Sunday, February 12, 2006

Nothin' Says Lovin' Like Somethin' from the Oven

JPII explains:

The proper end of the sexual urge is the existence of the species Homo, its continuation (procretio), and love between persons, between man and woman, is shaped, channeled one might say, by that purpose and formed from the material it provides. It can therefore take its correct shape only in so far as it develops in close harmony with the proper purpose of the sexual urge. An outright conflict with that purpose will also perturb and undermine love between persons. (52-3)

Wow! JPII is particularly referring to contraceptive acts here. A husband and wife must recognize the life-giving purpose behind the use of the sexual urge, and they must never do anything to thwart that purpose (i.e. sterilization, coitus interruptus, or use of barriers or chemical contraceptives of any kind). JPII says that "man often accords the sexual urge a merely biological significance and does not fully realize its true, existential significance - its link with existence" (53). When we think of something as merely biological, we tend to think it is okay to manipulate and alter it. Recognizing the "natural purpose of the sexual urge" as pro-creative and existential does not banish love from the equation. JPII says rather that recognizing the procreative purpose of the sexual urge gives conjugal love its true character (53).

In taking marital vows a man and a woman should be consciously choosing to "participate in the whole natural order of existence," being completely open to facilitating "the existence of another concrete person, their own child, blood of their blood, and flesh of their flesh" (53). As JPII says, "This person is at once an affirmation and a continuation of their own love. The natural order of human existence is not in conflict with love between persons but in strict harmony with it" (53).

Love between a man and woman is intimately connected with the utilization of the sexual urge. JPII explains that whenever a couple seeks to circumvent the purpose of the sexual urge by artificial means they are actually damaging the love between them.

There are of course times in which the sexual act simply cannot bring about the conception of a new human person (i.e. when a woman is not fertile - which is the majority of the time). Also, when a woman is already pregnant, if either of the spouses are sterile, or if a woman is post-menopausal, then conception is not biologically possible. JPII tells us that another value of the sexual urge, apart from its procreative purpose, is to bring together men and women into reciprocal and complementary relationships.

He elaborates:

If the spouses are to take legitimate advantage of the energy which the urge releases, and of its natural promptings, they must before all else take into account its basic meaning and rationale. If this condition (that nothing shall be done to negate the proper purpose of the urge) is fulfilled, then even when a new human being cannot be born from the union of a man and woman, or from a particular occasion of sexual intercourse, the spouses are none the less reborn in love, and so to speak give birth to each other in their interpersonal communion. (f.n. 17, p294)

I am reminded of a passage from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I do not have the book, so I cannot quote it directly, but he speaks of the natural law and of morality regarding contracepted use of the sexual urge. He compares the use of the sexual urge to the use of the urge to eat. The primary purpose for hunger and the desire to eat is that we will indeed eat and be nourished and continue to live. (Remember, existence is our first and primary good :-)

However, there is pleasure attached to eating (unless of course the food tastes bad, is poisonous, or if you simply have no sense of taste or smell). This is comparable to the fact that pleasure is often attached to the use of the sexual urge, but pleasure is not guaranteed and is not a purpose of the sexual urge. By the way, Janet E. Smith in her talk "Contraception: Why Not?" makes the point that God attaches pleasure to those things which He wants us to do for our own continuation and health. Such things include sex, eating, sleeping, and exercising. I think that's fascinating.

Lewis compares contracepted intercourse to bulimia. The bulimic wants the pleasure of eating, but because he does not want to follow the act through to its natural end and experience its natural consequences, he forces himself to throw-up after he experiences enough of the pleasure of beginning the eating process. Likewise, contraception is an unnatural act by which a couple seeks to enjoy some of the pleasure of the sexual act without following it through to its natural end and experiencing its natural consequences. The consequence that most couples are trying to avoid when contracepting is the conception of a child. (The couple does not realize that there is much pleasure also to be had in the begetting of and rearing of their own children.)

Some couples have grave reasons for seeking to avoid pregnancy, particularly if the mother has a condition in which a pregnancy can cause her to die. The Church holds forth any number of modern, scientific Natural Family Planning methods for use in situations like these. (We are not talking "rhythm method" okay?)

