Category Archives: Theology of the Body

Misogyny and Misbegotten Males: On the Creation of Woman

The account of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis has often been labeled as the genesis of misogyny by feminists.  The opening account in the Bible has become for many the point where they close the book.  Therefore it behooves us to know how to respond to such a charge.  In so doing, we will, like Adam who found an unlikely “helpmate” in Eve, we will turn to what many would consider a more unlikely helpmate—St. Thomas Aquinas.

Using St. Thomas as a helper to dismiss the charge of misogyny require some explaining.  For many people this would be like asking David Duke to help defend proper race relations.  But there is good reason to turn to the Dumb Ox for help on this.  Too often skeptics will dismiss the entire corpus of his teaching because the Angelic Doctor is a “misogynist.”    Following the teachings of Aristotle, St. Thomas saw women as “misbegotten males.”

It bears mentioning however that if he was wrong about women, then this does not mean he was wrong about everything, or even anything else.  All this would prove is that he was not infallible and was capable of making mistakes.  Like all of us, he too was prone to unquestionably accept some of the prevailing views of his day.  To have a blind spot, does not make one blind.  Should the entire economic theory of Adam Smith be thrown out because “woman are emotional and men rational.”?  What about John Locke’s political theory because he justifies slavery?  Living in the glass house of a multitude of errors in our own day, we should be careful to throw stone.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Patron Saint of Misogyny?

This particular case is worth examining however because St. Thomas does not wholly swallow the prevailing viewpoint.  While he wrote about women (including his great esteem for Our Lady) in numerous places, he is usually, as mentioned above, accused of misogyny because of what he wrote in a single place when called woman a “misbegotten male.”

In seeking to examine the origin of woman, St. Thomas first asks should the woman have been made in that first production of things (ST I, q.92, art.1)?  He answers in the affirmative, but the first objection he mentions is that of the Philosopher, that is Aristotle:

“For the Philosopher says (De Gener. ii, 3), that ‘the female is a misbegotten male.’ But nothing misbegotten or defective should have been in the first production of things. Therefore woman should not have been made at that first production.”

Note first that this he has listed as an objection to his own viewpoint.  Obviously it was not his own.  In his reply to this objection he shows why he does not agree completely with Aristotle.  It is worth citing the entire response in order to put the myth of his woman hating to rest.

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.”

Notice that he agrees with Aristotle about the “misbegotten” part, but only on a biological level.  The prevailing view of reproductive biology was that the sperm produced only male offspring, and that when this did not happen it was because something interfered with it.  But St. Thomas goes to some length to say that woman is not a mistake of any sort, but directly willed by God.  Men and women, in St. Thomas’ view, are equal in dignity, even if there are some accidental inferiorities (such as physical strength) between the two.  We shall return to this idea in a moment when we speak of Eve’s origin.

Eve and Adam’s Rib

In the second chapter of Genesis, speaks of the mysterious origins of man and woman.  The man, Adam, is made from the dust of the ground infused with a spirit.  The woman is “built” from the rib of the man.  (Gn 2:21-22).

Much of the creation account uses metaphorical or mythical language, but that does not mean it is entirely composed of metaphor.  In fact, the Church is quite insistent that we understand Eve being formed from the rib of Adam literally.   This is one of the three truths of man’s origins from revelation that the Church insists must be safeguarded from any encroachment by a Theory of Evolution.  Strictly speaking, if creatures are always evolving, there is always a relationship of inferior to superior.  If woman and man evolved from different individuals, evolution would lead them eventually away from each other.  Survival of the fittest would mean that one would necessarily become superior to the other.  But if they share one common origin, one common nature, then they will necessarily be equals.  By insisting that woman is taken from man, the Church is affirming this essential equality between man and woman; equal dignity such that any differences are not essential but only accidental.

This view is pretty much what we saw in St. Thomas’ explanation of why the understanding of woman as a misbegotten man is inadequate.  He goes on to further say that,

“It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man…to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither “use authority over man,” and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet” (ST I, q.92, a. 3).

