The Challenge to be Sexual

In our culture individuals are often reluctant to relate sexuality and spirituality to one another or to discuss questions of sexual ethics because such discussions frequently deteriorate into condemnations and prohibitions. Explaining how we understand and use key terms in this document may therefore be helpful for the discussion we hope it will encourage.

SEXUALITY is the human ability to be attracted to one another and to enter into relationships by which we receive and give life.

GENITALITY is that aspect of human sexuality by which we, as bodily beings, use our sexual organs to give and receive pleasure as part of the expression and creation of union and intimacy. Genitality is not simply a biological function but is a component of human intimacy.

INTIMACY is that experience of comfortable closeness in which individuals lower their barriers and enter into each others' lives through acts of trust, respect, affection, and love.

SPIRITUALITY is the way we experience and respond to God's call to grow personally in relationship with God and others. Spiritual growth itself involves integration, a process of achieving wholeness. For Christians the source, model, and context for this growth is Jesus Christ.

ETHICS is the analysis of decisions as to their rightness or wrongness; it is also the assessment of the values upon which those decisions are based.

SEXUAL ETHICS deals with decisions and values in the area of sexuality and genitality. Since ethics serves spiritual growth, an authentic sexual ethic requires as its foundation an integration of spirituality and sexuality, an element that has been missing from the Catholic Christian experience.

PERSONAL INTEGRATION is the process of becoming aware of the various components of one's life, examining them in the light of available knowledge and experience, and accepting them as one's own. All this, for Christians, is to allow the Spirit to fill our lives ever more fully so that Christ may be revealed in us and we in Christ.

The traditional understanding of sexuality and its genital expression has often been fragmented and limited. Our own experience suggests a sense of wholeness. Sexuality and its genital expression are indeed multifaceted. It is communication and intimacy. It is fun, and it is vulnerability. It is ritual. It is power, and it is tenderness. The dimensions of sexuality's tremendous potential lead us, almost inevitably, to risk the uncertainty and fear of ongoing exploration. What we know and realize may hold other facets of meaning and expression yet to be discovered.

As we continue to deepen our understanding, we realize the challenge is not to explain or defend who we are. It is to understand ourselves as graced and our sexuality as a gift. The further challenge is to discover how to cherish this gift with gratitude and to enrich our lives by a genital activity, or an abstinence from activity, which respects individuality and reveals the presence of God in our lives as Christians.

Basic to this challenge is the need to experience our sexuality and its genital expression as a sacramental encounter with our Creator. In such playful, enriched, and graced moments, we experience our God as close, active, and all encompassing, present in and through the other who loves and is loved. We recognize that dishonesty or selfish holding-back in these moments distorts the activity and disrupts our deeper relationship with God. Experiencing sexuality and genitality as a sacramental encounter with God is at the heart of a fully Christian sexual life.

We emerge from a flawed tradition that often dichotomizes body and soul and consequently separates sexuality from spirituality. In the past, Church officials have taught that we, as gays and lesbians, had made a free choice contrary to nature. We were told that our attraction to members of our own gender was a refusal to accept God's will for sexual union. Now Church officials admit that our sexual identity may not be the result of deliberate choice. To some extent they distinguish between sexual orientation and genital activity. Yet they still insist that our sexual identity is an objective disorder, a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil, and that any genital expression of it is absolutely forbidden.

This we cannot accept. We see sexuality as an intrinsic, integral, and essential aspect of our human personhood, not a separate one. We reclaim our sexuality and its genital expression as intrinsically good.

We are not alone in regarding official teachings on issues of sexuality as not in touch with human experience. At the core of official teaching on sexuality is the prohibition of any genital expression of sexuality outside marriage and of any genital sexual expression within marriage not open to procreation. This ethic increasingly is regarded as irrelevant and unacceptable by heterosexuals, both those who are married in the Church and those, like the divorced, the widowed, the handicapped, and the single, who are sexually disenfranchised.

Scholars have shown the inadequacy of an ethic that regards sexual intimacy essentially as an agreement to procreate. Vatican Council II implicitly acknowledged this inadequacy when, in speaking of the purpose of marriage, it refused to subordinate mutual love and companionship to the procreation and education of children (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 50).

We believe that we remain fundamentally sexual at all times, whether we choose to be genitally active or genitally abstinent. We find that the more sexuality is integrated into the totality of our lives, the more joyful and peaceful is its genital expression. Thus, we are Christians both at prayer and at play. We are equally the temple of the Holy Spirit when we worship and when we make love.