Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meditations from Florence

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology and
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at the Charlotte campus

I am writing this in Florence Italy, where I am attending the annual meetings of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH).This represents several challenges: I am writing on a Mac, which is totally alien to me, with software called NèoOffice, which I've never heard of, and it is an Italian keyboard, so it has an unusual configuration in order to accommodate things like à, ù and ò (I keep typing à when I mean '). The greatest challenge, however, may be the internal struggle between attending ISSWSH and being in Florence. To be in such a magnificant city with its wealth of Italian Renaissance art and attend meetings from 8 AM until 6 or 7 PM is a considerable challenge to my self'-discipline. But I would like to share some impressions.

I heard a paper addressing the question of how likely doctors are to take a sexual history from their (female) patients as a function of how much training they had in sexual medicine. The unhappy result was that regardless of their training, only 4-8% would do so. When the presenting problem was sexual in nature, this increased to only 10%. There was a minor increase in the likelihood of asking if it was a gynecologist than general practice doctor. The explanation offered was that doctors don't ask about thngs they cannot treat. I was pretty outraged by both of these findings, as well as by the interpretation. It seems to me that particularly when a sexual problem is presented, the doctor ought to take a sexual history. Even more disturbing was the explanation: there are perfectly fine interventions for dealing with many sexual dysfunctions. These are generally psychotherapeutic interventions, however, and not 'cures' medical doctors administer. The arrogance of being unwilling to enquire about issues that would require a referral strikes me as wrong.

At the start of each paper session, the Italians present a little ditty on art object(s) related to sexuality. I found myself reflecting on the changes in art with the Renaissance. Prior to the Renaissance, art was used to teach about the Faith in the Church. There was not much attention to perspective or anatomical correctness. Renaissance art, however, shifted the focus to the beauty of the human body. Perspective became important, and artists studied anatomy in order to accurately reflect the human body when executing their works of art. The first of these was Donatello's David. There is also Michelangelo's David, the Pieta, etc. Each of these used a biblical character but the goal was to glorify the human body, and by interference, Man.

So where am I going with this? Not too far . . . I'm in Florence! Both of these 'errors' seem obvious to me because they violate some principle to which I hold. Primarily, those principles are about truth: we should always seek it, and we should not violate it ourselves. But what happens when it's not so obvious? What happens when it's my own pet blindspot? I would like to believe that I would pursue truth, speak truth, value truth. But I know I also am a fallen human being and that I don't always live up to my high ideals.

God deserves our worshp, our allegience, ourselves. How often have we done exactly what the Italian Renaissance artists did? Too often we have our own agenda and dress it up on God-talk or Church-talk. Too often as a result, God or the church is maligned as a result, and individuals are hurt or alienated and turn away from the only One who can save them. I pray, with Paul, that I can stay out of the way sufficiently so that the only stumbling block another person will encounter is the cross of Christ. And that means, among other things, being a person who values and pursues truth.

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