Posts Tagged ‘Chastity’

A True Understanding of Sexual Identity

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Having written a number of blogs about the nonsense of gender ideology, it’s only fair that I outline the true vision of sexuality presented by the Church.

It’s very important to understand at the outset that this vision is part of a coherent system of thought about human nature — anthropology in the real sense. It is informed by faith and revelation, but it is also confirmed by reason and science. It is not to be accepted just because the Church says so. It is proposed for acceptance because God has revealed it to us, and also because it makes sense.

First, let’s lay out a few definitions of terms.

  • “Sex” means whether a person is male or female.
  • “Sexuality” is a much broader term that encompasses one’s biological sex, but is not limited to our reproductive anatomy. It includes the characteristics that have been identified by science (e.g., psychology, neuroscience) to have an impact on the way we experience the world as males or as females. It also has an element of divine will in it – we are made deliberately by God as male or female, and are intended to express and receive love as men or women in all our relationships with family, friends, spouses, etc.
  • “Sexual identity” is the way that we integrate our sexuality into the overall self-understanding of who we are as persons.
  • “Gender”  I have serious misgivings about using this word.  The way it is currently being used, it means both too much and therefore virtually nothing at all, and it presupposes an irrational complete separation from biological sex. However, I think the term has some validity if it is understood in the narrow sense that Pope Francis uses it in Amoris Laetitia: “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. So in this limited sense, the term “gender” would mean our biological sex, including the innate characteristics that flow from that, plus socially-defined ideas and expectations about men and women.

Having said that, there are several points that serve as the fundamental foundation for our view of the human person, and thus of human sexuality.

  • Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. We are not just accidents of an impersonal evolutionary process (although we have certainly evolved in many ways from earlier forms). Instead, each person is directly willed by God and brought into existence. We are, each and every one of us, good in God’s eyes, even with all of our faults. And we have a purpose in life — to be happy in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
  • Human beings are not just material, but are the union of soul and body. Our soul is our spiritual component, the part of us where we experience feelings, thoughts, dreams, knowledge, personality, and free will. Our lives are a constant partnership of the physical and spiritual, in which we live in both the world of our senses and in our inner life. The physical and spiritual are intrinsically united, and I cannot even exist without both — their separation is the actual definition of death.
  • Every human person is made male or female. Our sex is a definitional part of who we are — God deliberately made each one of us, both body and soul, as a man or a woman. This is part of the innermost core of our being. This is crucially important — we are not male and female just because of our biological sex, we have that biological sex because God has made us male or female. Our anatomy is one of the ways that our male or female identity is revealed, but we can also see it in so many aspects of our lives.  We don’t know this just because of revelation, but it is confirmed by the evidence of science. Genetics, physiology, neurology, and psychology all recognize the intrinsic differences between the sexes. These can be seen in the ways that men and women experience the world, have feelings, and form our relationships. The differences between men and women do not in any way imply inequality. Instead, “Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. ” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Women, 7) This complementarity and equality of male and female has a deep meaning and significance for who we are and what we are meant to be.

The Church proposes a vision of human nature and sexuality that brings these principles into harmony and allows every human being to develop and flourish as God desires, so that we can find genuine love and be truly happy.

We hold firmly to the truth that we cannot separate sexuality or sexual identity from biological fact. The reality of our biological sex “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”. (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, 4). So our sexuality is not just a physical phenomenon. It helps to define every human being on every level – emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Indeed, since by our very nature we are ensouled bodies, there can’t be a radical separation of the physical and spiritual. Our true identity depends on both — we are male or female in both our body and our soul. Our bodies are not just raw material to be changed and adjusted to match our feelings, no matter how transitory or deeply-seated. Every person is a man or a woman, regardless of how they might feel, or how they might change their anatomy. I would be operating under a serious delusion if I were to make a mistake about this.

As a result, we have no need for notions of “gender identity” or “gender expression” that are at odds with our biological sex. Remember, as those terms are used in our culture nowadays, they mean one’s subjective attitude and experience of one’s “gender”, and how one expresses that. But it makes no sense to adopt an identity that denies an essential fact about myself (i.e., that was made by God as male or female), to define my identity based purely on transitory cultural norms, or — even more so — to trade one socially-defined “gender identity” for another. People can accept or reject social norms as much as they want — it’s a free country, after all — but it isn’t healthy to deny the truth about our sex, and what it means for who we are.

Instead, a healthy sexual identity is always rooted in the reality that we are male and female in both body and soul. We then seek to integrate our feelings, personality, self-image, etc. with that fact, and express ourselves accordingly in our relationships. In this way, there is no separation between a person’s “gender identity” and their sexual identity.

