What is the sexual urge? Is it a good for me? Can it be a good for me?
Distinguishing the Sexual Urge Within the Person
In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla describes our resistance to the sexual urge. We know and love our freedom, and this urge seems to push against it. Therefore, we resist it. Maybe we are afraid of it. There is a healthy amount of hesitation to have. The sexual urge has been blamed for many a wounded man, but it is not the sexual urge which has hurt ourselves or others. Only persons are capable of hurting or loving. These aspects of our interior life, including the sexual urge, are for our good, our happiness. The sexual urge is not merely an involuntary force in our senses and emotions, but takes shape by the help of our will (1) and can have a positive impact on our relationships. We can learn to see it and use it towards true fulfillment.
Big Picture: What It Means to Be Sexual
First, we must look at what it means that we, as humans, are sexual beings, for it’s obvious that a woman’s pregnancy is much more significant than my cat's. I give this example just so say that our femininity and masculinity is also more significant than my cat’s gender, but how it is more significant and why are these questions we have to answer.
It is also important to note that our sexuality is secondary to the human nature we all share. Wojtyla explains we each have a “specific synthesis of attributes which manifest themselves clearly in the psychological and physiological structure of man” (2). We are human persons and we each express this humanity through our masculine or feminine identity. The sexual urge is part of the experience of our sexuality. It is not given to us to be a domineering force making us like the animals. Rather, it leads us to a meaningful part of our identity, being a mother or a father. I realize this is controversial, and raises a lot of questions. What if someone is unable to have children? Are they not able to access this meaningful part of their identity. The short answer is that the motherhood and fatherhood can be accessed on a spiritual level and is not limited to the conjugal act, but the conjugal act is a sign of a spiritual reality in all of us.
What Else is Revealed in the Sexual Urge?
In sexual attraction, we discover the complementarity of the attributes. Wojtyla goes on to describe the meaningful implications of the existence of sexuality for our lives. “There exists for each of them not only the possibility of supplementing his or her own attributes with those of a person of the other sex, but at times a keenly felt need to do so” (3). If we are able to admit this limitation we are brought to our contingent character. Our ability to express our human nature through a masculine or feminine sexuality, and yet the presence of our “keenly felt need” for the other with his attributes, reveals that man is limited by himself. The sexual urge reveals man not only desires to be with others, but is in need of others. This is really cool because the other person, in his or her opposite sexuality, “possesses some specific value for the other” (4).
Without the sexual urge the different values of man and woman would be rendered valueless for the person. It is the sexual urge which turns us “outward...to seek the other sex” (5). We know from experience that the sexual urge draws us to attributes of a person without drawing us to the whole person. This is a distortion of the urge. This is because man is intended to experience the sexual urge towards a person, not merely specific attributes. Towards a person! This is amazing. We are about to see that the sexual urge is not something that makes us more like the animals. It is not something out of our power of self-determination. The sexual urge, because we are persons, is a gift in which the possibility of love can arise.
Do you see!? Do you understand!? This very thing which has been seen as a burden in which the possibility of hurt can arise, is intended to be a gift in which the possibility of love can arise! Do you believe this is a possibility for yourself? It takes responsibility on our end, and a conscious awareness of what we are choosing to do with the emotions and drives that arise within us, but is not love worth this effort?
Within the Scope of Freedom
Even when we have decided to submit to the responsibility which comes with the sexual urge, we may be tempted to give up under the belief that when it comes down to it, the sexual urge is really not in my freedom. This may relieve us of some meager effort of self-control, but it also tears our ability to love out from under us. We do not want this. Let’s seek understanding to guard ourselves against the robbery of our greatest gift.
My dog doesn’t have an intellect. He doesn’t have a will. He can’t think abstract thoughts such as “what are ways I can grow in courage?” He can’t chose to sacrifice himself in a way that goes beyond his need for survival, but I can. I, with my will, can chose to help my friend with her math homework even when it has no benefit for me for love of my friend. Because of these powers, the sexual urge is a different experience for us human beings than for our animal companions. No matter how powerful the urge, man is never totally deprived of his self-determination. The possibility of love is always open to him.
We ask ourselves what to do with the sexual urge we experience. If we do not admit it is there we never engage it with our intellect and will, and we feel love to be impossible. If we engage it with our intellects by reading this awesome blog post and engaging it with our wills by choosing what is good for ourselves and others, we experience freedom. A good example of a woman who has sexual freedom can be encountered in the book The Journey of Our Love: The Letters of Saint Gianna Beretta and Pietro Molla. The dignity of the person and the common good of society are points of reference for the gift of the sexual urge.
All of This to Say…
The sexual urge has the possibility of giving freedom and existential meaning to our lives. It highlights our limit and yet we are not left alone in our limit thanks to the cool way creation is set up. We are given the other, another person of the opposite sex. Also, the sexual urge points us to our dignifying identity as mother or father. It is not merely an involuntary urge, but “it is in the control of the person, and the person can use it, can turn it into such purposes as he or she thinks fit” (6). This is done by bringing the sexual urge into the will so that love can arise. Sometimes this is difficult, but not always. The difficulty is not what matters. What matters is that love is made manifest through you and through me.
- Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility,47.
- Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 48.
- Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 50.