Sex is NOT the Nourishing Food of Marriage (but it is the apple pie a la mode)

On Friday my Facebook feed lit up with reposts of an article from Aleteia.org, written by Mr. Ryan Williams, entitled “Sex is the nourishing food of marriage,” with the subtitle, “It doesn’t come as the result of other acts of charity in a marriage; it is the cause of them.” (**Please see the editor’s note at the end of this post for an update)

WHAT???!!!

First let me say that I LOVE Aleteia. They cover awesome topics like Simone Biles regularly attending Mass, and Eucharistic Miracles in Krakow. But I must say I am questioning their judgement with this particular article.

The angry, snipey part of me wants to say: “Go figure, a man wrote this article.” Yep. An article that’s all about the “fact” that everything good in a marriage is an outgrowth of sex.

The guy doesn’t even use flowery terms like “marital intimacy,” Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.10.43 PM“intimate union,” or “the marital embrace.”

No. He just baldly refers to it as “sex,” the most banal, mundane term that exists for this awesome act of unity between a man and a woman.

That’s right. It is an awesome union. I REALLY LIKE the act of which we speak. A lot. But is sex the food that nourishes a marriage? Are the acts of charity in a marriage caused by sexual intimacy?

Dear Lord, I hope not.

Men and Women Aren’t the Same

If Mr. Williams hasn’t figured this out, he probably needs to, in order to keep his marriage happy. For men, he may be 99% right. Goodness knows it seems as though a man can think very little of his wife one minute, and want to jump between the sheets the next.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.06.12 PMFor women, however, it’s a very different story. If a husband has mistreated, ignored, or maligned his wife, she most likely will want nothing to do with the marital act. If they haven’t spent “quality time” together recently, she will very often want nothing to do with sex. We women are generally sexually attracted to the person who makes us feel loved, important, and cherished. If these needs aren’t being fulfilled, intimacy will often be toward the bottom of the list of things we’d like to do in our spare time.

Good to Better, Better to Great

If things are relatively okay, sex can make them good. If things are good, sex can make them great. And if things are great, sex can bring husband and wife to a physical and a spiritual intimacy that can be known in no other way on God’s green earth.

However…

Sometimes Sex Isn’t on the Menu

If sex were the “nourishing food of marriage,” from which all acts of charity arise, how would a man ever care for his elderly wife suffering from Alzheimers, who no longer recognizes him as her husband? How could he possibly change her diapers, spoon-feed her, and help her in the shower?

If sex were the “nourishing food of marriage,” how can a woman caring for her brain-injured husband help him to “re-learn his history,” oversee his therapy,  and sort out all of his medications? How could she remain patient (albeit imperfectly) when his reactions are inappropriate and disinhibited?

Are these couples less married because they can’t partake in the marital act?

From where do these caregivers’ many acts of charity arise? Mr. Williams would have us believe that such acts cannot, in fact, exist because these couples aren’t uniting fully in their marital bed!

Let’s look at this from a different angle

A priest is married to the church. If acts of charity in marriage arise only out of sexual union, as this article would have us believe, how on earth can a priest carry out his duties of endless self-donative love for his parishioners and Christ’s people?

Likewise, a nun is married to Christ, united with Him in a holy union unlike any that we married folk will ever understand. She performs countless charitable acts for her students, strangers, the poor, the disabled. How can she possibly perform these acts when she can not make love to her Beloved?

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 3.57.41 PMHow?

And just consider for a moment the Holy Family, the most perfect family ever to exist on this earth, upon which we are meant to model our own families. If charitable acts flow only from sexual intimacy, how was Mary able to serve Joseph, and Joseph able to serve Mary?

Sex: The Apple Pie a la Mode of Marriage

I’d like to counter Mr. Williams’s with the argument that sex is not the nourishing food of marriage. To try to stick with the “food” analogy, I’d argue that, for us dessert lovers, sex is the apple pie a la mode of marriage – the pièce de résistance which more fully unites us, which makes us feel more wholly one.