Natural Family Planning (NFP) involves the charting of the wife's fertility-cycle. During the wife's "fertile window" the spouses mutually abstinence from intercourse (including any other act which would cause one of the spouses to come to sexual climax apart from the act of intercourse; that's a whole 'nother element of Catholic sexual moral teaching). The difference between NFP and contraceptive acts is that NFP refuses to utilize the sexual urge for the sole purpose of pleasure while intentionally thwarting the procreative capability of that act.

NFP also has some benefits in that it fosters communication between the spouses, prayer, a greater understanding of the woman's body and health, and also the virtues of self-control and self-discipline. During the woman's fertile period, the couple must seek creative, non-sexual ways to express their love. NFP can also help a couple to know when to "try for" a baby because they are aware of their fertile periods. It is still possible for a couple of use NFP with a "contraceptive mentality", but I do think the practice as a whole has a positive influence on the couple's openness to life and selflessness with one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Existential Significance of the Sexual Urge

What is the foundational purpose of the sexual urge? Come on, take a guess!!!

It's pro-creation, the continuation of the species.

"What?!" some might exclaim. "It's not love? It's not pleasure? Is the purpose of sex to have as many babies as humanly possible?! What happened to the 'personalistic norm' here? Isn't that another form of utilitarianism? Ahhhhhh!!!"

Yes, that could definitely be a utilitarian approach of a different variety. Love does has something to do with the sexual urge; JPII very much affirms that the sexual urge provides the "material for love between persons, between man and woman" (51). However, he also points out that two persons of the opposite sex can have much love for one another and yet have no sexual chemistry or attraction for one another. Love is also not guaranteed between two people who have sex. Love is dependent on human free will. Therefore we can deduce that the primary purpose of the sexual urge is the continuation of the human species. But, as we will see in my next blog entry, JPII will also address those more personalistic, incidental purposes of the sexual urge.

JPII writes:

The existence of the whole species Homo depends directly on [the sexual urge]. The species could not exist if it were not for the sexual urge and its natural results. . . . Human kind can be maintained in being only so long as individual people, individual men and women, human couples, obey the sexual urge. (51)

If the sexual urge had not been built into our nature, we human beings just might cease to exist. Seriously.

JPII points out that "existence is the first and basic good for every creature. . . . All other goods derive from this basic good" (51).

He continues:

Man's multifarious works, the creations of his genius, the fruits of his holiness are only possible if the man - the genius, the saint - comes into existence. To be he had to begin to exist. The natural route by which human beings begin to exist passes through the sexual urge. (52)

Although the sexual urge is a force of nature, we do not study it merely from a biological standpoint. The sexual urge has more than a biological significance; it has an existential significance. The sexual urge is intimately bound to the very existence of mankind in general. The study of existence itself is a subject of philosophy. Natural sciences (such as biology and chemistry) are not directly concerned with existence in and of itself; rather these fields take "existence for granted as a concrete fact inherent in the object which it studies" (52). Because of the existential significance of the sexual urge, it is imperative to consult philosophy in determining the "true importance of the sexual urge, which has obvious implications in the realm of sexual morality" (52).

Remember the Catholic assertion that human existence is "that first and most basic good"(52)? If the sexual urge is intimately connected to the existence of the human person, then the sexual urge is not meant to be used for just any end a man may choose. Although "it is there for man to use,” the sexual urge must follow principles regarding respect for the human person, and the sexual urge must not be utilized in absence of "love for the person" nor used in contradiction to “love for the person” (52).

It is interesting to think, as JPII points out, that the sexual urge is wired into every man by God's design. It was His idea, not ours! And furthermore, God gave us predetermined purposes for the sexual urge that remain independent of any man’s will. So, we don't make the rules about the sexual urge and its purposes, and when we try to we do so to our own peril. For, as a professor of mine once said, "Reality can only bear the weight of a bad idea for so long." (He may have been quoting a book called Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. I’m not sure.)

We must cooperate with the reality of things in life. We are not doing ourselves any favors by going against the grain of the built-in meaning and purpose of the sexual urge. I particularly like the way Rick Santorum deals with this topic of cooperating with the "natural law" in his book It Takes a Family.

