“I don’t hear much in the Theology of the Body teachings as relates to older couples,” went a question someone recently submitted on Facebook. “There are different challenges in the bedroom after menopause. This burning desire you refer to so often is not always present for both spouses. Things that were once pleasurable may no longer be so. Please share whatever TOB has to say about this season in a marriage. Thanks!”
First of all, while the general principles of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body have much to say in response to the above, I’d like to clarify that the TOB is not a “sex manual.” Sometimes people have this impression. Rather, John Paul II’s TOB offers us an anthropology, a glorious vision of what it means to be human, a glorious vision of why God created us male and female in the first place. In that context, we come to understand that the “one flesh” union of spouses is meant to be a sacramental sign here on earth that points us to the eternal ecstasy and bliss that awaits us in the Marriage of the Lamb – the union of Christ and the Church that will be consummated eternally in heaven.
The burning desire I so often speak of is not a desire for sexual union per se (that may come and go in different stages of life). Rather, it is a desire for eternal union with God. And that desire, if we are growing in our life of prayer, will only increase with age. In fact, embracing the challenges in the marriage bed that inevitably come with age can be an opportunity precisely to allow the heart more room to yearn for the union that awaits us in heaven.
As wonderful as God’s plan is for man and woman and their intimate embrace, it is not our be all and end all. Marital union is meant to be an icon that points to ultimate happiness, but when we seek ultimate happiness in the marriage bed, we have turned the icon into an idol. While some couples are able to have an active sex life long into old age, other couples, for various reasons, may not be. But our hope in married life lies not in an ongoing ability to engage in sexual intercourse. Our hope in married life lies in the eternal union that awaits us in the resurrection of our bodies.
That said, a couple needn’t deprive themselves of medical help if sexual relations have become difficult or painful. There may be some remedy on the physical level to your situation. But even if there is not, growing deeper in love – the one thing we all desire in married life – is always possible. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaches us that we are called to love one another as Christ loves. And that means being oriented toward the true good of the other even if that “costs” me. It could well be the case that, in a given marriage, true love demands extended or even permanent abstinence from sexual relations. Far from hurting a couple’s intimacy, a couple motivated by love in such a situation will grow in true intimacy by embracing such a sacrifice.
Image: Creative Commons.
For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the Heart. Watch the trailer below.