By removing the rib from Adam, God also would have exposed Adam’s heart to Eve, a truth that becomes clear when we examine the act of creation of the bride of the First Adam, with the bride of the Second Adam.  Just as Adam fell asleep and the raw material of his bride came from his side, so too when the Second Adam fell asleep that the raw material that God would form into His Bride came forth.

This exposure of Adam’s heart has not just a mystical meaning, but a natural one as well.  It is an expression of the truth that “it is not good that man should be alone.”  Pope St. John Paul II mentions this when he discusses the meaning of Adam’s rib during his catecheses on the Theology of the Body.  In naming the animals, man experiences what the Pope calls Original Solitude, in recognizing he is fundamentally alone among creation.  In the creation of Eve, he ecstatically experiences that he was made for another, that is, he was made to love—“this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”  In other words, Eve being taken from the rib of Adam reveals that the two ways of being human somehow complete each other.  As John Paul II puts it, the rib reveals  masculinity and femininity as “two complementary dimensions…of self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body” (TOB 11/21/79).  Adam’s recognition of Eve as somehow his equal and yet wholly other is a summons to love.

There is certainly a rich symbolism attached to the idea of Eve created from the rib of Adam, but must we really interpret it literally?  Literal interpretation affirms another very important, and very Catholic, principle related to God’s Providence.  God, being totally free, could have fashioned Eve in any manner He wanted.  But He chose this way not because it was a symbol, but because it was a sacrament.  It brought about and revealed the things that it symbolized—the unity, equality and love that each of the symbols we mentioned pointed to. All of creation including the human nature of Christ is meant to reveal God to us.  Therefore nothing that He has made can be taken at face value as “only this” or “only that.”  Everything that is, means something.  God does not need to use symbolic language because everything that He creates is in some sense a symbol.

The accusation of misogyny in the origins of man and woman is really an accusation of Christianity not being Christian.  Prior to the “evolution” of Christian culture, women were always viewed as somehow inferior to men.  It is only when Christianity became the prevailing worldview that the essential equality of men and women became the norm.  Now, revisionists would have us believe that the hand that fed us, actually poisoned us, by feeding us healthy food.  The account of the creation of Eve reveals the dignity of woman and is not misogynistic.



A Culture of Divorce

Once, when Our Lord was speaking with the Pharisees, they tried to test Him by asking Him about the lawfulness of divorce.  In response, He invited them to return to the beginning when, in God’s plan, man and woman became one through marriage.  In revoking Moses’ concession to man’s hardness of heart and outlawing divorce, He announced the indissolubility of marriage as a key aspect of the New Covenant.  This teaching however has become a source of controversy among Christians to the point where only the Catholic Church has remained faithful to Our Lord’s teaching of marriage as indissoluble.  Moses may have allowed divorce outright, but this is not the only way to “allow” divorce.  There is a second, more subtle way, that many within the Church would like to adopt—the “yes, divorce is wrong, but it doesn’t really matter” approach.

Remarriage is not the Only Problem

A point of clarification is necessary at first.  At first it seems the issue is really about remarriage after divorce.  But the Church, echoing Christ’s words is really against divorce.  In Matthew 19:9 Our Lord issues an exception opening the path to divorce because of “unchastity.”  The actual Greek word used by St. Matthew is porneia and has remained rather elusive as to an exact translation.  All of the ink spilled on a proper translation of this word is pointless unless we understand two things.

First, regardless of whether it refers to serious sexual sin or other forms of infidelity such as abuse, divorce is only a legal arrangement of living apart.  The marriage bond is not, nor can it ever be, broken.  Nowhere throughout the history of the Church did this ever mean that the person was free to remarry.  This teaching comes directly from St. Paul who taught that the separated couple has two options: reconciliation or remain single (1 Cor 7:10-11).

