Natural Law Part 2: Gender perspectives and evolution

We left two issues on one side for reconsideration later, near the beginning of Part One, evolution and the female perspective. In this part we’ll critically reassess the male perspective, before considering the seriously missing female views, and then move on to examine what needs to be incorporated from our understanding of evolution.

Patriarchy - a penis puts you in charge of the womenfolk - how convenient
The male perspective and the Church’s sexual morality teaching

The Church and Aquinas’s sexual morality teaching comes from a male, patriarchal perspective. It is explicitly so and starts from the use by men of the penis and its supposed proper, natural and moral purpose. We are told nature allows us to deduce the sexual purpose of the penis is for inserting into the vagina for depositing semen for the purpose of procreation. This is backed up by another natural purpose idea, that the male and female sexual bodies are designed to be ‘complementary’ and only with the vaginal use by the penis do human bodies fit ‘naturally’.

Added to this is a significant element of Bible and Christian tradition used to justify and reinforce the very restricted view of acceptable human sexual behaviour. There’s only one plain dish available in the Catholic sexual cafe, even for married couples.

Why does the Prostate Gland have feelings?

Before we consider female perspectives on the Church’s and Aquinas’s teachings on sexual morality, we should briefly pause to deal with another male sexual organ, one which is internal, the prostate gland; this produces some of the fluid within semen¹.

Neither the Church nor Aquinas have ever considered this male sexual organ. It plays an integral part of the male reproductive role, and although it is hidden, it has one highly significant characteristic.

The prostate surface, although internal, is rich in nerve endings and when stimulated this is highly pleasurable. Some people call it the male g-spot. Its surface is not stimulated during Aquinas-approved vaginal penetration. Neither Church nor Aquinas considers its surface sensitivity.
male internal prostate gland
Most gay men know about the prostate’s surface sensitivity from experiences of anal sex: the prostate surface is stimulated by contact with a penis in the anus. There is no biological reason in procreation to justify the design of the prostate gland to incorporate sensitive surface nerve endings.

It appears deliberately designed by God, evolution and nature, to make anal sex pleasurable for homosexual men.

Female perspectives on the Catholic Natural Law of sex

– the Clitoris

Let’s turn to the Aquinas’s and the Church’s teachings and consider these from a female perspective.

Females are distinguished with their own sexual characteristics and possess a clitoris and this is visible. But, despite being visible, it is completely ignored by Aquinas and the Church. It is as if the clitoris doesn’t exist. (Adjacent to the clitoris in most, but not all, women are the female-only Skene’s glands² the equivalent of the male’s prostate; these contribute to vaginal lubrication.)

The significance of the clitoris in natural law terms is that it has no necessary purpose in procreation. It is not required to achieve the fertilisation of the egg, nor to accommodate penetration.

However friction on the clitoris produces pleasure, and pleasure is its biological purpose.
Clitoris anatomy
The Christian theologian Professor Christine Gudorf concludes that the existence of the clitoris in the female body suggests that God intended that the purpose of sexual activity was as much for sexual pleasure for its own sake, as it was for procreation. Therefore, according to Gudorf, pleasurable sexual activity, apart from procreation, does not violate God’s design, is not unnatural, and hence is not necessarily morally wrong, as long as it occurs in the context of a monogamous marriage (Gudorf, Christine. Sex, Body, and Pleasure, Reconstructing Christian Sexual Ethics, 1995 p. 65)³.

Aquinas: females are ‘defective’ males
Aquinas teaches that women are defective males
It is profoundly shocking to modern sensibilities and our sense of gender equality to read Thomas Aquinas’s description of women as the product of a ‘defective’ male seed– he has a male-centred view of creation and life, one where women are naturally subordinate and secondary to men.

We now know a rather contrary account, from scientific human biology, that the true nature of humans is that the female is the standard human prototype, and boys are a natural variant which develops male characteristics from female foundations in the womb.

Adam comes from Eve, is biology’s complete rewriting of the Genesis human creation myth.

