The Theology of the Body is a collection of teachings offered by Pope John Paul II between the years 1979 and 1984. It has much to say about human sexuality. This teaching does not deviate from the Church's traditionaldoctrine on sexuality, but offers a way to better understand the reasons behind the doctrine.
Ask a friend to define the word "sexuality" or look up the word "sexuality" on the Internet and you will find a variety of complicated and confusing reactions. According to popular culture sexuality is any and all of the following:
- the capacity for sexual feelings,
- a person's sexual orientation or preference,
- a tendency to be attracted to men, women, or both,
- a concern with or interest in sexual activity,
- the quality or state of being sexual,
- a form of self-expression,
- a sense of masculinity or femininity that can change, or
- an itch to be scratched.
Current media's depiction of sex and sexuality doesn't help to clarify the matter. The TV, movie, and music industries incessantly depict sex as a powerful, almost irresistible force which draws people into intimacy with another, and which enables them to experience passion and pleasure. Pinning down a single cultural definition of sexuality is difficult, but looking at the depictions and attitudes that about in Hollywood, online, in music, and even among our peers provides a common thread:
My sexuality is all about me, and the goal of sex is for me to experience sexual release. Sexuality is such a driving and powerful force that sexual release is a necessity, and I have the right to experiencing that release however I want.
This narcissistic (it's all about me), hedonistic (it's all about pleasure) and relativistic (no one is ever wrong) cultural attitude leads to a culture full of selfish, pleasure seeking, impulse driven individuals. You may recognize this cultural attitude toward sexuality in one of it's many mantras:
- "You only live once."
- "Avoid pain. Don't sacrifice."
- "Hold on to what you've got."
- "If it feels good, do it."
- "What happens in my bedroom is my business."
The fruits of this attitude are heart-wrenching:
- sexually transmitted infections,
- wounded hearts, and
- the breakdown of families and the absence of fathers,
On a larger scale, these attitudes create economic hardships and public policy nightmares:
- birth rates falling far below replacement rates,
- economic stagnation and shrinkage, and
- bigger governments developing to provide assistance that used to be provided by family members of large families.
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Our sex isn't incidental to who we are – it is essential. Every cell, even the smallest strand of DNA, reveals whether we are male or female. Men and women are different biologically, mentally and spiritually. They share the same human dignity, but they move through life and react to people and their environment in different ways. Each sex has a particular genius in the way it complements the other. Men are generally bigger and stronger; they are built to protect and provide; their thinking tends to be more linear and narrowly focused; and they tend to be problem solvers and task oriented. Women are built for nurturing; they are softer, more receptive; their thicker corpus callosum (which bridges the two hemispheres of the brain) enables them to efficiently multi-task; and they excel at taking care of relationships. These differences (and this just skims the surface) are both fascinating and significant.
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.