The word "sex," ambiguous as it is in English, comes probably from the Latin verb secare, to cut. It's an image of the human situation, too often cleaved by the otherness that men perceive in women and vice versa. The Priestly writers and editors, to whom Jesus makes reference in his most specific commentary on marriage ("Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'," Matt. 19:4) understood this common belief, and wished to suggest a way forward. Editing Genesis by putting their newer creation story first, they then went on to paste an older, Yahwistic account:

This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called "woman," for out of "her man" this one has been taken. That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. (Gen. 2: 23-24)

The message is this: "Look, God made both men and women. We're painfully aware of how different we are, and yet even in spite of that difference there's something we share that makes us unlike any other animals. We are human beings together, and together we can build a good world."

The creation stories end with a compelling line: "The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame" (Gen. 2: 25). The task of the good society, the Priestly writers suggest to us, is for men and women to see each other not as competitors, but cooperators: to leverage sexual desire toward reconciliation, in order to inoculate the society against the potential violence that explodes from unrestrained sex.

Read more from Tim Muldoon's series on Sex and Christianity.

  1. Part 1: Sex and Christianity
  2. Part 3: Two Sexual Myths
  3. Part 4: My Kind of Feminism
  4. Part 5: Why Are Catholics Obsessed With Sex?