[Love and Responsibility] Part 3: The magnitude of sex (and how contraception distracts us from it).

This post is part 3 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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I have not forgotten the confirmation class at which a married couple taught us about sex.

“Sex is for babies and bonding,” they said.

…Which is a simple way to explain the purpose of sex – equal parts procreation and unity – to an awkwardly silent room full of high school freshmen.

But we grew up in a culture that disagrees. A culture that says sex is primarily for pleasure, that a baby is a side effect, and that if you don’t use contraception, you wind up like the Duggars.

But, says JP2, here’s what happens when you do:

1. “Neither in the man nor in the woman can affirmation of the value of the person be divorced from awareness and willing acceptance that he may become a father and she may become a mother.” 

In other words, contraception is the rejection of fertility, and according to JP2, rejection of a person’s fertility can’t be part of the affirmation of the value of a person. In suppressing fertility, one may affirm the value of parts of a person, but not of the person as a whole.

2. “If the possibility of parenthood is deliberately excluded from marital relations, the character of the relationship between the partners automatically changes. The change is away from unification in love and in the direction of mutual, or rather bilateral, ‘enjoyment’.” 

When the purpose of sex is primarily pleasure, it is by default at least self-focused in part, i.e. it is at least in part about what I get out of it (and self-focusedness doesn’t foster unity). Some say this is a farce, that “my partner’s pleasure is more important to me than mine.” But if your pleasure is “bound up in” somebody else’s, when somebody else doesn’t experience pleasure, neither do you. Which is a problem when the purpose of sex is pleasure.

3. “Willing acceptance of parenthood serves to break down the reciprocal egoism – (or the egoism of one party at which the other connives) – behind which lurks the will to exploit the person.” 

Contraception makes sex “safe.” Controlled. Predictable. (Albeit sometimes falsely). In the process, we are given permission to relinquish forethought. To act on any urge. To feel ok about having sex when we only want to have sex for self-focused reasons. Relinquishing control of fertility, on the other hand, requires us to acknowledge the magnitude of what we’re doing. To embrace the potential that this might make you a dad, and me a mom. In the process, we are necessarily perpetually pointed toward something other than self. We are given permission (and courage) to consider that sex is greater, and more powerful, than “it feels good.”

Other important points:

  • Practicing Catholics believe we aren’t supposed to unite with someone because it’s pleasurable to have sex with them, but to create a pleasurable sexual relationship with the person to whom we are permanently united.
  • “Contraception implies you should always be able to have sex whenever you want it, that it’s purely recreation. You’re able to exclude creation from (sex) at will. The Catholic Church teaches that it’s ok to have sex when you’re not fertile, (but) it’s not ok to turn off your own fertility.” -Dustin Riechmann
  • NFP is a fabulous method of family planning that requires a couple to work with the body, instead of against it.
  • The Duggars don’t use NFP (and if you do, you won’t wind up with 20 kids if 20 kids isn’t your goal).

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Click here to read all the posts in this series.

[Love and Responsibility] Part 2: People who hate chastity secretly like chastity.

This post is part 2 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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I used to have a big yellow bumper sticker stuck to the Spence-Mobile’s* rear windshield. In red letters, it said CHASTITY IS FOR LOVERS.

I’m fairly certain our culture begs to differ, as evidenced by various statistics (88 percent of unmarried people between the ages 18 and 29 are sexually active**) and by the reader who posited in a letter to the paper’s editor that I am a virgin not because I’m chaste, but because I’m “probably not a hot babe.”

Resistance to chastity, according to Blessed Pope John Paul II in Love and Responsibility, is a result of resentment.

The reason people don’t practice chastity is because they resent it.

“Resentment arises from an erroneous and distorted sense of values,” wrote JP2 in a chapter called The Rehabilitation of Chastity. “It is a lack of objectivity in judgment and evaluation, and has its origin in weakness of the will. The fact is that attaining or realizing a higher value demands a greater effort of will. So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect it deserves, even see it as in some way evil …

But this resentment backfires. It uncovers what people who hate chastity might not realize themselves:

They totally secretly like it.

JP2 connects resentment to the cardinal sin called sloth. “St. Thomas defines sloth (acedia) as ‘a sadness arising from the fact that the good is difficult.’ This sadness, far from denying the good, indirectly helps to keep respect for it alive in the soul.”

People don’t resent chastity because they don’t want to be chaste. They resent it because it’s hard to be chaste. 

“Resentment,” wrote JP2, “does not stop at this: it not only distorts the features of the good but devalues that which rightly deserves respect, so that man need not struggle to raise himself to the level of the true good, but can ‘light-heartedly’ recognize as good only what suits him, what is convenient and comfortable for him. Resentment is a feature of the subjective mentality: pleasure takes the place of superior values.”

Our culture buys into this subjective mentality; it tells us that ‘hard’ negates ‘good.’

Thank God that in truth, it doesn’t.

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Click here to read all the posts in this series.

*Just one of my car’s two names. The other is the Motha Ship. Long story.

**According to the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

[Love and Responsibility] Part 1: Libido and the sexual urge.

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.)