General Audience of November 21, 1979
Yesterday I read about how sex is intrinsically linked to the part of the creation mystery when man goes to sleep and wakes up as two, male and female. John Paul II says that the fact that, during sex, male and female become one flesh “is a powerful bond established by the Creator through which they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity and in the duality of a mysterious reciprocal attraction” (167). It seems strange, at first glance, to think that sex unlocks our humanity. But what I think John Paul is getting at is the idea that our humanity stems from the fact that we are part of a community of persons, a fact that is made clear in the Bible when we read about original solitude and the solution God gives us for this solitude.
This solution, the creation of male and female out of man, means that every individual has the potential to overcome original solitude through communion with another. One way to engage in this communion is sex. John Paul explains this by saying that sex allows “one [to take] upon oneself the solitude of the body of the second ‘I’ as one’s own” (168). The “second I” is how John Paul describes Adam’s first encounter with Eve. He sees that she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone – she is a second him, and he is no longer alone. Moreover, he can reunite with her in sex and become one flesh again. The ability to be both two and one is why sex is so important. Merging one’s self with another’s self is a way to overcome original solitude and realize one’s humanity. It’s probably not the only way to do so, since I have to believe God gave us other ways to understand our humanity besides sex. But our ability to absorb another person’s solitude is one way that we can surpass our own original solitude.
Now, part of me wonders if I am understanding this properly, because it seems to me like this understanding of sex might lend itself to promiscuity. It’s clear here that sex is an amazing gift that lets us reconnect to the mystery of creation and experience a piece of the divine (in that the divine is a communion of persons). But what about this view tells us that sex is meant to be experienced only in marriage? Why does someone have to wait until they are married to experience this gift?
As with many questions theological, the answer is in the Bible. A man will “unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh” (Gen 2:24). It couldn’t be more simple and explicit than that, huh? I’m sure that some people can read this verse and argue with it, saying that it doesn’t tell us why. But truly, if the Bible tells us something, we really don’t have room to argue. And besides, given how thorough ToB has been up to this point, I suspect that more will come in future audiences about why it is right that man unite only with his wife (besides the obvious reason that God said so). We’ll just have to read more to get there!