This post is part 1 in a sex and love series based on what I learned from my favorite parts of the brilliant book Love and Responsibility by Blessed Pope John Paul II. All quotes, unless otherwise noted or used for emphasis, come from the book.
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In a chapter on the sexual urge, Pope John Paul II brilliantly differentiates the ‘libidinistic’ interpretation of the sexual urge (as popularized by Freud) from the ‘religious’ one.
The ‘libidinistic’ interpretation says the sexual urge is “fundamentally an urge to enjoy” whereas the ‘religious’ interpretation says the sexual urge is designed to “orient us toward another person,” according to Edward Sri. True orientation toward the beloved curbs a person’s urge to use somebody.
“Libidinistic” is a derivative of the Latin word libido, which means “enjoyment resulting from use.”
Freud’s version of the sexual urge is incompatible with life as Christ calls us to live it, for at least three reasons:
1. It’s a bummer for babies. A sexual urge based on libido requires acquiring pleasure to be the primary purpose of the urge. If acquiring pleasure is the primary purpose of the urge, “the transmission of life,” more commonly called makin’ babies, is simply a side effect. Which means orientation toward another person – be it the one with whom you’re having sex or the one you co-create while you do it – isn’t necessary.
2. It means humans are really just animals. A sexual urge based on libido requires little else of a person than sensitization to “enjoyable sensory stimuli of a sexual nature.” It encourages us to immerse ourselves in “enjoyment resulting from use” every time the opportunity to “use” arises. Then it convinces us that we have to. The result? We are governed by our urges (sort of like my dog is).
3. It masquerades as justification for contraception and abortion. If procreation is only a side effect of acting on the sexual urge (as it is when the urge is based on libido), abstinence is illogical. So when “the earth is threatened with overpopulation” but making babies isn’t a primary purpose of sex (as it isn’t when the urge is based on libido), “have less sex” makes less sense than “suppress fertility.” In other words, even when good reasons exist not to have babies (including but not limited to “I’m not ready to be a parent.”), people for whom the sexual urge is based on libido can’t conclude what JP2 concludes: “We ought to aim at limiting the use of the sexual urge.” Instead, they “aim at the preservation in full of … the pleasure of sexual intercourse, while at the same time curbing … procreation.”
My hunch is we who agree with JP2 on this are few and far between.
(But Jesus wasn’t kidding when he called it a narrow road.)