The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is Sexual Fantasy the same as Adultery?, part 1

My wife is quite overweight. I do love her. To participate in conjugal union, I have to visualize women other than her. However, I do this to be a good husband. Can’t a guy get a break for making the effort to please his wife?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Eric K. writes, “My wife and I have been married for over 30 years. We have a wonderful relationship. The challenge is that all this time I’ve made it a point to keep physically fit. But my wife really has let herself go. She’s quite overweight and not really very attractive anymore. I do love her and am in this marriage for the long haul. As you can expect, she enjoys conjugal union from time to time. Out of love for her, I participate vigorously. But to do this, I have to visualize women other than her. I know that Jesus encouraged men not to fantasize, claiming that it’s virtually the same as adultery. I get that. However, I do this to be a good husband. Can’t a guy get a break for making the effort to please his wife? I’m interested in seeing what the panel says. For the record, I never demean her for her looks or weight, and I do not use porn.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“With all due respect for the author of this question, significant details are missing. For example, how many children did you have? Who primarily raised the children? Did your wife work in addition to running the household? What was your family doing while you were seeking to be physically fit?

“My assistant novice master, God rest his soul, had an endearing statement whenever someone went to him with a problem that was great for the individual but the antithesis of the life the individual was seeking. His words were, ‘brother, you need to adjust your happiness!’

“Love is not a feeling it is a choice. To this end, the definition of conjugal love is ‘the mutual love between a man and a woman that becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 401). Try adjusting happiness accordingly.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“Before anything else, please know you have my highest admiration. That must be a challenging situation. Your commitment to the marriage is a noble example.

“Our religion does teach something similar to what Jesus encouraged. Yes, we are the accumulation of our thoughts. It is much better for our spiritual growth if we are able to keep our minds elevated, away from baser ideas. And yes, this would include avoiding sexual fantasy. However, as a husband committed to his marriage, you have an obligation to engage in the conjugal union you speak of. Thankfully, you indicate that adultery and self-gratification are not options; so those on the table are either to move to a life of celibacy, more or less forcing your wife into the same, or to continue what you are doing now.

“However, in Hinduism there is a saying: ‘When a lesser duty conflicts with a higher duty, it ceases to be a duty.’ In my estimation, you are foregoing the lesser duty in order to fulfill the higher one. While you might retard any evolution by indulging in your imagination while cuddling, you more than make up for in maintaining your marital bond.

“It should be noted as well that the Dharma teaches the spiritual value of maintaining health and fitness. It is my sincere wish that seeing your example, your wife may, without any heavy-handed suggestions on your part, come to find the value in a healthful lifestyle.”

The Rev. Rachel J. Bahr, pastor of Plymouth UCC, responds:

“All of us are shaped by our patriarchal culture that values some bodies over others, and considers some bodies unattractive and disposable. We all internalize false and destructive messages about self worth formed by patriarchal culture, “the thinner the better,” even if this is detrimental to health. Women’s bodies are not products to be consumed. To be clear, Jesus always sided with folx considered disposable, in fact, Jesus preferred them. In the UCC and the UU we have a curriculum called Our Whole Lives that teaches sexuality and values, including self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice and inclusivity, and as a participant you would transform some of the inherited values that you name above. You state, “Jesus encouraged men not to fantasize?” I believe you are referencing Jesus’ words from Matthew 5, specifically verses 27-28. I don’t believe that Jesus was condemning admiring the beauty of God’s creation and the divine within folx, I believe that Jesus was really condemning objectification, when we make bodies objects for our consumption. When we do not have a relationship with a person, mutual consent is not possible, there is harm done even if only within our own minds, because bodies become more like objects and not treated as sacred. Going to counseling may be helpful... the truth hurts.”

Read another set of responses in part 2.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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