After studying more and more the history of sexuality within the Catholic Church, and after having tried to live these things myself throughout my life, I have come to a thought, if not a conclusion, that I have had for most of my life: the religious origin of sex as sinful, of sexual pleasure as something evil, is a result of what we men call “post orgasmic depression”. Now I can only speak from a male perspective, but it is true that all men feel listless and empty immediately after they have ejaculated. The sudden loss of sexual pleasure can seem depressing. The ennui that ensues orgasm can be deep and long lasting. Your once heroically hard penis suddenly goes limp. It is as if you were laboring to clime a steep cliff and, once having reached the summit, you immediately fall off the other end without really enjoying the view.
There is a biological reason for these depressed feelings after orgasm: the brain is infused with massive amounts of pleasure inducing hormones and chemicals during orgasm. When it is over, the brain needs some time to recover and restore the balance. Again, I can only speak for men, but you can actually feel your brain being drenched in these chemicals as you orgasm, that this sensation is something real and physical. But in the past, say only one hundred years ago, before we knew anything about biology, many attributed this phenomenon of orgasmic triggered ennui to moral, spiritual and religious causes. I believe this is the foundation of much of the negativity about sexual pleasure, especially in a religious context. Furthermore, since men did most of the writing about sex in the past, the view of orgasm was usually predominantly male. After all, most of Christian theology regarding sexuality has historically been viewed through a male prism. So the other half of sexual pleasure, the female, at least until relatively recently was usually ignored, or just dismissed as being worse than the male.
And yet both men and women are deeply sexual creatures who experience the best of sexual pleasure together. This idea of mutual pleasure sharing is often overlooked in the general discussion of sexual pleasure.
So the religious reasoning behind post orgasmic depression would be this: after orgasm I feel down, depressed and listless. It seems it was not all worth it. Therefore this sense of depression must be a spiritual sign of the wrongfulness of sexual desire and sexual pleasure, a reaffirmation that the pursuit of sex is fleeting and ultimately wasteful, that the ejaculation of semen is somehow emasculating, sinful and in the end God is displeased with it all. Scripture and religious writers have confirmed this. For instance, as Heinemann shows in her book, The Eunuchs For Heaven, Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” and the most important Catholic theologian after Augustine, described sexual intercourse as “filth” (immunditia), “a stain” (macula), “foulness” (foeditas), “vileness” (turpitudo), “disgrace” (ignominia). This is a negative view of sex that goes back to Augustine, if not further. Also, the fact that semen is produced in massive amounts in the testes and needs to be released, and will be released one way or the other, a fact unknown to most religious thinkers until relatively recently, would only aggravate the belief that sexual desire and even intercourse is somehow wrong, evil and a product of a fallen world, and something to be avoided. To the founders of Christian theology on sex, semen was a necessary resource for transmitting life, not to be wasted, albeit still evil. It was a necessary evil for procreation and only accepted as such. Any pleasure associated with the release of semen was suspect if not outright condemned.
But the post orgasmic sexual depression does not end there. There is a cycle. A man goes through sexual depression after orgasm, only to be eventually tempted again by sexual desire in an ever ending cycle of desire, acting out, regret and desire all over again. If one does not understand the natural biology of sex, and believes that all sexual desire is spiritual manifestation of a sinful world, it is easy to see why sexual desire was considered so odious by so many early and later Church Fathers, bishops, priests, theologians, etc. Augustine’s own neurosis about sex was most likely a result of his own deep depression he had felt, before his conversion to Christianity, each time he ejaculated inside his mistress, experienced the resulting depression, and then eventually felt the desire for sexual pleasure again. To him it was a horrible sin. He was tortured by the memories of these pleasures and the ever present desire to experience them again. He was, after all, just a man, flesh and blood like the rest of us. Even as a holy priest and Bishop, like all men he woke up in the morning with a raging hard on, undoubtedly horrified at his disobedient flesh. As he knew, the desire for sex leads to post orgasmic depression only to be followed again by the desire for more sex. In his mind the best way to overcome this was only through perfect celibacy, and that can only be achieved through perfect spiritual cleansing and pure asceticism. The problem with this approach is that the entire history of Christianity, and all religion and societies in general, show this is as nearly impossible. Almost all people need sex. Sexual desire cannot be cleansed from our systems because sexual desire is a good thing and part of our basic humanity. But Augustine and the founders of Christian thought and most theologians thereafter considered sexual desire a reflection of the fallen world, something bad, evil and to be avoided. As far as I am concerned, that is a completely fucked up way of looking at things and has caused, and continues to still cause, much unnecessary psychological harm and suffering.
Why in the world people still view sex in this antiquated terms today is, as I have stated in previous posts, a question that continue to baffle my mind. To me science and knowledge of human biology have taken the sinfulness out of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure through orgasm, whether with a partner or alone, is as natural and healthy, and for most as necessary as eating, drinking or sleeping. But to the Catholic Church ALL sexual activity outside of marriage, and ALL male orgasms within marriage that are induced without being completely open to procreation are considered gravely sinful, i.e., you will go to hell if you willingly discharge one drop of semen unless you have an honest intent towards procreation. The idea of wasted semen as something evil, an idea born from St. Augustine 1500 years ago, still predominates the Church and I believe this has something to do with the disgust Augustine felt with himself after his own experiences with post orgasmic depression.
So what are we do to, those of us who have a spiritual life, but as sexual life as well. My personal solution is this: I love the feel of an orgasm. I embrace the explosion of semen out of my body. I love the feel of my erect penis. I love sex and sexual pleasure. I love the female body. I look upon them as good, whether in marriage or not, created by God, and I plan on enjoying as much of this pleasure as I can in my life. I don’t feel they keep me from having a rich spiritual life and close relationship with God. As for St. Augustine and the Catholic neurosis over sexual pleasure, or Thomas Aquinas and his disgust at sex, I can only say one thing, “Too bad. I’m sorry, for years I sincerely tried to follow your laws, rules and regulations, but I just can’t do this anymore. Goodbye.”
I love sexual pleasure, the orgasm, sharing sexual and sensual delights with others, and I find nothing wrong with that. I believe in sexual freedom. We should no longer let ourselves be guilt and shame ridden by those for whom sex is a bad and dirty and filthy thing. Let them suffer in their repressed neurosis while we enjoy our delightful sex lives, whether married, single, gay or straight, like normal and healthy human beings should.