Intimacy in College:  A Jesuit Perspective

A notion in popular culture is that sexuality and spirituality are on opposite ends of the spectrum, somehow antithetical to one another. Yet, sexuality, like spirituality, is a gift and out of gratitude for this gift, one is called to consider and act responsibly. The Jesuit notion of cura personalis – care for the whole person – encourages us to look past this seeming impasse when considering these gifts. After all, what constitutes a whole person? Part of that answer is one’s sexuality. The concept of ‘wholeness’ stretches us to understand that sexuality is integrated into a person alongside our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects. As such, sexuality not only requires our attentive care but also needs to be understood as affecting – and affected by – our spirit, emotions, beliefs, and bodies.

When we think of sexuality as disconnected from the other aspects of who we are, it is defined in strictly physical terms. Seeing sexuality in the context of the whole person broadens our ideas of intimacy. Intimacy entails not only our physical bodies but also engages the other aspects of who we are.  At its best, intimacy encompasses a range of behaviors that allow us to feel comforted, soothed, and delighted in and with each other. It encourages a deepening of emotional connection between persons. It is grounded in the beliefs and thoughts that we have about others and about relationships. Intimacy is based on trust in relationship and care for the other, and yourself, as a whole person.

Of course, understanding when and how to be intimate can be a difficult process. Other Ignatian tools can be helpful in navigating through this.  For example, the reflective process of discernment can be used as a guide to better understand and make meaning of one’s own sexuality. What is it that is motivates my behaviors? Will this interaction bring about more peace and joy for the other? For myself? Similarly, the concept of magis urges us to consider what actions are for the “better.” What is the “better” way to interact with the person to whom you’re attracted? What behavior will better express respect for the other as a whole person, not just as a sexual being?

Being with and for others means shaping your decisions, including decisions about your sexual expression, in ways that will be most life-giving for others as well as for yourself. A challenge of maturing into adulthood is to synthesize these aspects of yourself, to allow them to inform one another, and to trust that your relationships – with yourself and your partner – are a fitting expression of gratitude to God for the gift of sexuality.

Brooks Zitzmann, LMSW

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