Monday, January 21, 2013

The Real Purpose of Sex is Not Very Sexy

Sex and Stan Musial!  That's All I Ever Blog About!  Well, this one's on sex. I'll get back to Stan Musial later.

Because I forgot to say one big thing about sex earlier today.  What I forgot to say is the purpose of sex is not very sexy.

You see, I realized that I made a Westian mistake in my latest post that's critical of the Westians.  The mistake I made was buying into their primarily poetic or romantic view of libido.  Christopher West and the Westians almost never mention the far less romantic reality of marriage and babies, which is to say they never talk about the one arena for which God made sex in the first place - the family, a.k.a: sex with your wife.  

I mean, who wants to talk about that?  Sex with the old lady?  What about that cute blonde down the street who's half her age?  What about those chicks on that internet site?  What about almost anybody but her?  If Christopher West talked about sex with the old lady, do you think he'd get the rock star treatment and the many speaking / rock concert gigs that he does?  Do you think college age kids would flock to his talks and get all tingly when he describes making love to a woman you've known for thirty years who gets on your nerves and is a tad overweight?  Do you think he'd sell lots of books and be a hero of the New Evangelization if described the consequences of all this great sex - namely screaming infants, runny noses, tuition payments, mouthy teenagers?

Of course not.

So if we really want to talk about sex ... if we really really want to talk about sex, and I really really do (though we can switch to Stan Musial any time you want to) - if we really really want to get a better understanding of sex and what God wants us to do with it, then we can't Go West, Young Man.  We've got to go east, across the pond.

And so I turn to the best writer of the 20th Century.  It's not Christopher West.  It's G. K. Chesterton.

Chesterton talks about everything.  Which means every now and then he talks about sex.  And he observes

Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate. There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.

So while there's a germ of truth to the Westian emphasis of the importance of sexual desire leading to Eros, which leads to God - the more mundane (and much more creative) truth is that we get to God not through sex and sex alone, but through the place where sex was meant to lead us, the family - and the family (after the honeymoon) just ain't that sexy.  Changing diapers, arguing with the missus, paying bills - and even, as Chesterton states, worship, justice, festivity, decoration, etc. - wonderful as these things are they just ain't sexy, baby!  You have to clean up after the festivity and take the decorations down.  And the worship is usually at Mass on Sundays, and we all know how boring that is.

This is the humble truth, and really the awesome truth, of the purpose of sex.

The Catholic Church says, and has always said, that there's one place and one place only for sex.  In a marriage, with your spouse, expressing love, with openness to the possibility that children may be produced.  That's it.  And she tells us that with the authority of Jesus Christ, creator of the universe.

Yes, sex can be meaningful and wonderful and exciting and all that.  Yes, it can be a foretaste of the joy of heaven.  Yes, it can be an intense expression of love. Yes, it can be poetic and romantic.  All of these things the Westians keep telling us.

But they forget the greater picture.  Sex is not just for all that.  It's for the family.

It's for the dirty diaper, the past-due gas bill, the leaky roof, the nagging in-laws - it's for the great institution that passes on life and love and culture.  It's for the thing that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside - for "the house is much larger than the gate"; and this is also what Chesterton said about the Catholic Church.

But I have never heard any of the Westians talk about sex with your wife.

If CNA publishes the next two articles on pornography by Matt McGuiness, will he emphasize that this is where our sexual desire is meant (by God) to go?  Will he stop talking about the ever-thrilling thought experiment of experimenting with sex?  And will he say a word or two about sex with your wife?

In a truly Catholic world, yes.  Yes he would.


14 comments:

Paul Stilwell said...

Indeed, as I wrote in a post I have not published: sex does not make foreshadowings of babies.

I think this whole let's-begin-with-talking-about-sex-as-"sign"-and-foreshadowing is totally bogus.

Aquinas and Augustine said as food is to the body so sex is to the human race. Meaning of course, procreation - the propagation of the human race. It is vital, sacredly vital, in vital connection with God's creation. Not *primarily* some "sign" that points us to the banquet feast of heaven. Sex is a sign in a kind of "after" or retrospective sense, which is always the sense in which analogy works.

Indeed, one of the main reasons that Aquinas cites for the wrongness of fornication is that it is an injustice to the child that would be born - and not that it's a shallow or blind reading of the "sign of the wedding feast" or what-have-you as articulated by West. For a child has a right to both a mother and a father.

Yeah, those were the good old days before contraception.

And here's another thing, and proof that Westians are dualists: Just mention that sex is for making babies and watch them start howling about how sex is not just a "bio-mechanism".

Wait a minute. Since when did making babies become merely a bio-mechanism? You are making, co-creating, a unique and unrepeatable individual. Totally unique. Never to be repeated. A soul with an eternal destiny. What a powerful thing: you're actually participating in God's own creation in a most vital way.

And when you mention this is the purpose of sex, they start blathering about how it's not just a bio-mechanism and how it's also about the unitive aspect?

These Westian dualists divide the "unitive" and the "procreative", precisely when they blather about how we need both.

But they are both one and the same - and JPII says as much in the Theology of the Body. He talks about when the man and woman come together in the conjugal act they are entering every time into the mystery of creation.

