Theology of the Body: Parenthood vital aim of true love

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Pope St John Paul II the Great stresses in his Theology of the Body that for sexual relations to become a true union of persons, they must be accompanied in the mind and will by the acceptance of the possibility of parenthood.

Sexual union itself does not automatically bring about a true union of love.

A couple may have physical intimacy without having a deep personal intimacy based on total love, trust, and commitment to the other person.

One of the key ingredients needed to make the bodily union between a man and woman a means of building an even deeper personal union of love is a willingness to accept the possibility that through the sexual act, “I may become a father” or “I may become a mother”. Approaching one’s spouse with a genuine openness to the possibility of parenthood represents one of the most profound expressions of love and total acceptance of the other person in marriage.

When a husband and wife are truly open to life in their marital relations, it is as if they are looking each other in the eye and saying: “I love you so much that I am even willing to embark on the adventure of parenthood with you! . . . I entrust myself to you so much that I am willing to become a partner with you in serving any new life that may come from this act.”

In this light, we can see how openness to life actually increases the love between spouses and can even represent one of the highest levels of selflessness in a marriage.

When a husband and wife accept the possibility of becoming parents together, not only do they merely stand face-to-face enthralled with each other and the good of their relationship, but they also stand shoulder-to-shoulder looking outwards together towards the potential new life that may come from their love.

And side-by-side they stand committed not only to each other’s own good, but also to working together to serve this potential new life.

Here we see that “the relationship between the husband and the wife is not limited to themselves, but necessarily extends to the new person, which their union may pro-create”.

Rejecting parenthood, rejecting one’s spouse 

Second, Wojtyla shows how contraceptive sex is not just a rejection of the possibility of parenthood, but in the end, a certain rejection of the other person. It prevents the physical union of marital intercourse from blossoming into a personal union of love.

Ultimately, any sexual relationship that rejects the possibility of parenthood will be based on the sexual values of the other person — those aspects of the person that bring me physical or emotional pleasure — and not on the value of the person as she is in herself.

And that’s the great damage contraceptive sex inflicts upon a marriage.

According to Wojtyla, when spouses deliberately reject the possibility of parenthood through the means of artificial birth control, the fundamental character of their sexual relationship changes dramatically.

Instead of being a union of love, in which the spouses are at least open to expanding their love by becoming partners in parenthood together, contraceptive sex moves their marital relations in the direction of becoming merely a bilateral relationship of enjoyment, with no other purpose than to be used as a means to pleasure.

Instead of being viewed as a co-creator of love, the spouse now is seen primarily as a partner in a pleasurable experience.

For example, when a man rejects the possibility of becoming a parent with his wife in the marital act, the focus of his experience in sexual intercourse becomes centred on sexual pleasure.

The value of the woman as a person and the opportunity for their marital bond to deepen fades into the background, as the woman becomes predominantly a means to sexual pleasure instead of being a potential partner in parenthood.

It’s as if the man is saying: “I want the sensual pleasure from this act, but I reject the possibility of becoming a parent with you.”

When a man and a woman who have marital intercourse decisively preclude the possibility of paternity and maternity, their intentions are thereby diverted from the person and directed to mere enjoyment: “the person as co-creator of love” disappears and there remains only the “partner in an erotic experience”. Nothing could be more incompatible with the act of love.

That’s why openness to life in the sexual act is “an indispensable condition of love”.

As Wojtyla explains: “When the idea that ‘I may become a father’/’I may become a mother’ is totally rejected in the mind and will of husband and wife nothing is left of the marital relationship, objectively speaking, except mere sexual enjoyment.

“One person becomes an object of use for the other.”