There is a lot of talk about “heterosexual” and “homosexual” out there. They are terms and notions so causally tossed around that to question them is the ultimate social sin. However, I would say that in general these terms are used as cookie-cutter categories to justify a “fate” view of sexuality or to reduce sexuality to sexual activity.
I myself wrestled with figuring out what my “sexual identity” was as a teenage girl. I distinctly remember it being explained to me as, “If you generally get nervous around boys, if you feel silly and don’t know what to say, then you are heterosexual.” This was hard to find out. What about the nervousness I felt around a popular or pretty girl? What if I didn’t really know if boys turned me on? What if, later in a porn addiction, I watched same-sex porn?
There is still a lot we don’t know about homosexuality. We don’t really know if it’s nature or nurture or a combination of both. “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained” (CCC 2357).
We don’t know a lot about sexuality even, except that it’s all tied up to our psychology. We aren’t simply animals with a fertile phase. As I heard a sexologist once say, our most important sexual organ is our brain. So how could sexuality not be complex but as cookie-cutter simple as hetero or homo?
In this sea of ever-changing news and studies, there are a few things we do know. We don’t have to be victims of sexuality. Greek philosophy emphasized that humans were victims of the world and of what happened to them. Gods were playing a game with human pawns, victims of the gods’ volatile wills.
In a world in which humans have no fault over what happens, they also have no decisions or control. The Catholic world view is entirely different and is based on freedom and responsibility. Humans are endowed with immense freedom — to do whatever they want, even if it hurts themselves and others. With this comes grave responsibility, in which your will and your decisions influence all your actions.
So it is with sexuality. We are not supposed to be victims to our sexual urges, as an animal who simply acts out of instinct. We are called to use our sexual urges consciously and conscientiously, integrated in our person and in our life. There is a world of vice and addiction in the field of sexuality, just as there is a world of possibility if you integrate your sexuality into self-giving love.
There is a lot of talk about sexuality when really people mean sexual activity. What is sexuality? John Paul II says in Familiaris Consortio 37, “Sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person-body, emotions and soul-and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love.”
Sexuality isn’t just what you do with your body, although that is a very important part. It’s what you think, what you feel, who you love, who loves you, who you are and who you are called to be. It’s what you do with that incredibly strong impulse that impels you out of yourself and into communion (hopefully) with others and ultimately with the Other. It’s what you do with your life.
The Holy Father also speaks of sexuality from conception until death. This makes sense to me even more especially now that I am in contact with my newborn daughter. How I care for her and how I touch her body is also forming of her sexuality and her feeling loved. Her urges to be held, to touch, to suckle at the breast, are all wrapped up in her impulse to love and be loved by others.
I am still learning about sexuality in general and my own sexuality, particularly with John Paul II as a wonderful teacher. I am sure I will until death. Unlike when I was a teenager, now I know it is not as cookie-cutter as “I am attracted to men in general/as a whole gender” or vice versa. It’s about love and a particular person. I am still a complex and wounded individual, just as in my teenage years, but now I know that “I am attracted to my spouse.”
Why? Because I love him and I grow in love for him every day; because our lives are intertwined and we are building a life project together. Our psychological and spiritual intimacy is directly related to our physical intimacy. My sexuality is my entire person, given to him freely, and him in return. Not once, but constantly, throughout our lives.
This is my vocation, but each is called to his own and to integrate his own self and sexuality into this calling… to love and be loved. We are all called to integrate our confused, broken, complex sexuality into a weaving road of love that ultimately leads to the Father. This goes through our own individual vocations, whatever they may be.
“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.” LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS, 16)