A Holistic View: Catholic Sexuality (Part 1)
Catholic teaching on human sexuality provides deep insight into the mystery of the human person, but is horribly misunderstood by most people – even by many Catholics.
Far from denigrating sexuality, as many ill-informed people claim, the Church actually celebrates sexuality. The Church, displaying Her timeless and God-given wisdom, recognizes that sexuality was created for specific purposes by God – and that in order to be fruitful, it must be set within proper limits.
The very idea that God might place limits on sexuality is anathema to a culture that celebrates license and scorns self-restraint. But the limits God placed on sexuality are for our ultimate freedom and joy – and people who embrace those limits are better and happier men and women for their obedience to God’s law.
The act of intercourse serves two purposes. The first purpose of intercourse is unitive – two partners are bonded through the sexual act. The second purpose of intercourse is procreative – creating new life. Neither purpose can be hindered if the act of intercourse is to be acceptable to God – or, for that matter, ultimately fruitful and joyful to the partners engaging in the act.
The first purpose of intercourse, the unitive purpose, is one that most people still accept – albeit in a highly perverted form.
Man and woman are complimentary beings, designed to complete the other. Man and woman are literally united in the marital embrace. In the words of Scripture, through intercourse, “the two shall become one flesh.” (Mark 10:8) That dictum is quite literally proven true in intercourse.
And this union is incredibly joyful. Man and woman were designed by God to be in communion – and when a man and a woman come together, that act of union is incredibly joyful. God designed the act to be that way.
God made clear that men and women were meant to be united from the very beginning of the human race: “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) The act of intercourse unifies man and woman, both physically and spiritually.
When utilized within its proper perspective, the unity between man and women is the highest of natural actions – a bond that is a reflection of the full communion between one man and one woman.
But there is an even greater mystery inherent in intercourse.
The natural attraction between a man and a woman becomes quite literally a participation and sharing in the creative activity of God. New life is created by the joyful act of loving union between two partners.
Through intercourse, a man and a woman assist God in His creative activity. The act of union is the way in which the human race survives. The act is designed to bring new life into the world.
Not with every act, of course – not every act of intercourse results in conception. But the gift of life is made possible only through intercourse - and true intercourse can only take place if there are no hindrances to the act.
The act of intercourse is not to be taken lightly or casually. One should not go willy-nilly about sleeping with whoever he or she pleases. There are grave consequences if intercourse not between one man and one woman.
The twofold purpose of intercourse can only be successfully utilized in an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. As C.S. Lewis notes: “Whenever a man lies with a woman, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.” Intercourse creates a bond between a man and a woman that changes the very nature of their relationship. Through the act of intercourse, a man and a woman vow fidelity to each other with their bodies.
Infidelity – whether before or during marriage – breaks this exclusive relationship between two partners. The exclusive bond of love that exists between two lovers is cheapened by extramarital sexual acts. And unity between two partners cannot be exclusive when someone enters into a relationship meant to be exclusive with more than one person.
The exclusive bond of love in marriage can only be forged when two partners vow fidelity to each other in front of witnesses – within the bounds of marriage. Only before God, in the presence of His people and before His representative, can a man and a woman vow their love to each other, fully and completely. Only after they vow total fidelity to each other can they confirm their unity physically.
The Church encourages, celebrates, and sanctifies the unity between a man and a woman within the context of marriage. The bond of marriage, as signified by the wedding bands both partners give each other during the marriage ceremony (in the West, at any rate), is a bond of exclusive and absolute fidelity that one man and one woman pledge to each other. The bond reflects the communion created when two partners vow lifelong fidelity to one another. A marriage is completed when the marriage is consummated - the physical act of intercourse reflects the spiritual unity between one man and one woman vowed during the marriage ceremony.
And this is why the Church speaks so adamantly against offenses against sexuality. The Church takes sexual offenses so seriously not because She demeans the act of intercourse, but precisely because She acknowledges and celebrates the holiness of the marital act.