Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sex Advice From Jack (Day 18)

C.S. Lewis is my favorite modern Christian writer. He had a lot of neat wisdom to share regarding sexuality. This chapter from Mere Christianity puts a lot in perspective for us:




Sexual Morality

     We must now consider Christian morality as regards sex, what Christians call the virtue  of  chastity.  The Christian rule of  chastity must not  be confused with the social rule of "modesty" (in one sense of that word); i.e. propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays  down  how much  of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what  words, according  to the  customs of a given social  circle.  Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all  times, the rule of propriety  changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady  completely covered in  clothes  might  both be equally "modest," proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we  could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste  (or equally unchaste). Some  of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare's time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by a  woman completely  abandoned.  When  people  break the rule  of  propriety current in their own time and place, if they  do so in order to excite  lust in themselves  or  others, then they are offending  against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they  are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break  it defiantly in  order to shock or embarrass others,  they  are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is  uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of
propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own  lifetime as a  good  thing.  At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages  and different types do not all
acknowledge the  same standard,  and we hardly know where we are. While this confusion  lasts I  think that old, or old-fashioned,  people should be very careful  not  to  assume  that  young  or  "emancipated"  people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young people  should not call their elders  prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of  others and to make others as comfortable as  you can  will solve most of the problems.
    
Chastity is the  most unpopular of  the Christian  virtues. There is no getting  away  from  it: the old  Christian rule is,  "Either marriage, with complete  faithfulness to your partner,  or else total abstinence." Now this is so  difficult  and  so  contrary to our instincts, that  obviously either
Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it  now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being  a Christian, I think it  is the instinct which has gone wrong.
 
But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now  if we eat whenever we feel inclined  and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much.
One man  may  eat enough for two, but he does not  eat enough for  ten.  The appetite goes  a little beyond its biological purpose,  but  not enormously. But  if  a healthy  young man indulged his sexual  appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate  a  small village. This appetite is  in  ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.
    
Or  take it  another  way. You  can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act-that is,  to watch  a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country  where you could fill a  theatre  by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that  it  contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you  not think  that in that country something had  gone wrong  with the  appetite  for food? And would  not anyone who had grown up in  a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?
 
One  critic said  that if he  found a  country in which such striptease acts  with  food  were  popular,  he would conclude that the people  of that country were starving. He meant, of course, to imply that such things as the strip-tease  act  resulted  not  from  sexual  corruption  but  from  sexual
starvation. I agree with him that if,  in  some strange land, we found  that similar  acts  with  mutton  chops  were   popular,  one   of  the  possible explanations  which would  occur to me  would  be famine. But the  next step would be to  test our hypothesis by finding out  whether,  in fact,  much or
little food was being consumed in that country. If the evidence showed  that a good deal was being eaten, then of  course we  should  have to abandon the hypothesis  of starvation and try to think of another one. In the same  way, before  accepting sexual starvation  as  the cause of  the  strip-tease,  we should  have  to  look  for  evidence  that  there is in  fact  more  sexual abstinence in our age  than in those ages when  things like  the strip-tease were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence. Contraceptives have made sexual  indulgence far less costly within marriage  and far safer outside it
than ever  before, and public opinion is  less hostile to illicit unions and even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times. Nor is the hypothesis of "starvation" the only one we can imagine. Everyone knows that  the sexual appetite, like our other  appetites, grows by indulgence.  Starving men  may
think much  about  food, but so  do gluttons;  the  gorged, as  well  as the famished, like titillations.
 
Here is a third  point. You find very few people who want to eat things that  really are not food or  to do other things with food instead of eating it.  In  other  words,  perversions  of  the food  appetite  are  rare.  But perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful. I
am sorry to have to go into all these details, but I must. The reason why  I must is  that you and  I,  for the last twenty years, have been  fed all day long on  good solid lies about  sex. We have been told,  till one is sick of hearing  it, that  sexual desire  is in the  same state as any  of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon  the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not  true. The moment you look at the facts, and away  from the propaganda, you see that it is not.
    