Second, the exception proves the rule.  This needs to be mentioned because we now live in a culture where the exception becomes the rule.  GK Chesterton said that because we have an “incapacity to grasp that the exception proves the rule, …silent anarchy is eating out our society.” He goes on to say that “if you treat a peculiar thing in a peculiar way, you thereby imply that ordinary things are not to be treated in that way…Anything in a special situation shows by implication that all things are not in that situation.”  In other words, the argument that there is an exception for “unchastity” says that divorce is normally wrong.  There can be no such thing as “no-fault divorce” because it takes the exception and makes it the rule.

That being said, divorce really does matter and we should not merely turn a blind eye to it.  Divorce really matters because of its effect on the Family.  When I say capital F Family, I mean the social reality that is the Family.  Yes, obviously, it has profound effects on those families touched by it directly, but no family remains immune to it.  Divorce leads to a divorce culture; a culture born not just by imitation, but also by intimation.

Marriage and Children

To see this, we must first acknowledge the relationship between marriage and children.  Most of us know these things are intrinsically connected but would struggle to articulate it.  Even the most ardent supporter of same-sex marriage knows this and often goes to great lengths to simulate it as part of their relationship.  The purpose of marriage is the mutual perfection of the spouses.  Marriage is an end in itself—it is not a means to have children.  A man and a woman desire marriage with each other, not because it will bring children into the world, but because they desire to be completely united to their spouse so that the two become one—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

What does the Church mean then when she says that “Procreation and education of children is the end of marriage”?  What this means is that when the two become one, children naturally follow.  In other words, children are the fruit of conjugal love.  Procreation and education of children is the end of marriage not as the reason why spouses come together, but as a result of their coming together.  Marriage is the natural place in which a child is brought into and up in this world.  Yes, there are exceptions and courageous ones at that, but the exception proves the rule.  A child brought up with only one parent is at a disadvantage.

Clarity as to why this is a disadvantage emerges when we examine our brokenness.  As a result of the Fall, conflict and division emerges between men and women (c.f. Gn 3:16).  Their relationship becomes mainly one of competition.  But, “in the beginning, it was not so.”  Humanity is not man or woman, but both.  A child brought up with only a father(s) or mother(s) is really only half-educated on what it means to be a human person.  They need, and therefore have a right to, both parents.

But not any man and any woman will do.  They must be indissolubly united by love because each child must know that they are not a result of some random encounter, but through an act of everlasting love.  They remain incomprehensible to themselves unless they know they were loved into existence.  This is why their security always rests in the stability of their parents relationship and the love between the spouses must be the primary catalyst for the love of the parents for the child.

The Hidden Effects

In this setting, the child intimates what becomes a very important belief that puts structure his whole life.   A child needs a father and a mother not as separate or competing influences but as cooperating influences in their complementarity.  The world, especially today, says that men and women are mostly competitive and will only come together when, and for as long as, there is mutual benefit.  By remaining indissolubly united, the children learn that men and women are not naturally competitive but cooperative.  The minute divorce enters the picture, the child only sees the competitiveness.  When this happens enough and divorce within society gathers a certain momentum, indissoluble marriage becomes the exception and society built upon the Family crumbles.

Chesterton calls divorce, especially when there is remarriage, the height of superstition.  Can we really expect someone who broke a vow at the altar to keep a vow the second time at that same altar?  Vows mean very little and within a divorce culture integrity becomes an anti-value.  We are married at an altar because an altar is a place of sacrifice.  Marriage leads to the fulfillment of spouses because each learns to truly love.  It is a sad world where happiness (in the worldly sense) and love must co-exist.  Marriage is the school where love is learned and taught, and not just to the children.  Divorce says all of that was a lie.

Modesty and the Freedom to Be Loved

An assistant principal at a Texas High School recently came under fire for making comments that were “inappropriate and offensive to students.”  What did he say?  During an assembly he called out the young ladies in the school for wearing tight clothes and short shirts.  He went on to blame them for “the boys’ low grades” intimating that they are distracted by the clothes many of the girls wear.  While his comments may have been lacking in humor and mode of delivery, they were not lacking in truth.  He was challenging them to dress more modestly.  The problem is that many young people lack the necessary context to understand the value of modesty and therefore are “offended” when someone says something.

