Probably the most unpopular teaching of the Catholic Church is the teaching on sex. The idea that sex is designed for a man and women only in the context of a marriage open to children has to be one of the most outdated ideas in the eyes of the pop culture. But, interestingly, the more people study this teaching the more it begins to make sense. The Church’s sex teaching is laid out most clearly in John Paul II's lecture in Theology of the Body. After I read JP II’s writing on what sex is and what it means to be a human person, I came to the shocking conclusion that the Church is right about sex, and the pop culture has been wrong all along. In this article, I’ll give the audience the reader’s digest version of Theology of the Body.
One of the main ideas of Theology of the Body is that the desire for sex is good as this yearning is a hallmark of God's original creation. Therefore, it's not that having sexual desire is flawed, it's how one uses this natural craving. The desire for sex in-of-itself points to the ingredients within God's creation. How does sex point to God? To see this we need to back way up and ask two pressing questions - what is a human person and where did a human person came from?
To answer these fundamental questions we have to start with basic logic. First, it makes sense that when you encounter a sophisticated, highly important machine that you didn’t create, the logical thing to do would be to carefully read the manual from the designer of the machine to understand how it works and how to use it. The really dumb thing would be to not pay any attention to the designer’s instructions and instead declare you know best the purpose and function of the machine. This is not only dumb, it is highly arrogant. To think you know more about a complex machine than the designer of that machine just speaks how self-absorbed a person must be. The main reason why it would be wise to listen to the designer over yourself is that you run the risk of ruining this complex machine if you don’t follow the designer's instructions.
In the grand analysis of creation, this complex machine is a human person and the designer of this machine is God. The manual of how to use this machine is written in the laws of the universe and God's instructions revealed in the Bible. In both manuals, there is a section that shows how God uses the method of sex to create a human person. To understand what sex is we first have to understand what a human person is. God created mankind in God’s image as Genesis states, “In the image of God he created him male and female” (Genesis 1: 27). This image of male and female reflects a deeper picture of a giver and receiver. The man is the giver as we can see in the act of creating new life the man delivers his seed into the woman, and the woman receives the seed and nurtures the seed into her body. So, the image of God is that of male (giver) and female (receiver). And once you have a giver and receiver, you get new life. This is the process in which God will make humanity, and he will also use this formula to have humanity make new life.
The reason that human relationship is based on this giving-receiving formula is because this very method is the essence of God. The totality of the Trinity itself is a perfect giving and receiving that yields life. The Father is the giver and he pours Himself out to the Son. The Son perfectly receives the Father and, in turn, gives back to the Father. The end product of this Divine giving-receiving is the Holy Spirit - which represents the new life in the human equation. In short, when you add up the Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit, you have a family. As John Paul II said, "God in his deepest mystery is a family." Therefore, the totality of a family is God's image in the form of giving (male), receiving (female) combined to create new life.
Another significant clue in God’s blueprint for creation in that he makes a human person by blending together a body and soul. We see this in Genesis 2:7. “God made man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life." The dust of the ground represents the body or physical element, and the breath of life embodies the soul or thoughts of that person. Therefore, the two elements that make a human person is body and soul. We have a physical body and we also have a non-physical element in our thoughts. One's thoughts house the inner soul of that person. Now, if we add this formula together we see:
Mankind was created in God’s image of Giver - - Receiver - - and the by-product of this giving and receiving = new life. This new life is a person. And a person = body + soul unity.
Since we were made in God's image, God wants us to be givers like him. So, how do we become givers? Let's consult another part of the designer’s instructions, “A man leaves his mother and father and will be united to his wife and the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
This verse explains that the whole point of marriage is two unite a giver and receiver together to make a new life. This new life a man and woman make together will become the "one flesh" of that man and woman. Indeed, this new baby or "one flesh" will literally have that man and woman's DNA combined to make their one flesh a new one flesh; a new life. Therefore, marriage not only includes the man and woman coming together through wedding vows, marriage also includes the act of creating a new life in sex. God created us, and by making us he gave us his formula for us to create new life. Based on the instructions in Genesis and confirmed by Jesus (see Matthew 19: 4-6), the simple 4 step process God uses to make the human person is:
- Male & Female (giver and receiver)
- Connect souls (wedding vows)
- Connect bodies (sex)
When you do steps 1-3, you get a….
4. New person = soul + body unity
Now, it should be noted that in God's design in nature he made a woman fertile for two-three days a month. So, God's machine is programmed only to produce human life at a specific time. It's very much like growing fruit. You can't grow fruit in the winter time. Nature only allows fruit to grow at certain times. The same is true of when to grow new life. When we understand the best time to grow, the 4-step process above produces the best fruit - a human person in the ideal environment.
