The Differences Between Sex and Love

I am sharing this article because it is always timely, and each year it seems to become more so.

By Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.

Love is primarily in the will, not in the emotions or the glands. The will is like the voice; the emotions are like the echo. The pleasure associated with love, or what is today called “Sex”, is the frosting-on-the-cake; its purpose is to make us love the cake, not ignore it. The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of their sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love. It is because of this failure to distinguish between the glandular and spiritual — or between sex which we have in-common-with animals, and love which we have in-common-with God — that marriages are so full of deception. What some people love is not a person, but the experience of being in love. The first is irreplaceable; the second is not. As soon as the glands cease to react with their pristine force, couples who identified emotionalism and love claim they no longer love one another. If such is the case, they never loved the other person in the first place; they only loved being loved, which is the highest form of egotism. marriage founded-on sex passion alone, lasts only as-long-as the animal passion lasts. Within two years the animal attraction for the other may die, and when it does, law comes to its rescue to justify the divorce with the meaningless words “Incompatibility,” or “Mental Torture”. Animals never have recourse to law courts, because they have no will to love; but Man, having reason, feels the need of Justifying his irrational behavior when he does wrong.


  • Love
  • Sex
  • God
    God is Love
    via His Holy Will
  • God is Pure Spirit
  • Man
    Capable of Love
    (in-common with God)
  • Capable of Sex
    (in-common with Animals)
  • Animals
    Incapable of Love
    (no Rational Soul)
  • Capable of Sex

There are Two Reasons for the Primacy of Sex over Love in a Decadent Civilization:

One is the decline of reason. As humans give-up reason, they resort-to their imaginations. That is why motion pictures and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore. Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell-upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important. It is by no historical accident that an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, such as our own, is also an Age of carnal license.

The second factor is egotism. As belief in a divine judgment, a future life, Heaven and Hell, a moral order, is increasingly rejected, the ego becomes more-and-more firmly enthroned as the source of its morality. Each person becomes a judge in his own case. With this increase of selfishness, the demands for self-satisfaction become more-and-more imperious, and the interests of the community and the rights of others have less-and-less appeal. All sin is self-centeredness, as love is otherness and relatedness. Sin is the infidelity of man to the image of what he ought to be in his eternal vocation as an adopted son of God; the image God sees in Himself when he contemplates his Word.

There are Two Extremes to be avoided in discussing Married Love:

  • One is the refusal to recognize sexual love,
  • the Other is the giving-of-primacy to sexual attraction.

The first error was Victorian; the second is freudian. To the Christian, sex is inseparable from the person, and to reduce the person to sex is as silly as to reduce personality to lungs or a thorax. Certain Victorians in their education, practically denied sex as a function of personality; certain ‘sexophiles’ of modern times deny personality and make a god of sex. The male animal is attracted to the female animal, but a human personality is attracted to another human personality. The attraction of beast-to-beast is physiological; the attraction of human-to-human is physiological, psychological, and spiritual. The human spirit has a thirst for the infinite which the quadruped has not. This infinite is really God. But Man can pervert that thirst, which the animal cannot, because it has no concept of the infinite. Infidelity in married life is basically the substitution for an infinite, of a succession of finite carnal experiences. The false infinity-of-succession takes the place of infinity of destiny, which is God. The beast is promiscuous for an entirely different reason than man. The false pleasure given by new conquests in the realm of sex is the ersatz (inferior substitute) for the conquest of the spirit in the sacrament! The sense of emptiness, melancholy, and frustration is a consequence of the failure to find infinite satisfaction in what is carnal and limited. Despair is disappointed hedonism. The most depressed spirits are those who seek God in a false god!

Definition of Personality – (from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

A man’s personality is that of which he has cognizance under the concept of “Self”. It is that entity, substantial, permanent, unitary, which is the subject of all the states and acts that constitute his complete life.

If love does not climb, it falls. If, like the flame, it does not burn upward to the sun, it burns downward to destroy. If sex does not mount to Heaven, it descends into Hell. There is no such thing as giving the body without giving the soul. Those who think they can be faithful in soul to one another, but unfaithful in body, forget that the two are inseparable. Sex in isolation from personality does not exist! An arm living and gesticulating apart from the living organism is an impossibility. Man has no organic functions isolated from his soul. There is involvement of the whole personality. Nothing is more psychosomatic than the union of two in One flesh; nothing so much alters a mind, a will, for better or for worse. The separation of soul and body is death. Those who separate sex and spirit are rehearsing for death. The enjoyment of the other’s personality through one’s own personality, is love. The pleasure of animal function through another’s animal function is sex, separated from love.

