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Sexy in Context Is Holy

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. (Song of Songs 1:2-4)

For Catholics, sex is so much more than the mere bodily pleasures our consumerist culture promotes and exploits for profit. For us, sex is the stuff of heaven. It is sacred, and beautiful. And very romantic.

We humans are not just bodies, but spirit and flesh, and the two have equal dignity in the eyes of God. When we make love to each other within the holy bond of marriage, God is present and powerful. It is something pure and pleasurable, enhancing our attachment to each other, renewing the marriage covenant, and opening us to new life.

Sex in its proper context affirms the trust and reverence explicit in our commitment to each other.

But why limit the use of sex if it’s so wonderful?

In recent years a series of teachings by Blessed John Paul II, now known collectively as his Theology of the Body, has broken open the 2,000-year-old Catholic appreciation of human sexuality more clearly than ever before, illuminating its meaning, purpose, and proper context in ways that completely destroy the myth of casual sex as romance.

In response to the degradation of sex that is rampant in modern culture, Christians are taking notice and singing the praises of the Church’s singular and transcendent teachings on the subject, which highlight the greater purpose of our lives beyond mere passing pleasures.

As Christopher West puts it in Theology of the Body for Beginners “…in order to understand the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, we need to view it in light of a total vision of man and of his vocation. Who is man? Why does he exist and what is he destined for?”

The simple answer to that question is: heaven. In God’s plan of salvation, we are called to the Beatific Vision, an everlasting and exquisitely joyful communion with God himself. We are destined for a kind of holy and unsurpassed intimacy that “eye has not seen and ear has not heard.”

And so it is to God and to the mysteries of heaven that we look for answers about sex. It is in the example of Christ’s sacrificial love, and in Mary, our perfect model of loving obedience and holy purity, that we find guidance for all our human relationships. And in the seemingly paradoxical way of profound truths, it is in purity and obedience to the ways of God that we discover mind-blowing, beautiful, meaningful sex.

But what does purity have to do with sex?

I believe it was St. Josemaría Escrivá who said that with an increase of purity our capacity to love also increases. Consider that statement and then reflect on what you watch and read, the words you speak, the clothes you wear, and so on. We all have to seriously consider the possibility that cleaning up our acts might open our hearts and our marriages to a greater abundance of love.

Purity is essential to love. It is a virtue and must be practiced. As married people, our every word, our every touch must signify to our spouses that they are more to us than just bodies; they are precious and immortal souls belonging to God.

An absence of purity destroys our peace and makes it impossible to think of anyone but ourselves. Impurity has an obsessive, addictive quality that withers our sensitivity and empathy for others.

But it’s tough to keep our hearts and minds pure. We live in the world, don’t we? And we’re surrounded by smutty ads and tabloid scandals that reduce our holy and beautiful sexuality to something twisted and degrading. With the tragic explosion of men and women addicted to internet pornography, and the soft-porn standards of most television and film these days, true romantic love is trending downwards fast.

I look at classic movies from the 1940’s and, so often, the whole romantic story line builds to one monumental kiss. Fairly often a wedding is implied in the near future. But you never see that kind of restraint or erotic power in films any more. I hate to sound as old as I’m getting, but these days movies have no class and no soul.

You want to know what I think is really, really romantic?

Last week a friend asked for prayers for her elderly dad. He’d been caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s, for many years. It had been arduous, heartbreaking, lonely work. But now that the beautiful girl he married so long ago was nearing the end of her life, he was going to pieces at the thought of losing her. He just couldn’t imagine letting her go.

Doesn’t contemporary thought devalue an elderly, dependent spouse? Aren’t we being told to ration her health care because she’s going to cost society more and more as she contributes less and less? Isn’t she more of a burden than anything else?

Yeah, well tell that kind of nonsense to this loving husband, for whom the romance never stopped. Not when things got difficult, not when they got much worse and stayed that way, not when he finally had to face losing her. He loved her. He loves her still. And he valued every moment of her life, even when she no longer recognized him.

That’s romance.

A very interesting story came to my attention through my Facebook page. This man I’ll call “Bill” shared about lifelong health issues that had caused him enormous suffering. When I expressed my sympathies, he wrote this, which I share with permission:

…when you’ve gone through some of the struggles I have with self esteem and physical insecurities due to a condition like mine, especially during the teen years and early twenties, you learn to appreciate many of the things others may take for granted. The soft gentle touch of your wife’s hand resting on yours while you’re driving, the warmth of her embrace when you get home on a cold winter’s day, her cute little giggle over something silly you said…things like this that may seem mundane to some people, but even these little things have such special meaning for me and they are the greatest miracles in my life.

It’s funny that the two most romantic stories I’ve heard in a long time involve so much suffering. But, then, look at the cross. Sacrifice is where true love begins. And, as with everything else in our lives, the key to everything is always, always love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains an extraordinary and comprehensive section on human sexuality. It makes for great reading.

Remember, sexy is holy. May God bless your love for each other!


Lisa Mladinich is the author of  Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children and Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation, (in English and Spanish) available from Our Sunday Visitor, and the founder of AmazingCatechists.com.
  • St. Paul’s “eye has not seen and ear has not heard” is one of my favorite passages in Scripture. It struck me that when you read it, you think about intimate sexual love. I have always read it with a completely different take – to me it suggests a physical joy akin to what a champion runner experiences winning the Boston Marathon. Physical, yes, overtly sexual, no. Does each one of us have our own idea of Heaven?

    • Hi PrairieHawk,

      Thanks so much for your comment! This is a misunderstanding that highlights what, for me, is the most frustrating part of writing a column, but also what I appreciate most about people who write comments. The column can be misunderstood, but the comments let us discuss it.

      Let me clarify that I do not think of sexual love or sexual intimacy as being what “eye has not seen…” etc. I was trying in my own awkward, layperson’s way to express that the marital embrace in sacramental marriage hints at the kind of trust and intimacy we hope to gain in heaven. In heaven, we will enjoy the presence of God face-to-face, we will experience perfect love, the likes of which we can not imagine now. We will be intimate in a spiritual sense, yes. But I did not intend to equate living eternally with God to sex itself. Living in the perfect love of God will surpass all physical and spiritual joys in this world. We cannot imagine it. And hence, “eye has not seen…”

      My point is that sex is designed by God, is a holy thing, and should be appreciated as one of the ways in which God gives us a glimpse of His love. It has a purpose, must be respected and cultivated with reverence sensitivity, and should always take place in context of faithful sacramental marriage.

      Does that make sense? Let me know. I appreciate the opportunity to at least try to clarify.

      In heaven, we will understand each other perfectly. Won’t that be great?

      God bless you!

      Lisa

  • Hi Lisa,

    I’m stumbling along too in an effort to understand. Does all love in some sense have a deeply sexual component, since we are deeply sexual beings – the very image of a God who desires to give Himself to all His creatures. In that sense the love of Heaven is all self-gift, and is inseparable from what we call sexual love on earth, even if it is not exactly the same thing.

    I’m not sure where I’m going. I tried to plow through Theology of the Body once, but it was a little dense. But if the Church itself is a marriage, and Heaven is the final end of the Church, it seems that chaste sexual love is a vital component of getting there.