God in the Sexual Act
Should God be present in our marital intimacy? Of course – we are always in His presence. Why would we want our marital intimacy to be without His presence?
The question is how to do this, in a "natural" way. (One can imagine rather bizarre ways of doing it.) Here are four possible ways.
The first and most obvious way is gratitude. Isn’t this a natural reaction to the intense pleasure of marital relations? Orgasm, in particular, is a moment in which it is possible to be entirely focused on oneself and the overpowering pleasure of the moment. But it is also entirely possible to thank God – and one’s spouse – at that moment, to consciously refer the ecstasy to something outside of ourselves.
Another way to keep God present in our marital relations is focusing on the idea of “gift” – the gift we receive and the gift we give. As others have argued, men and women have somewhat different roles in the sex act: a wife is naturally receptive (a very active receptivity, in which she welcomes the body of her husband into herself) and a husband is naturally active (a very receptive activity in which he enters into his wife’s body). Each in his or her own way is giving himself or herself to the other.
Third, there is the suggestion in an old Catholic theology manual, by Frs. Ford and Kelly. They suggest that spouses consciously refer the sexual act in which they are engaged to at least one of its purposes (procreation, mutual help and support, legitimate outlet for sexual desire). This does not mean, of course, that ALL one thinks of during the act is some abstract intellectual idea of the goal of marital relations. One is thinking of many things: most obviously, the delight one is feeling in one’s own body, the delight one takes in his or her beloved’s pleasure. Also the “work” of sexual relations: figuring out what to do at a given moment, this time – given that sex is variable, has its own dynamic that differs from one act to another. But in the midst of these things, it is also possible to recall the whole “point” of sexual relations: the union of the spouses, for bringing about new life and deepening their own personal bonding. (Note that spouses can refer the marital act to its procreative purpose even when beyond childbearing years, or during conjugal sex during infertile periods by natural family planning - the “procreative significance” of the act is always there, even if the actual procreativity is not.)
And fourth, one can ask for divine assistance in achieving a full and rewarding sexual act. Not every sexual act flows naturally to its delightful end. Sometimes distractions, interruptions, tiredness can be obstacles to an easy accomplishment of sexual delight. In some cases, these can’t be overcome very well, and the thought can occur “why did we bother?” On other occasions, one moves beyond them to the ordinary fulfillment of intense sexual delight. At times of difficulty, one can react supernaturally: during the act, asking for God’s assistance in carrying it out to a loving and happy conclusion, and after it, offering up either the gratitude of the successful achievement, or – with equanimity and even a sense of humor – the failure to achieve the ordinary ecstatic fulfillment of the sexual act (understanding that the act has still been a “success” on the most important level: striving to give oneself to one’s beloved as best one can).
Finding God in the Climax
I raised the question earlier as to whether we are alone at the moment of orgasm, and I argued that it is possible to be with our spouses. But there is another alternative to a man being alone with himself in that moment: being with God. Being with another human being is very difficult at this moment, even with his wife – who is the immediate occasion, cause, even location of this pleasure, and toward whom at that moment he feels such deep gratitude – because he is so deeply inside himself at that moment that it may seem that no other human being can reach down there, and be with him there.
But a believer knows that at the very depth of his being is the very source of his being: God. And so the Person Who can most be there with a man is God. And the natural response in His presence there is gratitude. That is what makes it possible for sex to be transcendent, to push us beyond ourselves, and, indeed, everything else – to go to the ultimate Reality that exceeds the universe and is, at the same time, at the center of our being, as the source of our being, Who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.
So it is also possible NOT to be alone, but rather to achieve union in and during orgasm – above all, through gratitude: One reacts to the experience with “Oh, myyyy Gooooood . . . ..Thhaaaaaaannnnnkk yoooooouuuu!”
While, as I said, it seems virtually impossible for anyone else to “be there” at that moment, it makes a difference if the wife also has that same attitude or stance toward reality, so that each one of them implicitly knows that the other is experiencing that moment in the same transcendent way. They know that they are there together, even though at the very farthest reach they are alone with God. In a sense, they can be alone with God, together.
And this aspect of union can be encouraged or fostered by verbalizing, by speaking, by expressing it in speech. While it might seem that this would diminish the interiority of the moment, it doesn't have to (at least, judging from my experience). The "thank you, God" (or "my God, I love this moment so much") spoken at orgasm is not intended primarily as a communication with the spouse (though it is that incidentally and intentionally) – if it is, it might diminish the pleasure of that moment. It is really the overflow of feelings, the spontaneous reaction of a believer to such an immense gift, talking to God (though knowing, and intending, that the spouse "overhear" that "conversation").
And, similarly, spoken afterwards, as husband and wife quickly come down from the heights of pleasure, but experience the contented well-being of closeness (that wonderful oxytocin!), words of gratitude and love for each other and to God help anchor them together in a common understanding of what they have experienced together – their deep conjugal union and bond, and its transcendent meaning.