You might recall Jane and I began our marriage preparation course back in August. Well I am pleased to announce that we have finally wrapped it up. Although we initially intended to complete the sessions over six consecutive weeks, there was so much material to absorb (and homework to be done) we thought it best to meet with our mentor couple every two to three weeks. The experience has been very valuable and if you are getting married I can heartily recommend the ‘Smart Loving’ Catholic marriage preparation course!
One of the sessions during the course dealt with the important topic of body language and the sexual union. All of us use body language hundreds of times every day; we cross our arms, shake hands, smile or hug. What we do with our body language is often more important than what we do verbally and for any married couple the most profound body language is that of the sexual union. Sex is sold today in culture, media and entertainment as something people ‘do’, but the risk is that when sex is primarily something we ‘do’, then we naturally begin to deal with it in the way we deal with other things we ‘do’. If we play basketball we want to do it well, or, if we play music then we want to do that well. If sex is just another activity that is done, a couple risk getting caught up in notions of sexual ‘performance’ and sexual ‘compatibility’; concepts that have never been as mainstream as they are today.
One of the reasons that people give for cohabiting prior to marriage is to test their ‘sexual compatibility’, which I gather can only mean that they are happy with the way they satisfy one another sexually. The problem here is that if I place conditions on my love for the other person (including an alleged sexual compatibility) then what happens five or fifteen years into marriage if I don’t find the other person fulfilling my needs? I have long wondered if the normalisation of sexual performance enhancers, from nasal delivery technology to herbal supplements, is a reflection of a society where sex has become no more than an activity for oneself rather than a language offered to one’s spouse. Sex seen only as an activity can also find itself moving to the bottom of a long list of more necessary activities in marriage such as cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and feeding the children, until it eventually becomes non-existent.
So if sex is not about performance or activity then what is it about? Well the answer is that sex is about communication. It is a sacred body language that speaks about renewing the wedding vows to love freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Perhaps an excerpt from this session might help,
“When you approach sex as communication, it is new and alive in the present moment and therefore deeply intimate and very exciting. It is not about positions or physical sensations but rather about what you want to say to your spouse with all your heart. The focus is other-centred and the message is deeply profound and bigger than just the two of you.”
This is why sexual intercourse outside of marriage makes no sense; it is like trying to write a sentence with incorrect spelling and grammar. Any married couple will agree that the success of marriage depends upon the level of communication but to consider the sexual union as the ultimate form of marital communication allows the couple to reach far greater levels of intimacy.
And this intimacy becomes even richer when we consider that the message of love that is spoken within a couple’s sexual union is the same message of love that God speaks to us – a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Of all the ways to show God’s love for his people in the Scriptures the most common and profound is the comparison of the love between a husband and wife. God desires this unity with us and his love is so passionate that he went to the cross and left us his body in the Eucharist. Ultimately the sexual union in this world will help prepare us to love with God’s love in the world to come. If only secular society understood that its obsession with sex is really an inbuilt longing to encounter the love of God!