Before he was to become Bishop of Rome, Fr. Karol Wojtyla wrote what might ultimately become his most important work, Love and Responsibility.  In it, he examines the relationship between the sexes and lays out the foundations of what would become his Theology of the Body.  Perhaps if the Assistant Principal was familiar with the work, he would have been able to draw on Fr. Wojtyla’s lengthy discussion on the importance of modesty.

In the book he makes what many today would consider a radical assumption—that men and women are different.  This difference is not just skin deep but goes to the very depth of their being as man and woman.  In fact our bodies are simply expressions of these differences rather than the totality of these differences.  These differences even affect the ways in which men and women are attracted to each other.

When one speaks of being “attracted” to someone, it primarily means that there is a response to a perception of some value in that person.  But because the person is not just an object but also a subject, there is always the danger of treating the other as a “something” rather than a “somebody.”  To guard against this tendency, Fr. Wojtyla articulates what he calls the personalistic norm—“A person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”

The sexual attraction (Wojtyla calls it the “sexual urge”) between men and women is a recognition of the sexual value of the other person.  It is experienced in two forms; sensuality and sentimentality.  Sensuality is the attraction to the body of the person of the opposite sex.  Sensuality is stirred when we encounter a person of the opposite sex and find value in their body as an object of personal enjoyment. Sentimentality is the emotional attraction to the sexual value residing in the whole person in the form of their masculinity and femininity.  Since sensuality is oriented towards the body as an object of enjoyment, it is generally stronger in men while sentimentality because it is more relational is strongest in women.

Because the sexual urge is so strong, there is always the danger that men and women will look upon the other person merely for their sexual value.  They then become an object of pleasure rather than a person to be loved.  In order for love to develop the entire “value” of the person must be seen and not just their sexual value.  What this means is that men and women must keep some of their sexual value hidden so that true love can blossom.

This, Fr. Wojtyla says, is the value in the experience of shame.  Shame arises any time that something which by its very nature ought to be private somehow becomes public.  Sexual shame arises when the sexual value of the person obscures their personal value.  Shame then acts like a protectant against use.  Most of us have experienced this.  A man instinctively will look away when he is caught staring at a woman he finds attractive.  A girl who is dressed immodestly will be forever adjusting her clothes.   Although they may not articulate it as shame, it is experienced by all but those who are shameless.  Modesty on the other hand is the “constant capacity and readiness to feel shame.”


As I mentioned sensuality is generally stronger in men.  This means that modesty and shame must be more pronounced in women.  The problem is that women are not primarily inclined to sensuality and so they do not intuit the need to conceal the body.  Modesty comes about when they gain an insight into male psychology

Even if it fell flat in its delivery, the Assistant Principal was trying to offer a much-needed insight into the male psychology.  Perhaps rather than being offended, what the students experienced was shame.  It isn’t just the boys’ problem for not focusing and it is not just the girls’ problem for dressing immodestly.  It is the self-perpetuating problem of use.  The girls dress immodestly, deliberately flaunting their sexual value, the boys respond by seeing only that.  The boys treat them as objects to be used and the girls accept this use.

The problem, I said, was one of context.  When we hear the word modesty we are immediately drawn to a Victorian encounter between men and women.  We must free modesty from this image.  Remember the goal is to keep sexual values from obscuring the true value of the person.  This does not mean that the person should hide all of their sexual value, only to the extent that they can be seen as a part of the value of the person.  The accentuation of sexual value by dress is inevitable and is not necessarily incompatible with modesty.  It is when the attire is chosen specifically to provoke a reaction that it becomes immodest.  As Fr. Wojtyla says, “What is truly immodest in dress is that which frankly contributes to the deliberate displacement of the true value of the person by sexual values, that which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person by sexual values, that which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person as to a ‘possible means of obtaining sexual enjoyment’ and not ‘a possible object love by reason of his or her personal value’.”

