The Journey series
This week we consider how desire is a poor measure of need. We need food, drink, clothing, and shelter to survive, and conjugal union to continue our species. How we satisfy those needs is, however, sometimes guided more by pleasure than practicality.
In all choices, we strike a balance between necessity and sensual gratification. On the few occasions we went to restaurants, Grand Dad invariably ordered liver and onions, even when not on the menu. The rest of us chose meals higher in grease and sugar. Memories of the Great Depression held sway over his choice while our selection was ruled by our taste buds. The richer a society becomes, the further choice shifts toward pleasure. We have come to a point where what we choose often runs counter to what we need ― overeating, drug and alcohol abuse, barely-there clothing, rampant violence, pornography.
C.S. Lewis called this disordered appetites; he considered our sexual appetite to be the most disordered. He observed, “You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?”
Sex is pleasurable but it also has other consequences; it affects emotional bonds and is potentially procreative. Pleasure is a personal, subjective good and raising it to the highest goal of sexual union robs the act of its greater worth. In my sixty-five years, nothing has been more rewarding than my faith, my wife, and my two sons.
Reserving the marital act for marriage and respecting its nature has strengthened my relationship with all three. Observing and respecting the fertility cycle; both in seeking and avoiding conception, as prudence dictated; enhanced our experience. Artificially barring fecundity has potential to demote sex to entertainment. One’s partner risks objectification as a tool for gratification. Children might be seen as unintended obstacles rather than the gift they are.
Valuing sex primarily for pleasure places it in personal context rather than in its proper setting of mother, father, and children. Children are incapable of self-survival for many years and, cognitively, aren’t fully developed for about twenty-five years. Children do not reach their full potential outside stable, balanced environments. We owe it to our children and our spouse to use God’s gift responsibly and reign in our sexual appetites.
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Peter T Elliott