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Chapter 9: Marriage, Sexual Acts, and Family Life

Question E: What Sexual Acts Are Appropriate for Christians?

Sexual act refers to any act whatsoever—whether thought, word, or deed—in which someone intends, either as an end in itself or as a means to some other end, to bring about or maintain sexual arousal and/or to cause incomplete or complete sexual satisfaction, whether in himself or herself, in another, or both.

Since sexual capacity enables human persons to participate in the good of marital communion, Christian married couples should engage in sexual acts which are conducive to that good and are otherwise reasonable, but should avoid all other sexual activity. If a sexual act is not marital, it violates the good of marriage, and so is not appropriate for any Christian.

All intentional sexual acts that violate the good of marriage—and this includes all intentional sexual acts of the unmarried—are grave matter. However, not all acts leading to sexual satisfaction are intentional. Moreover, not all sins which intentionally violate the marital good are mortal, since mortal sin requires not only grave matter but sufficient reflection and consent.

Chastity subordinates sexual desire and activity to love and reason, that is, to self-giving and the requirements of relevant intelligible human goods. Grace empowers every Christian to pursue chastity and attain it.

In this question, the norms of chastity will be articulated only insofar as they follow from the good of marriage itself. Some wrongful sexual acts, whether done by married couples or others, violate one or more goods in addition to the good of marital communion; for example, contraception always is a contralife act (see 8.E.2, above). Therefore, the treatment of such acts here should be studied in conjunction with their treatment in other chapters.160

1. Married Couples Should Engage in Chaste Marital Acts

Marital intercourse and sexual acts preparatory to it often are not only suitable but obligatory for married couples. But since even married couples can have various reasons for not engaging in sexual acts, the obligation is subject to exceptions. Moreover, not all sexual acts within marriage are conducive to the good of marriage, and only those fully integrated with commitment to this good are chaste. Hence, Christian married couples should not consider themselves entitled to any and every sexual activity which they find mutually agreeable, but should engage in chaste acts of marital intercourse.

a) A married couple’s sexual act can fail to be a marital act. The first marital intercourse consummates the marriage by making the husband and wife actually to be one flesh. Subsequent acts of marital intercourse express and foster conjugal love:

 This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the marital act. The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are morally good and fitting. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions signify and foster that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with joyful and grateful hearts. (GS 49)
Considering how marital intercourse expresses and fosters marital communion makes clear precisely what is required for a marital act.

Since the unselfish cooperation of a society’s members for its common good is the mutual self-giving which expresses and fosters its unity, the sexual acts of a married couple express and foster their communion primarily because they contribute to the common good of marriage, which realizes their specific potentiality as husband and wife. But, as has been explained (in A.2), the organic complementarity of man and woman in respect to reproduction is the necessary condition for the very possibility of marriage, and the requirements of human parenting specify the characteristics of marriage as an open-ended community. Therefore, marital acts must realize both the spouses’ open-ended community and their organic complementarity.

The married couple’s open-ended community depends on their mutual consent, by which each spouse, in willing their common good, wills the other’s good for his or her own sake. Genuine marital acts therefore must be performed willingly and lovingly. They cannot involve coercion of either party by the other or of both by a third party; nor can they involve one party’s mere use of the other for selfish satisfaction or one’s mere manipulation of the other to attain some extrinsic end.

At the same time, the couple’s willing and loving behavior must constitute the cooperation appropriate to realize their organic complementarity in respect to reproduction. In most instances, of course, physiological conditions preclude conception. However, those conditions are not part of the human act of intercourse, for they are neither included in the couple’s behavior nor subject to their choice. So, the appropriateness of their human act of sexual intercourse to realize their organic complementarity depends, not on its being able to cause conception, but only on its being the pattern of behavior which, in conjunction with other necessary conditions, would result in conception. In Church teaching, this relationship between marital intercourse and organic complementarity is expressed by saying that a true marital act is “of itself suited to procreating human life” or is “open to new life.”161

Thus, a marital act expresses and fosters the couple’s marital communion precisely because, when they willingly and lovingly cooperate with each other in an act of itself suited to procreating, their mutual self-giving actualizes their one-flesh unity. If one or both spouses engage in a sexual act which does not realize one-flesh unity in this way, that act is not marital.162

This point can be expressed in other terms. The marital act’s character as willing and loving cooperation can be called its “unitive meaning,” and its suitability for generation can be called its “procreative meaning.” Using this terminology, the point is that the unitive meaning of marital intercourse includes its procreative meaning and is specified by it, just as the single good of marriage includes and is fulfilled by having and raising children.163 Thus, because the marital act’s procreative meaning is part of its unitive meaning, the two meanings are inseparable, for a whole cannot be without its parts.

Since, as has been explained, the definition of the marital act follows from what marriage is, and the part-whole relationship between the marital act’s two meanings is a necessary implication of its definition, that relationship is determined by the features of human beings which determine what marriage is: the complementary capacities of male and female persons, the natural inclination of men and women to realize those capacities, and the principle of practical reason directing them to do so. Insofar as these features of men and women pertain to human nature, their source is God, the author of nature. Thus, as Paul VI teaches, God established the connection between the conjugal act’s two inherent meanings, and people may not separate them.164 If people do so in some sexual act, it simply is not a marital act.165

In sum, a married couple’s sexual act can fail in either of two ways to be a marital act: (i) if at least one partner performs the act unwillingly or unlovingly (for example, if a third party compels a married couple to engage in intercourse, if a drunken husband forces his reluctant wife to submit, or if a wife has intercourse with her husband while deliberately wishing she were having intercourse with another man); or (ii) if either or both spouses do anything inconsistent with their act’s being of itself suited to procreating (for example, if spouses unable to engage in intercourse due to the husband’s impotence masturbate each other to orgasm, if a couple trying to prevent the transmission of disease use a condom, or if either or both spouses do something in order to impede conception).

