On TV, in movies, and in songs, sex is shown as being something people get into pretty easily and without consequences. You don't hear about diseases, unwanted pregnancies, or the emotional and psychological damage that comes from casual sexual relationships in these stories.

In real life, though, things are not so simple. Sexuality has the potential to bring new life into the world in the form of a baby. Physically intimate, it has the potential to spread diseases and germs. Sexuality is also a deep part of the human personality. It is related to the mind and heart as well as to the body. Sex is very, very important and shouldn't be treated lightly. .

Sex in the sense of our gender—male or female—is determined from the moment we come into being. Throughout life, everything we think, feel and do, we experience as a male or female. This is because our sexuality is a gift for differentiating and attracting men and women to one another.

The masculine and feminine natures complement each other. Men and women experience balance, harmony and completion through each other. Because of this men and women sense a deep need for each other, of which sex is a part. Yet sex is not the whole thing and should not be separated from the deeper aspects of men and woman relating to one another on the levels of the mind and the heart.

Respecting our sexuality

In order for sex to have a constructive, wonderful role in our lives, we need to have a deep respect for its power and understand the proper place and time for it. While in a physical sense we all grow to sexual maturity without any effort—it just happens—does this mean that we have the emotional, mental, social, and spiritual maturity needed to handle a sexual relationship? No. Reaching puberty does not mean that we are mature enough inside to have sex.

The following story illustrates the need for preparation and guidance before going ahead with something we may be physically read for, but not emotional and mentally ready for.

You are driving your father's car through the center of a big city together with your 12-year old brother. Suddenly, he asks you to let him drive awhile. He has a strong desire to drive and, being tall for his age, he is physically able to do so. Very confidently he tells you not to worry, assuring you that he can handle it. But you know very well that he is not ready for this. He may kill himself, you, and someone else, too. If you really love your brother and care about his well-being, you won't let him drive through the center of town. You know he risks having a car crash.

Are we sometimes like this 12 year old boy, thinking we are mature enough to do certain things because we are physically big enough, even though we aren't really ready inside? With our hearts pounding and our pulses racing, we seem to approach the issue of sexuality the way the 12 year old is approaching driving a car. While we may be physically able to have sex, that doesn't mean we have the judgment, skills, and maturity to handle it without getting into a mental and emotional crash.

In nature, nothing reproduces before it has completely matured. If you are given a rosebud, you are given a promise of beauty. You can’t just rip it open and enjoy its fragrance, softness and color immediately. If you did, you would ruin it. You can only enjoy a rose if you keep it in a protected place and wait for it to unfold. Then it will share with you all its fragrance, color and softness—all in its own time. In the same way, the beauty of sex can only be experienced after we have reached full maturity in our hearts and characters, not just in our bodies.

Sex and love

Sexual stimulation feels wonderful. It can feel like love, and we all want love. Yet sex and love are not the same thing. It is easy to get them mixed up. What exactly is the difference between sex and love? Sex, of course, is physical. Love is spiritual—it has to do with the mind and the heart. The only place where the two can come together successfully is in marriage.

Human sexuality is not just instinctual and uncontrollable, like an animal’s. Human sexuality involves thought, emotion, social relationships, morality and free will. For humans, sex is meant to be an expression of love for someone we have committed our life to rather than simple physical gratification or reproduction. If we try to use our sexuality only to gain physical satisfaction, eventually our minds and hearts will suffer greatly for being left out of the equation.

Sex alone can never substitute for love, nor can it be separated from love. If we have sex, hoping to find love, we certainly will be disappointed and hurt. Love has to come first, accompanied by trust, responsibility, and commitment.

Through the act of sexual love, married couples give themselves to one another in body, mind, and heart. For married couples, sex is a sign of love and an exclusive right they share. Each values the other as the most important person in his or her life, as the marriage vows state: “till death us do part.” At the heart of sexual intercourse is the expression of love arising from a continuous, committed relationship. Sex is the expression of complete trust and security between two people linked in a profound and permanent way.

Cut off from marriage, a sexual relationship is torn from its roots. Outside of marriage, the sexual act awakens that which is most intimate, sacred and vulnerable in the human heart—without being able to fulfill the heart’s deepest desire.

