You know what always cheers me up when I’m feeling down? Writing about sex.
Let me pose a question about Divine Providence: why did God make it so hard to be chaste? A typical man must, if he wants to avoid sin, endure more than a decade, sometimes more than two, of sexually mature celibacy before getting married. Then after marriage, his ability to enjoy his wife is (again assuming he wants to avoid sin) limited by how many children he can support. As a final cruelty, many wives lose sexual interest in their husbands shortly after marriage and refuse to sleep with them. (See these harrowing stories from Sunshine Mary, also Baumeister and Vohs’ shockingly honest–for academic writing–ruminations on sexual economics. I’ve also raised the issue before.) In today’s perverse world, it’s actually easier to get laid outside of marriage than in. Even those men (the majority) who don’t have women throwing opportunities for fornication at them must endure the constant temptations of pornography and masturbation. It seems like God is just setting men up to fail. (Women too, although they tend not to realize the gravity of the sexual sins to which they are prone: contraception, pornographic “romance fiction”, divorce, refusal to render the marriage debt…)
In fact, I think that lust per se is one of the less dangerous deadly sins, that is one that is least likely to get a person into hell on its own. Let us consider what I fear is a typical example of a teenage boy indulging in the solitary vice. My readers will know that I take a hard line on this sin; it is mortal, and if a piano were to fall out of the sky onto the boy’s head before he goes to confession, he will go straight to hell. On the other hand, I have pity for those in its clutches. The typical masturbator is most likely ashamed of his habit and would quit it except that years of absolute continence seems unendurable for him. And most likely heavy objects will not be falling out of the sky onto him, and he will have decades left of life. He may marry, but even if he doesn’t (or if he does and his wife shuts him out), his sexual cravings will become weaker with age. By forty or so, semi-permenant celibacy becomes fairly easy to endure. Rather than indulge a shameful but weakening appetite, how much sweeter is the appeal of virtuous dignity and reconciliation with a patient God.
For those men who live into middle age, lust finds itself at a greater and greater disadvantage. (I’m 36, and already it’s getting easier for me.) No man wants to be a slave of lust who isn’t one already. Our own sexual fantasies often seen silly and vulgar when we recount them in an unexcited mood. When not in the grip of lust, the Christian way of life seems more appealing to just about anyone. When fully reasonable, a man despises his pornographic materials and the contraptions he puts between himself and his wife. Human weakness is ultimately weak.
The key to the lustful man’s salvation is that he at least remain ashamed of himself during the decades when the fever is high. Today, unfortunately, sexual vice and perversion are championed by the ruling class. This adds a new temptation; a man can put aside his burden of duty and guilt any time by embracing sexual libertinism. This activates a much more dangerous deadly sin: pride. You’ll notice that the perverts don’t call their foul marches “Gay Lust” parades; they call them “Gay Pride” parades, and rightly so. Their purpose is to emancipate themselves from God, social propriety, and the natural law. They declare the body meaningless in itself, mere raw material to be used in whatever way best gratifies their desires. They expel all reverence before the mystery of natural meanings. Worst of all, they make war on the Church, using their control of the state and the media to persecute their enemies and to corrupt our children. If a man joins the sexual revolution, he will almost certainly be damned. Now it is not mere human weakness that separates him from God, but hard ideological conviction. He has declared as a matter of principle that he will stand with Satan and refuse to serve God and His order.
This raises the question of pastoral strategies. How should priests and spiritual guides (including the producers of culture) best approach sexual sins? We see already that some sexual sins are more dangerous than others, because some are easier to repent. We may wink at engaged couples who “jump the gun”, because they will probably reconcile themselves with the moral law soon enough. Similarly, we need not go after masturbation aggressively, because in most souls shame will eventually do our work for us anyway. Divorce and “remarriage” is probably the most dangerous sexual sin. The wife one abandoned will necessarily fade in the mind compared to the collaborator in adultery one sees every day. Especially if one has children with the second woman, the temptation to go along with society’s sham that one can promise exclusive lifelong fidelity to one woman after another will be nearly irresistible.
The other question is how much horror we should teach our children to have of sexual sins. I think the wise path is to lean toward laxity. Children must know that these are serious sins that imperil their immortal souls. If they have the impression that only extraordinarily wicked people indulge in them, though, they might be too ashamed to approach the confessional after a moment of weakness. Or else the thought of being a monstrous sinner will be unbearable for them, and they will escape from it by embracing the ideology of the Enemy. I would instead leave the impression that many people make an occasional slip on these matters. (Don’t say that “just about everybody” does it. We don’t want the successfully chaste to feel like there’s something weird about them. The impression to give is that many falter and many don’t.) The important thing when you fall is to pick yourself up, get right with God, and carry on a chaste life. The danger of this strategy is that some horny youngsters may take away the message that sexual sins aren’t really a big deal. Just have your fun and then reform before you die. This strategy is impious, but it’s not totally disconnected from reality. Many people do have youths of sexual abandon and then rectify themselves in time to avoid hellfire. The way to promote full chastity is to help our children come to love God, so that they wish to live in His presence and be pleasing to Him. I guess there’s no getting around that in any case.