First, Iâ€™d like to thank Matt Evans for the invitation to be a guest contributor to T&S. On the too few occasions that Iâ€™ve taken the time to look through T&S, Iâ€™ve seen a lot of interesting and often edifying discussions. I hope I can contribute constructively.
For my first contribution, Iâ€™d like to address the question: Is there a connection between having sex and having children?
And some related questions: What is sex for? Is sex necessary for procreation? Is sex necessarily for procreation?
I would like to suggest that the answers to these questions define a great chasm between a gospel understanding of human sexuality and a current secular (I use the term secular to mean â€œof the worldâ€?) understanding of human sexuality. I realize, of course that in defining simply two views, I am over-simplifying what is in fact a large spectrum of ideas into two categories, but I maintain that this reduction offers a useful map to the understanding of human sexuality in the world. Although I state the â€œgospel perspectiveâ€? in particular LDS terms, I have found many others of other faiths who share much or all of the gospel perspective. It is also clear to me that Latter-day Saints and others of faith, including myself, are inevitably affected by the secular understanding of human sexuality, especially to the extent that we do not carefully examine our beliefs and their sources.
The gospel answers to these questions include:
Sex is a sacred physical union that God designed to take place exclusively within marriage.
By divine design, sex, marriage, and procreation are inseparably and exclusively linked together.
Sex is divinely appointed as â€œthe means by which mortal human life is created.â€?
Fertility, sexuality, and progeny are profound gifts of God.
Sexual activity always carries with it some level of potential for pregnancy. The responsibility for any pregnancy that may occur should be borne by both the man and the woman, who assume that responsibility within the marriage covenant.
The secular answers to these questions include:
Sex can pretty much mean what humans choose for it to mean.
Sex is for pleasure.
The link between sex and marriage is optional.
The link between sex and children should be absolutely and completely a matter of the choice of the woman (or couple). As a matter of basic human rights, women must have means to completely control when or whether they are pregnant, independent of their sexual activity.
All humans have a basic right to enjoy sexual pleasure in whatever form they choose to, with whomever they choose to, as long as they donâ€™t violate someone elseâ€™s sexual rights in the process.
Sex should be engaged in responsibly. Responsible sex means using birth control and â€œprotectionâ€? to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.
Humans also have a basic right to reproduce as they choose to, with or without marriage, with or without sex.
In one respect, the gospel perspective on sex and procreation is the same as an honest biological perspective, regardless of religion. To have sexual intercourse, whether or not contraception is used, is to incur some possibility of pregnancy. Of course, there are certain biologic exceptions, such a woman who has had her ovaries removed. But I would maintain that even with biologic exceptions, the underlying spiritual principle is the same. No one should have sex with someone that he or she would not be willing to have a child with. In a gospel context, of course, that means sex should occur only within marriage.
In contrast, the secular belief that sexual activity is (or should be) independent of the possibility of pregnancy is based on an unrealistic reliance on a mythical, non-existent perfectly effective contraceptive. It runs up against biologic reality. Carried to its extreme, this viewpoint requires abortion. If women must be allowed to choose whether or not they can be pregnant, independent of sexual activity, and if no contraceptive is 100% effective, then women must have access to abortion as a back-up.
At this point, some might suspect or object that I am suggesting that sex should only be engaged in for the purpose of procreation. Not at all. Sexual intercourse has two great functions ordained by God: procreation (Genesis 1:28) and marital unity (Genesis 2:24). Both functions are both essential to marriage and to legitimate sex. I believe that each act of sexual intercourse can be considered a renewal of the marital covenant to receive any children that the Lord might send, and to be â€œone flesh.â€? President Spencer W. Kimball explained,
In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality itself, for by that means mean and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love.
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, P. 311
Parley P. Pratt stated it this way:
The object of the union of the sexes is the propagation of their species, or procreation; also for mutual affection, and the cultivation of those eternal principles of never ending charity and benevolence, which are inspired by the Eternal Spirit; also for mutual comfort and assistance in this world of toil and sorrow, and for mutual duties toward their offspring.
Key to the Science of Theology, Ch.17, p.169
At this point, some might wish to emphasize that most married couples have sexual intercourse many more times than they give birth, and properly so. Additionally, some couples find themselves in a situation from medical conditions, or from age, that prevent procreation. Surely they can also properly engage in sexual activity within marriage. Does that not imply that sexual activity in marriage has the primary purpose of marital love, with procreation being secondary?
In response to this, I think it is misleading to use frequency counts to define fundamental realities. It is worth considering how the brethren refer to sex. Virtually without exception, in General Conference and other settings, sex is referred to as the â€œsacred powers of procreation,â€? or similar terms. It is not referred to as the â€œsacred powers of marital unity,â€? even though marital unity is also an essential function of sex. I take this to demonstrate that sex is inherently and inseparably identified with procreation, at least as much as it is with marital unity, whatever the individual circumstances of the couple may be. Even if the â€œ100% effectiveâ€? contraceptive were to exist and be widely accessible, I donâ€™t think it would change the fact that sex is spiritually identified as the â€œsacred powers of procreation.â€?
Sex is divinely ordained as â€œthe means by mortal human life is created.â€? We should respect and uphold the divinely mandated and inseparable link between sex and procreation, between married love and new human life.