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Righting the Wrongs in Modern Sex and Marriage

Jennifer Roback Morse on Finding Lifelong Love

SAN DIEGO, California, JAN. 11, 2006 (Zenit) - The Church may be 2,000 years old, but it has the answers for modern couples seeking lasting marriages and true love.

So says Jennifer Roback Morse, research fellow in economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and author of "Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World" (Spence).

She shared with us how the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality are the remedy for the contemporary social ills of casual sex, cohabitation, divorce and heartbreak.

Q: Why did you choose the title and topic of this book?

Morse: I wanted to write a book for the ordinary person who wants to get married and stay married. Most readers are not economists or theologians, so I wanted to convey to the public that this book is meant for them.

I also wanted to give the message that marriage is more appealing than casual sex: Smart people choose lifelong married love.

The term "hook-up" is widely used in America to mean a casual sexual encounter, which neither partner expects to lead to a long-term relationship. I wanted to imply that hooking up is stupid.

Q: How did John Paul II's work influence the writing of this book?

Morse: I could not have written this book without John Paul's insight. In many ways, my work is an attempt to bring his wisdom to a wider public, including non-Catholic Christians and non-religious people.

I was absolutely stunned by the key insight of Karol Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility": The human person is meant for love, not for use; it is always a serious wrong to use another person. That opened my eyes as to why marriage is in crisis.

Q: Why do you think marriage is in crisis?

Morse: The marriage crisis is really a sex crisis. The modern world completely misunderstands the meaning of human sexuality. In spite of all our sex education and overtly sexual entertainment, we don't really understand what sex is all about.

We have the idea that sex is a private recreational activity, with no moral or social significance. If that's true, our sex partner becomes a commodity that may or may not please us. And in a consumer society, when we are no longer satisfied with a product, we get rid of it. I call this Consumer Sex.

The basic problem with Consumer Sex is that no one wants to be treated like an object. No matter how much we enjoy our casual sex while we're doing it, the truth is that no one, male or female, wants to be on the receiving end of being discarded. All the problems and disappointments that people experience in their college coed dorms and in dating can be traced to this one point.

We have created a culture in which it is socially acceptable to use people. The implicit agreement is this: You can use me as a sex object, if you allow me to use you. Instead of mutual love, we think sex is about mutual using.

This is why marriage is in crisis: We know that marriage needs sex, but we don't see that sex needs marriage. We realize that sex is necessary to a good marriage, but we don't seem to grasp the connection between marriage and having good sex.

Q: What is the alternative to Consumer Sex?

Morse: I call it the natural, organic approach. Human sexuality has two organic purposes, which are written into our bodies: procreation and spousal unity.

Sex produces babies, and sex bonds the man and the woman to each other. Both these purposes are social purposes. They build up the community of the family, by adding new members and by deepening the spousal bond. Catholic readers may recognize this as the Church's traditional teaching.

The modern view stands the natural order of human sexuality on its head. The sexual urge can be a great motivation for building the community of the family. We have turned it into a consumer good, which increases our focus on ourselves.

Q: How does Consumer Sex undermine people who want lifelong marriage?

Morse: Beginning our sexual lives with casual sex undermines our attempts to build a happy marriage.

Typical young people buy into the "consumer sex" mentality for 10 years or more. During those years of contraceptive sex, they act as if the sex act has no particular meaning.

When they finally do get married, they don't want to believe that sex with their spouse is meaningless or without significance. All of a sudden, they want organic sex, at least the spousal unity part, and eventually, the procreation part as well.

Those years of treating sex as if it were a toy create habits of the heart and mind that are difficult to undo.

Q: What other ideas hinder our ability to build ...

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