Such a fundamental misconception by Aquinas of the nature of female and male, and one that excludes any female perspective, underlies Aquinas’s thinking, reasoning and conclusions.

This raises further doubts about the appropriateness of relying on Aquinas’s ideas and conclusions for the Church’s teaching on sexual morality.

Other female perspectives on Aquinas and the Church’s teachings [4]

– dependence

Women with or without children, who are economically dependent on their husbands, may find themselves in the position of having to engage in sexual activity whether they want to or not, for fear of being abandoned, or physically, or psychologically abused; these women may not be engaging in sexual activity fully voluntarily. The woman who allows herself to be bullied into sex by her husband worries that if she says “no” too often, she will suffer economically, if not also physically and psychologically.

– ‘giving yourself’ in marriage: is this perpetual consent? What about rape?

Does ‘giving yourself’ in marriage mean that wives [or husbands] always and every time have to have sex if their partner wants this? Can there be no rape in a Catholic marriage?

Aquinas and Christians traditionally saw a married woman as her husband’s property, for sexual use as and when he wanted. This view swung towards female autonomy only in the 19th and 20th centuries, but very slowly. It was as late as 1991 that marital rape was made a crime in England and Wales.

Many women complain they still lack real sexual autonomy equivalent to men in marriage.

– coercive pressure is morally wrong

The presence of any kind of pressure at all is seen by some women experts as coercive and means there is no voluntary participation in sex, making that sex activity morally objectionable. Charlene Muehlenhard and Jennifer Schrag discuss this in “Nonviolent Sexual Coercion”.

They list, among other things, “status coercion” (when women are coerced into sexual activity or marriage, by a man’s wealth or occupation) and “discrimination against lesbians” (which discrimination compels women into marriage or into having sexual relationships only with men) as forms of coercion that undermine the voluntary participation by women in sexual activity with men.
women under sexual pressure
– are some pressures uncoercive, or morally acceptable?

Some people counter this by saying either that some forms of sexual pressure are not coercive and do not appreciably undermine voluntariness, or that some pressures are coercive but nevertheless are not morally objectionable.

Both these views seem indistinguishable from a male heterosexual apologia for using sexual pressure for the purposes of coercion, and as an excuse or justification for maintaining the present male power advantage to secure sex when a male wants this.

These can only be assessed fairly with the benefit of the views of the more vulnerable person in that situation. Personally, I’d prefer to trust the judgement of relatively vulnerable women facing this situation and say such coercive pressure is morally wrong.


– women’s health and well-being

Consider the situation of women concerned for their future health and well-being (her body’s capacity to gestate, give birth to and nurse a child), her age and the mental and physical resources available to nurture a child / another child through to adulthood. Aquinas and Catholic teaching ban all use of artificial contraception and abortion. Repeated childbearing is physically demanding on the woman’s body, and childbirth is often hazardous without significant affordable medical, obstetric, or midwifery care being available. Maternal death was common among women until the early decades of last century (affecting at least 1 in 10 women) and it is still common in much of the developing world.
98% of Catholics have used birth control
Aquinas’s and the Church view ignores this female health and well-being perspective: when you married you ‘gave yourself’ to your husband. If you die in pregnancy, from childbirth, or postpartum, or of exhaustion, or cannot cope with a disabled child, that’s just the life of a Catholic wife.

It is hard to conclude that women would arrive at the same conclusion as Aquinas and the Church on the consequences of always procreative sexual activity, when it is their lives and health that are at risk. The reality that most Catholic women (over 90%) use ‘artificial’ contraception when this is freely available and that some have abortions, despite the Catholic bans, demonstrates that sex that is always open to conception is not most women’s normal, natural choice.

Women’s sexual activity preferences

The sexual activity allowed to married women and men by Thomas, vaginal penetration open to procreation, is limited. The different attitudes to sexual activity stereotypically found in men and women go unrecognised. A husband of the ‘wam bam thank-you mam’ type, single-mindedly focused on his penetration and his orgasm, would be perfectly acceptable in Thomas’s prescription. That’s not likely to be welcomed by many wives as serving their sexual needs and wishes well.

