It’s Time For Catholics To Get Real About Sex

by Marriage, Sexuality and Chastity

Catholic Sexual Teaching – An Invitation to Reality

Lust and Counterfeit Sexuality

We live in a throw-away society. Fast food and plastic plates — our culture is full of the cheap and easy. Unfortunately, this mentality bleeds into our sexuality. America is obsessed with sexual counterfeits. From the college hook-up culture to pornography to strip clubs and more, we see fake sex everywhere. All of us must ask ourselves: Do we really want counterfeit sex, or do we want something real? At the heart of the Church’s teaching on chastity is an encouragement to turn away from fake sex and choose the real thing. 

In this article we will talk about the notion of “sexual authenticity” as a lens to understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality. We will talk about sexual authenticity in a general sense, and then apply the idea to a particular Church teaching: the immorality of contraception, an example of inauthentic sexuality. 

In Matthew 5:27 – 28, Jesus gives us some challenging words: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

What strong words! The great Pope John Paul II reads this passage to say, “Everyone who looks at a woman [reductively] has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” What does John Paul II mean here? Well, we know from the fact that God created our bodies and sexuality that they are not bad; they’re in fact very, very good. Bodies are an essential part of the human person. 

That said, unfortunately bodies are so good, that sometimes we focus exclusively on the body, forgetting about the whole person. This is what happens in lust. When a man or woman lusts, they’re not looking at a whole person; rather, their gaze stops at the surface, ignoring the whole picture. In this way, lust stops at the cheap, easy surface of sexuality, missing the real thing.

Some argue that lust should not be considered a sin. After all, it doesn’t seem like lust hurts anyone, so what’s the problem? 

The problem with lust is that lustful actions don’t treat people like people; lustful actions treat people like objects, and this does A LOT of harm. Lust takes a whole person, a body-soul union, and cuts that person into two pieces: a body and a soul. When we look at someone lustfully, we do violence to them with our eyes and with our hearts. 

And lust does not only harm the person who is lusted after; it also harms the person who is lusting. Think about it: Our minds desire consistency, and if we mentally separate other people from their bodies, we’ll do the same to our own identity. If we view other bodies as objects for consumption, we will inevitably view our own bodies as mere objects of pleasure.

Deep down, we know this isn’t true. We’re not meant to be cut to pieces. The human body and soul are in union, and the one cannot exist without the other. Lust denies this truth. It turns people into cheap, counterfeit versions of our authentic, embodied, sexual selves. In this way, when Christ challenges us to overcome our lust, He is challenging us to learn to see others in accord with the truth of their person. Thus, the question for all of us is whether we’re willing to respond to Christ’s challenge and learn how to see!

The Authentic Language of the Body

Lust and counterfeit sex are as old as the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:6 – 7 shows that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree, “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” 

John Paul II reads these verses to mean that Adam and Eve lost their ability to see the body in the way it was meant to be seen. After sin, when Adam and Eve saw each other, they no longer saw the body as an expression of the interior person. Adam and Eve lost the ability to see correctly. In fact, John Paul II says that Adam and Eve lost their ability to communicate truthfully according to the “Language of the Body.”

The notion of the “Language of the Body” is foundational for every one of us. What does the term mean? John Paul II says, “Man is constituted is such a way…that the deepest words of the spirit — words of love, gift, and faithfulness — call for an appropriate ‘language of the body.’ And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed” (TOB 104:7). 

The language of the body is not just any language; it is a language we desperately need! Through our bodies, we express the deepest desires of our hearts. This is why sex, if experienced correctly, is such a wonderful gift! It allows us to say things we would not otherwise be able to say! As John Paul II himself says, it is “precisely on the level of this ‘language of the body…[that] man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way!” The key to happiness here is learning to speak this language, according to our unique vocation, in authenticity!

Think of the language of the body as a letter sent from God to humanity. The letter is beautiful, and God wants to use the letter to communicate His love. Now imagine if a thief were to steal this letter, delete some of the most important parts and add a few twists of his own. This would ruin the letter! And this is exactly what Satan wants to do. Satan knows our bodies are important. We can use our bodies to say true things or false things, but either way, our bodies will speak loudly. Thus, it is crucial that we learn to speak the truth with our bodies. We must learn the value of sexual authenticity!

Sexual Authenticity, Human Fulfillment, and Contraception

To say that sexuality should be experienced authentically, in accord with God’s design, is not to say that sex should be boring. In fact, sexuality is most fulfilling when it takes place in accordance with God’s design. Our culture has sold us the lie that, for sex to be playful, it must be free of any commitment or responsibility. Another way to say this is that, for sex to be playful, it must retain its pleasurable dimension while forsaking its procreative dimension. Have the fun but forget the babies!    

But you might ask, what happens to the language of the body, to the ecosystem of sexuality, when the language of the body is thrown off through contraception? Well, we know what happens…we get the 21st century. We get a sexually confused world, a world in which sex is no longer connected with procreation and family life.

There is perhaps no more fundamental example of fake sexuality than contraception. In a certain sense, the sexual revolution, which began in the 1960s, was kickstarted by the introduction of contraception. “The pill” was supposed to set sexuality free from the shackles of humanity’s dark sexual past. After the bill came other forms of contraception pursuing the same purpose, most especially the condom. But these inventions really set us free? Is our society more sexually healthy now than it was before the widespread use of contraception? No. In fact, by separating sex away from one of its natural purposes (procreation), condoms caused a fundamental shift in humanity’s understanding of sexuality and altering God’s design. 

