I just thought after many threads that have been posted about pleasure as the all important end of the marriage act I think we as Catholics need to embrace a larger more profound end, that of Joy!
If the marriage act is supposed to emulate the love within the trinity, I think one can hardly say that the Father and Son’s union (in which the Holy Spirit from eternity pours out) is not one where they seek merely to pleasure the other. This is not a barter and trade system of you do this for me and I do this for you.
In JPII’s book Love and Responsibility he contends with the word “use” in a profound way and even shows how egoism can hide sereptitiously within what may seem as a loving marriage. I wish to quote from his book (bare with me its a little long):
"If, while regarding pleasure as the only good, I also try to obtain the maximum pleasure for some else – and not just for myself, which would be blatant egoism – then I put a value on the pleasure of this other person only in so far as it gives pleasure to me: it gives me pleasure, that someone else is experiencing pleasure. If however, I cease to experience pleasure, or it does not tally with my ‘calculus of happiness’ – (a term often used by utilitarian) then the pleasure of the other person ceases to be my obligation, a good for me and may even become something bad. I shall then – true to the principles of utilitarianism – seek to eliminate the other person’s pleasure because no pleasure for me is any longer bound up with it – or at any rate the other person’s pleasure will become a matter of indifference to me and I shall not concern myself with it.
“‘Love’ in this utilitarian conception is a union of egoism, which can hold together only on condition that they confront each other with nothing unpleasant, nothing to conflict with their mutual pleasure. Therefore love so understood is self-evidently merely a pretense which has to be careful cultivated to keep the underlying reality hidden: the reality of egoism and the greediest kind of egoism at that, exploiting another person to obtain for itself its own ‘maximum pleasure’. In such circumstances the other person is and remains only a means to an end…”
Unfortunately many couples today live on this mutual egoism with a pursuit of sexual pleasure and obtaining it as the sign of a healthy marriage when in fact its a disordered pursuit of lust. This is why people become selfish in a marriage and why what may seem as finances as a main cause of breakups really has its root cause in this selfish egoism.
I am not saying a couple experiencing pleasure from the union as wrong; it is healthy and good, but if that is placed on top of the list as the most important to a couple, one will easily fall to the utilitarianism style of “love” that JPII refers to.
Joy on the otherhand is self sacrificing. It considers wanting the good of another simply to please God. It willingly seeks out on a daily basis to choose things that do not necessarily have any award or pleasure attached to it, but knows that it will please God (the Cross is the most profound showing of this and a model for us). So instead of thinking merely about how I can maximize pleasure in my marital embrace (though couples talking about it is fine and good), we need to encompass a fuller desire to serve our spouse (like are we focusing too much on pleasure as our top priority in our marriage embrace or do we see the openess to life giving love and worshiping God; does this lead us to seek out daily, actions words and deeds that have no gain for us, but benefit the other person).
I am not saying pleasure is bad. It is good, but needs to put in its proper place of the context of love. A good meditation to reflect upon it is this; say the area in my brain that is the reward center for pleasure (how we experience pleasure from certain things like sex), stopped functioning (you could have sex otherwise). Would I still seek out my marital embrace for the greater glory of God and life giving love? Christ died on the cross giving us His body in the midst of feeling abandonment from God and in complete sorrow, but did so solely for our good. And this brought Joy in the midst of sorrow, but not physical pleasure.
Pleasure is good and fine, but if sought for itself, it is limiting and egotistical even if sought mutually. Joy on the otherhand is not linked to a basis of wheher or not the experience is pleasurable for me, but pleasing to God.