Provided the couple willingly and lovingly do what is suited to cause conception when the other necessary causal factors are given, their human act is marital even if they know that those factors will not be given—that they are infertile, temporarily or permanently—due to causes extrinsic to their action. Moreover, provided the husband and wife do what is of itself suited to procreating, their will to engage in true marital intercourse is the only intention they must have to make what they do a marital act. They may also intend to procreate, but, even if conception is possible, they need not; it is sufficient if they simply intend to actualize their one-flesh unity so that they can experience and enjoy it.166

b) Marital chastity empowers couples both to act and to abstain. Conjugal love is many faceted. It normally includes both erotic desire and emotional affection; moreover, for Christians living in God’s friendship, it is transformed and elevated by charity. However, the essence of conjugal love is the husband’s and the wife’s mutual and unselfish willing of the good of marital communion, and, for the sake of that good, of each other’s entire personal good (see GS 49). The willing of a good leads to the integration of acts with it, and the full integration of sexual acts in marriage with the good of marriage makes those acts reasonable and worthy. Hence, consistent and genuine conjugal love leads to reasonable and worthy sexual acts in marriage. Now, such sexual acts are chaste; so, conjugal love leads to marital chastity.167

Many people are attached to their personal independence, and some experience strong feelings of reserve and inhibitions against intimacy. Motivated by the unselfish willing of marital communion, marital chastity enables husbands and wives to overcome such attachments, feelings, and inhibitions, and so to engage in genuine marital acts and grow in marital communion. Marital chastity also enables a husband and a wife to abstain at appropriate times: when they are not together, when they lack privacy, when either reasonably prefers not to engage in intercourse, when intercourse might lead to new life but there are good reasons not to have a child (or another child), and so on.

c) Marital chastity subordinates sexual pleasure to communion. The pleasurable sensations of sexual activity culminating in orgasm are in themselves a private and incommunicable experience. Hence, to focus attention on this experience and strive to intensify it as much as possible tends to make the other person into a means, a “sex object.” So, the Church teaches that spouses should pursue sexual gratification only in subordination to marital love.168 Marital chastity, by making the marital good itself central, makes it possible for the experience of loving cooperation in one-flesh communion to predominate and enjoyable sensations to take their proper, subordinate place in marital intercourse. Thus subordinated, erotic pleasure no matter how intense, is morally good (see S.t., 2–2, q. 153, a. 2, ad 2).

The point is clarified by John Paul II’s teaching that a man can commit adultery in his heart by looking lustfully at his own wife. He does not mean spouses may not look at each other with erotic desire or with the intention of arousing desire in themselves and each other. To look lustfully instead means to reduce “the riches of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the riches of the deep attractiveness of masculinity and femininity, to mere satisfaction of the sexual ‘need’ of the body.” The person looked at in this way is made into a sex object. Hence: “Man can commit this adultery ‘in the heart’ also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.” And a woman likewise can commit this adultery toward her own husband.169

d) If reason calls for abstinence, intercourse cannot express love. Even when it is not appropriate to engage in marital intercourse, people often are tempted and constrained to do so by sexual excitement and desire. Of itself, however, sexual drive does not express love; it is no more communicative than any other biological drive. Outward behavior can express what is in one’s mind and heart only insofar as it is, not the result of a biological drive, but a free self-communication. Thus, if an uncontrollable nervous condition causes a man from time to time to blurt out “Yes, yes!” everyone soon realizes that his “Yes, yes!” is meaningless. If his wife wants his agreement about anything important, she asks him to put it in writing. Likewise, to be expressive, sexual activity must be free, and to convey genuine love, it must tend to common benefit; unless freely chosen for the sake of common benefit, marital intercourse cannot express and nurture unselfish love.170

It follows that to be able to give oneself in marital intercourse so that the act means something, one needs self-control sufficient to be able to choose not to engage in intercourse when reason, considering all the relevant goods, calls for abstinence. At such times, love is expressed and fostered not by intercourse but by mutual support in abstaining cheerfully. Consequently, marital love requires a husband and a wife to develop marital chastity, that is, to subordinate genital arousal and satisfaction to the reasonable claims of all the aspects of their common good as a married couple. By enabling the couple both to come together when appropriate and to abstain when appropriate, marital chastity empowers them to engage in sexual acts which truly embody love, rather than merely manifest an urge for self-satisfaction.171

e) Marriage quiets concupiscence by subjecting desire to love. Having taught that it is good for the unmarried and widows to remain so, St. Paul adds: “But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7.9; cf. 7.2, 5).172 This norm is reflected by the traditional view that one of marriage’s secondary ends is to serve as a “remedy for concupiscence” (see DS 3718/2241). Concupiscence here refers to sexual drive considered precisely insofar as it is affected by sin and tends toward satisfaction without regard to intelligible goods.

It is a mistake to suppose that marriage quiets concupiscence simply by providing a legitimate outlet for it, since experience shows that satisfying desire soon intensifies it, and that marriage does not automatically lessen one’s sexual drive or focus it exclusively on one’s spouse. The point rather is that for most Christians who wish to attain self-control but do not have the gift of complete continence for the kingdom’s sake, marriage with its sacramental grace and conjugal love can provide a way of developing the virtue of chastity.173

f) Spouses should cooperate lovingly in marital intercourse. St. Paul teaches that spouses have an obligation to engage in marital intercourse:

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7.3–5)
Paul’s formulation makes it clear that the obligation is mutual; in this matter, husband and wife are entirely equal. The reason is that in marrying, the two become one so truly that neither may regard his or her body as exclusively his or her own.174

Like all other affirmative obligations, this one has limits, and it must be understood correctly. Nobody can have an obligation to do what is wrong, and so there is no obligation to cooperate in intercourse if the couple morally ought to abstain, whether to avoid pregnancy or for some other reason. Again, the obligation is to engage in marital intercourse, and so there is no obligation to cooperate if contraception is used, or if one’s spouse cannot engage in a human act, for example, due to alcohol or other substance abuse. Furthermore, as will be explained (in H.2.a), an adulterous spouse loses his or her right to marital intimacy.

