A Pope’s Guide to Good Sex
One must admit that sex is definitely the most controversial topic in the Catholic Church in recent years. Many are quick to assume that Catholics think God doesn't like sex or to judge that the Church is too strict on issues like contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. And in the over-sexualized society that we find ourselves in it can be difficult to understand why the Church hasn't eased up on the sex issue. The Church thinks that sex is good, actually great, and even holy! Read on as the Pope explains Catholic teaching on sex and more in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.
Why Sex Belongs to Marriage
Our human sexuality—which is an integral part of the human person—comes from God as a gift and is an example of His love in the world. “Marriage is… the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love.” (HV 8) It is within the sacred, life-long bonds of marriage that “the two become one flesh” which is a way of saying that they are united on every level, both physical and metaphysical. Marriage is a gift of self which brings us closer to perfection, through the mutual support and challenging of each other in attempts at self-betterment. So, for the Church, sex is always and only considered inside the context of marriage.
“Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 9
The sexual relationship of married couples have two important aspects: that they be unitive and procreative—meaning that sex brings the couple closer to true unity, body and soul, and that through this union new life is transmitted. The love of a husband and wife is so strong that it allows them to take part in God’s process of creation. Married love brings new life to the world! How powerful a statement is that!? Even though a couple is infertile their sexual relationship is naturally ordered to this end.
That’s the problem with homosexual relations, they may be unitive, but they are not procreative. No life can ever come from two people of the same gender. It’s a fact and the Church sticks to it. God’s plan for human sexuality is within the confines of marriage, a life-long union between one man and one woman. This is not to say that the Church hates gay people, the Church acknowledges the challenges that these people face, especially those Christians who battle with same-sex attraction. (I would recommend a video by Fr. Pontifex and Spirit Juice Studios titled Yes to You.)
This is also the reason the Church stands against any form of artificial contraception. By placing a physical or chemical barrier between the husband and wife you are in fact preventing a total gift of self necessary for the true sexual union. It’s like trying to eat a hamburger with the wrapper still on it, it’s just not going to work. Not to mention the fact that you are, yet again, separating those two essential aspects of the sexual act. Contracepted sex is hardly unitive and in no way procreative.
From Spouses to Parents
The procreative aspect of the sexual relationship is not just to populate the world (Gn 1:28), but for their mission of “responsible parenthood” through which they grow both as spouses and parents. And that whole argument about overpopulation is bogus, just have a gander at Hans Rosling’s Ted talk “Religions and Babies” which disproves it in fancy, high-tech fashion in a Swedish accent.
“Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 9
This doesn’t mean, as many critics of the Church would have you believe, that you should be popping out babies every year. Of course, you do have to remain open to the will of God in your life, even in the bedroom, but you are called to be responsible in this as well. If you can’t responsibly bring a child into the world at this time, then you can refrain from sexual activity during the infertile period of your natural cycle (HV 15). (Look into Natural Family Planning for more information on this: IUseNFP.com.) That is why “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (HV 11), not because God wants to burden you with 14 kids, but because part of being fully human is being fully open to God’s plan for your life (HV 13).
The Proof is in the Prophecy
What I find most interesting about the Pope’s cautionary advisements on the topic of sex, specifically artificial birth control, is that it was written in the 60’s and has come to pass word-for-word. He prophesied that the acceptance of artificial birth control would have grave consequences.
Infidelity & Lowering of Morality
“How wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 17
Women Viewed as Sexual Objects
“It is also to feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 17
Governments Mandating Contraceptives
“Who will stop the rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious?”
~ Humanae Vitae, 17
Welcome to America.
Falling on Deaf Ears
Obviously, the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality, especially artificial birth control, is not an easy one to follow. Many people struggle to live up to these teachings and since they find them difficult to practice, have decided to outright ignore them (HV 20).
“It can be forseen that this teaching will perhaps not be easily received by all: Too numerous are those voices—amplified by the modern means of propaganda—which are contrary to the voice of the Church.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 18
Jesus was counter-cultural and as Christians, and even more so as Catholics, we are tasked with fighting the good fight in our culture that seeks to rob us of our human dignity.
He Challenges You
The Pope then proceeds to issue challenges to specific groups of people regarding their duties in response to this issue: teachers and educators (HV 22), rulers and public authorities (HV 23), doctors and scientists (HV 24 and 27), married couples (HV 25), priests (HV 28), bishops (HV 30), and to all people (HV 31).
“Man cannot find true happiness—towards which he aspires with all his being—other than in respect of the laws written by God in his very nature.”
~ Humanae Vitae, 31
All quotes and cross references are taken from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter “Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth” published Monday, 25 July 1968. You can read Humanae Vitae here or read it on your Kindle for free.