In zooming in on this 4-step process we see that step 1 talks about the ingredients God uses to make life. Steps 2-4 affirms the order in which you use these ingredients so you'll end up receiving the best product - a human person in the ideal environment.
Step 1: Male & Female –Biologically speaking the male is the giver as his reproductive organs point outward to deliver the seed and the female is the receiver as her reproductive organs point inward to receive the seed. You need a male and female to make this happen. Two men won’t work. If you have two givers, no female is there to receive the seed. Conversely, two women won’t work. If you have two receivers, you do not have a male to deliver the seed. It is simply a biological fact the only way to get new life is with a man and a woman. You can try to redefine marriage all you want, but redefining marriage to the same sex will not create life any more than redefining the law of gravity will make me fly.
Step 2: Connect Souls– First, the giver (male) and receiver (female) need to connect their souls together in the wedding ceremony. In the wedding vows, the two say: “I give myself totally to you and no one else.” When they say this, they are declaring to each other that they give their soul to that other person. In other words, all their thoughts and actions will be geared toward the good of that person. The wedding vows needs to be done before the witness of God because they are not only saying this commitment to each other, they are saying this commitment to God – the grand architect of this very design. Thus, when someone says "I do" to their spouse, they are simultaneously saying "I do" to God and God's very method. The important part of the wedding vows is that in it one declares that he or she is completely aligning themselves to God, and, in turn, their spouse. Here, one asserts who they wish to follow for the rest of their life.
Step 3: Connect Bodies - Once you connect the souls in the wedding, then you need to connect the bodies in sex. Here, your vows get put into action to prove it. Connecting the body in sex confirms your statement that “I am yours” in the wedding vows because it puts that statement into reality as both people use their bodies in a giving (male) and receiving (female) process to create a new person. This new person will bond the man and the woman together as they work together tirelessly to raise this new person. Anyone can say, “I am totally yours,” but step 3 shows that this person loves that other person so much that they are willing to create a new life and raise new life only with that person. The average person can come up with a long list of people they would like to have sex with. However, if you make a list of someone you wanted to create life with, raise this new human life with, and spend the rest of your life with, your list would be much shorter.
Step 4: New Life – The end product when two people say “I give myself to you” with their soul and then performs this statement with their bodies becomes a reality with a new human person. In this step, the Genesis verse "and the two become one flesh" is fulfilled. Here, both the man and woman's genetic makeup are combined together to form a new person. Recall that a human person is the combination of body & soul. Therefore, it makes sense that to create a new body & soul, you need to connect your soul and body with someone you love in order to produce a new person.
The 4-step process fits the natural recipe of God - giver and receiver. This method matches the designer’s grand design of the highly complex and beautiful machine we call a human person.
In the logical method, we can see the inner beauty of God’s work. Just like in logic, if you remove or skip any of the steps above, a breakdown will occur just as sure as night follows day.
How important are these steps? All philosophers know that the cause is always greater than the effect because without the cause you do not get the effect. So, if you like life, then you need to love God’s 4-step process that gave you life because without it, you wouldn’t have the ideal environment for life to thrive. In other words, if you reject God’s 4-step formula, then that would be like rejecting the very thing that created you.
What God's design reveals is what it means to be a human person. The whole point of the entire design is to find your true identity by giving your biological opposite your nature and, in turn, receiving their nature. In other words, the greatest thing a woman can do for a man is make him a father. Conversely, the greatest thing a man can do for a woman is make her a mother. Ultimately, motherhood and fatherhood is aligned to help a person become fulfilled. This is because a person goes from being concerned for the self - to now in fatherhood or motherhood to being concerned for the other. Parenthood takes a person and makes them forget their self and instead focus on the other. This is the very definition of love - as paradoxically when you lose your self you'll actually find yourself (see Matthew 10:39).
However, if the greatest thing a woman can do for a man is to have him focus on the other in fatherhood, the worst thing she can do for him is make him addicted to pleasing himself - and vice versa to the man. Therefore, we should start to notice problems when we take sex from focusing on the other life to now focusing on the pleasures of the self.