Most importantly, and this is what those young ladies needed to hear, modesty is more than keeping the boys from failing their classes and more than just protecting themselves from being gawked at.  “Sexual modesty is not a flight from love, but on the contrary the opening of a way towards it.”  Each of those young ladies desires to be loved and dressing immodestly, even if it garners attention, will never foster true love.  Only modesty frees love to blossom.

Marriage as a Call to Holiness

At the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, there were 58,632 priests in the United States, serving a Catholic population of 48.5 million.  In 2014, there were 38,275 priests, serving a total of 79.7 million Catholics.  The number of women religious in our country has seen an even more dramatic decrease, plunging from 179,954 to 49,883 during the same time frame (CARA Church Statistics).    We have labeled this reduction in the number of priests and religious sisters as the “vocation crisis.” We are regularly instructed to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers” (Mt 9:38).  But what if the issue is really our neglect of the seedbed vocations, namely marriage?  What if we have a priestly vocation crisis because we have a marriage vocation crisis?  The crisis is not just that we have fewer people getting married within the Church (the number of marriages within the Church went from 352,458 to 154,450) , but that we have treated marriage as a second-class vocation for far too long.

This second-class designation is not without a seeming biblical precedent.  In his first letter St. Paul tells the Corinthians that “he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38).  Earlier in the letter (7:9) he tells them that “if they cannot exercise self-control, then they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”  The popular interpretation of this is that the decision between whether one should remain celibate depends upon whether one can control himself or not.  If he cannot, then it is better to be married than not.  Read through the lens of our fallen human nature and thanks to a practical denial of marriage as a Sacrament, marriage became viewed as an outlet for indulging otherwise out of control passions.

This view has predominated for centuries in the Church.  The Church even labeled it as the secondary end of marriage calling it the remedium concupisentiae, which was translated as the remedy of concupiscence (or lust).  It is time that we re-examine this viewpoint to see if it really fits with what St. Paul was saying especially in light of Vatican II’s universal call to holiness.  With this as our understanding, marriage is viewed as being only for those who lack self-control.  It is only a short leap from this to the conclusion that self-control is not necessary in marriage because it offers us a place where we can legitimately engage our lust.  In other words, the call to holiness for married people comes despite their vocation and not because of it.

As an aside, I have to say that the need to work out a theology of marriage should have been a major focus of the Synod of the Family the past two years.  Instead they debated secondary issues like gay marriage and Communion for the remarried, wasting the Church’s time and money.  How many people actually want Communion that are remarried?  Why not focus on properly setting the ideal of marriage and showing how that can be a source of sanctification rather than look for loopholes to let a distorted view seem legitimate?

Once Vatican II and the subsequent popes began looking at marriage through a personalist perspective, framing marriage in terms of its unitive and procreative aspects, the term remedium concupisentiae was dropped from the Church’s vocabulary.  But the question is still open and marriage will still be viewed as a lesser vocation until it is addressed.  Rather than dropping the term, we should return to its roots because it contains an important truth.  St. Thomas and the Church fathers before him translated remedium concupisentiae as the remedy against concupiscence.  This change in a preposition makes all the difference.

Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin

St. Thomas says marriage is a remedy against concupiscence because it offers graces to overcome the self-seeking aspects of (married) love.  Love means making a gift of yourself and marriage offers us a unique way in which our love can be purified because it requires a total gift of oneself.  Through the grace of the sacrament of Marriage, the tendency to live a life of selfish taking is overtaken by a life of generous love.  In other words, one of the primary effects of marriage is that it purifies the love of the spouses.  It is not just a purification of the love for each other that occurs, but a purification of the love for God as well.

