Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A profound mystery

Via Christopher Benson at Evangel, "The threefold purpose of sex," quoting from Lauren F. Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity:
Christian tradition has historically articulated a threefold purpose for sex: sex is meant to be unitive, procreative, and sacramental. That means, in simpler language, that sex is meant to unite two people, it is meant to lead to children, and it is meant to recall, and even reenact, the promise that God makes to us and that we make to one another in the marriage vow—that is, we promise one another fidelity, and God’s Spirit promises a presence that will uphold us in our radical and crazy pledge of lifelong faithfulness.

Each of these ends of sex has a basis in scripture. The unitive aspect is hinted at in Genesis 2:23, when Adam says that Eve is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The procreative purpose is also spelled out in Genesis, in God’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply. Finally, the sacramental end of sex is implied in Ephesians 5:32, when Paul, having offered a set of guidelines for how husbands and wives should relate to one another, says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” At first blush, it seems like something of a non sequitur. But, in fact, it tells us what marriage, and marital sex, is: a small patch of experience that gives us our best glimpse of the radical fidelity and intimacy of God and the church.

These three purposes—the unitive, procreative, sacramental, and procreative—are deeply interwoven with one another. Openness to children reshapes how we experience and understand sex ....

Of course, it is possible for sex without procreation to be incarnate, sacramental, and other-directed. Consider a husband who is sterile, or a wife who is past menopause—these marriages can be as open and hospitable as a marriage that produces children (although that openness and hospitality may require a different level of intention). Nonetheless, experience, nature, and scripture suggest that there is a deep connection between the work of sex and the possibility of procreation.

Technologically effective birth control has severed those connections. We can reaffirm them without necessarily landing at the Roman Catholic position—we can, for example, say that the whole of a married couple’s sex life needs to be open to procreation, but each and every sex act need not be. And we can worry about technology’s separation of sex and procreation because we see that it does violence to what sex is finally about (pp. 65-67) [more]
The threefold purpose of sex » Evangel | A First Things Blog