Is monogamy unnatural?

ID-100157105According to a column Friday on CNN.com, to honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives is probably impossible.

“Strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” wrote Meghan Laslocky, the column’s writer and author of The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages.

According to Laslocky, humans have to tolerate the “impulse to experience sexual variety” for longer now than ever, because people are living longer now than before.

“A person is theoretically expected to have one sexual partner for about 50 years,” she wrote. “This seems like a lot to expect of any human being — even the most honorable, ethical and moral.” It’s a lot to expect, she said, because humans are animals and animals aren’t often monogamous.

“Face it,” the column’s headline reads. “Monogamy is unnatural.”

Then infidelity is “only human,” to use words the average American adult might use. But I have good news for Laslocky:

Infidelity is not “only human.” Fidelity is.

Humans are embodied spirits, created in God’s image, given enough daily grace to resist temptation. “Original sin,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “caused ‘a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted; it is wounded… and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence.”

Concupiscence is definitely in “the impulse to experience sexual variety.” It is what pulls a married man or woman toward sex with somebody other than his or her spouse. According to Theology of the Body (TOB), “It is as if the ‘man of concupiscence’ …had simply ceased… to remain above the world of living beings or ‘animalia.'” We have to learn, according to TOB, “‘to be the authentic master(s) of (our) own innermost impulses…'”

It is animal to act thoughtlessly on impulse, and human to use faith and reason to control it. It is animal to be unfaithful, and human to keep our vows.

This doesn’t mean we are animals because we sin. It doesn’t mean we are animals at all. It doesn’t make us less-than, but proves we are greater-than, that we don’t sin because we’re human but because for a moment, we forgot we are human. It means that because we are human, we aren’t bound by sin, but invited to be freed from it, that we don’t have to keep doing the things we sometimes think we can’t not do.

If we are the animals Laslocky says we are, it isn’t because of biology, but because we’re rejecting grace. And if “sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” it isn’t because we are animals, but because we believe we are.

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Click here to read Laslocky’s column in full.

Relevant quote: “If redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given” (Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I don’t think anyone actually wants to be thought of as an animal, except briefly when it is convenient.

    That said, I don’t think modern, progressive women and men have any clear understanding of the concept of sin. It is to them simply restrictions placed by society, rather than missing a goal to which they aspire with their heart.

  • Human has brain to detect what is good and bad, but animal doesn’t. I hope the readers of Laslocky’s column will not be fool by her use of animal as human being.

  • I of course agree with everything that you say but to answer the question is man just another animal directly with a theological tenet will be meaningless to most who do not have Faith.

    Faith can show us why and how we are not just animals but it must be possible to support this belief with reason. Have you any experience in looking at it from that angle too?

    • I have a little experience looking at it from that angle, but not enough to write about it. Stay tuned.

    • Appreciation of beauty. Art. Music. Poetry. Drama. Pausing for sunsets. Vacuuming. Wedding dresses. We do all sorts of things that don’t *really* make sense, survival-wise. There may be brain chemistry to say that listening to Beethoven makes us feel good, but I think it’s a stretch to attribute it all to random, unguided, natural-selection evolution. Also, our general discontent with things of this world. Our ability to be angsty.

      PS Thanks for this, Arleen! I think you made some really good points in your commentary. The pastor at a nearby parish told us people too often excuse sin by saying “I’m only human.” You’re *not* only human, he said. You have a spiritual soul, and (some of us) the grace of baptism, etc.

    • Agreed! And I think it is because we are human that we CAN experience grace and resist temptation. Amazing stuff.

  • Great post +Arleen Spenceley.

  • Thanks for taking this idea on, Arleen. It is important of course. It does bring about a question in me, though, a question that maybe merits its own blog post. I am one who resonates strongly with this multiple, competing desires in seemingly all too many directions. I know the answer isn’t indiscriminate indulgence, and yet, what is the answer? What is one to do with these desires?

    • Thank, Chris! And excellent question! I’m gonna ponder.

    • I think we’re supposed to a) train the will to give in only to ordered desires (sexual union only with our spouse) and b) realize that human desire is about fulfillment, but that even fulfillment on earth via our earthly interactions is but a foretaste of heaven and union with The One Who satisfies all desires. We are made FOR God and thus by striving each day to know Him and love Him Who is our All, we move from desiring the material to desiring the spiritual…. some initial thoughts anyway. 🙂

  • I totally agree with your position, and I think a lot more people would if they knew and understood God’s plan for us which I have found to be best described (outside of the Bible) in The Theology of the Body. It’s hard to convince people entrenched in the culture of death who have become accustomed to violence and pornography to embrace the sacredness of Marriage as a Sacrament and life-long fidelity, much less understand the role of grace in remaining true to the vocations to which the Lord has called us. Fortunately the Holy Spirit’s always happy to help when Truth is at stake. Thanks for sharing this reflection!

    • Amen! Thanks so much for the thoughtful response. I totally agree.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just picking a random post to comment on, because after reading a few of them, I’m not sure where the best place to respond would be.

    I think you should address the topic of masturbation. I did a search of your blog, and to my surprise, neither the word “masturbation” nor “masturbate” were mentioned once. This is odd, considering how closely masturbation is related to the idea of refraining from sex.

    What is your stance on masturbation? Is it moral? Does it taint the purity of refraining from sex, or is it an acceptable compromise?