When sex isn't about sex

What difference does it make what we do in the bedroom? Why does God care about our sex lives that much? Because of the Incarnation.

Because of the Incarnation, Christianity is an embodied spirituality that has to be expressed, not just spiritually or mentally, but concretely and physically. Clergy and religious practice celibacy as a way of giving themselves totally and completely to God. Likewise, laypeople are called to live the Catholic vision of sex as a way of making a total embodied response to Jesus’ self-gift. God holds nothing back from us, even taking on a body so that we could feel his love more concretely. How can we hold anything back from him? God doesn’t just want our minds and hearts. He wants us to dedicate our bodies to his service, not just in the public places, in the private ones too.

Whether you’re a lifelong Catholic or just learning about the Faith, here are three things that you may not know about the Church’s teaching on sex.

1. Your body is a prayer

Most people tend to think that as long as they pray and go to church, what they do with their bodies doesn’t really matter. But this belief is a heresy called Gnosticism, the disembodied, pagan spirituality that grew up alongside Christianity, but has been rejected by the Church since Day 1. God created our bodies. He pronounced them good. He loves our bodies so much that he plans to save not just our souls but our bodies, too — that’s what believing in the resurrection of the body means! For the Christian, the body isn’t just something we can choose to do with as we please. It is a prayer that allows us to be God’s physical presence in the world. When we use our bodies in ways that God didn’t intend, it’s like defacing the image of God. Treat your body like the prayer it is. Dedicate yourself to learning how to use your body to love others only in the ways that respect God’s design of your body and the godly purpose of your body — that is, to bring his free, total, faithful and fruitful love to the world.

2. Your body needs healing

Most people recognize the value of diet and exercise. These things aren’t a lot of fun, but we do them because we recognize that our bodies don’t always tell us what is best for them. Because of sin, our bodies’ desires are out of whack with reality. If we give our bodies whatever they say they want when they want it, we’ll become sluggish and unhealthy. But if that’s true in the way our bodies’ express their appetites for food and for rest, isn’t it the same with the way our bodies express their appetite for love? The desires for food, rest and love aren’t bad, but sin makes the body want to express those desires in ways that are bad for us and others, and can even make us sick. Maintaining a healthy diet teaches us to eat well. Maintaining a healthy exercise schedule trains our bodies to move well. And practicing the Catholic vision of love heals our bodies so they can love well. Our bodies require healing to be as whole and healthy as God created them to be. Let God give you the healing you need to live and love more abundantly.

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3. Your body is a gift

We tend to think that what we do with our bodies is entirely personal. That’s why so many people believe the pro-abortion statement “my body, my choice.” But the Christian knows that our bodies are a gift. They were given to us, not to do whatever we want with them, but so that we could work for the good of others. Each one of us, literally, is God’s gift to the world, and our bodies are the means of communicating that gift. If you wanted to give someone a gift, would you just throw it at them? Or try to shame them into accepting it at some inappropriate time? Or just leave it laying around? Of course not! You’d look for just the right way, just the right time, to give the person you loved your gift in a way that would be really meaningful. Not just once, but every time you gave them a gift. Practicing the Catholic vision of love allows you to pick the right way, the right time and the right means by which to give the gift of yourself in the most meaningful and beautiful way to the person you love. Your body is a gift. Practice the Catholic vision of love and learn to appreciate it for the gift it is.

Dr. Greg Popcak, the director of CatholicCounselors.com, is the author of many books including “Holy Sex!” (The Crossroad Publishing Company, $14.95) and the host of EWTN’s More2Life Radio.