Chapter Five: Sexology and Ethics

Love and Responsibility Summary Continued

by William E. May

Chapter  Five: Sexology and Ethics

  1. Analysis of the Verb "to Use"
  2. Interpretation of the Sexual Urge


  1. Metaphysical Analysis of Love
  2. The word "love"
  3. Love as attraction
  4. Love as desire
  5. Love as Goodwill
  6. The problem of reciprocity
  7. From sympathy to friendship
  8. Betrothed love
  9. Psychological Analysis of Love
  10. Sensuality
  11. Sentiment and love
  12. The problem of integrating love
  13. The Ethical Analysis of Love


  1. The Rehabilitation of Chastity
  2. The Metaphysics of Shame
  3. The Problems of Continence


  1. Marriage

    1. Monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage
    2. The value of the institution [of marriage]
    3. Procreation and parenthood
    4. Periodic Continence: Method and Interpretation
  2. Vocation

    1. The Concept of "Justice toward the Creator"
    2. Mystical and Physical Virginity
    3. The Problem of Vocation
    4. Paternity and Maternity

Chapter  Five: Sexology and Ethics

  1. Marriage and Marital Intercourse (pp. 270-278)
  2. The Problem of Birth Control (pp. 278-285)

This chapter, also called a "supplementary survey," includes six sections: (1) introductory remarks, (2) the sexual urge, (3) marriage and marital intercourse, (4) the problem of birth control, (5) sexual psychopathology and ethics, and (6) therapy. I will focus on (3) and (4), briefly considering the other sections.

           In his introductory remarks Wojtyla emphasizes the superiority of ethics (a normative science) over empirical studies, and he repudiates what he calls "pure sexology," i.e., an attempt to deal with problems of sexual life from a purely medical or physiological point of view (e.g., as with Kinsey, Masters & Johnson, et al.). Since man is a person, ethics and love take precedence over physiology. However, if the sexologist acknowledges that the sexual beings he studies are persons to whom the only adequate response is love, then his knowledge can contribute to sexual ethics. Such an ethics-based sexology is a legitimate branch of the science and art of medicine, whose proper concern is care of health and preservation of life.  Nonetheless, good medicine (and thus good clinical sexology), realizes that the subject of life and health is a person and that, with respect to sexual life and the relationship between the sexes, "what matters is the man's duty to the woman and the woman's duty to the man by virtue of the fact that they are both persons, and not merely what is beneficial to their health" (p. 266).

           Wojtyla then sets forth in a few brief pages, under the heading "the sexual urge," certain findings of sexology that enable us to understand more fully how sexual stimuli affect men and women (boys and girls) differently, how boys and girls differ in their sexual awakening. Such information can be of value in understanding better the complex of somatic and physiological factors conditioning the sensual reactions in which the sexual urge manifests itself (pp. 268-269).

  1. Marriage and Marital Intercourse (pp. 270-278)

           Here Wojtyla is principally concerned with making males aware of the very different way in which sexual excitement reaches its climax in females than in males. He argues that "from the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e., the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony. not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved" (p. 272). In short, husbands ought to learn how to please their wives by becoming familiar with the findings of sexology in this matter. W writes: "Non-observance of these teachings of sexology in the marital relationship is contrary to the good of the other partner to the marriage and the durability and cohesion of the marriage itself" (p. 273).

           He argues that if insufficient heed is paid to such truths, the wife, who will not be fully involved, may begin to have a hostile attitude toward sex, become frigid in some way, and even result in psychological and physiological damage to the woman (p. 273).

           He holds that it is inappropriate for the wife to "sham orgasm," because this conceals the problem and can at best be a palliative. He pushes for true personal education in the matter and neatly distinguishes between a "culture of marital relations" and concern for mere technique--the "how to" manual approach (pp. 274-275). What is most needed is true love. Finally, the valid findings of sexology, while not directly supporting monogamy and indissolubiilty, nonetheless indirectly does so because it attaches such importance to the psychological and physical health of spouses, and this health flourishes best in the soil of true marital love (pp. 276-277).

2.  The Problem of Birth Control (pp. 278-285)

           In these pages Wojtyla develops ideas set forth in chapter 4 on this topic. Before getting to the moral problem he briefly (pp. 279-281) discusses the nature of the woman's fertile cycle. In these pages he indicates that fear of conception (at a time when it would not be appropriate for the wife to become pregnant) is perhaps the most common psychological factor upsetting the woman's natural cycle (and making periodic continence more difficult).

           Wojtyla summarizes the proper moral stance re birth control as follows: It can be reduced to two elements: "readiness during intercourse to accept parenthood and that readiness to practice continence which derives from virtue, from love for the closest of persons" (p. 281).

           In his discussion of birth control in this section Wojtyla notes, quite properly, how chemical and mechanical means can cause harm to the woman's health, how coitus interruptus is both ineffective and robs the woman of orgasm etc. These are very important points to note. He then stresses that the only morally correct method is the natural means of control (which is not contraceptive), used not as a mere technique but as an exercise of the virtue of continence. He indicates that the woman has a stronger natural urge for sex when she is ovulating. He then writes, and I believe quite perceptively, that "a more important task for the man than adapting himself to the biological cycle of the woman is the creation of a favorable psychological climate for their relationship without which the successful application of natural methods is out of the question. This demands the regular practice of continence on the part of the man, so that birth control by natural means depends in the last analysis on the moral attitude of the male. The marital relationship demands on his part tenderness, an understanding for the feelings of the woman..." (283-284).

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William E. May was a Theological Advisor to Catholics for the Common Good Institute, emeritus Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and Senior Research Fellow of the Culture of Life Foundation.

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