Understanding Sex Through the Mystery of the Trinity

One of my friends has been trying to explain the Theology of the Body to one of his friends, and asked for a good way to explain what Catholics mean when we say that sex should be “unitive and procreative.”  What we mean is that:

  1. Unitive: Sex should draw the husband and wife together into a more perfect union with each other; that through it, “the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), in a way fully knowable only to God.
  2. Procreative: Sex should call forth new life, or at least be open to it.  Authentic love isn’t jealous, it’s creative.
To understand sex, I think you need to understand the Trinity.  In the Trinity, God the Father loves God the Son, the Son is Beloved, and the manifestation of that Love is the Holy Spirit. Fr. Barron does a good job explaining that here. It’s precisely because of that Love that God made the Universe and everything and everyone in it. So the Trinity is both a Unity and Creative. So the very same love that draws the Father and Son into an unbreakable Divine unity is the love that causes them to create the universe.
Our love should be like that. When a husband loves his wife, the two really do become one flesh, and that physical and spiritual intimacy should desire to produce new life.  This willingness, and even desire, to produce new life is a sign that this is something spiritually healthy, rather than simply hedonistic. 
So in marital sex, the two become one (Gen. 2:24), but the two also become three, when their love takes the form of an unborn child.  So sex is designed to be cause the two individuals to form into something better, something both three and one, a reflection of how the Trinity is both Three and One.  So each child brought into the world in this way is stamped with an image of the Trinity simply in his conception.
It’s why we can speak of the Trinity as the first Family: each Member of the Trinity pours Himself out completely for the other Two.  Just read the Scriptures, and you’ll see that instead of proclaiming their own greatness, each Person of the Trinity focuses on how great the other Two are:
  • The Father praises the Son in Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 17:5, and is the One who testifies about Him (John 5:31-32);
  • The Son does the will of the Father (John 5:19-20), while refusing to testify on His own behalf (John 5:31-32);
  • The Father pours out the Holy Spirit upon the Son, while the Son then pours out the Spirit upon us (Acts 2:33).
  • Perhaps the highest complement that Jesus can pay is paid to the Holy Spirit: “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you”  (John 16:7);
  • The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father, in the name of the Son, and teaches us about the Son, Jesus (John 15:26), and it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can say that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3);
  • The Spirit offers the Sacrifice of the Son on Calvary to the Father as atonement for our sins (Hebrews 9:14);
  • The Holy Spirit leads us to the Father (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 2:18).
Just look at Jesus praising the Father while filled with joy through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), and you have a perfect image of Love.  The Father is sending forth His Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is filling Jesus with love, and Jesus is pouring out praise for His Father. Jesus immediately praises their Trinitarian Unity (Luke 10:22).
This is one of the reasons that contraception is wrong.  Using contraception to attempt to stop the procreative aspects of love while taking the other aspects is a perversion.  We’re trying to control and contain love: allow the two to become one without allowing them to become three.  It just doesn’t work — couples who contracept are at a much higher risk of divorce than couples who don’t.  Instead of pouring yourself out completely for your spouse, you’re holding something back.  
If a man sat down to a meal, chewed up his food, sucking out all the flavor, and then spit everything out, we’d view that an unhealthy and abnormal approach to food.  It’s not a coincidence that food tastes good: the very reason food is pleasurable to eat is because our bodies need it to live.  The pleasures of eating are a subtle way we’re lead into doing what we should be (eating).  To extract the pleasure without satisfying the body’s need for caloric intake would render the pleasures of food meaningless.
We’d recognize God’s plan (make food enjoyable, so people eat, so they don’t starve), and decide to actively thwart it.  Likewise, the reason sex is pleasurable is because we’re called to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22) and to be drawn into marital union — the pleasures are a way of encouraging that. We can know this by the very design of sex, or by looking to the animal world. There, scientists tell us that animals don’t enjoy sex, but do it simply out of a reproductive instinct.  So sex is, by its very core, intended towards reproduction. That it’s also unitive and pleasurable for most spouses simply points to additional graces God bestows upon mankind.  To thwart the core reproductive reality of sex, to chew it up and spit it out, is an offense against both authentic sexuality and against God’s design.
Instead, couples should model their love off of the Trinity. Pour yourself out for your spouse, draw into perfect union with him/her, and be open to the manifestation of that love in the form of children.


  1. and if your act is truly intended to be unitive and hence free and total, then you should be married already, since marriage merely requires this free and totality of giving. This is why the act is reserved for marriage…

    or am i making a mistep?

  2. Yeah, that’s right.
    (1) If you’ve got one foot out the door (I love you, but I don’t know about for life!), you’re not pouring yourself out completely, period.

    (2) If you really are willing to become one person with your sexual partner, then do it. Get married.

