Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Let's Talk About Sex...

No, not that way. This way--Godspy's way! Ecco: The Meaning of Sex: Fertility and the Recovery of Human Sexuality, by Juli Loesch Wiley

Ms. Wiley exposes the truth. Our sex-obsessed society can't grasp the reality of human sexuality. Our culture of Death demands dominion over the ultimate expression of Nupitual Union; it acquires only the sad facsimile of sex. The more we try to dissect sexual intercourse--taking only the pleasurable experiences we like and dumping the fruits of fertility we don't--the less we experience the ultimate fulfillment of it. Says Wiley:
The Nature of Sexuality

Sexually, we resemble baboons. But even to say that seems like a dig, a put-down.

We know that human sexuality is something like other mammalian sexuality, and at the same time something more. For us, as for apes, mating fulfills a drive and satisfies an itch. Like other primates, we reproduce sexually. Again like other primates, we use sexual gestures to express affinity or belonging on some level; our mating patterns order our herd, our group, our community.

But there is still something more. The sacramental view of matrimony was never based on studies of baboon communities or squints at barnyard sex. Christians believe that, first, since we were made in the image and likeness of God, our design is both revelatory and providential. Second, the "honor of the marriage bed" is rooted in the scriptural view of marital union as showing forth, mysteriously, the love-union of Christ and the church.

Honoring the Design

If human sexuality has no designer, then vain is an appeal to honor the design. Furthermore, if there is a design, and the design is already perfectly reflected in our instincts, drives, and appetites, then "honoring the design" should need no appeal at all: it should happen automatically.

When Christ, during his ministry here on earth, was asked (in Matthew 19) about the propriety of certain sexual customs, his method was to refer his questioners back to Genesis, He used the argument from design: that the Creator had made the human race male and female, that he had designed them to hold fast together, becoming one flesh.

So the design of male and female is a sign of different-gender alliance and fidelity (Gen. 3:18-24) as well as God's way of making his human creatures fruitful (Gen. 1:28.) This is the way it was in Eden (literally, "Delight").

The question Jesus was asked had to do with divorce. His answer made clear that in the beginning (Genesis), in the time of delight (Eden), man and woman were one: there was no divorce. He notes that divorce came in later because of people's hardness of heart—in other words, because of sin. But rather than accommodating that hardness of heart, he challenges his listeners with a hard saying ("Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another, is guilty of adultery")—a hard saying that paradoxically upholds once again the norm of Eden, the full-orbed sexuality of delight.

What does this discussion of divorce have to do with contraception? The underlying question in both instances is whether we are justified in breaking this full-orbed sexuality apart.

May we break apart, rearrange, a man and a woman? May we break apart fruitfulness and delight? Are we free (because we are able to do so) to split sex up into its various "animal" and "angel" components—fondness here, fertility there; here the itch, there the issue; affection, desire, covenant, and conception considered separately and experienced separately—rearranging the pieces to suit whatever project we have in mind?

The picture is complicated by the fact that men and women have become hardened in their responses, in their feelings, in what seems natural to them, because of sin. We're not in the Garden anymore. Our hearts are hard.

So, for instance, rape seems natural, even urgent, to some poor sinners. To others, nature is the pleasure of serial seduction. For some men, mating with a man seems natural; still other seek sexual gratification with children. Or animals. Or plastic sex toys and video images.

And many—especially in our day—think it a problem and vexation that natural sex should so easily produce offspring. It seems to them normal that sex should be usually—almost invariably—infertile. The fruitfulness of the sexual embrace distresses them: I could almost say it affronts them. The connection between sexual fulfillment and fertility strikes them as a defect of design.
She goes on to describe the ultimate meaning of our sexuality: as a foreshadowing of the heavenly feast we're all invited to attend:
St. Paul said something about human sexual love that was never said about any animal's sex life: that for us—for human persons and particularly for baptized persons—sexual union is a mysterium tremendum. It is the prime image of the union of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32).

To be sure, St. Paul does not say that this imaging is a property of sexual relations considered in isolation, but of marriage as a whole. Nevertheless, we're not talking here about the love of parent and child, or of brothers and sisters, or of the monastery or the parish, but precisely the union exclusively proper to married persons. The sacred sign of this is sexual intercourse.

It seems to me that the goal of Christ's work is the creation of a new human race, one that lives the way God originally wanted the human race to live. This is a call backward to Genesis, to original design, to what one might call Alpha Humanity. But it is also a call forward to something new, to Omega Humanity fulfilled in Christ.

If the sexual act signifies this, then its structure is not to be tampered with, any more than one would tamper with the matter of the Eucharist or the name of the Trinity. This means that wholeness is not just desirable, not just an ideal, but is obligatory for purposes of signifying what God wants to signify: in other words, for sacramental reasons.

This is why both honest virginity and honest married love both honor the sacramentality of sex: virginity by keeping sex wholly reserved; and marriage by keeping sex whole whenever it is expressed.


Truly if this life were all there is, there would be no reason not to squander sexual energy ad libitum, de-coupled as to partner, disoriented as to gender, Dionysiac as to its final end: remember that in The Bacchae it ends in death.

But if this life points mysteriously to a life to come, we must honor the "secret meaning" of our sexuality as a sign of sacred fertile union. To deliberately splinter the parts of the sign—to break up the sacredness, to split off the fertility, or to disrupt the spouses' one-flesh unity—would be like hacking a written highway marker into a heap of unrelated syllables. But to restore the sign of whole sexual love—man and woman, lifelong, exclusive, faithful, and fruitful—means to read the sign rightly and to reach the destination to which it points: the Marriage of the Lamb, the feast that has no end.
When we who are married make love to our spouses, we celebrate our sacrament of matrimony. We give of ourselves to one another as Christ gave of himself to us. We unite our genders in that ultimate complementarity that foreshadows heaven. Why would any of us in our right minds want to exchange this precious gift for any cheap pleasure or fleeting thrill?

We wouldn't. Unfortunately, far too many of us did not understand the true nature of our sexuality. The paragons of the Sexual Revolution saw to that. In fairness, the Manichean impulses of far too many Christians gave the pioneers of SR their opportunity. Well, they've had their chance. Our society slowly awakens to the Bacchaen hangove we've courted for over forty years. We yearn for the truth and long to feel whole once more.

Juli Loesch Wiley give us that truth.