If either party wishes for any reason not to have marital intercourse, the other manifests love and strengthens marital communion by complying with that wish, and so should abstain without resentment. At the same time, not every reason for abstaining is so morally compelling that it would be wrong for the couple to have marital intercourse if both are willing. For example, if one spouse has a serious disease that might be communicated through intercourse, the protection of the other’s health is a reason for abstinence, yet the immediate contribution of chaste intercourse to marital communion can justify risks to health, even serious ones, especially if the alternative is prolonged abstinence. Consequently, assuming the couple do not have some additional reason (such as responsibilities to their children) to protect health, in such a case they may agree to have intercourse and accept the bad side effect of risk to health.175

g) Unreasonable refusal of marital intercourse is a grave matter. As has been explained, each spouse’s right to intercourse has limits, and usually when either is reluctant to have intercourse, the other should not insist. Still, sometimes a spouse has no justifying reason for being unwilling to cooperate. Such unwillingness can be motivated by anger and hatred, an unreasonable desire to avoid offspring, the manipulative use of marital intercourse to compel compliance in other matters, excessive preoccupation with other activities, and so on. Sometimes, too, one spouse without good reason travels alone or stays away from home for some time, thus depriving the other of the opportunity for marital intimacy. In all such cases, when the spouse deprived of marital intimacy makes it clear, by saying so or in any other way, that he or she desires it, the other should cooperate lovingly, and refusal is a grave matter.

The wrong of unreasonable reluctance to engage in marital intimacy admits of parvity but, like other injustices, only in cases in which, typically, the one who suffers the wrong considers it insignificant: for example, because intimacy is not denied for long and the unreasonable motive is not ill will but only some understandable weakness.

Of course, sometimes the spouses disagree about whether a refusal of marital intercourse is reasonable. Then both should try to find a harmonious solution, but if that is impossible, the spouse deprived of desired intimacy must remain faithful. Moreover, such a spouse should be tolerant, for even when a denial of intimacy is plainly unjustified, physical force, psychological coercion, nagging, and resentment are both incompatible with marital love and ineffective for obtaining the loving cooperation required for true marital communion.

h) Marital sexual acts short of intercourse can be chaste. Ejaculation by the male in the female’s vagina is necessary for sexual intercourse insofar as it is a reproductive function, and so such ejaculation is necessary for a complete act of marital intercourse. However, within marriage various sexual acts short of complete intercourse can be chaste. Of course, like intercourse itself, such acts are chaste only insofar as spouses seek in them, not pleasure alone, but the wider good of marital communion in which pleasure is a subordinate element. Therefore, what is said here about acts short of intercourse should be understood, not as advising the married how they can maximize sexual gratification without committing mortal sins, but as clarifying some of the requirements of marital chastity.

Marital sexual acts short of intercourse are good in themselves if they (i) are necessary or helpful to marital intercourse and/or (ii) express and foster marital affection. Still, even if good in itself, an act short of intercourse can be bad due to a wrong intention or some circumstance. Thus, such acts become bad if they either (iii) are intended to bring about complete sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse or (iv) are in some other way at odds with the good of marital communion.176

i) Mutually agreeable erotic words, looks, gestures, and bodily contact of various sorts, including manual and oral stimulation of the genitals, can prepare psychologically and/or physiologically for marital intercourse, and can intensify the experience of communion and make it more gratifying. Self-stimulating acts also can prepare oneself for intercourse.

ii) In the intervals between marital intercourse, interaction leading to moderate sexual arousal can both bring about a continuing experience of one-flesh communion and prepare indirectly and remotely for eventual marital intercourse. Thus, when abstinence from intercourse is appropriate, married couples sometimes rightly express and foster their affection by sexually stimulating interaction.

iii) Any act of the wife or the husband intended to bring about his ejaculation outside her vagina cannot be ordered directly to marital intercourse, and so is not a marital act. As will be explained, every attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction in a nonmarital act is wrong, and so such nonmarital acts always are morally excluded. If such acts are intended to serve in some way as means to the marital good—by maintaining intimacy when intercourse is impossible, satiating the sexual urge during a period of separation and so lessening temptation to commit adultery, treating sexual dysfunction, and so on—they are morally bad means to an ulterior good end.177

The wife’s complete sexual satisfaction (orgasm) is not necessary for sexual intercourse insofar as it is a reproductive function, but it does contribute to complete marital intercourse as a mutually satisfying experience of one-flesh communion. Hence, acts by the husband or the wife intended to intensify to orgasm her sexual arousal in continuity with any complete act of marital intercourse belong to that intercourse, and so they are marital, even if done during foreplay or after the husband’s ejaculation and withdrawal. However, any act intended to bring about her orgasm through arousal in no way continuous with that involved in marital intercourse would be a nonmarital act, and therefore wrong.

iv) A couple’s sexual acts short of intercourse can be incompatible with marital communion in various other ways: by being repugnant to either spouse (with the result that they do not express affection), by using pornographic material to bring about sexual arousal (thus arousing adulterous desire toward a third party), by involving significant and avoidable risk of causing the husband to ejaculate unintentionally outside his wife’s vagina (thus interfering with complete intercourse and/or tempting him to intend the nonmarital satisfaction), by causing frustration and tension due to excessive arousal when intercourse is inappropriate, and so on.

Many acts that appear to meet the other criteria must be excluded inasmuch as they do not meet this one. For instance, some wives find oral stimulation of the penis repugnant, and for many men the practice leads to ejaculation outside the vagina. Again, any self-stimulation which does not pertain very closely to marital intercourse is likely to constitute masturbation or to be an occasion of that sin (see 2.f, below).

i) The circumstances of marital sexual acts should be suitable. Various circumstances can require abstinence. Couples should not neglect other serious responsibilities requiring a temporary separation or brief delay of marital intercourse. Serious health risks that can be avoided by temporary abstinence from intercourse require couples to practice such restraint, for example, for a few weeks before and after childbirth. Usually, to avoid scandal and/or serious distraction from the experience of marital communion, intercourse and acts short of it involving any exposure of or contact with the genitals must be conducted in strict privacy, and so must be delayed if privacy is unavailable.

