Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

June 21, 2010

On the Legitimacy of Sex

No, this isn't a Thomistic argument. It's a rant. So, consider yourself forewarned.

Last week I was up on campus picking up something from my classroom when I ran into a middle-aged colleague. We chatted about why we found ourselves inside the gates of the school and realized we were both recipients of grants to write lessons for the summer. After being asked, I divulged that I had been given a grant to write two major units on the Theology of the Body for the sophomore and senior religion classes. The teacher was unfamiliar with what the TOB was, so I took the opportunity to *briefly* explain it as John Paul II's theology of what it means to be an embodied soul and how important the body and all of its actions, including sexual encounters and relationships, are as they have a baring on who we are and who we are becoming.

"So, you're still teaching that sex is only legitimate in marriage?" she said with a demeaning scowl.

I didn't know how to respond other than to get ticked. "Well, yes, I'm not sure why I wouldn't be teaching that at a Catholic school of this caliber. I'm also not sure that 'legitimate' is the best word choice though in explaining what the Church teaches." I wanted to walk away, but I stayed and defended the teaching a bit more, although I was met with even more eye-rolling, raised eyebrows, and a very real judgment in the air of being behind the times. I could just see the steam coming out of her eyes that yet another young person was repressed by the antiquated, oppressive Catholic Church.

Okay, maybe I'm embellishing. But I did feel judged. Legitimate? Do people have legitimate sex? What does that even mean? Are people around the world able to have sex outside of marriage? Why yes, I'm pretty convinced that people all over the globe are able to "legitimately" accomplish the deed. I'm also sure that it's legitimately pleasurable for them. And I'd even go as far to say that I *understand* that she is implying that sex is something good and communicates something between two people who love each other.

I should have responded, "Well, if you actually mean to say when you say "legitimate" is that sex is most sacramental, most an expression of the love between the persons of the Trinity when it's faithful, fruitful, exclusive, and total, then yes, it's only really legitimate in the sacrament of marriage."

Sometimes I think I should be presenting this material to my colleagues in addition to my students. A little seminar on the "legitimacy" of the Church's sexual theology couldn't hurt.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Perhaps I read too much into the word 'legitimate', but for what it's worth, I think it's very telling. 'Legitimate' merely means lawful, at least, in the most basic sense of the word (and indeed, etymologically, it comes from the Latin word for law.)...

The bottom line is that fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of sex. The world has a very low water-mark for what sex is. It's not that sex outside of marriage isn't good--no doubt, it's still very, very good--but that in that context it falls tragically short of the glory for which it is intended. So, I think it's fair to say that the Church affirms the goodness of sex in se, but that she also prescribes its reservation for marriage, the only context in which it can fully benefit the persons involved and achieve its proper status as icon of the divine love.

Oh the irony of secular legalism--the obsession with legitimacy! Perhaps you could title your seminar something like "Beyond Legitimacy: Catholic Sexual Teaching as Liberation."

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