Love and Sex: the Redemption of Sexuality

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My purpose here is, first, to consider briefly the reasons why human sexuality is in need of redemption. I will then reflect on the great normative truths in whose light we are able to make true moral judgments and good moral choices whenever the goods of human sexuality are at stake. Attention will then focus on the significance of marriage as a reality that enables men and women truly to love one another as sexual persons and to honor the great goods of human sexuality.

INTRODUCTION

My purpose here is, first, to consider briefly the reasons why human sexuality is in need of redemption. I will then reflect on the great normative truths in whose light we are able to make true moral judgments and good moral choices whenever the goods of human sexuality are at stake. Attention will then focus on the significance of marriage as a reality that enables men and women truly to love one another as sexual persons and to honor the great goods of human sexuality. In particular, I will reflect on the meaning of the marital or spousal act in order to illustrate concretely the beautiful relationship meant to exist between love and sexuality. I will then seek to show the precise reasons why the free choice to engage in non-marital genital acts simply cannot express authentic human love or honor the great goods of human sexuality. In conclusion I will briefly consider contraception.

The Redemption of Human Sexuality

In Love and Responsibility, the book he authored while he was still simply Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II made the following very thought-provoking observation:

Man, alas, is not such a perfect being that the sight of the body of another person, especially a person of the other sex, can arouse in him merely a disinterested liking which develops into an innocent affection. In practice, it also arouses concupiscence, or a wish to enjoy concentrated on sexual values with no regard for the value of the person.

Concupiscence and sin! Here we find the reason why human persons, male and female, are in need of redemption, and with them their sexuality, from which “the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological, and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman.”

The first two chapters of Genesis—those accounts of the “beatifying beginning of human existence”—instruct us that, in the beginning, when God made man, “male and female he created them.” (Gn 1:27) Thus, in creating man, male and female, God created bodily, sexual persons. As Pope John Paul II puts it, “Man, whom God created ‘male and female,’ bears the divine image imprinted on his body ‘from the beginning’: man and woman constitute, as it were, two different ways of the human ‘being a body’ in the unity of that image.” He made them, moreover, precisely so that they could be “gifts” for each other, and their bodies, which perfectly revealed their identity as male and female persons, were the means and sign of the gift of the man-person to the woman-person and vice versa. Thus, “in the beginning,” when it issued from the creative word of God, the naked human body, male and female, fully disclosed the person, “a good toward which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” This truth is dramatically and beautifully expressed in the text of Genesis 2:23, where we find the words which the first man, on awakening from the sleep into which the Lord God had cast him, speaks on seeing the woman who had been “taken out of him.” “This one,” he joyfully exclaimed, “is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” “Exclaiming in this way,” John Paul II writes, “he seems to say: here is a body that expresses the ‘person,’ that is, a being to be loved!”

But the first two chapters of Genesis are followed by the third, which tells us of the sin of the first man and its dreadful consequences for human existence. As a result of this sin, man, male and female, is alienated from God; the man and the woman, moreover, are alienated from each other. “The ‘man of lust’ took the place of the ‘man of original innocence,’” and there takes place what can be called “a constitutive break within the human person, almost a rupture of man’s original spiritual and somatic unity . . . The body, which is now not subordinated to the spirit as in the state of original innocence, bears within it a constant center of resistance to the spirit, and threatens, in a way, the unity of the man-person, that is, of the moral nature, which is firmly rooted in the very constitution of the person.”

As a result of concupiscence the man and the woman experience shame because of their nakedness; the “nuptial meaning” of their bodies is, as it were, veiled. As John Paul II says, because of concupiscence, the “human body in its masculinity-femininity has almost lost the capacity of expressing love”; nonetheless its “nuptial meaning . . . has not become completely suffocated by concupiscence, but only habitually threatened,” with the result that “the ‘heart’ has become a battlefield between love and lust.” The naked human body no longer perfectly discloses a person because there is now in man, male and female, a tendency, on seeing the naked body of a person of the other sex, to focus on the sexual values of the person, separating them, as it were, from the person, and considering them as objects of enjoyment and use. This tendency is concupiscence. Although the waters of baptism free us totally from original sin and make us new creatures in Christ, partakers of the divine nature, they do not free us from concupiscence.

