By Jan Bilewicz,
Hi! You ask me what I meant when I said that sexual intercourse could be a spiritual banquet. I’ll try to explain what I had in mind
Sexual intercourse can satisfy a person’s deep hunger for unity, self-giving, commitment, belonging and love. We’re talking spiritual, right? There are people for whom sexual intercourse is a true spiritual experience. It brings fulfillment and real happiness. A spiritual feast!
On the other hand, there are those who meet a woman for the sole purpose of arousing themselves sexually and then using her body to indulge those aroused feelings. Period. Full stop. The experience is purely physical: the satisfying of an instinct or a habit — a release of sexual tension. They do not know better.
But there’s a vast difference between sexual fulfillment and sexual gratification. Likewise, happiness is not the same thing as momentary pleasure, no matter how often experienced. (Pleasure derived from sin destroys happiness.) Happiness does not come from pleasure. It is a by-product of love. Love — and you can be absolutely sure of this — is not sexual indulgence. That is lust. And lust is the antithesis of love.
Ethical and physiological norms
Our contemporary, de-Christianized “popular culture” grossly undervalues sex. It does not see the incomparable beauty of a person’s sexuality. (That’s right! Consider the matter qualitatively, not quantitatively.) On the contrary, it reduces it to something trite, shallow, vulgar and primitive — to the level of animal copulation. It makes a monstrous caricature out of something that is singularly important and beautiful. One has the impression that the creators of this “culture” are people whose psychosexual development has been arrested at the earliest, most primitive level. (Their sense of responsibility, incidentally, also remains at this level.)
The sex advice columns appearing in the various popular magazines are a good illustration of this profound psychosexual immaturity. I have in mind those who give this advice, not those seeking it. These so-called “experts” know a lot about human physiology, but man is more than just physiology. The ability to have an erection is not the only condition of sexual activity. That is the case with animals. Sadly, the sex life of a man who rejects ethical norms consists in little more than copulation. Putting it as charitably as possible, the advice appearing in our popular magazines is creating a population of sexual deadbeats. It also shows up the writers of these columns for the complete washouts they really are.
Putting on the “new man”
St. Paul writes: In the Lord’s name, then, I warn you: do not continue to live like the heathen whose thoughts are worthless and whose minds are in the dark. They have no part in the life that God gives, for they are completely ignorant and stubborn. They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to sexuality and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint....So put off the old man, which made you live as you used to — the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new man, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy (Eph 4 17-24). What does “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new” mean?
Original sin deformed our nature. It made us prone to evil. All kinds of evil tendencies reside within us — tendencies toward anger, malice, hatred, vanity, pride, laziness, greed, and envy. This is the “old man” which we must “put off.” We must curb these tendencies, master them with the help of Christ’s grace. We cannot be ruled by them. Every temptation mastered is a dying to the “old man.” Conversely, we must use God’s grace to develop the corresponding virtues: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:13). This is what “putting on the new man” means — renewing ourselves. The angry must become patient, the greedy, generous, the lazy, hardworking, the selfish, sensitive and compassionate to others. We renew ourselves for our own good and happiness. No good can come to us from evil. Consider how our relations with others would change if we could master our greed, hatred, selfishness or envy. We must weed our plots if the flowers are to grow. No weeding, no flowers.
Does any of this apply to sexuality? Can we renew this part of ourselves? Of course we can! And not just can. We must. That is what the above-cited excerpt from St. Paul tells us. Original sin cruelly deformed man’s sexual self. It gave rise to lust. Lust is an evil, just as hatred, anger and greed are evils. In his sexuality and relations with women, the “old man” (i.e. the lustful man) conducts himself in a primitive, physiological, brute-like manner.
We put on the “new man” and the “new sexuality” when we conquer lust. Every mastered temptation marks a dying to our “old” sexuality and the birth of the “new.” Each of you — writes St. Paul — should know how to control yourselves in a holy and honorable way, not with a lustful desire, like the heathen who do not know God (1 Thes 4:4-5). Elsewhere, we read: You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions and greed… (Col 3:5).
What’s the good of being chaste, you ask? Well, for one thing, a person enters a “new world.” It is there that sexuality takes on value, beauty and depth. A person attains the fullness of sexual life by remaining pure inside and outside of marriage. Sex is an undervalued area of our lives, and will remain so, until we learn the art of self-mastery.