But there are many other wonderful delicacies on our menu, even if Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.42.59 PMwe’re not enjoying dessert. There’s the meat and potatoes of long hugs and extended kisses. There’s the delicious mozzarella sticks of holding hands. There’s the  delectable fresh bread of laying in bed spooned into one another, even though you know this cuddle is going absolutely nowhere.

We can still have a perfectly wonderful meal, even if apple pie isn’t on the menu. In fact, skipping dessert while more fully exploring other menu options can lead us to a better understanding of what we both enjoy, while also leaving us feeling more satisfied and maybe even a little healthier.

Likewise, a marriage can be strengthened through abstinence, whether it’s forced or voluntary. The acknowledgement that our union transcends beyond the physical and can survive the lack of the physical can increase trust and improve our ability to give selflessly. Moreover, it can help us to recognize that our ultimate goal and responsibility is to aid our spouse on their journey toward the ecstasies of the heavenly kingdom, rather than toward the ecstasies of the world.

With all this in mind, I would ask Mr. Williams, and all married people, to consider the roll sex plays in their lives and marriages. Can your marriage survive – and thrive – without it?

If it can’t, I suggest that you consider broadening your menu.

**Editor’s note: The article referenced on Aleteia has been changed since I originally wrote this post, for which I am extremely grateful.*** The article no longer states that “Sex is the nourishing food of marriage,” but that “Sex is kind of like the nourishing food of marriage.” (emphasis mine) The subheading has also been changed, from indicating that sex is “the cause” of charitable acts, but that sex is “a cause” of charitable acts. This is a huge distinction, drastically changing the meaning of the article, in my opinion. Thank you to Aleteia and Mr. Williams for clarifying the author’s intent. I do not know whether the body of the post has been substantially changed. In the interest of editorial integrity, I will leave my post unchanged.

***another Editor’s note: I initially indicated that I “was extremely grateful” that the article’s title and subtitle had been changed. Upon reflection, I realized that’s not true. I’m actually extremely ticked that the article would be so substantially changed. In this “blogosphere,” changing articles substantially is not okay. I’m grateful that the clarification was made, but wish that it had been done in a way that was more honest and respectful of the original content and context.

10 thoughts on “Sex is NOT the Nourishing Food of Marriage (but it is the apple pie a la mode)”

  1. Stephanie, I think your response to this article was incredibly thoughtful. And I totally agree with you on every level – that men and women are different, and sex means something different for us than it does for our husbands. I always know when something is wrong between Ben and me by virtue of the fact that I DON’T want to be intimate with him. The we amend that, and the union is sublime.

    It’s also a great point about how love is a choice, especially when you have become a caregiver for your spouse, as you are for Ray. Your witness is so beautiful and heartening, Stephanie, because you have epitomized what it means to truly love “for better or worse, in sickness and health…” I am so blessed to know you and call you friend!

  2. Stellar response, Stephanie! Anointed and Holy Spirit inspired in my opinion. You make me smile. And I love the way you used the words you chose for your reply! Awesome.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie. I hope you’re right. It’s getting some backlash on Facebook, so I’m trying to humbly and prayerfully consider what my motivation was.

  3. Stephanie, good work. I just celebrated my fiftieth wedding anniversary and I believe the bottom line is that men and women view sex differently. Because we do, there is truth to the charity aspect from both sides; husband and wife. So sex is ‘a’ nourishing tool, but not ‘the’ nourishing tool, as you point out, and it is only one of many ways a man and woman are united in a happy and fulfilling marriage. So glad you took this on!

  4. Stephanie, I think you mischaracterized Mr. Williams article, and in doing so did him an injustice in your comments. Your response above seems more emotional than considered. You gave yourself away with your first response: “The angry, snipey part of me wants to say: “Go figure, a MAN wrote this article.” That prejudice set the tone.

    1. John, I appreciate your viewpoint. I confess that I do, on occasion, take advantage of this forum to express emotions. 🙂 However, the character of Mr. Williams’ article changed drastically when he made changes to it in response to the comments he was receiving. The article you will read today is very different from the article that left me slightly incensed when it was first published. Therefore, what might seem as a mischaracterization today might not have seemed that way had you read the original article.

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