They tell you sex  has become a  mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is  the other way  round. I think  the  human race originally  hushed it  up because it had become such a mess.  Modern people are always saying, "Sex is nothing to be ashamed of." They may mean two things. They may mean "There is nothing to be ashamed of in  the fact  that the human race reproduces itself in a  certain way, nor  in the  fact that it  gives pleasure." If they  mean that, they are right. Christianity  says the same. It  is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers  said  that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I  know some muddle-headed Christians have
talked as if Christianity thought that sex,  or the body,  or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is  almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves  of the body-which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a  human body,  that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential  part of our happiness,  our beauty,  and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage  more  than  any other religion: and  nearly  all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, "Sex is nothing to be ashamed of," they may mean "the  state into  which the sexual  instinct  has now  got is  nothing to be ashamed of."
 
If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I  think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing  to be ashamed  of  in enjoying  your  food: there would  be everything  to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main  interest  of  their lives and spent their time looking at  pictures of food  and dribbling and  smacking their lips.  I do not say  you  and I  are individually  responsible  for the  present  situation. Our  ancestors  have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There  are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of  course,  a  man  with  an  obsession  is  a  man  who  has  very  little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to  overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.
    
Before we can be cured we must want to be cured.  Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that  we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago  told us  that when he was a  young man  he prayed
constantly for chastity; but years later he realised that while his lips had been saying, "Oh Lord,  make me chaste," his heart had been secretly adding, "But please don't do  it just yet."  This may  happen in  prayers for  other virtues too; but there are three  reasons why  it is now specially difficult for us to desire-let alone to achieve-complete chastity.
 
 In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda  for lust,  combine to  make us  feel  that  the desires we are resisting are so "natural," so  "healthy," and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual  indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth,  frankness, and good humour. Now this  association  is  a  lie.  Like all  powerful  lies, it is  based  on a truth-the  truth,  acknowledged  above, that  sex in  itself (apart from the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is "normal" and "healthy," and all the rest of it. The lie  consists in  the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment  is also healthy  and normal. Now this, on  any conceivable  view, and quite apart from Christianity, must  be nonsense.  Surrender  to  all our  desires  obviously  leads  to  impotence, disease,  jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that  is the reverse of  health, good  humour,  and frankness. For any happiness,  even  in  this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so  the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing.  Every sane  and civilised man must have some  set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others. One man does  this on  Christian principles, another on hygienic principles, another on sociological principles.  The real  conflict is not between  Christianity and "nature," but between  Christian principle and other  principles in  the control of "nature." For "nature" (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be  controlled anyway, unless you are going to  ruin your whole life. The
Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others;  but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will  not get towards obeying the others.
 
In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility.  Faced with an optional question  in an examination paper,
one considers  whether  one  can  do  it or  not:  faced with  a  compulsory question, one  must do the best one can. You  may get some marks for  a very imperfect  answer:  you  will  certainly  get none  for leaving the question alone. Not  only in examinations  but  in  war,  in  mountain  climbing,  in
learning to skate, or  swim, or ride a bicycle,  even  in fastening a  stiff collar  with  cold  fingers, people  quite often do what  seemed  impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.
    
We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity-like perfect charity-will not  be attained by  any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's  help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being  given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up,  and try again. Very often what God first helps  us towards is  not  the virtue  itself but just this  power of always trying  again. For however important chastity (or  courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this  process trains  us in habits  of the soul which are more important  still.  It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves  even  in our best moments, and, on  the  other, that we  need not despair even in  our  worst, for our failures are  forgiven. The  only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.
    
Thirdly,  people often  misunderstand  what  psychology  teaches  about "repressions."  It  teaches  us  that  "repressed"  sex  is  dangerous.  But "repressed" is here a technical term: it  does not mean "suppressed" in  the sense of "denied" or  "resisted." A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust  into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now  come  before  the mind  only in  a disguised  and unrecognisable  form. Repressed sexuality  does not appear to the patient to be sexuality  at all. When an adolescent or  an adult is engaged in  resisting a conscious desire, he  is  not dealing with  a  repression nor  is he  in  the  least danger of creating a repression. On  the contrary, those  who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than  anyone  else. They come to know  their desires as Wellington
knew Napoleon, or  as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as  a rat-catcher knows rats  or   a  plumber  knows   about  leaky  pipes.   Virtue-even  attempted virtue-brings light; indulgence brings fog.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as  I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard  unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite  wrong. The sins  of the  flesh are  bad, but they are the
least  bad  of all sins.  All the worst  pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of  putting other  people  in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling  sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing  with the human self which  I must
try  to  become. They  are the Animal self, and  the  Diabolical  self.  The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is  why a cold, self-righteous prig  who  goes  regularly  to church  may  be  far  nearer  to hell  than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

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