Often in teaching my classes, rather than refer to sexual intercourse (when the subject of “having sex” comes up), I refer to it as the marital act. My intention is to teach that use of our sexual faculty is by Divine command to be reserved for marriage between husband and wife. “Having sex with” merely reduces the marital act to genital activity and an exchange of body fluids.
The marital act is holy. Does this mean that married couples must accept that they may not limit the number of children that God intends for them? No, if one is familiar with what the Church refers to as natural family planning. The Church has never determined the number of children a married couple should have, nor has it besought any commandment that couples have as many as physically possible.
The complementarity of marriage occurs in self-donation, of placing one’s spouse’s well-being above one’s own. Examples: conversation across a dinner table, in the kitchen and in bed; holding a job; holding one’s tongue. One could go on. Marital self-giving endeavors always to be open to a world of kindnesses, restraints, tensions, and accommodations that are part and parcel of a life together.
Let us remember Vatican II’s call for Christians to holiness, which dwells in the person who acts. All animal species engage in a physical union of male and female genitalia accompanied by rhythmic movements. Only human persons bring tenderness, intelligence, consideration, delicacy, playfulness, even humor to sex. Lovemaking is an activity of the whole person.
As I take up in my book, as a result of the “sexual revolution” young people are alone in a permissive wasteland. If the Church is to lead them toward a humanitarian understanding of the gift of sex, her spokesmen must always first respect it for its intrinsic goodness, not solely for a procreative function shared with every species in creation.