Monday, August 30, 2004

Imagine forgetting what sex is!

Imagine something as absurd as this: a whole generation that has forgotten what sex is, a whole generation that has forgotten what penises and vaginas are for! This is essentially the thesis of Christopher West's book (pictured left), Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching. And where does West go for his information about the true meaning of sex? To the writings of Pope John Paul II -- What could seem more absurd! What could a celibate old man who's never had sex tell this generation of sexually active, horny kids about sex! The surprising thing, though, is the Pope has written so much about sex, huge volumes with titles like The Theology of the Body, as well as phenomenological analyses of the sexual urge in volumes like Love and Responsibility, and much, much more.

Why should anyone today pay any attention to this stuff? First of all, take an inventory of your own experience. If you're into "recreational sex," ask yourself just how fulfilling you find your relationships. Girls trade sexual favors in exchange for what they hope will be love. Guys trade the expectation of a long-term relationship for short-term sexual favors. Just how satisfying is that in the long run? I knew a young woman at Lenoir-Rhyne College who was sleeping around with nine guys, and that was when she was already engaged to marry another guy, also a Lenoir-Rhyne College student. One of the other guys having sex with this girl was a fraternity brother of the guy she was engaged to marry. Is it any wonder that student relationships become miserable and tortured with guilt, resentment, and recriminations? Is it any wonder that one out of two marriages ends in divorce? Who understands what 'marriage' is anymore anyway?

Second, if you're married, ask yourself how fulfilling your sex life and love life are. You've heard all the jokes: "Question: How do you paralyze a woman from the waist down? Answer: Marry her." Why the proverbial "headaches" that wives get? There are reasons for all of these things. Men easily divorce sex from love and tend to focus on performance with the aim of personal satisfaction. I know of a guy, in fact, who says that the only 'meaning' in life, as far as he is concerned, is packed into the experience of explosive sex -- surfing that cusp of arousal just on the edge of orgasm for as long a possible, perhaps for an hour, and then plunging into explosive ejaculations and cuming like a rapist -- with a different woman every night. And this guy is supposedly 'married'! Women naturally feel used when approached by men in this manner. Men will sometimes talk about "getting lucky" at home. Women will sometimes use sexual favors within marriage to get what they want. But either way, they're just using one another, and they're missing the most wonderful, exciting, fulfilling thing in the world as far as sex and love are concerned. And they don't have the first clue to the meaning and power of sex as it was meant to be -- harnessed to genuine love.

But none of this will mean anything to you until you begin to re-educate yourself and re-program your instincts. People today are sometime accused of being sex-obsessed, of thinking always and only about sex and nothing but sex. The truth, however, is that people don't think enough about sex: they no longer respect it, because they no longer understand it, and so they don't even know how to begin thinking about it as it was meant to be.

Christopher West offers an easily accessible introduction to the sexual dysfunction suffered by most of us today, and to the solutions that lie close at hand -- not easy solutions, but clear solutions that require the cultivation of new habits and disciplines, which can slowly but surely begin the process of healing and mending our souls that have been disintegrated by destructive habits foisted upon us by the illusions of contemporary society. Lust must be overcome by genuine love. Sex must be harnessed to the integrating power of genuine love. What any of this means, though, will not be immediately apparent in a society where commercial advertizements approaches soft porn, and where masturbation, recreational sex, and unbridled sexual experimentation are accepted as 'natural' and 'healthy.' Things are not what they seem.

For starters, I recommend chapters 1, 4 & 5 of West's book. Beyond that, you can read more online here. Finally, here is a prayer by Christopher West:
"This is a woman [man] in the image and likeness of God, never to be looked upon as an object for my gratification. Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to see the image of your glory in the beauty of this woman [man], and order my sexual desires toward the truth of love. I renounce any tendency within me to use others for my own pleasure, and I unite my sufferings with yours on the cross. Amen." (Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, p. 83)

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