Prior to the mid-19th century, virtually every Christian denomination forbade the use of contraception as something that contradicted God’s design. It was not until the 1930 Lambeth Conference that the Anglican Church opened the door to embracing contraception, a door through which virtually every protestant Christian denomination soon followed. 

Unfortunately, contraception has not helped humanity. Rather, it has hurt humanity. It has caused a fundamental shift in humanity’s understanding of the nature and purpose of sexuality. Since the advent of contraception, the idea of love-making and baby-making have become separate endeavors. In 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted that the introduction of contraception would spark a worldwide decline in sexual morality, and all of his predictions have come true. Again, contraception has not helped marriage; it has hurt marriage. It has done so by substituting fake sex for real sex. 

Now, here you might reasonably ask, what does this mean for family size? Are spouses nothing more than baby-making machines, used by God for His purposes of populating heaven? No, not at all. God does not mandate that spouses have as many children as possible. He wants them to have the number of children they can raise well, and natural family planning is an effective method of family planning. 

Natural Family Planning

Spouses may have all sorts of good reasons for wanting to limit their family size; even Pope Paul VI speaks of physiological, psychological, economic, or social reasons for avoiding pregnancy. It is up to the couple to prayerfully decide whether they are called by God to have more children. Should they hear God’s voice say that it would be wise for them to postpone having children or to cease altogether, there are sophisticated and effective natural ways for couples to avoid pregnancy. Those methods are called Natural Family Planning or “NFP.” There are a variety of effective methods of natural family planning, and a growing number of organizations devoted to teaching couples to use NFP. You might, for example, take a look at “Natural Womanhood.”  

Many people have trouble understanding how NFP differs from contraception since both enable couples to have sex while not intending to have babies. Those who have used both will tell you there is a huge difference in the way they think about sex, their spouse, children, God, and the Church. Contraception is “against” life. Couple who use it actively thwart their fertility chemically or surgically to prevent a new life from coming to be. Couples who use a method of NFP leave their fertility intact. They work in and through God’s design. Couples who contracept work around God’s design. 

Further, the results of natural family planning and the inherent communication skills produced are amazing: divorce rates drop to almost zero, raising children becomes proportionally easier, and a much higher level of unity between spouses is achieved in all aspects of marriage. When both spouses are deeply aware of a woman’s natural fertility cycle, they both experience benefits. A woman is better able to understand her own body and can better articulate her thoughts and experiences to her husband, and a husband becomes much more attuned to the effects of his wife’s hormonal cycle on her experience of life. Once again, deeper communication and deeper unity are fostered. Yet another benefit of living one’s sexuality in an authentic way!

By contrast, the use of contraceptives does not stimulate the intimate communication that naturally-guided sexuality does. And once again, when couples get comfortable with conversations around sexuality, a whole range of positive things happen. Not least among those effects is playfulness. Good communication is the soil in which a sexually playful marriage takes root. Communication about sexual playfulness is critical, as is sexuality that remains connected to God’s design. Both of these elements pave the way for couples to flourish in the sexual dimension of their marriage, fostering a playfulness and joy that will surely overflow into the family culture.

Conclusion

In today’s culture, many perceive the Catholic Church to be a puritanical institution. Her teachings on things like lust and contraception seem outdated. We hope this article has taken you a step closer to seeing that nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re looking for more resources to form yourself and your family in authentic sexuality, take a look at FORGE resources here: www.myforge.org.  The Church is not down on sex. In fact, the Catholic Church is exceptionally pro-sex. The only thing the Church asks is that we live our sexuality in authenticity. 


 1For a fuller explanation of this position, take a look at John Paul II, “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.” Trans. Michael Waldstein. (Pauline Books and Media; Boston, 2006), 360-364. 

2 Ibid. 630-633.

 3Cf. Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (1968) https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html For a simple presentation of this argument, see Laura Lock’s recent article, “What’s Wrong with Contraception? Just This.” https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/contraceptions-dark-fruits For a more thorough treatment of the negative effects of contraception on individuals, marriages, and society, see Janet Smith’s popular talks and landmark book, Why Humanae Vitae is Still Right (2018).

 4Cf. Crista Warniment and Kristen Hansen, “Is Natural Family Planning a Highly Effective Method of Birth Control? Yes: Natural Family Planning Is Highly Effective and Fulfilling,” (2012). https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2012/1115/od1.html 

 5Cf. Paragraph #10 of Humanae Vitae

 6Wilson, Mercedes: The Practice of Natural Family Planning versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control
Family, Sexual and Moral Issues (2002) Vol 7 pp 185-211 https://www.pdcnet.org/cssr/content/cssr_2002_0007_0185_0211 This is the only known research on this topic.  The sample of NFP users was an opportunity sample provided by the Couple to Couple League. The data from that group was compared with national random sample data from the GSS (General Social Survey).

best catholic newsletter

Image: Photo by Bruno Sousa on Unsplash

Keep Searching, Keep Learning

Our Newest Articles:

5 Things To Do Before Your Anger Becomes A Sin

5 Things To Do Before Your Anger Becomes A Sin

We all have experienced anger.  Everyone has been on the receiving end of somebody else’s anger.  Anger is a response, a reaction when our ego is being attacked, a reaction when what we want to happen happened otherwise, or a demand for justice because we...

What Is The Altar Of Repose?

What Is The Altar Of Repose?

One day each year – and one day only – there is no Catholic Mass celebrated throughout the world. One day.  The Easter Triduum begins with Holy Thursday Mass. What many Catholics don’t realize is that Good Friday service not a Mass, but a liturgy, as no hosts are...

Search Catholic-Link

You have Successfully Subscribed!