Tag Archives: sexual ethics

Sexual Activity and Personal Identity

From the always interesting and illumination site, Just Thomism:

…our contemporary sexual ethic wants sexual activity to continue to give personal identity, but apart from the procreative power that generates actual persons with concrete relations, social and cultural structures, language communities, etc. Sexual activity can now fulfil or actualize one’s identity simply by having an orgasm, as though the genitals magically summon up identity like a genie from a lamp. At times there seems to be more than this – early trans activists in the 90’s spoke of wanting to re-establish hereditary lines and family structures to produce new sorts of families, but one gets the sense that if we sobered up and started taking the connection between sexual activity and family seriously it would be hard to avoid heteronormative – perhaps even Augustinian conclusions. It’s not as if anyone is in doubt over what kind of human sexual activity creates families as lines of descent from a common ancestor.

You can read the rest here: Two first principles of sexual ethics

Respecting Human Weakness

Unjust consent.

While we usually think about chastity in narrowly sexual terms, I often suggest to people that we think of it in a broader, more anthropological sense.

In a negative sense, the chaste person doesn’t exploit human weakness. Important here is that this includes not only my neighbor’s weakness but my own as well.

In a positive sense, the chaste person respects human weakness and sees it as an opportunity not to exploit but to make a sacrificial offering of self for the benefit of the other. This I think helps us understand what self-restraint is essential to a chaste life.

Limiting this self-restraint to sexual behavior is an act of self-deception. Sins against chastity (or sins of sexual immorality) are almost always the result of a series of self-indulgent thoughts and actions that exploit the immaturity or vulnerability of others.

A recent post in Just Thomism touches on the importance of this wider, deeper understanding of chastity.

Reflecting on the popular, contemporary notion that “consent” is the only ethical limit on sexual activity, James Chastek points out what I would call the unbearable naiveté of such a standard.

Drawing from the business world, we see the insufficiency of consent as a moral standard. In the economic realm,

…all kinds of consent are exploitive. Consent is usually given in timeshare sales, phone bills 50-100% greater bottom lines than announced in the big print, donations or campaign contributions that are functionally equivalent to bribes, payday loans, loans made to those in dire circumstances, loans made at no risk to the lender, most college loans, most historically existing forms of debt peonage, accepting perpetual slavery as a punishment for default or as the price for anything at all etc.

Just as in business, consent in the sexual realm can also be unjust. After all, “Since sex might be the only thing we want more than money, there are as many ways in which sexual consent is exploitive.” Chastek goes on to say, that

People agree – consent – all the time to exploitive, wrong, and unjust things, and it is silly to protest that their agreement makes everything right. But this is where everything gets interesting, since we find ourselves trapped by the question of what justice looks like in sexual relations, i.e. what are sort of sexual relationships to which one ought to consent? This is, however, exactly the sort of question that the Sexual Revolution wanted to replace with an economy of sheer consent, and it’s here that one sees the contradiction at its heart.

The contradiction is overlooked because we naively (and often implicitly) contrast consent with physical (or at least) emotional violence.

But coercion in human relationships is broader than physical violence. Working with college students, I frequently find that students feel great social pressure to be sexually active.

The practical effect of this is that free consent between two individuals is compromised by the social coercion. This puts sexually active students in the curious–and emotionally and morally untenable–role of being both victim and perpetrator.

Especially with the young, social pressure can rob individuals of the ability to consent. This shouldn’t be a surprise. We know that the opposite is equally true. Fidelity to the promise we make depend, at least in part, on the support of family, friends and the wider community.

And so back to chastity.

Chastity is not simply a private virtue; it is fundamentally social. Not simply interpersonal (i.e., between two people) but communal. We avoid exploiting the weakness of self and others, I need a community that supports and sustains me in my acts of self-restraint and self-denial.

Put another way, the self-sacrifice at the foundation of love is not only something we engage in for others but the fruit of the community’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Consent as the primary moral norm in sexual activity, then, reflects not enlightenment but a mere affirmation of human poverty and loneliness. While consent is personal it is also fundamentally communal. Consent abstracted from a community founded on self-restraint, self-denial and the self-sacrifice of love is simply an illusion.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

“Male and Female He Made Them”: Really!

“Male & Female He Made Them”: Really!

