Conservative Colloquium

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What’s Wrong with the Phrase “Sex Life”

Posted by Tony Listi on February 3, 2011

I hate the phrase “sex life” and all the modern assumptions that lie behind it. Such a phrase elevates sex and sexual urges to a higher dignity than they deserves; the phrase reflects sexolatry. Some people act as if sexual urges were like hunger or thirst and thus need to be satisfied ASAP or else they will die or be miserable.

A person who overvalues sex will never be a truly happy person. Sex is an activity, not a “life,” and an activity that is not essential to human happiness and fulfillment. Happiness and fulfillment come from love, not regularly indulging sexual urges. Only to the extent that sex is loving does it contribute to true happiness and fulfillment. And sex is absolutely not the only form and manifestation of love.

A person may have a spiritual life, a work life, a social life, a married life (if called to marriage), and even a political life perhaps. For religion, work, society, marriage, and politics are no mere activities but very important elements of human life in general. It is natural and right that these aspects of life should require most of our personal time, attention, energy, and resources.

But for a person to have a “sex life” seems necessarily to imply lust and disorder. For sexual activity should be engaged in only within marriage, and sex, though an essential and the climactic element of married life, is still only one element of married life. For I would say that a marriage in which sex is the most dominant concern and feature of the relationship, to the point where the couple has a “sex life,” could not be a truly loving Christian marriage. It seems impossible to love your spouse when virtually your only or primary concern is when and how the next occasion for sex will be. I would also suspect that any such “sex life” would be short-lived, for an absence of love in a marriage will only lead to very painful suffering and heartache and thus to a situation in which neither wants to have sex with the other again.

Moreover, while sex within marriage can be loving, it isn’t necessarily loving just because the man and woman are married. Though sex is the ultimate act of marital love, it cannot be loving if the rest of married life, the non-sexual majority of married life, is unloving.

Thus, the phrase “sex life” is rarely used within the context of marriage for a variety of reasons. Rather, it is commonly used among young singles who have no moral qualms about premarital sex and some of whom will even engage in sexual activity on a weekly basis if not more often, whether casually or with a regular partner(s).

But to treat sex in this way, rather than as the fruit of married love, is actually to harm and degrade oneself and the other person. Paradoxically to some perhaps, the chaste who abstain from sex know the true value of sex and achieve the value it offers in only married life. For outside of marriage, sex is inherently unloving. Outside of the permanent commitment and union of marriage, sex is inherently an act of using the other person rather than an act of sacrifice, of truly giving oneself to the other person.

The purpose of the sexual act is to be an expression of Christ-like love toward one’s spouse. The love of Christ is fruitful, sacrificial, and joyful. That means the sexual act must be open to procreation, to the creation of a new human life, the primary fruit of marriage. And to deliberarely bring a child into the world is indeed to make a sacrifice of future time, attention, energy, and resources for the sake of the child and the spouse. Lastly, the sexual act should be one of joyful celebration. It should celebrate (and consummate) the love that should already exist between husband and wife. Yes, sex should be pleasurable (otherwise, you’re doing something wrong, haha). But love is a cause for joy, not mere pleasure. The natural physical pleasure of sex should complement the joyful celebration of marital love. But to have pleasure without joy is worse than pain itself. And to take joy in the wrong things is to be a miserable creature.

The truth that sex has specific divinely-sanctioned purposes and yet at the same time is completely unessential to human fulfillment is a truly Christian insight, one that is most firmly upheld and defended in Catholicism with its strict doctrines with regard to sex. Virginity and celibacy are given their due honor only in the Catholic Church, which alone has eunuchs who purposefully embrace celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God. Sex too is given its due honor only in the Catholic Church because of its steadfast prohibition of contraception.

26 Responses to “What’s Wrong with the Phrase “Sex Life””

  1. Justin said

    I respect you for not only taking a firm stand on sexual mores, but for providing some theological rationale for the regulation. Sadly, this is far too lacking in Christian discourse. I do wish, however, you would extend a bit more charity towards those of us who are not Roman Catholic. Personally, I doubt very much whether:

    “Virginity and celibacy are given their due honor ONLY in the Catholic Church, which ALONE has eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God. Sex too is given its due honor ONLY in the Catholic Church…”

    • foospro86 said

      Thank you for your respect.

