This week's Mustard Seed examines the odd claim to autonomy in sexuality. The free love movement began in the 19th century. Its proponents wished to remove state control over sexual partners, birth control, marriage, and promiscuity. They believed mutual love was a better guide for sexual unions than were legal or economic bonds. A partner could be freely chosen and, if love ended, the relationship could be freely dissolved. Their relationship would be monogamous and committed for as long as their love endured.
With the pill and more readily available legalized abortion in the 1960s and 70s, free love was coopted to mean a noncommittal, sexually active lifestyle with many casual partners. In theory, anyone could sleep with anyone with no repercussions. In truth, there are considerable psychological and emotional traumas and, more than occasionally, unplanned pregnancies. The pro abortion chant, my body, my choice attempts to maintain the enlightened feminist's conception of sexual autonomy. Any rights of the father and unborn child are summarily dismissed.
The original concept of free love understood objective moral standards but argued there was a higher level of morality in freely choosing to adhere to those morals than in being coerced to do so. The latter version argues one is free to choose what is moral.
Similarly, autonomy, as conceived by 18th and 19th century philosophers, proposed morality must be universal, no act can at once be moral and immoral. Morality does not depend on outcome. Free will was requisite for merit or culpability, but did not determine morality. The latter version of autonomy claims morality is determined by our free will. What's moral for me today may or may not be moral for me tomorrow. What's moral for me may or may not be moral for you. Morality is dependent on circumstances.
Secularists today view morality as a social construct that evolves. People and groups naturally act to maximize their own gain whilst minimizing their costs. Morality evolves to resolve conflicts that arise when the needs and wants of individuals or groups within a community run contrary to the needs and wants of other members of that community. Moral rules balance rights. Regarding sexuality – the gains are pleasure, children, and emotional attachment; the costs are sexually transmitted disease, children, and emotional attachment. Which side of the equation children and emotional attachment fall depends on current circumstances. Autonomy over one's own body is the trump card.
Catholics view morality as conformance to God's will. Each person comes from God and their ultimate end is to reunite with God. It is wrong to use people as a means. People may cooperate to achieve a goal, but each is a co-agent – never a means. We are to steward the rest of creation. We may use things as a means to pursue unity with God. A means should not be squandered, used contrary to its nature, or counter to pursuit of unity with God. The nature of sexuality is pleasurable, procreative and unitive. Its proper context is between spouses within a family. To use sex purely for pleasure is to squander it. To deny its procreative potential is contrary to its nature. To practice sex outside the marital union will harm, and may destroy, its unitive nature.
Sexuality, properly practiced, is both a creative and cohesive force which forms strong family units as the basic units of a strong community. Sexuality trivialized to mere entertainment fractures society. By its very nature, sex can't be autonomous without brutalizing its intimacy.
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