  • Human Being/Person
    (A Unity of Body and Soul)
  • Somatic
  • Body/Passions/
    of Sex (Subordinate-Partner)
  • Sensory Info
  • Spiritual
  • Soul/Intellect/
    Love as an Act
    of the Will

Sex is one of the means God has instituted for the enrichment of personality. It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, Saint Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect. Just as the enrichment of the mind comes from the body and its senses, so the enrichment of love comes through the body and its sex. As one can see a universe mirrored in a tear on a cheek, so in sex can be seen mirrored that wider-world of love. Love in monogamous marriage includes sex; but sex, in the contemporary use of the term, does not imply either marriage or monogamy.

Every woman instinctively realizes the difference between the two, but Man comes to understand it more slowly through reason and prayer. Man is driven by pleasure; Woman by the meaning of pleasure. She sees pleasure more as a means to an end, namely, the prolongation of love both in herself and in her child. Like Mary at the Annunciation, she accepts the love which is presented to her by another. In Mary, it came directly from God through an Angel; in marriage, it comes indirectly from God through a man. But in both instances, there is an acceptance, a surrender, a fiat: “Let it be unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:28). The pagan woman who has not consciously thought of God is actually half woman and half dream; the woman who sees love as a reflection of the trinity is half woman and half spirit, and she waits upon the creative work of God within her body. Patience thus becomes bound-up with her acceptance. Woman accepts the exigencies of love, as the farmer accepts the exigencies of Nature, and waits, after the sowing of the seed, the harvest of Autumn.

But when sex is divorced from love there is a feeling that one has been stopped at the vestibule of the castle of pleasure; that the heart has been denied the city after crossing the bridge. sadness and melancholy result from such a frustration of destiny, for it is the nature of man to be sad when he is pulled outside himself, or exteriorized without getting any nearer his goal. There is a closer correlation between mental instability and the animal view of sex than many suspect. Happiness consists in interiority of the spirit, namely, the development of personality in relationship to a heavenly destiny. He who has no purpose in life is unhappy; he who exteriorizes his life and is dominated, or subjugated, by what is outside himself, or spends his energy on the external without understanding its mystery, is unhappy to the point of melancholy. There is the feeling of being hungry after having eaten, or of being disgusted with food, because it has nourished not the body, in the case of an individual, or another body, in the case of marriage. In the Woman, this sadness is due to the humiliation of realizing that where marriage is only sex, her role could be fulfilled by any other woman; there is nothing personal, incommunicable, and therefore nothing dignified. Summoned by her God – implanted nature to be ushered into the Mysteries of Life which have their source in God, she is condemned to remain on the threshold as a tool or an instrument of pleasure alone, and not as a companion of love. Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love.

Every person is what he loves. Love becomes like unto that which it loves. If it loves Heaven, it becomes Heavenly; if it loves the Carnal as a god, it becomes corruptible. The kind of immortality we have depends on the kind of loves we have. Putting it negatively, he who tells you what he does not love, also tells what he is. “Amor pondus meum: Love is my gravitation”, said Saint Augustine. This slow conversion of a subject into an object, of a lover into the beloved, of the miser into his gold, of the Saint into his God, discloses the importance of loving the right things. The nobler our loves, the nobler our character. To love what is below the human, is degradation; to love what is human for the sake of the human, is mediocrity; to Love the human for the sake of the Divine, is enriching; to love the Divine for its own sake is Sanctity.

Love is Trinity ; Sex is Duality. But there are many other differences between the two. Sex rationalizes; Love does not. Sex has to justify itself with Kinsey reports, “But Freud told us”, or “No one believes that today”; Love needs no reasons. Sex asks science to defend it; Love never asks “Why?” It says, “I Love you”. Love is its own reason. “God is Love”. Satan asked a “Why?” of God’s Love in the Garden of Paradise. Every rationalization is farfetched and never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s mystical body in a second marriage, will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the Doctrine of Transubstantiation”. What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment (Thou shall not commit Adultery). Milton wrote an abstract and apparently a philosophical treatise on “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”, in which he justified the divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. But the real reason was not what he set-down in the book; it was to be found in the fact that he wished to marry someone else while his wife was living. What is important is not what people say, but why they say it. Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the Light came into the World men preferred Darkness to Light; preferred it, because their doings were Evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the Light” (John 3:19, 20), It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits.