In order that marital intercourse provide a full and mutually satisfying experience of communion and not be reduced to a routine function, couples also should try to arrange favorable circumstances. These often include lessening the frequency of intercourse, engaging in conversation and/or recreational activities as a context for sexual intimacy, and arranging a time free of excessive fatigue, distractions, and pressure to hurry. For the same reason, couples may either try to achieve simultaneous orgasms, if they think the experience will enhance their intercourse as communion, or dispense with that effort, if they find it more distracting than helpful. All such wholesome efforts to enhance marital intercourse as an experience of communion must be distinguished from the hedonistic use of techniques focusing solely on the intensification of erotic sensations.

2. Married Persons Should Not Engage in Other Sexual Acts

The married should never seek sexual satisfaction with a person other than their spouse. Married couples should not seek complete sexual satisfaction apart from a genuine marital act. Apart from chaste marital acts, including those short of but appropriately related to marital intercourse, married persons should never choose to do anything in order to sexually stimulate themselves or others.178

a) Adultery in deed or in desire is always wrong. Whenever a married person engages in sexual intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual, with someone other than his or her spouse, and whenever a single person knowingly engages in sexual intercourse with someone who is married, both parties commit adultery and violate the good of marital communion. If both are married, they sin doubly by violating both their own and each other’s marriages.

Adultery is bad for many reasons which are plain even to people who lack the light of faith. It tends toward either polygyny or divorce. Sometimes a wife tolerates her husband’s habitual adultery, and he has one or more concubines, mistresses, or informal, transient, sequential relationships with other women. Such arrangements are somewhat like polygyny and impose similar disadvantages on the wife and children. But unlike wives and children in polygynous relationships, the families of habitual adulterers are not protected by commonly accepted social norms, and so are all the more likely to suffer harm.

Apart from such cases, either spouse usually experiences the other’s adultery as a grave betrayal. Unless repented, the adulterous spouse’s infidelity deprives his or her sexual acts within marriage of their capacity to express self-giving and signify marital communion; and the innocent spouse who is aware of unrepented infidelity naturally finds intimacy, or even its prospect, repugnant. Moreover, by undermining the trust necessary for confident self-giving, adultery severely strains the whole marital relationship. Thus, unless the betrayal is repented and the relationship rebuilt, adultery often leads to divorce. As for secret adultery, it involves serious deception, which is inconsistent with openness and mutuality. Finally, when adulterous relationships result in conception, paternity may be uncertain and, in any case, the child, if permitted to survive, seldom is raised in a stable family (see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 8).

The light of faith makes the evil of adultery even clearer. Scripture severely condemns this sin.179 Jesus teaches that to “look at a woman with lust”—that is, deliberately to entertain illicit sexual desire180—is sufficient to constitute the sin (see Mt 5.27–28). The Christian tradition also makes it clear that the norm excluding adultery is exceptionless. Since the ordinary, universal magisterium has proposed the traditional teaching on adultery as a revealed truth, this norm certainly has been infallibly taught and should be accepted with the assent of faith (see CMP, 35.D–E).

If one spouse commits adultery without the other’s consent, the adulterous spouse violates his or her duty of faithfulness toward the betrayed spouse. But even if one spouse consents to the other’s adulterous act, the sin remains adultery (see DS 2150/1200), inasmuch as both spouses violate their marital communion.

Acts intended to express or arouse sexual desire which are short of complete adulterous intercourse but involve a married person and any third party share the moral character of adultery. Moreover, even if adultery is only in the heart and remains hidden from the spouse, it gravely harms marital communion, because the will to commit adultery is inconsistent with marital love as an act of the will.

b) Incestuous adultery is an especially grave immorality. Many circumstances can add to the immorality of adultery. Several of these will be treated (in 3.f), since they also affect the moral character of sexual sins involving no married person. But one factor deserves mention here. Sometimes adultery involves a married person and someone in that person’s family, for example, a married man has intercourse with his own daughter. Such adultery also is incest, and it violates not only the same goods as other adultery but also familial roles and relationships (see 3.f, below). Moreover, unless both parties consent, sexual intercourse is rape (see 8.G.2). Hence, incest involving a child too young to consent also is rape.

c) Bigamous relationships and remarriage after divorce are adultery. Once a person makes a marital commitment, any choice he or she makes to begin another sexually intimate relationship alongside or in place of the marriage radically violates the good of marital communion, and is adultery in an even more profound sense than particular acts of adulterous intercourse. A couple who attempt to dissolve their marriage in order to make way for new relationships with others do not avoid the sin. Hence, Jesus teaches that divorce with attempted remarriage constitutes adultery for both parties (see Mt 5.32, Mk 10.11–12; cf. 1 Cor 7.10–11). Since any deliberate desire for a relationship alongside or in place of one’s marriage is adultery, the deliberate wish that one’s marriage did not exist so that one would be free to marry someone else also constitutes adultery.

d) Christian spouses should treat their marriage as sacred. Insofar as the marital union itself is the reality that is the sacrament, adultery which involves a Christian marriage is a sacrilege inasmuch as it violates the marital union.181 Therefore, Christian spouses, who ought to regard their marriage as sacred, should avoid adultery not only out of fidelity to each other but also, and equally directly, out of fidelity to Jesus. They should personally resist, and help each other to resist, not only specific temptations to commit adultery in deed, but every desire to do so, every fantasy of a different partner, every temptation to consider their marriage dissoluble, every wish that they were not married to each other.

e) Spouses should not engage in complete, nonmarital sexual acts. True marital acts must be (i) a loving cooperation (ii) open to new life.

i) If a couple have sexual intercourse while one or both deliberately wish it were with a different partner, or if a couple are forced to engage in intercourse, it is not loving cooperation. If one spouse forces the other to submit to intercourse, the act cannot express and foster love, but rather damages marital communion. That is so even if the spouse using force is provoked by a wrongful denial of marital intimacy, since the violent act cannot realize marital communion, which requires loving cooperation.182

ii) As explained previously (in 1.a), the marital intercourse of a sterile couple can be open to new life. Sexual intercourse is open to new life when the couple do not intend to impede conception and their performance is such that conception would result if the physiological conditions were conducive to it. However, if either or both spouses seek complete satisfaction (orgasm) by cooperating in any sort of act which is not open to new life, that act is not marital.183 That is so even if there is no intent to impede new life, for example, if a husband uses a condom to prevent the transmission of disease, a couple engages in mutual masturbation for variety’s sake, or a wife intentionally stimulates her husband to orgasm when the couple for some reason are incapable of intercourse.