One of the first instances in the Bible where sex goes from giving life, to now getting pleasure is the scene where Onan received God's instructions to have sex with his wife, Tamar, in order to grow the family line of Judah. However, instead of fulfilling God's plan to create life, Onan thwarts the life-giving aspect in sex in order to get pleasure for himself (see Genesis 38: 8-10). When Onan does this, he subsequently dies. Typically, the physical death in the Old Testament, is used as a theological mirror that points toward the worse death - the death of that person's soul. After all, if a person's body lasts 80 years and a person's soul lasts forever, the death of the soul would be far worse than the death of the body. In fact, in this Onan scene we see Biblical evidence against birth control methods. Therefore, whenever our modern culture encourages any and all birth control methods, we are essentially pulling an Onan and destroying our souls.
Now, let's see if the lesson of Onan can be applied to today. Do we notice a problem in society when we take sex from focusing on the life of the other to now focusing on the pleasures of the self?
In a word, yes.
Dr. Leonard Sax writes extensively about the psychological problems in young people today caused by casual sex in the hook-up culture. When it comes to eliminating the life-giving aspect of sex in birth control we now see medical proof that shows contraceptives, like the pill, are linked to depression. Also, in recent years, the World Health Organization classified the pill as a group 1 carcinogen as it is linked to the cause of breast cancer and may cause other cancerous hazards. As well, Dr. Janet Smith highlights the fact as the pill made its appearance in 1960, so too did the current rise of divorce rates start in the 60's. Statistics show a direct connection that as the use of the pill rises, so too do divorce rates rise. The logic behind the rise of divorce rates with the advent of the pill makes sense. Before the pill, a woman's body was viewed with immense power and wonder because from her body came life. Thus, sex showcased the woman's life-giving power. However, with the "birth" of the pill, a woman's body went from an instrument to bring forth life, to now an object to be used for pleasure. The second a woman loses her life-giving ability, she, sadly, became an object. And as with all objects - a man will divorce himself from the object the second the object ceases to bring him pleasure.
Additionally, if you think changing step 1 is good and want to embrace same-sex logic, a recent study came out that shows the highly problematic medical and psychological issues associated with the LGBT lifestyle. In sum, rectal intercourse is incredibly dangerous to a person's physical and mental well-being. Joseph Sciambra writes extensively on the physical and psychological horrors he experienced in the "gay" lifestyle.
These reports are concrete proof that if selfish humanity puts their grubby hands on God’s beautiful formula in sex, we’ll end up ruining the human creation just like a muddy dog ends up ruining a clean kitchen floor.
Most people want to take step 3 before step 2 – sex before the wedding vows. However, when you have sex before the vows, you are merely using that person to get pleasure. Rather than giving your soul to them in marriage, you are using their body for the momentary pleasure of your body. Here, the relationship of the couple is in the state of a transaction - using the other to serve the self. However, with marriage, their relationship is elevated to a Sacrament - using the self for the good of the other and declaring in the marriage ceremony your intention to God and to everyone - "I am not using my spouse."
Moreover, if you do step 3 before step 2 you are most likely using a form of birth control in which your body is communicating that you don’t fully give yourself to that person. Thus, you are lying with your body because you want to cut off step 4 – not to create a new life with that person. It is ironic that people want to have sex without life because if their ancestors lived by this same theory, they would not exist. Therefore, sex without life becomes self-refuting to all who have life.
We can also notice a breakdown occurs if a person has sex and gets pregnant before marriage (you do steps 3&4 before step 2). Performing the wedding vows before God and other witnesses essentially says, "I am not using this person for pleasure. I am willing the good of them and will work to make them a parent." However, if you skip this step, what you're basically saying is, "I am using this person for the pleasure of myself and being committed to their fulfillment is not that big of a concern to me."
Therefore, by skipping over the wedding vows the couple is jeopardizing their relationship with that person and jeopardizing that new life they created. If there is no declaration in marriage that “I am yours,” than that new life they created will most likely suffer because the parents are not fully connected and as a result, likely become separated. Indeed, we see this problem today as the majority of people who end up in prison or in a violent environment were born out of wedlock. Studies indicate that without a stable father figure, teens and young adults, are more likely to engage in criminal activity and experience emotional and mental problems.
As we begin to see, if you take a machine out of it's intended environment a breakdown will naturally occur. No sane person would use a car as a boat. Yet, the above examples show that when we take sex outside its natural environment of man/woman marriage to create life, a collapse occurs. The function of the human reproductive organs is made to produce life and enhance the marriage. No biologist or doctor will look at you with a straight face and say that there is another purpose for your reproductive organs besides producing life. However, we are so fixated on the fake idea that people make sex, that we forgot the obvious fact that sex makes people.
Sex is sacred. We are doing something God-like when we perform sex in marriage. When two people have sex, they give themselves to someone else to create new life – just like God. If we love the entity that created us (God), we will honor his formula and try our best to follow it. However, if we love ourselves more, we’ll take God's beautiful formula and use it for our own selfish desires.
