Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Teleology of Coitus.

Note to the Atheists. Advance warning. This is a religious post.



Of all the encyclicals issued by the Church in the Twentieth Century Humanae Vitae was probably the most controversial. From the moment of its promulgation it was immediately met with opposition and controversy. Sociologically, it seems to have split the faithful and adherence to it is teaching being a litmus test of orthodoxy.

The other impression I've gotten from my years of looking at the issue is that while the Church's hierarchy is convinced of the documents "rightness", there does seem to be quite a lot of private consternation at the effect it has produced. There almost seems to be desire for some type of solution to be found.  People felt that if only the document could be be "better explained' then the faithful would be drawn back to the fold.

I think this why JP II pushed the phenomenological approach, especially when it came to "contraceptive" matters. Now, maybe because of my retardedness, I've never understood the phenomenological argument against contraceptive sex. The idea that the contraceptive sex was a typed of "reservedness" when it came to love could as just as equally be applied to sex deliberately chosen when a woman is infertile. i.e. NFP. Choosing to have sex when a woman wasn't fully herself (i.e. fertile) could also be construed as a type of "rejection" of a woman's totality and a violation of "true" love.  The conflation of sex and love made it all a bit vague as well.

My own view of Humane Vitae, taking a Caritas approach, is that it is fundamentally correct. Any act which violates the telos of sex is a privation of the act and therefore intrinsically wrong. Just to be clear about this matter, this rubs me against my natural inclinations as well but the arguments are clear and convincing. As a servant to the truth I have to submit to them.

But whilst I think Humane Vitae was right in principle, I've had the growing conviction that it was wrong in what it considered contraceptive, much like the Church in the Middle Ages, which regarded all forms for interest bearing lending as usury--the Church may have banned too much.

The problem, I think, lays in the Church's understanding of the telos of sex, which it views as being intrinsically fecund. In other words, the sexual act, when non-privated in any way, shape or form is intrinsically fertile.  Or to put it another way, an infertile sexual act is one that is privated in some way, either voluntarily or involuntarily. To put it a third way, the perfect sexual act, considered in itself, always produces babies.

Now, this does not mean that the Church expected every sexual act to be fecund. It understood that privations of various kinds were beyond the control of sexual persons and therefore the sexual act was not illicit when performed under involuntarily privated conditions.(Though there was opposition to this notion) The Church never banned couples from sex whilst a woman was in menopause or after a hysterectomy. They key concept here, though, is that these though the participants in these sexual acts incurred no negative moral imputation, the acts themselves were considered privated and not teleologically complete. 

I imagine that this traditional understanding came about because of the primitive understanding of the physiological mechanisms of conception. The Ancients thought thought that the failure conceive following a sexual act was due to a "fault" in the system. Natural lawyers, drawing from animal analogies, determined that the "purpose" of sex was reproduction. Combined with an Augustinian view of sexuality, which saw the "fleshy desires" as corrupting, a view sexuality took hold which saw sex as only legitimate within the context of reproduction. Both veneration for tradition in the Church and its "anti-fleshy" tendencies meant that this view was very difficult to change.

So, it was interesting to see that conundrum that Catholic confessors were put in when the mechanism of ovulation began to become elucidated. Catholics, as they became aware of the fact that women were fertile only for a limited period in their cycle, began to start timing intercourse during the periods when a woman's fertility was least. This put confessors in a bind. The traditional teaching was that sex was for conception and therefore having sex simply for pleasure was morally dubious. According to Noonan, there was a wide range of opinions on the matter ranging from outright condemnation to qualified support of the practice.  Confessors, seeking advice, petitioned to the The Sacred Penitentiary who advised them to leave the faithful alone. The Church sat on the fence.

It was not until Castii Connubi that the Church officially declared that it was not sinful to deliberately have sex when a woman was not fertile. I don't think people really realise what a revolution in Church morals and repudiation of 'tradition" that this document represented. Still, the document saw sex as the "secondary" end of coitus and persisted with the notion that the sexual act was intrinsically fecund.

 Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

On deeper reflection, however, this view is problematic. A normal woman's menstrual cycle ensures that she alternates between periods of fertility and infertility, the question then needs to be asked: Is a sexual act performed during the infertile phase of a woman's cycle intrinsically privated in itself?

If we assume that God's intention can be revealed through our "design", then the period of fertility privation that occurs during the menstrual cycle would be a feature and not a bug of the system. In other words, did God intend sex to be infertile during a portion of a woman's menstrual cycle? Because, if he did, the telos of sex during this period is not fecundity because by its very nature the act is sterile by divine design. This is at odds with the Church's teaching. The only way you can square the circle between tradition and our understanding of physiology is to assume that the the infertile period of a woman's menstrual cycle is some sort of privation. But that of course leads to the conclusion that God deliberately produced a faulty product. (There's a whole host of theological problems with that.)

Given the coitus is possible during all stages of the menstrual cycle, what the design of the cycle reveals is that coitus can only achieve its telos of conception during a small portion of it. The rest of the time coitus is intrinsically infertile by design. It would appear that the telos of coitus varies with the stages of the menstrual cycle and the Church's insistence that the coitus is intrinsically orientated towards procreation would appear to be at odds with the findings of physiology.

A sexual act performed during this infertile period is meant to be intrinsically infecund by design. The problem with the idea that sexual activity achieves it telos when conception occurs would mean that woman is intrinsically privated during her infertile period. This would mean that God either deliberately designed a fault (mistake)in women or that he deliberately intended sex to be infertile during this period. i.e. a sexual act performed during the infertile period is teleologically complete and not ordered towards procreation.

Then again, there is the issue of menopause. Did God make a mistake? Is menopause a disease or a deliberate state intended by God? If it is intended by God, then intercourse during this period is teleologically complete and intrinsically not orientated towards children.

Then there is the issue of the suppression of ovulation by lactation. Now, this is either an intended or unintended feature of the mechanism. If unintended, it means God made a mistake: if intended, it means coitus is not intrinsically fecund during this period by design. On the other hand, if we assume that coitus is meant to be intrinsically fertile, then the deliberate use of this method to suppress ovulation--a method approved by the Church--is deliberately of malign intent since it aims to private a woman's fertility. The fact that the mechanism is endogenous in no way absolves it of its evil.

The idea that a coitus is meant to be be intrinsically fecund is not just a statement of morals but of physiology as well. It implies that that an infertile woman (either temporarily or permanently) is a privated one. Or, to put it another way,  the ideal, non-privated woman (with respect to traditional sexuality) is meant to be fertile all the time: something which our understanding of physiology refutes. The idea that sexual activity is meant to be intrinsically fecund is the "traditional" understanding of physiology being "front-loaded" into morals by Natural Law philosophy.*

FWIW, my own view on the teleology of coitus is that the coital act achieves it telos when sperm is deposited in the vagina. This approach squares up with all the physiological findings and does not result in us thinking of menopause as a disease or the infertile periods of the menstrual cycle as being some form of privatory state. It also squares up with a lot of traditional morality.

Finally a word about NFP. (Natural Family Planning)

Over at Zippy's blog there has been some criticism of the critics of NFP who tend to see similarity with the practitioners of NFP and contraceptors.

Now, an act's morality is determined by the act, the intentions and the circumstances. All it takes is for one of these elements to be morally wrong for the act to assume a negative moral character. If, for the moment, we push circumstances aside, we see that while the NFP crowd and contraceptors clearly act differently their intentions are the same.

