Personal Sex Attraction
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
At some time in his life a boy usually has this experience: he likes, or is attracted by, many girls, but he has a special attraction toward one. And, of course, girls will have the same experience regarding boys. This special liking for an individual may be a case of mere friendship, and nothing more, or it may be the specific manifestation of the sexual instinct that we have referred to as personal sex attraction. These two experiences are quite different in their emotional manifestations, and it is very important that young men and women be able to distinguish between them, Hence, we- shall give here some of the principal contrasts by which they can be recognized.
I. The Simple Friendship
By the simple friendship we mean friendship in the most ordinary sense of the term, the kind that generally exists between members of the same sex. Such friendship is frequently termed Platonic, a name which indicates that it is predominantly a spiritual, or rational, love, without strong emotion or tendency to external manifestation. For instance, when you think of your best friend, you will find that your friendship is based on the fact that you appreciate him as good, agreeable, helpful, inspiring. Such an appeal is principally to the reason and not to the heart.
A certain calmness (not coldness), therefore, is characteristic of the ordinary friendship. It may be very strong and warm, but it does not usually tend to manifest itself by caresses. Some people, of course, are more affectionately inclined than others, and they may naturally he externally effusive in dealing with their friends; but such external manifestations are not necessary or ordinary in this kind of friend ship. Again, friends in this sense may get great joy out of being together, but they do not become restless or fretful when they are not together. Finally--a very distinctive mark of ordinary friendship--it does not monopolize the heart; there is no concentration of affection on the one person to the exclusion of others. Each friend can have other friends; and if jealousy arises from the multiplicity, this is due rather to individual weakness than to the nature of the friendship. The love of simple friendship, in other words, is not only a love of the mind (as all true friendships must be), but it is predominantly a love of the mind.
The simple friendship is more commonly found between members of the same sex. This does not mean that it cannot exist between members of opposite sexes. Evidently there are many cases of men and women who are just good friends and nothing mere. Friendships of that kind, however, must be especially guarded against external manifestations of tenderness, and if they begin to show any of the special characteristics of personal sex attraction, they should be broken off unless the parties are eligible for matrimony.
II. Personal Sex Attraction
Personal sex attraction has this in common with all friendship that it is an attraction to a person, a definite person, and not a were general interest or a physical attraction to the body; but it differs from ordinary friendship in its emotional manifestations and in the fact that it has a specific part to play in the divine plan of sex. Hence the name, personal sex attraction.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of personal sex attraction is its exclusiveness. A person thus attracted wants complete possession of the beloved. The mere presence of a third party is resented. The mere idea that the loved one might feel some attraction toward another brings about a powerful urge of jealousy. This type of lover find-, that his own emotions have been thoroughly captivated and that be has little or no inclination towards others; hence he wants the same response from his beloved, the complete monopoly of her affections.
The basis for this attraction is hard to describe, but it differs greatly from that of the simple friendship. In the simple friendship, the friend is good; in personal sex attraction, the other party is wonderful! Definitely, it is an emotional fascination. How it starts is often a mystery. Sometimes the parties know each other for a long time, and there is a gradual build-up to this affection; sometimes it "just happens" like the blink of an eyelash. But when it does happen, it is generally found that the attachment is based on one or more of the characteristics that attract one sex to the other, only now these attractions have suddenly acquired a sort of personification in this one wonderful boy or girl, as the case may be. The basis of attraction might be such a trivial thing as the figure, the walk, the voice, the expression in the eyes, a smile; it might be something as general as one's distinctively masculine or feminine attitude towards life; or it might be some special quality of soul, such as strength, tenderness, delicacy, and the like. Whatever it is, it goes straight to the heart; hence the strong emotional fascination.
Absence, even for a short period, is hard on this exclusive love. It creates an absorbing feeling of dissatisfaction, a yearning for the other's presence. It is hard to do one's work, hard to think of other things, One is inclined to write frequent and effusive letters. The nerves get frayed in waiting. But when the two are together again, then all is heaven. The reunion brings a thrill, a lifting of the whole heart.
