David Matzko McCarthy

Revive Her Drive

Improving Your Sex Life

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Sex produces children. This statement might disturb many, inasmuch as it rings of sexual repression and frustrated desire. Surely sex ought not to be constrained by an archaic pro-creative end? But although out of step with the times, it seems straightforward to begin with simple procreation when introducing a discussion of fecundity. Among the countless things done and intended through sex, sexual activity has an orientation to producing as well, and the end of this orientation is a baby. That is not to say that every sexual act does or must have a procreative outcome. However, procreation is inevitable if a man and woman are not vigilant about avoiding it (or if one of them "suffers" a dysfunction). Most couples who decide to have a child actively do so by discontinuing their resistance to the procreative intentions of their acts. By "intentions of their acts," I mean, not their thinking or their conceptual intentions, but their bodily agency. Our bodies are generative in disposition.

The body intends. A pregnant woman might not intend to be pregnant in the narrowly cognitive sense of intention, and she will not need to make up her mind in order for gestation to proceed. Instead, she is likely to say, "Look at what is happening to me. My breasts are getting heavy, my stomach is poking out, and somebody is moving around in there. Isn't it amazing?" Although she might refer to these events as happening to her, she is not passive by any means. She, in her full bodily sense, knows what to do and intends to do so. This character of our agency has given St Augustine good reason to worry, at least from his understanding of the unity of intellect, will, and body. Augustine makes much out of the fact that our bodies are not entirely under rational control. A man might not think to have an erection but experiences one nevertheless. Modern romanticism simply turns the Augustinian hierarchy on its head. The natural impulses and movement of desire impinge upon us in ways that cannot be, and therefore ought not to be, suppressed. In this case, a man cannot and ought not to ignore his erection. He must respond to his nature. Regardless of what makes rational sense, his sexual responsiveness must be speaking the truth.

Pregnancy is representative of the body's agency, but too often a woman's body has been presented through a dualism that sets rational will over against the body, intellect over against nature, and man as independent thinker and social agent over against woman as bodily creativity and affective unity. Note, for instance, that recent interest in the "theology of the body" is more precisely an interest in the formal differences between male and female bodies. Some distinction between the male and female body is important, but more needs to be said, first, that our embodied activity is social, and second, that bodily agency is not generic in character but specific to you or me. Certainly, the human body per se indicates how human beings inhabit the world, but my corporality is lived and acted out in a social world where, it is hoped, I cannot be exchanged with another. The sexual givens of the body are usually used to indicate natural as opposed to social agency. But ironically our bodies are the fundamental medium of our social world (i.e., our only world). My bodily intentions shape and are shaped by the particulars of my everyday life.

This chapter interprets fecundity in terms of the socially situated body and a cultural grammar of desire. It undertakes the difficult task of dealing with sexual generativity in a socioeconomic world that separates the meaning of sex from reproduction and conceives of procreation less as economically productive and more as a form of consumption. The first section of the chapter offers an analysis of sexual desire as it is reproduced within the market economy. Sex, in this setting, is productive of both desire and a naturalism that conceals the expansion of dominant social forms. We live in sexually agonistic times. Masked by the idea of the natural sexual self is an economy of desire that perpetuates the struggle by pushing contentment out of the everyday world. The second section criticizes recent currents in the theology of marriage insofar as a modern turn inward sustains this otherworldly economy of desire. By beginning with my reference to a woman's agency in carrying a child, I hope that a stark contrast has already been established. The sexual/bodily agency of women and men, as it is conceived within the dominant social economy, hinges on our freedom from bodily generation. I am asserting otherwise. My only alternative is to rarefy and spiritualize, to set forward the implausible and empirically false notions that sex "makes love," produces a "relationship," and builds on the true "sexual" self. Sex makes people, not love. Sexual practices mediate the social body, not only through making babies, but also through the course of our bodily-living out in common life.

My concern, in this chapter, is to consider fecundity as social reproduction and sexual agency as it is situated in quotidian endeavors. Ultimately, I will claim that conceptions of marriage and family, as they are carried by practices of the Christian life, do indeed domesticate sex. Sexual practices are a means of being at home; they reproduce the social economy of the household and are satisfied in our belonging.

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