Inasmuch as a sexual act involving complete satisfaction is not marital intercourse, it is wrong. It violates the sixth mode of responsibility (see CMP, 8.F) because, by diverting the couple’s sexual behavior and experience from the good of marriage in its integrity, it damages that good and substitutes a merely apparent good: some of the psychological satisfactions or sentient pleasures pertaining to marital sex isolated from its wholeness. If such an act is chosen with the intent to impede new life, it also is contraceptive, and so is wrong because it violates the seventh or eighth mode of responsibility (see 8.E.3).

What about those cases, unfortunately not rare, in which the spouses are not of one mind, one wishing to engage in a sexual act not open to new life and the other wishing to have true marital intercourse? May the latter spouse cooperate in the act? The answer is that marital intercourse is a unitary act in which the spouses are united as a single, conjoint agent. Hence, it cannot occur as a moral act unless both spouses will it. Therefore, when either spouse wills that the act not be open to new life and the other knows it, he or she cannot cooperate without participating in a nonmarital act. Since such acts are wrong, formal cooperation in them also is wrong. (On the meaning of formal cooperation, see 7.F.1, above; CMP, 12.G.)184

f) Married persons never should seek independent sexual satisfaction. As has been explained, the married may engage in various marital acts short of intercourse and may stimulate themselves to prepare for marital intercourse (see 1.h). But if either husband or wife intentionally does anything to obtain sexual satisfaction without reference to his or her spouse, that act is contrary to the gift of self which realizes the good of marriage, and so violates marital communion. Such acts involve infidelity, because by them married persons treat their bodies, which they had dedicated to one-flesh communion, as if retaining authority over them.

An attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction plainly lacks reference to one’s spouse in either of two cases: (i) if it is intentionally directed to complete sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse, and (ii) if it involves reference to some third party (whether or not it is directed to complete sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse). In these cases, the act is wrong not only specifically as infidelity, but also on the same basis (which will be explained) as masturbation or fornication for those who are not married.

Moreover, such acts cannot be justified by any sort of ulterior reference to the good of marriage—for example, as part of a program of treatment for sexual dysfunction or as stimulation to prepare for marital intercourse—since, even given such an ulterior reference, they are bad means to the good end.

g) The married sometimes commit venial sins against chastity. For the married, there can be light matter in sins of unchastity in two ways.

i) There can be some imperfection in the motivation for engaging in marital intercourse. Quite often, the emotional motivation underlying the choice to engage in it is not fully integrated with conjugal love, so that either or both spouses focus too much on individual satisfaction, with the bad result that the experience of marital communion is less perfect than it should be. And sometimes the spouses unreasonably choose to engage in or refrain from intercourse, but their unreasonableness bears only on circumstances and does not involve any intention inconsistent with the marital good. For example, a wife seeks marital intercourse late in the evening, although realizing that she should not because her husband will be overly tired the next day. Again, a husband whose wife readily complies with his wishes about marital intercourse does not always attend as carefully as he knows he should to her tacit desire to engage in or abstain from it. Still, in such cases, the intention is to act for and enjoy the marital good and involves nothing at odds with that good. So, the matter can be light if the moral defect is not so great that the act seriously violates some other good.185

ii) As has been explained, incomplete sexual acts by the married can be good if they are oriented toward marital intercourse or, more generally, toward maintaining and fostering the ongoing marital communion, but are gravely bad if oriented toward any complete sexual act other than marital intercourse. However, sometimes the married intentionally seek or maintain incomplete satisfaction in acts whose orientation is ambiguous, inasmuch as they serve neither the habitual intention of marital communion nor any intention at odds with it, but are motivated by inadequately integrated emotional sexual desire, which might eventually lead toward marital intercourse but also might constitute a temptation to violate the marital good. (While not grave matter in themselves, such sins will be grave matter if they are occasions of other sins: masturbation, adultery in the heart, and so on.)

In both (i) and (ii), there is no violation of the marital good because the intention is in no way contrary to it. But there is a violation of sexual morality, because the intention bears on sexual arousal and satisfaction, and the act is morally defective due to inadequately integrated desire. All such defects would be overcome by perfect marital chastity, but even spouses who never will anything at odds with marital love can be motivated by erotic feelings that are not integrated with their good will, and so sometimes commit venial sins against marital chastity.

3. The Unmarried Should Never Engage in Any Sexual Act

It is traditional Catholic teaching that “only in legitimate marriage does the use of the sexual faculty find its true meaning and its probity.”186 The basis of this teaching is that all human acts must be evaluated by objective criteria, based on the nature of human persons and human action, and all sexual acts must respect the full meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love (see GS 51).

For the unmarried, all sexual acts are wrong because in one or another way they violate the good of marriage, that is, the good of fully personal one-flesh communion realized in true marital acts. Sexual acts outside marriage also may violate various other goods.

