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that sex is designed for a man and women only in the context of a child creating marriage has to be one of the most outdated ideas in the eyes of the pop culture. I myself believed this idea was too ancient and restrictive to live out. I thought this until I actually took the time to really study why the Church teaches what it does on sex. 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 desire 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 desire. The desire for sex in-of-itself points to the ingredients within God’s creation. So, when used in the proper context, the desire for sex is supposed to point a person to God’s inner handiwork. How does sex point to God? To see this we need to back way up and ask what is a human person and where did a human person came from? So, let’s look at these two questions.
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 you should use it. The really dumb thing would be to not pay any attention to the designer’s instructions and instead declare you can determine how to use the machine and that you can know what the purpose of the machine is on your own. 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 of the machine over listening to yourself is because 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 the 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. Because the manual can be hard to understand, God gives us an interpreter to help us. The interpreter of his manual is the Church. 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 is an image 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). You need both a giver and receiver to 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.
We see another clue of God’s blueprint of creation in that he makes a human person with the combination of a body & 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, and the breath of life represents the soul or thoughts of that person. Therefore, the two elements that make a human person is body + soul. We have a physical body and we also have a non physical element with our thoughts. A person’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.
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 geared to make a new life as 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. So, marriage not only includes the man and woman coming together through wedding vows, marriage also includes the act of creating new life in sex. God made 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 (God’s image – giver and receiver)
- Connect souls (wedding vows)
- Connect bodies (sex)
When you do steps 1-3, you get a….
4. New person = soul + body
Now, it should be noted that in God’s manual of nature he made a woman only fertile for two days a month. So, God’s machine is programmed only to produce human life at a specific time – and this would be the ideal time for life. 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.
For the longest time I thought sex is whatever you make of it. I didn’t realize that the 4-step process above followed a tight logical method that brings people the best way to receive new life. By looking at the logical method, I began to see the inner beauty of God’s methods. 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. So, let’s breakdown the simple 4-step formula God gives us. Step 1 in this process talks about the ingredients God uses to make life. Steps 2-4 is 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 drop off his seed and the female is the receiver as her reproductive organs point inward to receive the seed. So, 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. Two women won’t work. If you have two receivers, you do not have a male there 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 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 other 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. Moreover, the wedding vow needs to be done before the witness of the man and woman’s family because they are saying this commitment to the very people that used this same design for them – their mother and father.
Step 3: Connect Bodies – Once you connect the souls in the wedding, then you need to connect the bodies in sex. 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 will both work with each other 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 want to make a new person with, raise that new person 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. And recall that a human person is the combination of body & soul. So, it makes sense that to create a new body & soul, you need to connect your soul and body with someone you love.
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. Now, 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, than 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 process, than 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 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. 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 (through Judah) to have sex with 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, God takes his life. God taking Onan’s life is significant because in the Old Testament, an act that leads to the physical death of the body is an indicator that the act leads to the worse death – the death of that person’s soul. After all, if a person’s body last 80 years and a person’s soul last forever, the death of the soul would be far worse than the death of the body. In fact, in this scene we see Biblical evidence against birth control methods including the “pull out method” that Onan performed with Tamar. Thus, whenever our modern culture encourages any and all birth control methods, we are essentially pulling an Onan – and destroying our souls (more on that later).
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 focusing on the pleasures of the self?
When we attempt to alter God’s instructions we mess up the the human person’s life. For example, Dr. Leonard Sax writes extensively about the mental and psychological problems in young people today caused from casual sex in the hook-up culture ( see here). When it comes to eliminating the life giving aspect of sex in birth control we now see solid medical proof that shows contraceptives, like the pill, are linked to depression (see here for study) 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 (see here for complete study). 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. So, statistics show a direct connection that as use of the pill rises, so too does divorce rates rise. 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 (see here for the full report). These reports are concrete proof that if selfish humanity puts their grubby hands on God’s beautiful formula 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. However, when you have sex before the wedding 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. Also, because you are most likely using a form of birth control you are saying 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 parents lived by this theory, these people would not exist. Therefore, sex without life becomes self-refuting to all who have and love their 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). In this scenario, they have not declared to that other person that you are committed to them. Therefore, they are 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 didn’t join their souls together before God and their family. 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. Without a stable father figure, teens and young adults are more likely to engage in criminal activity and are more likely to have emotional and mental problems. Click here and here for studies that show the problems of skipping step 2.
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 it’s natural environment of man/woman marriage to create life, a collapse occurs. The function of the human reproductive organs are 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 bringing forth life. However, we are so fixated on the fake idea that people make sex, that we forgot the obvious fact that sex makes people.
Now, because the Church recognizes that having sex only for life is an extremely high bar, 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. Well, NFP is written into the manual for the machine to identify the best time to produce life. Therefore, with NFP the marriage thrives precisely in order to produce life at the best time. See here to read about the benefits of NFP
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 respect 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.
Sex outside of marriage 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.” 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 (death) on the soul? 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. Theologically speaking, when you destroy God’s plan you simultaneously destroy your soul. Also, when you seek sex for your pleasure, you end up using that other person as an object. Because a human person is body + soul composite, when you treat a person as an object for pleasure, you have destroyed the soul of that person. In other words, when you view someone only as a body, you view them as an object. They are not a human person anymore. They become a mere object at this point – like a cell phone used for amusement. 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.”
The pop culture tries to come up with these inept reasons that sex for pleasure 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.” And the other would be the new life that sex in its pure form creates.
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 his mother. If sex in any manner is equated to love, does that mean that handicap 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 getting pleasure for the self. When a man sits on his deathbed and stares into his wife 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. It’s not like he’s going to 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 create our children.” His former statement is shallow and won’t fulfill him in the long run. His latter statement is self-sacrificing and will bring him fulfillment in the long run.
The idea of Theology of the Body is that the machine God made to produce the human person works best when we leave the machine in it’s natural state and don’t mess with it. When we leave it in this pure state and follow God’s instructions for the machine, the end effect is good for the person and society at large. 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. It’s a teaching 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.