Let’s talk about sex

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I will admit, I did not watch the Grammy’s last night. However as I perused Facebook news for my daily 10-minute catch-up I found out about the Queen Latifah wedding event that took place on stage.

Included in these newsfeeds were scathing articles announcing (once again) the destruction of mankind as we know it. Other people saw this as a beautiful witness to the openness of humanity and love and wanted to throw it in the face of “extremists” who don’t agree. It is far too easy to choose sides and amplify the deeply polemical split on the marriage issue.

At times like this, I tend to get very frustrated with the lost opportunity at actual evangelization. What ever happened to “teachable moments”? Why is it that Christians think a media event (that occurs just about every month) is a good reason to dig in their heals to point fingers and call names?

Let’s try a different approach. How about if we actually talk about why we believe what we believe? Yes, as a Catholic I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, ‘till death do them part, open to life – every time they engage in the “marital act.” This does not mean I hate people who think differently than me (including those who believe in homosexual unions to those who believe in using contraception.) I have a very rational system of belief that leads me to my conclusions. I’d like to share them with you.

I believe in the bible. Not a literal word-for-word type of belief, but a belief that it is in fact written as the inspired word of God. It is not just a book, but a living source of encounter with God. In the bible it says that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This can be a mysterious idea, being created “in the image” of God. First let’s break down a Catholic idea of God.

God is a Trinity of Persons- three persons and at the same time one God. This is another mystery in itself, but for our purposes here let’s just agree to accept that as a premise. God is a relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This means that God himself is a relationship. In theology we call God a “Communion of Persons.” Think first of the relationship between the Father and the Son. God the Father pours himself out, he gives himself to the Son. This is love right? To sacrifice oneself for another, to put another first, to love another with one’s whole being. The Son in return gives himself completely to the Father. The Father and Son share a relationship of mutual self-gift. There is a strong spirit of love between them. So strong, in fact, that this spirit is actually a whole different person, the Holy Spirit! Because the Father and the Son are infinite, and there is no limit to the love that they can give, the love between them is so strong it is actually a person. The love of God between Father and Son eternally gives birth to the Holy Spirit.

This is the God that man was made “in the image” of. Mankind was made in the image of relationship. What kind of relationship? Let’s qualify the love between Father and Son to get a better understanding of the relationship mankind was made to image.

Free, Total, Faithful, Fruitful.

First, the Father and Son freely give themselves to each other. Nothing forces the gift from Father to Son or in return. We see this as Jesus freely gave up his life on the Cross for the Father. Next, the reciprocal gift between Father and Son is total. They hold nothing back from each other. Everything of the Father’s belongs to the Son, and Jesus gives his whole self even to the point of death to the Father. Third, this gift of self between Father and Son is faithful. The Father is all for his Son, and Jesus in return gives himself faithfully to the Father. He was tempted to give himself to the devil in the desert, but even then stayed faithful. Lastly, the self-gift between Father and Son is fruitful. As we said earlier, the love between Father and Son is eternally generative, creating life in the Holy Spirit.

Now let’s talk about sex. First of all, sex is fruitful. Doomsday predictions aside, it is a pretty scary thing that the mystery of sex is lost on our culture. When a man and woman join together, there is the possibility for CREATING A NEW HUMAN BEING!!! There are not enough exclamation points to communicate how amazing/mind-blowing/crazy/totally-out-of-this-world-unimaginable this fact should be. Sure, when we think about humans as complex apes, it’s not that big of a deal. But HUMAN. Can we not stop a minute to compare the beauty created by Mozart or Da Vinci to the potential of an ape? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that is simply a function of evolution. Even more wild, sex made Mozart! Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart came together, and in a matter of seconds, set into place a series of events that lead to there being an Amadeus Mozart. The world was forever changed. So, sex is fruitful, and whether or not this fact blows peoples’ minds, it is biologically structured to be.

In Catholic belief, marriage is the joining together of man and woman in order to live up to the image in which we were created. It is in a very real way our purpose on earth. Also in Catholic belief, marriage does not happen without sex. God-imaging sex is the “consummation” of the marriage, without which there actually is no marriage. In fact, every time a married couple has sex, they are engaging in their marriage sacrament. They are being married over and over again. Every single act of sex in marriage is a renewal of the marriage vows. Coincidentally (not really), those vows include the four ideas of entering freely, giving the whole self totally, faithfully, and open to having children.

Every single Catholic teaching on sexuality can be understood in light of this context. Sex is the living out of the way that man and woman are created in the image of God. The only way that sex can be an image of God is to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

Homosexual marriage is not possible because it can’t be fruitful. Infidelity is not acceptable because it makes sex unfaithful. Even many Catholics think contraception is acceptable as long as there is some openness to life at some point – not true. Every single act of sex is meant to be an image of God, including fruitfulness. This is not a bad thing. Sex was made to be DIVINE! The greater the purpose a thing was created for, the worse it is when it’s used for less than its purpose. Sex in any way less than being in the image of God is a terrible distortion of the true goodness and beauty that sex was made for. In my opinion, real sex is not desired enough. Real sex is God-like in its power, but our culture wants to keep God out of it.