There is a longing deep within the human heart to be in a permanent relationship of complete love with a person of the opposite sex and to raise a family with that person. Sex awakens these desires, but, without the marriage relationship, it does not fulfill them. The result is emotional and psychological destruction.

Sexual integrity

Sexual integrity allows us the freedom to develop and strengthen our character so that we can experience the fullness of love when we are married. Integrity mean completeness or wholeness. Wholeness involves unity between our mind and body, the balancing of all the parts of the self.

"Up on Fong Mountain"

In the story "Up on Fong Mountain" fifteen year old Jessie is being pressured by her boyfriend, B.D., to have sex with him.
In spite of the fact that she likes B.D. very much, Jessie has this to say about her sexual integrity:

"At this point in my life, the way I feel is—my body is my body. And I don't care to share it with anyone. I don't know totally why I feel that way, and I don't think I have to know why. It's just the way I feel. Sometimes in the morning I look at myself in the mirror and I feel proud. I look myself over and I think, hey, yeah, Jessie, that's your body. Terrific!"

When B.D. pressures Jessie too much sexually and in other ways, the couple breaks up. This is painful for both of them. But Jessie's sexual integrity causes B.D. to think over the way he has been treating her. He realizes he has been pushy in a lot of ways and that good relationships are built on cooperation, not just one person having his way all the time. In the end, B.D. decides to respect Jessie's choices, and Jessie and B.D. are happier together because Jessie stood up for herself.

Norma Fox Mazer, "Up on Fong Mountain," from The Art of Loving Well, Boston University School of Education, 1993.

Sexual integrity creates order and beauty in one’s character and happiness in one’s life. It allows a person to develop the inner strength and skills needed for a lifetime of love. Marriage requires much more friendship than romance, and one who intends to marry someday needs to cultivate the art of friendship rather than sexual techniques.

In comparison with sexual integrity, sexual impulsiveness and permissiveness distort a person’s character, leading a person to become extremely self-centered. Sexually permissive people are like starving people, scrounging wherever and whatever they can for food. It is as if within them there is an inner emptiness, a bottomless pit crying out to be filled. They are actually starving for love, but they are trying to satisfy their hunger through sex. This only drives love further away, because they are hurting their minds and hearts, the places where love lives.

The desire for oneness with another is a driving force in life. It is a strong desire of the heart. Our deepest desire is to experience total oneness with the person who is our marriage mate for life. Sex is the physical expression of this desire for oneness. Yet we cannot have this type of oneness with one person, then turn around and become one with another. This will rip us apart inside. One marital and sexual partner for life is the way to keep our integrity intact so that we are better able to love and be loved for the whole of our life.

Questions for Reflection

1. What is the difference between sex and love? In what ways might they be the same?

2. What is the difference between animal and human sexuality?

3. How would you describe sexual maturity?

4. If you were a parent, how would you talk to your teenage child about the issue of sexuality and sexual desire?

5. How would you describe the spiritual, mental, emotional and moral aspects of human sexuality?

6. Discuss freedom and responsibility in relation to sexuality.

7. Compare mature with immature sexual behavior.

8. Is sex a need or a desire?

9. Is love a need or a desire?

10. With respect to sexuality, how can a person determine if the mind or the body is in control?

Exercise: “TV Critic”

You are a TV critic for your local newspaper. Think about an episode from your favorite TV program and write an article about it from the point of view of sexual integrity. Point out who was mature, who wasn't and what the consequences of each type of sexual behavior were. Point out what you think the consequences would be in real life.

Reflection Exercise: “Sexual Integrity and Music”

Think of your favorite song or songs. Write down some of the lyrics that you remember. Now analyze the lyrics. Are there any phrases or words that have a sexual meaning? What are these words telling people about sexuality? Is it encouraging listeners to be loose or to be careful about their sexuality? Does it express a connection between sex and marriage? Does it focus on the physical aspect of sex, or does it bring in romantic, moral or spiritual aspects?

Was your song ever shown on video? If so and you've seen the video, try to analyze the actions and clothing and movements in the video. What were they saying about sex? What kind of values were they expressing?