Concupiscence, which “comes from sin [original sin] and leads to sin [actual, personal sin],” “is left for us to wrestle with.” Because of concupiscence we must all acknowledge the truth that St. Paul expressed when he said that, although he could delight in the law of God in his inner self, he nonetheless discovered in his members “another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7.22-23), the lex fomitis or “law of sinful desire.”

We are, then, in need of redemption. But Jesus, our Redeemer, has come to be with us in our struggle against concupiscence. With him to help us we can overcome sin and concupiscence which, as the Magisterium teaches us, “cannot harm those who do not consent [to the sins to which concupiscence inclines them] but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Precisely because Jesus has redeemed us and is with us we can, as Pope John Paul II insists time and time again, recover the nuptial meaning” of the body and respond to others, male and female, as persons, as the good to which the only proper and adequate response is love.

Making Good Genital Sexual Choices

Christians believe, and rightly so, because they have this on the authority of Jesus himself, that the first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Mt 22.37-39). Indeed, as St. Thomas explicitly says in his discussion of the relationship between the precepts of the Decalogue and the principles of the natural law, this twofold command of love is the basic normative principle on which the truth of these precepts depends. And Pope John Paul II, in his magnificent Encyclical on fundamental questions of the moral life, Veritatis splendor, reminds us that the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves expresses “the singular dignity of the human person, ‘the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake.’” We can love our neighbor, the Holy Father goes on to say, only by respecting and honoring the good of the human person, and we can honor his good only by respecting and honoring the real goods perfective of him at different levels of his being: “the different commandments of the Decalogue,” he writes,

are really only so many reflections on the one commandment about the good of the human person, at the level of the many different goods which characterize his identity as a spiritual and bodily being in relationship with God, with his neighbor, and with the material world . . . The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man [in Mt 19:16-21 and parallels] are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods, goods such as life itself, the communion of persons in marriage, and so forth.

Thus, if we are to make morally good choices we must, in doing so, respect the real goods of human persons and steadfastly forbear intentionally damaging, destroying or impeding what is really good, either in ourselves or in others. We are never intentionally to do evil so that good may come about (cf. Rom 3:8), a requirement rooted in the Catholic tradition and clearly affirmed by the Magisterium.

Thus the choice freely to exercise one’s genital sexual powers can be a morally good choice only if one is willing to respect the relevant human goods that come into focus when such a choice is made. But what are these goods?

The goods that come into focus when one considers the possibility of exercising one’s genital sexual powers are, above all, the good of human life itself in its transmission and the good of steadfast conjugal love—a unique kind of human friendship. Vatican Council II clearly affirmed this when it referred to the “objective criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and of human action” that are to guide married couples in their choice to unite coitally, for it said that they should do so in such a way that they “respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” That the good of human life in its transmission is “in focus” when one considers exercising one’s genital sexual powers is clearly indicated by the fact that the powers in question are named “genital.” The practice of contraception confirms this point, for one is tempted to contracept only when one is thinking of engaging in the sort of act one reasonably regards as capable of generating new human life. If one does not want this life to begin, one then does something, either prior to, during, or subsequent to the life-giving sort of act precisely to impede procreation. Contraception would make no sense otherwise.

That the good of human friendship is also “in focus” in the choice to exercise one’s genital sexual powers is clear from the fact that genital coition is possible only between two persons. One can, of course, engage in solitary genital acts such as masturbation, but even in making a choice of this kind one realizes that one is exercising a personal sexual power that is dynamically ordered to the union of two persons.

Thus the goods at stake in genital sexual choices are those (1) of human life in its transmission—a good the Catholic tradition (and everyday language, for that matter) recognizes as the good of procreation or the procreative good of human sexuality—and (2) the good of union between two persons—the good this tradition calls the unitive good of human sexuality. But there is still another good that comes “into focus” when one considers exercising one’s genital sexual powers, namely, the good of “personal integrity.” John Finnis has ably described what this good requires. It requires

fundamentally, that one be reaching out with one’s will, i.e., freely choosing real goods, and that one’s efforts to realize those goods involves, where appropriate, one’s bodily activity, so that the activity is as much the constitutive subject of what one does as one’s act of choice is.

The goods, then, of human life in its transmission, of deep interpersonal friendship, and of personal integrity, are the goods that come into focus in considering the exercise of one’s genital sexuality. These goods of human persons must be fully honored and respected if such choices are to be morally good. We shall now see how beautifully these goods are respected in the marital or conjugal act and how they are not honored in non-marital sexual choices.

