Yes, Every Sperm is Sacred!

Dear Hubby and I are still off looking at pumpkin farms and seeking out some quiet. This is a rather controversial subject that I’ve decided to put up while I’m not around to hear anyone’s screams.

Every Sperm is Sacred,Originally posted August 04, 2005, and tidied up a bit, here

Got an interesting email from another blogger, a fairly new Catholic, who is having a little trouble believing something. He writes:

…some people on my blog suggested that every ejaculation had to hit the target, so to speak….meaning, umm, no completed oral tasks, for example.

I am quite sure hardly anyone knows about the “every sperm is sacred” rule or thinks it is still valid – I hadn’t known that some insist every sperm had to umm “hit the target” – certainly no one in RCIA mentioned that – it would have sent people running. Are there any other Christians who’d demand every sperm find its way? I never knew that Monty Python song was correct! I can’t believe the Church today would get into such over-regulation?

I am sharing this with you because I am sure this fellow is not the only one confused out there. I am surely no spokesperson for the church, for that matter, I’m not even an “expert,” in this subject; many know much more than I do. I am only a Catholic laywoman who has thought long and hard about all of this – as many of us Catholic laywomen have! As such, I can tell you what my own understanding is, and it may help some who just dismiss the stance of the Church as utter nonsense.

The teaching, first off, is not – specifically – “every sperm is sacred,” although, it must be said, when you’re talking sperm and ova you are talking about essences – our essential selves, which are derived from the deepest parts of our beings, and you are talking about the material which was designed specifically for the purpose of assisting God in the creation of humanity.

God loves us into being – we are begotten. Our creation is no accident, but the Love of God made manifest, and the “tools” or “materials” that He uses for that creation – committed love and the mysterious and miraculous products of that love – do, simply by their designation as “tools of God” demand a certain respect and recognition, because they are a great deal more than the equivalent of nasal mucous or earwax. They are the essentials of human creation, within us but as remote and mysterious as stardust, and therefore they are of staggering value and import. In THAT sense, yes, every sperm is sacred.

Buddhists understand this, and so do Taoists. They, particularly Taoists, will go out of their way not to “waste” their seed or their sexual energy, because they understand how powerful it is, what a pure force is contained within that material, and within that energy. Mystics from pretty much all traditions will tell you that the energy and product of one’s sexuality, if treated with respect and conservation, contributes to their overall mental and spiritual well-being. Somehow, when the wisdom comes from the East, people go, “ooooh, wise and mystical!” When the same wisdom comes from the West, they say, “ooooh, repressive, obsessive and mean!”

If you are only going to consider sperm and egg as by-products of humanity and human sexuality, you’re never going to understand what it is the church is trying to say. If you accept that they are more than mere by-products but literally these “Divine Materials,” then the teaching becomes much more accessible.

As to the teaching that every sex act must “hit the target,” (that’s a rather, errr, colorful way to put it), it simply means that every sex act, if it is truly to be respectful of God’s design and creation, must be opened to the possibility of new life, to God and to His will as to whether or not new life will be created. If the couple is NOT open to that possibility, if they take steps to suppress that possibility, then they have – essentially – excluded God from the act.

It is, really, kind of an ultimate surrender, an ultimate trust. For Christians who routinely say, “Thy Will Be Done,” it is where the rubber meets the road. No pun intended.

This is how I related it to a Protestant emailer who was rationalizing the use of birth control as something that “if God really wants to, he can overcome [the pill or the condom] because he is God.” He wrote:

Here’s the thing … I don’t agree that using a condom or spermicide “actively precludes” God’s involvement in your life. As I said earlier, a condom or a spermicide is a paltry obstacle to the One who spoke the Heavens into existence. He can and has intervened in that way many times.

Yes, I understand his point. But that is a fast bit of rationalization – I know because when I was younger, I subscribed to pretty much the same notion. “You’re God, you can do anything, so if you really want me to have a baby, you’ll make that happen even if I’m using a spermicide, a condom and taking the pill…”

All true…but that’s not surrendering. It is barricading oneself in but with an overall view of “well, if the fortress is breached, I’ll sign the treaty!”

