by John Wijngaards
Sex is part of our created nature
We are what we are because, through evolution, God created us to be what we are. People with spirit and body. Our body includes God’s gift of sex to us. It includes the feeling of wholeness that comes from touching our body and all its parts, from enjoying our relationship to another person in a very physical and intimate way, from the ability of our body to generate children.
We have to love others, as we love ourselves. If that is so we first need to love ourselves, that means: being happy with what we are and affirming every part of us, including our being sexual. We have to accept ourselves as sexual, be proud of being sexual, realise our full sexual potential as loving and intelligent persons.
Sex means pleasure
To understand how pleasure functions in sex, we should once more start from our created nature. For sex and pleasure go hand in hand for us as it does in other created species. It is anticipated pleasure that usually motivates a male and a female to copulate and so to produce offspring. But sexual pleasure also has other functions. Recent studies of Bonobo monkeys, for instance, shows that sex for them is part and parcel of social relations. Male and female monkeys will rub each other’s genital parts to express affirmation, healing, reconciliation, the need of support. They rarely interact without some purposeful genital contact. This is even more the case in human beings where sex is directed towards personal relationship and intimacy.
As humans we are special. We have a higher intelligence than animals which implies that a truly human enjoyment of sex should be tempered by reason. This we do by not pursuing it purely for its own end but within a relationship of intimacy. Surprisingly though, as human beings we are always capable of sexual pleasure, whereas most animals experience the sexual impulse only seasonally, that is: only when they are ready for procreation. Men and women have sexual feelings every day of the year and throughout life. Giving and receiving sexual pleasure serves a wider purpose in human beings than procreation alone.
All forms of pleasure are a gift from God. We enjoy eating and drinking, exercising the body, listening to music, seeing beautiful things, bathing our body or simply allowing the sun to caress our skin. Although engaging in such activities usually furthers a useful purpose, such as health, we do not need to justify them by their good purpose only. We can enjoy all the pleasures God within their proper context as activities in which we feel the love of God. Sexual pleasure belongs to such enjoyments. It is a beautiful gift from God. This is what we read in Sacred Scripture:
“Enjoy the food you eat
and drink your wine with a merry heart
for God approves.
Dress yourself in beautiful clothes,
don’t stint the oil on your head.
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love
all the days of your life
which God gives you on this earth.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 9,7-9
Sex means wholeness with God
Sex is also sacred. Sex is sacred because it is part of our whole self, both spirit and body, which have been made holy by Christ. God somehow includes us in his wholeness through Christ. When we enjoy sex in a loving relationship, God as it were shares our joy, as God shares all other joys and sufferings we experience. Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We disfigure this wholeness with God if we do violence to others by an irresponsible pursuit of sexual pleasure for its own sake.
This is what the Apostle Paul speaks about in his first letter to the Corinthians. Some new Christians who (rightly) celebrated their liberation from the restrictions of Mosaic Law, argued that now, under Christ, ‘everything is allowed’. Following medical opinion of the day, they maintained that “as the stomach needs food, so our body occasionally needs sex with a prostitute.” This is Paul’s answer:
‘For me everything is allowed’.
Sure, but not everything does good. I agree that ‘everything is allowed’, but I won’t allow just anything to enslave me.
‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.’
– sure, and God will (eventually) destroy both. The body is not meant for fornication, but for the Lord (Jesus Christ) and the Lord for the body. God who raised the Lord from the dead will by his power raise us too [= with body and spirit] .
You realise surely that our bodies [= our ‘whole selves’ in Aramaic] are members making up the body of Christ. May we therefore take members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Do you not realise that someone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Is it not written: ‘The two become one flesh’? But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
Keep away from fornication. All other sins are committed outside the body; to fornicate is to sin against your own body. Your body, as you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you since you received him from God.
1 Corinthians 6,12-19.
Sex means sharing
Though sex obviously has an individual component, its ful enjoyment comes through sharing it with another person. Sex is absolute contact – in its complete form. It is a private language and more like feeling Braille with the tips of your fingers than looking at print text. You read your lover’s body and you write it too. Sex is a fiction as well as a documentary – it invents the lover and it describes the lover. It is imaginative act. The perfect unity of body and mind in the present tense, is one of the gifts of sex. Mental and physical well-being allows for spiritual well-being, and while this is possible alone, the shared world of lovemaking reminds us that our own pleasure, and someone else’s, can be the same thing.
My skin tingles
with the glow of your touch.
I feel it stir the core of my being
as the hand of God
clasping cold, distant, untouchable me.
Your trusting embrace
so tender and loving
frees me from the deep seated fear
It’s God in you who kisses me
who releases in me
a new power of tenderness.
Your face on my face
your lips on mine
my body enfolded
by the curves of your limbs.
As we melt
to be one
I seek with you
to have part
The sharing nature of sex reaches its special fulfilment when it results in the birth of new life, in children who carry in them the genes and the spiritual heritage of their parents. But this birth of new life presupposes intimacy and bonding.