Humanae Vitae recognized that sexual relations between married adults could be both unitive and procreative, clearly indicating that sex had value beyond simple procreation. But in recognizing the unitive nature of sex as different from its procreative nature Humanae Vitae did not separate the two. The encyclical declares that the doctrine taught within it “… is based on the inseparable connection … between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (article 12). Yet, despite clearly asserting their unity, the popular mind, in its rush to embrace contraception, separated the two, claiming the unitive nature of sex remains unaffected when removed from the procreative. Many of us, including most Catholics, both lay and clerical, grabbed the “unitive” and ran. We ran away from Humanae Vitae as fast as we could, leaving its procreative link behind.
Perhaps we should have asked before we cut and ran, can sex that is not open to procreation, sex that is shut off from its very nature, be unitive? We need only look about in a hyper-sexualized world to see there is no inherent unitive value in sex divorced from its natural end. With a fifty percent chance that a marriage will end in divorce, with non-marital live-in arrangements coming and going, and with myriad sexual relationships never meant to last more than a single evening, to postulate sex as inherently unitive would be absurd. Perhaps Humanae Vitae was right in connecting the unitive nature of sex to its procreative nature. A marriage that accepts in every conjugal act the possibility of a child with its own needs, changes the nature of a relationship into something larger than its two participants. In considering the yet to be conceived child, a man and wife subordinate their lives to another. Their love for each other is no longer solely about themselves but a gift to their child not yet conceived. It is this love, rooted in the creative nature of the sexual act, that makes it unitive.
Separating the procreative nature of our sexuality from its unitive nature destroys the very thing that makes it unitive.
A sexuality without definition, one into which anything fits, can no more be unitive than discord can be melody. Separating the unitive nature of sex from its procreative nature removed the glue that truly bonds a man and woman into the unity of husband and wife. Without that bond the unity of mother, father and child cannot hold. By itself the unitive no longer unites but undertakes the mundane task of engendering good feelings between two people. By itself the procreative stands by ready for duty when it conveniently conforms to our plans. In breaking our sexuality into separate components we subordinated the “other” to our desires. A love restricted for the benefit of its exclusive participants challenges the very meaning of love. In breaking the bond between the unitive and the procreative we broke a part of ourselves that teaches us selfless love.
Now… Read. The. Rest.