Surrender – “not my will but thine be done” – is the ultimate goal. It comes with an open door, not a barricade, or it is no surrender, at all.

Yes, it’s a difficult thing to communicate to people. Some accept it, some don’t. I don’t judge anyone, because I’ve walked the whole walk, myself, to my everlasting regret.

What one must keep in mind is that what the church is putting forth is an ideal, and one that is absolutely worth striving toward. And that’s part of the job of the church, to teach and inform us as to what the ideals are, and in this case, the ideal is that we humans remain open to the will of God, in all circumstances.

That’s a tall order, and one that we cannot possibly meet without Grace. But the church does understand that we, in our imperfect humanity and willfulness, may not meet that ideal – it tells us that there is no way we can even begin to meet the ideal if we are not at least trying to, if we’re not asking God’s help and grace in doing so.

Nevertheless, if the church did not put forth the ideal, and teach the narrower, but more obedient path, it would be terribly, sinfully remiss in its teaching; it would basically be telling people not to bother to strive for perfection in our openness to God’s will because “it’s not possible.” A fatalist message is never a good one, particularly when Jesus tells us in the Gospel that “…with God nothing is impossible.” (Mark 10:27)

One of the jobs of the church is to help us find our openness to God – to help us to maintain that openness to His will, so that we might reach our own best and highest spiritual potential; we are not called to dwell in darkness but to live in the light, and in holiness. We are called to holiness: “Be holy as my Father in heaven is Holy.”

Holiness is not something that we can compartmentalize.
If we are holy, it is a permeation of our entire being, and our holiness will be reflected in all that we do, in our every action and choice, and the path to holiness begins with an openness to God, in whom we live and move and have our being. If holiness is our quest, there can then be no limits to our openness.

This is not a difficult thing to understand, at all. It is difficult in practice, but the church is not here to baby us along and make the roads wide and smooth. Christ told us the way is narrow, and not easy. What was it Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Quite right.

So, you see – the church has no choice but to teach this truth, even in a season of sneering disregard and mockery. The truth is we are not all little gods but creatures of the One God, who wishes to bring us back to him. The Way back has been made known, and the church has the duty to keep pushing us along the road, knowing we would rather take the easy way, knowing we’ll look for shortcuts, knowing we will sometimes step off the path and say, “it’s too hard…” The church has no choice – she must teach it.

How we receive this information and how we apply it to our lives depends entirely on our own choices, on our own determination of whether or not the quest for holiness is worth the giving up of our own sensibilities and our own feeling of control.

But control is often an illusion. How many people do you know who used the pill, used a condom, were diligent in their birth control and STILL got pregnant? It happens all the time. Because the products of our human sexuality contain enormous power – power too many of us simply do not appreciate. And God will do what He will, sometimes, whether you’re open to it or not, in hopes that you WILL become open, and more open, to his loving gifts.

If you look in scripture you will never see a baby referred to as anything but a blessing from God. But we live in an age where things are topsy-turvy, and we often mistake our blessings for chains and our chains for blessings.

ALL OF THIS supposes fertility, of course. The church understands and respects nature – sooner or later fertility ends, that does not mean sex ends. One of the common misunderstandings is that “the church says sex must always and only be about procreation, and if it’s not possible, then sex is a sin.” This is nonsense. Sex is the gift and privilege of married couples, both pleasurable and procreative. When fertility has come to an end, when the possibility of new life is no longer there, that means the procreation part has ended, not the pleasure. And please remember, folks, what I am trying to communicate here is what I have come to understand through my reading and talking with priests, etc. I’m no expert.

Update: I’d like to point out that I am in no way suggesting that people should simply “do their own thing because the ideal is too hard.” I am not saying “wink, wink, the church teaches this but you aren’t expected to listen!”

Quite the contrary, I have tried to make the point that simply because this ideal is difficult is no reason NOT to ask for the Grace to be able to achieve it, and that Jesus himself tells us nothing is impossible with God’s help. If anyone does not comprehend my saying that, I would respectfully ask them to re-read what I have written.

I can’t believe I have to spell that out, but I guess I do.

