Sex is one of the most important human realities. Saint Thomas Aquinas ranks it with food. The pleasures of taste and touch are fundamental joys in human life, but they also create the possibility of the most serious sins.
We see this borne out as we recognize the seriousness of addictive behavior. Just think about how hard it is to overcome addiction to food, alcohol, or drugs.
The drive for sexual satisfaction is even more powerful because it engages our entire personalities. Perhaps because of its power and importance in our lives, sex gets a lot of attention, but not always in a good way.
This is especially true in the Church, where many Catholics identify sex with sin, or simply with “no.” This is unfortunate because our tradition has far more to say about sex than that.
Sex is holy; sex is a sacrament; sex is the way we participate in God’s own creative act.
Sex can also be violent, manipulative, and destructive.
Three common misconceptions about sex:
1. Sex is only about acts, or about what I do.
The reality is that because sexuality exists prior to sexual activity, it is really concerned primarily with persons and with who we are. I might never have sex, but I’m still a sexual person, a man or a woman who has a biological sex as well as a masculine or feminine sexuality. Acts are important, but they’re secondary to my overall sexual personality.
2. Sexual sins are somehow worse than any other kind.
Our society is very conflicted about this. On the one hand, we see all kinds of sexual activity on TV and in the movies. Much of it is casual and appears to be harmless or recreational.
On the other hand, we have dozens of laws prohibiting sexual harassment, and we recoil in horror if a woman is raped, or a child is sexually abused.
Sexuality is a profound human power, and that is perhaps why the Church has historically devoted so much attention to it. But it is wrong to say that sexual sins are worse than others.
Sins against justice, charity, and truth can be far worse and far more destructive. We need only think about the economic disparities in the world or the lies and hubris that lead to war to know that this is true.
3. Sex is just physical and therefore has no lasting psychological or moral effects.
Adults know—and adolescents learn quickly enough—that sex can have enormous psychological and spiritual ramifications. Sex can have physical consequences like pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, but the most lasting effects of sex are often emotional.
Adapted from Sexuality and Morality: Answers for Modern Catholics by Charles E. Bouchard, OP, copyright © 2014 (Liguori Publications, 824845).
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