The Case for Not Calling It Sex
Sex vs Intimacy
In our culture young women talk about “sex” and “birth control” proudly in the context of responsible choices and personal preferences. Girlfriends chat about which method of birth control they chose as freely as they chat about shampoo and conditioner. “Did you get NuvaRing, MIRENA, or Essure?” Barriers, IUD’s, pills, patches, inserts, surgery…
Sex is expected, and has become divorced from love, divorced from the obligation to be a parent. Children are either wanted or not wanted, accepted or rejected if (you know) they appear out of nowhere. This is the pro-choice mentality, the family planning mindset. It focuses on the external and physical, the indulgence of the adults. Mindless, sex.
I’m embarrassed for women who talk this way now. When I began to understand Sacramental Marriage, I also began to understand privacy. I hadn’t really thought about what “privacy” means, even in a culture that claimed I had a right to it. It seems a lot of men and women are confused about this word, more than ever in this digital age.
Privacy refers to something that is restricted for the use of a particular person or persons, something that exclusively belongs. Way before I even got to the phrase “Natural Family Planning” on my journey of faith, I discovered that primal beautiful word that reflects true privacy between a man and a woman — Intimacy. Intimacy is the private dignity that affirms something sacred between a husband, wife, and God. This is the “open to life” mentality, the Natural Family Planning (NFP) mindset. It focuses on the body and soul, the whole self and the family. Giving and receiving of the mind, heart, body and soul.
“Sex” comes from the Latin word secus which refers to the state of being male or female, specific qualities associated with being male or female, males or females collectively, sexual organs. It is that thing that, only in part, defines a man as a man and a woman as a woman. Sex really has very little to do with intimacy, except to identify gender and to describe bodily functions associated with that gender.
“Intimacy” comes from the Latin word intimus which refers to the inmost, deep-seated, inner nature or fundamental character of a thing; essential; intrinsic. It is that thing between a husband and wife that is the deepest union, and it is not isolated to a physical act. It encompasses – is the very wellspring – of the entire union and relationship. Intimacy is uniquely human. Animals mindlessly have sex to procreate; humans, however, can experience intimacy in the marital bond to bring forth new life in love. See the difference?
So I wonder, is it really appropriate to talk about “sex” when we talk about NFP?
Wouldn’t using a better word keep the debates more focused? Lately there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not a couple has to use NFP and whether or not it is anyone else’s business what a couple does with the knowledge gained by using NFP. The discussions seem to have gone awry.
Perhaps if we could try to see the consummate [consummātus lacking nothing, complete, perfect] marital [marītālis belonging privately to husband and wife] act as something private, something intimate, instead of merely “sex” (a word that implies something non-specific to humanity, something only materialistic and bodily), then maybe some people would not feel compelled to reveal details that might be judged, and neither would others feel obligated to insert themselves into someone else’s intimate relationship.
Consider that realignment.
Personally, not only do I feel zero compunction for refusing to disclose private details about the choices I make with my husband, I wouldn’t even know how to explain the depth and nuance of our intimate decision-making process. We are open to life, and that affects everything we do. I may ask a trusted counselor or a priest or a friend for specific advice, but on my terms. It’s not something anyone else in the world could possibly understand in totality because it’s that private. We’re faithful and obedient Catholics, and that’s all the explanation we owe anyone outside our intimate lives. It’s supposed to be that way, by definition.
So what I’m trying to say is this: To call the act “sex” seems to betray real “intimacy” and if we are going to talk about NFP as opposed to immoral family planning, then perhaps we would fundamentally communicate better if we used the more appropriate word — intimacy.
Sex is to family planning as intimacy is to NFP.
“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society. – St. Francis of Assisi