The needs of women, who typically prefer loving attention to become receptive, are not considered or recognised.   Kissing and cuddling are OK, but fingering or tonguing arguably amount to ‘unnatural’ sex because these are not necessarily making “use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted”  but“by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation” are rendered “unnatural vice”.

Certainly a husband fingering or tonguing his wife to orgasm, masturbation, is “unnatural vice”, even as a warm-up to penetration. And getting much more adventurous than the “missionary position” risks going off-piste for “not observing the natural manner of copulation”, making it “unnatural vice”.

Scepticism: the prostate, clitoris, and transgender people

Today we cannot be at all confident, as Aquinas and the Church were, that God’s plan can be discovered by a straightforward examination of the obvious male and female sexual body parts. The natural law examination and consideration of natural purpose completely missed the clitoris and the surface-sensitive internal male prostate, both of which demand proper respectful consideration from the Church.

Then there is the rich diversity in the bodily and hormonal expressions of gender differences seen in the variety of transgender people [5] [6]. The Church’s current view of transgender differences is ignorant, unscientific, disordered and un-Christian. I will leave transgender issues aside because of their complexity, my lack of expertise and because it is not central to the argument about mainstream male and female sexual expression. It is a vital issue to the people affected, and because the Church’s understanding and teaching in this area is also defective, transgender expressions of sexuality deserve respectful, considered, and separate assessment. I hope to return to this at a later date when I have become better informed.
transgender news
Evolution and natural sexual expression

At the beginning of Part One in this series, we also mentioned and put to one side (along with a female perspective and the ignored male and female sexual organs), the issue of evolution. Evolution was not considered by either Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas in their development of Natural Law in relation to sexual morality, simply because neither was aware of it.

Aristotle, as mentioned earlier, believed the world had always existed as it was, while Aquinas inherited the Biblical creation account of life’s origins. What do we now know from evolution about the development of gender diamorphism, sexual differences and behaviours? How might this modern understanding influence our response to Aquinas and the Church’s teachings about sexual morality?

Life evolved from primordial slime and found evolutionary advantage in two genders because this is highly effective at mixing genes and especially in producing advantageous adaptations. Evolution has the additional advantages of recombinational DNA repair and through processing a very large brain. There are two significant issues with large brains, the first that our babies are born very immature (to be able to pass through the pelvis) and need a very long period of nurturing by adults, not necessarily the parents, to gain size and reach sexual maturity, and secondly humans, with the high intelligence that comes from having a big brain, have more complex forms of social organisation and interaction than any other creature.

From observing animal species, evolution has taught us that species providing extended parental care after the birth of their offspring have the potential to overcome the sex differences in parental investment (the amount of energy that each parent contributes to each offspring), and this can lead to flexibility in, and even the reversal of, gender roles.

-promoting hybrid vigor.

Advanced complexity results in gender role flexibility

Humans evolved as the most advanced placental mammal, posse

Gender stereotypes and ignoring sexual behaviour diversity

A great deal is still not fully unexplained about the diversity of human behaviour and we must be wary, firstly, of explanations that invoke stereotypical gender roles and secondly, realise how individuals who do not fit the norm and popular narratives are routinely ignored.

Aristotle and Aquinas are a warning to us of this because both expressed a patriarchal view of human society and gender interactions.
sexuality and gender role distinctions in the bible
Homosexuals and transexuals are good examples of being omitted from the mainstream story society tells itself about male and female human nature, and have been persistently denigrated in the Christian and Abrahamic traditions. Yet there are other human societies where homosexual and gender-role-defying people are prized, as shamans, healers and notably as religious exemplars.

