Monday, December 9, 2013

Ronald L. Conte on Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay

Question — 
Are unnatural sexual acts moral to use as foreplay, prior to an act of natural marital relations open to life? 
This all-too-common question asks whether married couples might use various types of unnatural sexual acts — manual sexual acts (masturbation of self or spouse, or various devices used in the same way), or oral sexual acts, or anal sexual acts — in the context of a subsequent, concomitant, or prior act of natural marital relations open to life. Sometimes the question refers specifically to completed sexual acts, i.e. acts that include sexual climax for one or both spouses. Other times the question refers to these same types of acts, but absent climax.
In a comment below, Mr. Conte clarifies that by sexual act, he means, 
... any deliberate use of the genital sexual faculty. Acts that are peripherally related to sexuality, such as flirting, kissing, embracing, are not per se sexual acts, even if they are in some sense sexual. 
When referring to per se sexual acts, Church documents use expressions such as: “the deliberate use of the sexual faculty” or “every genital act” or “every use of the faculty given by God for the procreation of new life”.
Source: ronconte [Ronald L. Conte, Jr.], comment, February 27, 2011 (4:31 p.m. PST), on "Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay," The Reproach of Christ Blog, February 20, 2011, accessed December 9, 2013,

To continue with the article:

There are three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. The Magisterium definitively teaches that to be moral an act must have three good fonts; any one bad font makes the act immoral and therefore sinful. [...]

The three fonts may be summarized in this way:

FIRST FONT: The intended end (or purpose) for which the act is chosen by the human person. The intention or purpose of the act is in the subject, the person who acts.

SECOND FONT: The intentionally chosen act with its moral nature, which is determined by the inherent ordering of the act toward its moral object. The moral object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the chosen act is directed, in and of itself. The choice of an act by the human person necessarily includes a choice of the act and its essential moral nature and its moral object. The moral nature and moral object of the act are in the objective act, not in the subject who chooses the act.

THIRD FONT: The circumstances pertaining to the morality of the act, especially the consequences. A moral evaluation of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of the chosen act, in terms of the love of God and neighbor, determines the morality of this font.

There is no other basis for the morality of an act apart from these three fonts. For any act to be moral, all three fonts must be good. If any one font is bad, the act is immoral, even if the other fonts are good. Each and every knowingly chosen act is judged solely by the three fonts of morality. The three fonts of morality are the sole determinant of the morality of each and every knowingly chosen act, without any exception whatsoever. Whoever rejects or contradicts this teaching overturns the very foundation of every moral teaching in the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Analysis of the Question

1. First Font – The intention is to use certain types of acts as foreplay, for the purpose of preparing for an act of natural marital relations. The intended end is good: natural marital relations open to life.

2. Second Font – The Magisterium teaches that, in order to be moral, a sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. The marital, unitive, and procreative meanings are the three interrelated good moral objects of any moral sexual act.

Evil is a deprivation of good; moral evil is a deprivation of some good required by the moral law, i.e. required by the love of God and the love of neighbor as self. The love of God and neighbor requires that each and every sexual act be marital, unitive, and procreative. When a sexual act is non-marital or non-unitive or non-procreative, then the act has a deprivation in its moral object, making the object evil and the act intrinsically evil.

An unnatural sexual act is intrinsically evil because this type of act is not procreative; it is inherently ordered toward the procreative meaning intended by God for each and every sexual act. Unnatural sexual acts are also not truly unitive (even if there is a type of mere physical union) because this is not the type of union intended by God for marriage. So even when the two persons committing the unnatural sexual acts are married to each other, the procreative and unitive meanings are absent, making such acts intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

3. Third Font – Sometimes this question is posed with a description of some dire (or supposedly dire) circumstance, such that the spouses would supposedly be unable to achieve natural marital relations without unnatural sexual acts as foreplay, or the wife would be unable to achieve sexual climax without unnatural sexual acts before, during, or after natural marital relations.

I find it difficult to believe that a Catholic married husband and wife cannot possibly consummate their love for one another, within the holy Sacrament established by the love of God, without the use of intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sexual acts. But even if this were the case, the Magisterium teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. [...]

Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil due to the deprivation of the procreative and unitive meanings. And the presence or absence of sexual climax does not change the moral object. An unnatural sexual act with sexual climax has the same evil moral object as an unnatural sexual act without sexual climax. The moral object has not changed, and so the moral nature of the act has not changed; it remains intrinsically evil. Therefore, no type of unnatural sexual act, with or without climax, can be used by a married couple at any time, regardless of whether or when an act of natural marital relations occurs.

All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-unitive sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. [...]

But lest anyone claim that no theologians give this type of answer, consider the following quotes from Catholic theologian Alice von Hildebrand. She wrote an article, criticizing the approach to sexuality used by Christopher West, and explaining the position of her late husband, theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand, on sexuality and in particular marital sexual ethics. Her answer is the theological position of herself as well as her husband, whom Pope Pius XII called a “twentieth century Doctor of the Church.” [...]

Saint Augustine of Hippo, in his moral treatise ‘On the Good of Marriage,’ writes on the subject of sexual intercourse within marriage:
“…nor be changed into that use which is against nature, on which the Apostle could not be silent, when speaking of the excessive corruptions of unclean and impious men…. by changing the natural use into that which is against nature, which is more damnable when it is done in the case of husband or wife.” (Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, section 11).
The expression ‘that use which is against nature’ refers to unnatural sexual acts, such as oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex. Saint Augustine condemns such acts unequivocally. He even states that such unnatural sexual acts are even more damnable (i.e. even more serious mortal sins) when these take place within marriage. For God is even more offended by a sexual mortal sin that takes place within the Sacrament of Marriage, since this offense is not only against nature, but also against a Holy Sacrament. “So then, of all to whom much has been given, much will be required. And of those to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48).
“For, whereas that natural use, when it pass beyond the compact of marriage, that is, beyond the necessity of begetting, is pardonable in the case of a wife, damnable in the case of an harlot; that which is against nature is execrable when done in the case of an harlot, but more execrable in the case of a wife…. But, when the man shall wish to use the member of the wife not allowed for this purpose, the wife is more shameful, if she suffer it to take place in her own case, than if in the case of another woman.” (Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, section 12).
In this passage, Saint Augustine first compares natural sexual relations within marriage, done out of impure desires, to the same natural sexual acts outside of marriage. He teaches that having natural sexual relations within marriage, when done to satisfy a somewhat impure desire, is pardonable, i.e. a venial sin, but that natural sexual relations outside of marriage is damnable, i.e. a mortal sin. Then Saint Augustine goes on to consider ‘that which is against nature,’ i.e. unnatural sexual acts. He condemns such unnatural sexual acts as ‘execrable’ (utterly detestable, abominable, abhorrent). Therefore these acts are among the worst of the sexual mortal sins. He also teaches that unnatural sexual acts within marriage, far from being permitted because they take place within marriage, are even worse, calling them ‘even more execrable,’ than the same unnatural sexual acts outside of marriage. Again, this is because the sin is not only against nature, but against a Holy Sacrament instituted by Christ himself for the sake of our salvation.

Therefore, unnatural sexual acts do not become permissible when these take place within marriage. Instead, unnatural sexual acts are made even more sinful when these take place within marriage because they offend against both nature and a Sacrament.

The answer of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Notice, in the quote [sic] below, that St. Thomas held sexual sins within marriage to be worse than adultery, because the act occurs within the good of marriage. He did not teach that all sexual acts within marriage are moral, nor did he teach that all sexual acts between a husband and wife are moral.
“And since the man who is too ardent a lover of his wife acts counter to the good of marriage if he use her indecently, although he be not unfaithful, he may in a sense be called an adulterer; and even more so than he that is too ardent a lover of another woman.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 8).
The phrasing ‘if he use her indecently’ refers to unnatural sexual acts within marriage. This is clear because the good of marriage emphasized by St. Thomas is the procreation of children (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 2). St. Thomas could not be referring to natural marital relations when he says ‘if he use her indecently’ because even natural marital relations done with some disorder of desire still retains the unitive and procreative meanings. But unnatural sexual acts lack both meanings, and so they are contrary to the good of marriage. The use of unnatural sexual acts within marriage is therefore worse than adultery.

