How is sex in marriage supposed to take each spouse ‘out of the Self’?
OK, let’s review. God invented sex. It was His idea. After He created, He called His creation “good.” Three things are good about sex, and each one needs marriage to come into its own.
The first is procreation, making families: God told our first parents to “be fruitful and multiply.” The second is union, becoming one: When our first father saw our first mother for the first time, he cried “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The third is grace, supernatural gift: When the husband and wife are united to Christ, they become a living emblem of His sacrificial love for the Church and the Church’s adoring response. These three goods are the point of sex, what sex is for.
You’re asking about the second one, union. For the husband and wife to be truly united to each other, the most important thing to happen is that they give themselves totally to each other. That means in soul and in body. To give yourself is to get outside of your Self — to get out of the narrow little prison house of Self-regard. Do you remember Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? He can’t stop thinking about “My Precious.” In our fallen condition, we’re like that too. We can’t stop thinking about our Precious Selves. Sexual love between husband and wife love pulls in the opposite direction. It pulls you toward the Other. Instead of thinking about your Self, you are thinking about the Beloved.
The sexual impulse can go wrong. It can be directed toward your Self; that’s auto-eroticism, which locks the prison door even more tightly. It can be directed toward a mirror of your Self; that’s homosexual intercourse, which is like auto-eroticism with another body. Or it can be directed toward another Self in a way that won’t let go; that’s casual sex, which is like signing a contract in disappearing ink. It’s a kind of fraud, enacted in the language of bodies instead of words: “I give my Self, but I don’t give my Self.”
The Bible uses conjugal union as a symbol of the even more profound marriage that God plans between Himself and His people. The everyday humilities and mutual sacrifices of earthly husbands and wives are a training for heavenly union; the awe of their wedding night and the ecstasy of their embraces are a glimpse of it.
Peace be with you,
Copyright 2006 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.