What is it that we most want from sex? We want the admiration, trust and love – the will to do us truly good – of a truly good person of the opposite sex, whom we love and trust and admire, with whom we have pledged before God and man our utmost mutual loyalty, even unto death. If we have that, then the consummation of any given sexual act is an accident – is not of the essence of what it is we most desire. Furthermore, only if we enjoy the essential aspects of sex can we possibly be satisfied of our sexual urges. A sexual act that lacks those essential properties is a simulacrum, that cannot satisfy; that cannot but leave us somehow empty, and craving more.
What are those essential properties? They are all mentioned in the second sentence above, but each deserves a word or two.
First, another person must be materially involved. Lacking that, sex is only imaginary. Not only is solo sex incapable of satisfying us, it cannot but frustrate us all the more. It is not even fake. It is like pretending to eat a ham sandwich that isn’t really there. Hungry men starving in the wilderness dream of food. Sometimes, I have heard, their dreams seem so real that their mouths water, and their stomachs grumble in preparation for digestive work. Likewise with solo sex. The body may respond as if real sex were at hand, but it has been hoodwinked. Thus fooled, it will gripe and ache and itch far more than if the dreams had never gained purchase on its life.
Real sex requires the participation of another person. That person must be of the opposite sex. Homosexual acts are radically, essentially, incorrigibly defective, in that they cannot possibly achieve the end of sex, for which it is provided to us in the first place, and toward which the very cells of our bodies are without exception throughly ordered: the conception of new souls. Millions of achievements of that end have in the first place furnished the occasion of our own lives. Without such achievements, there would be no humans at all, or any human sex.
Sex, properly so called, is essentially ordered to the generation of children. Whatever we do with our genitals, then, it must be ordered toward that end to qualify as sex in the first place. As not involving more than one sex, homosexual acts fail to pass that threshold of real sex. They are fake sex. They are like eating what is not food: cellulose mixed with aspartame.
Real sex, then, must involve another person of the opposite sex. But real sex is not ipso facto good. It may or may not provide the essential good of sex, for which we long. To get the good of sex – to get truly good sex – more is needed.
Good sex requires the participation of a beloved. We must admire and respect her – being myself a man, I’ll use the feminine pronoun – as truly good and admirable (and admirably beautiful); and that admiration and respect must be so strong and wholehearted that we will to dedicate our very life to hers, and to her good, even unto the loss of our own. Sexual acts with women we don’t love in this way are real enough. But they are not quite good, for they are not quite complete. They cannot ever satisfy; just as eating candy cannot sate our hunger for nutritious food.
Yet more even than this is needed for good sex. Our beloved must requite our love, and to the same degree. Few things in life are more painful than unrequited love; few things more wonderful than to find our love requited, and our loyalty reciprocated.
Finally, if sex is to be really good the love that is complete enough to supply it must, if really and utterly good, therefore also be grand and brave enough to declare itself boldly before all the world, and for all time. It must be expressed formally, in words of love that permanently seal the bond thereof. Anything less than a permanent seal betokens a love that, as conditioned upon certain future states of affairs, is less than utmost, and that can therefore only defectively satisfy our sexual longing. The seal must be also a matter of public record, an agreement with the whole people to keep a formal commitment to love on into an unknown future, whatever its hazards and adventures. A merely private agreement, that wants recognition by the wider world, is shy of the complete bravery called for by true love.
The perfect love we desire is the utmost love of a wonderfully good person to our own true good, a love that declares it shall be not at all restrained, or therefore limited, by considerations of this or that worldly factor or affection; and we cannot feel that another person is indeed that wonderfully good without willing in turn to make ourselves that same commitment.
Good sex, then, needs marriage.
And not just any sort of marriage, either. Good sex needs sacramental marriage. The lovers must consecrate the formal public bond of their love to God, and must understand their agreement to sacrifice themselves for each other as a sacrifice to the Most High God, and to his high purposes. Man and wife must pledge their lives to each other under the form of a solemn vow to God almighty.
It turns out that this marriage vow to God is not quite possible to those who have not also pledged their lives individually, and superordinately, to his service. An implicit pledge of devotion to Truth is the forecondition of any other promise; and all promises invoke and reiterate that prior pledge. Indeed, the marriage vow *just is* such an individual pledge of fealty, to the Holy Order of Matrimony, equivalent in its way to the initiatory vows required of those ordained to other such orders – those, e.g., of knights, monks, and deacons, of kings, prophets, priests, and bishops – wholly dedicated first to God, whatever the details of their temporal missions and offices. Matrimony is a religious order, like those of any monk or nun. Indeed, it is a most ascetic order, as severe and rigorous in its way as the Trappists or the Carmelites, because it calls continually for an ever renewed and deepened death to the old self and its petty fond wishes, in favor of a radical spiritual poverty, an unstinting obedience to the Good, and a terrific openness to the future of the world, and to the demands of eternity.
A marriage is to be a church. It is a gathering of two souls, at least (or, God willing that it should happen to fulfill his original and ultimate purpose for the Matrimonial Order in general, of a few more infant souls) in his name; and so he is present there. The Body of the marital animal, a new social organism of man and wife, is to be an ikon of the Body of Christ, and a representation of the marriage and unity between Christ and his Body the Church.
So then is sex the material element, the host as it were, of the sacrament of marriage. Where it effects that sacrament, it is a type of epiklesis, by which God is besought, to which he responds, and in which he then dwells. It may be, then, a medium of grace, and embody Christ, as it were a cell of the Church. And this embodiment, once effected, and provided it is not profaned, may continue unabated, whether or not the sacrifice of the marital altar is ever again consummated (although, as with the Eucharist – which is the Wedding Feast of Heaven – repetitions of the holocaust proper to that altar are never vain, but are, rather, altogether salutary and laudable); just as the host, once consecrated, is ever after the God himself.
None of this, of course, is to say that the essential elements of good sex all (mirabile dictu!) properly assembled and celebrated can be relied upon to conjure transcendently wonderful sex. No human celebration is immaculate, nor are any human enterprises completely successful. It is to say, rather, that great sex as the godless reckon it is not the true point of sex in the first place, so that those who seek it as the end of their motions with the opposite sex are sadly misled. The greatness of good sex lies not in sexiness, but in goodness. If you’ve got the goodness, why then you’ve got the fat meat of it. The sexiness of sex, then, will be gravy.