The Daily Texan has become rather concerned with sex of late. The writings of Guli Fager seem to be a weekly occurrence as of late, as do editorials concerned with all things sex. Occasional Firing Line submissions also broach the subject. The views of those writing about the subject have tended to mirror the two nationally predominant views. Most believe that sexual intercourse is meant primarily, nay, almost exclusively, for pleasure, and thus scoff at any suggestion of abstinence, whether or not it’s being discussed in the context of a sex-ed program. A considerably smaller number of people have argued that sex is meant primarily for procreative purposes, a proposition which has some rather prudish logical conclusions. Both arguments have their merits, but each is only a piece of the puzzle, a hint at the true purpose of sex.
To deny that sex is pleasurable would be a foolish mistake, and I have yet to meet anyone who holds this view. But is pleasure the sole end of sex, or even the most important one? Biologically, the answer is obviously no, as this is the only means by which our species can reproduce naturally. Nor is it reasonable to assume that procreation is merely a “side-effect” of sexual intercourse—if anything, biology dictates that the pleasure experienced is the side-effect.
The sexual revolution, meanwhile, has seemingly reduced sex to the state of being for pleasure first, with any other effects being secondary at most. But to reduce sex to being a purely pleasurable event is to make it an act of self-gratification. Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul the Great, wrote in his Love and Responsibility that “the fixation on pleasure itself for its own sake, as the exclusive end of association and [sexual intercourse]…is necessarily egoistic.” This “precludes love, as it precludes any shared good, and hence the possibility of reciprocity.” In other words, to engage in sexual intercourse as a means to self-gratification, to one’s own pleasure, is also to violate Kant’s categorical imperative that people not be treated as objects or mere means to another end.
Similarly, the view that sex is meant only for procreation also violates the categorical imperative. Is it not a form of use when sex becomes no more than the instrument by which a woman is turned into a “baby-factory,” or (alternatively) for the man to become no more than the means by which the woman is able to bring a new life into the world? Like pleasure, pro-creation is an effect of sex which cannot be separated from it by natural means, but it is not the final end of sex, either.
The ultimate end of sex, then, is neither entirely procreative nor entirely for pleasure. These things both point towards the true end of sex, namely, that it is a loving act, a unitive act. It is to unite with the other person, to form what Wojtyla calls the “common I,” to desire the other person’s good as or above one’s own good. Truly, intercourse is to make oneself a gift for the other, a free and total gift. This does indeed imply that each partner should try to make the experience pleasurable for the other; it also necessarily implies an openness to life as a natural result of the uniting of both partners into a “common I.” This unitive gift is what Christopher West calls an “image [of] free, total, faithful, fruitful love” (original emphasis).
[Submitted as an op-ed to the Daily Texan]