St. Thomas again condemns this same type of act later in the same question.
“Lastly comes the sin of not observing the right manner of copulation, which is more grievous if the abuse regards the ‘vas’ than if it affects the manner of copulation in respect of other circumstances.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 12).
First, the word ‘vas’ is Latin for vessel, referring to the use of other bodily orifices for sexual acts. If a husband treats his wife lustfully during natural marital relations, he sins. But he commits a more grievous offense, which is called by St. Thomas an abuse, if he sins by committing unnatural sexual acts (i.e. using an unnatural part of the body as a ‘vessel’ for sexual intercourse). Here St. Thomas explicitly (but in discrete language) condemns the sin of unnatural sexual acts within marriage.

Second, it is clear (in the quote from article 8 above) that St. Thomas taught that a married couple is not justified in committing any sexual acts whatsoever within marriage. Otherwise, he would not have taught that a man who is too ardent a lover of his wife commits a sin that is like adultery and yet worse than adultery. Therefore, those who claim that there are no sins for a husband and wife having sexual relations with each other are in error.

Third, neither does St. Thomas even consider the absurd argument that acts which are intrinsically evil and gravely immoral by themselves could become good and moral when combined in some way with natural marital relations open to life. If this were the case, then St. Thomas could not have compared a man who is too ardent a lover of his wife to an adulterer. For if he took the position of certain modern-day commentators, then he would have to say that a husband’s ardent love would be entirely justified, as long as “the semen are not misdirected.” Notice that Saint Thomas takes no such position; he does not sum up the marital act as merely the proper direction of semen, as so many persons erroneously claim today. [...]

[...] consider what the Magisterium teaches about the morality of sexual acts within marriage:

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explicitly considers the idea that a set of sexual acts within marriage would be justifiable as long as some of the acts are procreative:
“Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act?” (Humanae Vitae, n 3).
This principle of totality is, in essence, what is being proposed by some commentators today, who claim that only one sexual act out of many in the marital bedroom needs to be natural marital relations open to life. They suggest an approach that would justify any arbitrary number and kind of non-procreative and non-unitive sexual acts, as long as these occur as part of a set, or within the same arbitrary time frame, as an act of natural intercourse.

Pope Paul VI rejects this approach:
“The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12).
The unitive significance and the procreative significance are inherent to the very nature of the marital sexual act. Therefore, the unitive and procreative meanings are moral objects, essential to make sexual acts within marriage good by their nature. And their absence makes the moral object evil, by the deprivation of a good required by the will of God for marriage, and the act intrinsically evil, by its very nature. Unnatural sexual acts are non-unitive and non-procreative, therefore these acts are intrinsically evil. [...]
“Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14).
The procreative and unitive sexual acts of past or future cannot be merged to form a single moral entity, such that these intrinsically evil acts would become just as moral as natural marital relations open to life. For the deprivation of the unitive and/or procreative meanings is intrinsically evil. [...]
“But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who, in exercising it, deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 54)
Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically against nature because the conjugal act is primarily directed toward procreation, the begetting of children. Those persons (married or not) who deliberately choose sexual acts deprived of the natural power and purpose of procreation “sin against nature” and commit a shameful and intrinsically evil act. [...]
[...] any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 55) [...]
For all sexual acts are a deliberate use of the sexual faculty, and all unnatural sexual acts are a deliberate choice of act that are inherently non-procreative. If the Pope had wished to narrow his statements to only contraception, he would not have said “any use whatsoever,” or if he had wished to allow unnatural sexual acts within marriage, he would not have said “any use whatsoever of matrimony.” Instead, he unequivocally proclaimed the Magisterium’s definitive teaching, which is also found in natural law, that each and every marital sexual act must include both the unitive and procreative meanings. This teaching necessarily prohibits the married couple from engaging in any kind of unnatural sexual act (with or without climax), because all such acts lack the procreative and unitive meanings.


Source: Ronald L. Conte, "Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay," The Reproach of Christ Blog, February 20, 2011, accessed December 9, 2013,

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