Over the last half-century or so, there has been a progressive erosion of what was once a universally understood norm, that human beings are male and female. While many factors have brought about this change, there are several that represent a significant departure from the moral tradition common to both Eastern and Western Christianity. Chief among these are:

  1. The development and widespread availability of artificial contraception.
  2. The rise of “no fault” divorce.
  3. The cultural acceptance of (or at least indifference to) fornication and adultery.
  4. The ready availability of pornography.
  5. The granting to same-sex couplings the same civil and legal status as marriage.

These developments are all interrelated. The inherent link between conjugal intimacy and procreation was undone by contraception; the permanence of marriage by no-fault divorce; marriage as the exclusive context for sexual intimacy by the acceptance (even among Christians!) of pre- and extramarital sexual behavior and pornography. And with the growing cultural acceptance of same-sex couples as “marriage”, we are now at a place where even the basic, created, distinction between man and woman is seen as irrelevant.

These events are all cultural battles in the Sexual Revolution that has been fought since the 1960’s. And, more and more, parents are contacting me about the emotional and moral harm they see being done either to their children or their children’s friends by the acceptance and promulgation of the moral norms of the Sexual Revolution. Though our situation is serious, we need to be careful that we don’t succumb to the understandable temptation to look at all these developments as merely an attack on sacred cultural norms.

As Christians and people of goodwill we need, to be honest.

Some of the cultural norms, like the role of women in society and the workplace or the tendency to blame the victim of sexual assault or to overlook physical abuse in marriage, needed to be reformed. But often with needed reform came a growing indifference–again, among Christians–to the Christian moral tradition and what God has revealed to us about who we are as men and women.

As youth ministers, we often find ourselves serving young people who have been negatively influenced by our culture’s understanding of sexuality. For example, a growing number of young people are quite open and fluid about their sexuality. As they move through high school and into their early 20’s a young person might think of himself or herself at different times as gay, bisexual, or straight.

Complicated as questions about sexual orientation are, there are also a growing number of young men and women who are confused about their sexual identity (transgenderism). A young person who is biologically male will think of himself as female (trans-woman) while a biologically female young person might insist that she is actually male (trans-male). As one friend of mine said, “It is a very difficult subject to navigate right now.”

In addition to the harm this does psychologically, confusion over sexual orientation or identity often results in the young person (and often family and friends) falling away from Christ and the Church. Important as the cultural questions are, it is the relationship of the young person to Christ and the Church which is our primary concern as youth ministers.

So what are we to do?

First, we need to accept the facts on the ground. Even if the young people in our youth groups aren’t themselves personally struggling with pornography, same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria (the clinical name for transgenderism) or in a family broken by divorce, it is almost certain that they have friends or classmates who are.

So the second thing we must do is pray. We need to pray not just for the young people in our parish but for their friends. Part of praying for young people is also praying for their parents. You might consider asking your priest to say occasionally the “Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children” to ask the Mother of God to intercede for all children and their parents.

We also need to pray for ourselves, other youth ministers and for the deacons, priests, and bishops as together we minister to young people. We need to have not only wisdom and compassion for those who struggle but also the courage not to compromise on the Gospel. As I told a young friend recently, wisdom is useless without the courage to act. Such compromise often happens out of a misplaced sense of concern for those who are struggling.

While we don’t want to drive people away, we also can’t deny the Gospel. Unfortunately, and again even among Orthodox Christians, there are those who have accepted the moral standards of the world. In doing so, they take from young people to opportunity not just for repentance but restoration, reconciliation, and wholeness in Christ. As a minister of the Gospel, accepting the world’s standards means I become an obstacle to someone else’s salvation.

Third, to prayer, we need to add good information about all of these issues.

We need to educate ourselves on the Church’s moral tradition as well as the scientific data on all the issues introduced here. The Ruth Institute is a good place to begin. Here you can find resources that address the moral consequences and the scientific implications of the Sexual Revolution.

Finally, it can’t be said enough. We need to pray for the young people we serve. I pray daily for the members of the OCF here in Madison. I also commemorate all the members by name when I prepare the gifts for the Divine Liturgy. While solid moral teaching and good scientific data (see here) are essential, without prayer they won’t bear fruit that will last.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory