St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential theologian in the history of Christian sexuality.

One of the things I often ask myself is, when it comes to traditional notions of sexuality within Christianity, if sex is so sinful, then why do I get an erection so often and without effort. The erect penis just happens. Not only does it often just happen, but it feels really good too. Of course now we know this is because of human biology: the brain releases hormones which cause the penis to become erect. But as far as those vowed to life of holy celibacy, I wonder what all those poor clergy do when they wake up in the morning with a hard on, begging for attention, when they know that the slightest touch of their engorged organ is a sin. But why is this a sin at all?

For most of Christian history, the phallus has been a rather nagging problem. The erection is associated with impure, corporeal pleasures, sinful sex, and the degeneracy of our fallen world. And yet it is something that every man experiences. It is a source of intense pleasure. So why is the erect penis so problematic? St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) gives us a few answers.

Perhaps the greatest influence on Christian sexual ethics, after Paul, is Augustine. As one of the titanic figures of early Christianity, a man of tremendous learning and intellect, his role in the development of theology has been profound. As a former libertine turned Christian in the late Roman Empire, a man who fathered a bastard child before his conversion, and who delighted in the pleasures of the flesh with women, his influence on the Christian idea of sex has been pervasive now for over 1500 years. He is usually credited with much of the negative views on sex that have dominated Christianity for so long, even up to our present time.

In his great theological work, The City of God, Augustine gives an explanation as to why the erection is a bad. It goes back to the fall of man. He says at 14.24:

“For as soon as our first parents had transgressed the commandment, divine grace forsook them…and therefore they took fig-leaves and covered their shame; for though their members remained the same, they had shame where they had none before. They experienced a new motion of their flesh, which had become disobedient to them, in strict retribution of their own disobedience to God.”

This is bad and sinful...

So, according to Augustine, that raging hard on I often experience is a result of original sin. It is something bad and evil. It is a “new motion” of the flesh, and “strict disobedience to God.” So I wonder, if the erection is so bad, then why does it feel so good? And why does stroking it until I cum feel so good. Or getting a blow job? Or fucking a woman? In Augustine’s world the erection is only part of the problem. Semen is perhaps even worse. Augustine in the same work (13.14) to demonizes semen.

That semen itself already shackled by the bonds of death, transmits the damage incurred by sin. Every human being ever conceived through semen is born contaminated with sin.

Semen, the source of all evil in the world, according to Augustine.

Sorry, but I don’t by this. As far as I am concerned, I like my semen. It feels particularly delightful when my erect penis spews forth abundant amounts of that evil semen, preferably all over some girls stomach and breasts or ass. Even all over my hand is fine with me. Semen, as a product of orgasm, is a product I am proud my body produces! I like it. Chicks dig it too. But according to Augustine, and much Christian thought after that, semen is bad, contaminated with sin, and we are products of that sin, since we all come from semen. So I ask myself this. Now why would a God create the world, give us semen to reproduce, command us to reproduce, and then demonize that very semen itself? Oh yeah, I forgot about the whole original sin and fallen world stuff.

Now since the erect penis and the semen it produces are made for sexual intercourse, we know where Augustine is going to go next. Sex within marriage is looked down upon. Augustine praises the married couple that abstains from sex. In one of his Epistles (262.4) he writes to a woman:

Your husband does not cease to your spouse because of joint abstinence from carnal relations. You will remain the more devout as spouses the more you keep this resolution.”

So, the less sex you have as a couple, the happier you will be. A frigid marriage is a good marriage. Yeah, right.

According to Augustine, this is something a husband and wife should not do..holy chastity in marriage is better than giving into carnal desires.

Perhaps this works for some people, but I wonder why a man who loathed sex as much as Augustine has had such a huge influence on the history of sexuality within Christianity? What is it about sexual pleasure that makes so many people, especially religious, uncomfortable? It is a huge topic that, in the ancient world, is bound up with Platonic and Gnostic notions of spirit-body duality, as well as Judaic prudishness and legalism. Whatever the answer for Augustinian and consequently, Catholic notions of sex and pleasure, I personally reject these and consider them bizarre and even dangerous. However, if you want to develop an unhealthy sexuality, then follow Augustine, in strict obedience, unlike Adam and Eve.