Each and every Sacrament is a real encounter with Christ and the Sacrament of Marriage is no different.  Although it is a “great mystery,” (Eph. 5:32) the spouses by being ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage bestow Christ on one another.  This occurs not just on the day of their wedding, but every day.  This is why St. Paul commands spouses to be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21).  This isn’t meant to be interpreted poetically, but sacramentally.  The spouses really act in persona Christi to one another.  How often in our married life it is necessary to call this truth to mind!

Returning to the text in 1 Corinthians we can begin to see why St. Paul wishes everyone to be as he is without in any way denigrating marriage.  In the case of celibacy emotional love is purified through a “special gift from God” (1Cor 7:7) while in the case of the spouses, their love is purified through marriage lived out in a “truly human way” (Gaudium et Spes, 49), bolstered by the Sacrament of Marriage.  Both celibates and married however have the same ideal, namely for their love to be purified of concupiscence.  In the case of the married they actually grow in holiness through this struggle, while the celibate simply live out the gift.

This is why the Church has always insisted that the initial discernment should always be between celibacy and marriage.  If one discerns he has been given the gift of celibacy then he would discern how that call is to be lived out (laity or clergy).  Proper discernment would never consist (at least initially) in marriage vs priestly/religious life.

Looked at from the perspective of potential for holiness, Marriage is actually the higher calling.  The celibate gains no merit for the gift of celibacy per se (recognizing there is merit in responding to this gift).  His love is purified by a singular grace.  The married person however must actively cooperate with the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage daily.  St. Paul himself says this when he mentions that married life is the harder path because of the concerns of the spouses and the world (1 Cor 7:32-35).  If the path to holiness is harder, then there is greater merit when it is achieved.

As somewhat empirical proof of this second class status, the number of married persons among declared saints is extraordinarily few as compared to the number celibates.  This sends the message that marriage is not so much a calling but a human concession.  Back in October, the Church canonized Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin who became the first married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony, but this should be seen merely as a start.  Surely there are many other married people in heaven and the Church would do a great service to married couples by opening up causes of other married saints.  Sts Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!




John Paul II and Chick Flicks

The man who would become  Pope St. John Paul II, Fr. Karol Wojtyla, devoted much of his pastoral work as a priest to the study of love between man and woman.  His reflections grew to full maturity during the series of Wednesday Audiences that would become the Theology of the Body.  Although, as George Weigel describes it, Theology of the Body remains “a theological time bomb set to go off some time in the twenty-first century,” it is one of his earlier works, Love and Responsibility, which is most culturally relevant.  It offers a remedy to the wounding effects of the portrayal of love between the sexes in movies and television shows.  Fr. Wojtyla devoted a significant portion of his discussion examining the anatomy of attraction.  If we perform a “Psychological Analysis of Love” with the future John Paul II, we will understand how Hollywood exploits this attraction and better defend ourselves from its soul crushing effects.

When one speaks of being attracted to someone, it primarily means that attraction is a response to the perception of some value in the other person.  This attraction initially involves the senses, emotions and desires (or collectively, the passions), but in order to be integrated into an authentic human response it must involve the mind and the will as well.  Only when this happens can the emotion that we refer to as love be drawn up into a truly human love in which one wills the good of another.

The natural attraction that men and women have toward each other is governed by what Fr. Wojtyla refers to as the “sexual urge.”  This tendency to seek out the opposite sex is experienced specifically as a bodily and emotional attraction to a person of the other sex.  While the other person is the object by which these attractions are stirred, they are also a subject.  If they remain on the level of object then the risk of using the other person as a “something” rather than a “somebody” is ever looming.  For Fr. Wojtyla the opposite of human love is not hate, but use.  In order to avoid falling into the trap of using other people he posited that all human interaction, especially between the sexes, ought to be governed by the principle that “a person is a kind of good which does not admit use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.”  In its positive form, the “Personalistic Norm,” is stated as a “person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love”