The explanations proposed in this section attempt only to show the primary reasons why sexual acts of the unmarried are wrong. How serious such sins are is another matter. It will be shown below (in 6) that no sexual sin which violates the good of marriage admits parvity of matter. Of course, such a sin might not be mortal, since there is no mortal sin without sufficient reflection and full consent.

a) Complete nonmarital sexual acts are of three basic kinds. A complete sexual act is one in which someone seeks complete satisfaction, that is, orgasm. Apart from adultery, which the unmarried also commit when they have intercourse with those who are married, the unmarried can engage in three basic kinds of complete sexual acts.

i) An unmarried individual can intentionally think, do, or undergo something other than intercourse to bring about his or her own orgasm.187 Such an act is masturbation, regardless of the means used.

ii) An unmarried man and woman can willingly engage in sexual intercourse, intending that at least the man enjoy complete satisfaction by ejaculating in the woman’s vagina. Such an act is fornication.

iii) Two unmarried men can willingly engage in anal or oral intercourse, intending that at least one of them enjoy complete satisfaction by ejaculating within the other’s body. Such an act is sodomy, that is, homosexual intercourse.188

Other complete sexual acts involving two or more unmarried individuals are reducible to one or more of these three basic kinds. They are of two sorts.

i) Some are nothing more than cooperation in masturbation, in the sense that the intention of everyone involved is only that all or some of them reach orgasm. For example, a group of boys whose orientation is heterosexual play a game which involves sexually arousing one another. Such acts have the same moral character as masturbation (apart from any additional sins of thought and scandal involved).

ii) Others, for at least one participant, either substitute for or approximate to intercourse. For example, a boy and a girl stop short of fornication but fondle each other’s genitals until at least one has an orgasm; a lesbian couple stimulate each other to orgasm. Such acts have essentially the same moral character as the relevant kind of intercourse, although differences in the likelihood of extramarital pregnancy, the possibility of transmitting disease, or other factors may make them more or less seriously wrong than fornication or homosexual intercourse.

b) All acts of these three kinds violate the good of marriage. As was explained in treating adultery, sexual intercourse involving a married and an unmarried person always is adultery for both parties, and masturbation by a married person is a specific kind of infidelity. Hence, the acts under consideration here are done by the unmarried; and since they need not be interested in the good of marriage, it might seem that their acts cannot violate that good. But even though the sexual acts of the unmarried can be wrong for other reasons, and the seriousness of their acts can depend more on other factors than on the ways in which they violate the good of marriage, the three basic kinds of complete nonmarital sexual acts do violate that good, each in its own special way.

c) Masturbators violate the body’s capacity for self-giving. In the choice to masturbate, the immediate intention is to have a sentient and emotional experience: the sensation of orgasm and the accompanying emotional satisfaction. In this respect, masturbation differs from urination and defecation, where the motive is the need to expel waste materials, and the conscious awareness of the process—the sensation and felt satisfaction of desire—is incidental.189 Of course, masturbation can be directed to some ulterior end, such as a night’s rest, to be obtained by relieving sexual tension. But, while relieving sexual tension refers in part to tension (the pain of unsatisfied desire), it also refers to relieving (the experience of satisfying desire). Thus, the choice to masturbate as a means to an ulterior end, such as a night’s rest, remains the adoption of a proposal to have the sentient and emotional experience of masturbating.

In choosing to actuate one’s sexual capacity precisely in order to have the conscious experience of the process and its culmination, one chooses to use one’s body as an instrument to bring about that experience in the conscious self. Thus, the body becomes an instrument used and the conscious self its user. In most cases, using one’s body as an instrument is not problematic. This is done when one works and plays, and also when one communicates, using the tongue to speak, the finger to point, the genitals to engage in marital intercourse. In such cases the body functions as part of oneself, serving the whole and sharing in the resulting benefits. By contrast, in choosing to masturbate, one does not choose to act for a goal which fulfills oneself as a unified, bodily person. The only immediate goal is satisfaction for the conscious self; and so the body, not being part of the whole for whose sake the act is done, serves only as an extrinsic instrument. Thus, in choosing to masturbate one chooses to alienate one’s body from one’s conscious subjectivity.

Of course, this self-alienation from the body in no way affects the metaphysical unity of one’s person, since no choice can alter a person’s metaphysical constitution. However, the self-alienation is an existential dualism between the body and the conscious self, that is, a division between the two insofar as they are coprinciples of oneself considered as an integrated, acting, sexual person. Therefore, to choose to masturbate is to choose a specific kind of self-disintegrity, and, since choices determine the self unless and until the person makes another, incompatible choice (see CMP, 2.E.6–7), the choice of self-disintegrity damages the basic good of self-integration. But choosing to damage any basic human good violates the eighth mode of responsibility, and so is always wrong (see CMP, 8.H). Therefore, to choose to masturbate is always wrong.

The self-integration damaged by masturbation is the unity of the acting person as conscious subject and sexually functioning body. This specific aspect of self-integration, however, is precisely the aspect necessary so that the bodily union of sexual intercourse will be a communion of persons, as marital intercourse is. Therefore, masturbation damages the body’s capacity for the marital act as an act of self-giving which constitutes a communion of bodily persons.190 But to damage an intrinsic and necessary condition for attaining a good is to damage that good itself. Thus, masturbators violate the good of marital communion by violating the body’s capacity for self-giving. Moreover, since the choice to masturbate is wrong inasmuch as it is a choice of self-disintegrity, the choice remains wrong whether or not one has some reason to make it. Therefore, to make this choice for an ulterior good, such as a night’s rest, is to choose a bad means to a good end.

d) Fornicators achieve only the illusion of marital communion. Sometimes one party to fornication is merely using the other to masturbate, and very often both parties’ motives include a masturbatory component. Again, sometimes one party is treating his or her body as a mere instrument, either to motivate the other to do something—for example, to pay money or propose marriage—or to provide emotional and/or social satisfactions, such as a confirmation of masculinity or femininity, the thrill of conquest, and/or popularity. Such uses of the body as an instrument differ from masturbation in their motives but are like it in their moral character, since they violate the body insofar as it is a capacity for the self-giving which constitutes a communion of bodily persons.

Sometimes, however, the motive for choosing to fornicate is both different and impossible to satisfy except by fornicating. The couple are engaged to be married or are involved in a genuine interpersonal relationship more or less similar to marital friendship—or at least one party is trying to establish such a relationship. They choose sexual intercourse precisely insofar as it brings about the intimate communion pertaining to the good of marriage. Thus, they seem to begin to realize that good. Perhaps they also hope sexual intimacy will deepen and enrich their relationship as a whole. Moreover, if the act is open to new life, the couple become a complete organism with respect to the function of reproduction and perhaps actually become parents. But however that may be, they do not make the marital commitment essential to the complete realization of the good of marriage.