Bottom line: I have never met a couple who committed to being open to life in every circumstance, who has not felt enormously blessed and upheld in that commitment. As one friend said to me, “this obedience has changed everything; the blessings do not stop.”

Hmmm…here’s a can o’ worms I shoulda kept closed! ;-)
Related: Self-Respect is not prudery.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • DaveW

    I am a bit surprised that Catholic teaching on this subject isn’t better understood. Any sexual act outside of marital sex that is open to new life is sinful. I mean, I understand that a lot of people don’t know and understand the teaching but if you are interested enough to think about it and comment it isn’t hard to “get”. It is also entirely logical and consistent with the theology the church teaches.

    I’m not saying it is easy mind you. In fact it is very, very hard. But it is simple, consistent and solid theologically.


    I wanted to post a couple pics Anchoress. For one thing, as you know I am a recent convert and I was a bit taken aback by the ‘ugly church art’ linked a while back, for another I was also surprised by the link to the article with the guy asserting that it was almost impossible to find a crucifix in a Catholic church in the U.S. So I wanted to post a couple pics of my parish church.

    Here’s a pic of our altar and the crucifix behind it. Sorry for the weak quality, I am not a photographer I just take pictures. :)

    I wanted this picture to show the stained glass but again I am not a photographer. I post it just to give you a feel for the look of the church. The trio of (very traditional) stained glass windows above depict the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Presentation. The windows were actually salvaged from our original church which is now a historic landmark over 150 years old.

    And here’s some straight up shameless Catholic pron of a baptism I attended yesterday after I went to reconciliation and Vigil Mass.

  • Sophist

    …and in this case, the ideal is that we humans remain open to the will of God, in all circumstances.

    A question: if a married woman has a condition that makes a pregnancy a very medically dangerous condition for her, is it wrong for her to, for instance, get a tubal ligation?

  • wondering

    Good question Sophist. God, apparently, has decided in His wisdom to give me cancer. My oncologist suggests highly that after my round of surgeries and possible chemo/radiation that I never get pregnant again as it may cause a recurrence of cancer. Not to mention the fact that I should not be pregnant during all the surgeries and radiation that is injected into me for tests as it would be deadly to a fetus.

    Should I refrain from using birth control given all this?

  • Married Tom

    My wife just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer and, as a measure since the prospect of ovarian cancer is about 40% for her given the genetic markers in her breast cancer, had her ovaries and tubes removed. Thus, obviously, the likelihood of pregnancy is now 0%. Does this mean all future sex with my wife of 20 years, who has borne me 4 wonderful children, is now sinful? Are we now supposed to live a celibate lifestyle, be sequestered in a sexless marriage for His will?

  • Marcy

    There are so many serious questions here. First, to Sophist and Wondering, I have a friend who is going through all of this right now and it is certainly not easy, but birth control and tubal ligation are not in line with church teaching because they are inherently sinful. Natural Family Planning is what is called for here and the best thing to do is to contact a good faithful priest, a good NFP doctor and also the Couple to Couple league. Here are some links that may help and I would contact them directly too:
    One More Soul

    Couple to Couple League

    Catholic Answers

    To contact them directly: link

    Pope Paul VI Institute (they treat medical problems)

    NFP Only Doctors

    Married Tom, I’m so sorry you and your wife have had to go through such a terrible time, but just because someone is no longer fertile does not mean a married couple cannot have sex. Of course, they can. Marital relations has both a procreative property and a unitive property. All the Lord asks of us is to be open to life. The fact that your wife is no longer fertile has no bearing on the unitive property, or what would couples do after menopause?

  • Robert

    I agree with DaveW: the Church’s teachings here are clear and logical. And very, very hard.

  • Nancy

    So about natural family planning … isn’t it intended to prevent conception, just like other forms of birth control? So why is it officially permitted to Catholics when other forms are officially forbidden? Certainly the result of using NFP is the same: limiting the number of children a couple has.

    I guess I don’t see the difference between using NFP and, say, using a condom/spermicide or the pill. It strikes me as being just another form of birth control, only harder to do correctly (and therefore potentially less reliable). If the intent and result are the same, both should be equally allowed or equally proscribed.