Catholic Discussions of Marital Sexual Ethics

In various online Catholic forums, the topic of marital sexual ethics is often discussed. I’ve been involved in many such discussions in the past, and I’ve read many similar discussions, in which I’ve not participated. I’m writing this post to point out the grave harm that is being done by many different Catholics who write discussion group posts on this subject.

Unnatural Sexual Acts

A married person asks a question as to whether one or another unnatural sexual act is moral within marriage. The natural sexual act is genital-to-genital intercourse between a man and woman, which, in two fertile individuals, is capable of procreation. Unnatural sexual acts are any other sexual acts, those that are not inherently capable of procreation. And the acts remain unnatural and immoral, regardless of whether or not the acts are accompanied by climax.

Usually, during such an online discussion, a few Catholics, sometimes only one or two, state the correct answer, which is that all types of unnatural sexual acts are gravely immoral, even within marriage, regardless of intention or circumstances. This answer is explained at length in my articles on sexual ethics at Catechism.cc.

However, it also happens that many other Catholics in such a discussion insist on a false, immoral, and harmful answer to the question. They claim that unnatural sexual acts are moral within marriage, and they give various faulty explanations as to why.

They say that unnatural sexual acts are permitted as long as climax occurs, at some later or earlier time, within the natural act. That claim is false because unnatural sexual acts remain intrinsically evil, even when climax does not occur. For example, if a man or woman commits adultery, and for some reason climax does not occur, the act is still an intrinsically evil act of adultery.

They claim that the woman may climax at any time, by various means, supposedly because her climax is not necessary to procreation. But such a claim would imply the justification masturbation and many other gravely immoral sexual acts, on that basis, as if the wife subject to a different moral law than the husband. Therefore, the claim must be false. Catholic sexual ethics is not based solely on accomplishing procreation, by any means at all. And the end never justifies the means.

They claim that all the sexual acts in one period of time in the marital bedroom are one act. But such a claim is contrary to the basic principles of ethics, which always consider each decision of each person a separate act. And there can be no different set of moral principles for the marital bedroom. Moreover, the idea that a set of sexual acts, only some of which are procreative, would be justified by the inclusion in the set of at least one procreative sexual act was specifically rejected by the Magisterium in Humanae Vitae.

They cite various authors who have approved of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. But none of these sources are Saints and none are of the Magisterium. Sometimes they make the baseless claim that the Church has approved of these acts, but that is a blatant damnable lie. Here is my response to some of the typical false claims on marital chastity.

It is said that some priests, usually speaking privately, have approved of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. But there are hundreds of thousands of priests in the world. You can always find a priest who approves of any sin. There are some theologians who have approved of these acts, but other theologians have condemned those same acts. And you can always find some priest or theologian or author who approves of some grave sin, based on their own clever or not-so-clever theological rationalizations.

So here are the most important points:
* The Magisterium has NEVER approved of these acts at any time, for any intention, in any circumstances.
* Unnatural sexual acts have always been condemned by the Magisterium, without any exception for marriage.
* The basic principles of ethics taught by the Magisterium, especially the condemnation of intrinsically evil acts and the teaching that each and every marital sexual act must be both unitive and procreative, necessarily implies that unnatural sexual acts are NEVER moral, even in marriage. By definition, unnatural sexual acts are inherently closed to procreation.
* No Saint or Doctor of the Church has ever approved of such acts.
* Three Doctors of the Church — Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori — have each clearly condemned unnatural sexual acts in marriage.
* Saint Alphonsus Liguori specifically rejected the idea that unnatural sexual acts would be moral as foreplay, when climax occurs later in the natural act.

Why, then, do so many Catholic commentators online promote unnatural sexual acts in marriage? Well, certain Catholics commit these grave sins within their own marriage. Then, when they are discussing the topic online, they are anxious to convince others that these acts are moral; otherwise, they themselves would be guilty of innumerable grave sexual sins. And that is why they ignore the teaching of the Saints and the basic principles of ethics taught by the Church, and instead loudly and insistently promote unnatural sexual acts in marriage using all manner of absurd excuses and rationalizations.

These online promoters of unnatural sexual acts are gravely harming the Sacrament of Marriage. They almost always write under a pseudonym, as they are unwilling to put their real names on their claims about what is moral. And they don’t care that many Catholic spouses are committing these grave sins based partly on their words.

If a husband and wife commit some grave sin in the marital bedroom, they will be judged by God. Perhaps they will repent and reform their lives and their marriage. But if a Catholic goes online and, on many occasions, promotes the approval of unnatural sexual acts within marriage so as to adversely affect many marriages, he or she is committing a much graver set of sins. For the harm done is multiplied many times over by the fact that many Catholics are convinced to commit these grave sins by their words. And if such a person, who has led many souls into grave sexual sins by false teachings online, were at some time to repent, how would he or she undo all that harm?