From another point of view, sex seeks the part; love the totality. Sex is biological and physiological, and has its definite zones of satisfaction. Love, on the contrary, includes all of these but is directed to the totality of the person loved, i.e., as a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. Love seeks the clock and its purpose; sex concentrates on the mainspring and forgets its mission to keep time. Sex eliminates from the person who is loved everything that cannot adapt itself to its carnal libido. Those who give primacy to sex for that reason are anti-religious. Love, however, does not concentrate on a function, but on personality. An organ does not include the personality, but the personality includes the organ, which is another way of repeating the theme: Love includes sex, but sex does not include love.

Love concentrates on the Object; Sex concentrates on the Subject. Love is directed to someone else for the sake of the other’s Perfection; Sex is directed to Self for the sake of self-satisfaction. Sex flatters the Object not because it is praiseworthy in itself, but rather as a solicitation. It knows how to make friends and influence people. Most sound minds resent flattery because they see the egotism behind the screen of altruism. The ego in sex pleads that it loves the alter ego, but what it loves is really the possibility of its own pleasure in the other ego. The other person is necessary for the return of the egotist upon himself. The egotist finds himself constantly being encircled by non-being, purposelessness, meaninglessness; he has the feeling of being exploited. Refusing to be related to anything else, he soon sees that nothing is for him: The whole world is against him! But love, which stresses the object, finds itself in constantly enlarging relationships. Love is so strong it surpasses narrowness by devotedness and forgetfulness of self. In history, the only causes that die are those for which men refuse to die. The more love grows, the more its eyes open to the needs of others, to the miseries of men, and to compassion. The remedy for all the sufferings of the modern brain lies in the enlargement of the heart through love, which forgets itself as the subject and begins to love the neighbor as the object. But he who lives for himself will eventually find that nature, fellowman, and God are all against him. The so-called “persecution complex” is the result of egotism. The world seems against him who wants everything for himself.

Sex is moved by the desire to fill a moment between having and not having. It is an experience like looking at a sunset, or twirling one’s thumbs to pass the time. It rests after one experience, because glutted for the moment, and then waits for the reappearance of a new craving or passion to be satisfied on a totally different object. Love frowns upon this notion, for it sees in this nothing but the killing of the objects Loved for the sake of self-satisfaction. Sex would give birds flight, but no nests; hearts emotions but no homes; throw the whole world into the experience of voyagers at sea, but with no ports. Instead of pursuing an infinite which is fixed, it substitutes the false infinity of never finding satisfaction. The infinite then becomes not the possession of love but the fruitless search for love, which is the basis of so many psychoses and neuroses. The infinite then becomes restlessness, a merry-go-round of the heart which spins only to spin-again. Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time-and-space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety. In Love, poverty becomes integrated into riches; need into fulfillment; yearning into joy; chase into capture. But sex is without the joy of offering. The wolf offers nothing when he kills the Lamb. The joy of oblation is missing, for the egotist by his very nature seeks inflation. Love gives to receive. Sex receives so as not to give. Love is soul contact with another, for the sake-of perfection; sex is body contact with another, for the sake-of sublimation.

Human Being/Person
(A Unity of Body and Soul)

  • Natural
  • Natural
    (Dominant Partner)
  • Supernatural Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Divine Love is the Unitive (1) Force of a Person.
    The Supernatural Resides within the Soul.

A body can exhaust itself, but it cannot nourish itself. If Man needed only nourishment, he could devour love as he devours Food. But having a spirit which needs the divine love as a unitive force, he can never be satisfied by devouring the love of another person. A potato has a nature; a man is a person. The former can be destroyed as a means-to-an-end; the human may not. Sex would turn man into a vegetable and reduce a person to an animal. Sex makes-hungry where most-it-satisfies, for the person needs the person, and a person is a person only when seen in an Image of God.

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