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.]

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