Don’t Tell The Preacher I Told You That

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Kirk is a man in my Baptist church. I recently interviewed him.

John: Congratulations on your 25th wedding anniversary Kirk. Not many couples stay together that long.

Kirk: No, they don’t. Divorce is the way to go these days. And if you don’t want to get married, a young man can get sex anywhere on the street these days. It’s as easy as buying pizza. The way he looks at it is why pay with his life for what he can with a one-night stand. People don’t know what commitment is any more.

John: So what do you think has kept you two together all these years?

Kirk: Well, probably a lot of things. We’ve got our four kids, you know. They’re our lives. And then we have nine grandkids. I guess you could say our family has kept us together. And then there’s the church.

John: What do you think the future holds for you and Sue?

Kirk: Well, we got married ’til death do us part. We’ve had a faithful marriage and one that I think honors God. We’ve always believed that marriage is a picture of the great wedding in the future between Christ and his church.

John: Where would you be today if you had not married Sue?

Kirk: I probably wouldn’t be here. I mean, I had a wild streak and Sue sort of calmed me down. She was like a guiding force that put me on the straight and narrow. If I hadn’t met her, I’d probably be doing time in prison . . . or dead.

John: Prison? What do you think you would have done to end up there?

Kirk: Well, before I met Sue, I liked to have a good time out on the drag strips and casino halls. I took risks with my life nearly every Saturday night. And I liked to have fun with the girls. Even though I never scored with one, I had lots of opportunities. I’m not sure how much longer I could have held out though if Sue hadn’t come along.

John: Are you saying you would have probably had sex before marriage?

Kirk: Probably so. Look, I was 21 and Sue was 19. A man can’t wait much longer than that. I’m not bragging or anything, but I think God game me a double dose of testosterone. How does the Bible put it? Oh yeah, I would have burned up with passion. Sue quenched my fire.

John: What would it have taken for you to survive until today without Sue, without sex, and without your kids and grandkids.

Kirk: Oh my, that would have taken a supernatural miracle on the part of God. I know the Bible talks about those people, but I’m not sure about that today.

John: You don’t think they exist today?

Kirk: I don’t know of any. They are highly exalted gifted people who are missionaries in third world countries. They wouldn’t have any need to be here. Everybody in this country knows who God is. I think Billy Graham had some . . . and maybe the Pope.

John: I see. Would you be able to recognize one if she was in your church Sunday morning?

Kirk: My heavens yes. They wear long robes and sandals. The women have long hair and wear no makeup. They wear a lot of black. They’re rather thin because they don’t eat much and they spend a lot of time with orphans and homeless people. They walk around quoting scripture.

John: So you think they’re missionaries in third world countries? Pretend for a moment that you’re on the way to the hospital with a sick daughter when you get a phone call from one of your coworkers contemplating suicide. Would you go see your desperate friend or continue to the hospital with your sick child?

Kirk: Well, of course I would continue on to the hospital. My child has to come first.

John: Okay. Whose responsibility is it to talk to your desperate friend, to walk out on the ledge with them?

Kirk: Uh . . . well . . . it should be one of those missionaries you were talking about. But it will probably be the police. That’s what we pay them to do.

John: Don’t you think God would have missionaries in every country to help with those kinds of situations?

Kirk: Well, I guess he would. He should. It’s just that everybody has responsibilities with families these days. Nobody has the time. Well, almost nobody. Somebody has been calling my mother in the nursing home every week. We can’t find out who it is.

John: Do you think everybody is supposed to be married?

Kirk: Of course not. There will always be some people who don’t.

John: What about the people who intentionally stay single and celibate?

Kirk: Now, only Catholics do that kind of thing. You know, they have their monks and nuns. People who have no sex drive.

John: Is that in the Bible?

Kirk: Yes, I think it’s in Hebrews. It says that only unmarried Catholic monks and nuns will be given the gift of celibacy.

John: Hold on just a second, I’ve got to call your mom at the nursing home.

Kirk: You mean you . . .

