, has sold around 50,000 copies so far — reaching a bestselling status on the Polish book market — and was translated into Spanish.

Joanna Rosolowska from the publishing house Swiety Pawel, which released "Sex as you don't know it," says that people are buying Father Knotz's books so readily because he sets forth issues that are embarrassing for most Catholics to discuss.

"He helps with matters — staying in harmony with Catholicism, of course — which generally are taboo, but simultaneously are great part of human life," she said.

Father Knotz's last book has acquired a nickname "Catholic Kamasutra," which he sees as unfortunate sensationalizing of his message by the tabloids.

"I don't give out actual sex advice. Today, people have plenty of technical information on the internet and don't need to talk to me about it," he said.

"I help people understand sexuality." Yet, many people see his books as earth-shattering in the field of sex ed.

Father Knotz hesitates when asked whether his efforts are supposed to modernize the Catholic church.

"In a way, yes," he said. Then he clarified that his views are in line with the teaching of the Catholic church on all burning issues: no on condoms, no on homosexuality, no on premarital sex, no on all artificial forms of birth control, with the only acceptable form of contraception being "natural family planning," which is the "calendar method" enriched by other natural ways of determining fertility, such as temperature charting and cervical mucus analysis.

So, perhaps, rather than modernizing, he says he's trying "to clear up some of the stereotypes of the Church."

The most common stereotypes, he said, are that people believe a good Catholic should have baby after baby or that taking pleasure in sex isn't good. "It seems to people that God and sex have nothing to do with each other," he said.

To address this fundamental gap and to encourage people to invite God into their bedrooms, Father Knotz hosts five-day retreats for married Catholic couples called "Sexuality in the Context of Marriage" in his friary in Wisniova, a village about an hour south of Krakow.

Urszula Sikora, 39, who attended the retreat in August, said the most important message she gained from the seminar was that "sexuality is one of the most important elements of building a relationship."

Her husband, Henryk Sikora, 41, was also impressed by Father Knotz's progressive views. "I was surprised that Father said sexuality was a gift from God and that we can use sexuality for our happiness and pleasure," he said.

Father Knotz said that the issue of "sinfulness of sexuality" keeps coming up.

According to him it's rooted back in the "neurosis of the 19th century," as well as the experience of the wars and the "many cases of rape that were not spoken about."

Typically, he said, the problem is that people confuse a sin with a bodily reaction, which makes them think being a Catholic is extremely difficult.

"But sin is a conscious, free human choice, in which I know that something is evil and I do it anyway," he said. "It is my mind that decided, not the body that decided."

He means that, for example, having an erection when seeing an attractive woman other than one's wife in itself isn't a sin, contrary to what many Catholics believe, because one cannot control the body's reaction. A sin is deciding to use the erection and do something unwise with it.

Sinning aside, it turns out that — in the context of marriage at least — oral sex is completely moral.

"Caressing the external genitals with your lips or tongue as an element of foreplay is morally acceptable and we must not perceive it as a sin," he writes on his website.

"The Church preaching would contradict itself claiming that some parts of a beloved person's body, such as mouth, breasts, thighs, buttocks, can be caressed and kissed, while others, such as genitals, cannot be kissed, caressed or touched."

On the flip side, anal sex is not a morally acceptable method of contraception, even though the incidence of it among heterosexuals in some Catholic countries is remarkably high.

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