Of course, fornicators realize that they do not fully achieve the good of marriage. But they may be about to marry, or have good reasons not to marry, or not be interested in marriage, either for the time being or at all. Thus, they might argue that they do nothing unreasonable, for by engaging in sexual intercourse they share in the relevant good as fully as they now can or wish to—and is not that better than not sharing in it at all? However, the part of the good of marital communion which fornicators choose, bodily union, is not an intelligible good apart from the whole. Although bodily union provides an experience of intimacy, by itself it realizes only the natural capacity of a male individual and a female individual to mate. Sexual mating contributes to an intelligible good, which fulfills persons, only insofar as it is one element of the complete communion by which a man and a woman become, as it were, one person. Another element is necessary to bring about that communion: marital consent which conjugal intercourse fulfills.191

Thus, although fornicators do choose the bodily union and experience of intimacy pertaining to the good of marriage, that good cannot be the immediate motive of their choice. Assuming their act is neither masturbatory nor manipulative, its immediate motive is only an emotional desire to share together in the experience of intimate communion. In choosing to act on that motive, they ensure that whatever experience of communion they achieve is only illusory, not an experience of the reality in which they are interested.

In choosing to do something which is capable of yielding only an illusion of participation in the good in which one is interested, a person forgoes choosing to do what would here and now really participate either in that good or some other available in the situation. For example, it may be that the couple who choose to fornicate forgo choosing to participate in the good of marriage by developing a chaste romantic relationship with a view to marriage. In any case, they choose to act for an illusory good instead of a real one, and such a choice always is unreasonable. In short, insofar as it is neither masturbatory nor manipulative, the choice to fornicate violates the sixth mode of responsibility (see CMP, 8.F).

“Trial marriage” is an illuminating example of fornication. Marriage can neither exist nor be experienced without mutual, permanent commitment. Attempting to sample marriage, as it were, means experiencing something entirely different: living together without commitment—and that experience cannot be a representative sample of married life. Hence, so-called trial marriage is self-defeating and unreasonable.192

Someone may object: While the appearance-reality argument is cogent in some cases, what if the couple are interested, not in marital communion, but only in some other sort of real and intimate communion, such as friendship, which they presently enjoy and which their sexual intercourse nurtures by communicating good will, affection, and so on? In part, the answer is that psychologically healthy couples who fornicate ordinarily do desire at least something of the experience of marital intimacy. Even in those who have no interest in marriage, there is a sign of that motivation in something many young couples learn by sad experience: very often, one partner sooner or later seeks a deeper commitment than the other is prepared to give. The other part of the answer concerns the fact that the unitive meaning of sexual intercourse, insofar as it makes the couple into a single reproductive principle, is part of the good of marriage; but precisely insofar as intercourse is not chosen for any aspect of that good, it does not communicate anything definite by itself, and therefore can communicate good will, affection, and so on only insofar as the couple use their own and each other’s bodies as one uses one’s tongue to speak, one’s finger to point, and so on. But the motive for choosing sexual intercourse to communicate is not that it is especially apt for expressing good will and affection, since modes of communication commonly used by friends—conversation joined with actions conferring benefits (that is, real instantiations of one or more intelligible goods)—are far more expressive. The true motive is sexual desire and the pleasure of satisfying it. Hence, insofar as fornicators are not interested in the marital good, their intercourse is masturbatory. A sign of this masturbatory character is found in another thing many young couples learn by sad experience: nonmarital sexual intimacy obstructs friendship rather than nurturing it.

e) Sodomites use their bodies in a self-defeating attempt at intimacy. Like everyone else, sodomites have sexual urges and a natural inclination toward intimate, one-flesh communion. Thus, insofar as they are nonmarried persons who engage in sexual intimacy, their possible motivations and their choices are similar to those of fornicators, and are wrong for the same reasons.

Someone will object: Individuals who find themselves with a homosexual disposition cannot satisfy their sexual urges and natural inclination toward intimate communion in any more adequate way than by establishing a more or less permanent and exclusive relationship, including sexual intimacy. Therefore, while such partners’ sodomy allows them only a feeling of intimacy, in choosing to have that experience they do not forgo the choice of the good of marriage, which simply is not accessible to them. Hence, the objection will conclude, sodomites need not choose an illusory good instead of a real one, and so their choice need not be unreasonable as that of fornicators is.

However, although it is true that partners in sodomy also could conceivably share in a committed relationship with sincere mutual affection and express their feelings in ways that would be appropriate in any friendship, the coupling of two bodies of the same sex cannot form one complete organism and so cannot contribute to a bodily communion of persons. Hence, the experience of intimacy of the partners in sodomy cannot be the experience of any real unity between them. Rather, each one’s experience of intimacy is private and incommunicable, and is no more a common good than is the mere experience of sexual arousal and orgasm. Therefore, the choice to engage in sodomy for the sake of that experience of intimacy in no way contributes to the partners’ real common good as committed friends.

Someone who admits that sodomy necessarily lacks the unitive significance of heterosexual intercourse which makes a couple a single reproductive principle might nevertheless suggest that a couple can choose such sodomitic intercourse as a way of communicating good will and affection. However, just as with fornicators, sexual intercourse is not chosen by sodomites in preference to conversation and mutually beneficial acts because it is the more expressive means of communicating good will and affection.193 Rather, it is chosen because it provides subjective satisfactions otherwise unavailable. Consequently, while sodomites may not choose, as fornicators do, an illusory good instead of a real one, they do choose to use their own and each other’s bodies to provide subjective satisfactions, and thus they choose self-disintegrity as masturbators do. Of course, while masturbators can be interested exclusively in the experience of sexual arousal and orgasm, sodomites also are interested in the illusion of intimacy.

