Okay, faithful, observant Catholics—it’s quiz time!
How many different “sexualities” are there in Catholic moral teaching?
It’s a short quiz—if you guessed “one and only one,” you are exactly right.
This basic truth, of course, is something the culture has gotten exactly wrong for decades. Claiming that “sexualities” exist is the very foundation for the massively proliferating confusion and contention over sexual morality in the last several generations. And we Catholics need to be willing to stand against ideologies that promote the existence of “sexualities,” both in the Church and in culture at-large.
It may be that some readers are somewhat confused at this point—am I being serious? Isn’t this some kind of extremist misrepresentation of Church teaching? Am I really suggesting that, for example, homosexuality isn’t a “sexuality” unto itself, just like heterosexuality? Bisexuality, transsexuality, asexuality, autosexuality, pansexuality—am I saying they really don’t exist?
Well, no—these terms exist to describe attractions and experiences that are real enough. They’re just not sexualities. Rather, they are divergent paths away from authentically human sexuality.
Let’s let the Church interject some clear teaching at this point, right from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. First, in Paragraph 2360, we are taught that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman.” Then in Paragraph 2361, we receive an incredibly clarifying quote from Pope St. John Paul II (from “Familiaris Consortio,” 11):
“Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.” [CCC Paragraph 3261]
How does one realize “sexuality” in a truly human way? One does so only if “sexuality” is an integral part of the “conjugal love of man and woman.” Sexuality, in its one-and-only existing and God-created reality, is ordered only to the love of man and woman that ultimately brings them to marriage.
This is why every other so-called “sexuality” expressed in culture today is something less than a fully human expression of human love—because it’s not properly ordered toward married love.
This belief is so utterly counter-cultural that even many Catholics have difficulty grasping it in its utter simplicity. Indeed, it’s pejoratively referred to now as “heteronormativity” and viewed as virtually discriminatory to assert this. Court cases are now being lost by those in the United States who adhere firmly to this basic principle of Catholic teaching.
The deep and abiding pushback against this teaching is so fierce precisely because acknowledging a singular “sexuality” fully undermines all assertions of identity based on “sexualities.” In this context, “sexualities” is to “sexuality” as “Protestant” is to “Catholic”—to claim that my “sexuality” is different from the one ordered to conjugal love is to make a clear protest against a longstanding reality and to expect that longstanding reality to simply stop being what it is just because you’re protesting against it. But that’s just not how God’s plan for us actually works. The fact that there are “Protestants” doesn’t change the reality that the Catholic Church remains One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Similarly, the fact that people adhere to a plural definition of “sexualities” does not change the awesome truth of God’s plan for creating us male and female and uniting man and woman in marriage via our sexual identity—not as “gay” or “straight”—but as male and female.
Pope St. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, spends much time in teaching the essential importance of self-mastery and of every human person’s responsibility to discern whether each and every experience of our “sexuality” is truly something to be willed as being in keeping with authentic purity of heart. In simpler terms, this means that every one of us must interiorly examine every sexual urge, sexual impulse, sexual feeling, sexual desire, sexual attraction —whatever one wants to call it—to determine whether it’s in keeping with authentic purity of heart. How do we determine this? We need to ask whether this or that sexual feeling, in our immediate and concrete circumstances, is or is not properly ordered toward the conjugal love of man and woman—regardless of whether we’re married or not. We can only willingly say “yes” to those sexual impulses, attractions, desires, etc., that are truly ordered toward married love. Anything other than this is an experience of “sexuality” that is not a “truly human” experience.
If I’m married and I experience a surge of sexual attraction toward someone other than my spouse, I’m called to say “no” to that experience. If unmarried, I’m called to say “yes” only to those sexual attractions that, in accord with God’s plan, are there to potentially move me closer toward fully-realized conjugal love with the very person toward whom I experience that attraction.
And let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that we can define such “sexual” attractions as merely those experiences of “desire” for something physical or “biological”—above, Pope St. John Paul II makes it clear that “sexuality” concerns the innermost being of the human person “as such” (as human!) and cannot be reduced to the biological. This means that those sexual attractions that are not directly “physical” must still be examined in our hearts to determine whether they are indeed ordered toward conjugal love, or not. In other words, “sexuality” is not reducible to “whether I want to have sexual relations with” this or that person. Sexuality is rather God’s way of drawing together a man and a woman for that uniquely permanent, exclusive, free, total, faithful, and fruitful communion of persons we call marriage. Sexuality is about that full reality, not just about the “physical” part.
So, courageous readers, how did you do on this short Catholic quiz? Let me know by leaving a comment! And be encouraged—we can stand fast, together, despite the torrents of opposition. Let’s continue to pray for the many in our culture and the many of our fellow Catholics who are still struggling to see this simple truth about “sexuality” as a beautiful shining light in God’s plan for us.