    (3) Marriage exists to both create and protect the family. Without its protections, both spouses and particularly children would be harmed.

    (4) Within ancient Judaism, having sex with a woman counted as a marriage contract. And within Catholicism, a marriage isn’t fully consummated until the couple has sex. You just can’t fully separate the two.

  3. My favourite quote on this subject comes from Scott Hahn’s “First Comes Love”. Although I don’t think it’s his best work, he has a lovely way of describing children:

    “….when the love between [a husband and wife] grows so real that, nine months later, they give it a name”

  4. I can only hope that this clumsy and rather appalling “theology of the body”, a misguided attempt which will have the effect of throwing gasoline on a roaring fire, will go away with all due haste before it does any more serious damage to an already deeply wounded Church.

    Rather than this “TOB” rubbish, I suggest Augustine, or Aquinas, or the Penny Catechism…or even a study if the sufferings of Maria Goretti. The pseudo paganism that is at the root of this TOB will do troubled souls little to no good. It was a serious mistake on the Holy Father’s part to have inflicted this on us. Some uninstructed Catholics will even look upon it as infallible rather than what it is: a mere idea conjured up by the Pope in a weak moment.

    Stick with the basics and eschew the novelties, for your very souls are at stake.

  5. wow, daniel, quite harsh i do believe without much clarification as to what exactly of this is “rubbish.” Indeed, Aquinas Augustine and others have great words for us on this subject but in a manner of applying to current society I believe the Pope does a great job in Familarus Consortio among other documents to both clarify the church’s teaching on our roles as Christian men and women within and with regard to the vocation of marriage

  6. Daniel,

    I don’t see any substance in your criticism. You do a lot of name-calling, but never explain why JPII was introducing pseudo-paganism destined to endanger our very souls. If you want us to take you seriously, l think you should calmly and rationally lay out your view. Your brother in Christ,


  7. Rather than “Understanding Sex Through the Mystery of the Trinity,” a better way to understand both is by “understanding love through the mystery of the Trinity, and “understanding sex through the mystery of love.”

    It is not “sex” per se which is unitive and procreative, it is the fullness of love that is unitive and procreative.

    God did not create the universe by and through sex. As you note, God created the universe by and through love.

    It is love that is the true procreative power. Power enough to create a universe and power enough to transform death into life.

    The unitive and fruitful components pertain to the fullness of such love, not sex. And, in human sexuality, it is this fullness of love to which we are called.

    1. I like the way you put this. I was put off by the whole sex being the foundation for anything. It’s a byproduct of love, and the way he speaks of not being married first, at times, makes it seem marriage is an afterthought.

  8. Bender,

    That seems fair; but it is marital love, with a distinctly sexual component, at issue here. Other forms of love, even self-giving love for friends or country, aren’t unitive and procreative in the same sense.

  9. i think this requires a reread of para’s 2363 and 2366 in the Catechism which outlines the that the unitive and procreative are ENDS specifically of the marital act.

  10. “We can know this by the very design of sex, or by looking at the animal world. There, scietists tell us that animals don’t enjoy sex, but do it simply out of a reproductive instinct. So sex is, by its very core, intended towards reproduction. That it’s also unitive and pleasureable for most spouses simply points to additional graces God bestows upon mankind.”

    I thought those studies said that it was not confirmed that another animal besides dolphins “enjoyed” sex? There are also studies done using birth control on apes where the alpha male continued down the line of females and once the females were all on birth control, it participated in homosexual acts with other males in the cage. Penguins and many other animals act on homosexual urges.

    Why even bring natural tendency up as proof for evidence? If the two facts I state are true–I havent bothered to link them to you because I’m too lazy to look them up–but I know I’ve heard them, then it either says “Dolphins were also given an added grace for sex and the procreative act” (which would not reflect modern Christian belief) or “natural law does not say sex has ends of enjoyment strictly for mankind”(which also does not reflect Christian belief).

    The second rule generated by penguins and other homosexual acts in nature: “It is natural to engage in homosexual acts. Animals, not given the grace of humans to control and enjoy sexual urges do it so it must be natural.” I think/would hope most of you agree that these conclusions would be false. It’s dangerous to look to “nature” for our evidence in these areas. An atheist would grab onto the facts to say your overall conclusion is wrong. The use of them as supportive parallels to your conclusion does not necessarily render the conclusion incorrect if the parallels fall, but it does distract people from the ultimate conclusion. Here, it was unnecessary and it may be a misstatement of fact.