 

 

Marital Sexuality: The Meaning of the Conjugal Act

Marriage, which has God for its author because it is integral to his wise and loving plan for human existence, comes into existence when a man and a woman, forswearing all others, give themselves to each other through “an act of irrevocable personal consent.” By doing so, a man and a woman establish “marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God himself.”

Precisely because they have given themselves irrevocably to each other as irreplaceable and non-substitutable spouses in marriage, husband and wife have capacitated themselves to do things that non-married persons simply cannot do. They can now give to each other an absolutely unique kind of love, conjugal or marital love, a love that is human, total, faithful and exclusive, and fruitful or ordained to the having and raising of children. This love, moreover, “is uniquely expressed and perfected by the raising of children.

When husband and wife engage in the marital or conjugal act, this act truly unites two irreplaceable and non-substitutable spouses. It does so because they have already, through the act of marital consent, “given” themselves irrevocably to one another as bodily, sexual beings and made one another to be irreplaceable and non-substitutable in their lives. This bodily act, then, signifies and actualizes their marital union. Precisely as marital, it is not merely a genital act between two persons who happen to be married. Husbands and wives, like non-married people, are capable of engaging in genital acts because they are endowed with genitalia. But husbands and wives, unlike non-married people, are capable of engaging in the conjugal act because they are married!! Their marriage capacitates them, as I noted earlier, to do what married couples are supposed to do, and one of the things married persons are supposed to do is to express their marriage and their marital love through the act proper and exclusive to them, the conjugal or marital act.

Through this bodily act they literally become “one flesh,” and they come to “know” each other in an unforgettable way, and to know each other precisely as male and female, as husband and wife. In it they “give” themselves to one another and “receive” one another. Yet they do so in strikingly different and complementary ways, for it is an act made possible precisely by reason of their sexual differences. The wife does not have a penis; therefore, in this act of marital union she cannot enter the body, the person, of her husband, whereas he can and does personally enter into her body-person. He gives himself to her, and by so doing he receives her. She, on the other hand, is uniquely capable of receiving her husband personally into her body, her self, and in so doing she gives herself to him. The wife’s receiving of her husband in a giving sort of way is just as essential to the unique meaning of this act as is her husband’s giving of himself to her in a receiving sort of way. The husband cannot, in this act, give himself to his wife unless she gives herself to him by receiving him, nor can she receive him in this self-giving way unless he gives himself to her in this receiving way. As the philosopher Robert Joyce says, “the man does not force himself upon the woman, but gives himself in a receiving manner.”

In giving himself to his wife in the marital act, moreover, the husband releases into her body-person millions of his sperm, which go in search for ovum. Should his wife indeed be fertile and an ovum present within her, one of the sperm may succeed in uniting with it, in becoming “one flesh” with it, and in so doing be instrumental in bringing into existence a new human person. These facts dramatically illustrate another dimension or aspect of male-female sexual complementarity. The man, as it were, symbolized the superabundance and otherness of being, for his sperm are differentiated into those that will generate a male child and those that will generate a female child. The woman, as it were, symbolizes the oneness or unity of being insofar as she ordinarily produces only one ovum, and what might be called the withinness or abidingness of being.

The marital act, by respecting and honoring the sexual complementarity of husband and wife, fully respects the personal integrity of each, for each is indeed reaching out with his and her will toward real goods and their efforts to realize those goods involves their bodily activity. The marital act, indeed, speaks the “language of the body,” as Pope John Paul says: it is a language expressing “the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife.”

As the reflections in the previous paragraphs also indicate, the marital act, precisely because it is marital, is the sort or kind of act open to the “goods” or “blessings” of marriage, the goods, namely, of marital love and of new human life. As an act in which the husband can, in a unique way, “give himself to his wife in a receiving way” and in which she is uniquely capable of “receiving him in a giving way,” it is an act “apt” to foster and enrich conjugal love. It is moreover the kind or sort of act open to the gift of human life, a gift which husbands and wives, unlike unmarried persons, are able “to receive lovingly, nourish humanely, and educate religiously,” that is, in love and service of God and neighbor, precisely because they have, by getting married, capacitated themselves to receive this precious gift in this way.

The marital act thus honors fully the good of human life in its transmission, for it is an act open to this gift. It is likewise an act that fully respects the good of deep conjugal friendship, that fully respects the irreplaceable and non-substitutable character of the human person, male and female. It truly “consummates” the marriage, for it is done “in a human way,” that is, in a way fully responding to the good of the human person.

