Theologians working in the key of Hans Urs von Balthasar or, more recently, David Bentley Hart have come to a renewed appreciation of the deep links between truth and beauty. Because I have great sympathies for this line of thought, I am often self-conscious of how mainline Protestant traditions – including the one in which I carry out my ministry – have failed to articulate the beauty of traditional church teachings on sexuality. The reduction of the church’s teaching on sexual ethics to a series of prohibitions (particularly when bereft of such native articulations as those which Roman Catholics possess in, say, the writings of John Paul II) leaves even Christians vulnerable to the possibility that Dan Savage will play more of a role than the church in the formation of their views on the gift of sexuality – a reality that is readily apparent to pastors who do premarital counseling for young adults on a regular basis.
In her recent critique of “hook-up” culture, Lauren Lankford not only provides a concise overview of how the church links beauty and sexuality, she throws in a little Biology 101:
Not only is sex the perfect image of intimacy, passion and desire, it triggers the release of chemicals that train your body to remember what feels good, and how to get it again. Dopamine is a natural drug that gets you high. This is what keeps you going back again. Drugs like methamphetamine access dopamine to achieve the same effect. Your body begins such a bond just with cuddling, kissing, and everything between there and “real” sex. Oxytocin is dopamine’s partner, the emotional binding agent that teaches you to trust and reduces fear.
However, dopamine and oxytocin don’t play fair. They don’t care if it’s just for fun, if it’s “just this one night” or if the person you’re going home with is going to be around next week. They don’t care if it’s make-up sex, breakup sex or all-the-way sex. They don’t care if you just “mess around,” or if you go all the way. They’re going to feed your addiction, commitment or not.
The fact that elementary biology and the ancient wisdom of the church are, in our time, coinciding to form a serious indictment of the casual violence of casual sex in our time is a theological resource that deserves the attention of those who must minister to that violence’s victims – whether they know they are victims or not.