Sex & the Soul

STDs Involve More Than Our Bodies

Sex has a direct impact on the soul. Despite over 300 years' worth of scientific and cultural enlightenment to dispel ignorant notions regarding the existence of souls and of cosmic powers seeking to steal or save them, the drama of the soul keeps shining through, like early morning sunlight streaking into your room when you were so sure you had shut the blinds tight the night before.

I saw an inadvertent sunbeam through some especially sordid blinds recently upon reading a story on about the rapid rise in the numbers of people infected with STDs in the United States.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control, "the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—the three most commonly reported STDs in the nation—increased between 2014 and 2015, reaching an all-time high." One of the most telling quotes in the story was from Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of STD prevention for the CDC: "STD rates are rising, and many of the country's systems for preventing STDs have eroded. . . . We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services—or the human and economic burden will continue to grow."

My first thought was to blurt out that the only "system" that has ever reliably prevented STDs is called morality, specifically the virtue of chastity. But then, morality isn't a system; it's an act of the will and a state of the soul, a point which brings to mind G. K. Chesterton's insistence that

Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.

This is where the dramatic rays begin to stream into the bedroom.

Most people recognize, if only tacitly, that there is something about STDs that distinguishes them from other diseases. Who would feel the same emotions in telling his mother, "I have syphilis" as opposed to "I have the flu"? There is a moral dimension to STDs that cannot be separated from the medical realities. Down deep, despite what one may have been taught to believe about sexuality, there is still a sense, if ever so faint, that a person only gets an STD by doing something wrong.

We have all heard of psychosomatic illnesses, where the body reflects the condition of the mind. We might then call STDs "spiritual-somatic" illnesses, where the body reflects the condition of the soul. When sex is cheapened to be just a particularly exciting bodily function, the soul as well as the body becomes diseased. Promiscuity turns sex into a cheap commodity, and the souls of those who casually trade in that commodity become like the soul of a man who pawns his great-grandmother's wedding ring to buy ice cream. In each case, the person becomes soul-sick because he equates the precious and meaningful with the mundane and trivial.

But it's important to remember that the opposite is also true. When a person understands that sex was intended by the Creator to be a sacred means of welding two souls together, a celestial language spoken exclusively between husband and wife, a transcendent conduit by which they give each other not just their words or their affection but their very selves, then he begins to see that sex is an incalculable treasure that must be guarded within the golden fortress of chastity.

Understanding this changes a person. That is, it conditions his soul. When a person sobers to this reality, and strives to live accordingly, his soul becomes "something flaming, like Joan of Arc." Even if he has sinned in the past, repentance and the grace of God can "re-condition" his soul and restore it to health.

But regardless of the tidal wave of secular sentiment, which portrays purity as bloodless prudishness, nothing can change the fact that, either for vigor or squalor, sex shapes the soul.•

Mike Mitchell holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion and is the author of The Life Underneath, A Story of Murder, Love and Real Life. See more from Mike at

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #40, Spring 2017 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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