I don’t think our times are so different than any other time of history when it comes to the vices of the human flesh, however, it could be if we would learn from the past and stop repeating the same ‘ol, same ‘ol. What I am specifically reflecting on today is that people are so obsessed with sex and sexuality. And so have I been for nearly all of my life. I was sexually abused, the first time I can remember at age 2, the last time at age 13 . My flip was switched on so young. I was exposed to adult things and began to understand them so that, beginning at age 5, I was instructing my innocent male peers on what that appendage in their pants was used for–and practicing with them. I never have a memory of not being aware of sexual arousal.
Because of my decision to remain celibate as an adult, and also because of my fear of intimacy and trust issues due to my upbringing which has greatly assisted my celibacy, I feel that I am more innocent and naïve today than I ever was as a child. But believe me, I am no Saint. Over my lifetime I have experienced attractions to men, women, married men, married women all of the above and I still do. Most of these attractions are very innocent in nature. All of them began innocent. I like somebody, I admire them, and I want to know them and to be around them. I’m pretty sure that this kind of attraction is necessary for human relationship. But there have been instances where the line between, innocent and not so innocent, attractions have been crossed by my hormones and I started to wonder, “Am I sexually attracted to this person?” And then, of course, there have been the emotionally chaotic experiences when beyond a doubt, and to my dismay because I am a “good” Christian girl, I had to admit, “Yes. I am sexually attracted to this person!” What is sexual attraction but just another feeling and emotion or desire? Why do we put this particular kind of attraction on a pedestal as if it means more than the other attractions, feelings and desires we have, for good and for bad?
As a young person and feeling these normal attractions paired with hormonal floods that sometimes got so intense they became torturous, I wrestled with my sexuality. I felt pressured to define it with absolute certainty even though I was not having sex. I thought that whomever any strong desire was directed at defined who I was. “I must be gay!” “I must be an adulterer!” “I’m such a perve!” Oh youth, how dramatic you are. But it’s not like you can talk about this stuff with anyone when you are young, inexperienced and insecure. And if you do talk to someone you think you can trust, man, it is so easy in our culture to be led astray. As I was once. I took the ungodly advice, “Experiment, find out if it feels good to you, no big deal.” and did something I regret to this day, probably the only regret I really have in my whole life. But I learned. I learned to heed the still small voice inside that told me I knew it was wrong no matter what any trusted, admired, or desired person ever says. Sex is a holy thing, reserved for husband and wife—and, even in marriage, sex is never for the sole purpose of pleasuring oneself.
I listened to a funny and interesting Lighthouse talk recently that says sex has a nature and purpose, and it is two-fold. 1. It is unitive. It brings the husband and wife together in a mutual, unique, exclusive (to all others outside of the marital union), and sacramental[a] way. And 2. It is procreative. Sex has a purpose and that purpose is to bring about new life. To act outside of or block either of these two natures of the act of sex is to violate the nature and purpose of sex as it is intended to be and to make unholy what is meant to be holy. To have sex outside of the unity of the two persons is rape, adultery, sodomy or fornification. To have sex while blocking the potential for new life is selfish pleasure seeking. It says no to the role of co-creators as God has commissioned us, “..be fruitful and multiply..” and uses each other for free personal gratification. I know many “good” Christian married folks are balking at this statement right now. Please don’t take my word for it, I don’t make the rules for godly living. Pray, discern, and learn why the Catholic Church teaches that contraceptives are sinful. (And why, until the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s, did all Christians hold that contracepting was sinful?) It’s the same as any commandment of God. It is not to hurt you, thwart your good times or control you. It is to free you to experience life to the full and to be safe from consequences of living outside of God’s will for your body, your spouse’s body, your marriage. It is a very good teaching, a very Christian practice. And like all Christian practices and disciplines, it is not easy.
Sex and attraction are normal and good aspects of being human. But our sexual experiences and our attractions of any kind do not define who we are. If we find that our sexual experiences are sinful; are usury or are not open to the potential for new life, then it would be a good start for all of us to confess these shortcomings and to go about the process of reconciliation. “Go and leave your life of sin”, Jesus says to the adulterous woman. Easier said, no doubt. But definitely possible. And if we find ourselves experiencing sexual attractions to another person; maybe we are married and this person is not our spouse, maybe the person is of our same sex, maybe we are unmarried and desire an unmarried person of the opposite sex, whatever the case may be. No sexual attraction or desire is any worse or better than any other. Even in marriage, sexual desire does not get a free unlimited rides pass. Sin is sin. One particular weakness does not make you look any worse in the eyes of God than does another. We are all called to be saints. Each and every one of us. If we are not married we are called to be chaste. If we are married we are called to be chaste. If we are homosexual we are called to be chaste. If we are heterosexual we are called to be chaste. If we are human beings, we are called to be chaste. We are called to treat others and ourselves as persons made in the image and likeness of God and not to use the body of another for our own end; for our own pleasure and desire fulfillment.
To me, this makes the whole issue of sex and sexuality pretty simple and clear cut. Like it could finally be time to move on to the next thing and grow beyond a mentality where sex and attraction is the center of all things. Be holy. Be patient. Be self-controlled. Be Loving. I don’t claim it to be easy. But it isn’t any harder than self-mastery is in any area of my life where I have a strong desire for something. Please remember this when you are tempted to beat up on yourself, or on other people, because of sexual attractions that you think are wrong or bad. For one thing, sexual experiences and attractions do not define a person. And for another, impurity in any instance, (lust, adultery, fornification, rape, homosexuality, masturbation, sex abuse, pornography[b], sex addition….etc) are no less and no more a sin than any other violation of the commandments and Love of God (stealing, gossip, idolatry, idleness, gluttony, lying, murder, apathy, hatred…etc). Confess all your sins as the equal offense to Jesus that they are and repent from them. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a true desire for what is good and pleasing to God. And then bear with yourselves, and with others, in love and patience and prayer at every fall so that all of us might fulfill our shared destiny: to become saints!