Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sex is Like Music

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this wonderful post, which describes the power of music in making one feel closer to God. Jennifer writes about feeling overwhelmed with the presence of God at a moment that happens to be while listening to beautiful music, and embraces the idea that a biological reaction to the sound waves of music can be a spiritual pathway to the presence of God.

I agree. And I believe the same can be true for sex.

Believe it or not, the starting point of this most recent journey was a stressful confrontation with someone who dared to point out every flaw in the way I cared for my husband, my children and my home. After the pain and anger lifted, I identified a longing to seek the truth -- the truth of what it is that God expects from me and what it is I should be striving for.

Inspired by a series of events that I will describe later, I began attending daily Mass, opening my heart to what God had to say to me through the readings and through the Eucharist. I looked for reading material that would give me deeper insight into the Church's teachings on marital love. After all, I am a wife and a mother -- and a Catholic one at that -- and I should know what the Church has to say to me. Sure, I knew the basics: be faithful to your husband, don't contracept, and be open to life. Maybe, I thought, I can give God a chance to guide me through His Church once again.

In my inquiry, I felt led to review the teachings of the Catholic Church that call for self-giving love in all aspects of the marital relationship. I asked myself, "Have I been practicing self-giving love?" What is self-giving love, anyway? Is it sweeping the kitchen when all I want to do is sleep? Is it remembering to leave the car parked where my husband won't step in the mud on his way out in the morning? Is it getting up in the middle of night to tend to a sick child? Is it bringing my husband his nightly glass of water before he has a chance to get it himself? Is it practicing humility and acknowledging my part in our most recent argument? Is it loving my husband for his own sake, with all his faults and virtues, as a human being created in the image and likeness of God? Is it giving all of my mind, body and soul to my husband and not holding back on God's gift of sex? Yes, it is!

I've loved my husband deeply since before we were married, but these thoughts inspired a new way to practice my love for him . . . love that required conscious acts rather than mere emotion. And I wanted those conscious acts to extend to the most intimate part of our marriage.

I remember telling one of my friends a while back that I wanted to "spice up our sex life," but that, knowing the wisdom of the Church's teachings, I wanted to be sure to do it in accordance with them. So, a few months ago, I ordered Gregory K. Popcak's  Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving. When I saw the title, I thought, "Yes! That's exactly what I'm looking for!"

The way I was currently approaching that part of my life didn't lend itself to "mind-blowing," by any means. Sex was just... okay. It felt like sex was something to seek for its own sake, and it had become a chore, especially when I was tired. For me, it had little if any spiritual dimension at this point of our marriage. It was a purely physical event, from start to finish.

In exploring the purely physical dimension of sex, Popcak mentions that when we have sex, we involve the "love hormone," oxytocin, which peaks at orgasm and lingers afterward, such that the lovers crave for each other in a way that is grounded in biology.

In other words, the ecstasy of sex can be attributed to the hormone oxytocin just like musical ecstasy can be attributed to that specific biological reaction that occurs in the brain. But I felt that, like one doesn't feel God through just any kind of music, neither can one feel God through just any kind of sex.

Then I realized that the divine formula for Holy Sex -- sex that is both physically and spiritually transcendent -- is spelled out by the teachings of the Church! In particular, the beautiful words of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae were instrumental in renewing in me the true spirit of marital love:
This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.
One night, after spending days contemplating God in the small sacrifices of daily life and re-learning how to love and care for my husband, I gave myself completely to him. In him I saw God, who had created him in His image and likeness. I saw God in the pleasure that was His gift to us. I saw God in the beautiful act of sex that was physically, chemically and emotionally unobstructed. Sex that was faithful, pleasurable and self-giving. It was an act that embraced sexual pleasure not for its own sake, but as a manifestation of God's perfect love for us.

The result was something I had only experienced a few isolated times in our marriage. I felt God in a way that I hadn't for years. At the height of our embrace, I felt like my soul touched a piece of heaven. I was overwhelmed with the presence of God, palpable in that marital embrace. It was like a convergence of all that is good and holy: the generosity of self-giving love, lived through our daily sacrifices and culminating in this one beautiful act, and the humble acceptance of God's gift of sex.

Longing for God,

The Catholic Wife


  1. Beautiful! I have his book and can't wait to read it.... just have to make the time :)

  2. I guess I need to add the book to my reading list. I too feel like sex is a chore. I'm trying hard to look at it according to what scripture says. More or less giving in to having it because my body doesn't belong to me but to my husband, since we are one. Plus if I don't it leaves open the possibility for evil to creep into my marriage leading my husband to find his physical need for love from someone else. Yet, it's hard after a day long of activities, I just want some time to myself and to sleep. Thanks for sharing you've given me something to think about.

  3. You won't regret getting this book. I used to feel same way even after a couple of weeks of abstaining while in the fertile phase! I would put it at the top of my to-read list. ;-)

  4. Thanks so much for commenting on my blog. It's funny - I actually recently purchased a head covering and have been wearing it at Mass as well.

    Reading JPII's Humanae Vitae is what I believe brought me back to the Catholic Church. :)

  5. I appreciate what you've written here. I have been going through anger and resentment toward my husband off and on for year now. I know it's wrong, I keep confessing it...and feel okay for a while, and then it's back. I don't want to have sex and frankly, I don't think it matters for us because I was permanently sterilized 16 years ago before I became a Catholic and so our involvement is useless and meaningless. Now I'm supposed to be motivated to do the act to keep my H from committing adultery. Great. God Bless.

    1. I think there is healing and hope for you in spite of being sterilized. Please seek it.

  6. What an inspiring post. Thank you for sharing so honestly

  7. Wow! Beautiful and amazing. Thank you for taking the time to write about something so intimate and beautiful. You're a blessing to your readers.

  8. It seems as if for all of you that replied sex either is or was a chore. I am curious if I am the only one whose husband is not much interested. I long for spiritual and physical union but he is content to just be in the same house. We do have the children and we go to mass but sex only happens about once a month and he won't talk about it.