Ain't that funny. West, with all his foreplay -er, I mean foretaste talk, makes sex unreal.

And therefore not something sacred.

Kevin O'Brien said...

And not just babies, Paul, but families. For with babies come soccer games, helping with homework, Christmas presents, discipline, fairy tales at bed time, and the entire culture of man.

Chesterton's point is that sex leads to the most valuable thing in the world, a group of people who love and support one another and who make the entire universe that fits inside the home.

And rather than spending all of this time and energy trying to figure out how to straighten our twisted concupiscence, in the hopes that it will lead us to the deeper meaning of our relationship with God, why don't we just get married, have all that sex we keep dreaming about, and make babies?

For in all the mess that comes with family life, "the Kingdom of God is among you". Thus the Holy Family, as sign and reality.

Sin never leads to the Kingdom, except through the round about way of turning from sin and repenting. None of the myriad things we can do with our "naughty bits", from masturbation to porn to sodomy to fornication to contraception to abortion will lead us to the Kingdom, found as it is in following God's humble and little way, the way that always leads to home - His home and ours.

Paul Stilwell said...

"And not just babies, Paul, but families. For with babies come soccer games, helping with homework, Christmas presents, discipline, fairy tales at bed time, and the entire culture of man.

Chesterton's point is that sex leads to the most valuable thing in the world, a group of people who love and support one another and who make the entire universe that fits inside the home."

Amen to that! And to the rest - *especially* the Holy Family. Absolutely key.

Margaret said...

WHERE did you get that Chesterton quote? It is awesome!

Kevin O'Brien said...

Margaret, I have never read the essay the GKC quote is from, but the quote appears widely on the internet and is attributed to a column Chesterton wrote for "GK's Weekly", Jan. 29, 1927.

Kevin O'Brien said...

And try this one ...

"The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant….The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.”

Jon W said...

This is a great post and the reason why we're losing the gay marriage debate. Almost no one is willing to acknowledge that the chief and very legitimate public interest in a particular kind of partnership is the new people that partnership makes. And the reason why no one can recognize that is that we've emphasized the unitive aspect of sex for so long without recognizing that without the procreative the unitive wouldn't even exist, that the unitive is about uniting parents (or potential parents), not just any old two ... or three ... or however many people who happen to enjoy each others' company.

Scott W. said...

I agree Jon W. and I think it related to obscuring the hierarchy of truth. My old Ott Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma described marriage as primarily for the begetting of offspring, and secondarily for mutual aid and the legitimate satisfaction of the sex urge.

Michele Quigley said...

Another thing I have noted about Westians is the tendency to promote NFP as a "required" and a certain disdain for couples who have decided that "responsible parenthood" for them means simply being open to life. Add to that some in the Westian camp further promote NFP as a means to "better" sex.

Again, all about the unitive and not so much about the procreative.

Chris said...

I have also noticed a decreased mention of procreation amongst the Westian "TOB" crowd. The NFP mention above is also accurate, I think. NFP is often presented today as the default setting for married couples, minimizing the need for grave/serious reasons to use it. Some people, such as Fr. Richard Hogan of the TOB Institute, have even openly said that they want to do away with the requirement of needing grave reasons and he is omitting reference to such when he speaks on the matter; even though it is magisterial language...

Joey Higgins said...

NFP is often presented today as the default setting for married couples, minimizing the need for grave/serious reasons to use it.

That's actually news to me: I have never heard that you needed grave/serious reasons to use NFP, so you are definitely correct that NFP has been presented that way in my dioceses.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Joey, Taylor Marshal talks about what these grave and serious reasons for avoiding procreation must be - http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2012/02/you-can-only-use-nfp-for-grave.html .

There's also confusion on the issue of why we may use "natural" contraception, like NFP, as opposed to "unnatural" contraception like the pill.

We may never use contraception, period. We may refrain from having sex if we don't want to have babies. NFP simply teaches how to determine when to remain continent if you have a grave and serious reason for avoiding new babies.

Scott W. said...

Actually, here is the full paragraph from Pius XII.

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications," may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.

But he doesn't really get any more specific than that and in fact he says this elsewhere (my emphasis):

“Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955

In short, generally one should be very wary of declaring x circumstance is not sufficiently serious for use of NFP.

Chris said...

The grave reasons for using NFP still have an objective component to them, however. See Humanae Vitae, #10-13, 16 and the CCC #2366 and following. But I have to admit that I would seek other opinions aside from Taylor Marshall's piece, as for one, I am not sure from where he is getting his material. The specificity of grave reasons has not really been given in any type of detailed listing as far as I'm aware. The closest one might come is in older moral theology manuals, some of which, however, are considered by the Holy See as accepted texts for consultation. Most of those are only in Latin, however. There are a few current texts that address it, I think, but I don't have them handy to reference.

One reason for the lack of any listing, however, is perhaps precisely that you do not want to discount the subjective component in any concrete situation.

I think the concern, however, is that the concept of grave reason is so expanded by some today that it is really emptied of its content. For if in the end, anything could be classified as grave in any given situation, then there is really no purpose for even having such a requirement.