Contraception, Part II
Our look at the moral theology of contraception continues.
Therefore, if we accept that sex is the necessary physical element of this divinely ordained self-giving reflection of God by man, we can begin to draw some concrete and logical conclusions about it.
I) Sex is not self-centered; it is not, and cannot ever be, about me. It has to be about my spouse, about my act of giving of myself.
II) Sex is not about pleasure. It is pleasurable, and it was created as such by God, but that is one of its qualities, not its purpose. Pleasure is inward-looking, self-centered – the same things we just established sex isn’t. God has attached pleasure to things that are good and necessary for us to do: eating, sleeping, having sex, etc. But God attached that pleasure to these things because He intended life to be joyful and to encourage us to do them because they were good; they aren’t good because they are pleasurable. We’re supposed to derive pleasure from sex, and that’s not precluded by this point or its giving nature. But we do need to remember that sex, like any other human action, has pleasure as a quality, not a purpose.
III) Sex is appropriate only in the context of a permanent relationship: marriage. Because it is a reflection of God’s eternal – and therefore very permanent – self-giving love, it would be entirely inappropriate, and entirely inaccurate, for us to attempt to reflect that love in any kind of transitory or impermanent fashion. As a temporal being, I can’t match God’s perpetual and eternal love: but I can bind myself to the utmost of my capacity, I can have permanence in my love, even if I can’t have perpetuity.
IV) Sex is appropriate only in instances in which its mutually self-giving quality is fully expressed – God’s love has no reservations, holds nothing back, and has no barriers. Therefore, our loving imitation of that love shouldn’t either.
So that’s brought us quite definitively to sex itself. So let’s start into this section by asking, “what, exactly, is sex?” We might think we know the answer, but it’s actually worth looking at. The soul’s side to sex has been outlined above – marriage has a sacramental, spiritual side, of course. The physical side, for our purposes, requires a very precise and slightly graphic definition: the deposition, through the conjugal act, of seminal fluid in the “appropriate receptacle” of a woman.
So right away we can eliminate things like in vitro as not actual sex: no conjugal act.
Also, we can exclude from being sex all non-coital acts: no deposition and no conjugal act, either. As a note, nobody’s outlawing foreplay, but these sorts of activities aren’t sex, and should not be used to take the place of the sexual act itself. There’s a reason it’s called “foreplay.”
Third, and this is the one that will surprise people, we have to exclude anything involving condoms: this can’t be real sex. It has a conjugal act, but there’s no deposition. It renders the sexual act impotent, thus frustrating its very purpose and nullifying it. Thus, we lump condomistic sex with non-coital sexual acts in the category that some have termed “psuedo-sex.”
So let’s backtrack for a second now: we know what sex is, but what is it for? We’ve discussed the theological importance of sex, and we’ll need to bear that in mind, but sex has practical purposes as well, which can be summarized as “babies and bonding” – sex is for reproduction, and sex is for married persons to share and express their bond of love. You need to have these two elements, the procreative and the unitive, to have rightly-ordered sex. You might technically have a full sexual act while frustrating one of these elements (rape and contraception are the two standard respective examples), but it won’t be good sex. What you have then is more akin to Bullemia, where someone forcibly extirpates the nourishing quality of eating while maintaining some of the other qualities in its nature.So we have a seamless garment, in which the these unitive and procreative natures are interwoven. And together, they form what is really just the opposite side of the self-giving-image-of-God nature of sex. These are just two ways of describing the same reality, and they both entail the same things and they have the same prerequisites.