Sex and the body in the Catholic tradition

Conscience. Winter 2000;20(4):2-12.


PIP: This article concerns the teachings on sexuality in the Latin Catholic tradition that have influenced ambiguity towards sex and virginity. These teachings were rooted from early Christian asceticism that contain elements of a counter-cultural, subversive movement against the dominant pattern of family and society. In the early Christian family, class and ethnic lines were leveled, and women emancipated to preach alongside men. However, radical movements that linked Christianity with sex rejection and marriage, allows emergence of a complex synthesis of patriarchy and celibacy. Marriage was affirmed to the laity, doubling women's subordination to their husbands and clerical authority, while equating their sexual and reproductive roles to sin and death. Sexual renunciation carried a radical vision through asceticism, and renunciation of sex was seen as a key expression of world renunciation. Christians focused more on the body and the repression of its needs, including sex. There were conflicting views concerning marriage, celibacy and sex. Until the mid-20th century, teachings that rejected the possibility of the goodness of sexual pleasure continued to characterize Catholic teachings. The negative teachings of the church on sexuality as degrading has not resulted in an abstemious Western society and has not produced a healthy view of sex. What is needed for the church and culture, is a new erotic art that seeks to assist people in developing their capacity for sexual pleasure and enjoyment, while incorporating it into deep friendship, so that sex becomes increasingly an expression of mutual love, commitment, and caring.

MeSH terms

  • Americas
  • Behavior
  • Catholicism*
  • Christianity
  • Culture*
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Europe
  • Marriage*
  • North America
  • Philosophy*
  • Religion
  • Sexual Abstinence*
  • Sexual Behavior*