John: Yes, I’ve committed myself to calling several people every week. I could just as well cancel the commitment and keep on talking to you.

Kirk: No, you go right ahead. I appreciate what you’re doing. I’ve got to pick up Junior from the ballgame.

John: So, am I a single man waiting on a wife?

Kirk: No. You’ve got a calling. You’ve been faithfully committed to God. I’d say you’re a monk. But don’t tell the preacher I told you that.

Okay, this was a fictional interview. But I think it’s highly plausible.

He Who Makes A Paradise Of His Bread . . .

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In her new book Chastity Is For Lovers, my friend Arleen Spenceley includes a quote (p. 36) by Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia (1885-1968): “He who makes a paradise of his bread, makes a hell of his hunger.” For most Americans today, hunger is a foreign concept. Whatever your appetite, you have a civil right for it to be met. Your paradise could be drugs, porn, sex, sports, etc. Anything. Whatever your heart desires. Not only that, you don’t have to wait on anything. That would be unloving and cruel. You have the right for your pleasure to be met on a moment’s notice. That sounds like a pretty good description of addiction, doesn’t it? That’s because we live in a culture of addiction and debauchery. The biblical truths of chastity and self-restraint have been replaced by whatever it takes to bring pleasure and happiness in the short term. Anticipation of eternity has been replaced by big dreams for tomorrow. Anticipation of the wedding feast in heaven has been replaced by a hookup on Saturday night. I think few people realize that God does not promise us happiness on earth. Only in heaven will we find eternal happiness. That requires waiting. We are called to live as faithful servants of Christ while awaiting his return. And we are called to live as chaste men and women awaiting marriage – whether on this earth as husbands and wives or in heaven as brides of Christ. As a matter of fact, Christianity is based on waiting, on the advent of Christ’s return. It is based on hunger for more than can be fulfilled on earth.

Passing up paradise and leaving a portion of bread in our bowls requires us to acknowledge we are never alone at the table and that we have a responsibility to care for those in need. We have to take the “me” out of our worlds and replace it with serving other people and bringing glory to God. We have to show the humility that Christ showed on the cross. We have to show the humility that he does every time he gives us his body in the Eucharist. As St. Augustine said: “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless.” When a person is humble and recognizes where his bread comes, he does not feel the need to make a paradise out of it. He realizes that, by providing him sustenance, it becomes part of the process of glorifying God. It allows us further service in his name. This kind of humility leads to faith and dependence on God for everything. Not just food. A better approach to our bread might be: “Dear Lord, bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to Your service.” Thankfulness and faith allows us to see our bread bowls completely empty and that we are nothing without Christ. Not only that, it should allow us to see the empty bread bowls of our neighbors. Do you think you would notice the crumble of bread on your neighbor’s plate if your stuffing down a three-course steak dinner? Humility serves to keep our paradises grounded in reality. This would not be possible while floating in the paradise of a more than satisfied appetite. So we must first give thanks for our daily bread and acknowledge God as the provider. And instead of completely devouring what we do have, we save a portion for those who don’t have anything to eat. If we lead lives of gluttony and pleasure for the here and now without knowing what sacrifice is, then our bodies will expect quick satisfaction in the future when we don’t have a full plate. Self-control is a discipline that requires us to see beyond what’s on the menu today.

