I gave a teen chastity talk the other day. When it was over, a 60-something guy came up to me and asked, “What about us old guys?” He was widowed and was wondering, “Does the Church expect us to be celibate for the rest of our lives?”
Is It All about Consequences?
It’s a good question. I know Catholic Match isn’t made up primarily of “old guys,” but in a sense, compared to my usual teen audience, we’re all “old guys.” And we know (well, most of us know) that teenagers shouldn’t be having sex. But what about us? We’re not kids anymore. And nobody is talking to us about chastity.
Until today, that is.
Let’s start with the reasons teens should abstain. It’s because of the risk of pregnancy, right? They aren’t ready for the responsibility of a child. But it’s different for us. We’re older. Heck, there are plenty of people within the Catholic Match community for whom the possibility of pregnancy isn’t even an issue anymore. Is it because of STDs? Is it that teenagers just aren’t reliable enough consistently to “protect” themselves? Or maybe it’s just a “maturity” thing. Teenagers can’t handle the intensity of a sexual relationship. They don’t know what they want. Their relationships are too volatile. They just aren’t “ready.”
No, no and no. Granted, these are all consequences of teen sexual activity consequences which may or may not hold true for us as well. They are often the reasons given to teens to convince them to abstain. They may even be the reasons we were given as teens. But none of it gets to the heart of respect for the gift of human sexuality. The Church teaches that genital sexual activity is to be reserved for marriage, not just “adulthood.” And the reason has nothing to do with being puritanical, or anti-sex, or anything else like that. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
It’s about How We Are Made
Let me put it in terms of the Theology of the Body. God created Adam and Eve, and by extension us, in His image and likeness. He made man and woman different emotionally as well as physically. He made us “complementary.” Men’s and women’s bodies “fit together.” (That’s about as explicit as I get, so enjoy it.) And that physical complementarity points to a deeper “fit.” Many of women’s natural strengths correspond with men’s natural weaknesses, and vice versa. We’re made to come together, on every level.
And then, says the Genesis author, “The man and his wife were naked and not ashamed.” What the heck does that mean? Did they just have really great bodies? “Naked” can mean a lot of different things. When you’re naked, you’re in a sense transparent. Nothing is hidden. For Adam and Eve, this was not just a physical nakedness. They loved each other with an absolutely pure love. They saw in each other the image and likeness of God, and wanted only what was absolutely best for each other. And so, they had no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives that they needed to hide from each other. Theirs was a relationship of absolute honesty. It was also, obviously, a physical nakedness. Notice it says the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed. They were married. Adam’s life was a complete and total gift to Eve. Eve’s life was a total and complete gift to Adam. They lived, not for themselves, but for each other. But they didn’t just say “My life is a complete gift to you.” They made that gift real by the gift of their bodies. In giving their bodies to each other, in the most real way possible they gave themselves to each other. John Paul II said that sex speaks the language of self-donation.
Take it a step further. What was God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve? “Be fruitful and multiply.” He wanted to fill the world with these images of Himself whom He loved so much. And how were Adam and Eve to do that? Through sexual union. That act of self-giving love is also the act God works through to bring new life into the world. Their love becomes someone. And, to get just a little more theological, the love between a husband and wife mirrors the love of the Trinity. What is the Trinity? It is the love of the Father and the Son, constantly bringing forth the Spirit. With God, love always leads to life.
A Permanent Gift
The more that medical science learns about human sexuality, the more God’s plan for permanent self-gift is revealed. For instance, men's and women’s brains both secrete a hormone called oxytocin in sexual activity. Oxytocin causes forgetfulness, decreased ability to think rationally and an overpoweringly strong emotional attachment to whomever we are with at the time. It’s fascinating, and suffice it to say that forgetfulness, irrationality and attachment are three factors that could definitely contribute to the longevity of a marriage.
Why do we reserve sex for marriage? Quite simply, it’s because sex has a meaning. It’s kind of the ultimate “body language.” It says something. It says “I give myself to you sacramentally, to love you and to look out for what is best for you and to be at your side, forevermore.” That’s the language God built into it. It’s the language the heart hears.
When we try somehow to change that language, we only distort the act and leave it completely meaningless. So it doesn’t matter if we’re 20 or 50 or 80. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’re fertile. It doesn’t matter how “grown-up” or “responsible” we are. The Church believes that speaking the “language” of sexual activity outside of marriage is devaluing it, demeaning it. In doing so, we put each other at serious physical, emotional and spiritual risk. It is not a loving act. That is why whether we are 20 or 50 or 80, sex is for marriage.
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Mary Beth Bonacci, in addition to being a Catholic Match columnist is an internationally known speaker. Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. You may visit her website at www.reallove.net.
This article has been re-published with written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC.