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The spirituality of sexuality

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Society gives our generation hot images that impress ideas about real, good sex. But people following these ideas may feel empty by what promises to deliver and eventually fails to provide happiness.

Our society’s obsession with sex points to a deeper need for meaningful relationships. What is needed is intimacy, which could also mean “into-me-see,” where people in a relationship see fully into one another.

To harmonize our hearts with our bodies, we need to strip down our culture’s idea of sexuality and return to the naked truths of Genesis. Then we can explore ideas about the relationship that needs to be linked with sex.

In the beginning, man and woman were each created as “an image of the power and tenderness of God” (Catechism 2335). “A man will leave his father and mother to be united to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). They would become one not just in flesh, but also in heart and spirit.

In this union the heart opens up completely to expose our soul and deepest emotions. Sex acts as a personal way to communicate with our loved ones and serve their most intimate spirit and body. We show unconditional acceptance of their very person and life. It’s a liberated expression: “I love you completely for who you are. I take your weaknesses, cares, heart and soul. I do this for you and for no other person.”

Unfortunately, we can have sex but tragically miss its spiritual intimacy. In trying to satisfy a deeper desire of the heart, we may experiment with sex outside of its deeper relational context. Or, both inside and outside of marriage, we may use sex as a physical release with little genuine regard for the other person. In both cases, one person – most often the woman – is hurt in the experience.

People who have healthier views are those dating who can share physical and emotional intimacy without having sex. Whether we still have the gift of virginity or not, we can similarly build a stronger love now for our future spouse by firmly honoring chastity. When married, spouses can earnestly say, “I loved you even before I knew who you would be.”

Deeper views of sexuality are largely missing from our generation’s environment. People of goodwill feeling hypersensitive about sexuality can suppress related discussion. The resulting void gets disastrously filled by forces that promise instantaneous gratification.

What we really need is godly discourse about intercourse. People must proclaim from the rooftops the special power of sex as a self-gift that involves the highest concern for the other person. Karol Wojtyla (now Pope John Paul II), who counseled many young couples in his early years as a priest, shares this view. In his book Love and Responsibility, he underscores the need for continuous sexual education with the purpose to “create the conviction that the other person is more important than I.”

His focus is on a relationship where a man and woman belong to each other. The Catechism explains that “sexuality becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (2337). Consequently, the Church upholds sex as a rich gift for a committed couple in marriage. This gift of self is by its very nature unitive and life-giving as a couple shares in God’s creative power through their children. As the Pope noted in an address, “the words of the spouses, their movements, their gestures correspond to the interior movements of their heart … Love unleashes a special experience of the beautiful, which focuses on what is visible, at the same time involves the entire person.”

Studies show that the joy of sex is most alive for those in a close, married relationship. According to a survey of 3,432 Americans in a past cover story for U.S. News and World Report, “those who reported being the most physically and emotionally satisfied were the married couples.”

The Church teaches that sex puts us in touch with an ecstasy that brings us only a few steps away from the Kingdom of God itself. The experience becomes like a heavenward prayer. The relationship echoes Jeff Buckley lyrics when he sings, “The holy dove was moving too and every breath we drew was Hallelujah.”

Our sexual nature shouldn’t be suppressed. On the contrary, it needs to be engaged with openness and firmly matched with a high regard for relationship. In developing this outlook, we will discover in our future not only real, good sex, but more importantly the rewarding gift of lasting intimacy where we see fully into another person and cherish what we find.

Andrew DeBerry is an aerospace engineer. He works with theories all day. He looks forward to seeing how well his theories hold up in practice someday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.