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

Teachers will have the stricter judgment. Those Catholics who never tire of loudly proclaiming the alleged approval of perverse sexual acts within the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage will be punished by God severely.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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11 Responses to Catholic Discussions of Marital Sexual Ethics

  1. Matt z. says:

    Thanks for writing this. I have tried to inform the brothers and sisters on this at the Catholic Answers Forums but was totally rejected. Also, I have a few questions. What about a married couple where one partner even if it’s the woman has the intention to withdraw before climax? Would the innocent partner not be sinning according the Vademecum for Confessors? Secondly, what about a married couple that has outer sex (stimulating actions of genital contact with clothes on) as foreplay before the full marital genital to genital act? Would that be sinful?

    • Ron Conte says:

      1) If the one spouse withdraws or ends the act early, as a method of contraception, that spouse sins. The other spouse is sinned against. But if this sinful behavior continues, I don’t think the innocent spouse can continue to agree to marital relations without becoming complicit in the sin.

      2) It depends on what type of act you are talking about. If it is essentially a sex act, with or without climax, that is to say, an act ordered toward climax (e.g. dry humping, sorry for being so explicit), then it would be sinful. On the other hand, if they are kissing and hugging passionately, and there is some clothed contact which is arousing, it would not be a type of sexual act and therefore would be permissible.

  2. Theophanes the recluse says:

    ” Why, then, do so many Catholic commentators online promote unnatural sexual acts in marriage? Well, certain Catholics commit these grave sins within their own marriage. Then, when they are discussing the topic online, they are anxious to convince others that these acts are moral; otherwise, they themselves would be guilty of innumerable grave sexual sins”.

    Ron, let’s face if: the teachings of the Church regarding sexual Ethics are so strict that i think that less 1% of catholics in the world live up to the standard.

    I’m a catholic, but i study other religions as well, and i can tell you that our moral sexual ethic is BY FAR the strictest in the world.

    Just think about the fact that kids are supposed to remain completely virgin before they are married. This means that today most people should remain virgin until their middle 30’s (let alone married people, the divorced and remarried ecc. ecc.).

    Is it doable? Yes, is it something that every catholic in the world would realistically do? Maybe in a science fiction.

    I think that mitigating factors and diminished culpability play a major role here, otherwise i think that most catholics would be damned to hell, and in this case the irony would be that being catholic would decreas the chances of salvation, because for example the Ortodoxes are far less like to commit mortal sins in these matters, being their faith not even close as demanding as the catholic faith is, in matters of sexual morality; so i certainly think that mitigating factors have a huge role here.

    What do you think?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Certainly, not every objectively grave sin is also an actual mortal sin, due to mitigating factors. But we Catholics can do better.

    • matt z. says:

      If most Catholics are getting married in their middle thirties, they are getting married too late. Even so, for a Catholic the marital embrace is worth the wait. The problem is that the culture is way over sexualized

    • matt z. says:

      ONe thing I have seen people error on, even a few bishops, is that they don’t believe Gods grace is good enough to keep people chaste. They say the teaching is too hard. But we know Gods grace is sufficient!

    • DrBill says:

      in this case the irony would be that being catholic would decreas the chances of salvation, because for example the Ortodoxes are far less like to commit mortal sins in these matters, being their faith not even close as demanding as the catholic faith is, in matters of sexual morality;

      That only works if you think that, for the Orthodox, their ignorance if the truth of the Catholic faith is not culpable.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I agree that we cannot assume a blanket lack of culpability, whenever someone lacks a religion that teaches them something is sinful. All of morality is open to reason. Conscience can perceive that something is immoral, especially gravely immoral, even apart from Divine Revelation.

  3. Theophanes the recluse says:

    Excuse me if i made writing mistakes, Ron. Greetings from Italy.

  4. DrBill says:

    This is a nice post. I have a quibble with this, though:

    Why, then, do so many Catholic commentators online promote unnatural sexual acts in marriage? Well, certain Catholics commit these grave sins within their own marriage. Then, when they are discussing the topic online, they are anxious to convince others that these acts are moral

    I don’t notice that most people have difficulty admitting to sinning. In fact, a great many people, especially those one finds discussing these topics in public, seem creepily exhibitionistic about what great sinners they are.

    I think it is social approval in the larger society that such people are after. See, we Catholics are not all bunged up and repressed! Honest, we’re not! My wife and I do all sorts of perverse things! Like good Americans! Hey, did you know that married, religious people have the most sex? Hubba, hubba!

  5. Matt says:

    It is true that many couples marry in their mid to late 30’s these days and it is quite common that one or both had sexual relations and/or lived with someone (in sin) by then. I have seen in my line of work that prior sexual activity of one or both spouses has an eventual long term, subtle, negative effect in their relationship. Husbands, especially, revealed that the disclosure during the dating stage from their future wife that (she is not a virgin) was something they understood and reluctantly accepted (because everyone by then has a history). However, after they got married and the honeymoon phase was over, they start to suffer the occasional intrusive anxiety-invoking thoughts of their wife living and/or having sex with others before him. It is called retro-active jealousy. They suffer some low level resentment towards the wife over her past sexual activities. It is something that hangs over them that can never be changed. It does take forgiveness and therapy to deal with these issues.

    There are important reasons why the Catholic Church holds the position so strongly for everyone to remain a virgin until marriage. It is good for your long term mental health well being.

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