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Inside HSI Youth

Chastity - A Guide for Teens and Young Adults

General Sex Attraction

by Fr. Gerald Kelly

As a social being, each of us has a natural desire for companionship and for the more intimate joys of friendship. As a member of a definite sex, each has a natural, God-given attraction toward the other sex which is quite different from the attraction that we normally experience toward the members of our own sex. This sex attraction manifests itself in almost innumerable forms; but when these varying manifestations are analyzed closely, it will be found that they can be reduced to these three: General Sex Attraction; Personal Sex Attraction; and Physical Sex Attraction.

General sex attraction may be defined negatively by stating that it is not directed towards any purely physical satisfaction and is not centered exclusively on an individual. It consists mainly in a somewhat intriguing interest in the members of the other sex and a peculiar responsiveness to their distinctive qualities. When, for instance, are especially attracted by the grace, the emotional susceptibility, the beauty, the tenderness of women. Women are attracted by the strength, the courage, the energy, the calm deliberation of men. Each sex is drawn to admire those virtues or qualities which stand out in some special way in the members of the opposite sex. Each experiences a more or less innate hunger to hear the voice of the other, to see the other, to he in the presence of the other. Each experiences a certain natural curiosity to know more about the mental outlook, the habits of life, the physical characteristics of the other.

This natural element of mystery that surrounds the other sex and this natural responsiveness to the complementary qualities of the other is what we mean by general sex attraction. It has a God-given purpose. It draws the two sexes together in social life, shows them their mutual dependence on, and mutual power over each other, and thus ultimately leads to the divine goal of sex, marriage and procreation.


Ordinarily speaking, a wholesome social life between the sexes should be helpful rather than harmful to chastity, as it prevents the unnecessary repression of sex attraction and should develop in each sex a fine respect for the other. Thus parties, dances, and group entertainments and enterprises serve a fine purpose. But it is evident that when this interest in the other sex gets absorbing, when a boy's mind is constantly on girls, and a girl's mind is constantly on boys, then the danger of a transition from the general sphere to actual physical temptation grows strong. And if, impelled by this general interest, one seeks physical contact, then the danger grows. For instance, some, without any thought either of love or of physical passion, are inclined to kiss, as they say, "just for the thrill of it." It is one of the inclinations of general sex attraction which can easily lead to passion or immodesty. Insofar as it does that, it is a danger to the virtue of chastity, and such impulses ought to be controlled.

Curiosity about the other sex does not, in itself, imply anything unchaste. But when curiosity becomes morbid, when it leads to a stealthy way of seeking "informative" reading and pictures, or when it leads one to try to see more and more of the body of the other sex, then it easily becomes a source of physical stimulation and can be a great danger to chastity. We must face one fact quite frankly: if we want to know something about the circulation of the blood, we look it up, get the facts, and are satisfied. Curiosity about sexual matters is a different type of curiosity. Usually it is more than mere intellectual curiosity and involves to a greater or less degree the stimulation of the emotions. This easily creates desires for pleasures or actions which might never have been experienced had not the initial curiosity been satisfied. It also leads to a subtle urge to go back over the sources of information, not really for acquiring knowledge, because that has already been gained, but rather for the pleasurable emotions accompanying the acquisition of the knowledge.

To be blind to the emotional danger involved in the satisfaction of sexual curiosity is to play the fool. The Church never feigns blindness to this danger; she is constantly on the alert against it. For this reason, she justly condemns many modern systems of sex education which involve such errors as the following: the wholesale imparting of sexual information, whether useful or not; the attempt to make the subject of sex so commonplace that it can be publicly discussed without reserve; the theory that sex education consists merely in the imparting of physiological information, without reference to the soul, and without at the same time educating the will to chastity. Errors of this type simply ignore the plain fact that physical sexual impulses are easily aroused and hard to manage. Smoking under the proper conditions is quite harmless, but it might be very dangerous in an oil refinery.

Does all this mean that curiosity about sexual matters may never be satisfied? By no means. It simply means that common sense precautions must be taken. A sensible rule would go somewhat as follows: A young man or young woman can safely know the physiology and psychology of normal set life. The desire for such knowledge is generally within the sphere of general sex interest, and will not usually be the source of serious danger to chastity unless it is given or sought in unwholesome circumstances. But the repeated inclination to go back and learn the same thing over again when one already knows it, and the inclination to see as much of one's companions as one can see--these things very often carry one into the physical sphere and frequently enough they are nothing but subtle ways of seeking physical stimulation.

Concerning curiosity, need we add that in the matter of sex there are some things that are better left unknown I The sex instinct, like other emotions, has its pathology. Our modern newspapers and magazines seem to be guided by the principle that they are free to recount, even describe in detail, anything that happens simply because "it is true." This is a false principle. Details of crimes and sickness must be known by criminologists and medical men; such details need not be known by ordinary people--in fact, the very reading of them often has a distressing and shocking effect on the mind and the emotions. It is advisable, even from the point of view of our psychological well-being, to discipline our curiosity about such things. We ought to be satisfied with learning, in a dignified manner, those things that are necessary for or helpful to us.

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