So true is this that a genital sexual act forced on one spouse by the other without regard for the other’s condition or legitimate desires, can hardly be said to be a truly “conjugal” act. It likewise follows that a contracepted genital act between husband and wife cannot be regarded as a true “conjugal act.” Indeed, as John Paul II has rightly pointed out,

When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings [procreative and unitive] that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they ‘manipulate’ and degrade human sexuality—and with it themselves and their married partner—by altering its value as a “total” self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.

The marital or conjugal act, then, is one that fully responds to the priceless value of human persons, male and female, honoring the “goods” perfective of them as bodily sexual beings.

Non-Marital Sexuality

When non-married individuals choose to exercise their genital sexuality, either with other non-married individuals (fornication, or, as it is sometimes euphemistically called today, “premarital sex”), or with persons married to others (adultery), or in non-coital ways (masturbation), or with persons of the same sex (homosexual acts), they cannot be making good moral choices insofar as they cannot, in making genital sexual choices of these kinds, properly respect the real human goods that “come into focus” when such choices are made, the goods, namely, of true personal friendship, of human life in its transmission, and of personal integrity. I will now try to show this by reflecting first on non-marital heterosexual coital union (fornication and adultery), masturbation and homosexual acts.

  1. Non-Marital Heterosexual Coition (Fornication and Adultery)

When a man and a woman who are not married to one another choose to have sexual coition, their free choice violates the goods of true interpersonal friendship, of human life in its transmission, and of personal integrity.

It violates the good of friendship because those who choose to have intercourse have not, through their own free and self-determining choice, established one another as irreplaceable and non-substitutable persons. They have by no means “given” themselves to one another in an act of self-giving love. Their act of sexual coition, consequently, does not and cannot unite two irreplaceable and non-substitutable persons, male and female. Rather, it simply joins two individuals who in principle remain replaceable and substitutable, disposable. It is, in short, a “lie,” because it speaks the language of love but the “love” it signifies is not the committed love of husband and wife, but at best the “romantic” love of a man and a woman who may “feel” that their act symbolizes a love committed to a sharing of life, but who refuse to make the commitment to marriage necessary for this kind of shared life to be possible. The two individuals may have some deep feelings of tenderness and affection for one another, but such feelings are far different from authentic human love, which takes such feelings, which Karol Wojtyla calls the “raw material of love,” and integrates them into an intelligent commitment to the personhood of the other. The “partners” in non-marital sexual union do not and cannot regard one another as irreplaceable and non-substitutable because they have refused to make one another irreplaceable and non-substitutable persons by an act of marital consent. Thus, the act of bodily coupling they choose cannot be the sign and expression of a full personal self-giving. If they think it does, they are simply deceiving themselves.

Moreover, if one of the individuals is married to another then their free choice to copulate has the added malice of adultery, which violates the great good of marital love and fidelity. In choosing to commit adultery, a married person chooses to substitute, for the spouse he or she has made non-substitutable by his or her own free and self-determining choice, another human person. One violates one’s marital commitment and is gravely unjust to the spouse to whom one has given oneself “irrevocably.” Nor does it make any difference if the adultery is done with the consent of one’s spouse. Those who think that a spouse’s consent to the other spouse’s adultery justifies the deed are using a line of reasoning based on a subtle form of dualism, for this specious reasoning seems to hold that a man and a woman can continue to give themselves, that is, their conscious minds, to each other uniquely and exclusively even if they give their bodies, now regarded as distinct from their “selves,” to another. This fallacious assumption ignores the unity of the human person and promotes self-deception.

Fornicators and adulterers likewise choose to act contrary to the good of human procreation. They choose to engage in acts which they reasonably believe can bring a new human life into existence. But it is not good for human life to be given through acts of fornication and of adultery, because fornicators and adulterers have not capacitated themselves to “welcome human life lovingly, to nourish it humanely, and to educate it in the love and service of God.” Thus in choosing to engage in coition the non-married violate the good of human life in its transmission. Indeed, it was precisely because fornication fails to respect the irreplaceable dignity of any child who might be conceived as a result of it, inasmuch as this child would not then be given the home where it can grow and develop as it ought, that St. Thomas judged simple fornication an intrinsically evil act. Today, of course, most fornicators and adulterers seek to avoid the generation of human life through their non-marital acts of sexual coition by contracepting. For them, this is merely acting “responsibly,” and preventing the birth of an “unwanted” child. But, even prescinding from the morality of contraception (which I will consider in my conclusion), everyone realizes (or ought to realize) that pregnancies can and do frequently result even if contraceptives are employed. When this occurs, the child conceived comes to be as an “unwanted” child, surely a position no one would wish to be put in.