Contemporary evolutionary biologists see diversity as ‘natural’

The work of contemporary evolutionary biologists, like Joan Roughgarden, is illuminating. She sees the tremendous diversity in human and animal genders and sexualities, not as something that has to be explained away to fit the dogma of binary gender and sexual selection, but as the “natural” order of things, and this perspective is gaining wide acceptance. Her book, The Genial Gene is a fascinating alternate vision of the evolution of sex.
Sexual Diversity Guide book
Competition between the sexes is no longer at the centre of natural selection, but is replaced by social forces in families and communities of animals.

Her theory of social selection fills many of the gaps in theories of sexual selection, from explaining the existence of homosexuality, transexuality and other intermediate genders and sexualities, to the mathematical impossibility of females being able to calculate genetic superiority in nearly identical males, and the lack of a correlation between secondary sex characteristics and fitness.

Evolutionary biology’s lessons for society and the Church

The Church needs to reflect on the emerging understanding that evolution has handed humans a unique and diverse set of cards, and with our huge intelligence, we should be very wary of the simplistic ‘natural’ behaviour analysis and strictly limited gender roles and acceptable sexual morality, as found in Aquinas and the Church’s teaching of Natural Law for sexual behaviour.

Instead the available evidence and current evolutionary biology understanding tells us the Church is surely in error about the beauty seen in the diversity of God’s human creation, as expressed through human evolution and development.

 

Church and external expertise

What does all this signify and how do we incorporate this wealth of knowledge into an appropriate view of the diversity of expression and ‘proper’ use for the human sexual faculties in the 21st century?

There is a vast wealth of external expertise in many fields, that the Church has not fully opened its eyes and mind to in the fields of gender and sexual expression. The Church cannot discern the Truth it should transmit properly and broadcast this to the world, if it continues to ignore large parts of modern understanding and insights about sex and relationships. It undermines people’s faith in the Truth the Church teaches, to ignore and not publicly address such contemporary human knowledge and insights.

Involve, Consult, Reason, Explain, Persuade lay people

The Church needs to persuade, reason and explain its sexual morality teachings for these to be publicly credible, especially because this is in an area of life where the Church has lost, through the clerical sexual abuse scandal, much of its moral authority in sexual matters.

When it does not do so, as it did not for contraception in Humanae Vitae, the bulk of the faithful simply decides to reasons things out for itself and decides in the light of its own informed conscience. More than 90% of Catholics use contraception that the Church teaches is forbidden.

Sexual morality is an area where the lay faithful have experience and some expertise, unlike celibate clergy bound by promises of chastity. The disconnect between Church and laity in sexual morality accounts for much of the moral relativism about which the Church complains so bitterly. It has the potential remedy in its own hands.

Scepticism about Aquinas’s competence to discern Truth from the natural world

It is time for the Church to embrace a healthy scepticism about the Truth of Aquinas’s prescriptions for human sexual behaviour based on his attempt to discern the intentions of God from his simplistic understanding of biological evidence in the natural world. Natural Law, with the addition of misapplied historical tradition and scriptural interpretations, appears unfit for transmitting God’s Truth for proper human sexual expression in committed relationships.

Next Post: 3: modern specialists

The next post, third in this series of four, will consider some of the modern specialist knowledge and insights into sexual behaviour and morals that are now available. For example people are endowed with large brains and great intelligence, and are capable of a complex range of subtle behaviours, but the Church appears to disregard significant insights of psychology in human sexual expression.

Both Catholic and secular modern moral theologians are often highly critical of the Church’s teachings on sex and relationships because the understanding of natural law and scriptural interpretations are flawed and inadequate.

Does the Natural Law teaching of the Church on sexual morality stand up to the modern insights of psychology and the criticisms of moral theologians and ethicists?

footnotes and sources

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostate

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skene%27s_gland

³ http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H12

[4] http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/ Philosophy of Sexuality

http://www.iep.utm.edu/natlaw/ Natural Law

http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H16 Consent is Sufficient – specific

http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H17 What is voluntary? – coercion

[5] Sexual Diversity and Catholicism : toward the development of moral theology; Professor Patricia Beattie Young with Joseph A Coray, editor(s), 2001, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA

[6] More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church, 2011

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Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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