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Sexual love, if it is to remain sane, must be rooted in the reality of the human body, male and female.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court Royal of the United States, to declare that a man has the physiological capacity to mate with another man, has been hailed as a victory for “love.” We have heard that before. The whole sexual revolution was hailed as a victory for “love.” It requires a sensible person to pause and say, “Love of what, exactly? And what do you mean by that word?”

It cannot be an orgy of sexual license. “Such love is hate,” says the poet Edmund Spenser, putting matters as bluntly as possible. Nor is it indifference, going by the name of tolerance; hardness of heart for the weakling. “An amiable niceness to everybody,” says Frank Sheed in Society and Sanity, “was not what Christ made into the second greatest commandment.”

A normal man accepts womanhood on its own terms, as the real thing it is, and desires that it should be fulfilled – usually and most obviously in marriage. He looks upon another man as, like himself, the begetter of children, obviously made for a woman.

If I am going to love a human being, I have to know what that is. Now, a dog, who acts reliably according to his doggish instinct, can give me a pretty fair idea as to his nature, if I bother to attend to it. But man is not so. “Man is a rational animal,” says Sheed, and “if one knew only the definition and had never met a man, one would assume that a rational animal meant a reasonable animal. In fact, we know that man is, just as often, unreasonable.”

My dog Jasper cannot be unreasonable. He has no reason to abuse. My wife can be unreasonable. I can be unreasonable. Every single human being on earth can be unreasonable, and often is. And what are we most unreasonable about? Those things we desire. Let me but desire something, and suppose I am not in the habit of thinking about things as they are, and listening to the stern warning of my conscience. I will inevitably have developed the habit of thinking about things as they are not, or not thinking about them at all; and instead of listening to my conscience, I will have trained it to speak what I want, like a ventriloquist's dummy.

Can we not agree that what it is wrong to do, it is wrong even to have the desire to do? And some desires are like dynamite. It is foolish to play with them. Or they are like tigers. It is foolish to bring them out of the jungle to prowl about the neighborhood. Sexual desire is like the tiger.

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Now, marriage, says Sheed, is the realm in which that most potent desire can be what it really is. Marriage is by its physical nature oriented towards new life, and children, by their nature, are those time-transcending beings who dwell in history, as the other animals do not. The apes, for all their animal cleverness, do not reminisce about their forgotten ancestors. To engage in the child-making act, while pretending that it is not what it is, is to turn your gaze aside from reality.

Sexual love, if it is to remain sane, must be rooted in the reality of the human body, male and female. I can best illustrate the point by turning aside from the point of recent neuralgia, because the clamor of politics and incessant sloganeering make for clumsy thought. Suppose a bridegroom were to say to his bride, “I have no desire to do the child-making thing with you. What I really want, and what I have to have, is this,” and he names an act which is contrary to the nature of male and female, or contrary to the nature of the body. He can only be aroused by a part of the body that is not reproductive. Or he can only be aroused by food, or the smell of waste. Or he can only complete the marital act if someone else is watching, or if he is gazing at a picture of himself.

Anyone who is not deranged by ideology or by evil habits of his own would say that there was something wrong with that bridegroom. We would not just say that it is wrong of him to do the things he wants to do. It is wrong for him to desire them, to insist upon them. He is out of touch with reality.

The plain fact is that he cannot possibly love his bride as a woman, because it is precisely what distinguishes her as a woman that he rejects or wishes to pervert. He does not love her womanhood; he does not wish its fulfillment. He is caught in the grips of lust, for a fetish, and reduces her in his mind to a human machine, a thing that will fulfill his cravings. The desires themselves are glaringly unreal. We would not be surprised to find that he was in other ways also not in his right mind, not in a right relationship with the real. “Touched in the head,” says the old man at the general store, as he watches that bridegroom trying to look at the girl on the cereal box upside down.

A normal man accepts womanhood on its own terms, as the real thing it is, and desires that it should be fulfilled – usually and most obviously in marriage. He looks upon another man as, like himself, the begetter of children, obviously made for a woman.

But suppose now that he is in the grip of a fantasy, dreaming that the manhood of his good-looking friend is really for him, in some body-abusing act that mimics the genuine act of sexual intercourse. He is in the same case as the man who cannot make love to his wife after the ordinary way of nature. He does not love the manhood of his friend, because he wants to frustrate that manhood's natural end. He may crave all he wants, he may fixate upon the part of his friend's body that most excites his desire, and he may try mightily to introduce his friend into the seamy world of his imagination, an unreal world.

In none of this will there be any genuine desire that the much-desired man should be fulfilled as a man. Or imagine a woman who is still throwing slumber parties at age thirty, and who tries to instill into her female friends her own frustration with and contempt for the opposite sex. “Never grew up,” says the grandmother hanging her laundry on the line to dry. Far from really loving her female friends, her greatest fear is that they should meet good men and marry.

None of that is love, as powerful as the desires may be.

More to come.

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Anthony Esolen is a Fellow at the Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, NH.  He is the translator and editor of Dante's Divine Comedy (Random House), and is the author of more than a dozen other works, including Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery) and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Press).  He regularly writes for The Catholic Thing, Crisis Magazine, Touchstone, and Magnificat.


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