Monday, November 22, 2010

Love, Sex and Sensuality

Sentimentality must be clearly distinguished from love--Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla

So much of our deepest, spiritual longings center around acceptance, both of self and other. We want to freely love and be loved, what some call "unconditional love." Yet in the everyday world, in the practice life, this can be confusing, contradictory even. We consider the element of free will and its role in love, yet with free will and our natural responses to others, love and sex can become disordered, confused for something that it ultimately may not be. While the whole of our feelings are natural and a guide to our behavior, it is less important to know what our feelings are than what value or how we respond to them. Accepting our feelings is first and foremost.

Writing in his book, Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla notes that, "however, as we know, a human person cannot be an object for use. Now, the body is an integral part, and so must not be treated as if it were detached from the whole person." Doing so threatens to devalue a person. Let me say here, there is no such thing as pure sensuality, such exists in animals and is their proper instinct. What then is "completely natural to animals is then, sub-natural to humans."

This is to say that sensuality by itself, while a natural response to a body of the opposite sex, is not love. Sensuality may be love when it is open to inclusion of the other elements of love, such as desire, friendship, good will, patience, understanding, and so forth. Alone, sensuality is notoriously fickle, seeing only a body, turning to it simply as a possible object of enjoyment. And it is not only the physical presence of a body which may trigger sensuality, "but also the inner senses such as emotion and imagination; with their assistance, one can make contact with a body of a person not physically present."

However this does not go to show that "sensuality is morally wrong itself. An exuberant, and readily roused sensual nature is the making for a rich, if not more difficult, personal life." Sensuality can indeed be a factor for making a free will love, an ardent and fully formed love.

Sentimentality as an experience must be and is clearly distinct from sensuality. As previously stated, a sense-impression typically accompanies an emotional response (a "value" response). Direct contact by persons of the opposite sex always is accompanied by a direct impression which may be an emotion. The inclination to respond to sexual values such as masculine and feminine, should be called sentiment.

Sentimental 'susceptibility' is the the source of affection between persons. In contrast to sensuality where the most immediate sense-impression is perhaps the body, sentimental regard views the person as a whole; it includes the body in its sense-impression, but does not limit itself to that aspect.

Sexual value then continues as the totality, the oneness of the person. Affection is not an urge to consume. It is appreciative, it therefore goes with the values ascribed to beauty, to a strong feeling and value for a person in their masculine and feminine natures.

However in affection, in sentimentality, a different desire than simple use or lust is evident; it is the desire for proximity, for nearness, a longing to be together in a physical presence. Sentimental love "keeps two people close together, it binds them, even if they are physically far apart. This love causes them to move in a similar orbit. It embraces memory, imagination and also communicates with the will." Tolerance, understanding and tenderness enter into their relationship. Being a love not wholly focused on the body, this love is sometimes called spiritual love.

Nonetheless with distance, sentimental love may turn to disillusionment. So it is not always immediately apparent that a particular sentimental love is really able to discern the true, inner values of a person. Thus love cannot be "largely a form of sex-appeal." For a human love to grow, Wojtyla says, "it must become integrated, a whole to a whole, person to person. Without this developing integration, a love is not a durable, human, love; thus it simply dies.

This article appeared here previously on May 14, 2009

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