If coitus is mean to be intrinsically fecund then the intention of both parties is to instantiate a privated form of it (the desire for the privation of a thing) is morally wrong. The idea that NFPer's are "open to life" is contradicted by the fact that they are timing coitus for periods when the capability of generating life is apparently non-existent. It's like saying you want to go to Church but then deliberately turn up when you know that Mass is not on. This type of cognitive dissonance is usually found amongst the idiotic left who say one thing and do another. The problem of intentionality is solved if the intention to pursue infecund sex as an end (through licit means) is seen as morally legitimate.

Note: Anyone who wants to comment should remember that post is about the telos of sex and not contraception.

*I'm doing exactly the same thing except that my understanding of the telos of sex comes from an updated understanding of the biology of it, not some Galean understanding of sexual physiology.

47 comments:

MarcusD said...

Just saw this yesterday:

"I demonstrate that during the 1970s, the marital behavior of US Catholics changed dramatically relative to that of the total population. The Catholic marriage rate, that is, the number of Catholic marriages per 1000 Catholics, decreased nearly 20 percent relative to the civil marriage rate. Before and after this time period, the two rates moved in unison. Empirically, I find that the Catholic reforms and encyclicals of the 1960s, that is, Vatican II and Humanae Vitae, led to a decrease in the Catholic marriage rate relative to the civil marriage rate and that the reform of civil divorce law had no effect on this relative rate."

From: Gregoire, Scott Larkin. "Three essays concerning religion and domestic behavior." (2009).

http://repositories2.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/6668/gregoires74287.pdf?sequence=2

Aurini said...

If conception is the only telos of sex, then why is the human body so fluid with its erogenous zones?

A distinction needs to be made between love and perversion: perversion is where the the intent behind the action doesn't line up with the act, the act of sex being one of intimacy and love. For a large number of people today, sex is performed as a psychodrama; to escape ugliness from their past, or to revel in self-debasement. For others, it's a purely material drug, with no spiritual qualities. In both cases, the partner is treated as a replaceable object, not an ensouled being.

But for a couple to use sex to draw closer to eachother - and if a focus of that drawing closer is creating a household to grow a family - that satisfies the telos of sex.

To restrict it to merely coitus runs into some obvious logical problems. Certainly kissing doesn't violate that telos... but what about kissing her breasts? What about performing oral on her? What about her performing oral on him, but not to completion? What if she does perform oral to completion? What about dressing in a school girl outfit?

The physical act doesn't have any sharp lines of distinction to differentiate it; the only strict lines which we can find are in the soul, not in the world.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Marcus

I'll have a read through the article when I've got some time. I think there was more going on than Vatican II but HV, I think, really shook the foundations of the Church.

It's easy for the Trads to say that anyone who disagrees with V2 is in rebellion with the Church, but given the profound discontent with its teachings, maybe there's something wrong with the document.

The Trads tend to argue that people need to obey HV because of the Church's authority. But the Church only has authority if it teaches the truth. Truth is the foundation of the Church's authority and not tradition. Perhaps the reason why there is so much rebellion is because there is something untruthful in the document? The document's error may not be in the banning of contraceptives but in its understanding of what exactly is contraceptive.


Aurini

Yep, lots of problems with their approach.

I don't conflate love with sex, with the exception of Eros, which is just a fancy name for lust. The older theologians are very interesting to read since they don't really didn't consider the emotion of love very much at all when it came to the matter of sex.

Personally, I think coitus is achieves it's telos when sperm is deposited in the vagina. All the rest is just preparatory work.

The physical act doesn't have any sharp lines of distinction to differentiate it;

I'd disagree with that in that coitus performed outside of it's proper context is objectively wrong. But your quite right in that evil intentions can exist in the soul even when the acts are outwardly good.

David Foster said...

One thing that distinguishes human from (most?) other mammals is that females are sexually receptive and can feel sexual desire outside of their fertile periods.

Aldous Huxley wrote a very interesting novel (Ape and Essence) about a world in which nuclear war has somehow changed the nature of female sexual behavior to a state of "being in heat" only once or twice a year, during which times wild promiscuous sex is socially expected...and there are strong social sanctions agains the "hot," genetic throwbacks who wish to have sex at other times.

Jason Lee said...

I know nothing about Catholic theology, and I don't know if I'm following the arguments here very well, but expanding on your Church/Mass analogy, couldn't you simply say that Catholic couples should, to the best of their knowlege, sync coitus with times when "Mass is on"? Is that so hard?

No one really knows the upper limit on the time sperm can survive inside a woman, so the time during which "Mass is not on" might be surprisingly short if the truth be fully known.

On the other hand, could it be legitimate, from the Catholic point of view, to suppose that since the fall of Adam and Eve, the physiology of reproduction has become corrupted, creating the infertile phases and excessive (or misplaced) libido that lead to teleologically incomplete sexual acts?

I appologize for the obvious limits on my knowledge of theology, but I couldn't resist this interesting discussion.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Jason.

Interesting lines of thought.

sync coitus with times when "Mass is on"? Is that so hard?

I think the "hardness" comes with the difficulty of reconciling empirical observation with traditional moral understanding.

Prior to Castii Connubi there was good solid block of Catholic thought which coitus with the express aim of pleasure only was morally wrong in intent. This line of thought is actually logically consistent if you assume that coitus is teleologically orientated towards conception. The traditionalists don't actually realise how "untraditional" (from a 1930's perspective) they really are.

As for sex being corrupted after the fall--(Btw quite an interesting thought)--I don't think there is any strong biblical foundation to that, and that position has some philosphical problems. Because, if sex is teleologically orientated to conception, and conception is possible periodically, then the corruption is only periodic. Sex cycles from corruption to perfection.

Thanks for chiming in.

Jason Lee said...

"...coitus with the express aim of pleasure only was morally wrong in intent."

I think I see your point and I don't disagree with it because I think it's obvious that libido and sexual pleasure are teleologically orientated not only to conception but also to other noble ends that are not necessarily subordinate to the aim to conceive.

But I'm considering the merits of the opposing views.

I wouldn't argue that female sexual physiology is cyclically corrupted, but I would suppose that the cycle itself might represent a change from the original design. That, of course, would limit how much we could infer about God's intention from design.

Laying that aside, one might argue, perhaps more convincingly for Catholics, that the female reproductive cycle is essentially "perfect", but that our round-the-cycle libido is the real problem. Is it a stretch to think that perfect libido in the Garden of Eden would have been in sync with cyclical fertility, as with other known models of sexual reproduction?

Of course libido is corrupted, at least in some ways to some extent. Typical sexual drive leads people astray all the time, so it's not hard for me to suppose that libido leading to coitus during periods of infertility is an example of slightly misplaced sexual desire (or imperfectly executed libido -- perhaps vaguely comparable to onanism) that can be held in check by thoughtful, godly people.

Okay, I'm beating a dead horse. We're essentially in agreement on some level. I don't believe that libido or female physiology are fundamentally broken. I just don't know how heavily we can rely on our still-incomplete understanding of the subtleties of physiology and reproductive design for unambiguous moral guidance in sexuality.

Kathy Farrelly said...

This is a great piece, SP. Been thinking about it all morning.

"The problem, I think, lays in the Church's understanding of the telos of sex, which it views as being intrinsically fecund. In other words, the sexual act, when non-privated in any way, shape or form is intrinsically fertile. Or to put it another way, an infertile sexual act is one that is privated in some way, either voluntarily or involuntarily. To put it a third way, the perfect sexual act, considered in itself, always produces babies"

I think(and I am certainly no intellectual, like you, SP) the church has moved on from the notion that sex is intrinsically fecund. The Catholic Catechism does say that the purpose of sex is twofold.

2363: The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.
"The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity."



Problems have arisen from people thinking that marriage is specifically for procreation.

I know of a few couples who married just for that reason. One couple in particular recently separated. The wife bore the kids she had always wanted. But, because there was no real love there in the first place, the marriage was not a unitive one( read, they rarely had sex) the marriage crumbled.

Love made us! God's divine nature is love. Born of God's love we must love him. He made us for this purpose.

Now when a couple marry, they should marry for the right reason.. That reason should be because they love one another and wish to spend the rest of their lives together.. Out of that love (God willing) children are then born.


2362 "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude."145 Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:


The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation."

Frequent sex between a loving husband and wife does bring them closer together. It's the glue that binds them.

If things have been getting me down a bit and I am a bit tetchy all my husband has to do is grab me and give me one (for want of a better expression ;) ) and it will completely lift my mood. We both feel good and are more loving to one another.. There are less disagreements.. Married sex is indeed unitive. :)




The Social Pathologist said...

The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family."

The problem is that during the infertile phase of the menstrual cycle the conjugal act is intrinsically devoid of its fecund meaning. Sex during this phase of the cycle has no procreative meaning and biology in its perfection cannot satisfy the intrinsic meaning of sex as defined by the Church.

Houston, we have a problem.

"The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity."

Remember, this is not an argument about contraception but about the telos of sex. The question that needs to be asked is:what exactly is sex for during the infertile phase of the menstrual cycle? Clearly, it can't satisfy its twofold meaning during this stage because conception is impossible.

The way the Church has worked around this problem is by seeing the infertile stage of the menstrual cycle as an "involuntary privation" frustrating the act from its telos,--thereby absolving the parties of any guilt--where in reality it is nothing of the sort. The telos of sex during the infertile phase of the menstrual cycle is explicitly unitive only.

The"twofold meaning of sex" does not just mean that the sexual act must be done in such a way that can produce babies but that every sexual act (which is not privated in some way) should produce babies. The Church views the infertile phase of the normal menstrual cycle as a privation. i.e. an evil. Can you see the problem?


As for intentionality, the post Castii Connubi Church sees it as licit to pursue the unitive aspect of sex alone.(though, before then you'd be quite suprised how a lot of the religious-including popes-took a dim view of this position.) However, this is theologically "muddled" Since to deliberately private a thing is evidence of malign intent. If sex is meant to have a twofold meaning then to deliberately instantiate a privated form of it is an evil. To use a very crude analogy: If babies are meant to have arms and legs, then wanting to have a baby that didn't have any arms would be of objectively evil intent.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Jason

That, of course, would limit how much we could infer about God's intention from design.

Correct.

it's not hard for me to suppose that libido leading to coitus during periods of infertility is an example of slightly misplaced sexual desire

The other explanation is that God is quite keen on the "unitive" aspects of the relationship. He wants husband and wife to "get together". The babies are a secondary issue.

I just don't know how heavily we can rely on our still-incomplete understanding of the subtleties of physiology and reproductive design for unambiguous moral guidance in sexuality.

Very good point. When I get some time I'm hoping to do a post on this very issue. But essentially our natural law understandings are contingent on our understandings of nature. If our understanding of nature changes then so does out conception of the laws. The problem of tradition is that it entrenches not only previous morals but previous understandings of nature as well.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"The Church views the infertile phase of the normal menstrual cycle as a privation. i.e. an evil. Can you see the problem?"

I don't think it does, now, SP.
The Catechism,refers to contraception as the evil, here.

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation AND THE USE OF INFERTILE PERIODS, IS IN CONFORMITY WITH THE OBJECTIVE CRITERIA OF MORALITY.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:159

"FWIW, my own view on the teleology of coitus is that the coital act achieves it telos when sperm is deposited in the vagina. This approach squares up with all the physiological findings and does not result in us thinking of menopause as a disease or the infertile periods of the menstrual cycle as being some form of privatory state. It also squares up with a lot of traditional morality."

I agree with this.



Pope Benedict's first encyclical talks about Eros and Agape that, correctly understood is a celebration of conjugal love, that is connected intrinsically to the divine.

"Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns."

I think that is beautifully written.


"Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing."

continued...

Kathy Farrelly said...

"6. Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate “love”. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabĂ , which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.

It is part of love's growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being “for ever”. Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks towards its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God:"

"The other explanation is that God is quite keen on the "unitive" aspects of the relationship. He wants husband and wife to "get together". The babies are a secondary issue."

This is what I was getting at (albeit rather clumsily)in my earlier comment. Marriage is first and foremost, unitive.. The two shall become one...With children being born out of that love.

Pope Benedict extolls the importance of a unitive marriage and the deepening of a physical and spiritual bond that brings a couple into complete union with the divine.



Kathy Farrelly said...

Here's the link to that encyclical.


http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html

The Social Pathologist said...

I've read Deus Caritas Est and if I remember correctly, the Pope meant it more as a discussion encyclical rather than an authoritative document.

Whilst I thought it a good document I thought his understanding of Caritas was hampered by the traditionalist Greek approach he used.

The problem with modern Christian "understanding" about coitus is that it seems to conflate sex and love. Sometime's its just about a shag and love is of secondary importance. St Paul thought marriage an appropriate way to vent sexual tensions. No talk about love with this approach.

Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation AND THE USE OF INFERTILE PERIODS, IS IN CONFORMITY WITH THE OBJECTIVE CRITERIA OF MORALITY.

You miss the point. I know that the Church says having sex during infertile periods is licit but the real question is why? Does the Church view the infertile periods as a privation or not? The Church has permitted coitus where the couple was involuntarily infertile but on the grounds that the couple had no control over the matter. The couple was seen as still performing the act which was essentially procreative but it was frustrated in its end by involuntary forces.

Still, this is dodgy moral theology. As critics of NFP have pointed out, contraceptors and NFP'ers whilst acting differently have the same intention i.e sex which is devoid of its fecundity.

Now, is it morally right to desire to bring into being something that is deliberately privated? The answer to that is in the negative. The desire to instantiate a privation is the essential nature of evil itself. To use another example: Say that the Church said that Sundays had a two-fold purpose.
1) So that man can worship God by attending mass.
2) Letting man have a rest day.

Does a man then sin by deliberately going to Church when Mass is not on? No confessor would let you off the hook for that one? Yet the logic is the same for NFP.

Humanae Vitae may have been a bad document not because of its prohibition on contraception but in its understanding of sex.

Rum said...

It is a well known fact that the most sexually un-inhibited females on the planet are ex-catholic school girls who have slipped the leash and are playing catch-up. They have been taught their whole lives that nearly any kind of naked fun and touching is very sinful. So, they think, all righty then. If it is all sinful then it is all the more arousing when I am finally getting to do any of it.

Kathy Farrelly said...

No, you are incorrect, Rum.

I went to a Catholic co-ed school and still maintain contact with many of the girls.

I can only recall one girl who went off the rails. We were all shocked. (this was because she went behind her parent's back to see a boy with whom she eventually had sex)
There was no such thing as a c**k carousel, there.

My friends are now all married with families. None were promiscuous.

Even that girl who went behind her parent's back, slept with only one other man. She married him.

As for Catholic schools these days teaching "that nearly any kind of naked fun and touching is very sinful."

You have got to be joking!

It's ALL about social justice and nothing to do with God or sin. They won't touch that with a forty foot barge pole.. Wimps!

It's (one of the reasons) why my husband and I decided to send our daughter to a small non denominational Christian school.

Today, Catholic school girls are no worse nor better than their secular sisters.
What makes the difference is how their parents bring them up.. It's a damn hard job, let me give you the tip.
Even in my daughter's CHRISTIAN school there is a girl there who at 17 has slept with 9 boys!! Yes!!! 9!!!
I was floored when my daughter told me this.. Not only that, this girl, seemed pretty pleased about the whole thing.. My daughter said that there were two other girls there, who had slept with boys.. My daughter (who is 17) said she and her friends referred to these girls as sluts, behind their backs.lupp

Kathy Farrelly said...

Sorry SP, don't know how I ended up with lupp at the end of my comment.. LOL. Rushing, I guess. Off to mass now. :D

Rum said...

I am not trying to say that Catholic Moral Teaching about sex makes young women promiscuous. Rather, that it is a mind structure built completely out of abstract ideas and without any foundation of normal human instinct. So, if one part is removed the whole edifice tends to collapse because the underlying passions really do not know or care about the difference between "sex open to procreation" and, you know, having fun and getting off fun.

Rum said...

Sentence ends with "off".

Benjamin I. Espen said...

SP, I think there is terminological confusion in your argument. I don't think these words mean what you think they mean.

First, privation:
On deeper reflection, however, this view is problematic. A normal woman's menstrual cycle ensures that she alternates between periods of fertility and infertility, the question then needs to be asked: Is a sexual act performed during the infertile phase of a woman's cycle intrinsically privated in itself?

And in the comments:
The"twofold meaning of sex" does not just mean that the sexual act must be done in such a way that can produce babies but that every sexual act (which is not privated in some way) should produce babies. The Church views the infertile phase of the normal menstrual cycle as a privation. i.e. an evil. Can you see the problem?

The term privation most simply means, the lack of a form. In standard Thomist terminology, this is also called, a lack of a perfection, or an evil. However, the first definition is most correct, and the later two are analogies. When Thomists get really technical, something like the infertile phase of a woman's menstrual phase might be described as a physical evil. However, a physical evil does not always equate to a moral evil, and the reason is this is a figure of speech. You can accurately describe something as a privation without calling its goodness into question. In philosophy, this is a category error, in programming, it would be a type error.

Second, intention:
Still, this is dodgy moral theology. As critics of NFP have pointed out, contraceptors and NFP'ers whilst acting differently have the same intention i.e sex which is devoid of its fecundity.

This isn't intention, this is end. You might replace end with motive. Motive and intent are not synonyms in moral philosophy, even if standard English uses them that way. The relation is identical to what you see in law. An intention is an act. Motive is an end or purpose. Thus the formulation: “an act's morality is determined by the act, the intentions and the circumstances” is not correct, even though one hears it often.

Contraceptive intent is forbidden by Humanae Vitae, but this means acts, not motives. The examples given in paragraph 14 are acts that prevent, or attempt to prevent, conception from occurring when it otherwise might. The motive of not procreating right now is specifically identified as acceptable.

Finally, intrinsic:
Intrinsic causes are matter and form. Extrinsic causes are agent and end. Natural philosophy, as such, nowhere requires that intrinsic causes operate at all times and in all ways. Formal causes in particular are often present only in potential. You can describe sex as both extrinsically and intrinsically fertile, but neither of these statements requires unbroken operation in time.

Thus, the confusion about privation operates again here:
Or, to put it another way, the ideal, non-privated woman (with respect to traditional sexuality) is meant to be fertile all the time: something which our understanding of physiology refutes.

If you take privation only in one sense, then yes a woman must be fertile at all times in order to avoid privation. However, in a bigger sense, the physiology tells us the follicular phase is followed by the luteal phase, which is again followed by a follicular phase if a fertilized ovum has not implanted in the uterus. In this sense, the fertile period of ovulation, and the infertile periods when the egg is maturing or the luteal body is producing progesterone to help support a potential pregnancy are both necessary to fertility. It would be more accurate to describe a non-privated woman as one with normal menstrual cycles.

Anonymous said...

SP:

A few comments.

The female menstrual cycle is not a part of the fall. Human nature was not chnged by from the fall but instead corrupted - certain graces were lost, and certain punishments added. For the woman, this included the pains of childbirth. For all mankind, it included various forms of toil and pain and suffering, which regarding the menstrual cycle would necessarily include cramps and the like suffered at the end of a period by women. The menstrual cycle itself is a natural part of female physiology, including its majority of time in infertility.

Sex is licit at all times for a married couple. This includes not only during the fertile and infertile time of a woman's cycle, but also after menopause and during pregnancy, when conception is by necessity impossible. The uncontested licitness of sexual intercourse after menopause, for example, is explicity stated in the Bible in the story of Abraham and the conception of Isaac. Sex is of course licit for a couple as a means of allaying concupiscent desire, growing closer as a couple, and growth in holiness via the grace of the sacrament, which is renewed and recommunicated to the couple via sexual union. The pleasure of sexual intercourse is licit to be enjoyed as long as one is not having sex simply for the sake of pleasure, just as one does not eat merely to enjoy the taste of the food, but to nourish the body with food that is enjoyable, one has intercourse not merely for the pleasure of sexual touch, but to nourish the marital union with pleasurable unitive acts. St. Thomas argues that before the fall and without the disorder of sexual desire and sexual pleasure caused by concupisence that sex would have been even more pleasureable and enjoyable for Adam and Eve, and by extension for us, because it would have been subordinated correctly to reason and divine purpose.

At least some traditional moral theories/arguements regarding sex were based on the faulty scientific theories about the conception involving the "coagulation" of semen into a human embryo, with the woman's womb simply being a "garden" for the male "seed". This completely ignored the actions of the woman's body, which were unknown, and lead to some wild theorizing about semen which makes little sense with current knowledge of human fertility.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Rum and Kathy

Protestant countries tend to be a bit more "sober" than Catholic ones. Perhaps why (ex)Catholic girls have gained their "reputation" is because they know how to have more fun. ;)

@Benjamin

Thanks for the constructive criticism. Just a few points though.

I don't think I'm using the term privation incorrectly;

When Thomists get really technical, something like the infertile phase of a woman's menstrual phase might be described as a physical evil.

That is exactly the way I'm using the term. I don't think "might" is the appropriate term here, rather, infertility is a privation if the proper end of a thing is fertility.

If we put moral considerations aside, and if the telos (final cause) of coitus if fecundity, then, the inability to achieve its telos is due to some privation of whatever nature.

But you argue that the telos of a thing is extrinsic to it, fair enough, but the Church defines fecundity (or at least its potential) as intrinsic feature of the act.

From HV

The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life

The definition here links the coital act with the procreative potential and defines it as part of its intrinsic nature.i.e., The coital act, in itself, has fecundic potential.

Fair enough.

However, empirical observation shows that the coital act performed during the infertile period of the menstrual cycle, menopause or lactation-induced-ovulation suppression is incapable of any form of fecudic potential.

Coitus at this time is sterile. In fact, nature has so ordained coitus at this time to be intrinsically sterile.

