Making Sense of Sex

Making Sense of Sex

Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body firmly links the communion in love of man and wife to the inner life of the Trinity.','Sex would have been great in the Garden of Eden - St Thomas Aquinas. Our problem, living outside the Garden, is how to handle it. So we need to understand it. Why are we sexed? Does sex reveal that God has a sense of humour? Sex reveals more about God than any other aspect of human life. Pope John Paul II developed the Church's teaching in a book 'The Theology of the Body'. He begins by wondering what it meant to Adam to discover that he was alone. He was conscious of being incomplete. Man and woman are complementary. Their differences call for a life that is not side by side but face to face in a communion of love which is the image in flesh and blood of that communion of persons revealed as the Blessed Trinity in which a Third Person proceeds as a child may personify the love of man and woman. This is what we mean when we say that marriage is a sacrament - not just made by vows in church but through the act of loving physical union between persons by which a couple images the invisible mysterious reality of fruitful union which makes God what God is. So sex may be fun but sex is not a sport. Sex is sacramental. Contraception has no place because it is non-sacramental - it destroys the image of a love which is open to the procession of a third person.

Love is an essential ingredient. The contrary is lust - not rare. In fact an American woman told the Pope to get real. "From the time Americans reach adolescence lust is the life-force". Not only does lust lead to marriage, it can also aid fidelity. "If a man has lust in his heart for his wife, chances are he won't have adultery on his mind for someone else". This surely debases love to a counterfeit which never reaches the level of personal value. When a man initiates what is not a gift but an act of appropriation a woman may rightly recoil because she knows she is never meant to be used. Renee, a mother of six: 'Every night I'd maybe read for a bit and keep my eye on the clock for when he came home from the pub. When I heard footsteps I'd blow the lamp out and pretend to be asleep. He would come home full of romance and full of beer and start mauling me. I just wanted to sleep and it caused no end of trouble if I refused him. You'd get a swipe if you didn't.... There was no affection with it, no love, they just wanted sex. It was a duty, a horrible duty to me... It was no fun, it was just nasty, dirty and degrading' (The Fifties and Sixties, Bixtree, p.175) This was not a particular experience in England or elsewhere. Among the North Aboriginals of Canada 'stories of loving, responsible sex among loving partners were rather rare... A sense of sexual intimacy as a mature, respectful, mutually shared experience of loving union was a description which raised ironic eyebrows whilst also touching a deep longing' (Catholic Ethicists on HIV/AIDS Prevention, p.87).

But is not lust the evolutionary force, the drive which assures the propagation of the species? This is to confuse lust with natural attraction. One may rejoice in sexual attraction and at the same time offer oneself as a gift expressive of love for a person. The Pope asks: 'What are "the concrete possibilities of man"?' He responds: "And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? As The Cathechism teaches, "By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin [Christ] himself gives the strength and grace to 'receive' the original meaning of marriage and live it".

Where does this leave Renee who conceived six children in circumstances which were degrading? What a relief the pill would have been to her, freed from the fear of conceiving again in circumstances analogous to rape. Would she have been justified? Surely. Without love there is no sacrament. She was subjected to a selfishness contrary to that love of the person which is essential to the sacramental character of marriage. No valid sign exists in this case to be destroyed by a contraceptive. Renee would be defending herself from the consequences of a lie.

A sacramental perspective must be the setting for sex education. Without it there is not even half the truth, Unfortunately we give a misleading impression of God as solemn and stolid. "The Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs at the Father and the laughter brings forth pleasure and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love" (Meister Eckhart, 14th cent. Dominican). Accepting the meaning of being male and female must go beyond the analogy of the plug and the socket. "If we follow all the traces of our hearts and all the stirrings of our sexuality to their source, we find ourselves at the edge of eternity, catching a glimpse of the Trinitarian God" (The Theology of the Body Explained, C.West, p.227)

(For further reading select from our menu Faith Questions, click on and go to Q.& A. Articles by Dr Mary Shivanandan are of interest)