Just as we should be able to picture an empty bowl of bread, we should be able to picture our lives without sex. Just as a paradise of bread is not promised to us, a paradise of sexual fulfillment is not promised either. We are not promised sex in marriage, outside marriage, with a man, with a woman, or on top of a courthouse. Nada. As a matter of fact, Paul advises us to live as if we had no spouse: “From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not (1 Cor 7:29).” Since God included the sex drive in the DNA of our creation, remaining chaste before marriage or until Christ’s return takes a level of self control that the world does not know. This hunger makes room for unconditional love. Those who are saving sex for marriage know the importance of self-control. And they also know how moderation plays a role in every aspect of our lives. It’s part of who we are and our witness to the world. A lot of times, the paradise of our bread is made in the recesses of our minds and unrealistic expectations. We have bought into the world’s view of Prince Charming sweeping us off our feet and Cinderella being the babe of our dreams without first discerning if marriage is God’s will for our lives. In other words, we don’t start with an empty bowl. We assume it’s filled with marriage and work towards that end. Tragically we have bought into the notion that our lives are supposed to be one act drama-packed reality shows where emotions rule. Emotions are nothing more than hazy chalk marks on the expressway of life. They are strictly temporary. I can hold a baby and feel the “father gene” in me wake up. I can talk to the loveliest girls in the world and feel the “mating gene” in me wake up. But that doesn’t mean that God has called me to marriage. It doesn’t mean that I’m ruled by those emotions. It doesn’t mean my bowl is full of anything. It means that emotions take a backseat to the long-term will of God when he’s in the driver’s seat. As good and holy as marriage and sex are, they are part of this world. The temporary romantic love they represent is fading faster than moonlight on a summer’s day. Celibacy for the kingdom of God, however, is an eternal lifestyle choice. It involves a sacrifice that goes way beyond that found in dating, mating, and procreation.

If you are in the process of discerning marriage or celibacy, think about this: The next time you feel the need to have sex, to be a mother or father, to have someone at your side, to have someone to wake up with every morning – ask yourself what your feelings would be if you had no one else to compare your life with. What would your thoughts be if your bowl of expectations had no frame of reference? How would you define hunger? The next time you’re at a theme park and sandwiched between couples waiting in line for rides, don’t think of them as couples having a paradise of sex while you’re not. Think of them as individuals – just like you – waiting in line for the same thing you are. If they are Christians, they’re supposed to be living like they had no spouse anyway. Right? Don’t let what they may have be a reminder of what you don’t have. Better yet, put yourself in Adam’s shoes in the Garden of Eden before eve was created. What will be your answer when Adam asks “What’s a woman?” Now how do you feel about being alone? What’s alone? Let your celibacy be a reminder of what you do have – Total reliance on God to meet all your needs and God’s total reliance on me to have an undivided heart. Married people may not have the paradise you think. Honestly, they could be the unhappiest couple on earth and you may be the person they envy. Don’t start a narrative about a couple where one doesn’t exist. Just like you don’t want them to make assumptions about you as a single person, don’t make assumptions about them. Really, I doubt many couples look at me and say: “Oh, that poor single man. He would be so much happier with a woman by his side.” Being coupled in public or being alone in public doesn’t make much of a statement about our marital status or happiness. And it certainly makes no statement about our relationship with God. “Oh, but what if they don’t see God in me and just see my lonely pitiful self?” Do your best to mirror God’s love at all times. Loneliness is part of the human condition, whether married or not. Show the world that love exists outside the world of When Harry Met Sally. Show them that your completeness does not depend on a spouse and that you are able to be content with an empty bowl while waiting for the real paradise.

I think hunger is a natural part of every Christian’s life. We can never be too satisfied with this world because we know there’s a better world waiting. This is magnified for those of us called to celibate life, where waiting takes on the complexity of multidimensions that only the crew of the Enterprise could appreciate. But it doesn’t mean we lack passion. My love for God is made deeper by longing for what I don’t have. And I think my capacity to love mankind is deeper as well. Don’t let the world define who you are. If you’ve chosen celibacy, tell others about your choice of a higher love. Let them see just how you depend on Christ to meet all of your needs. Use your solitary completeness as a radical witness to the time coming when there will be no marriages. As incomprehensible as it may sound, remind couples that what will satisfy your hunger in the future will be better than the sex they are having today; that the paradise they are having with their bread today will one day be no more tastier than a stale wet cracker bouncing off their lips. So, eat the bread you do have with moderation and thankfulness. And make heaven, not hell, out of your hunger.

https://www.avemariapress.com/product/1-59471-480-0/Chastity-Is-for-Lovers/

What Is Love?

