Link to Part 1
SDG here with more thoughts on sex and marriage.
Note: This post includes some explicit language regarding lawful and unlawful acts. To spare the sensibilities of those who would prefer not to encounter such language, I’ll put the whole post below the fold.
In my first post I began to address the question of what sex is using as a springboard some comments from a non-Catholic friend who proposed that “we have moved above the biological/procreative aspect of sex” and “can treat it as something other than procreative … because we are using sex for another purpose that need not include procreation.”
In my earlier post I acknowledged that human sexuality certainly includes dimensions beyond the procreative — that there are multiple aspects or goods in sex as it is ideally experienced by human beings. In fact, the list of such levels/goods is rather extensive. Among them might be included (without being limited to) the following:
biological (sex is attempted procreation)
instinctive (sex is the gratification of a primal impulse)
visceral or sensible, i.e., with respect to the senses (sex is greatly pleasurable)
recreational (sex is fun)
volitional (sex is freely given and received)
emotional/interpersonal (sex expresses intimacy and love)
relational/marital (sex embodies the lifelong commitment of husband and wife)
Of course I don’t mean to say that couples ought to have all of these things consciously in mind — that would be ridiculous. Sometimes couples will be motivated more by one aspect or good, sometimes by another. Sometimes one partner might be more motivated by one good, and the other by another. None of this is necessarily problematic.
Nor do I mean to say that all of these goods must always be actually fully present in every sex act. It’s an imperfect world; things go wrong, often through no fault of our own.
For example, some couples may at times experience difficulty in achieving the visceral or sensible pleasure of sex for both partners, usually (not always) for the woman. Other times, for whatever reason, the recreational or even emotional aspects of sex may be lacking.
Where this happens through no one’s fault, that is one thing. However, where such privations come about deliberately, either through the fault of one of the parties or through the fault of another, great wrong is done.
For example, a selfish husband may gratify his own desires without doing everything he can and should for his wife’s pleasure. Far worse, female genital mutilation may impair the woman’s sexual satisfaction.
In the same way, other aspects of the sex act are deliberately excluded only with grave harm and wrongdoing. Deliberately exclude the volitional aspect, and you have rape. Deliberately exclude the relational aspect, and you have fornication or adultery.
However it may work out in practice, sex must always be done in a way that is at least open to the multifaceted goodness of sex in all its levels and aspects. Whatever aspect of sex is a couple’s motivation tonight, either they take the occasion to accept the mystery of sex in its fullness, insofar as it is available to them, or they seek to reject and exclude some or another aspect, to the detriment of the act itself and their own being.
The loving and generous coital union of a husband and wife who give themselves in this act to one another completely and without reservation embodies openness to the mystery of sex in all its fullness.
Acts by which the parties are less than fully united diminish and falsify the mystery of sex. This occurs, for instance, when the partners are not married; or when they are not loving or generous; or when barriers are employed; or when sex culminates in acts other than coital union (which includes completed acts of oral or anal sex, whether between partners of the same sex or opposite sexes); or when chemicals or surgery are employed to suppress and withhold the gift of one’s procreative powers.
Such chemically or surgically induced infertility is very much analogous to the surgical impairing of the body’s ability to take pleasure in sex: Healthy and properly functioning organs and systems have been compromised for the specific purpose of inducing a dysfunctional state. Again, non-deliberate instances are another matter. Premature ejaculation is one thing; deliberate withdrawal is another. Nocturnal emissions are one thing; masturbation is another.
Even though procreation is not the only purpose of conjugal union, even though conjugal union is not always fruitful, on many occasions or for some persons cannot be fruitful, and indeed is sometimes deliberately rendered unfruitful, true conjugal union always includes a procreative dimension.
In fact, every act of coital union, physiologically speaking, is an act of attempted procreation. For a man to make love to a woman is always to say, not necessarily with his mind or heart (and potentially contrary to his actual intention), but nevertheless with his body, in a word made flesh, “Conceive if you can!” — and for a woman to make love to a man is always to say with her body “Impregnate me if you can!” Together, the two enacted wishes ideally form a perfect harmony, a single, shared bodily wish: “Let’s have a baby if we can!”
Of course that conditional “if we can” points to what is possible at most for a few days each month, for a few decades of a woman’s life. Yet the physiology of the act and the biological meaning of that act doesn’t change during the infertile periods or after menopause. There is a union of complementary reproductive systems, of body parts and functions designed for precisely this union, for this purpose.
More to come.
Link to Part 1