Now I have your attention, haven’t I? Since the Catholic view of sex and pleasure seem to be often misunderstood by non-Catholics and Catholics alike, I thought I’d post my understanding of the topic here.
Sex and pleasure are ontologically good, according to the Catholic faith.
That is a big claim. One that empiricists cannot, or rather are unwilling to make, because “goodness” is a statement about a metaphysical reality; in other words, you can’t scientifically prove that anything is “good” in themselves. We know that love is supremely good in itself, yet this knowledge does not come from a rigorous empirical testing. Our deepest and dearest values such as goodness, love, justice, courage, etc. come not from various tests done in scientific laboratories, but from things which are self-evident.
Sex in particular is of supreme goodness, in that it is a reflection of the Trinitarian union (which is reflected in the human family). The point here is not to sexualize God, but rather to God-ise sex, or rather to point to its real nature (yes, sorry for that badly synthesized word, but you get the point) – sex derives its goodness from a higher goodness, since it is a sign pointing to and directing its gaze toward God. As it is already evident to some in this life (notably the Saints), God is then in a real sense, “better than sex”.
It is important not to fall into a polarized view, where God is diametrically opposed to sex, and vice versa. In fact, it could be said that this extreme polarity in popular culture is the source of all misery in sexual relationships. We must remember that sex was created by God in the first place – it has His signature of authorship on it. As everything comes from God, everything in this life and the next find their place and fulfillment in the order He intended – no less. This order, in relation to sex, can be found in the marital union of husband and wife, where the two give themselves to the other. As it is becoming more obvious in recent times, benefits of marriage is unparalleled in terms of happiness, and wellbeing, both health and financial. In addition, married couples enjoy more frequent and more satisfying sex than in any other relationship. Sex without this order is a form of false and pretend agreement, where both parties feel the loss of integrity between an expression of total and exclusive self-giving (for that is what sex is), and its absence in the relationship, with the result of both being tarnished – is there any wonder they are ultimately unfulfilled?
So why is it that it seems to many people that sex is disdained by the Church? It’s probably because people are exposed to only the negative response, as opposed to the affirmative, and then only those worthy of gossip and scandal. Think about a lot of the popular fiction and Hollywood movies. Their portrayal of the matter is hardly reflective of reality, yet for many it is their gospel and truth. Anyone who dares to oppose their sensationalist propaganda is a right-wing fundamentalist – welcome to a just and equitable society.
Now, I don’t mean to imply here that the negative response is bad; indeed, it is necessary in order to uphold the good. One who believes in a greater “yes” eagerly safeguard it with “no” to cheap imitations. The negative response with regard to sex can be summed up in a simple Latin phrase: “corruptio optimi quae est pessima”, or “perversion of the best is the worst”.
Sex is ordered towards functioning as to uphold human dignity, which is found in the imaging of God. Specifically, in the environment where the husband, wife, and children reflect the Trinitarian union through the giving of themselves to the other, where love is given, received and reciprocated. God, who is infinite love, gives his entire being to the Son, who perfectly reciprocates this infinity of love back to God, and this exchange of infinite love is the Holy Spirit. Sex and the human family derive their goodness from this eternal exchange of love.
Sex therefore is the most supreme imaging of God found on Earth. Therefore, when this supreme goodness becomes corrupted (perverted), it becomes a supreme revulsion – the perversion of the best is the worst. This is why Christ has severe warnings against our misuse of such desires and faculties: “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27–30 RSV).
Now, we’re at a particularly dangerous time in this regard, since our generation actively promotes being over-sexed to an unnatural degree, through both the media and a piece of social engineering called “the sexual revolution” which goes back to the phony science of Alfred Kinsey. Our Lady warned us in the apparition in Fatima that “more souls go to hell because of sins of impurity than for any other reason.” I’m not sure that we should be surprised at this. As our vocabulary reveals even in those who would claim ignorance (who entertain being a “sick” “pervert”), we still have a capacity to know and act according to the truth – these must be directed toward Christ, who is our salvation.
Again, natural law can help to discern the moral goodness of the act here. The three elements which determine morality of an act – object, end, and circumstance – must all be good in order for the act to be good. Sex and pleasure are both ontologically good, meaning the object is good – this, we all agree on. The popular culture has, however, lost sight of the intended end and circumstance as determining its morality also. Without good in both of these areas also, the act loses its place and fulfillment in the created order, ultimately leading us toward a destructive path both in this natural life and the hereafter. We must first repent and turn back toward the path of righteousness and peace. Only then, can we truly appreciate the beauty and supreme goodness of sex and pleasure, intended by God as gifts to be treasured in His transcendent order of creation.
Kinsey’s Secret: The Phony Science of the Sexual Revolution – the rotten mustard seed of the gospel of Sexual Revolution according to pop’ psychologists.
Theology of the Body – John Paul II’s masterful exposition in full.
Deus Caritas Est – Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, published in 2005.