In order to truly image God, sex has to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. This can only happen in faithful, uncontracepted marriage, between a man and a woman, until death do them part.

It is not my right to dictate to others how they should live. This is simply a statement of what I believe the nature and purpose of humanity to be. As a psychologist, I feel it is important to have a statement of belief. I also happen to believe that living in accord with our created nature leads to greatest happiness, but again I don’t push that belief on anyone else. I hope and pray that people in our society can grow in their ability to openly listen to each other and learn about diverse viewpoints and beliefs.

15 Comments
  • Judi
    Posted at 16:43h, 27 January

    “Let’s try a different approach. How about if we actually talk about why we believe what we believe?”

    I believe in everything you say and everything that the Catholic Church teaches. However, there is NO WAY in this “twitter sound bite” world that you can explain why marriage should remain between a man an a woman. That is why we are losing this battle! As soon as you even utter the word God…you are shut down…there has to be a better way!

    • Dr. Greg
      Posted at 20:47h, 27 January

      Thanks for your reply Judi! I agree it’s tough to get the message out there, but I think we have to try. Understanding starts with charity though, and the best way we can explain anything about what we believe is with our own example. Any other ideas on how to explain our beliefs?

  • Kristina
    Posted at 22:06h, 27 January

    I think you write this beautifully. But I must say, this whole idea, concept needs to be lived out. You can’t win over arguments or internet discussions no matter how friendly. This is a concept that should be described in person so that others can experience the love, joy, and peace on your face as you explain this beautiful amazing thing. Reading it on a page, an internet page, loses some element. I spent most of the time reading this recalling a mentor of mine explaining this in person, and knowing he and his wife pretty well, it was just amazing to witness in person.

  • Adam
    Posted at 22:47h, 27 January

    This is an awesome blogpost. Love the way you explained things simply. 🙂

  • gosilent
    Posted at 00:29h, 28 January

    In my way of thinking I wouldn’t take my father or my mother into my marriage bed, neither would I take God or the devil. What happens in the marriage bed is between two people and they bring who “they are” into bed with them. If God is part of who they are he will be within them just as your parents are within you. Everyone is a product of their upbringing and their experiences and that is constantly evolving and day to day living brings it’s own unique perspective. It is almost shocking that there is a such religious agenda attached to sexuality and frankly my jaw dropped while reading this article.

    Sex is not something to be accomplished or an activity that is meant to accomplish a goal other than to be intimate with the one you love. Yes, people create life, but that is not the only or primary reason people have sex. Most people do not have sex to be closer to God or to affirm their marriage vows. People will read this and feel “less than” rather than “open to.” Creating a human being is awesome, but it is not magic, it is biology.

    Fruitful and faithful is another set of terms I do not believe you understand in the context marriage – gay or straight. Fruitful does not necessarily mean bearing children, a love can bear fruit of loving, sharing, giving and caring and more – fruitful doesn’t mean literal fruit (children). As for faithful, how can you assume that within gay marriage faithfulness is not practiced? How can you assume that only heterosexuals can be faithful to either marriage or God?

    I would add that there is such a thing as marriage without sex. Uncounted numbers of people cannot have sex at all for a multitude of reasons. Do you discount those unions?

    I get your point, the spiritualness of marriage, but I am bothered by religion getting between the bedsheets with me and dictating what my or anyone’s actions mean or should mean. Man “HUMAN” interpreting the bible and then explaining how to understand it to other humans seems to me a bit of hubris and coming from a psychologist is actually a bit frightening.

    Godly people do good things. Godly people do not explain to others how to experience God.

    • Dr. Greg
      Posted at 07:46h, 28 January

      Thanks for your reply! I definitely understand that many people don’t take God into their marriage or their bedroom, and that is why I clarified that this is simply a statement of what I believe and it is not my place to tell other people how to live. As a psychologist I do have a duty to communicate my understanding of healthy humanity, and based on that understanding I help people who choose to come to me in order to reach their goals.

      One point that I agree with you on is that yes, there absolutely is a fruitfulness in marriage even when no child is conceived. A blog post is simply too short to get into the nuances of this fact, but the basic necessity for sex to image God is that it is open to life every time. When there is sex open to life, married couples who are not able to conceive or are past the age of conceiving can still have a rich and blessed fruitfulness in their marriage.

      Also, I agree with you that two men or two women might be faithful to each other. They will never engage in sex that is open to creating life, however. If any one of the four qualities of love are missing, for anyone hetero or homosexual, that act of sex is not fulfilling its purpose. As a side note, you will notice that the Catholic position is not only against homosexuals, as it also disallows heterosexual contracepted or unmarried sex.

      Thank you again for raising these points and helping me to clarify some things.

  • frangelo
    Posted at 04:17h, 28 January

    “God-imaging sex is the ‘consummation’ of the marriage, without which there actually is no marriage.”

