Some people think of the spiritual life as just one component of life, but that is, of course, really wrong. Spiritual life encompasses — or at least should — everything in a person’s life.
If that is true, then sex is not some “other” aspect of life, entirely separate from the spiritual life. Sex and the spiritual life have to be united.
This section describes some ways that they are.
Most people think of “chastity” as something negative – NOT doing something bad. And that is certainly a dimension of chastity. But chastity is broader. It means living one’s sexual capacity in the right way, by keeping it in the context of marriage, and doing sex the way it is meant to be done, i.e., in a way that produces true marital union.
Apart from NOT doing things that are wrong, chastity involves — because it is a real virtue — doing something right. In fact, the word “virtue” in Greek is the same as the word for “excellence.” So “virtuous, chaste sex” is “excellent marital sex”!
So what is this positive dimension?
Perfect chastity means especially perfecting my love for my spouse and completely orienting my sexual activity (thoughts, words, actions) toward that love of her and all that goes with it.
This involves seeing my sexual activity in its broadest framework, the framework of my love for and intimacy with my spouse. And this includes not only our affectionate dealings with each other, and our marital sex, but also the fruitfulness of that love, which takes form especially in the children it has brought into life and educated.
Men especially tend to look at “sex” as a particular act, and they have trouble looking beyond that particular act. Often, they focus only on its physical aspects, instead of seeing each individual act of marital lovemaking as embodying the entire life a man shares with his wife. Each act expresses the fullness of their marital relationship in the course of their entire life together. Sex and the spiritual life have to be integrated.
A Simple Comparison
Think about having a meal with some friends. Now imagine a person who focuses his attention solely on the food, and doesn’t pay any attention to the friends with whom he is having the meal. Wouldn’t that be “off” – somehow out of whack?
Even if, let’s say, he were to buy the meal for everyone, sincerely hoping that they were enjoying their food, but he still spends the entire meal simply being absorbed in the delight of his own food, wouldn’t that be weird? Don’t we see that a person sharing a meal with friends has to be focused on those friends, not just the good food?
In fact, I think we could say that he should be primarily focused on his friends, while at the same time enjoying the food as part of this “sharing” of himself with our friends. The primary focus should be on them, because people are much more important than food. We need food, of course, but that need doesn’t make the food “better than” or “higher than” or “more important than” the sharing the meal with our friends.
Well, the same thing is true of marital sex. (Actually, it’s even truer — because we don’t share the same food when we eat with friends, while we do share our own bodies in marital lovemaking.) We should certainly enjoy the physical delights of sexual activity, just as we should enjoy the delights of good food. But what matters most is the person — our sharing of ourselves in a deep and intimate way with this person to whom we have given ourselves completely for life, and from whom we receive the gift of her life.
“Forgiveness” and Male Marital Sexuality
As in every aspect of life, the personal qualities of a person have a significant impact on the way he lives his sexual life. One point I want to make is that the quality of marital sexuality will be deeply affected by spouses’ commitment to forgiveness.
This is important, first, because it removes obstacles to the full self-giving in the sexual act. If we focus on past resentments, that will undermine the spiritual unity that needs to precede the physical unity. I think women, in particular, need to struggle with this facet of sexual life. (As it is said, women forgive, but they never forget!)
For men, this takes especially the form of “forgiving” their spouses for not wanting physical sex as much as they do. (Surveys of sex in marriage almost always conclude that many men are frustrated by the fact that their wives are less interested in sex than they are.)
In fact, more accurately this is really “understanding” rather than forgiving — for the wife hasn’t done anything wrong. But in a husband’s psychology built-up resentments over time are likely to be thought of as wrongs committed against him. It is best if he understands that these aren’t wrongs — they are mostly a manifestation of a very different feminine sexual psychology — but it will be a big help to him if he can simply “forgive” her for being different.
That may sound unreasonable (certainly it will to a lot of women), but it may be important for a man to be able to see this connection between sex and the spiritual life. And it is not easy to do so, by any means, given how compelling the sexual urge is for many men.
A Little Morality Tale
A husband & wide die and appear before God.
The husband holds out his hands and says “here is my gift to You, Lord. My wife never performed a particular sexual act I really wanted to do with her. And she didn’t want to have sex very often (as least by my standards). But I tried to understand that she was just different from me, and tried to be cheerful and grateful to You for the wonderful gift she was to me.”
The wife holds our her hands and says “here are the sexual acts I had no desire to do, but did for him. And I had sex with him so much more often than I wanted to. But I tried to understand that he was just different from me, and tried to be cheerful and grateful to you for the wonderful gift he was to me.”
And God was pleased, and said “Both of you — enter together into the joy of Your Master.”