"How Adam Knew Eve: Pleasures of the Body and Pleasures of Knowledge in the Sexual Ethic of Thomas Aquinas." Working Paper presented at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion Annual Meeting, Winston Salem, NC, March 2005.
In The Ethics of Sex, Mark Jordan argues that “The suspicion of an impure pleasure is the most radical and comprehensive principle in Christian sexual ethics.” Though many Christians take issue with this claim, Jordan is not alone in his assessment. Indeed, one of the most common critiques leveled against Catholic sexual ethics is that its prohibitions are ultimately based on unwarranted condemnations of bodily pleasure. In this essay, I argue that contemporary Catholic theologians might be able to use the works of Thomas Aquinas to support their ongoing attempt to redeem sexual pleasure within the tradition. Though his position on bodily pleasure follows in the (suspicious) tradition of Augustine, his discussion of the value of intellectual pleasure can contribute much to the current debates. One only need recognize the sexual act as something beyond the body to see that his discussion of intellectual pleasures might also apply to the pleasures associated with sex. Contemporary Catholic theologians have, in fact, already reformulated their conception of sexual experience in this way. Pope John Paul II wrote extensively and eloquently about the human sexual act as an experience that extends beyond the body—specifically involving a form of knowledge. Thus, it would not be a stretch to employ the arguments of Thomas about the pleasure associated with knowledge to the current debates about the pleasure associated with sex. At the very least, this conversation seems to provide a possibility for thinking about the current debate in an original, and hopefully fruitful, way.