Nice Fornication Print
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 03 August 2011

The case against the sexual revolution can be clinched if we can show that the most natural and pleasant and “responsible” form of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is still deeply disordered and destructive. I’ll call it the case of the Nice Fornicators.

Nice Fornicators do not find themselves in bed with someone they do not know. They have moral standards. Nice Fornicators will only go to bed with someone they love. What this means is never entirely clear. Some Nice Fornicators mean, “I will have sexual intercourse only with someone I intend to marry, and who intends to marry me.” Other NF’s mean, “I will sleep only with someone I am in love with, and whom I might well marry.”  Others mean, “I will sleep only with someone I am committed to, for the foreseeable future.”  Still others mean, “I will sleep only with someone whom I care for, deeply.”

Nice Fornicators get to know one another’s families. They practice contraception, because they know, though they won’t examine the contradiction, that it is not right to bring children into the world without a mother and father bound to one another forever. Nice Fornicators believe in divorce, as a fail-safe, for other people. Nice Fornicators in part justify what they are doing precisely because they do not want to court the possibility of divorce. They feel that it is most responsible to pretend to be married before they marry, to see whether it works out. It is a kind of commitment with reservations.

Nice Fornicators don’t use pornography. They practice sodomy, but more because everyone does than because they enjoy the aberrance. Nice Fornicators are clean cut, and only rarely utter obscenities. The Nicest of Fornicators attend church together. They believe, and they are not entirely wrong, that God has given them to one another. They do not despise holiness. They genuinely want what they are doing to be blessed.

Had they been born a century ago, Nice Fornicators would most likely have approached the altar as virgins – man and woman both. They believe in the Ten Commandments, but they have been taught that one of those commandments no longer applies in the modern world, at least not in the way it used to.

David Sees Bath-Sheba Bathing (James Tissot, c. 1898)

Nice Fornicators do not wish to use one another as mere instruments of sensual pleasure. Their relationships are marked by a great degree of kindness and self-sacrifice. That is, if one abstracts from the whole situation the actions that have nothing directly to do with the fornication itself, one finds much to admire in their personalities and habits. The “wife” may cook hearty meals for the “husband,” and the “husband” bring flowers home for the “wife.” They may celebrate “anniversaries,” marked from the day they first met one another. They find “cheating” to be an outrage. They are often incorrigibly sentimental, in an amiable way. They are happy to be in one another’s company, and others enjoy their company too.

Nice Fornicators are not what most people would call selfish. They will volunteer at the soup kitchen, or coach a Little League team. They make pleasant youth ministers in liberal churches, or daycare workers, because they genuinely like children, and will – not now, but eventually – want to have a few of their own.

Nice Fornicators are respectable people. Indeed, in this regard they resemble “decent” upper class men of previous generations who would keep a discreet mistress on the side, and the wives who would tacitly allow it. So long as everyone understood what was going on, and the husband continued to support his wife and children, everything would be all right. But the husband who bedded down with the wife’s chambermaid, or the wife who took her footman to bed while her husband was away, were despised. One must abide by the “rules.” 

These “rules” have nothing to do with holiness, but rather with social savoir-faire. The upper-class adulterer would have been indignant if someone had accused him of a terrible indiscretion – say, frequenting the brothels, ridden with venereal disease. So too the Nice Fornicators are scandalized by what just should not be done: engaging in orgies, public nudity, “cheating,” and so forth. The Rule of the Movable Line applies here. That is, the Line dividing what is sexually licit from what is illicit is always placed one or two steps below whatever one is doing at the time.

The most scrupulous of the Nice Fornicators, whose consciences are not quite clear, put it this way: “My sexual sin is pardonable, but what those other people are doing is a different matter.”  For Nice Fornicators preserve the categories of lecher and tramp. The existence of such people is not in dispute. The definitions are.

Now then, if Nice Fornication is wrong, then a fortiori the whole sexual revolution falls. I will show, in further installments: first, that it is wrong in itself; then, that it hurts the people who engage in it, and finally that it hurts others. It rends the fabric of society, and any Catholic who actually knows what the Church’s social teachings are must reject it.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 
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