Theology of the body can be summarized very simply: marriage, sex, and babies belong together - and in that order. If anything (including contraception) is inserted into the tight-knot nexus of marriage-sex-babies, than everything will start to unravel.
But, people will protest to only have sex for life is impossible. Yes, which is why the Church offers the non-contraceptive, organic method of sex in natural family planning (NFP). Recall, that God's machine is programmed only to produce life at the ideal time. So, if your marriage is not ready for children you have sex during the periods when the woman is not fertile just like in nature if you 're not ready to grow tomatoes, then you plant your seed in the non fertile periods of winter. After all, both the woman and nature stand in position as receiver, thus they were both created with fertile and non-fertile periods in their growth making process. Therefore, NFP is written into the manual of the machine to identify the best time to produce life. With NFP, the marriage thrives precisely in order to produce life at the best time.
Now we can see that sex outside of God's instructions makes sex into something that takes away the life-giving aspect and is now used for pleasure. At this point, sex goes from something used to give life to now something used so you can get pleasure. God's 4-step process can be summed up by the phrase: “How can I use myself to serve the other.” The whole point of God's instructions is to go beyond the desires of the self for the good of the other (see Matthew 20:28, 10:39, 16:25, 1 Corinthians 13:5). When we take sex outside of God's plan we say: “How can I use the other to serve me.” Notice the switch here. The former statement brings forth life and the latter statement brings forth death of the soul.
How does sex outside of marriage kill a soul and pull an Onan in which the soul dies? When you take sex from using yourself to give life to now using someone else to give you pleasure, you’ve destroyed the very plan that created you. When you seek sex for your pleasure, you end up using that other person as an object. Not only are you using another person as an object, you have reduced yourself to be used as an object. Your worth no longer comes from being a child of God. Your value now comes from how well you can be a momentary object of pleasure for others. In this rather superficial world, you judge a person's worth on how much they give you gratification and you judge your own value on how much sensual pleasure you bring to another. This outlook cheapens the human experience to a pathetic transaction in which two people use each other for brief amusements.
Because a human person is body + soul unity, when you view someone only as a body only you have eliminated their soul, thus, you view them as an object. Here, they are not a human person anymore. Rather, they are deformed into a mere object. Therefore, you have just eliminated their soul and yours as well. You declare that your body trumps the other person’s soul. Treating someone as an object for your pleasure is like a child saying to a toy, “I will use you for fun, and as soon as you cease to bring me satisfaction, I will shove you aside like an unwanted object.”
Now, the pop culture tries to come up with these inept reasons that sex for pleasure is not this bad and is some morally upright cause. For example, with that vague "love is love" statement, the modern culture is trying to equate lust as the same thing as love. However, this is impossible when we look at the definition of love and lust.
Recall that love = "How can I use myself to serve the other."
Lust = "How can I use the other to serve me." And the way the other serves someone is through pleasure with no life involved.
Now, that we know the definition of lust and love are the total opposite of each other, to try and equate them as the same thing is complete nonsense. Even in matters outside of sex we see how bizarre the idea that sex for pleasure is the same concept as love. A man loves his mother, but that doesn't mean he needs to have sex with her. If sex in any manner is equated to love, does that mean that handicapped individuals who are physically unable to have sex are not capable to love? Do we see how the pop culture makes us think nonsense?
Deep down people know that the real gifts in life come from creating new life not from using each other to get cheap thrills. When a man sits on his deathbed and stares into his wife's eyes and reflects on his life, his lasting image and his legacy he leaves behind will be his children that he and his wife created. What he won't do is look into his wife's eyes on his deathbed and say, "The greatest thing we did is have sex for our pleasure." Rather, what he will say to his wife is, "The greatest thing we did is bring life into this world and point this life to Christ." His former statement is shallow and won't fulfill him in the long run. His latter statement is self-sacrificing and will bring him contentment on his deathbed.
The idea of Theology of the Body is that the machine God made to produce the human person works best when we leave it in its natural state and don't mess with it. The modern culture has twisted God's plan of love from giving life to now getting pleasure with no life creation involved. We as Catholics are called to something greater than the message of the culture. Yes, it's a hard teaching to live up to, and we might falter at times, but in the long run, it is a teaching that will make you smile on your deathbed.
Theology of the Body is a doctrine that forces you to love the hard way. As the song by Nazareth declares, "Love hurts." And as Mother Teresa famously said, "For love to be real it has to hurt." Yes, this teaching will be hard, but like the cross - while love hurts, it is worth it in the long-run.