Some people prefer to get to know someone before they bring up controversial topics. But, I am assuming you are reading this because you have come to this space on purpose. That being the case, I am not going to pretend you don’t know what Catholicism teaches or is at least purported to teach regarding human sexuality. We all know that the Church is persona non grata when it comes to being “progressive” or “modern” in regards to sexuality and its offshoots. I agree, the Church isn’t progressive or modern about sexuality. Thankfully.
Okay, first, as a side note, I promise I am not suggesting that anyone who doesn’t meet the standard of human sexuality as laid out by the Natural Law is somehow a bad person. We all have struggles in reaching the vision that God has laid out for us, no matter the area of virtue or vice. “Straight” people (I dislike the terms gay and straight, our behaviour in regards to attraction might be one of the least interesting things about us) are not off the hook just because of who they prefer in regards to attraction. Everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, even those who don’t believe in Him, or follow Him. The Church is not a Hall of Fame for the greatest of all time, it is a hospital for sinners. I am in as much need of God’s grace for my own issues as anyone else is, regardless of the issue. Also, can we at least agree that we aren’t doing sexuality very well right now? We are giving toddlers hormones to “change” their gender, addicted to porn, divorced, date raped and Hollywood is run by a brood of disgusting men who violate all things sacred. Maybe we have failed to do things correctly.
What is human sexuality?
This is a good question, which we don’t usually ask. It is a loaded question. It suggests that there is an answer, which means there is a criteria for getting the right answer, which we don’t like. Is human sexuality just about feelings? If it feels good, is it okay? Is it just about consent? If we consent to an act because we like the way it feels, does that make it okay?
You can see where I am headed with this. Sexuality speaks to many things. It speaks to our gender, our orientation, our relationships, our ethics, and so on. So how can we nail it down? I think it would be helpful for us to look at the word sexuality. The root word is of course sex, which pertains to an act and an acknowledgment of an organ geared toward a certain purpose. Our bodies have a certain design that fits within a complimentary framework and when those two types of bodies come together, they are completed by one another and if we are lucky, new people are created. The simple fact that other expressions of sexuality seek to mimic classic sexual acts speaks to the nature of the acts in the first place. By trying to recreate certain actions that are virtually universal, we acknowledge the universality of those actions. There are of course many ways to stimulate various parts of our bodies for various pleasures, but this doesn’t mean that those parts of our bodies were made to do so. A million and one pleasures in which we can partake violate the integrity of our bodies.
I can see a type of objection boiling up underneath the surface of those who think I am being some sort of “phobe”. But I will ask you a question. Do you think all expressions of pleasure are inherently good simply because they are pleasurable? If you do think so, then of course you have no standards for ethical sexual interactions other than clear forms of violence and coercion. Age would be irrelevant, as a youth can feel pleasure like an adult. Gender would be irrelevant. And even consent would be irrelevant if we follow it out in many cases. We would have no basis for suggesting that highly intoxicated people should be left alone because their consent is compromised, as they would be in quite a pleasurable mood due to their intoxication, which could only be heightened by further addition of pleasurable experience. If they feel icky about what they did the next day… Well, they must not like pleasure that much I guess.
My point is, we all draw a line when it comes to sexuality. Unless we are morally bankrupt, we don’t actually believe that anything goes in all cases. And we do observe clear standards that are right and wrong.
Let’s use a standard we can all agree on… I hope… Namely, age. Recently there have been a slew of scandals in regards to sexual acts committed by mainly men in positions of power. Now, some have been outwardly egregious and immoral, but not all have been that clear. I of course think them to be immoral for various reasons, but I can see how the argument gets a little fuzzy for some people. The politician who was running for Alabama Senator was alleged to have had relations with a 16 year old when he was around 30 years old. Now, there were no allegations of actual sex, but instead kissing and dating. I think the whole thing to be really creepy, but 16 is the legal age of consent in Alabama. What is it about a 30 year old and a 16 year that is wrong? Is it the biology? One man, one woman, seems fine that way. Is it the feelings? They both probably “felt” good about it at the time. Or is it about the age? A level of maturity and immaturity that suggest the opportunity for predation on behalf of the older man. I agree with the last reason I have suggested. But this should illustrate to us that there is a standard that is not about the specific bodies, feelings or consent of the individuals, but is instead about the ordered or disordered nature of the relationship.
When we see an older man with a much younger teenager, we see that in the end, only one thing is really on the table. He wants the young lady for unsavoury reasons. He isn’t trying to marry her, not bringing her home to his mother, it’s about one thing. We assume he isn’t trying to father a child and raise him with her, and we would imagine that is the last thing on her mind. Essentially, we are using the standards of traditional marriage and childrearing to suggest that this relationship is inappropriate. They aren’t going to get married and shouldn’t, they don’t want children, and therefore it’s wrong. You may disagree, but I challenge you to find another reason. A 16 year old girl is very often much more mature than her age suggests, this is why young women constantly date older boys, and I don’t blame them, I was a baboon until I was about 18 years old, at which point I became a slightly more intelligent baboon. If your reasons are simply because of feelings and consent, then you would not be outraged at the predation of a 30 year old man and a 16 year old girl, which you would be if you had a moral compass.