The fruits of purity
Here, briefly, is a “new man” witnessing to his “new sexuality:” “My wife and I have been married for 2 years,” writes Andy. “Judging by anecdotal evidence, we have intercourse relatively seldom. Of course, there is a fair degree of sexual tension in our relationship, but we are able to control it without great difficulty. It expresses itself in mutual tenderness. I assure you this is true! I also think we are more loving with others because of this. Having intercourse too often deprives me of this warmth. Abstinence is like a recharging of batteries. As for the physical side of our relationship, I would say there is something of a childlike innocence about it. I do not so much desire my wife, as rejoice in her — and her body too. There was a time when I looked
at women differently. But I managed to rid myself of sensuality. For a while, I lived like a monk, but then a whole new world opened up before me.”
What most differentiates the “new sexuality” from the “old” is freedom in the face of our sexual urges. The “new man” is able to control them. The “old man” is ruled by them. That is because he has not taken the time to work on himself, or has given up trying. Inner freedom — or its absence — has enormous bearing on the quality of sexual intercourse and the kind of relationship a man and woman can enjoy. Let’s consider some of the ways in which this is true.
Andy says he can “sublimate” or channel his sexual tension into acts of tenderness toward his wife. He even notices that the warmth of his marital relationship radiates out toward others. The “old man” is incapable of expressing spontaneous tenderness. To a greater or lesser degree, his goal is to satisfy his sexual urge as quickly as possible. The tenderness he shows is ultimately self-serving. He uses it to win the woman’s consent for intercourse. He buys his partner’s favors. His tenderness is a form of manipulation, not a disinterested expression of love.
The “new man” may also desire to have intercourse but, unlike the “old man,” he does not feel compelled to engage in it. He is free. He can express his love in numerous other ways. One reason for periodic abstinence might be his observation that sex enjoyed too often makes him emotionally sterile. So he curbs his appetite so that he can later celebrate a physical banquet with his wife. As for the “old man,” the best he can hope for is “sexual relations.”
In another instance, the “new man” may notice that his wife does not feel like engaging in intercourse. He is sensitive to her desires, which he reads from the signs she gives him, and adapts himself accordingly. A loving man wants his wife to be happy and is always ready to put aside his own desires. He lives for her. Abstaining from intercourse can be an expression of love. In other words, you can “make love” by abstaining from sex. (In pre-marital relationships, every abstention from any form of sexual intimacy is “making love.”)
The “old man” seeks sexual intimacy at any price. He has no consideration for a woman’s desires. He is selfish to the core. He will use any means to achieve his aim: persuasion (“Surely it’s about time we…”); manipulation (“If you won’t do it, it means you don’t love me”); emotional blackmail (“If you won’t do it, I’ll find another who will”); bribery (“How about a weekend in Mexico? The gig’s on me”); and even force….
The woman’s fertile periods are another reason for abstinence. During these times when, for serious reasons, the married couple is unable to have children, the “new man” will simply practice self-restraint. He will not regard his wife’s body as something dangerous, or feel the need to “protect himself” from it. Intercourse is not a perilous, threatening activity. A woman’s body is beautiful even with its natural fertility cycle. More than that, the fact that it is capable of conceiving a human being renders it mysterious — a wondrous and holy thing. For this, we should love and honor it all the more. Now tell me, why would a man who enjoys inner freedom need to use a piece of latex in the most intimate act of union with his wife? Don’t you find this repulsive and illogical? Would a man kiss his wife with a surgical mask over his face? Would he express his tenderness toward her with rubber-gloved hands? Why, then, would he use a condom? To have to resort to it betrays powerlessness and desperation in the face of one’s sexual enslavement.
Or why would a man who enjoys inner freedom need to talk his wife into using the Pill? Consider this: would you give a woman with a perfectly sound heart or liver a pharmaceutical product that upsets the normal functioning of these organs? Would a doctor prescribe such a thing? “Oh, your heart’s functioning perfectly normally. So let’s put it out of whack!” What would you say to that? Besides, can such a thing really be harmless? The Pill profoundly disturbs the right functioning of the female organism. It is harmful and always will have side effects. (We know, for example, that it can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can be fatal.) Why would a husband want to harm his wife, his closest, most cherished companion? After all, one can simply refrain from intercourse and respect her natural fertility cycle. The “old man” reacts to a woman’s body as an addict reacts to a narcotic. It poses a threat, it is dangerous, but he is powerless before it. He must use it whatever the cost. It makes me wonder what pleasure he can get from this kind of sex. Pleasure is one thing, surely, and satisfying an addiction another — and at the expense of his closest friend to boot.