The technical Thomist would then argue that there is either a privation of some kind (temporal, biological, physical) in the coital act during these periods, since there is a deficiency of intrinsic form, or, that our (The Church's) understanding of coitus is at odds with empirical observation.

Nature doesn't lie.

It all hinges on whether God ordained infertility is a privation or not. Is menopause a disease or a natural state? It is my opinion that the Church has conflated the deposition of semen in the vagina with fecundic potential. Empirical observation shows that semen can be deposited in the vagina when there is no life giving potential present and this lack of this potential seems to be an inbuilt feature of healthy female generative organs.

Fertility is not an inbuilt feature into the act of coitus, rather, it conditional on an presence of an ovum. Hence, whilst the formal cause the perfect coital act does involve the deposition of sperm in the vagina it does not include fecundic potential.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Benjamin

As for the difference between the NFP crowd and contraceptors.

I'm fully aware that there is a difference between the finis operis and the finis operantis between the two groups.

The finis operis of contraceptors is the instantiation of a deficient form of the conjugal act. The malum here lays in both the intention of privating the form of the act and in instantiating the act.

A man is not guilty of murder till he actually kills someone, though a man may have murderous intent which is morally evil as well. Still, both act and intention are evil.

I'm fully aware that acts which are non-deliberately privated diminish culpability but to want to deliberately instantiate a privation in a thing would seem to me an objective evil. To deliberately want to give birth to dead baby (privated life) or to want to have only one eye (privation of vision) or to want to have half the world hungry (privation of food) would be evidence of disordered intent.

If sex is meant to have a fecundic potential then to deliberately want a privated form of it would be wrong by this logic. ( The fact that the Church approves of it does not make it logical.

Hence contraceptors are are wrong by virtue of their intentions instantiated through their finis operis and NFP'ers through their intention instantiated by their finis operandis.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

The female menstrual cycle is not a part of the fall.

Agree. But I've got to admit that it was an interesting thought.

The uncontested licitness of sexual intercourse after menopause, for example, is explicity stated in the Bible in the story of Abraham and the conception of Isaac.

Agreed, but the question is why did the church think it licit if it was devoid of its procreative potential? What was its end? It would seem to me that mutual pleasure was its sole purpose.

The pleasure of sexual intercourse is licit to be enjoyed as long as one is not having sex simply for the sake of pleasure, just as one does not eat merely to enjoy the taste of the food, but to nourish the body with food that is enjoyable, one has intercourse not merely for the pleasure of sexual touch, but to nourish the marital union with pleasurable unitive acts.

Unitive acts, by their nature, are pleasurable. I think there is many instances in a marriage where one of the partners is looking for pleasure only and the other is happy to oblige. I see no guilt in that aspect of the relationship.

This completely ignored the actions of the woman's body, which were unknown, and lead to some wild theorizing about semen which makes little sense with current knowledge of human fertility.

Correct. The problem is that this "knowledge" became entrenched do to the veneration of tradition.

Anonymous said...

SP:

This completely ignored the actions of the woman's body, which were unknown, and lead to some wild theorizing about semen which makes little sense with current knowledge of human fertility.

Correct. The problem is that this "knowledge" became entrenched do to the veneration of tradition.


Lets take it a step further and inquire about some facets of the female role and actions in sexual union.

One of the most interesting is the much larger capacity of women to repeatedly climax vs. men, but also the difficulty of getting the woman to climax vs. a man.

Traditional moral theology viewed intercourse as being a completed act after insemination, with anything occurring to the woman other than being the "vessel of reception" being quite secondary. In this regard, and after some thought, it was granted that actions might continue after the husband's climax so as to produce one or more orgasms in the wife until she is "satiisfied". To my mind, this word is equivalent to satiety in eating, which might be defined as eating until one is full. The wife then, might legitimately be stimulated until she is exhausted from sexual congress.

But now comes the interesting part! It was granted that is might occur not merely by some touch of the husband, but even by the wife manually stimulating herself - i.e. masturbating, were the husband unwilling (voluntarily from disinterest, or involuntarily from his own exhaustion). This concession by the moralists calls into question the condemnation of masturbation as intrinnsically wrong. It cannot be so if it is permissible or even laudable in some specific circumstance. But this is clearly the start of chaos in evaluating the underlying logic of the traditional moral code!

In pursuing such questions, it often seems that the moralists very much need to start completely anew, armed with the ammunition of modern sexual biology. In evaluating marital sexuality, it seems a very false premise to start from and talk of every act being "open to life". Such is clearly impossible unless humans were to limit sexual intercourse to once per year and never after menopause or during pregnancy. The average human couple will copulate 2500 to 10,000 times during a 50-60 year long marriage. Yet even if they were to never consider the limitation or spacing of children, the vast majority would only have between 5 and 12 children, with a few outliers at up to 25. I.e. less than 1/10th of 1% of sexual acts and possibly as little as 1/100th of 1% have actual fecundity. And if a couple were to simply average intercourse twice per week, at most once or twice per 8 acts in a month long cycle for a mere 20 years of their 50-60 year marriage would have even a chance of fertility, the others being inherently sterile.

To begin anew, we would first need to stop holding that every act be open to life, since that is a physical impossibility for anything beyond once per year sex only before menopause, and find a different grounding for the purpose and end of sexual acts.

(continued)

Anonymous said...

(continued)

Regarding the transmission of life, it seems that a starting point was uncovered in the middle of the last century when it was asserted that the command to "be fruitful and multiply" was clearly related to the numeric human needs and capacities of the family, nation, world, and Church, and not merely a command to breed to the point where humanity plunges itself through the malthusian barrier of the Earth's ultimate carrying capacity. In this regard, it was asserted that the starting point of discussions should be a numeric minimal goal of married procreation to ensure the replacement of the present generation, the filling of the needs of the Church for ministers, and the acounting for those who are never married, sterile, or die young or are unable to have more than one or two children for reasons of nature, and that such a minimum might be reasonably set as 4 children. This has the benefit of simplifying all discussions of artificial contraception by eliminating any justification for its use prior to reaching that point and thus dramatically reducing the number of cases. With a reduction in cases, it can become much easier to ask and answer the two main questions that have been asked for centuries - are a couple required to have more children then they can support and if not what steps can they take to limit the size of their family, and how is maternal health to be protected in cases where additional pregnancy might cripple or kill the mother given the centrality of role of the mother to matrimonial society and the raising of children?

We would also need to re-evaluate the reasoning behind the insistence on vaginal insemination in every completed act at least on the part of the male. It cannot possibly be "procreative intent" or "openness to life" except in a microscopic number of cases. Perhaps the end of the evaluation might come to a conclusion that most acts are licit to the married couple as part of their natural marital and Christian freedom and that obsessive focus on insemination is misplaced provided the couple is proceeding to have children at a normal pace and manor.

We should also drop the arbitrary designation of certain acts as "natural" and others as "unnatural", since it is clear that if it can be performed without outside assistance (drugs, lubricants, etc.), it is natural in so far as the shape of nature. Perhaps instead we should look at physically harmful vs. physically beneficial if we wish to find grounds to condemn harmful and disgusting acts such as rectal sodomy.

Anonymous said...

(continued)

The marital union is ultimately about the creation of a special society capable of conceiving and raising children. The differentiation of this society from all others is its vowed familial exclusivty created by the sexual union and bond. Sexual intimacy is limited to being between the husband and wife, and it creates the personal union of a family which is the proper environment within which to situate child rearing. This raising of young extends not only through the parental/pre-menopausal age, but into the grandparental/post-menopausal age, and it is in the interests of the maintenance and nourishing of this intimate union that lifelong sexual activity finds its end.

