God's Plan for Sexual Health
To understand God's plan for sexuality we need to go back to the beginning – all the way to the story of creation in Genesis.
Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)
The story of our creation tells us about our purpose as beings created in the image and likeness of God.
- First, we learn that the God in whose image we were created is not just a "He" but a "We." Our God is a Trinity—a divine communion of love. The love between the three individual persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) of this communion is so strong that it binds them as one being. The love from this divine communion is so powerful, that it creates life. We are created to be in relationships of divine communion with God and with others.
- We learn that we were created "male and female." The complementarity of the sexes is the physical sign that makes visible the invisible reality of our call to imitate and reflect the divine communion of the Trinity. The male and female bodies fit together in a way that makes them "one." All of creation mirrors His glory, but man and woman best illustrate who God is. His final creation is not an individual, but a unity between the two. Within the sacrament of marriage, the love of this divine communion is reflected so that the two male and female become one, and the love of this divine communion is imitated so that the relationship creates life.
From the moment of our creation, God has written into our very biology the purpose for our sexuality. The purposes of sex are twofold and inseparable:
- the procreation of children (it reflects and imitates the life giving love of the Trinity) and
- the unity of the couple (it reflects and imitates the divine communion of the Trinity).
Whenever sexuality is turned away from the imitation and reflection of the life-creating love of the Trinity, the individual misses out on the purpose for which he or she was created.
Because the sexual embrace is the only natural way for procreation, and because the best outcomes for children are found in a home with their biological mother and father, the sexual embrace is to be reserved for marriage. Only in marriage do a man and woman commit to lifelong fidelity. Only in this lifelong commitment is it reasonable and prudent to give yourself entirely, totally, to your beloved. Only in this lifelong commitment is it appropriate to release the bonding neurochemicals experienced during sex.
'"For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:31-33)
Sex is Not Bad - It is Good, Powerful, and Beautiful!
Because we are created in the image of this beautiful and perfect communion of love, we long for love, we long for community, and we long for union. On the deepest level we long for union with our Creator – this is the eternal destiny to which we are invited. Our sexuality points us to heaven, which is union with God. However, God does not make us spend this entire life on earth waiting and hoping and longing.
He gives us our sexuality as a means through which we can experience a taste of that union here on earth. He gives us a desire for human love and for physical intimacy—God gives us the desire for sex. God gives all men and women erotic energy, which we call the sex drive. We have a passionate inheritance!
Theology of the Body refers to the "nuptial" meaning of the human body, that is, it is meant for love. Sexual energy therefore needs to find its outlet in love, not lust. The full meaning of human sexuality is directed towards a loving relationship. This is good, and it creates part of the attraction between men and women that forms part of the nuptial meaning of the body.
For many, this may sound very different from the Church's traditional teachings on sexuality. The Church has always taught that sex before marriage, masturbation, adultery, contraception, deviant sexual fantasies, etc., were sinful and harmful acts, but people were simply asked to trust the teaching without a lot of explanation. Now, we have the opportunity to better understand the reasons. The Church’s teachings on human love and sexuality are one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspects of the Catholic faith.
A Better Way
God's plan for our sexuality is a far cry from our pornographic hyper-sexualized culture which claims that everyone has a right to sex whenever they want it, that everyone has a right to either have or not have a baby by whatever means possible. Our culture suggests that freedom is to cater to those desires, to scratch when and where it itches. It proclaims that sex is a basic necessity, a right, an instinct which should usually be followed.
From our culture's perspective, God's plan for sexuality only within the context of sacramental marriage appears exclusive and limiting. If sex is a necessity and a right, then the call to freedom through self-mastery seems impossible and preposterous. If sex is all about selfish pleasure, then abstaining for any reason appears pointless.
Remember the fruits of this perspective?
Consider the fruits of God's plan instead:
- God's plan for sexuality provides true freedom in that we are free to choose our actions rather than having them dictated to us by our sexual urges.
- God's plan works with the biology of our bodies instead of trying to subvert the natural order at every turn.
- God's plan opens up the incredible and powerful gift of life and the possibility of becoming co-creators with God.
- God's plan provides for stable homes with mothers and fathers where children flourish.
- God's plan gives us a foretaste of the divine communion of love that we long for deep in our hearts.
Better, But Not Always Easy
Yes, there are parts that will be difficult, times when God's plan calls us to set aside our selfish desires in favor of sacrifice. God's plan calls all of us to chastity, to the successful integration of sexuality within ourselves. Whether married, single or consecrated to celibacy, following God's plan allows us to be in control of our urges and appetites rather than being a slave to them. The true freedom of God's plan is lived out according to our state of life.
- For the single: chastity will mean sexual abstinence until marriage.
- For the consecrated celibate: chastity will mean virginity for the sake of God's kingdom.
- For the married: chastity will keep the marital act always open to children (not using contraceptives) and always seeking union with one's spouse (not using sex as a tool or a weapon).
Chaste living is difficult at times for everyone, because hedonism (the desire to do whatever we feel like doing) has been so ingrained in us. However, the fruits of following God's plan for our sexuality instead of our culture's will be true joy, liberty, and holiness.
"Only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity." Pope Benedict XVI
We are sexual beings, created by Love, in the image of Love, for love, to love. Our sexuality doesn't just point the way to love; it is the way of love. Each man and woman is called to a life of noble, heroic, sacrificial love. Some will live out this calling in service to spouse and children, others to a parish or the community at large.
Our sexuality is a gift from God. Once it is understood as a reflection of who God is and who we have been created to be in God's image, it becomes our gift back to God and to our neighbor. If we receive, learn and live it – all the while relying on God's help – we will find that we are on the path to true freedom and abiding joy. This will go a long way not only in bringing us personal happiness, but will help rebuild marriage and family life, producing a culture of life and a civilization of love.