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February 23, 2004

Sexual Corruption

In part because of a blog post by Oswald Sobrino, I've been thinking about the spiritual consequences of sex. Specifically, I mean the mirror attitudes that "it's just sex" and that sex can be spiritually rewarding, from which often follows the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church (among other prudes) makes way too much of it.

Certainly, one could argue that the Church only seems to elevate it above many other sins because it is an area in which religious tradition jars painfully against modern mores. In our times, particularly, sex happens to be an activity that people seem inclined to defend, even at the expense of faith. It is often clear, at least to me, where those who most strenuously argue that the Church should change its teachings have become perfect examples, themselves, of the reason it should not. Their religion has become more of a New Age naturalism, and when they refer to the spiritual benefits of sex, they're more likely to characterize it as a gift of "our nature" than of God — even if they believe themselves to be devoted Christians.

Explication of this corruption of faith, however, is of limited utility in a world so far gone. Moreover, even I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the government ought to legislate explicitly so as to diminish neo-paganism. It is a blessing, therefore, that we for whom that actually is a goal find the very same corruption at work in a more social context.

The stages that follow overlap, within an individual and across society. To the extent that they represent a continuous trend, they won't all take the same amount of time to resolve to the next step. But I think the list gives some sort of structure to the logical progression of sexual corruption.

First, the glass onion is thrown up, peeling on the way:

  1. Couples acknowledge that the ultimate purpose of sex is procreation and ought only to be had within marriage. They do, however, make use of the natural patterns of the women's fertility to keep some form of control over the rate of their families' growth. But even by the very strategy through which they seek to avoid conception, through their awareness, they affirm the central purpose of sex. Moreover, they affirm their mutual empathy, and the sex, open to procreation, is unitive, including the romance and even the foreplay. At worst, conception is an accident for which they must take responsibility within a family already ideally suited for children. This is the current position of the Catholic Church, as I understand it and as I believe it ought to be.
  2. Reasoning that their timing strategy essentially enables sex without procreative intent, and seeking to limit unanticipated childbearing, the spouses see little reason not to use contraception. To some degree, for some methods, this introduces a risk of very-early abortion, but not always, not for sure, and not by intent. Nonetheless, deny it or not, the difference between timing pitches and putting up a wall is the separation of the target from the throw. Sex separates from procreation. Worse still, any resulting children aren't accidental gifts, but outright errors — failures for which, not the parents, but the contraceptives are responsible.
  3. Since there's very little chance, and zero intent, that sperm will connect with egg, the method and location of orgasm becomes moot. Even used as intended, the parts are merely engaged in a sort of mutual masturbation, so there's no reason not to vary their usage. The objective continues to be, after all, the connection and expression of intimate love.
  4. But now the location makes a larger leap. Since sex is starting to be seen as just a exchange of pleasure, and since the likely need for family arrangements that allow for unexpected children is greatly diminished, marriage is no longer a prerequisite. Sex separates from marriage. Worse, not only are errors the fault of the contraceptives, but the parents are not prepared for the responsibility. Moreover, the lessened profundity of the act makes the consequence seem an unfair punishment.
  5. At this point, sex needn't be within marriage, and it needn't involve the type of sex that can result in children. The complementary parts, no longer being treated as necessarily complementary in any real sense, become unnecessary. A member of one's own sex can, after all, assist in sodomy. Sex separates from gender.

This is about where our culture is right now, although we are rushing toward the next stage, at which the glass onion begins to fall back down:

  1. To the extent that marriage is seen as just a committed relationship in which to have more meaningful non-procreative sex, same-sex couples begin to claim a right to it. The benefits that they desire are not only within their relationship, of course, but social as well. If a straight sibling can get married with no set intention to have children, why should the gay sibling be deprived of mom's gleaming look while passing the string beans along with the question, "When are you two going to get serious?" Marriage, in this view, is essentially about an emotional bond between two adults, so why should homosexuals be excluded from the social approval that results from taking that step?
  2. But there's still a difference. The married straight sibling makes mom positively beam over the honey-dipped carrots with an announcement of pending parent-(and, therefore, grandparent)-hood. Part of marriage is, after all, the shared responsibility of parenthood and the deepening of family ties that comes with being at the start of a new branch. So now adoption becomes a necessity, and to the extent that gay couples aren't discriminated against in the adoption process (and who would think to do such a thing?) children are deprived of the experience of having either a mother or a father — by design.
  3. But there's still a difference. The child is still distinct from the parents. For this, there's the simple solution of IVF or a surrogate mother or father; either way, the child is something to be made for its parents. In an echo of the introduction of contraception into sex, we see the introduction of other people — by contract — into the childbearing process. And in the case of IVF, it involves the creation of dozens of doomed lives.
  4. But there's still a difference. Grandma can't hold the child lovingly and attribute its eyes to parent 1 and its nose to parent 2. The child doesn't unify the parents; they can't revel in the blending together of their two selves. Who, then, could deny this loving — and married — couple access to cloning technology? What ethical walls could stand in the way of the research required to perfect it?

I'm sure there are a substantial number of people — particularly among those who read the Internet regularly — who would have no problem with any innovation up to and including cloning. From there, who can guess the next step? Would a married couple requesting the pill for the first time have believed anybody loony enough to suggest that gay marriage — let alone cloning — would be the result? Whether folks in the Sixties had reason or capability to see it, the trend is coded, so to speak, in the intial steps of the liberalization of sexual morality, with the innovation of contraception.

My suspicion is that society won't get as far as pushing cloning specifically for the benefit of gay parents (even if that is one excuse put forward). To reach that point, every "conservative" argument for gay marriage must pan out. In all likelihood, the cultural link between parenthood and marriage would fade just as the cultural link between sex and marriage and the biological link between sex and childbearing faded before it. And no matter the ethical qualms one might have with the smashing glass onion, the dissolution of marriage and the norms that it protects would in no way represent a silver lining.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 23, 2004 12:37 AM

Bad link to Oswald?

Posted by: ELC at February 23, 2004 11:40 AM

Yup. I've fixed it. Thanks for alerting me to the error.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 23, 2004 12:01 PM