From this new perspective, the evaluation of actions can begin, starting with the questions or really principles - are a due number of children being created by the union, is the union being renewed and fed by the act, and is the acts exclusivity towards the union and the children being maintained and respected? If the answers are all yes, where then is the condemnation? If one answer is no, then isn't it begging the question to even ask it?

Imagine a father of six who is sent towards involuntary continence by the unwillingness of his 40 year old wife to risk another pregnancy due to her hypertension and sanity being home with six children. Is it better for their family life that his wife have a tubal ligation to allow them frequent normal sexual union, should she favor him with fellatio to satisfy his physical needs, or might the husband satisfy his libido by masturbating to internet porn? Is there another option for them? Is it not obvious that masturbating to porn is undoubtedly the worst of the options? Given modern internet use patterns, does it not seem we have sunk to this solution as a society?

Benjamin I. Espen said...

SP,

Thanks for your reply. I find your argument really interesting. I find the following most compelling:
There is a long and venerable position in the Latin church that sex is for procreation, and that's it. Many good and holy Christians held this position.

Better understanding of human fertility lets us know that sex during some portions of the cycle is completely infertile. If procreation is the only purpose of sex, this implies we should avoid sex during this time.

Humanae Vitae takes the position that sex is primarily about procreation, but secondarily for the enjoyment and bonding of spouses. However, given the above understanding, I find your objections reasonable. On my own reading of the intersection of natural philosophy and moral philosophy, the formulation in HV is correct, but I don't think the reasons why are clear in the text.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Benjamin

There is a long and venerable position in the Latin church that sex is for procreation, and that's it. Many good and holy Christians held this position.

That is a very powerful argument, especially when you consider that it was advocated in a time when infant and maternal mortality was very high. The men who advocated it were not insensitive to the suffering of their women or the loss of their children and yet they still preached it.

I sometimes wonder whether they were right for the wrong reason, and that Caritas operated through them though they were ignorant of the facts. Perhaps there is some other meaning to coitus beyond reproduction and union which doctrinal development will reveal in time and perhaps the prohibition is to keep us good despite our ignorance.

Still, fallible as we are, we are obliged to work with our reason and with the facts available, and the facts are that coitus performed during periods of infertility is intrinsically infecund and the Church's insistence on the contrary is at odds with reality.

the formulation in HV is correct, but I don't think the reasons why are clear in the text.

I think the reason why the logic is not clear is because the logic is muddled. HV is correct in condemning privations of the sexual act but is wrong in its understanding of the sexual act. Its insistence that the coital act, sans privations, is intrinsically fecund is wrong. Looking at the biology of coitus, one can only conclude that God deliberately intended for coitus to be for pleasure only during certain temporal unions. Therefore there is not intrinsic fecundity in the coital union.

HV was another Galileo moment for the Church. i.e., it preached a doctrine contrary to findings of natural science. It's just fortunate that the document is not infallible only authoritative.

HV's error (conflating coitus with fecundity) poisons its consequent conclusions with regard to prohibited and permitted coital unions. HV was right in condemning privations of the sexual act but wrong in considering infecund coitus as privated.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

Perhaps the end of the evaluation might come to a conclusion that most acts are licit to the married couple as part of their natural marital and Christian freedom and that obsessive focus on insemination is misplaced provided the couple is proceeding to have children at a normal pace and manor.

Then there is the problem of Onan.
Scripture is pretty clear that Onan had the hurt put on him for spilling seed. There is also a long history of censure of sexual "perversion" of any kind. My reading of the history and scripture leads to the conclusion that insemination is mandatory.

Imagine a father of six who is sent towards involuntary continence by the unwillingness of his 40 year old wife to risk another pregnancy due to her hypertension and sanity being home with six children.

What I want to concentrate on now is on the teleology of the act. Discussion of "hard cases" is liable to derail the discussion, though, the moral evaluation of such situations is certainly altered with a reappraisal of teleology of coitus.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

...a reappraisal of teleology of coitus.

Should be:

...a reappraisal of the teleology of coitus.

Anonymous said...

SP:

Then there is the problem of Onan.
Scripture is pretty clear that Onan had the hurt put on him for spilling seed. There is also a long history of censure of sexual "perversion" of any kind. My reading of the history and scripture leads to the conclusion that insemination is mandatory.


Is there such a problem, and is it clear?

Leviticus condemns menstrual sex (15:19-24, 18:19 & 20:18, also Ezekiel 22:10), and this ritual purity law was carried over by moral theologians for over 1700 years as a mortal sin. See St. Thomas Aquinas, for example. It was thought that children conceived during menstrual sex would be deformed.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5064.htm#article3

Az this faulty science was abandoned, this sin similarly dropped from the manuals.

The interpretation of Onan's sin as being coitus interuptus is related to the Si Aliqius canon and musings that spilling of seed is equivalent to murder since it prevents formation of a new human being. It is related to the nonsense about NFP being "open to life" when it is nothing of the sort. The always present potency of the semen is all that is in view, and not the fertility of the wife or the presence of an ovum required for fertilization. This view of extra vaginal insemination as being equivalent morally to abortion & direct murder colors the comments on the subject.

If we leave such junk natural science behind in interpreting the Bible, we might not be far from the truth saying Onan died because of his inward mental dissimulation and disobedience, demonstrated outwardly by his practice of coitus interuptus. This seems what St. Jerome says:

"... Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother seed." (Saint Jerome Against Jovinian 1:19)

For what we know now of and from this passage and act, coitus interuptus itself might be a morally neutral act provided it is not connected to some violation of marital duties or to fornication. Then the sin comes from using it in an undue time whe the obligation of children is yet wanting, or with an undue person such as a non-spousal sexual partner.

St. Thomas locates the malum of fornication in the possibility of offspring being produced without a father and mother joined in marriage, which is an injustice. However, if one used contraceptives, NFP, or coitus interruptus, such a possibility greatly receds from view, becoming well nigh impossible if the unmarried couple has a little knowledge of fertility and limits sex to only the last week or so of the female cycle. Without the possibility of offspring, St. Thomas' reasoning falls apart.

"Wherefore, since fornication is an indeterminate union of the sexes, as something incompatible with matrimony, it is opposed to the good of the child's upbringing, and consequently it is a mortal sin."
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3154.htm#article2

This suggests that sexual activity be grounded in the concept that its enjoyment is to be limited to married spouses for the building of their lifetime union, for which cause sex apart from marriage is sinful because it builds a bond which the two people have not or cannot make with each other.

Anonymous said...

This suggests that sexual activity be grounded in the concept that its enjoyment is to be limited to married spouses for the building of their lifetime union, for which cause sex apart from marriage is sinful because it builds a bond which the two people have not or cannot make with each other.

I think this last thought ties in neatly with empirical evidence you have presented here in other posts regarding male-female bonding via sexual activity, and the rapid increase in divorces from having more than one sexual partner.

If we make the presupposition from natural observation that human sexuality is meant to be enjoyed between man and woman in permanent marriage as an incentive to staying together to raise the children and grandchildren which result from a normal marital lifetime of intercourse, we have a simple theory which excludes known and definite sins such as homosexuality (sex with undue persons), solitary masturbation (sex without a partner or fantasizing over another's partner), fornication (sex apart from a marital spouse), marital sodomy (harmful sexual acts), and adultery (sex with another's partner).