But this affection is not content with mere presence. It tends to pour itself out in sweet words, in protestations of love, in kisses and caresses. True, these tender signs of affection are not intended as stimulants of physical passion; they are meant as signs of love. But naturally they increase the thrill of mere presence; they heighten the general emotional excitement, and thus can easily reach the deeper sphere of passion and lead to external immodesty.
If personal sex attraction is mutual, then the natural result of its absorbing exclusiveness and intensity is a complete mutual assimilation of interests in the two parties. They tend to like and dislike the same things. They want to share everything from the most delicate of secrets down to the old-fashioned "ice-cream soda with two straws." To put it in a word, this type of mutual attraction locks the hearts together; each is convinced that this state of affairs will last forever, each craves a complete oneness with the other; they want to blend and share their entire lives. What a perfect psychological inducement to marriage!
The foregoing may be called a thumb-nail sketch of what popular terminology is wont to call love. Popular magazines list its qualities under such titles as "How to tell if you're in love," "How to tell if he (she) loves you," and so forth. Its manifestations are considered the proper stuff for cheap humor, ridicule, pep talks, paternal chats by "one who knows," scientific analysis, and what not. This general broadcasting and cheapening tend to make us forget the God-given purpose of personal sex attraction. It is true that it often does involve humorous and ridiculous situations and that one of the greatest assets of a lover is a sense of humor; but it is also true that the subject has a beautiful and serious aspect which is appreciated only when we realize clearly why God gave us this inclination.
Personal sex attraction serves as an inducement to marry, and within marriage it is a wonderful aid to a happy, and we might add holy, married life. When we say that it serves as an inducement to marriage, we do not mean that it invariably leads to marriage; but it does tend that way, and the facts show that it leads to marriage with a certain unpredictability. No two people can cultivate a companionship. like this and assure themselves that they will not want to get married. Countless others have tried that and failed. As a matter of fact, if this attraction is not intended to lead to marriage, why should it have the effect of so completely locking the heart on one person, to the exclusion of others? Marriage is the only state of life that requires such a love. Outside of marriage such exclusiveness is a social nuisance. Or again, why the natural tendency to a complete assimilation and oneness of life with the other person I Marriage is the only union calling for such characteristics. There can be no reasonable doubt that God's purpose in giving this natural attraction is to lead people to marry
Within marriage, the divine purpose of personal sex attraction is shown even more beautifully. In God's plan, marriage is to be a life-long union between one man and one woman. Fidelity to each other is therefore an essential quality of marriage; each must promise that when contracting marriage, each has a serious obligation to live up to it. If the married persons had only spiritual love and the inclination of physical passion towards each other, the obligation of mutual fidelity would be extraordinarily difficult, for neither spiritual love nor physical passion ii exclusive. Hence, this attraction of the heart is a very important thing to have before marriage, and a very necessary thing to cultivate during marriage. It is a help towards immunity from sex attraction by others. With this aid, and with the constancy of spiritual love, married people find a real joy in their life-long fidelity. Moreover, this unfailing companionship is not merely a source of happiness to the husband and wife and a means of enriching their own personalities; it also forms the proper background for the rearing of their children. For when the parents are united in this tender and enduring love, their children are assured of the maternal and paternal care. that befits them.
Personal sex attraction, therefore, has a definite, God-given place in marriage and in the preparation for marriage. But it also has very decided limitations, and these should be recognized. Those who are married should realize that this type of love is largely emotion, and like other emotions it is not permanent. It will not last unless it is cultivated by a conscious endeavor to preserve the tenderness and thoughtfulness and mutual agreeableness that were present at the beginning of their marriage.
