TO “MRS. JONES” (identity withheld): On sexual temptation as not only the most recognizable and least disguisable of our temptations but also as the most pleasurable; and on the consequences of the Fall for women and for men.
27 September 1954
‘Why has sex become man’s chief stumbling block?’ But has it? Or is it only the most recognisable of the stumbling blocks? I mean, we can mistake pride for a good conscience, and cruelty for zeal, and idleness for the peace of God et cetera. But when lust is upon us, then, owing to the obvious physical symptoms, we can’t pretend it is anything else. Is it perhaps only the least disguisable of our dangers. At the same time I think there is something in what you say. If marriage is an image of the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church, then adultery is an image of apostasy. Also, all the sexual vices have this unfair advantage that the very temptation is itself pleasurable: whereas the temptations, say, to anger or cowardice, are in themselves unpleasant.
I don’t think I can solve your question about the pains of childbirth. I can only say that vicarious suffering seems to be deeply embedded in the post-fall world so that the Atonement is simply the supreme instance of a universal law. Would the inequality between man’s and woman’s share of the cause be less marked if Man (or selected, fortunate men) had not now managed to evade his share? If he still in person tilled the earth and fought the wild beasts? And has civilisation increased the woman’s pain? I’ve heard of savage women who suffer much less. But I am only offering conjecture. I don’t know the answer.
The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.