Psychologists at the University of Texas have released the results of a study of nearly 2000 people that identifies 237 reasons why people have sex.
Now I know that there are lots of things about the results of this survey that are bothersome, not the least of which is the casual approach to pre-marital and extra-marital sex that is so prevalent in our culture. However, I’d like to focus on a different perspective.
I’m bracing for the articles and homilies that will respond to this research by issuing blanket condemnations of our culture’s sexual attitudes and practices while ignoring the rich complexities of married sexual expression.
In other words, if you talk to married Catholics, you will discover that, within a marriage, there are indeed numerous reasons for having sex. Of course, within our Tradition, these numerous reasons for marital sex are summarized by the words unitive and procreative. The unitive dimension of marriage can be understood as the mutual and total self-giving of spouses to each other. The procreative dimension is the participation of the spouses in the creation of new life.
My point is that these 2 reasons are the over-arching reasons why married couples have sex, however, there are numerous immediate reasons for having sex.
It is specifically under the category of unitive that a plethora of immediate reasons for having sex within a marriage may indeed exist. A couple may be playful. They may feel romantic. They may feel particularly attracted to one another. They may have a need to feel accepted. They may be making up after an argument. They may be releasing tension. And so on. These are immediate reasons that, for faithful married couples, fall under the category of unitive. In other words, the immediate reasons may change, but the ultimate reason does not…to totally give of oneself to one’s spouse.
What am I trying to say? I’m just trying to state the fact that we need to talk about sex to Catholic married people in a manner that does not make sex sound like a sterile theological event.
God invented sex and is not embarrassed by its erotic and sensual aspects. This research, while pointing out how alarmingly casual our approach to sex is in our culture, also points out the complexities of sexual expression. These complexities are present within Catholic marriages and we need to be able to talk about them without somehow feeling like we are being profane. Sex (within a marriage) IS A SACRAMENT!
Just as we encourage frequent reception of the Eucharist, we should encourage Catholic married couples to engage in frequent reception of another sacrament: married sex. Grace is no less present in this sacrament than in any other of the sacraments and we should be extolling the beauty of this sacrament and its expression instead of sounding like we are always saying NO! when it comes to the topic of sex.
I’d love to hear a homilist refer to this study about the 237 reasons for having sex and then encourage the married people in the congregation to go home and practice a few dozen of them!