The Ends of Sex

Andy asks a common question (with the normal larding of flippant rhetoric): “If a married couple has intercourse during the woman’s non-fertile period (which is the bulk of the month, for those not in the know), there is no chance for procreation. No future Popes will be popping out of the oven as a result. How is this different from masturbation? After all, the focus becomes pleasure – worldly, stained, delightfully sinful pleasure.”

Um, it’s different from masturbation because it’s *with* your spouse. (I am assuming, for the sake of this discussion, conjugal relations since all other forms of sex are sinful.)

Why are all other forms sinful? Not because they are pleasurable. If pleasure is intrinsically sinful (a position closer to gnosticism or Lake Wobegonism, than to Catholic belief) then pleasure in conjugal sex is sinful, which is dumb. Scripture (a book you should really get to know better before writing it off), has a whole book devoted to the pleasure of eros: the Song of Songs. So please, enough with the “pleasure=sin” stuff. There is nothing sinful about pleasure per se. God invented pleasure. What is sinful is the exaltation of pleasure above the proper ends of marriage, which are union, fruitfulness, and the healing, exaltation, and perfection of the spouses. If your sex life consists of *using* your spouse as an apparatus or a fantasy aid for mental sex with some other woman in order to get to an orgasm, then there’s a problem. If your sex act is a joyful expression of love for your spouse then you are seeking the legitimate end of union, not doing something illegitimate. Contrary to the notion underlying your question, the marital act should be open to life, but it is not necessary that every such be calculated to maximize the chance of pregnancy. Once again, it’s *God* who invented the infertile periods. All we do is cooperate with them. What is wrong is to deliberately *thwart* nature by making the fertile periods infertile. It’s the difference between losing weight by not eating (which is cooperation with nature) and losing weight by gorging ourselves on food for the taste and then sticking our fingers down our throats in a Roman vomitorium (which is thwarting the natural end of eating called “nutrition” to exalt the pleasure of taste). A legitimate end of both food and sex is pleasure. But it’s not the main end. When we make pleasure the main end and a *greater* end than either union or fruitfullness in sex, (or nutrition and the conviviality of the table in eating), we are distorting things. (Eating, by the way, is perhaps an even greater sacramental activity than sex since it is the means whereby we participate in the Blessed Sacrament.)