Santorum explains in chapter four, "The Meaning of Family," that the traditional family is
"constituted by a mother and a father who have committed themselves to each other in lifelong marriage, together with their children" (28) This is a "traditional" family "because it is fundamentally natural" (28). Santorum says modern liberal thought rejects such a definition of the family as "restrictive" because "it limits our 'freedom' to choose who and how we will love" (28) It "'excludes'. . .different kinds of families" which are supposedly "no better and no worse than the natural family" (28). He says the very word natural often makes people nervous in the liberal sphere of the political spectrum "since nature is what we are as human beings, which we cannot change or choose otherwise" (28)

I don't mean to turn the focus to politics at the last minute, especially since I am largely inept at such discussion. However, Santorum's thoughts are right on target regarding the natural law.

He continues:

In the tradition of my own faith community, the Catholic Church, we speak about the natural law, which we might think of as the operating instructions for human beings. The promise of the natural law is that we will be happiest, and freest, when we follow the law built into our nature as men and women. For liberals, however, nature is too confining, and thus is the enemy of freedom. Consequently, when liberals think about society, they see only "individuals"--not men and women and children. Men and women and children have natures, but liberal "individuals" are abstractions, free to choose anything at all and unconfined by purportedly illusory factors like gender. At first, the liberal vision may sound attractive--because freedom is attractive. The only problem is that it is a false vision, because nature is nature, and the freedom to choose against the natural law is not really freedom at all. (It Takes a Family 28-29)

[By the way, Wikipedia on-line defines "political liberalism" as "the belief that individuals are the basis of law and society, and that society and its institutions exist to further the ends of individuals." In my on-line quest for a definition of “liberal” as used by Santorum, I came across a blog called Liberal by Definition. The author made me laugh, although I am in no way endorsing his blog.]

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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

"Interpretation of the Sexual Urge"

I have to be honest, when JPII begins explaining the "sexual urge," I find it a bit difficult to understand. I hope that as I progress in reading Love & Responsibility that the issue of the sexual urge becomes lucid.

Okay. JPII describes the "sexual urge" as a drive common to all human beings. True. True. This urge or instinct is not merely a matter of physical arousal and a desire for intercourse, but rather it is "the source of what happens in a man" both in his sensual and emotional life. He says that the sexual urge is a "vector of aspiration along which [one's] whole existence develops and perfects itself from within" (46). I like the poetry of that last statement, but I don't understand exactly what he is trying to convey. If any one else out there is familiar with JPII's teachings on this, please contribute your understanding.

What I do get is that the sexual urge is not only reserved to the sphere of sexual intercourse and such activity; it permeates the whole of human existence. It is not so much "that man behaves in a particular way as that something happens to man, something begins to take place without any initiative on his part, and this internal 'happening' creates as it were a base for definite actions, for considered actions, in which man exercises self-determination, decides for himself about his own actions and takes responsibility for them" (46-7).

JPII describes the sexual urge as a "reflex mode of action, which is not dependent on conscious thought" (45). As human beings who are conscious of our free will, however, we also have a reflex action to resist "everything that does violence in any way to that freedom" (45). So our sexual urge is sometimes in conflict with our freedom because we can be tempted to express ourselves sexually "without any conscious thought" or deliberation on "the end in view". It is not typical of man to follow a mode of action without reflecting on its relation to "the end at which he aims (46), writes JPII. It is proper to us as human beings to consciously select our ends and to select the best and most appropriate means to achieve those ends.

We are not responsible for involuntary sexual sensations, but we are responsible for what we do with them and how we act on arousal and our desire to be with another person. We are not the cause of our sexual desires, they are God's idea. We cooperate with our God-given sexual urge using our freewill. (I also get the impression from the words of JPII that he wants to point out that persons are not responsible for what another person may do to them sexually without their consent. That’s a very important thing to note for anyone who has been sexually abused.)

JPII continues: "There is in man an innate principle which makes him capable of considered behavior, or self-determination. Man is by nature capable of rising above instinct in his actions. And he is capable of such action in the sexual sphere as elsewhere. If it were otherwise, morality would have no meaning in this context, would simply not exist, but sexual morality as everyone knows is a universal phenomenon, something common to all humanity. It is, then, difficult to speak of the sexual instinct in man as though it meant the same as it does in animals, difficult to accept it as the sole and ultimate source of actions in the sexual sphere" (46).