john waiving-web2

A lot has been written about love, from a romantic point of view. So I thought I would write something about my personal perception of love, from a platonic point of view. Actually, I prefer the term Agape – the all encompassing, sacrificial, love for God and neighbor, the kind of love God has for us. Back in my 20s and 30s, I pretty much took it for granted that everybody was aware of and respected those called to marriage as well as those called to celibacy. I took love for granted, whichever path I chose. I envisioned a Sunday School class door that read “eunuchs for the kingdom.” I had hope for acceptance. Since my background was Protestant, there was very little information in my church on celibacy. Everything centered on nuclear families – wedding anniversaries, birthdays, Father’s Day, etc. My dad kept telling me don’t worry about everybody else. From about the age of 16, he included something about singleness in our devotions at bedtime. “Apostle Paul. You can be like Apostle Paul. There’s nothing wrong with that.” I would read the scripture and he would explain. I listened. Okay, so I was taking a different path to love. I would be able to love everybody in a way that married people couldn’t. The only problem I didn’t count on was that the church would not love me back. I never dreamed that the Southern Baptists would ban single men from preaching or serving in the church. After youth group and college and career, whatever love they had turned into suspicion and “what are you waiting for,” “the right one will come along,” “you’ll know her when you see her.” And of course I didn’t have the money to put in offering plates to buy their love. I began to ask myself “does the Catholic church have a monopoly on the gift of celibacy?” I’m not sure you would call it a monopoly, but they are the only church I’m aware of that has any insight on the subject. That’s why I find myself in my 50s contemplating changing churches.

I have not give up on love, though. I can look back over time and recognize people that showed an uncommon love towards me. The key word there is showed. They went beyond just talking about it. For example, I put a high value on talking to people one-on-one, not on texting or emailing. But that’s almost unheard of today. “If you don’t want to be with her, what’s the point in calling?” What is shocking to me is how many church people have bought into this perverted mindset. We have a culture today where fathers warn their daughters at a young age to be leery of all men, especially older men. But when they end up barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, the church asks “why couldn’t anybody reach out to her?” Truly sad. I would go as far to say that parents are the biggest obstacles in their children’s lives today, especially if those children are single adults and have chosen the celibate life. Once the child becomes older than they were when they married, they are in uncharted territory. Parents often think they can rely on their own judgment to lead them in the right direction. They think parents always know best. Breaking news: Parents don’t always know best. Their advice will mean very little at a certain age. While I’ve always loved and respected my parents, they were not qualified to counsel me on celibate life. Making the decision, yes. Providing guidance, no. So the big question for parents is what’s their definition of love? Is it limited to the family-centric romantic love that will bring them grandchildren? Or does it extend to the unlimited agape love found in celibacy? I’ve thought about this quite a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to faithfully travel the road of celibacy, a person must have mentors outside family. It is absolutely mandatory. I had one in particular who I related to like a sister and still do today.

So what is love? The world will tell you it’s about hooking up and having multiple orgasms. The church will tell you it’s about nuclear families and the maternal instinct of nurturing and the fatherly instinct of providing and protecting. The Bible will tell you it’s a balance of both. Most of my closest friends are elderly, widows and widowers, and people who have lived through tremendous tragedies. I can see how the loss of a spouse can redefine a person’s concept of love. And others like myself who have survived near death experiences have had their definitions of love altered and priorities rearranged. For me, love is about the small things. Things so small you would never think they matter. It’s about being sensitive and not making assumptions. Stop and talk to me, leave an empty chair for me in your family at church luncheons, call me, write real letters, tell me my life means something to you, tell me you love me, show me you trust me, ask me something about art or nature, invite me along on your next family adventure, invite me to your church, ask me to talk to your children. Treat me like a real member of your family and not like an unknown anomaly that requires an obligatory “singles sermon” every couple of years. Tell me you understand what celibate chastity is. All I’m leaving on this earth is a legacy of memories. Does my legacy of celibacy mean anything to your family? If so, what? Assure me that you’ll remember my life and that my love is just as significant as any member of your family. Show me that blood is not thicker than water. Is that too much to ask?