    This is not true. There have been virginal marriages–true marriages–not least of which is that of St. Joseph and Mary.

    Canon Law does provides for the “dissolution”–not juridical nullification–of valid, sacramental, but non-consummated marriages for a just cause (other than non-consummation). These are valid marriages that are dissolved, not annulled, and not simply because they are non-consummated. No consummated marriage may be dissolved. But a non-consummated marriage may be dissolved if there is a just cause to do so. So there is no reason in theology or canon law to suggest that a non-consummated marriage is not a real marriage simply for that reason.

    I am not arguing for virginal marriages. They are and ought to be rare. I am simply pointing out that your argument is defective. It both involves an error in fact and tends to minimize that aspect of marital love of which sex is not the highest manifestation. The self-donation of conjugal union open always to life is a manifestation and sign of sacrificial love, but not its highest expression. Its highest expression is the sacrificial offering of Christ’s virginal flesh and the spouses participation in that sacrifice until death do they part.

    • Dr. Greg
      Posted at 09:17h, 28 January

      Thank you for the clarification! While the point of this post was to communicate a basic understanding of the Catholic view of “natural” marriage, I agree with your distinction. There certainly are intricacies within Catholic theology that discuss these types of advanced nuances, but unfortunately there was not room here to discuss.

      Clarifying the essential nature of the conjugal act should in no way, however, minimize marital love. For the overwhelming majority of married people, it is the God-ordered way through which a married couples expresses the “sacrificial offering of Christ’s virginal flesh.” This is a great mystery, into which Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to plummet with our minds and hearts.

      • Abigail
        Posted at 17:04h, 28 January

        I was under the belief that non-consummated marriages are permitted in the Church only when the couple is capable of conceiving, and is open to the idea of life, but when there are grave reasons for not engaging in sexual union. So what Dr. Greg said is accurate and applicable if you consider that fact.

        And I was also under the belief that it’s true that non-consummated marriages can be annulled because of the fact that the sexual act is so important in marriage, that it could be said that technically it’s not a marriage, but more of a civil union. Also, the choice not to engage in sexual acts is so rare and cannot be entered upon lightly, and so it’s more of an exception to the rule, so that’s a separate discussion than the more over-arching tone that I perceived from Dr. Greg’s post.

  • Caleb
    Posted at 08:32h, 28 January

    Excellent explanation of the shortcomings of some “love.” Thank you and I support this post. I do suppose the post prior to this comment has a interesting point, but perhaps, is there any error in what was missed, and then suggested by Frangelo, there can be some allusion to that, or an update, but overall incredibly good.

    The Grammy goers would benefit, as well as all of us.

  • Mark
    Posted at 16:49h, 30 January

    “Why is it that Christians think a media event (that occurs just about every month) is a good reason to dig in their heals to point fingers and call names?”
    My sentiments exactly. So glad I found this blog entry. It was just what I needed at this time in life.

  • Cary
    Posted at 22:12h, 23 March

    Thanks Dr. Greg, for the very faithful post to the Theology of the Body. I think it’s refreshing to find faithful professionals in our culture who are aware of the depth of our catholic faith and are able to stay true to the wisdom reflected upon by the Church for the last 2000 years!

  • m.
    Posted at 12:16h, 02 June

    aren’t we supposed to push our beliefs? isn’t that evangelizing? the truth is the truth, not just a nice suggestion :-

  • Maria
    Posted at 17:25h, 20 June

    If a Catholic couple uses artificial contraception then that is a sin but they are still in a marriage.

    I did more research on marriage.

    http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=465549

    If a Catholic is married outside the Catholic Church, then the marriage must be convalidated. This is true whether the marriage involved a Catholic and a non-Catholic or two Catholics.

    The marriage can be convalidated either through a simple convalidation, which requires a new (although usually simple) ceremony with a new exchange of consent. Or the marriage can be convalidated by a radical sanation. A radical sanation is a decree issued by the diocesan bishop stating that he accepts the original consent of the marriage as valid. A radical sanation is usually sought when one party to the marriage does not want to participate in a new ceremony for some reason (e.g., because of belief in conscience).

    In any case, there is no requirement for a non-Catholic to become Catholic just to get married in the Church or have one’s marriage convalidated in the Church by either method.

  • Maria Christina
    Posted at 21:15h, 09 November

    On Ministry to Divorced and Remarried Catholics

    The Holy Father emphasized the Church’s teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics “are not excommunicated…and…are absolutely not treated as such: they are always part of the Church.” Drawing on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John 10, he noted that the Church must follow Jesus’ example to make sure that “there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” He encouraged pastors to manifest concretely the community’s openness to divorced and remarried Catholics by inviting them to deepen their belonging to Christ and the Church through prayer, listening to Scripture, attending Mass, educating their children in the faith, and helping others. He proclaimed, “No closed doors! No closed doors!” and concluded his speech by calling all Christians to imitate the Good Shepherd in ministering to wounded families.
    http://www.foryourmarriage.org/on-ministry-to-divorced-and-remarried-catholics/