The Language of the Body

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, October 16

In his essay, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power philosopher Josef Pieper explains the purpose of words, “First, words convey reality. We speak in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify it for someone, of course – and this points to the second aspect in question, the interpersonal character of human speech.” Language, then, is meant, first, to reflect reality and, second, to communicate that reality between persons.

Language, however, need not be confined merely to words. In his Theology of the Body Pope John Paul II spoke of the “language of the body” that is expressed between couples. This bodily language, like words, is meant to express reality between individuals. The reality of the marital act is one of unity (Gen 2:241) and procreation (Gen 9:72). Thus, sex is meant to express that reality: to be a union that brings a man and a woman together in the most intimate way possible in a manner that is open to new life so that, God willing, a new being may be conceived by their love.

In making our own “truth” we have however created a fictitious sexual reality in which sex is not meant to unite and procreate but merely to please. This constitutes a lie expressed, not in words, but by our bodies as the sexual act no longer reflects the truth it is meant to convey. Not only is this in opposition to the truth but, like any lie, it destroys the interpersonal and communicative act of sex. According to Pieper “a lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.” Thus in denying the unity and procreation of sex, to have sex merely so as to feel good, ceases to be a participative act and it ceases to be real. Sex becomes a lonely thing.

Any time sex is divorced from its true nature of unity and procreation it is a lie. Contraception, for example, violates both the union and procreation of sex. It’s easy to see how it violates the procreative aspect but it represents a break in unity and distancing of the couple as well. As the couple engages in sex, not as one flesh, but two separate individuals they seek to “protect” themselves against one another lest, in their recreation, a new being is conceived against their will. Not only is this a lie but sex without union and procreation is also a poverty. Does this mean that sex should not be pleasurable? No, it means that we deserve – and owe – something beyond mere pleasure.

When husband and wife perform the marital act they are saying with their bodies, “I love you so much and you are so good that the world can only be made a better place with more people like you in it.” This is the truth that the Catholic Church sees in marital love. It is the beautiful reality which our sexuality is ordered to and it is for that reason that the Church is so interested in sex and interested in aiding people to live sexually well-ordered lives. Sex, when its unitive and procreative aspects are fully manifest, is a good and beautiful thing in which the Church rejoices. Sex, divorced from its purpose, is an ultimately lonely and frustrated thing not worthy of any human being.

Let us not sell ourselves short but be honest both in speech and in body so that we may love more fully.

1“A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24, NIV translation.

2“As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Genesis 9:7, NIV translation.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.


One thought on “The Language of the Body

  1. Speaking from a psychological perspective sex without intention of conception most certainly can bring two people who love each other closer together. Sex purely for pleasure can be destructive depending on the situation, but intimacy and love does not require desire to procreate in my opinion. God is loving and supports an act that brings two people in love closer together, that is the God I believe in.

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