Wendell Berry – What is Sex For?
Wendell Berry is perhaps best known as a writer of essays and stories about community, stewardship, and the values that should undergird them. He is also the author of at least one somewhat unconventional love story: Jayber Crow. To be sure, only a small part of the tale is devoted to romance, and the romance barely registers even on those pages. But it is by no means a gratuitous part of the novel. Jayber falls in love with a married woman whom he vows to love from afar. Her husband is unfaithful to her and to the land on which they live. Jayber seeks to be faithful to both, and his love for her is of the same stuff as his love for their community. It is, to say the least, an uncommonly provocative tale.
Shortly after the publication of Jayber Crow in 2001, Modern Reformation magazine sought Mr. Berry out for an interview on the subject “What is Sex For?” It serves as a nice counterpoint to Naomi Wolf’s “The Porn Myth” I blogged on last week.
Last week, referring to C.S. Lewis, I said that “Sex is the means to the end of intimacy.” Berry rightly reminds us that sex alone cannot create intimacy.
“I think, too, that there are degrees and kinds of intimacy that cannot be represented in art. To represent directly a couple making love, if they are to be taken seriously as lovers, seems to me as presumptuous and disrespectful and false as to represent a person praying alone.”
In order to be understood and appreciated, Berry argued, sex needs to be part of a bigger story.
“But sexual love, to achieve its full goodness and beauty and power, needs the amplitude of a story. It joins husband and wife together, joins them to their fertility, to their children and grandchildren; for its sake the couple makes a home, a household, an economy, which joins them to the fertility of the world, to the generosity of God. Sexual love can do this, or it can fail to do this, but its success or failure is a story.”
It should come as no surprise to us, then, to learn that in Berry’s opinion, the best romantic relationships are the ones that are the result of the most work.
“It seems to me that we have an obligation to take a legitimate or undestructive pleasure in all the world’s pleasurable things, and that the pleasure does have a kind of primacy. If we took no pleasure in them, why should we be troubled to take care of them or use them well?”
I recommend Wendell Berry’s interview to you and his novel Jayber Crow as well.