It should thus be clear that the choice to engage in heterosexual genital coition outside of marriage is morally irresponsible because it violates the goods of exclusive spousal friendship and of human life in its transmission. This choice, moreover, fails to honor the good of personal integrity, for those making it are not reaching out with their wills and bodies to participate in authentic goods of human existence. Rather, they are using their bodies to participate in the sensibly experienced pleasure of genital orgasm separated, precisely because of the kind of free choices they are making, from the real goods of human existence into which this pleasure is to be integrated.

  1. Masturbation

Masturbation is the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs to the point of orgasm which is not part of sexual intercourse. Thus understood, masturbation can be done either by a person acting on himself or herself or by one person acting on another.

Masturbatory activity simply ignores and undercuts the great human and sexual goods of conjugal friendship and of human life in its transmission. It is not, like fornication and adultery, directly opposed to the good of conjugal friendship, nor is it, like them, harmful to the good of human life in its transmission by failing to see that such life, if given, is “welcomed” into a home where it can take root and grow. It is simply irrelevant to these great goods, these “ends” of human sexuality, these goods that make human sexuality itself meaningful and integrally personal and human. In short, such activity trivializes human sexuality.

Masturbatory activity, moreover, clearly violates terribly the good of personal integrity. It is, in fact, self disintegrating, as the following reflections, I hope, will help make clear.

Today very many people accept the principle that sexually maturing and mature individuals are entitled to regular sexual satisfaction and may get it in any way that pleases them, provided that “no one gets hurt.” Such people see nothing wrong with masturbation, and many such people deem masturbation a normal, natural kind of behavior, useful if not indeed necessary in order for one to “get in touch with one’s own body.”

This superficial view overlooks what sexual acts in this kind, including masturbation, do—do in and of themselves—to the acting person. The desire-satisfying person becomes the sensory-emotional subject who experiences the sexual urge and its satisfaction. The reasoning and freely-choosing subject is engaged only to the extent that he is put to work in the service of the sensory-emotional subject, and the body becomes an extrinsic object, an instrument for avoiding frustration and replacing urge with satisfaction. The person is thus dis-integrated; instead of a unity of soul and body the person now becomes the “consciously experiencing subject” of desires and their satisfaction, and the body becomes the tool or instrument of this consciously experiencing subject. By dis-integrating themselves, desire-satisfying persons act inconsistently with what they really are: unities of body, sense, emotion, reason, freedom. Such self-disintegration is an essential element of what is morally wrong with masturbation and other sexual activity undertaken principally in order to satisfy the urge for sexual release.

Engaging in sexual acts in response to a sexual urge cuts sexual activity off from the real goods that make such activity humanly good and meaningful: the goods of human life in its transmission, the good of interpersonal friendship, the good of personal integrity. Such activity has no bearing on the good of human life in its transmission, and any relationship with the good of interpersonal friendship is trivialized. In acts of mutual masturbation there may be present a wish for interpersonal friendship, and one might even claim that one is doing one’s friend a kindness by helping him or her masturbate and thus relieve sexual tension and experience orgasmic pleasure. People who satisfy their sexual desires with one another are often deeply affected emotionally, yet their shared activity does not make them one. Each enjoys a private experience and satisfies an urge, but there is no commitment to any common good transcendent to their individual selves that can serve as a basis for real friendship. And sexual activity of this masturbatory kind surely fails to honor the good of personal integrity, for in and through it one is not reaching out with one’s will toward real goods of the human person and endeavoring to realize those goods through one’s own bodily activity. Rather, such sexual activity reaches out to the satisfaction of sexual desire and one’s body is involved in such activity merely as an instrument of the experiencing subject and not as “much the constitutive subject of what one does as one’s act of choice is.”

From what has been said thus far, one can see the truth of the judgment given about masturbation by the Magisterium:

. . . both the Magisterium of the Church . . . and the moral sense of the faithful have declared without hesitation that masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act. The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting in this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty. For it lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely, the relationship which realizes the “full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” All deliberate exercise of sexuality must be reserved to this regular relationship.

