Humor me. Keep that question in the back of your mind as I talk about the elephant in the room at this month’s presentation of The Vagina Monologues.
Turns out, the elephant has a lot to do with how you answer this question. What struck me most at the end of the day was not what the play says about sexual violence, but what it takes for granted about sex in general. I noticed how you, my fellow students, responded to these assumptions. I noticed what you questioned, but, most of all, what you didn’t.
In her introduction, Heather Hathaway, associate dean of academic affairs in the college of arts and sciences, listed a number of concerns about the play. None of them were based on its view of sex. She didn’t mention that none of the relationships in The Vagina Monologues are depicted as lasting or lifelong or that the play takes it for granted that we’ve all had sex, from an early age, and that we all masturbate frequently.
In fact, it relies on our familiarity with these actions for much of its humor and popular appeal. Nobody asked why none of the sexual encounters claim to be in the context of “true love.” Bob stares at the woman’s vagina meaningfully for hours, but he’s just the guy she met at the grocery store and promptly slept with. The 24-year-old woman seduces the 16-year-old girl, but that was a long time ago.
Apparently, our concept of sex has lost its relationship to, well, relationships – especially committed lifelong relationships. It’s now a recreational pursuit, solely dedicated to finding maximum pleasure, having fun and responding to the ultimatum of the sexual urge. And maybe that doesn’t bother you and Hathaway, but it sure concerns me.
Doesn’t sex belong in the context of true love, not just satisfying some urge? Pope John Paul II was not the first to affirm that it is never acceptable to use another human being as a means to an end. Rather, all expressions of affection should show a disinterested desire to affirm the other person (made in the image and likeness of God) for their own sake. Christians believe sex is meant to show us God’s love. It’s meant to be a participation in the love of God and Jesus, a love so great it becomes another person (the Holy Spirit). This love is identified as a free, total, faithful and fruitful self-gift. When one of these attributes is missing, the whole thing collapses. In human terms, this true love finds its fulfillment in marriage.
Let’s compare this with what we find in The Vagina Monologues. Casual, promiscuous sex? Not total and not faithful: You’re using someone for your own selfish kicks and moving on. Masturbation? Not a gift of self to another person: You’re using a human being (yourself) as a means to an end. Contraception and homosexual sex? Are they really total gifts of self? Are they really fruitful, open to new life? The Church asks us not to do these things, not because the body and sex are bad but because they mean something too good, too significant to water down.
I think it’s important for you to understand the logic behind that stance even if, like one of those Saturday panelists, you flat-out disagree with it. If you’d like to compare these issues more, I’d recommend that you Google Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and get Christopher West’s Good News About Sex and Marriage from our library.
The Christian view of sexuality demands self-denial, maturity and generosity. It promises freedom, fulfillment and lasting happiness: nothing short of heaven on earth. It affirms the beauty of sex and the body. Personally, that’s a lot more appealing than the prospect of getting my heart broken, engaging in meaningless sexual encounters, getting STDs and ending up alone and unloved.
I’d rather love one person forever, for who they really are. I’d rather love as God loves, even if it means making sacrifices, laying down my life for my beloved. I’d rather stay open to nurturing new life and hope in every form, even when it hurts.
I’d rather believe… and live… in true love.
Submitted by Margaret Smith, junior in the College of Arts and Sciences