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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Claire Barshied on sex, part 3

Barshied (in Novel Bioethics) continues,

Back in Being Human, though, I ran across a provocative poem by Galway Kinnell. Titled “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” it describes a small boy who sleeps through all nighttime disturbances except his parents’ quiet lovemaking, which wakes him and sends him running into their bed to snuggle and sleep. I wanted to affirm the poem’s warmth toward the “familiar touch of the long-married,” as Kinnell puts it.

But I was disturbed that the poet thought it sweet, even good, that “habit of memory” propelled the boy “to the ground of his making,” in between his parents. It seemed almost disgusting to think of a third person involved, even only proximately, with sex; making love is for two people, between two people. And yet, thinking further, I started to question my own reactions: Why wouldn’t there be a mysterious connection between making love and a child? [there is] That, after all, is the pattern of human reproduction—intimacy between two lovers becomes parental love. Babies follow sex.

Yes, this is true. But I’m sorry, the poem is wierd. Of course there’s a mysterious connection between making love and a child, but, talk about blurring lines! A young child cannot possibly understand what is going on between his parents (besides closeness) and should not be privy to his parents’ intimate act. Both the parents’ and the child’s privacy must be protected. “Habit of memory”? Do I sense new-age-consciousness here? The child can’t possibly have such a “memory,” even in his cells (I'm reminded of a RUSH tune, “High Water” about returning to the sea, to the memory of whence we came via evolution), though the parents may well remember the occasion of his origin.

It certainly is not “disgusting” for a very young child to show up during his parents’ lovemaking, but it’s also not something to encourage. If such an interruption happens, the child may be greeted graciously and accepted, of course, (and then perhaps put back in bed...), but the whole “habit of memory” thing is completely made up.

Let’s not be so eager to find an alternative to artificial contraception, or any other perceived problem, that we fall for every mystical-sounding idea that comes along. We must be shrewd to examine each and every idea for what it is. “Beloved, do no believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I John 4:1 Let’s not assume that something mystical is actually true, nor make mystery where there isn’t any.

What is more, I have begun to suspect that God’s design for procreation, as in so many other areas of life, might contain hidden blessings. In the poem, the parents’ lovemaking grows deeper, infused with new affection and wonder, with their son’s appearance: “In the half darkness we look at each other and smile and touch arms across his little, startlingly muscled body.” The son, too, benefits by the stability and love of his family, “his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.”

There is no normally-functioning parent alive who is not supremely, intensely aware of the connection between their bond with their spouse, as expressed in lovemaking, and their children as products of this. No parent needs their child to show up in the bedroom during lovemaking to be made aware of this. A child certainly does not need to do this to experience the stability and love of his family. If his face beams with satisfaction at being his parents’ child, it has nothing to do with an awareness of being a product of the act he has just witnessed/interrupted. And the expression of satisfaction at “being this very child” may result from any variety of familial activities, not including his parents’ lovemaking.

Is there something to be gained from assigning a lower priority to our individual, immediate desires? [Of course.] Perhaps sex is inherently about more than just two people, involving more than just pleasure and bonding. [Of course it is, and does, though clarity as far as exactly how must be maintained.] Reuniting sex and procreation would protect against the temptations of genetically screening for “acceptable” children and other kinds of surreptitious eugenics. Indeed, the poem’s son, regardless of his characteristics, is “this blessing love gives again into our arms.”

There are plenty of opportunities for a couple to embrace the blessings their marital love, literally and figuratively, as I’ve said; it does not need to be done in the midst of a private act. Though a child is, at his/her origin, privy (in a way) to one particular act of his/her parents’ love, this does not mean that the child must be privy to the rest of them. When parents produce a child as a result of lovemaking, it is not the child who is being embraced; it is the parents who are embracing each other, as well as embracing the possibility of creating a child. But the child him- or herself is the result of this.

You see, a child is not merely the result of a sex act. The sex act itself is the result of a relationship, a commitment -- a marriage. It is the culmination, the consummation, of this marriage relationship, and the product of that is a child. If a married couple has some sort of breach, this is as much a breach against their children as it is against one another and God. If my husband and I ever have such a breach (yes it happens, on occasion), I am, up until the time we reconcile (which we do), painfully, deeply, incontrovertably aware that in breaching our marriage, we are making our children a lie, and doing them a very serious disservice. It does not take interruption of lovemaking by a child to bring to one’s awareness the fact that said child is a result of one’s marriage, not just a result of the marital act. And it is the marriage, submitted to under and before God, that has as much to do with the proper nurture of children as the mere act of conceiving them.

To be cont...

3 Comments:

  • Conicidentally I posted that poem on my blog a few weeks ago! I really liked the imagery and the sweetness of it.

    This part

    as now, we lie together,
    after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
    familiar touch of the long-married,
    and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
    the neck opening so small
    he has to screw them on,
    I absolutely love! "familiar touch of the long-married!"

    By Blogger Elena, at 1:23 PM  

  • Of course the "familiar touch of the long-married" is wonderful. But why involve a child in it?

    “after making love...”

    meaning they’ve, um, separated bodies, etc. & put pajamas on by the time the boy gets to their bedroom? Just how far is the walk from his bedroom? And what of the time factor if he was wakened by, um, “heavy breathing"...he waited until he “knew” the act was over?

    huh-uh.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 10:43 PM  

  • I think you have to allow for the artistic poetic license somewhat Bonnie :).

    However, I do remember nights (with and without sex) where little kids came in for a bad dream, or because they were sick, (oh how many nights did we change sheets because kids peed the bed or threw up!!!) or thunder and lightening or whatever. We got into the habit of always having night shirts or pajamas to slip into in a hurry because when your the parents of little kids your night times are almost as busy as your daytimes. Egads... no wonder most of my pictures feature dark circles under my eyes!! I should write a poem about that!!

    By Blogger Elena, at 11:28 PM  

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