To do this, it is vital to understand that my sexuality is not just about me. The physical reality of male and female anatomy itself shows that we are created for others, and that God did not intend for us to live in isolation. After all, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) In fact, we believe that human sexuality is fundamentally ordered towards the union of man and woman in matrimony – the unique loving relationship that involves a gift of self to another that is designed to bear fruit.

This means that every person is called to develop their sexual identity in a way that integrates their masculinity or femininity, and their call to live in relationship with others. This is a life-long task, and it goes through stages of development. Frequently, we find this to be difficult. There is often a tension between our physical impulses, our feelings, and God’s will. Society sends us conflicting signals about how to deal with this, signals that are becoming more and more confusing.

The way to integrate all of the elements of a healthy sexuality and sexual identity is by working on developing the virtue of chastity. That word is typically understood to mean abstinence from any sexual behavior, but in our view it actually means living our sexuality in the fullness of its deeper meaning, according to our state in life. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” ( CCC 2337) Chastity is expressed in different ways, in different relationships, according to God’s will.  For example, chastity means continence for single people and fidelity for married people.

Of course, it is not easy to live a life of chastity, and our present cultural values make it particularly difficult. But by developing this virtue with the help of God’s grace, we can harmonize our physical reality (e.g., our bodies and sensory desires), our spiritual nature and our affective experiences (e.g., our feelings and personality), and live in authentic loving relationships. We can thus truly be ourselves, on all levels of our being.

That is how a fully and properly ordered sexual identity works. We don’t try to change reality, nor do we deny human nature. We embrace them, and learn to live with them, however difficult that may be. But in the end this is the way to true happiness, by living according to the plan that God has set out for each one of us.

(Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra, for her contributions to this article, particularly her challenging questions that helped greatly to clarify my thinking and language)

We Need to Talk Frankly

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

On April 19, the Governor of Utah signed a resolution, which had been passed by a unanimous legislature, declaring pornography to be a public health crisis. The evidence supporting that conclusion is massive, and unequivocal. So why aren’t we talking about it more?

Pornography is ubiquitous in our society, and exposure to porn is virtually universal among adolescents and young adults — precisely the times when people are supposed to be maturing in their personalities and sexuality, and preparing for marriage.  The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has an incredibly detailed set of studies about the evil effects of porn. Just a sampling of their findings, all of which are backed by academic studies, is that among adult males, exposure to pornography is connected with:

  • Greater acceptance of sex before marriage
  • Having more sex partners
  • Considering their partner to be less attractive
  • Less satisfaction with partner’s sexual performance
  • Greater desire for sex without emotional involvement
  • More callousness in sex
  • Acceptance of “rape myth” (i.e., that raped women enjoy rape and “got what she wanted”)
  • Trying to get partners to act out scenes from pornographic films
  • Going to prostitutes and strip clubs
  • Greater acceptance of adultery
  • More likely to have an affair
  • Using more negative and sexual terms to describe women
  • Less child centeredness during marriage
  • Reduced desire for female children
  • Sexual dysfunction with their partner (but not with porn)
  • Engaging in more aggressive sexual behavior
  • Committing date rape
  • Abusing sex partners
  • Coercing sex
  • Using alcohol or drugs to coerce sex
  • Engaging in marital rape

One particularly horrifying reality about porn is the level of violence and degradation against women.  The NCSE’s studies of this are appalling — they found, in a random sample of popular porn videos, that 88% included actual physical violence against women. It has even gotten so bad — but accepted in the industry and market — that popular porn sites actually categorize videos by the kind of violence they depict. The NCSE compares this disgusting attack on women to be tantamount to torture, and for good reason — the accounts of former porn performers are horrific. It is deeply disturbing that men are deriving sexual pleasure from watching women be degraded, abused, and raped.

Many people find it difficult to talk about porn, for a variety of reasons. But we can no longer allow our squeamishness to prevail. Lives are being ruined by porn. Relationships are twisted and destroyed. The crisis demands a response.  One thing that we must do first and foremost is clearly identify the distorted sexual desires that lead people to porn, and the way to counter them.

The sexual activity shown in porn is not normal, healthy, or good, and the desire to have that kind of sex is not properly ordered towards its real purpose. The true goal of human sexuality is not to achieve an orgasm at all costs, without any human contact. That’s the lie that porn teaches — it is fundamentally artificial, because it only shows a two-dimensional image of a person, removed from any real sense of humanity. It is, on many levels, inhuman.

The real goal of human sexuality is to lead us to a real relationship with a real person of the opposite sex. Our sexuality is designed to be expressed and experienced not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually — in a way that involves the entire person. And ultimately, it is designed to bring us to the communion of persons that can only be fully achieved in the permanent and exclusive self-giving bond of man and woman. Real sexual desire is ordered towards marriage, and is deeply human.

