On the Meaning of Sex (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

On the Meaning of Sex, by J. Budziszewski (ISI Books 2012).  It is no secret that American morals and mores about sex are currently in a state of flux.  In this slender volume, a University of Texas professor of government and philosophy attempts a defense of traditional sexual morals and mores based largely on a natural-law approach.  Chapter two is arguably the heart of the argument, in which the author tries to tease out the “meanings and purposes of the sexual powers.”  To try to do this without reference to a Creator of humanity seems like a difficult and slippery assignment.  I suppose our organs can be said to have “purposes” in the sense that they contribute to individual and species survival when they work a certain way, but to attribute “meanings” to the organs or to their “powers” seems a little bit of a stretch.  Anyway, the author argues that the sexual act has dual purposes or meanings, those being procreation and the union of the participants.  He further argues that the two meanings are pretty much inseparable, given the reality that, for humans, procreation entails parenting, and good parenting requires a long-term partnership of the parents.  And he argues that severing the unitive meaning of the sexual act from the procreative meaning—which is a good chunk of what the sexual revolution is about—is contrary to our natures and to our flourishing as human beings.  That’s a lot of argument to pack into one short chapter.  Subsequent chapters are almost as ambitious.  In chapter three he tackles the “meaning” of the differences between the sexes, and he argues that potential motherhood and potential fatherhood are the essential, defining characteristics of women and men (respectively).  In chapter four he tries to reason through the meaning of love in general and sexual love in particular.  Then he takes on the topics of sexual beauty and sexual purity, before wrapping up with a chapter about “transcendence” in which he unavoidably talks some about God.  Anyway, obviously it is a very ambitious book, and the degree of success the author achieves is probably bound to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder.  I thought it was interesting and worth reading slowly.

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