Extraterrestrial Celibacy

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Ultraviolet image of Andromeda from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer

Imagine for a second an extraterrestrial sent you a tweet asking what the climate is like on earth because he’s thinking about moving here. Limited to only a few lines of text, you tell him we have 24 hours in a day, a giant sun that is 10 times bigger than earth, all the light needed to sustain life, enough warmth to keep us comfortable, and that we are working on harnessing the sun’s power for solar energy. Are you missing something in your description of earth? What about nighttime? Don’t you want to squeeze in something about the other half of the 24 hours? Many nocturnal species including the Leatherback Turtle, Great Horned Owl, Blacknose Shark, Grey Mouse Lemur, and firefly depend on the nighttime for their survival. Their migration, mating, and even food sources depend on cycles of day and night. It’s a delicate balance such that even artificial lighting has been shown to disrupt their natural cycles of life. So I would suggest you give just as much information on our nighttime as on our daytime to the incoming visitor. You can’t have day without night. And you can’t have night without day. That makes sense. It’s an example of the natural dichotomies God set into motion when he created everything in the universe. A dichotomy is “a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.” I think it’s the perfect word to describe the sharp contrast of day and night and many other opposing forces in nature. The key is that they balance each other.

It’s also the perfect word to describe the difference between God’s call to marriage and God’s call to celibacy. How much more difference can there be between a man called to the concerns of the world and a man called to the concerns of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)? They have totally different values and chemistries. What makes it so unique though is that it’s our choice. When God created Adam and Eve, it was not a one-time event. He continues to create life today. We become part of the ongoing creation process when we bring babies into the world. However, we become just as much a part of the creation process when we propagate God’s family by regeneration of eternal fruit through faith in Christ. We can’t do too much about the other dichotomies in nature, like day and night and hot and cold, but we do have a choice about the lifestyle we choose – faithful marriages or faithful celibacies. Apostle Paul went to great lengths to explain the changes that the arrival of Christ and shortening of time would bring into the world. 1 Corinthians 7:29-30:

“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away”

Note in verse 29 that Paul does not say this is his opinion. He plainly states, “What I mean.” Then he uses a series of striking social dichotomies to illustrate how life should change in the short time left after Christ’s ascension into heaven. His use of the word “should” indicates there will be consequences if we don’t make an effort to revert to our normative solitary lives and leave the world behind. All of these dichotomies are fairly easy to spot in society, except one – the presence or absence of a wife (spouse). Take a look at 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 and it may be easier:

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

The man with no wife has not been united with anyone. He has had no visitors in his temple. The same thing applies to a woman. She is the queen of her castle. If he’s had other occupants in his temple, then he is a man who has had a wife. In verse 16, Paul makes it plain that there really is no such thing as prostitutes, but adulterating wives. Did you read anything here about a wedding? Marriage licenses? In a very real sense, we don’t control our spiritual marital status. God does. We can’t create marriages in the eyes of God in courthouses and church buildings. But we can control who we let into our temples. Tufts University recently published an article titled “The Neuroscience of Love” which actually explains how a man who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body:

“Finally, our infatuation produces a decrease in the brain areas associated with “mentalizing” and “theory of mind,” namely the prefrontal cortex, parieto-temporal junction, and the temporal poles. These are the structures responsible for being able to identify other people’s emotions and ascribing reasons for them. Zeki (2007) explained this finding by highlighting that these areas are implicated in the conceptual distinction between the self and the other, therefore their deactivation is necessary for reaching the merging and unity lovers seek with each other. As the popular salsa song Me Repito says “ya no distingo entre tu cara y la mia” (I don’t distinguish between your face and mine anymore).”

It looks like love really is blind. We greatly underestimate how much God is in control of this world. So what’s different about a man who has not had a wife? For one thing, he does read other people’s emotions better. He has all of his original identify. Take a closer look at his temple. Explore his brain chemistry. Does he have bonding potential? Does it look like he has plans to build additional rooms? Is he trying to develop the qualities of a Christian husband? Father? Can he adapt to someone else’s lifestyle? Can he lose some of his independence? Would he be willing to sacrifice his life for his wife and children? If so, then he may be a man looking for a wife.

