On The Meaning Of Sex, by J. Budziszewski
There are at least a few elements in this particular book that are worth discussing, for though the work as a whole is relatively short, it is marked by a few qualities that make it far more layered than many readers are likely to pick up on quickly. And it is these layers that make for fascinating reading and the opportunity for a great deal of reflection. On one level, as a single man without an active sexual life, a great deal of this book does not deal so much with something that is currently present in life, but it deal with the times in which we live and the ways that sex is routinely debased in our corrupt time. Few of us are immune to the coarsening that has gone on in our society over the course of the last few decades. Frequently in this book the author makes note of his own failures to have communicated something well and as a result of that humility and desire to right his wrongs through later reflection, the book has a strangely melancholy discussion of someone who has sought to explain things as a teacher and in conversation and now in a book that are hard to understand.
This book is about 150 pages long and it is divided into seven chapters. The book begins with a discussion of whether or not sex has to mean something (1), and the author explores the tensions and contradictions in the minds of many people about what this entails. After that the author discusses the meaning of sexual powers (2) as well as the meaning of sexual differences between male and female (3) that demonstrate the incompleteness of humanity and the need for human beings to be part of larger unions. The author explores the meaning of sexual love (4) and how it relates to other forms of love. After that comes a discussion of sexual beauty (5) and the implications of the name that we use to discuss the aesthetic beauty of others in ways that bring respect rather than degradation to others. After that the author discusses the much-maligned virtue of sexual purity (6) and then discusses transcendence (7) so as to put the discussion of sex and sexuality in a larger spiritual context. This is followed by acknowledgements, notes, and an index.
It is another aspect of this book, though, that gives it far more depth than readers are likely to immediately perceive. Even as the contents of this book mostly deal with philosophical and moral questions about sex and its role within the lives of people today, each chapter of the book is introduced with a quote from John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticles, making a subtle but persistent comment, only revealed towards the end of the book, that the true importance of sex is not merely physical but spiritual. The union of two human beings in sexual intercourse is supposed to be a foretaste of the union of mankind with God, where we will be one as God and Jesus Christ are one. Therefore a strong sense of mysticism underlies the author’s desire to defend the mystery of sexuality. To the extent that we maintain a healthy attitude of wonder about the joy of union in this life, we can have at least some understanding of the wonder of intimacy in general and how it is to be both celebrated as well as respected. Far from being a joyless opponent of sex, the author strikes the fair-minded reader as someone who views it as sufficiently important that it ought not to be trampled in the mud as it so often is.