January 1981 II/5


Throughout the history of ethics there has been a tendency to treat human sexuality as if it were simply an animal function requiring to be restrained lest it turn human beings into brutes. Modern ethics is insistent that sexuality as much as any other human function be specifically humanized or personalized. Human beings should love humanly, just as surely as they should think humanly. In sexual desire and activity, as in all other human functions, we should aim at integration of body-soul dynamics, not a domination or suppression of one by the other. People in health care, because of their role in the community, have the opportunity and responsibility to develop sexual integration in their own lives and to help others develop it as well.

To build a healthier future it is essential to help people develop a fully integrated and authentic understanding of their sexuality. Health care professionals and health care facilities can play an important role in this developmental task. There are three areas in which there is urgent need.

1. The first need in the area of sexuality is to promote sound programs of sex education. Sound sex education is primarily spiritual and ethical, not only medical, but health care professionals have an essential role to play in it because of its close connection with bodily life. While many sex education programs today provide excellent biological and psychological information, they also promote a false value system because they neglect the deeper meanings of sexual activity and the responsibilities associated with human love. Sexual education programs, for example, which have as an exclusive aim the prevention of pregnancy will cause more harm than good. Concerned people can hardly criticize such programs, however, unless they provide superior ones. A balanced program should begin with helping parents succeed in their natural role as the principal sex educators. Today, many parents suffer either from (a) the predominant influence of secularistic values or (b) from incorrect, distorted religious views which stress negative, repressive aspects of sexual morality which are based on fear, rather than a positive but realistic view based on a true understanding of God's gift of sexuality and of human stewardship.

A sound program of sex education should provide the following kinds of instruction:

(1) Understanding of the unitive-procreative meaning of sexuality in marriage

(2) Knowledge of mental hygiene and essential biological knowledge about sexual differences and equality, lovemaking, intercourse, pregnancy, and birth

(3) Information on why people have a need for children and on the problems of sterility and the limits on the right to have children

(4) Information on the problems of responsible parenthood in present-day society, natural family planning methods and alternative methods, and ethical evaluation of all birth regulation methods

(5) Explanation of the rights of the unborn child

(6) Discussion of the problems of genetic defects and the supportive attitude toward defective persons developed in the Judeo-Christian tradition

(7) Consideration of the problem of homosexuality and similar difficulties in psychosocial development

Such programs can be considered preventive medicine since they might go a long way to reduce the frequency of severity of many physiological and psychological problems, but they will not have a widespread effect unless they are also jointed to social programs aimed at improving the climate of our society.

2. Sound sex education must be based on continuing research and open discussion. When sexual issues are involved, such objectivity is difficult to achieve. It has taken a real struggle on the part of some physicians and nurses to get a hearing for natural methods of delivery and breast-feeding, because such an approach seemed like a conservative attack on medical progress. Similarly, in ethical questions dealing with sexual matters our culture, especially the media, has a strong bias toward voices announcing the coming of new "freedoms" and a suspicion of those who are concerned with explaining the traditional values of family life and enduring love and the disciplined restraint they require. To arrive at an atmosphere in which traditional value can be heard fairly when sexual issues are discussed is extremely difficult. Nonetheless this is the atmosphere which should be developed.

3. Health care professionals who play a role in public and social agencies that deal with sexual problems should take care that these agencies do not content themselves merely with more negative means based upon a distorted view of human sexuality or a manipulative treatment of young women. Granted that fertility control and responsible parenthood must be an important objective of any such agency, this objective should not be achieved through dehumanizing violence or psychological coercion.

Rather the principal goal of all such agencies should be to strengthen and promote human dignity and family bonding as basic needs of society. Only in an atmosphere of good family life based on faithful love can coming generations develop a mature fully integrated human sexuality.

"The Lord who created must wish us to create
and employ our creation again in His service
which is already His service in creating.
For Man is joined spirit and body,
and therefore must serve as spirit and body.
Visible and invisible, two worlds meet in Man;
Visible and invisible must meet in His temple;
you must not deny the body."
          - - - - - T. S. Eliot

Kevin O'Rourke, OP

© Kevin O'Rourke, O.P.