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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Saint Paisios the Athonite- On Sex in Married Life



It is natural for man and woman to be attracted to one another.  This is a God given passion and we know that it is good for "God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good." (Gen 1:31) After the fall of Adam and Eve and the mortality of mankind, this attraction was essential to perpetuate the human species.  If there were no sexual attraction who would consider having children with all the difficulties associated with this?  
 
Elder Paisios points out that after Adam and Eve there might have been people with differing intensities sexual desire; some five percent, others thirty percent and others eighty percent.  But where would you find persons with only five percent of such drive today?  We live in a world where the pleasure of sex is glorified. The reality is that we also have been given by God the call and potential to attain what is called dispassion. This is a life based on control of our carnal passions such as sexual desire. To develop this desired state it is necessary to struggle to overcome what we can readily observe in animals who live with uncontrolled sexual desire.  

Mankind is more than pure animal as he is also spirit and seeks to be reunited with God. This requires mastering our carnal passions - dispassion.
 

Some think that Marriage is the justification of uncontrolled sexual activity.  The Elder says not so. 
"The married are not justified, simply because they lead a married life, in forgetting that they are not only flesh, but also spirit, and should therefore, not let themselves be unbridled. The goal is for each couple to struggle with discernment and philotimo, according to their spiritual strength. In the beginning, naturally, the age of the couple will not help; but as the years pass and the flesh is weakened, the spirit can prevail more, allowing the married couples to begin experiencing divine delights. They can withdraw naturally from the carnal pleasures, which they now consider less important. This way the married are also purified and reach Paradise by way of the more comfortable path with its gradual turns.
This is not a matter than can be controlled by one alone, but requires a consensual agreement between man and wife. Its like a dance and a shared growth in spirit. Sexual intercourse is a pleasure give to us by God not only for procreation but also as an expression of our sacrificial love for one another.  It cannot be a desire to simply gain pleasure for oneself but to give pleasure to the other we love so dearly.  This natural passion needs to be used in its proper way and controlled.

This is an issue that will also affect a couple's children if not controlled.  The Elder says,

They have an obligation to struggle to practice temperance, so as not to impart this carnal passions to their children. You see, young children whose parents have a heightened carnal frame of mind, ail, from a younger age, also have these inclinations, because they get their carnal mindset from their parents. At first these passions are very slight, as are all hereditary passions – much like the stinging nettle, very soft at first and easy to touch, but extremely itchy when full grown – and they can be cured by a good Spiritual Father who has discernment. If however they are not treated at a young age, the children will need to struggle mightily when they are older in order to rid themselves of these passions.
When we cannot keep our sexual desires in check it affects our relationship. To seek such pleasure for oneself is selfishness. One becomes a slave to physical desires and love is reduced to sexual pleasure. Love become getting something rather than giving. In this loss of true love, our relationship with God is also lost.  

Physical attraction is a God given passion but it is meant to be controlled. With dispassion that can be developed from childhood, a relationship that ends with a healthy controlled sexual life between a man and a woman is possible. This allows for the full development of our spiritual nature and a growing relationship with God leading to our eventual union with Him in eternal life.


 
Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, pp 66-68
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