(Guest post by Daniel)
I can no longer eat that little tomato wedge that comes with side salads at restaurants. You know, the little half moon that sits to the right of the iceberg mix with the texture of styrofoam and a taste vaguely reminiscent of watery ketchup. I used to be able to eat them but then I had a real, fresh tomato with soft, meaty flesh and vibrant tomato flavor. Now, I could never go back to the stale and bland tomatoes shipped across the country in midwinter.
But it’s difficult to explain this to our food culture. Sure, people wouldn’t mind a better tasting tomato. But they want to make salsa in January so they want ANY kind of tomato NOW and it better be CHEAP. The idea of waiting or paying more is simply absurd.
This attitude is typical of what I like to call our “high fructose corn syrup food culture.” Here in the US, we plant MILLIONS of acres of corn every year simply so we can boil it down, add some chemicals, and render a cheap sweetener devoid of taste. HFCS is sweet of course, but it lacks the depth of flavor of honey or even ultra-refined table sugar. This makes it perfect to dump into everything from bread to yogurt to mustard to deli meat. And it’s so cheap! What’s the problem?
The problem is, despite the superabundance of food-like products in this country, people are dying. They’re dying from heart disease and suffering from diabetes. Millions of people are obese but aren’t actually getting the nutrients they need. Despite all the land tilled up for agricultural use, so many of our children are malnourished.
Sadly, this paradox of empty excess is not unique to our eating habits. Our culture is also sick because we think of sex in the same way. When the sexual revolution triumphed, we threw off the puritanical chains of our forebears! Everyone can have sex whenever they want with whoever they want! It’s great! It’s cheap! It’s GOOD for you!
…but a deeper look reveals this promise may not have come to fruition. Because we’ve started treating sex the same way we treat high fructose corn syrup. We started to think of the orgasm as the only purpose of sex. This is convenient because orgasms can be gotten so cheaply and easily. But there’s a limit to how much pleasure an orgasm can give. And once it’s over, well… it’s over. So, if you think the orgasm is the only purpose of sex, then you’re going to need another one. And soon. Or you’re going to need to find some way to escalate things in the hope that maybe the next sexual escapade will provide a more lasting pleasure. This is why pornography is becoming increasingly depraved, people are buying ridiculous things like sex swings, and Cosmo advertises “357 New Positions!”; we are not satisfied. We’ve become sick and fat on our constant diet of sex and yet we are still malnourished.
Because there’s supposed to be more! Sex isn’t just about sexual gratification. According to the Church, it is supposed to be both UNITIVE and PROCREATIVE. Neither my wife nor I grew up in the Church and some of these teachings, at first, seemed difficult or even arbitrary. But, as we’ve consented, I think our sex life has become better. Part of this comes from experience as the awkward exploration of our first times has given way to a deep understanding of each other’s body and desires. But another reason is that our “sex life” isn’t just some detachable part of our life like a career or exercise routine. Sex is an integrated part of our life connected to our marriage and continuing commitment to each other. When my wife and I make love (a wonderful expression which hardly describes our culture’s approach to sex), I’m not just trying to satisfy my own sexual desires and I’m not even trying JUST to satisfy hers. I’m uniting with her physically as I’ve already united with her emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Sex is not an isolated act but, in a way, an extension of the thousands of hours we’ve spent talking and laughing together; trying to take care of each other; and sharing everything from meals to joys and fears. Sex is one of the many ways in which we become “one flesh” and our enjoyment is exponentially greater as a result.
As to the procreative aspect of sex, we aren’t actively trying to get pregnant everytime, of course. But we’re open to the possibility. And part of the richness of that openness is present right in the next room where our children are sleeping. And another part exists in our hearts where we keep our desire to have, God willing, more wonderful children. We aren’t thinking about this when we make love but those blessings are still present with us and deepen the pleasure of sex. The pleasure is compounded because, I am not just making love to a beautiful woman; my beautiful lover is also my selfless wife and the wonderful mother to my children. This is also why our satisfaction is longer lasting. Because we don’t just take pleasure from each other and pull apart. We give ourselves to each other in a way that lasts beyond an orgasm. We contribute to the ever deepening bond tying us together. Sexual pleasure is both heightened by this bond and contributes to it.
All of this is difficult to explain to a high fructose corn syrup culture. “You mean you have to WAIT sometimes? You can’t just have an orgasm whenever?” Well, yes, we do have to wait sometimes. Practicing Natural Family Planning means we have to wait a lot of the time, actually. But I think we’re better off for that. Waiting makes us appreciate the act even more. When I have to wait I begin to crave, not just sexual release but, intimacy with my wife. This doesn’t push us away from each other; it draws us closer. Waiting, if we let it, can strengthen our marriage.
Our culture gives us corn syrup; sex that is easy and cheap, that you can have whenever you want but will ultimately leave you unsatisfied and sick. Soon this sex is like a January tomato, tasteless and stale. The teachings of the Church on sex, by contrast, are meant to give us nourishment and vibrancy, a fuller picture of this beautiful gift from God that will satisfy not only our sexual desires but many of our deeper desires as well.