On the other hand, it could be a man who has had no visitors in his temple and he doesn’t wany any. He is just as honorable, respectful, honest, focused on you, and forthright as the guy above. He will think you’re just as beautiful, but he may not “come on” to you any other guys would. Where are his real passions? Does he seem to have a mission in life that is bigger than he is, out of this world? Is he a rebel? Does he seem to be living in a different time period? Is he a dreamer? Has he mastered self control? Does he have unusual creative abilities or other means of expression? Does he like to spend time alone? If so, then he may be a man called to the celibate life.

You can’t see all of these characteristics between the married and unmarried man from a distance, can you? They’re not as easy to spot as happiness and sadness. You can’t see them on a text message. You can’t see them on an iPhone. Could this be why Boaz’s are so hard to spot? I think so. You’ve got to look much deeper than what you see on the surface. The paint on the outside of his temple may be new and all gaits gaits polished, but on the inside you may find memories of other women that have tarnished his expectations for the future and clouded his ability to trust you. Is he able to distinguish your face from another lover’s face? The differences between men with wives and men without wives are as great as night and day, but their value in God’s eyes is 50/50.

Imagine for a second that an extraterrestrial sent you a tweet asking, instead of climate, about the human experience on planet earth. Limited to only a few lines of text, you replied back that our God had ordained marriage as the glorified and sanctified foundational institution of human society. That it represents the highest ideals of mankind, the ticket to salvation and eternal life in heaven. You could include a few lines about Adam and Eve and fruitfulness and multiplying. Describe how man can’t control his lust and must get married as soon as possible in order not to displease his God. Oh, and you might want to include something about our newfound passion for same sex marriage and gender neutrality. Yes, one big cosmic orgy floating in space. Is that an accurate representation of the human condition? What about people who don’t get married and have children? Should they be part of the story? I’m sure you’re aware that nocturnal creatures slowly die off and become extinct if exposed to too much light.

Could that be the case with celibacy today? Could it be that it is slowly dying off because it’s not valued as much as marriage? Until the church recovers the proper teachings about celibacy and its goodness in Christ and stops its idolatry of the nuclear family, it has no business pontificating about chastity, courting, dating, marriage or its blessings. Until it understands that faithfulness to Christ determines the value of human life, not the faithfulness to a husband or spouse or the love of a child, it will continue to come under the wrath of God. Homosexuality? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. So churches, if you don’t want to acknowledge all of God’s creation, even the least of his children, then your comfortable corner of the world may be shipped off to a place much hotter than the sun. And that does not mean that you give a one hour lecture on the merits of marriage and family and throw in an obligatory 30 second sound bite: “But Paul says singleness is a gift too. So don’t worry. If you’re single, you’re gifted.” That is not what he says. And that is not how it works. If you can’t think of anything to say, just have an equivalent moment of silence.

So what are the extraterrestrials going to think of us? They will probably declare the earth uninhabitable because it has a 24 hour blistering sun and so much fruit crawling on the ground that there is no place to land. They really can’t deal with an over-populated planet. “Let’s move one of the cars out of daycare. No, there’s still not enough room to touchdown.” What did ET enter in his logbook about planet earth? They turned around and set a course for Andromeda.

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2005/09/jesus-and-paul-on-singlenessmarriage.html

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffryett.org%2Ffiles%2FSinglenessMarriageAndFamily.doc&ei=-TEcVfSuDomggwSbxoKQAQ&usg=AFQjCNEZSzm02q3k7xKfh8oIwom3Ifvkqw&sig2=2HmBQVzaFsb5kFISE1AG9g

https://chizadek.wordpress.com/category/singleness/

http://thosecatholicmen.com/supernatural-fatherhood-and-the-renewal-of-the-priesthood/

http://www.catholicdoors.com/misc/marriage/matri.htm

http://www.sbts.edu/family/blog/marriage-celibacy-and-the-hierarchy-of-merit-in-the-jovinian-controversy/

https://sites.tufts.edu/emotiononthebrain/2014/12/08/the-neuroscience-of-love/