Such a theory also avoids needing to ask or answer the question: "we are married, are we allowed to do act X", whatever "X" might be, because the state of being married implies the ability and license to enjoy sexual pleasure with ones spouse.

Lastly, such a theory addresses contraception by leaving it to be asked whether there is just cause for the bodily mutiliation of sterilizing procedures, by simply passing over the use of abortofacient contraceptives acting through prevention of implantation as self-evidently condemned by relation to abortion, and of barrier and pharmacological methods by relation again to bodily mutilation - is there some just reason for vitiating the semen or ovum with pharmaceutical products or preventing their natural movement towards each other if the semen is ejaculated in the vagain? In this sense, a comdom becomes rather like a bandage. If we are bleeding, wearing a bandage can help us heal. If we are not bleeding, wearing a bandage over an imaginary cut is a sign of a mental disturbance. To condom use, it might be beneficial if semen were needed to be colledted for testing for treatment of infertility, or to block transmission of a veneral disease collected in a mistake of youth. On the other hand, it would seem a mental deficiency on the part of a man who was healthy and economically secure to want to temporarily mutilate his body from possibly making his wife pregnant.

Stephen Blaha said...

I think the confusion often lies in the language used. When the Church refers to "ordered towards procreation" I doesn't mean that each sexual act must be intrinsically fecund. It means that sperm must be deposited in the vagina (which is what you have mentioned several times) because this is the way we were designed. At least this is my understanding. This is not readily apparent to most of the english speaking world because that is not what these words usually mean.

Great blog by the way.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Stephen

Thanks

think the confusion often lies in the language used.

I don't think it is the language as much as the logic, which would appear to be faulty.

HV sets it out as thus:

The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.

and

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The Church does not simply say that coitus is ordered towards procreation (telos, final cause) but that the act itself is intrinsically fecundic potential.

This is flat out wrong and verified by empiric observation. The act of coitus has no fecundity in itself rather its fecundity is conditional to factors extrinsic to itself. (i.e the presence of an ovum). In order to satisfy the "twofold meaning of coitus" an ovum should ideally be present during each and every act.

The question then is: how do we consider a coital act devoid of an ovum in light of the Church's teaching? Is it privated? If so then every coital act devoid of an ovum has some fault with it. It would imply that menopause and the infertile periods of the normal menstrual cycle were not intended by God but are a mistake in the design. (You can see where this line of logic goes)

The fact that the Church has defined coitus as having a procreative meaning does not mean that the Church expected every act to be procreative, rather, the failure of procreation by a sexual act was attributed to some form of fault, not morally culpable if unintended but culpable if intended.

To quote HV again;

It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile.

The point is that the Church views natural infertility as a "fault" in the coital act not as something of intended design, even though it acknowledges that God designed the "faults"

HV again;

God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws.

It's an exercise in muddled logic.

If God has ordered the laws of nature to provide periodic fertility then the "intrinsic twofold meaning of coitus" is periodic as well. This gives coitus two temporal distinct "forms" something which is illogical.

@Anon

It's so easy to drift off into a discussion with regard to contraception, but I really want to stick with an understanding of the coital act itself. Since the hair splitting I'm engaging in is difficult enough.

Stephen Blaha said...

. . . teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.

. . . The Church does not simply say that coitus is ordered towards procreation (telos, final cause) but that the act itself is intrinsically fecundic potential. . .

I agree that the logic is convoluted and difficult. I saw that you are a physician, I am an obstetrician and this topic is particularly interesting to me. I have struggled trying to understand this for years and I usually find it best not to think about it, but I can't help myself sometimes.

I'm not sure you can draw the conclusion that the act itself is intrinsically fecundic potential from HV. The retained intrinsic relationship with procreation refers to vaginal intercourse, rather than the potential for begetting offspring. I have to believe that the Church has known for millenia that every sexual act is not intrinsically fertile - reference menopause, hysterectomy, etc. I don't think the Church uses the words fertile and procreative synonymously. Mostly I am playing devil's advocate because I agree with what you are saying.

The part I think I may never understand is why every act must be procreative, however you wish to define it. The idea that it comes from Natural Law seems to me to be equivalent of "because I told you so". Of course, the Church will not define Natural Law because it doesn't need to - it is supposedly "written on our hearts".

The Social Pathologist said...

@Stephen

The part I think I may never understand is why every act must be procreative, however you wish to define it.

I think it is because the traditional understanding of the mechanism of conception. Early theories of conception thought of it as essentially fertile, the failure of an act to generate fertility was felt to be due to some kind of "unknown fault". This understanding was upheld for centuries and thus became part of "tradition." A tradition which the Church upkeeps.


I'm not sure you can draw the conclusion that the act itself is intrinsically fecundic potential from HV

Church interpretations of HV have been distilled into the notion that each act must be open to the transmission of life, hence, each act must have the potential for generating life. Or, to put it another way, the act must be done in such a way that life could be generated form the act.

The Church does not expect each act to generate life, rather, it expects each act to be potentially capable of generating life.

The Church could have quite easily avoided this dilemma but simply insisting that insemination be the end point of coitus, without any regard to its life generating potentiality. For whatever reason, it chose not to go down this approach. Interestingly, some of the medievals were more insemination orientated instead of life orientated.

Anonymous said...

SP:

Church interpretations of HV have been distilled into the notion that each act must be open to the transmission of life, hence, each act must have the potential for generating life. Or, to put it another way, the act must be done in such a way that life could be generated form the act.

The Church does not expect each act to generate life, rather, it expects each act to be potentially capable of generating life.


This is because moral thoeology has been written entirely from the perspective of the male and his actions, and the male is always and inherently fertile except for some fault of his health affecting his seed, or from impotence. For these theologians, the act of coitus is complete by the male's ejaculation in the vagina - the action and result for the female is irrelevant in this view, and in fact some held it was better that she did not experience sexual passion (pollution, as they called it) but a simple quick insemination..

Another contradiction comes from this - a valid marriage cannot be contracted by an impotent man even as at the same time it is held that consent to marriage does not imply a consent to intercourse (see. St. Thomas in the Summa, Supplement, Q. 48, Art. 1).

The biggest problem with the official position comes from ignoring female fecundity. Assume a woman and man married at 25 and dying at 85 who have sex once per week, or about 3000 times in their life. They don't use birth control and have 8 children, meaning the woman is positively incapable of becoming pregnant for around 7 years of her 20 fertile years (the myth of infertility during breast feeding is belied by "Irish twins" - children born within 12 months of each other, as well as the reality of many women who simply start having periods again 2-3 months post-partum). Similarly, the woman is entirely infertile after menopause, or the final 40 years of her marriage. She retains a theologicaly theoretical "potential" fertility of a maximum of just 13 out of 60 years, which of course is further reduced by 70% by the realities of her monthly cycle. Real fertility is then the equivalent of 4 years of 60 for this exemplary faithful couple, while the teachings of the Church are simple rubbish the other 56 years of the time from the view of science and reality.

How can an act be "open" to the transmission of life when such an event is impossible, as for example during intercourse during pregnancy?

Anonymous said...

SP:

Although you wish to avoid the subject of birth control, think about this a second.

