Saturday, November 24, 2012

Language And Sex

There is a commenter named Ted Seeber at Patheos who has a strange definition of rape. He calls any sex act rape that is not a true gift of self. That is it is not open to life and freely chosen and forsaking all others until death. Now redefining a word that is in common usage is quite problematic. It is even more problematic when you choose a word like "rape" that has a ton of baggage. So I think it is a very bad idea but he does have one point. We don't have a language, as Catholics, to distinguish between the kind of sex we see as right and beautiful and heavenly from the kind of sex that is cheap and immoral and hellish.

That is a huge problem because it is a hard distinction to make. Most people don't get what you mean when you try to make it in shorthand. Even my phrase of "cheap and immoral and hellish" is going to make a lot of people think of the wrong thing. Many will think of sex that has some bad feelings associated with it. Maybe you didn't fully consent, you were drunk or you were pressured somehow. Maybe you thought you loved the person or the person loved you and you were wrong. There are lots of bad sexual experiences that don't qualify as rape. But I am not just talking about those. I am also talking about times when you might feel very good about it. When you love each other but you are not married. When you are married but not open to life. When most people don't feel guilty at all. They just think that is about all you can expect from sex. Not something that speaks the language of forever but something that is about a short term high.

Catholics say that even that sort of sex that most people would call good is really cheap and immoral and hellish. Why? We value sex more. The more you value something the more you need before you can say you haven't let it go too cheaply. We see sex as being designed to bring people into the very dynamic of heaven. Settling for something that keeps us bound up in our flesh when we should be soaring in our spirits is what hell is all about. Hell is not about giving us something bad but about giving us something, anything, instead of heaven.

As you can see, it takes a lot of words to get that idea across. That is a bad thing because it is a distinction we should want to make a lot. The Theology of the Body does it with 4 words -total, faithful, fruitful, and free. That is still quite a mouthful and often people still don't get it.

I remember Janet Smith saying she hated the phrase "having sex" because it is too mechanical. She preferred the older phrase "making love" because it conjures up an image of a more spiritual union. Many use the terms interchangeably so I not sure that will do much. Theologians sometimes use the phrase "the marital act." John Paul II used the word nuptial a lot. The trouble with these is they only focus on marriage. People who are in irregular marriages or people using artificial contraceptives within marriage are going to be confused. So words are pretty hard to find. Maybe we need to make up a new one.

Really we need 2 words. One for good, Catholic sex that we want to use very positively. Then we need one for the opposite kind of sex. The sex that is not good enough and is therefore immoral. That can be a bigger challenge because you want to use this word negatively. You don't want to be insulting or judgmental but you do want to highlight a significant lacking in many sex acts that are not typically seen as lacking much. I am wondering whether to offer a suggestion. All I can think of right now is soul sex and soulless sex. There has to be something better.


  1. How about holy sex? I believe Gregory Popcak has a book of that title. I'm not sure how he refers to the opposite. Maybe unholy sex?

    I agree about the difficulties of language. Finding common understanding of terminology of things holy is difficult when most people don't think in those terms.

  2. That is not bad. My first reaction is like someone is saying Holy Cow! except different. Still if a phrase gets used a quite a bit we might get past that. It might be related to wholesome sex.

  3. Oooh, I'm going to start using that. I wish I had found this last November.

    Soul sex and Soulless sex- and the physical proof of that soul sex is 9 months later you have to give it a name and it won't leave until it's grown up and ready to get married itself.

    My original comment, I would agree, was for the shock value. It was a shock value I needed myself about 20 years ago, a epiphany that the Church was Right and that I needed to get my sexuality right to move forward in my life.

    I'm not as successful as you at it. I have one child and he's developmentally disabled. But I try. And I remind myself it is intent, not outcome.

  4. I wrote another post about this.

    BTW, your marriage is not less successful than mine just because you have fewer kids and the one you have is developmentally disabled. Your family is what God gave you and your wife. Mine is what God gave me and my wife. Numbers don't matter. Disabilities don't matter. It is a gift from God. God knows what is good for you and what is good for me.