We need to talk frankly about this to young people, to encourage them to resist the lie, and strive for the truth. Even the most habitual user of porn can — admittedly with difficulty — re-train their sexual desires so that they are correctly ordered. The first, and most important thing they must do is to get off the internet. Single people then have to seek out healthy, chaste dating relationships. Married people need to re-focus their desires towards their spouse and no other. It takes practice to minimize our disordered desires and build up our properly ordered desires. Vice is all too easy — it’s as close as our smartphone. Virtue takes hard work and patience.

This can be done. Many men and women have struggled with this temptation, and have achieved some level of success. But nobody will ever be victorious, unless we talk frankly about the evils of porn.

Another Casualty of the Sexual Revolution

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

An article appeared in the New York Post today that should break the heart of everyone who reads it.

Entitled “Among the Smuts”, it is an account by a teenaged girl of the hyper-sexualized atmosphere in our culture and our public schools.

It is a tragic story of a young woman who seems never to have been told of the beauty of her womanhood, the majesty of sex, and the benefits of chastity.   She describes the callous way in which girls are used and discarded, and the resulting marketplace for sex.  She says at one point, “lately I don’t trust any man” — and who can blame her?  That wound — the lack of trust — will be hard to heal, particularly if none of the young men in her life treat her with dignity and respect.  And it will be very difficult for her to enter into a good, rewarding, loving marriage unless the wound does heal.

The saddest part of this article is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Teens can make good decisions about sex, based on an appreciation for their beauty and dignity as children of God.  Groups like Generation Life and Corazon Puro, as well as our Chastity Education program, offer alternatives to the degrading and depersonalizing open marketplace for meaningless sex that our culture is selling.

Our society is all too ready to give up on teens, to assume that they will make bad decisions about sex, and to offer them nothing more than latex in response.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  There don’t have to be any more casualties.

New York City Betrays Teens and Parents

Friday, August 12th, 2011

The New York City public schools announced the other day that all students would now be required to have “sex education” classes, including teaching grade school children about sex and how to use contraceptives and condoms.  At the heart of the proposal is the unwarranted assumption that teenagers will inevitably be sexually active — and that this cannot be prevented.

There is no question that some teens are already making unwise choices, and are involved in sexual activity.  Likewise, some are drinking alcohol, smoking, using pornography and taking illegal drugs.  In these cases,  society does not hesitate to tell them in a unified voice, “There is a better way.  You should not engage in these activities.”  We would think it absurd to distribute free beer or drugs or porn in schools, or to instruct children to smoke only filtered cigarettes.  Yet the schools would be willingly offering a false sense of security by advising them to use condoms or other contraceptive devices or drugs.  In doing so, our schools would be implicitly encouraging, facilitating and approving dangerous sexual activity.

This proposal sends a message to our teens — “Your political and educational leaders have no faith in you. They have given up, and assume you will make poor decisions.”

At a time of adolescent uncertainty and sexual maturation, our society and our educational system should instead be offering young people clear guidance and strong direction.  Rather than accepting teen sexual activity, the schools should instead be courageous enough to speak frankly and unambiguously about the inappropriateness of sexual activity outside of marriage, and the advantages and beauty of chastity.

This mandate is also disrespectful to parents.  It assumes that parents lack the ability or motivation to fulfill their roles as the primary educators of their children.  Does anyone seriously believe that that our educational system knows better what to say to kids about sex, when it should be said, and how to answer their delicate questions?  Are the privacy and innocence of children to be so easily sacrificed?  Are the values and morals of parents to be treated as irrelevant?  It is hard to believe that we have reached a point where the government feels free to invade the sanctity of the family, especially on such an intimate and important subject.

There is a better way, and it has proven to be successful.

Studies continue to show that when teens are taught about the benefits of chaste behavior, and are offered support and resources that affirm their decision to abstain, they can make good decisions.

Across our nation, education programs in public schools that stress sexual abstinence outside of marriage have a proven track record of helping teens make good, healthy, moral decisions.  They encourage open communication between teens and parents, and offer peer encouragement and other resources that reinforce good decision-making.  They foster a sense of self-awareness and confidence in young people, so that they can aspire to a better life.  And they communicate that adults have confidence in their good judgment and intelligence.

The City’s proposal is one of despair, and it invites teens to surrender to the inevitability of failure.  But we believe that our young people are better than that, they certainly deserve better than this proposal, and with the right kind of help, they can succeed.  We are not defeatists.

Instead of embracing failure, our society should be giving teens a message of hope, faith, self-worth and self-respect.  We believe that with proper guidance, with parental involvement, and with programs built upon authentic self-esteem, our youth will respond and will develop healthy sexual attitudes, and live chaste lives.