The layman Christopher West got mentioned in my combox, and I will say right now that I have read nothing by the layman Christopher West. The hairs on the back of my neck went up when a wonderful Catholic girl I know started spouting the teachings of the layman Christopher West, which was the first time I ever heard his name. She was saying something about the body being trinitarian, or sex being trinitarian, or the Trinity being sexual, and my little heresy-alarm, carefully installed by my Canadian Jesuit masters*, went off. Ee-ee-ee-ee! Catholic thought on sex has hitherto been squarely placed in the Ethics category; what was it doing in Dogmatics, eh?
But as I say, I have read nothing by Christopher West, so the following should not be read as part of the "Christopher West Controversy." It should be read as one of my very brief forays into--eek eek--chastity writing.
Sex is more important to those who aren't having it than to those who are having it. This may be why, in my deplorable youth, my friends and I all eagerly chose the Room A "Sinful Sex; Sacred Sex" lectures during pro-life conferences, leaving Room B ("Media Savvy") completely empty. How we thrilled to the lurid stories of the bad sex that punished and the good sex that was the reward of every Christian boy and girl who kept themselves as pure as a bar of Ivory soap. How the much-experienced chastity speakers knew that the pure would have fabulous sex from their wedding night on was a question I never thought to ask. When this turned out not to be true in my case (the first time I was married), miserable me finally found a book by Dr. Ruth Westheimer on the subject.
Much later, I decided that there really ought to be a Catholic Dr Ruth, and if I ever got married again, perhaps I could be her. I would study Sexual Ethics and have a nice radio show on Ave Maria or wherever. But later I realized that this would really be a job for a medical doctor as well as an ethicist, and that talking about sex all day would be boring. Boring!
I will divide sexual matters into three categories. Keep in mind that I'm doing this without notes, books or any preparation of any kind except vague memories of Sexual Ethics class and a cup of coffee. This is totally on the fly and off the cuff. No bishop in his right mind would stamp this with an Imprimi Potest, let alone a Nihil Obstat. But enjoy.
The three categories are Eros, Concupiscence and Sex Proper. Eros is that laudable impulse in us that draws us out of ourselves to other people and things. Without it, we might as well be boiled potatoes. Eros inspires us to learn, to create, to go outside and see what is there, to approach another mind and see what is in it. Eros inspires us to take a course in art history. Eros inspires us to engage a pleasant-looking person in conversation. Eros inspires us to take a terrible risk and put ourselves at the service of another, whether as a priest or a nun or a spouse or a soldier.
Concupiscence is Eros out of whack, and sadly, as a result of the Fall, Eros is out of whack for almost everybody. We want more than our fair share. We are like little kids who, having been given a portion of good things by God, run to the kitchen to see what else is there.
"Don't eat the pudding," shouts God. "Pudding is for afters!"
"Gobble, gobble," say some of us, covering our faces with chocolate, while others watch from the table, partly afraid, partly envious, and partly excited to see whether the bad kids get a spanking.
In short, you can go outside too much. You can pry into a mind too obsessively. You can study art history too avidly. You can keep the conversation going too long.
One of the more controversial texts in the catechism is how you are not supposed to have an inordinate enjoyment of sex. That, too, is Eros out of whack. St. Augustine said you're not supposed to treat your wife as you might have (as he had) treated hookers; I think what he means is that you cannot treat your spouse as a handy means to a sexual end. Marital sex has to be a mutual conversation or leisure activity (like swing-dancing), not the freaking household god.
So now I have moved onto Sex Proper, which is NOT my favourite subject, because this world is too fond of talking about Sex Proper when Eros is so much more interesting. But, anyway, Sex Proper is the Vitamin C of marriage. No more. No less. It creates babies, too, but I'm talking about the unitive aspect here.
Marriage is called a cure for concupiscence, and indeed it seems to be a cure for sexual concupiscence as married people famously have sex less often than single people who live together in concubinage. But if they are smart, married people keep an eye on how long they go without it because--unless they have made a super-holy and super-mutual agreement (like at the age of 92) to have a Josephite marriage now--their relationship will grow ill without its Vitamin C. It could die of Sexual Scurvy.
So there you go. Celibate people who are dead sick of being celibate think sex is enormously fascinating. Married people think it is a good and healthy thing, like food and drink and gardening. They keep an eye on it like they keep an eye on their diet. But it is not for them a whole different branch of Dogmatics to be ooh-ed and aah-ed over.
I suppose married people can be found at Theology of the Body lectures. I think it a very odd way for married people to spend an evening. For erotic enjoyment, I'd rather go to the opera. For an intellectual challenge, I'd rather read Bernard Lonergan. And for spiritual development, I'd rather go to Mass.
*All my Canadian Jesuit dogmatics profs were solid. Yes, I know. But they really were solid.
Update: FWIW, I found the easiest way to deal with being celibate was not thinking or reading or writing about Sex Proper at all. NO sexy novels.