Lust results in a catastrophic narrowing of a man’s awareness. His scope of vision is limited mainly or exclusively to a woman’s body, or rather certain parts of her body. Inner freedom broadens his scope. A man stands in the greatest need of what is essential in a woman — her femininity. His nature longs for the feminine nature — feminine warmth, tenderness and grace.
Let me illustrate how purity can broaden a man’s awareness. When I was still engaged, I had many opportunities to see my wife-to-be playing with her siblings’ children. Their home was always full of kids. I’d sit and watch her, fascinated by the love and warmth she radiated. I delighted in her charm. And those conversations of theirs! How she could talk with children. They worshiped her. And as I sat there watching, I loved her even more. To observe and delight in a woman’s inner beauty — her warmth, her grace. To marvel at, to rejoice in, to love — this is what the “new man” longs for more than anything else. By contrast, the “old man” is little more than — please excuse the term — a stud. He has a one-track mind.
Here I’ll make a little digression. Why do so many young women think that they necessarily delight men by walking about with bare midriffs, wearing “low-rider” jeans with the obligatory piece of exposed panties, or even worse, wearing see-through pants over “string” or “thong” panties. Now “strings” aren’t even panties but — as the word suggests — pieces of string. String for panties! Just think about it! And the result? Far from bringing out what is noblest in a guy, all it does is arouse his most primitive male instincts. Not everybody wants that. But what do these ladies care that someone might be trying to preserve his purity and that this might be costing him a great deal of effort. And then the expressions of surprise when men treat women as “things for general consumption,” as “merchandise at the meat market” — or when their sexual vocabulary is limited to a few coarse Anglo-Saxon verbs and epithets.
A man who enjoys inner freedom feels gifted by the very presence of his wife. He is grateful for this gift. He rejoices in her — “her body too” — as Andy observes. He feels gifted by her body. There is a vast difference between taking pleasure in your wife’s body and rejoicing in it. Pleasurable indulgence comes from lust. Joy comes from love. But you have to love truly. Only a “new man” can love in the true sense of the word.
Life lived for someone else, self-giving, especially in the most intimate conjugal act, creates a “communion of persons,” which is the deepest of all possible relationships. Only in this sincere, disinterested form of self-giving, in living for someone else, can a person find fulfillment and happiness. A person who is unable to enjoy such a relationship on the sexual level can never feel happy or fulfilled. It is beyond the means of the “old man.” He lusts, therefore he is selfish. Self-giving — please note — has nothing to do with two selfish persons meeting for the purpose of exchanging sexual favors in the manner suggested by our sex experts: “Tell me what you like, and I’ll do it. Then I’ll tell you what turns me on, and you’ll do it.”) Only those who develop inner freedom can understand what giving your body to your spouse really means. You cannot see the “new world” when you live in the “old.” You have to go on a voyage to see it.
Andy’s testimony underscores still another interesting teaching of the Church. Pope Paul VI observed that the self-mastery expressed in periodic abstinence bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention to one’s partner, helps both spouses drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and it deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents become capable of a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; children and young people grow up with a correct appreciation of human values, and enjoy a serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sense faculties (Humanae Vitae, 21). But this already touches on issues that we might discuss in future letters.
Why the Commandments?
Time to sum up then. Do you know why you were given the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, that is, why you ought to refrain from sex before and outside of marriage? Quite simply, that you might truly love your wife and, thus, be able to enjoy a good marriage and, eventually, a family. The Commandments are there to enable you to express and deepen your marital love through intercourse. In other words, God gave you the Sixth and Ninth Commandments — now pay attention to what I am saying — to bring you to the fullness of sexual life, to enable you to experience its splendor, greatness and true joy. To bring you to a spiritual banquet! God does not want sexual deadbeats who, though they may have erections at the drop of a hat, are incapable of making love like human beings.
Among you — writes St. Paul — there must be not even a mention of fornication or impurity in any of its forms, or promiscuity: this would hardly become the saints! (Eph 5:3). Do not fear becoming a saint. Strive to be holy. Work on it. Only saintly couples are capable of true, deep and responsible love. Only they are able to attain the fullness of sexual life.
So work on being chaste. Achieve inner freedom and become a “new man.” Of course this requires effort. Every noble state of being does. But what alternative is there? If you do not work on yourself, you will go with the flow. In a few short years you will destroy your ability to love and ruin your sexuality. Yes, you can get used to anything, even flies in your soup and the “brave new world” touted by our sex experts. But the question is, what’s the point? You have only one life to live, and it would be better to make something meaningful of it.
Your older brother,
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010