      However, I believe I’m speaking the truth when it comes to virginity, celibacy, and contraception. And it is not an act of charity to refrain from speaking the truth, though it may be prudent in certain circumstances. If you disagree with me, you are free to explain to me why you think I’m wrong and you are right. But do not accuse anyone of being uncharitable merely for speaking what they believe to be the truth and what needs to be heard. St. Paul was not uncharitable when he condemned the heresies of certain people in his letters to Titus and Timothy.

      Where are the eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom outside of the Catholic Church? I don’t see them.

      Where are the churches outside of the Catholic Church who have the fullness of truth with regard to sexuality?

      • Justin said

        At base, I am questioning your claim to have the “fullness of truth.” As I understand 1 Corinthians 13, that is not something that any of us will have prior to the Eschaton.

        As to the presence of eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom outside of the Catholic Church, I’m quite sure there are others. What about Orthodox monks? Additionally, I am a member of the Churches of Christ–not a group particularly known for its exaltation of the single life, and yet even in my fellowship I know individuals who have freely chosen to embrace the single life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

      • foospro86 said

        The fullness of truth was given to the original apostles: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Jn 16:13
        And the apostles passed that truth onto their successors in both the oral and written Word.

        I hate it when yall quote 1 Cor 13:12 to rationalize your fallibilism. That whole chapter is about love. In that verse, St. Paul is talking about the End of Time when Jesus will reign and what that will be like. He refers to it in order to illustrate the eternity and power of love compared to other spiritual gifts like prophecy. He isn’t talking about his own apostolic authority with regard to true doctrine (or the authority of the other apostles).
        The Catholic Church does not know all things, but it knows all true Christian doctrines and infallibly so.

      • foospro86 said

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  3. Von said

    Well I, for one, would certainly disagree that “Sex too is given its due honor ONLY in the Catholic Church”… in fact I would say the opposite… that sex is largely treated as an evil by the Catholic church.

    We certainly can agree on the problematic (read sinful) nature of sex… indeed all relationships outside of the marriage covenant which go beyond the Biblical ‘brother and sister’. However I personally don’t find the phrase ‘sex life’ problematical within that covenant. It mirrors the phrase ‘home life’ which could be taken wrongly (all of life should, in the end, be ‘home life’ shouldn’t it?) but still communicates.

    The Song of Solomon is a wonderful celebration of what a married couple’s ‘sex life’ should be. I would use another term but I didn’t see where Tony provided us with one.

    • Tony Listi said

      The Catholic Church has never treated sex as an evil. Never has, never will. I don’t appreciate you repeating absurd lies by those who falsely mock and/or hate the Catholic Church.

      The origin and use of the phrase “sex life” are outside of the marriage covenant perspective.

      • von said

        Actually I was referring to your comments on the other thread.

      • Tony Listi said

        I have never treated sex as an evil. However, early Church fathers have said that the priesthood, including the offices of bishop and pope, are not consonant with sexual intercourse/begetting children. And this is clearly reasonable.

        The priest, bishop, and pope already has spiritual children to attend to. Indeed, all the apostles refrained from sexual intercourse during their ministry. They could not devote their lives to having and caring for more biological children; Jesus called them to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which they were called to spread as apostles.

        But of course, I already know your arbitrary and flawed interpretation of 1 Cor 7:5-6. No need to repeat them here.

  4. Von said

    >>Some people act as if sexual urges were like hunger or thirst

    Like, say, Solomon:

    1I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

    15Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. 16Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. 17Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. 18Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 19Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

    • Tony Listi said

      It’s one thing for sexual urges to feel like hunger and thirst to people, but it’s quite another thing to act upon them as if they were merely like hunger and thirst.

      Those who make themselves “eunuchs for the sake fo the kingdom” are not immune to sexual urges.

      • von said

        Not sure your point then.

        Solomon treated the sexual acts, including the urges, I suppose, as if ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ metaphors were very appropriate. Like any other hunger or thirst, these need to be acted on correctly: at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, etc.

        However like physical hunger and thirst they, in their proper context, need to be seen as gifts from God, and rejoiced in.

        I have read that physical Eunuchs, while they have a hugely reduced sex drive, are still able to have coitus: if fruitlessly. I cannot speak for those who have been given the spiritual gift of celibacy; I have never met one.

      • Tony Listi said

        Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God are called not to act on any of their sexual urges at all. The sex drive may be quite appropriately compared to hunger and thirst within the married state, but not for the unmarried and especially not those called to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.
        That’s my point.

