I’ll preface this post by saying that I accidentally read the readings for Thursday too, so I will be discussing St. Leander as well as Thomas Laqueur.
I was very interested in the relationship between sexuality and reproduction, specifically the way a causal relationship is constructed between the two but also the way that sexual desire is policed as a result of the potential of procreation.
Laqueur provides a description of the way sexuality and reproduction were perceived throughout history. In the eleventh-century, Arab writer Avicenna wrote that women do not emit sperm when the male’s penis is too small- the lack of pleasure is not conducive to procreation. Neither is too much pleasure- Laqueur writes that “…barrenness can well be the sad consequence of too little or too much heat…” (9) and that prostitutes were thought to conceive very rarely. Only a very specific, quantifiable amount of desire could lead to procreation, and Laqueur seems to acknowledge the biblical tension in this logic: “…the irresistible attractions of sexual rapture stood as marks in the flesh of mankind’s fall from grace, of the essential weakness of the will. But on the other hand pleasure was construed as precisely what compelled men and women to reproduce themselves, despite what prudence or individual interest might dictate” (12). That which is forbidden that is most pleasurable (I’m sure this would interest many of the writers from our first thematic cluster), and pleasure leads to reproduction. Although they are acknowledged as the destruction of mankind, sexuality and desire are precisely that which promotes mankind’s survival, a sort of discrepancy in logic. When Princess Maria Theresa was worried about infertility, her physician replied: “I think the vulva of Her Most Holy Majesty is to be titillated before intercourse” (17). The implication throughout history is that reproduction cannot occur without some amount of pleasure (albeit, a restricted amount), which is really interesting considering the traditional Christian view regarding procreation as described in the St. Leander.
The St. Leander describes desire as something to “succumb to”, something to be avoided at all costs. Virginity is a gift, and procreation is merely a vehicle through which to transmit that gift to another sequence of virgins. Of course, this logic is extremely problematic; a virgin cannot create new virgins without sacrificing her own virginity, and her children also cannot remain virgins should they hope to pass on the gift. Thankfully, St. Leander isn’t that concerned with logic. He idealizes Mary, writing, “Fortunate that womb that knew how to give birth without being corrupted!” (72). Desire is not a precursor to procreation at all; if anything, it hinders the purity of the act and corrupts it. She remains a virgin because she did not commit the act of sex (if I weren’t trying to limit the length of this post, I would also write about the notion of friction and touching as defined in both readings) and did not experience pleasure through her sexuality. Finally, on a note I found humorous: “And so that you do not think you are sterile, you shall have as many children as you shall have virtues” (82). Reproduction isn’t restricted to merely humans- these nuns have virtues for kids, all because they reject their sexuality.
In conclusion- historically, the ideal relationship between desire and reproduction is convoluted, both specifically restricted and seemingly impossible to fulfill.