What’s interesting about this is it is not just her age, but what her age represents. We would be more okay with it if she was 18 years old, because we see adults as capable of marriage and the potential outcomes of sexual intercourse. But, curiously, when we talk about adults engaging in sexual relations, we suggest that sexual freedom is present when the “shackles” of marriage and children aren’t “forced” upon the consenting adults. What is the magic button that is pressed that makes it okay for an 18 year old and a 30 year old, rather than a 16 and 30 year old? Why does the standard of traditional sexual morals apply to a young woman of 16 and not her 18 year old counterpart? Why do we stop advocating for the dignity of a woman when she is 18? Why is it harmful for the 16 year old to engage in a marriageless and childless sex life, but it is completely “liberating” for an 18 year old? Why is the 30 year old a creep when she is 16, but more of a playboy when she is 18? (He’s a creep either way!) Would it be any different if it was 2 men or two women in the exact same situation? If not, why? What about equality…
By the way, the age disparity goes two ways, it isn’t just that he is too old, but also that she is too young. This begs the question as to why we would ever be okay with teenagers engaging in sexual relationships. How does it make it any better if they are both 16 and immature? If a 16 year old can’t properly consent with a 30 year, which she can’t, then she can’t with another 16 year old either. Two victims are not better than one.
We can clearly see that we are upset at sexual encounters when they are not ordered towards a proper end. Why is it that as a society we have fought so hard for same sex marriage, other than to legitimize a type of relation. The simple fact that we see marriage as open ended is a result of the fact that we think marriage needs to be extended to everyone in order to legitimize relationships. We intrinsically know that relationships, to be fulfilled, need some sort of metaphysical stamp of approval, which goes beyond feelings and consent, or even generic commitment.
But what is marriage? Is it just about commitment, or a license or “rights?” When marriage was redefined in America, the logic used on the deciding vote by Justice Kennedy, was essentially that alternative relationships deserve the same thing offered to traditional relationships. Basically, marriage is a right, no matter what. But is it? Is a type of relationship a right? Can we redefine something to make it universal? Is it the same thing if we redefine it? Do we even have the authority to do so in the first place? Let me paint a picture here to explain. Before I do so, I believe that it is hard in today’s culture of no-fault divorce, contraception and abortion to make any real claim to traditional marriage, as most people don’t even believe in it fully. But, that only delegitimizes attempts to redefine it in my opinion, as they are including yet another aberration in hopes of legitimacy, which is like adding another motor to a ship with holes, it won’t matter. But, as a Catholic I do think there is an argument in regards to the Natural Law which pertains to the common good for traditional marriage as the standard for marriage that must be upheld, but that is for another day.
Rugby is my favourite sport. I love it. I coach multiple teams, and play on a very competitive men’s team. I have had 3 knee operations, yet I still keep coming back. I hope to play long enough to play a season with my 2 oldest boys when they are 18 and 19, which means I have to stay healthy enough for 17 more years. Please pray for my knees. Now, rugby is what is called a “code” of football. There is Association Football, which is soccer, there is Rugby Football, named after the town of Rugby, and various other codes of football. Soccer is the original game it seems, at least in regards to the codes of football. No one “invented” soccer, it just sort of happened. It has taken on various forms over the centuries, but essentially it has been the same. 2 teams, one ball, a time limit, a goal, no hands and little to no contact. After millennia of traditional cultures playing games that were very similar to what we call soccer today, the rules were codified to reflect the reality, the reality was not defined to reflect the rules. There came a point about 150 years ago when, as legend has it, Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a game of soccer in the town of Rugby, and he began running down the pitch with the ball in hand. Of course from here tackling seemed necessary, as did passing, and a new style of play. A new sport was born, a new game. After a while, this game was also codified into the laws regarding the type of football. But curiously, the original football was not redefined. Both sports are very similar on paper; they have two teams, 11+ players, kicks, goals, same size pitch, and two halves, even yellow and red cards. But, anyone who observes the games or tries to play either would realize that they are radically different due to the fundamental aspects of physical contact and using your hands. It would be absurd to suggest that soccer should be called rugby, or that rugby should be called soccer, or that a new name should be made, or that the differences don’t matter. Furthermore, no one, not even the head of FIFA or World Rugby has the authority to change the rules to include each game. They did not invent the rules, but instead inherited them. You don’t have the authority to redefine something that you didn’t invent, but that your ancestors spent generations working out.
Soccer is old, but marriage is millennia older. We didn’t make it up, it isn’t a “construct”. To suggest that marriage is a social construct is to reverse the order. Marriage comes first, then families, then collections of families, and if you can keep it together, then comes society. “Society” isn’t a thing, but instead a collection of things. Marriage is the foundation on which families are built, from which come populations, from which come civilizations and their societies. To suggest that marriage is a social construct is like saying the trunk is a construct of the branch. Be careful which branch you cut off, because when you are standing on it, you will fall from the lofty heights that were built for you to thrive.
PS. I didn’t even have to cite one Bible verse.