        Physical eunuchs is NOT what Jesus is referring to in the gospel of Matthew. This is clear because He distinguishes between different types of eunuchs (from birth, those made so = physical). While a reduced sex drive may certainly be helpful for the one called to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom, it is not necessary; what it most necessary is the discipline to control one’s urges and prudently avoid provoking those urges.

  5. Von said

    There is something wrong with the grammar in the following sentence:

    >>the chaste who abstain from sex know the true value of sex and achieve the value it offers in only married life.

    I get it (I disagree, but I get it) up to ‘true value of sex’. But the rest of the sentence is wildly ungrammatical. Do you mean, “and achieve the value that it (sex) offers otherwise only to married people.”? IE that only chaste and married people achieve the true value of sex?

    • Tony Listi said

      Wildly ungrammatical? My grammar is not that bad. Sex only offers value within married life. “the value that it offers only in married life”

      • von said

        So you agree with my ‘otherwise’? IE that the true value of sex is known only to the chaste and to the married?

        If so I would simply say that only the married know the true value of sex; that what the unmarried and chaste know is the value of chastity. Different.

      • Tony Listi said

        It is quite possible to know the true value of sex without ever engaging in it, without practically achieving its value in one’s own life. The lovingly married and the chaste unmarried can both know the true value of sex, even though the former achieves or obtains that value in practice and the latter does not.

  6. Von said

    >>The purpose of the sexual act is to be an expression of Christ-like love toward one’s spouse.

    A nice statement, but where to you get it? How would you disagree with someone who said something different? How about ‘the purpose of the sexual act is to reflect the oneness of the married couple, a oneness that in itself reflects the oneness of the Church with Christ.’ (Eph 5 and other verses)

    Or, ‘the purpose of the sexual act is to bind the couple together so that the man will not be ‘alone’ when fulfilling the dominion mandate’. (Gen 2)

    Or, ‘the purpose of the sexual act in marriage is to help the married couple avoid the temptation of fornication’ (I Cor 7:1-9)

    • Tony Listi said

      Love encompasses all good and true things. My statement comes from Eph 5.

      Love necessarily includes union (“oneness”). Heaven is union with the Trinity.

      Is a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom alone? Are you saying that the unmarried are alone? The purpose of marriage is not to abolish loneliness. That is a secondary benefit of marriage.

      Paul’s words there should not be taken at face value. What a poor and unloving marriage is one that is *merely* meant to save the man and woman from fornication! It is quite possible for a married couple to engage in sexual intercourse in a sinful manner, a selfish manner that uses the spouse’s body rather than loves it as the visible manifestation of the person. So just because marriage may preclude the sin of fornication doesn’t mean that it precludes other deadly sins that lead to hell. Just because marriage may preclude the sin of fornication doesn’t mean that lust within marriage is impossible. It is true that marriage is meant to teach man and woman to love each other, to avoid lust.

  7. Von said

    >>The truth that sex has specific divinely-sanctioned purposes and yet at the same time is completely unessential to human fulfillment is a truly Christian insight,

    Not sure what ‘human fulfillment’ means (not being at all a Scriptural term) but other than that, huh? If sex has a God given purpose then, at least for those who are called to engage in it (read: husbands and wives) then their engaging in it must, by definition ‘fulfill’ that purpose, no?

    If all you are saying is that not every human being is called to engage in sex then that is not a uniquely Christian idea. I believe you could find hundreds of cults and religions that make such claims.

    • Tony Listi said

      I didn’t use a Scriptural term because I assumed by audience would not be Christian. You should try it some time, haha.

      Well, let’s suppose that for some reason (perhaps world war or some hypothetical separation of the sexes) those who are called to marriage are unable to marry and consummate their marriage. Are such people lacking in human fulfillment? No. For human fulfillment comes only from a relationship with God, though relationships with God’s children (both erotic and friendly) naturally follow from that most important relationship. Relationships with other human beings contribute to human fulfillment only to the extent that they are founded upon and participate in a relationship with God (and with His institutional Church, which He intended to initiate, nurture, and mediate that relationship in a variety of ways).

      Yes, there may be some minor cults or religions that happen to agree with the Catholic Church (like you happening to agree with the Church on contraception), but no other major religion/church really takes the idea of celibacy, of “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” seriously. Protestant eunuchs in the biblical/Matthean sense are nowhere to be found. Sure, some eastern religions may advocate celibacy for human fulfillment, but that’s because they don’t really believe in the idea of individual human fulfillment, strictly speaking.

