Sunday, February 5, 2006

"I want your sex"

In case you didn't catch that, the title of this entry includes lyrics from an old George Michael song. I just thought it would be funny to contemplate the literal meaning of his words in light of what I am going to discuss today from JPII's Love & Responsibility

JPII writes:
"Every human being is by nature a sexual being, and belongs from birth to one of the two sexes. This fact is not contradicted by the phenomenon of so-called hermaphroditism - any more than any other sickness or deformity militates against the fact that there is such a thing as human nature and that every human being, even the deformed or sick human being, has the same nature and is a human being precisely because of it. In the same way every human being is a sexual being, and membership of one of the two sexes means that a person's whole existence has a particular orientation which shows itself in his or her actual internal development" (47).

Yep, folks. We are all inescapably sexed! If you are a human being, you are a sexual being. You have a sex: male or female. (JPII will come back to the issue of hermaphroditism in the last section of Love & Responsibility, which we are no where near yet.)

Our darling, former Pope continues, "The orientation given to a person's existence by membership of one of the sexes does not only make itself felt internally, but at the same time turns outwards, and in the normal course of things (once again, we are not speaking of sicknesses or of perversions) manifests itself in a certain natural predilection for, a tendency to seek, the other sex. What is the goal of this orientation?" (47-8). I ask myself that question every day of my life? Haha. Just kidding.

JPII points out that there is an "urge to mutual completion" between the sexes because the "attributes of each sex possess some specific value for the other" (48). The usual joking about the differences between men and women "indicate only a division in terms of psychological and physiological attributes" (48), but "sexual attraction makes obvious the fact that the attributes of the two sexes are complementary, so that a man and a woman can complete each other" (48). JPII continues, "The properties which the woman possesses are not possessed by the man, and vice versa. Consequently, there exists for each of them not only the possibility of supplementing his or her own attributes with those of a person of the other sex, but at times a keenly felt need to do so" (48).

JPII asks, "Is it that the attributes of each sex possess a value for the other, and that what we call the sexual urge comes into being because of this, or do these attributes, on the contrary, possess a value for them because of the existence of the sexual urge?" (48). Hmmmm. Good question. He says it is the second option. "The sexual urge is something even more basic than the psychological and physiological attributes of man and woman in themselves, though it does not manifest itself or function without them" (49). Hmmm.

He elaborates that the sexual urge is not simply "an orientation towards the psychological and physiological attributes of the other sex" in the abstract (49). No, rather men and women desire a specific, concrete individual of the opposite sex. As JPII puts it, "the sexual urge in a human being is always in the natural course of things directed towards another human being" (49).

Some clarifications on this point from our beloved JPII follow below:

"If [the sexual urge] is directed towards the sexual attributes as such this must be recognized as an impoverishment or even a perversion of the urge. If it is directed towards the sexual attributes of a person of the same sex we speak of a homosexual deviation. Still more emphatically do we speak of sexual deviation if the urge is directed not towards the sexual attributes of a human being but towards those of an animal. The natural direction of the sexual urge is towards a human being of the other sex and not merely towards 'the other sex' as such. It is just because it is directed towards a particular human being that the sexual urge can provide the framework within which, and the basis on which, the possibility of love arises" (49)

"The sexual urge in man has a natural tendency to develop into love simply because the two objects affected, with their different sexual attributes, physical and psychological, are both people. Love is a phenomenon peculiar to the world of human beings. In the animal world only the sexual instinct is at work" (49).

Love between a man and a woman does not consist of the biological or psychological consummation of the sexual urge, but rather love is shaped by "acts of the will at the level of the person" (49). Love grows out of the conditions created by the sexual urge as experienced between two concrete persons of the opposite sex, but love is not merely the experience of sexual attraction or emotional bonding; it is based in the will of the individuals.

The sexual urge does not deprive man of "his power of self-determination" (50). JPII says, "The sexual urge does not itself produce complete, finished actions, it only furnishes, so to speak, in the form of all that 'happens' in man's inner being under its influence, what might be called the stuff from which action is made" (49-50). The human person is master of the sexual urge; he (or she) can turn the "force of the sexual urge" towards the purposes he deems best. Any act originating in the manifestation of the sexual urge "must be evaluated on the plane of love" (50). The power of the sexual urge requires us, as human beings, to be responsible to use it only in ways that truly express love. (And I'm not talking about "If you love me, you'll have sex with me" or "I think it's time to have sex now because we really love each other." No. No. No. Rather true love is all about not engaging in sexual intimacy outside of a lifelong marriage covenant.)

JPII continues:

"Here it should also be said that the sexual urge is an attribute and a force common to humanity at large, at work in every human being, although it is a force which manifests itself in different ways and indeed with different degrees of psychological and physiological intensity in different people. The urge, however, cannot be identified with the ways in which it shows itself. Since the urge itself is a universal human attribute we have to reckon with its effects at every turn in all relationships between the sexes and indeed wherever they exist side by side" (50).

Man is both a social and a sexual being. Men and women often co-exist in social settings; we lead a "co-educational" existence in this sense (51). Because of these realities, sexual ethics also addresses social relationships between men and women in general. All relationships between the two sexes should operate on the principle of the dignity of the human person. Proper relations between the sexes in social life are necessary for the common good of society.

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