Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Talking About Sex

Zenit News Agency interviews Jennifer Roback Morse here.

Here's a slice of the essence:
Q: Why do you think marriage is in crisis?

Morse: The marriage crisis is really a sex crisis. The modern world completely misunderstands the meaning of human sexuality. In spite of all our sex education and overtly sexual entertainment, we don't really understand what sex is all about.

We have the idea that sex is a private recreational activity, with no moral or social significance. If that's true, our sex partner becomes a commodity that may or may not please us. And in a consumer society, when we are no longer satisfied with a product, we get rid of it. I call this Consumer Sex.

The basic problem with Consumer Sex is that no one wants to be treated like an object. No matter how much we enjoy our casual sex while we're doing it, the truth is that no one, male or female, wants to be on the receiving end of being discarded. All the problems and disappointments that people experience in their college coed dorms and in dating can be traced to this one point.

We have created a culture in which it is socially acceptable to use people. The implicit agreement is this: You can use me as a sex object, if you allow me to use you. Instead of mutual love, we think sex is about mutual using.

This is why marriage is in crisis: We know that marriage needs sex, but we don't see that sex needs marriage. We realize that sex is necessary to a good marriage, but we don't seem to grasp the connection between marriage and having good sex.

Q: What is the alternative to Consumer Sex?

Morse: I call it the natural, organic approach. Human sexuality has two organic purposes, which are written into our bodies: procreation and spousal unity.

Sex produces babies, and sex bonds the man and the woman to each other. Both these purposes are social purposes. They build up the community of the family, by adding new members and by deepening the spousal bond. Catholic readers may recognize this as the Church's traditional teaching.

The modern view stands the natural order of human sexuality on its head. The sexual urge can be a great motivation for building the community of the family. We have turned it into a consumer good, which increases our focus on ourselves.
And the money quote:
Q: Why is self-donation, as posited by John Paul II in his "Theology of the Body," so imperative to healthy marriages?

Morse: One of our problems is that we don't really understand love. We think that love means, "I like the way I feel when I'm with you." But every adult knows that feelings change far too much to form the basis of a lifelong marriage.

The Thomistic definition of love is "to will and to do the good of another." This formulation accents the fact that love is a decision. We can make a decision to do the good of the other person, even if we don't feel like it.

John Paul's emphasis on self-donation helps to highlight this deeper and more sustainable understanding of love. I describe it as "self-giving, rightly understood," as an analogy with Alexis de Tocqueville's famous description of Americans as embracing "self-interest, rightly understood."

Self-giving is an act of self-valuing because it presupposes that the person is valuable enough to be considered a gift.

Self-giving is inherently more social than self-interest, even rightly understood. Self-interest, rightly understood, has an element of reciprocity to it, but the reciprocity is added after the fact. We are taught to say, "I am valuable. Oh, by the way, so is everybody else."

With self-giving, there is no "by the way" about it. Giving presupposes a gift, a giver and a recipient. Community is at the center of the self-giving way of life.
Marriage and family are not for the feint of heart. Children bring unprecedented joy into parents' lives. They also inflict trials the likes of which no one without children have ever seen. Love in the fullest sense is the only way marriage and families survive. Sex is the fundamental expression of that love. A husband and wife truly unite with one another and give themselves so completely to one another that they can bring new life into the world. Their children are living embodiments of their self-donated love. Their family, born in love, can radiate that affection to their community and society.

The extent to which we honor the full meaning and purpose of sex is the extent to which we honor marriage and family. If we continue, as a society, to treat sex simply as the consumate pleasure, we diminish the very relationships that foster love and communion in the world. It's that important. Sex is that valuable a gift.

It's long past time that we stop wasting it.