| The Pope blessing a woman
London, Oct. 31: A Vatican-sanctioned sex guide is encouraging churchgoers to make love more often in an effort to offset 'impotence and frigidity' and address papal concerns over declining birth-rates among Italian Roman Catholics.
The controversial book, It's A Sin Not To Do It, written by two theologians, promises the reader answers to 'everything you wanted to know about sex but the Church (almost) never dared to tell you'.
In their attempt to galvanise the faithful, Roberto Beretta and Elisabetta Broli, who write regularly for the Italian Bishops' magazine, Avvenire, have written one of the raciest works ever to deal with the Church and sex.
Bullet points on the jacket cover underline the central message: 'Sex' God invented it. Original sin' Sex has nothing to do with it. Without sex there is no real marriage.'
'When people think of the Church and sex, they think of prohibitions and taboos,' said Beretta. 'But there is a very different and positive side to Church doctrine which needs to be emphasised.'
In both style and content, the guide ' published earlier this month ' marks a radical break with traditional Church pronouncements on physical intimacy. Forty years ago, the Vatican published a notorious set of guidelines for courting Catholics that outlawed even French kissing before marriage.
The pages of It's A Sin Not To Do It, however, feature a frank interview with Cardinal Ersilio Tonini in which he emphasises that 'the Church is not an enemy of the flesh'. He argues that Vatican doctrine has always defended the 'nobility of sexuality', which is regarded by the Church as a 'treasure' of humanity.
Another chapter likely to raise eyebrows unearths theological justification for post-coital masturbation for women who fail to achieve orgasm during intercourse.
Beretta told The Daily Telegraph: 'The Church is not against sex. Something needed to be done about the cliches and stereotypes. The Church is not only about forbidding the use of contraception and warning against the sins of the flesh.
'In view of the trivialisation of sex and the rise of impotence and frigidity in consequence, as well as the increasing number of only children, it is better for the Church to promote sex in the right circumstances, instead of just focusing on prohibitions and perversions.'
The authors have included passages taken from previous papal statements on sexuality, and pronouncements from cardinals who advocate a 'healthy Catholic materialism' about marital sex.
According to Beretta, the book is a comprehensive summary of Church doctrine on sexuality, couched in deliberately populist language.
He is now awaiting reader reaction. 'The Vatican has not raised any concerns about the tone and style of the book,' he said.
'Some people might find it a little direct. But at least after reading this book, they will have a balanced picture of what the Church actually thinks about sex.'