  11. This argument it seems proves altogether too much. It proves that one should never have sex unless you were trying to get pregnant. For you conclude that “natural family planning” is acceptable but “artificial” means are not. But this seems to overlook something significant: in both cases, you are still seeking to regulate when you have children. And so if one concludes that it is wrong to seek to regulate the timing and size of a family, then it would have to be concluded that natural family planning is just as wrong as “artificial” means. But if one concludes that it is appropriate to steward the timing and size of one’s family, then what makes “artificial” means wrong but natural family planning right? Surely it is not because God is “more free” to overrule our plans with natural family planning! Perhaps some have concluded that artificial forms are wrong because they allow one more fully to separate intercourse from the possibility of procreation. But if it is wrong to have intercourse without a significant possibility of procreation, then it would also be wrong to have intercourse during pregnancy or after a woman is past her childbearing years. There is no reason to conclude that natural family planning is appropriate but that “artificial” means are not.

  12. Brock,

    I mention it not to say, “whatever animals do must be right.” That line of argumentation is weak. But what animals do can still be instructive: we can tell that sex need not be pleasurable, from a natural or evolutionary perspective. So the proper inquiry ought to be, “why does sex and sexuality exist?” And when we answer that, we can see why thing like contraception are perversions against nature. (Asking the same questions about food show why chewing up food and spitting it out is a perversion of eating).


    My answers to you are largely the same as to Brock, but let me add a few things:

    (1) We need to be willing to have children, not intend to. To use the argument from nature again, animals having sex aren’t probably consciously thinking, “I could really use a baby!” But they’re open to it happening.

    (2)Likewise, we don’t always have to eat out of a desire to get nutrients. We may even diet, and eat foods less likely to provide us certain nutrients (like carbs, e.g.). But there’s a world or difference between Atkins and bulimia.

    (3) While contraception is a perversion against nature, NFP is not. Humanae Vitae addresses this distinctions directly:

    “Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.”

    To make use of one more analogy, a farmer who wants a moderately-sized crop might plant his seed later in the spring, or even in the dead of winter. That still preserves the function of planting seeds- what he’s doing is still farming. On the other had, a farmer who took the seed and flushed it down the toilet is no longer farming at all.

    I think the error in your thinking is imaging that it’s either “have as many kids as humanly possible, and make sex only about reproduction,” or “do whatever you want.” It’s a false choice.

    Yours in Christ,


  13. Some thoughts:

    On Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI specifically cites a need for (and I think you addressed this in your previous comment, but I just thought It might help make it a bit more explicit) a couple to have an intervening ‘just cause’ to use what we now call ‘NFP’ and used to be called the rythym method as far as I’v heard. It is still sinful (and I have it on good authority, gravely so) to use NFP soley for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy. The reason it is not categorically sinful is that husbands and wives are not bound by a church precept to have relations; they are only bound not to unustly withhold the relations, when justly requested by their spouse. And you’ll forgive me for busting out the scholastics (Joe I know I can always rely on your patience with me :)), but you implied it so I will state it openly. One of the purposes of the marital union is sexual exclusivity, i.e. to contain lust. I hope to sort of bridge the rather ‘antique’ ideas expressed our brother daniel with those expressed by our late Blessed Pope John Paul. But I don’t think of it as anything to be ignored that we should say marital relations (and I say this because of the sheer power of lust) go a very long way, not just toward love, which I agree they should end in love, but also to shackling the most dangerous passion innate in humans.

    Having said that in a hopefully, completely non-polemical way,



    PS: and since I haven’t done so yet (btw Joe, I’m grinning from ear to ear as I’m thinking of this, because I know you suspect me already and are probably grinning, too)



    and since it can’t hurt to say it again,


  14. God’s name is “I AM WHO I AM”. Using the correlative pronoun ‘that’cannot correspond to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity WHO is a Person. “WHO” denotes Person.”Who is like unto God”? St Michael’s name. “That” is a thing. God is three Persons in One. “WHO” is the Holy Spirit of God. Because of bad translations, theology and love for God is undermined by not instructing people in the TRUTH of “I AM WHO I AM”

  15. “We need to be willing to have children, not intend to. To use the argument from nature again, animals having sex aren’t probably consciously thinking, “I could really use a baby!” But they’re open to it happening.”

    If this is all it is, though, this doesn’t prove enough. For people who use the pill are often just as willing to have children as those who use NFP. They don’t want to right now, obviously, but neither does the NFP user. I don’t see how the former is engaging the procreative nature of sex while the latter is not. Either they both are or they both aren’t. Probably, I admit, they both aren’t, which shows that even Catholics acknowledge that purely unitive sex is ok.

    And this artificial/natural thing seems not to work too well either, unless you think that diet coke is evil because you aren’t open to getting calories when you drink it.

  16. PS–Old Adam, if you sign in first (click the button on the upper right of blogger blogs) your comments won’t be eaten. They often get eaten when you haven’t logged in before leaving the comment because blogger tries to simultaneously log you in and post your comment and only gets halfway there.

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