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Robert Farrar Capon on “Sex” vs. Sexuality

The recent conversation about complementarianism and its relevance for “all of life,” reminded me of this great section from Robert Farrar Capon’s Bed and Board. I will have to leave readers to make their own connections, as I only have time to pass along the quote:

Do you know why [sex] is ugly? Because it is unreal. There is such a thing as sexuality. In grammar it is called gender. It is the word used to describe the marvelous bargain by which we get two species for the price of one. But there is no such real thing as sex. It is an ersatz third thing, existing only in the mind. It is neither masculine nor feminine, and ultimately it is destructive of any true concept of sexuality. Do you want me to prove it? Listen. Suppose I wrote a book called The Sexual Life of a Nun. You know what people would think. They would be curious—or shocked. They would expect to find it either a big joke or a compilation of slightly prurient propaganda. How many would be able to see that, on the real meaning of the word sexual, it is a perfectly proper title? For a nun’s life of course is utterly sexual. She thinks as a woman, prays as a woman, reacts as a woman and commits herself as a woman. No monk, no celibate, ever embraced his life for her kind of reasons. He couldn’t if he wanted to. Of course she omits, as an offering to God, one particular expression of her sexuality; but it is only one out of a hundred. The sexual congress she does not attend is not life’s most important meeting, all the marriage manuals to the contrary notwithstanding.

Accordingly, Sex is the villain of our little piece here. It has eclipsed true sexuality as religiosity sometimes swallows up religion, that is, as an unreal subject that makes it impossible for people to see the real one. We are full of Sex, more so day by day. And at the same time we grow progressively emptier of masculinity and femininity. The fundamental division of the species is one about which we have the least to say. The abstractness of the male intellect, the concreteness of the female, the man’s characteristic grasp of the whole and the woman’s typical attention to the part, his minding of bank balance and hers of the children’s need for underwear—all those things we can make nothing of except to fight over them. Instead of pursuing them, of refining and purifying them, we only let them rattle around without supervision, and wonder why we do not know each other better. We settle for living separate lives, interrupted occasionally by a short confrontation between the sheets, in which we are so busy thinking about Sex that we have no time to think about being men or women. Except for bed, courtship, and affairs, we can make nothing of the opposite sex. From birth to twelve, and from twenty till death, we gather in separate groups, on opposite sides of the room, until some dolt decides to liven up the party by playing round games, and embarrasses us all with our ignorance of the other half of the race.

~Bed and Board (Simon and Schuster, 1965) 49-50

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

2 replies on “Robert Farrar Capon on “Sex” vs. Sexuality”

Great quotation..I’ve long been a Capon devote. One wonders whether even he could get this published today.

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