Fr. Wojtyla used the terms sensuality and sentimentality to refer to each of the physical and emotional attractions respectively.  Because these attractions are on the material level, they do not occur in the abstract but are always directed towards a particular human person.  Because the object of these attractions is also a subject to whom the only “proper and adequate attitude is love,” these responses only serve as the raw material for love and are intended to be integrated into a love that involves a total gift of self to the other that is unique to married love.  The manner in which the media operates makes the road to this integration treacherous at best.  The producers in Hollywood seek to stir these responses in viewers and manipulate the viewers into thinking them authentic experiences.  By examining each of the two attractions and the manner in which they are manipulated this essay attempts to serve as a roadmap to point out the pitfalls that the media consistently places in the path of true love.

Sensuality is the attraction to the body of the person of the opposite sex.  Sensuality is stirred when we encounter a person of the opposite sex and find value in their body as an object of personal enjoyment. Because this is a passive response on our part, it must be drawn up into the intellect and the will.  At that point we can choose to continue to see that person only as an object of sexual value or choose to raise the value to the personal level.  The habit of raising the emotional response to the personal level is the virtue of chastity.


Nearly every prime time television show and movie have as one of their goals to stir sensuality.  Through the use of gratuitous “love scenes” the actors deliberately allow themselves to be viewed as objects with the intent of stirring up sensuality in the viewers.  On the other hand, when sensuality is stirred in the viewer it is impossible to integrate the emotion into a truly human love.  There is only the object and no subject present.  Obviously this happens most perniciously in pornography, but even so-called “soft-porn” that now can be found regularly in prime-time television does this.  With repeated exposure we become conditioned to love the feelings that are stirred within by sensuality.  Even if we encounter real flesh and blood persons of the opposite sex a “consumer orientation” leaves us with only the ability to see them as an object to stir sensuality.  We become blind to the truth of the other person as a subject to be loved.  Well aware that chastity arms the viewer against the abuse of sensuality, Hollywood mocks those who show it.  How many “coming of age” dramas are produced each year with exactly this intent?

Sentimentality is the emotional attraction to the sexual value residing in the whole person in the form of their masculinity and femininity.  It seems at first that this is a much “safer” emotion than sensuality because it attaches value to the whole person.  Because of the intensity of the feelings attached to sentimentality there is a tendency to avoid the truth about the other person by idealizing the person “out of all proportion” to whom he or she is in reality.  Love then becomes directed at the idealized values imputed to the others and the other is used for the emotional pleasure derived from idealizing him.

Nearly every “chick-flick” (and there is no shortage of them) is accurately marketed as the “feel-good romantic comedy of the year” because they are meant to stir sentimentality.  The movies rarely deviate from the same theme—a lonely girl meets a masculine guy who is a real jerk, she finds herself surprisingly attracted to him (because she has idealized him), he reveals the truth about himself and they split up, they get back together because he shows traces of the reason she idealized him in the first place and they live happily ever after.

As promised, the viewers “feel good” during the movie, but they often leave the theater more empty and disillusioned than before.  They begin to think that the ideals they value will never be found and instead think that they should settle for someone with whom there is “chemistry” like the girl in the movie.

Fr. Wojtyla suggests that men are often more sensual than women and women more sentimental than men.  Although the prevailing culture insists there are no differences between men and women, when it comes to Hollywood they are quick to exploit this fact.  According to a 2010 study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, women in the movies are 7 times more likely to be seen in sexy clothing and 3.5 times more likely to be partially naked than men.  Likewise as the name suggests, “Chick-flicks” are marketed specifically to women because of their sentimental tendencies.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once commented that “if the human heart does not have enough love in it, it seeks out those who are in love.”  For many people the place they turn first is to the movies and TV.  Because of the manner in which Hollywood manipulates both sensuality and sentimentality, it leads to a culture that has forgotten how to find true love between the sexes.  Only with a proper understanding of these two emotions based on the teachings of John Paul II in Love and Responsibility can we begin to hope to heal the wounds the culture has inflicted on the relationship between men and women.