3. Homosexual acts

The same judgment which the Magisterium makes regarding masturbatory acts can also be made about homosexual acts, i.e., genital acts performed between persons of the same sex. Acts referred to as homosexual are usually acts of sodomy (anal or oral intercourse) although homosexuals may also engage in mutual masturbation.

Homosexual acts cannot serve, as do conjugal acts, to unite two persons, two lives, in an act of conjugal love, the sort or kind of act, moreover, inwardly open to the gift of new human life which husband and wife have capacitated themselves to welcome lovingly and give to it the home it needs to take root and grow. Thus homosexual acts do not and cannot embody and honor the goods of faithful spousal love and of human life in its transmission.

Homosexual acts, moreover, can in no way express the complementary sexuality of male and female. The “partners” to homosexual acts can not possibly act in such wise that one “gives himself in a receiving kind of way” (as a husband does in giving himself to his wife in the conjugal act) while the other “receives in a giving sort of way” (as a wife does in receiving her husband into her body person). In the conjugal act the good of personal integrity is fully respected, for in this act the spouses are reaching out with their wills toward real human goods, those namely of faithful spousal love and of human life in its transmission, and their bodily activity is as much a constitutive subject of the conjugal act as is their choice to engage in it. They are indeed speaking “the language of the body.” But the chosen behavior of homosexual genital partners simply cannot reach out toward these real human goods, and their bodily activity serves only as an instrument necessary for the attainment of orgasmic pleasure. Claims that some kinds of homosexual unions are analogous to the marital heterosexual union simply ignore the reality of conjugal love and the conjugal act and serve only to foster self-deception.

Contraception

I want to conclude this presentation with some brief reflections on contraception. Earlier, in considering the marital or conjugal act I had noted, with Pope John Paul II, that when married persons contracept they falsify the inner truth of conjugal love and fail to “give” themselves to one another unreservedly. One major reason why it is wrong for husbands and wives to contracept, therefore, is that by doing so they falsify the meaning of the conjugal act—indeed, they make the kind of act they choose to engage in non-marital. It is no longer an act of self-giving love. This is the principal argument that John Paul II has used during his pontificate to show why contraception is terribly immoral for married persons. But is this the only reason why contraception is morally bad?

Fornicators and adulterers can also choose to contracept. Their genital acts, precisely because they are non-marital, cannot be true acts of love, of “self-giving.” If they contracept, are they choosing to do something additionally evil? They surely are, because contraception is the kind of act, specified by its object of choice, that the Catholic tradition has recognized and still recognizes as intrinsically evil and never to be done under any circumstances or for any good ends.

But precisely what is contraception? A very good definition of it is given by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Humanae vitae, where he described it as “every act, which either in anticipation of the conjugal act [genital act], during it, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes [the Latin term used is intendat], either as end or as means, to impede procreation [Latin: ut procreatio impediatur].” As this definition makes clear, contraception itself is not a genital sexual act although it is, obviously, essentially related to a genital sexual act. Thus, for instance, a widowed father, who is himself now celibate, chooses to contracept if, judging that his married daughter, who with her husband lives in his home for economic reasons, ought not to get pregnant, he mixes contraceptive pills with her cereal every morning. The daughter may abhor contraception and may indeed ardently desire to conceive a child as the fruit and gift of her and her husband’s conjugal act. And she in no way engages in contraception. But her father does, because the precise object of the act he freely chooses to do is to impede procreation in the freely chosen conjugal acts of his daughter.

What this also makes clear is that contraception, whether chosen by married couples, by fornicators, by adulterers, or by parents seeking to prevent their children from getting pregnant, is an anti-life kind of deed, embodying a will set against the great good of human life itself. Moreover, should this life come to be despite one’s deliberate attempts to impede it, it will then come to be as an “unwanted child,” and will then give rise to the temptation to abort this unwanted baby.

Here I have, of necessity, treated the issue of contraception very briefly. My major purpose was to show that of itself it is not a sexual act, although clearly and obviously related to sexual acts and usually chosen because individuals want to engage in genital sex, realize that new life can come to be through such activity, and, not wanting that life to come to be, choose to contracept or impede procreation. Contraception is thus an act that is both anti-life and anti-love. It is an act directed against the good of human life in its transmission and also against the good of spousal love.

Editor