Poor commenters: they leave a few perfectly innocent(ish) remarks buried deep in the combox, and I resurrect them for A WHOLE POST. Sorry. But not very.

Commenter 1 says:

This does not mean that every time a person has sex he has to intend to make babies and nothing else. He may just think his wife looks ravishing that Thursday night. It Does mean that when he does have sex, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by ejaculating inside of her vagina.

Commenter 2 responds:

As a non-Catholic, I have always considered this to be a very queer and partial formulation of the purpose of sex. As expressed, it also seems disharmonious with Catholic beliefs [...] it doesn’t matter if someone’s decision to have sex is purely carnal so long as it follows a strict mechanical formula of ejaculation within a vagina?

[...]

From my own perspective, what you are describing is a particular physical activity that can be successfully performed given the capacity and a particular configuration of genitals, but is by no means the only legitimate activity or exclusive purpose for sex. Each human being is a complex and unique organism with their own emotional and psychological needs, wants and preferences, and has a body which is capable of experiencing pleasure in a number of different ways. In this context, sex can mean a number of things to any one person. Reducing this complexity to a single “correct” act doesn’t really make sense without very powerful moral assumptions.

Allow me to transpose these comments into a different key.

This does not mean that every time a person eats he must think of nutrition and nothing else. He may just think the pizza looks ravishing that Thursday night. It does mean that when he does eat, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by digesting the food inside his belly.”

And the response, only lightly changed:

As a non-Catholic, I have always considered this to be a very queer and partial formulation of the purpose of eating. As expressed, it also seems disharmonious with Catholic beliefs [...] it doesn’t matter if someone’s decision to eat is purely because they’re hungry, so long as it follows a strict mechanical formula of putting food in your actual mouth?

From my own perspective, what you are describing is a particular physical activity that can be successfully performed given the capacity and a particular configuration of mouth and stomach, but is by no means the only legitimate activity or exclusive purpose for eating. Each human being is a complex and unique organism with their own emotional and psychological needs, wants and preferences…In this context, food can mean a number of things to any one person. Reducing this complexity to a single “correct” act doesn’t really make sense without very powerful moral assumptions.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that wives are meat (or pizza) to be consumed by their husbands. I’m suggesting that to say “There is an appropriate way and an inappropriate way to perform a particular bodily activity” is perfectly compatible with believing that there’s a deeper meaning for that activity.

Not only are the two perfectly compatible, but saying the latter (that there is a deeper meaning) implies the former (that there is a right and a wrong way to do it). That’s the reason there’s a right and a wrong way to do it: because it has a meaning.

There’s no right and wrong way to put on your socks in the morning, because putting on your socks isn’t a very meaningful activity. Do it upside down and backwards, use your teeth, do it while wearing lubricated latex gloves — who cares?

But the life-giving act of union with another human? Yes, that’s important enough to be able to be done wrong.

17 thoughts on “Pizza Style

  1. Barbara C.

    From a purely theological perspective, sex is supposed to the renewing act of the marriage covenant. All sacraments have a specific form, “a strict mechanical formula” that must be followed in order to make them valid.

    In Baptism this is the use of water and the Trinitarian formula. In the Eucharist only wheat bread and grape wine may be used and the proper prayers by a priest are required. Therefore the marriage sacrament has its on forms for proper renewal.

    Reply
  2. Jordan Gray

    This fiddly little keyboard doesn’t lend itself to writing a decent response, but thank you for an interesting analogy that I hope to address when I’m back at a desk.

    (Incidentally, did you forget to change “have sex” to “eat” in the first paragraph of me in the key of Steve sharp major?)

    Reply
  3. Chris

    Thanks for making two extremes easier to swallow, Steve. Have you ever given thought to maybe working for Reese’s? ;-)

    Reply
  4. Joe K.

    I’ve been meaning to comment more fully on a couple of your recent posts, Steve. The end of my week gets so busy. Crazy busy. Like what I am I thinking doing this much busy. And you’ve been posting like wild lately, so what I wanted to post on got bumped down. I’ll try to revisit what I can. (I really wanted to post on that *cough* masturbation *cough* post.)

    At any rate, I meant to say something about this post. First, I thought this quote from, of all people, good ole’ atheist Sigmund Freud was certainly on point:

    “It is a characteristic common to all the perversions that in them reproduction as an aim is put aside. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse – if it departs from reproduction in its aims and pursues the attainment of gratification independently.”

    They don’t make atheists like they used to? I wanted to also defend a little of what I said above. I don’t remember the above response to what I wrote in the original exchange, so I thought I’d address it a little more directly here.