      • von said

        >>Are such people lacking in human fulfillment? No.

        Yes. But then we all are. We cannot all fulfill all of the God given roles. I may be a husband, but I cannot be a wife. I may have been a missionary, but I may never be an elder, perhaps. I may or may not be a grandfather, I will never be a grandmother.

        Each of us can only fulfill so many aspects of everything that God has created humans to be.

        Since you are now talking to a Christian, perhaps you could define, in Biblical terms, what you mean by ‘human fulfillment’? If you are using the Christian definition I list above (ie what God has created humans to be) then each human being can never reach full fulfillment for two reasons:
        1) No human being (including Christ) can ever have fulfilled each and every possible human role.
        2) No human being (except Christ) can ever have flawlessly (ie sinlessly and with full understanding) fulfilled even the human roles that they were given by God.

        That said, I guess I both agree and disagree with your underlying point. All human actions, to be God honoring, have to fulfill the first commandment (Love God): they have to be done for the glory of God. That said, many of those actions involve humans… they are part of the subsidiary second commandment to love our neighbor.

        I do not think it is wrong for me to say, to the chaste unmarried man, that he is ‘missing something’. A wife, and sex with that wife, is a good thing. That said, it may be (I don’t believe it usually is, as you know, but I do acknowledge a few exceptions) that lacking that good thing (and gaining other good things instead) is what God has in mind for him, and thus is the higher fulfillment of his ‘loving God’. You and I would (dramatically) differ on exactly who (and how many) that involves, but I can agree that they exist. I believe, personally, that Daniel was one. Of course, I think he was also a physical eunuch.

      • Tony Listi said

        Human fulfillment is loving and being loved according to our vocation. Sure, it won’t be perfect and full fulfillment here on earth. Heaven is perfect fulfillment.

        The chaste unmarried man certainly lacks the good things that come specifically and naturally from a loving marriage. But to automatically say that he, as a man, is missing something essential to happiness or the Christian life is false. Perhaps one could say this of a man if we knew for certain that his vocation was to married life.

        I believe that Christian men should not compromise their faith (or future children’s faith) or put it in danger just to get married. Men should be picky in choosing wives and put their spiritual life first in making that decision.

  8. von said

    >>I didn’t use a Scriptural term because I assumed by audience would not be Christian. You should try it some time, haha.

    I don’t find Christ, Paul, Peter or the like ever engaging in this exercise. I find it much more helpful to use, and then teach, the Biblical term; rather than using a worldly term that the world has filled with blasphemy. The word in question, for example, has been frequently stripped of any Biblical underpinning and filled with a variety of blasphemous ideas. Many would say, for example (to play upon one of our agreements) that contraception and child-murder are vital to ‘human fulfillment’. (The ACOG recently came out with an ‘ethics’ document which made exactly that point.)

    Better, I believe, to use the Biblical language… which, while it too may be blasphemed against, at least has the rock of the word underlying it as a bedrock. Thus your statement would become (and I believe that even non-Christians would understand this language):

    The truth that sex has specific divinely-sanctioned purposes and yet at the same time is completely unessential to [Loving God and loving our neighbor] is a truly Christian insight,

    They might, as I do, quibble over the words ‘completely unessential’ as lacking logical consistency with the phrase ‘divinely-sanctioned purposes’… but they would understand your language.

    Thus, my conclusion:
    1) For those who God has called to sexual intercourse or any other sexual act: that intercourse is vital to loving God; and a failure to do so is disobedience to God, and a failure to love God or our neighbor correctly.
    2) To those who God has not called to sexual intercourse or any other sexual act (and this includes all acts of Sodomy of any sort, all fornication, all adultery, etc.: refraining from those acts is vital to loving God; and a failure to do so is disobedience to God, and a failure to love God or our neighbor correctly.

    You and I would disagree as to who falls into those categories, perhaps, but we can agree on those two statement, no? Without any reference to ‘human fulfillment’??

    • Tony Listi said

      You need to read the book of Acts. Paul appeals to pagan religion in Acts 17:22-34. Moreover, Paul says that he becomes “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) for the sake of spreading the gospel. Have the humility to meet people where they are, and often that means refraining from Bible-thumping and Bible-quoting. You will evangelize more effectively that way.

      Marriage/sexual intercourse is not essential to the Christian life. It a vocation that some are called to and some are not. Christ Himself, our Supreme Example for holy living, was never married. I think Protestants should meditate upon that fact.

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