Note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
This is part 7 of the series, and we’ll reflect on what it means that married love is unitive and procreative, and also look at the deeper meaning of sex and the good of friendship.
“Every time we make love…we’re making life…giving life…It’s not just sex…I come alive, and there’s a sense of forever in that.”
While not every husband may put into words what Josh expressed, Josh is speaking about more than just personal experience. He’s getting at the deeper meaning of sex, of conjugal love, the love between husband and wife. The unique bond of spousal love is itself life-giving. This is what the Church means by the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act. [i]
The Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual difference is deeply connected with her teaching on sex itself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2360), “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion.” Human sexuality in the context of marriage is an organic, holistic reality. Sex is both procreative and unitive, meaning that sex can lead to new life and unite the spouses. [ii]
How about we go deeper: Within the context of marriage, these three elements, sexual difference, spousal love, and natural procreation (fruitfulness), work together. [iii] A husband and wife’s love for each other directs their sexual energies exclusively toward their spouse. Spouses’ sexual activity brings them closer together, and may result in a child whom they both love. The child is equally the child of both husband and wife, now father and mother. And when these elements are together and respected, the child is welcomed as a gift. Also, as expressed by Josh and Carrie in their openness to life, married love is still called to be fruitful even without the blessing of a child. [iv]
The modern alternative to the Church’s teaching is that sex is a private recreational activity, that it may be deliberately made sterile and has no moral or social significance. In this view, it is “perfectly proper” to disconnect sex from marriage, from procreation and even from love. Sexual difference becomes reduced to a superficial and arbitrary social construct. The modern world teaches that we can have sex without babies, have babies without sex, and have either without any connection with one’s husband or wife. The modern world considers these legitimate expressions of our independence and freedom.
This downgrading of the sexual act to immediate pleasure, rather than the true and complete union of two persons, man and woman, has gone hand in hand with the increasing isolation between men and women. Sex in the context of marriage creates deep and meaningful connection between the sexes. But in modern society, sex is often focused on the self and on personal pleasure, rather than on mutual self-giving. In this context where sex is detached from marriage, sex ceases to be a union of anything, but rather simply and exclusively an occasion for mutual stimulation. Sexual acts performed with these attitudes do not create a union of persons but deter such a union. Instead of being a couple who give to each other, objectively the people are a pair of individuals who take from each other.
In this context as well, authentic and holy friendship, a good for all people, has suffered and has been devalued. The heroic recovery of the inseparable connection between chastity and true, virtuous friendship is needed today.
- “We were made for each other, as a man and a woman.”
- “That connection…to be authentic, it has to be the whole person.”
- “Making love and having children…that depends on our difference.”
- “That’s why it’s unique to a man and a woman.”
- “It’s not just about biology…”
- “We share a common humanity, but our sexual differences are essential to who we are.”