The Joy of Sex was first published in 1972. Written by Dr. Alex Comfort (Yes, that was really his name), it carries the subtitle A Gourmet’s Guide to Lovemaking. According to the introduction: “the people we are addressing are the adventurous and uninhibited lovers who want to find the limits of their ability to enjoy sex.” The book advocates “sex as play” with the primary end being adult physical pleasure.
There are chapters on all things sexual with one rather glaring omission. There’s no chapter on pregnancy and childbirth. Yet babies (how quickly we forget—assuming we ever knew) are the primary point of sex, which engages our “reproductive organs.”
To the popular mind—perhaps even the popular Christian mind—that statement is, of course, ridiculous. Babies, we think, are not the point of sex. They along with venereal diseases are among the hazards of sex, things to be avoided. Whether it’s fighting about laws governing abortion or arguing about the HHS Mandate concerning free contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization, or counseling couples about to be married (pastors take notice), we spend much more time and energy on the prevention babies than we do on welcoming them.
But last week we welcomed a baby and I held Omie Louise Tonkowich for the first time a few of hours after her birth. Omie is our second grandchild and, along with her brother, a joy to hold and behold.
Sitting with Omie in my arms, I thought of C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory.” “There are no ordinary people,” he wrote, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
He might have added that it is immortals whom we conceive (or strive with all our might to avoid conceiving), immortals to whom we give birth, immortals whom we swaddle and embrace, and immortals whom we nurture through childhood.
Conceived by means of sex, Omie’s life dwarfs that of “nations, cultures, arts, civilizations” in duration, dignity, and value. Theirs is to hers “as the life of a gnat.” Dr. Comfort and our joy-of-sex culture that he helped create have a one-dimensional view of sex, focusing on pleasant activities with body parts and miss the larger and much greater point: sex gives us a share of the creative power of God by involving us in the making of immortals.
God’s command to Adam and Eve was, after all, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). It wasn’t, “Have a lot of fun with your body parts”—though He who designed and created the human body created sexual pleasure as well.
Thus we can’t deny the good of pleasure and spousal unity that are part of sex. The sexual coming together of a man and a woman as they give themselves to one another and receive one another is, in fact, an expression of our being made in the image of God.
As George Weigel writes regarding John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” in Witness to Hope, his biography of John Paul II, “Men and women are images of God, not only through intellect and free will, but above all, [quoting John Paul II] ‘through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning…. Man becomes the image of God… in the moment of communion.’ This yearning for radical giving of self and receiving of another, which Adam symbolically affirms by recognizing Eve as ‘flesh of my flesh,’ is at the foundation of our humanity.”
Then he goes on, “It carries with it, ‘from the beginning,’ the blessing of fertility, another way human persons are images of God, for procreation reproduces the mystery of creation.”
Not long after The Joy of Sex came out, the National Lampoon satirized it in The Job of Sex. If sex is a matter of proper technique, it will become—and has become—tiresome. If sex is a matter of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, it will become—and has become—compulsive. Worst of all, if sex is simply a bit of fun between adults, not unlike gourmet dining, it will become—and has become—trivial. Stripped of procreation, it’s just another hobby—a fun, pleasurable, even exciting hobby, but just another hobby that people do together.
Sitting in the hospital holding Omie, it was easy to see beyond the cultural blinders for there in my arms was the joy of sex.
Publication date: August 15, 2014