    Something is not suddenly Made moral if it is done “appropriately” in the physical sense. Sex, as with anything, can be wrong for reasons Other than misuse. You have to, at the minimum, address the virtues and the psychological effects an action made have. Lust, the vice, is not made virtue just because it culminates in ejaculation in a vagina.

    The requirement I mentioned above is just that—a requirement. It is the bare minimum requirement of what can be defined as licit sex. In a lot of ways, it is the bare minimum requirement of what can be defined as sex In General. (See Freud above.)

    Now, if you have sick and perverse motives for sex, the sex may be wrong for totally separate reasons. Like food, you could even have Too Much sex. That is, one could turn sex into an indulgent, selfish activity, where the man objectifies and degrades his wife—Regardless of it is results in ejaculation inside of her vagina. I mean, think of the man who lusts after other women all day, indulges in fantasies, checks out the good websites, but saves his ejaculation for the night when he can use his wife like a meaningless receptacle. We’d hardly call this moral even though it meets the above minimum requirement.

    This is often the problem with bringing up natural law stuff in general. People read it as “just plumbing,” when it’s never meant to be anything like that. Natural law attempts to identify the essential natures of things to show humans how they should use those things. Essential natures are absolutely tied to the real physical objects in question, and for some reason people have a lot of trouble with this.

    We live in a very “soul trapped in a body” kind of world, and I think this is the root of a lot of problems. It’s as if, as you pointed out, something is somehow Cheapened because it is tied to the nature of the body itself. I happen to think the opposite though, that recognizing and respecting the inherent nature of things elevates them—makes them Naturally transcendent.

    Reply
  5. Joe K.

    made have = may have. So tired.

    And by the way, just because a man finds his wife ravishing does not mean that his desire is “carnal.” If that’s what was being implied anyway.

    Reply
  6. Debbie Sterbin Sercely

    As a very wise Dominican Sister pointed out, “Sticking mashed potatoes in your ear is not eating.”

    I love this particular Church teaching – that sex is for two things, union of spouses and the procreation of children. Any sexual act that BY ITS NATURE makes EITHER of those two things impossible is not licit. But that leaves the field wide open for many things, so long as they end appropriately.

    It’s very much like eating, which is for two things: nourishment of the body and enjoyment of God’s wonderful gift of good food. Pouring the food on your head, or sticking it in your ear is not eating because it BY ITS NATURE renders the “nourishment of the body” part impossible. Eating really crappy food, while it may nourish the body, is not what God intended for us when He gave us taste buds.

    Food and sex should be enjoyed, but they should also be able to fulfill their other purposes as well.

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  7. Mark from PA

    I find the way Commenter 1 put it as somewhat creepy. I think that many older people have sex but may not actually do what commenter 1 says. Perhaps they are not fertile and the man is impotent. They may have other way of expressing affection in a sexual manner. Many people don’t concern themselves with what others do in private.

    Reply
  8. Jordan Gray

    “I find the way Commenter 1 put it as somewhat creepy.”

    In Joe’s defence—and while I’m sympathetic to that assessment—it evidently isn’t creepy given powerful enough assumptions. In fact, quite the reverse: it seems that many Catholics consider this outlook beautiful and elegant. I accept that many people accept this perspective, and to them perhaps our opinions are equally disturbing. :)

    For anyone wondering, though I very much want to respond, I’m holding off until I can find a sensitive way of approaching this.

    Reply
  9. George

    Hi Steve – did you change your email address? I tried sending you a message to the one you have listed on the FAQ but it bounced back. Thanks!

    Reply
  10. Amanda

    @ Mark from PA

    Taking a look at Humanae Vitae 3 Pope Paul VI says this,

    “Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth?”

    For couples who are able to conceive children naturally, having intercourse during a woman’s infertile periods helps to strengthen the bond between them. Every time a married couple has relations it should be open to life and open to each other. Just because women are physically designed to be unable to conceive at certain periods, does not mean that they as a couple are not open to life.

    As for actions regarding the appropriateness of the sexual act, we look back to Humanae Vitae 14,

    “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

    This takes into account all forms of Artificial Birth Control, and other means such as withdrawal.

    Taking into account Commenter 1′s statement about the “carnality” of the act, Pope Paul VI says this in Humanae Vitae 21

    Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity.

    The short version is, yes you love each other and have passions but sex is a mutual expression, not a means to use each other for self-gratification.

    Lastly Commenter 1′s comment about age induced infertility. When you are discussing couples who are past their child bearing years, the Church admits that they are physically unable to bear children. In the marriage rite of older adults one of the vows may be omitted. The vow is this, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”

    Being married at 24 my husband and I both consented to this vow, however if someone my parents age, 55 – 60 years old, they would not have to include that vow because they are unable to have any more children short of a divine miracle.

    Sorry for the short novel, hope it’s been informative.

    Reply

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