In the beginning, God created marriage and sexuality to mirror His own inner Trinitarian life (cf. Gen 1: 26-28). The mutual Love between God the Father and God the Son is so powerful and so strong that it IS another person – the Holy Spirit. This is the heart of the Mystery of God. In like manner, the mutual love between a husband and a wife in the marital embrace is so powerful and so strong that it has the potential to reflect the Trinitarian mystery in the conception of another person – a baby (or even twins). Sex was actually created by God to direct us to Himself, to direct us to His own inner Trinitarian mystery of Love and Life. Sex reflects the inner life of the Creator of the universe! For this reason, it works best when used according to the Manufacturer’s instructions. Who knows, perhaps one could even find the best sex in this manner.
As one wanders down the aisle containing the Erotica Section at Barnes and Noble, one sometimes wonders what sort of wisdom all those “How To” books on sexual passion are dispensing (most sporting spicy, bright red covers). I would like to reflect upon that one key element that most of that literature has probably overlooked when it comes to sex – the human soul.
My sense is that much of what is conveyed in the “Improve Your Sex Life” books involves the promotion of a type of “sexual acrobatics,” sex toys, or a grand diversity of partners, the underlying assumption being “variety is the spice of life.” And then there is the question of frequency as well, I guess. While there may be some insights to be found here and there in these often pornographic manuals, most of it is appears to be a kind of “surface” attempt at sexual satisfaction that neglects a much deeper issue. The wisdom dispensed is only “skin deep” and is focused upon the body and a type of basic secular humanist psychological perspective that fundamentally denies the reality of the human soul.
What is missed in all of this could perhaps be called the “interiority” of sex. What impact does the spiritual depths of the other person have upon sexual intimacy? What impact does the state of one’s soul have upon sexual intimacy? According to the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), the person is a “body-soul composite.” This means that every person has both a physical and spiritual dimension. We often neglect this latter dimension (the soul) when we speak about sex. The state of our soul, the state of our interior spiritual being has a huge impact upon our experience of and capacity for intimacy. The “interiority” of the person as it relates to sexual intimacy is very much conditioned by the reality of sin, but also by “soul depth” – the potential for the expansion of our “interior universe.”
Let’s first speak to sin (or “iniquity”). Sin basically makes us greedy, pleasure-seeking and self-absorbed (cf. 1 Jn 2:16) – this is to say, it makes us ultimately kind of nasty and ugly on the inside. If I am fundamentally ugly and my partner is equally so, it stands to reason that we will ultimately grow disgusted with one another’s “interior ugliness.” In the end, the novelty of the other person’s body (exterior) wears off. And what happens then? One might resort to reading spicy, bright red sex manuals to somehow revitalize the flailing relationship through enhanced sexual technique. Or, one might simply move on to find a new sexual partner that could bring some novelty to sex. Finally, with the help of modern technology, it is now possible to skip the physical partner altogether and dive into the infinite variety of online pornography.
What is missed in the Erotica Section is the potential for the soul, in God’s grace, to not be fundamentally ugly. What is missed is the potential to be someone and to marry someone who is not ugly at the core of their being. This interior ugliness ultimately spreads and somehow makes the whole person ugly. In Christ, that fundamental ugliness can be replaced with a fundamental beauty that can transform the entire person into someone thoroughly beautiful. God’s sanctifying grace (received in connection with Baptism [cf. Mk 16:16] but lost through deadly or “mortal” sin [cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17]) fills us with God’s love – something of immeasurable beauty – and makes us beautiful and holy. While we still have sinful tendencies (concupiscence) because of original sin, we are fundamentally a new creation in Him. We can marry someone who is also a new creation. This gives a positive interiority to sex that is not present when the interiority of one or both of the partners in “becoming one flesh” is fundamentally ugly or negative.
One might still object: “Okay, so I am fundamentally beautiful and so is my partner. Sex still sounds a little static and boring.” It is here that we can appreciate the significance of “growth in grace” for sexual intimacy.
In his Theology of the Body, Saint Pope John Paul II speaks of “soul depth.” He is referring to that interior universe in our souls created in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei). Our hearts can literally participate ever more fully in the life and love of the Blessed Trinity – we can actually BECOME more. Fortunately, this positive interior state is not static and is capable of unlimited improvement. The soul in the state of grace (sanctifying grace) is called to grow in this grace. This is called growth in holiness or growth in charity (love). God’s love is nourished within us and allowed to grow. What ramifications might this have upon our sex lives?
Interestingly, a 1983 women’s sexual survey in Redbook (a secular women’s magazine) found that sexual satisfaction in marriage was greatest among Christian women. And then there is the recent 2013 Report by the Family Research Council that asserts that devout Catholics have the best sex. Why would this be so? Might it be due to the fact that people growing in God’s love have ever more to give to the other in marriage? A while back, I met a Christian couple that lived in Steubenville, OH. This couple had a sincere, tender love for each other. They were truly desirous of constant personal improvement or transformation in Christ. I recall the wife relating how hard it was to be parted from her husband when he went on business trips. I could see how much her heart yearned to simply be near him. I am certain that this couple had a life of profound physical intimacy.
This is the question that those bright red books do not ask: “What would happen if partners in the ‘marital embrace’ were fundamentally beautiful through and through AS WELL AS growing ever more beautiful?” What if their souls were ravishing and growing ever more so? The quality of sexual intimacy could be good and beautiful through and through, but also ever deepening – ever better. Marital or sexual love would never be static, but always flowering anew in a more fragrant scent, a deeper color, a blossom more sublime. Part of this beauty and intimacy would flow from the long-term marital commitment itself. All of the joys and sorrows in life that have the capacity to carve out our souls would be shared in an exchange of physical love, the depth of which would make the authors of our sex texts blush.