If every legitimate sexual act must remain "open" to life (even in light of what we know of human fertility), it could also be argued that various birth control methods, because of their inability to achieve 100% perfection in preventing pregnancy also still remain open to life, just at a much lower probability than an unregulated sexual act. However, the probability of pregnancy from correct use of NFP is in line with with the probabiliy of pregnancy from use of contraceptives. That being said, what exactly is the consistent argument against it but for NFP? Especially if the method is something done by the woman (such as the pill or diaphragm or IUD), who is inherently erratic in fertility anyway, so that the man still ends the act by actually inseminating the woman? I can't see a rationale here that makes sense. I am sure we all know people with children after their birth control method of choice failed. There are certainly many in my town and parish with children born accidentally late in their fertility. A hospital nurse told us of one couple when my wife was first pregnant who became pregnant after first a vasectomy (their 4th child) and then a cauterizing of the fallopian tubes (5th child). If God can make Sarah pregnant by Abraham in her dottage, than he can make any normal couple pregnant despite any actions they might take provided that the man inseminates the woman.

The Social Pathologist said...

How can an act be "open" to the transmission of life when such an event is impossible, as for example during intercourse during pregnancy?
@Anon

Correct.

My arm, for instance, does have to the potential to move in any direction it pleases, it is an inherent feature of the design. On the other hand, coitus has no intrinsic potential in itself to generate new life, this capacity is contingent on something extrinsic to it.

because of their inability to achieve 100% perfection in preventing pregnancy also still remain open to life

I call that the "leaky condom" theory and I think it has some validity but philosophically it doesn't hold water.

Condoms have an expected failure rate, so perfect sterility is impossible with their use, their evil lays in the intentionality of the agent who is attempting the block the transmission of life and violate what it sees as an essential feature of the coital act.
My take on Condoms is that they block the act of insemination, the fact that they fail to do so reliably is more a failure of actuation than intentionality, and thus must be seen in a negative moral light.

But I agree, that the Church's position with regard to NFP appears to be illogical to me. If the act is meant to be open to the transmission of life, how the hell do you do it when you know that the woman is incapable of conceiving?

What people tend to forget is that the Church's approval of NFP was seen by some at the time as being completely radical and a break with tradition. These older theologians were logical in their criticism of NFP. If coitus is ordered towards fertility then having coitus when fertility was known to be impossible was wrong. Their view was at least logically consistent.

GK Chesterton said...

There are a number of great comments here and this is a wonderful post. However, I think something should be said about the Law and the limitations placed on intercourse there. There is some sort of paradox between that and the Song of Songs that I think the current Catholic stance doesn't work well with.

The Social Pathologist said...

GK

Thanks.

Would you mind elaborating?

GK Chesterton said...

The Torah limits intercourse rather severely to the fertile period (see http://www.jewfaq.org/sex.htm)effectively limiting it to about 12-16 days a month depending on the woman. Yet it is clear there is a portion of pure eros that the modern Church is missing in the Song of Songs and certain texts in Proverbs. One does not "delight in her breasts" (cf. Proverbs) in reading many of the Fathers. The preacher for the pontifical household some years ago noted this problem.

It might be a Western tendency to codify what is organic in nature. So people bristle, and that bristling turns into rebellion (we _should_ want kids and they should be a goal of the sexual act).

I imagine that some explanation of joy/kids along side the normative explanation of sex/works as co-ordinate actions like volume on a graph might be helpful.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks GK

The preacher for the pontifical household some years ago noted this problem.

I vaguely remember his sermon.

I honestly think that, traditionally, the Church has had a real problem with sex, the carnal pleasures being grudgingly accepted only insofar as they promoted procreation: Not as ends in themselves.

I'm not well versed in this bit of the Bible. But it appears to me that Song of Songs is pretty explicit in its description of the carnal desires of the lovers. It's interesting, although the Church sees the passage as analogous to Christs love for the Church there is no mention of God in the text. Make of it what you will but it appears to me that it must have been a "difficult" text to explain in light of the Church's Augustinian tendencies.

You know, copulation is a very physical business. Grunting, sweating, fluids and all that. It's sometimes difficult to reconcile the fact that the mechanics were designed by God himself. Especially in light of Christian tradition when it comes to matters of the flesh.

Brian Killian said...

Here's the problem. The difference in knowledge that we have now versus what people knew two thousand years ago doesn't change anything regarding the telos of the woman's cycle.

Even when she is at an infertile time of her cycle, it's an infertility that is intrinsically ordered to fertility. The old has to be swept away to prepare for the new egg, etc. Everything that happens in her cycle is ordered to ovulation, even the non-fertile times. Her infertility is 'for the sake' of fertility.

This makes her natural infertility very different than the infertility that is designed by men.

If the Church Fathers had the biological knowledge we have today, they would STILL have correctly identified the telos of sex to be procreation.

Coitus doesn't stop being ordered to procreation every time a particular instance of it fails to result in conception. It doesn't stop being ordered to procreation even when procreation is temporarily impossible.

'Winning' is the telos of playing games. But games don't stop having 'winning' as their telos when it becomes impossible to win a game. Both winning and losing are part of the nature of game playing, not in spite of 'winning' being its telos, but because 'winning' is its telos. To be able to win, you must be able to lose.

Winning or losing does not affect the nature of a game, what alters the nature of the game is when you either cheat in order to win or throw the game in order to lose.

Likewise, the periodic impossibility of conception does nothing to alter the fact that procreation is the telos of sexuality. Both the possibility and the impossibility of conception are consistent with that nature. But like I said, even the temporary impossibility of conception is ordered to conception, unlike the impossibility that is imposed by human design.

You could think of a lot more examples as well. Does medicine stop having the telos of healing when it becomes impossible to heal someone? What about when it's' certain that they will die?

Brian Killian said...

.

carmeljamaica said...

There was this girl who insulted a friend of mine for using NFP.

Now, my friend is married and has one child. The girl who insulted her isn't even married yet, and she thinks she knows more about motherhood and sex than my friend.

I'm not against NFP. I am however, against any artificial contraceptives like condoms, pills, implants, IUDs, you name it.

Critics of NFP got it wrong. They believe that NFP is much like the artificial contraceptives, but they missed the whole point.

Practicing NFP does not mean you cannot have satisfying sex with your spouse at any time, whenever both wish to do it.

No one is going to prevent a married couple from having sex at any time or day they wish to do so. That is their decision, a private matter that is none of the outsiders' concern.

The Catholic Church endorses NFP mainly because of the "natural" part of it. It means to say that God (by his design of our bodies where a woman has her fertile and infertile days in the menstrual cycle) has given men and women a chance of a breather by spacing their children THE NATURAL WAY.

By no means does it mean that NFP will prevent you from having sex with your spouse whenever you want. It just means that you can space your children naturally.

We know that a perfect and consummated sexual act always results in babies, but with the existence of infertile days in the menstrual cycle, and the LAM (lactation amenorrhea method), God has provided married couples a chance to take a "breather" between babies.

And while NFP is considered a "natural" contraceptive, it is still in line with being pro-life because even if a married couple did not plan on having babies, but had sex and the woman gets pregnant, there is still LIFE.

But the pills and the condoms, the IUs, implants and tubal ligations---these does not result in pregnancy. As in ZERO pregnancy. It's a deliberate barrier to life.

See the difference? NFP is all-natural and whether or not a married couple wishes to practice it, they are still having sex, and still having babies, whether planned or not.

But artificial contraceptives means there's a deliberate act of preventing any chance of pregnancy.