The chief limitation to be recognized by the unmarried is that this attraction, like the other emotions, is blind. It is not necessarily unreasonable, but it works without reason. It may go out to a pen-on already married, to one who is too old, or too young, to a drunkard, to a scoundrel, to a woman who would not make a good wife for anybody. It does not ask about the person's virtue or compatibility. It works just as blindly as one's temper, and just as instinctively as one's fears. It has to be directed away from the wrong person and toward the right person. In other words, it is not real love, but only a fascination. It can fulfill its real purpose only when it is combined with the deep spiritual love of true friendship. Hence, any prospective partner in marriage has to be measured first according to the marks of true friendship. If these are not present, then marriage is the equivalent of tossing overboard the happiness of one's life find perhaps even the salvation of one's soul.
This rational appraisal of a prospective marriage partner should be made before personal sex attraction gets too strong. Otherwise it requires more than ordinary courage to turn back, in case one finds one is wrong. Furthermore, it should be remembered that this kind of attachment tends to deceive the judgment, because lovers are always inclined to think that the other is perfect and that they are completely compatible. There is need of common sense to avoid this danger. One must. hold the emotional fascination in check, reasonably examine the reality, and have the humility to take advice.
Dangers to Chastity
Even young people who have deep and sincere love for each other should sensibly realize that this type of sex attraction can easily prove a serious menace to chastity. The principal danger, of course, pertains to the manifestations of affection by kissing and embracing. In the beginning there might appear to be no danger at all because neither party would think of any immodest show of affection. Nevertheless, they are emotionally thrilled just to be together and this emotional state is heightened by caresses, even when modest. In this heightened emotional state, physical passion is very easily aroused. Hence the need of observing the common-sense F-E-A-R rule given by Father Morrison in his book, Some Problems and Their Answers (The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee): When even modest signs of affection are frequent and enduring and ardent, there can be no just reason for them. That rule (F-E-A-R) is based upon the sound psychology that these things invariably arouse physical passion and this cannot be the aim of unmarried people in their demonstrations of affection.
For the young man, danger generally begins on the physical plane. He reacts swiftly to stimulation, and such reactions bring with them an urge to just a little more intimacy, which very quickly means an urge to immodesty. If these urges are not controlled, the result is sin. A young woman will very likely react less quickly in a physical way, though there is always a danger that emotional ardor will cross the line into physical passion, even in her case. But an even graver danger for her is that when her love is strongly stirred by marks of affection, then she will yield to his urges rather than offend him or lose him. Furthermore, nature has so fashioned her love that it exhibits in a marked degree the quality of self-surrender. When the fires of passion are once enkindled, this craving for self-surrender often becomes dominant.
The foregoing is not intended as a sermon. It is an objective psychological analysis of the danger to chastity that is inherent in personal sex attraction. We do not say that lovers need refrain from all marks of affection, or that they must be always in fear of sin. But they ought to realize that their instincts do need control and direction. And they ought to be able to enjoy each other's company without personal contact.
Not for Everybody
Evidently persons who are ineligible for marriage should not foster an affection of this kind. Nor should those for whom marriage must necessarily be a thing of the rather distant future. We are referring here particularly to young men and women in the early years of college and, of course, to all others who are in somewhat similar circumstances: for instance, those who will be separated by war conditions or other exigencies. We base this judgment on the following solid reasons:
There may be exceptions to these rules, but one cannot count on exceptions.
- The affection may rush you ahead faster than you thought of going, and you will contract a hasty and regrettable marriage. This has happened often.
- You will be tied down to one person, and you will thus lose the general social advantages and contacts that should mean a great enriching of your life in the future.
- By cultivating this affection, you expose yourself in a special way to the dangers to chastity already mentioned, because this love affair may be a very prolonged one, and the danger of violating chastity increases as the affection is prolonged without its logical culmination in marriage.
- For a college student in particular: you will find it almost impossible to do full justice to your studies, and you may lose or seriously damage the very thing that you came to college to get-- an education, a profession.
We have given considerable space to this discussion of what we have termed personal sex attraction because we think that earnest consideration of the strong and weak points of this attraction could do much to prevent the sorry situations that seem to be increasing rapidly today. This affection can be controlled and directed, and the time for exercising such control is before marriage. The idea that once the heart starts beating fast, all is lost, is absurd.
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.