Valentine’s Day: Let’s Talk About Sex (and Love … and God)

Agnieszka Mazurek via Shutterstock

Agnieszka Mazurek via Shutterstock

Valentine’s Day can feel like it has multiple personalities. It can be one of the following:

  • A day where we show appreciation to someone we care about
  • A day where we have to show appreciation to someone we don’t care about1
  • A sadomasochistic day that singles out singles and reminds them of their  loneliness
  • For the more cynical, a multi-billion-dollar shot-in-the-arm for the American economy
  • A reason to risk and ask out someone that you’ve had a crush on for days, weeks, months, or even years

Despite all these mixed personalities, it seems that the guiding value of Valentine’s day is to honor love. But what is love? Romance, commitment, sex? If we look at Valentine’s day as a representation of love, then we might want to look at the Christian-pagan origins of Valentine’s Day, which express a combination of the sacred and the profane. The question, then, is does love (even erotic love) require spirituality? Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ seems to think so.

Who?

A 70-ish year-old celibate Roman Catholic priest.

Now you might be thinking: explain to me which of those characteristics evokes love, romance, or at the very least, sex.  Fr. Gillick counseled me on the nuances of love during my first real relationship in college. Somehow, he continues to challenge me to see that there can’t be real romantic love without divine love — like the combination of the sacred and profane on  this most holy day…ok, ok…culturally significant day. And to be a real lover is to be one who integrates well the sexual and spiritual — not some schizophrenic conception of love. But what does that integration look like?

In a recent talk to Creighton University students, Gillick discusses this integration.

But if you don’t have a lot of time today (given that it’s Valentines Day and you got somebody who needs a little lovin’), here’s 5 nuggets of knowledge that I gleaned from this video.

1) Spirituality and Sexuality are about Tension:
When I think of spirituality, I often think of a person’s search for the sacred. Fr. Gillick shifts the paradigm on spirituality. He defines spirituality as “one’s ability to live with the tensions produced by your beliefs” (at the 5 minute mark in the video). Fr. Gillick notes that in living a spiritual life, one becomes aware of their desires and their beliefs. This requires wrestling with one’s sense of self, community, and God. Interestingly, there is a tension that is implicit in attraction–either there is a desire for sexual gratification or longing for partnered fulfillment.  But just because one desires, doesn’t mean they should be satiated right away. We also should discern what we want and who we want it with. Part of the beauty of sexuality is living in the tensions that it evokes.

2) A Deeply Sexual-Spiritual person is Weak:
Gillick notes that in order to being a fully integrated sexual-spiritual person, the focus shouldn’t be on the first part of that phrase (sexual), but on the second part (person). And as St. Paul notes, in order to be a strong person, one must allow his/herself to be weak. There is a level of poverty that is involved in being in a relationship with another: knowing that I am not enough, but trusting that the other will accept me and fill the places where I am deficient. In order to live this weakness and poverty, it requires vulnerability and intimacy. It is through this vulnerability and intimacy that both the person and the sexual act are fully developed.

iravgustin via Shutterstock

iravgustin via Shutterstock

3) Sexuality and Spirituality are Creative:
Fr. Gillick takes us to the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of the Bible to explain that we are co-creators with God — and it’s not just of children, but of each other, helping to make us into the image and likeness of God. Then God created humans in God’s image (9 minute mark). Fr. Gillick imagines that God is asking for the same from us in our sexual relationships: “You will bring life, light and order out of the darkness of other people.” In our sexual relationship with another, we can help bring the best out of our partners if we love them as they are. When a person makes their partner feels comfortable with their body and their sexuality, the partner become more of  the person God intends them to be in all facets of their life.

4) Sexuality (Like Spirituality) Gives Us Identity, Not Shame:
Let’s face it, people are ashamed of their bodies. Ads for Plastic surgery, weight loss programs, muscle building protein shakes, and Viagra are indicators of how American culture tells us that we need to be more than we are. Our muscles, breasts, and genitalia must be more — bigger, more potent. If we don’t measure up, we want to hide it. Lasting sexual relationships, on the other hand, give us a greater appreciation of our bodies and embrace the person God made us to be — both body and soul. (20 minute mark to 26 minute mark).

5) Foreknowledge over Foreplay:
There is something to be said for getting to know someone from the inside out. Fr. Gillick says that what is inside must be manifested outside. That is why a true marriage is not made sacramental until the act of intercourse (35 minute to 38 minute mark). But a sexual act before an interior knowledge leaves the relationship shallow and hollow. Depth comes from being in an interpersonal relationship before an intercourse relationship.

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Cover image by nikkytok/Shutterstock

  1. Think back to 3rd grade and giving a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles valentine to the kid who ate paste.

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