Thus, those who engage in sodomy can be interested in some aspects of the good of marriage, including satisfaction of the inclination toward sexual intimacy and, perhaps, ongoing partnership in a common life. However, in choosing sexual intercourse for its subjective satisfactions, sodomites violate the body’s capacity for self-giving as masturbators do. At the same time, in choosing to act for an experience which they know cannot fulfill that capacity, they act on their inclination toward one-flesh communion in a self-defeating way, and in this respect sodomy is similar to fornication, though more unreasonable.194

The preceding explanation has shown what is characteristic of sodomy: an experience of intimacy which cannot be the experience of a real communion of persons, inasmuch as the coupling of two bodies of the same sex cannot form one complete organism. Heterosexual activities deliberately not open to new life provide nothing better than a similar experience of intimacy without any real communion of persons. Thus, such heterosexual activities—including contracepted intercourse, within or outside marriage—are morally similar to sodomy.

f) Complete, nonmarital sexual sins can involve additional evils. Acts which basically are masturbation, fornication, or sodomy can have additional features which cause them to be specifically different kinds of sins. The basic immorality remains, and the additional features add to it.

Complete sexual acts involving an animal (bestiality) probably often are wholly or mainly masturbatory in their motivation. Insofar as desire for bodily union motivates them, however, they violate human dignity in a unique way by putting human and animal bodies on the same level.

Any of the three basic kinds of act can involve the intentional infliction or undergoing of pain (sadomasochism). Insofar as pain is used to facilitate and/or intensify a sexual experience, the reduction of the body to the status of an object and the quest for satisfaction precisely in doing so increases the self-alienation inherent in masturbation and sodomy. Moreover, while pain itself is not an intelligible evil, the intentional infliction and undergoing of pain often involve some unjustifiable damage or risk to the body, and so violate the good of health.

Any illicit sexual intercourse that could result in conception involves readiness to do injustice to the possible child. Sometimes the couple is open to new life; the injustice lies in accepting the risk that the child will come to be without the stable parental principle necessary for a human being’s full development. In other cases a baby is not wanted, and the injustice lies in accepting the risk of a child’s coming to be as unwanted, and then perhaps being aborted or else resented and abused after birth. If contraception is used to prevent the coming to be of an unwanted child, still the couple accept the risk of the child’s coming to be as unwanted, and also have a contralife will (see 8.E). Whether or not contraception is used, if there is an intention to abort an unwanted child, that intention is homicidal.

Intentionally to tempt and lead another to engage in an illicit sexual act is to commit the sin of sexual seduction, which is a specific form of the sin of scandal (see 4.E.2). Seduction often involves grave deceit, for example, when a man persuades a woman to fornicate by insincerely promising to marry her if she should become pregnant. The seduction of a virgin, other things being equal, is especially wrong, since she loses both the intrinsic and social value of her virginity (see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 6).

Rape adds to illicit sexual intercourse the grave injustice of sexual assault (see 8.G.2; cf. S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 7). Since the lack of appropriate consent by either party to any sexual act makes that act sexual assault, fornication and sodomy involving children and others who are incapable of giving the necessary consent always is rape.

Both prostitutes and their clients commit the sin of sexual seduction toward each other. Prostitution also very seriously offends the dignity of the person of the prostitute, by reducing him or her to the status of a mere object of use (see GS 27). When people prostitute themselves out of desperate need, anyone who knows this and uses them both rapes them and commits an additional sin of exploitation, since the need should be dealt with without exacting any immoral and degrading service.

When partners to illicit sexual intercourse are members of the same family, they commit incest. Not only is some incest adultery and/or rape (see 2.b, above), all incest violates familial communion.195

Any illicit sexual act which involves the abuse of anything or anyone dedicated to God is a specific kind of irreverence, and so is a kind of sacrilege. Thus, if an illicit sexual act involves the body of a person vowed to chastity, all who knowingly choose to participate in it commit a sacrilege (see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 10).

g) Incomplete acts take their moral character from complete ones. Incomplete sexual acts are sexual acts—someone intends to bring about or maintain sexual arousal and/or to cause some degree of sexual satisfaction—but they do not involve orgasm. Such acts are not incomplete as human acts, since they carry out a choice, but are incomplete realizations of the body’s sexual capacity. Provided they are intended to bring about sexual arousal and incomplete satisfaction, the following are among incomplete sexual acts: to imagine sexually stimulating performances by oneself or others, to look at sexually stimulating pictures, to engage in sexually stimulating conversation and behavior—which can include kissing, embracing, and virtually any other sort of bodily contact.

Some incomplete sexual acts are chosen as the certain or possible beginning of complete acts, and so plainly involve the same motivations as the complete acts. Thus, just as incomplete marital acts share in the moral character of marital intercourse, any nonmarital incomplete sexual act directed toward a complete one shares in all the factors that make the corresponding complete act wrong.

Other incomplete, nonmarital sexual acts are intended to remain incomplete. The choice is to bring about or maintain a certain level of sexual arousal and satisfaction, but not to carry the process to its natural culmination. However, erotic desire, which is the emotional motive for seeking sexual satisfaction, always motivates toward some kind of complete act. This is not to say that in choosing an incomplete act one necessarily chooses or even risks a complete act. But it does follow that the choice to seek only limited satisfaction has two objects—(i) the limit and (ii) the satisfaction—and these must be analyzed.

i) The choice is to limit the sexual process: not to “go all the way.” There can be many motives for doing so, ranging from the wish to avoid pregnancy or disease to qualms of conscience. However, whatever the motives to limit the sexual process might be, they in no way conflict with the motives to engage (within limits) in the act, and those motives (the limits apart) would lead to the complete act.

ii) The choice is to do (within limits) the same kind of thing which one would do if pursuing the process to its culmination, for example, to engage in sexually arousing activities of sorts that usually precede intercourse. Thus, the choice of the incomplete act bears on sexual desire and its satisfaction, one’s own body (and the body of anyone else involved), and the good of marriage in the same way that the choice of the corresponding complete act would bear on them.

Consequently, the moral character of the incomplete act, insofar as it is a sexual act, is exactly the same as that of the corresponding complete act (see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 4). The choice of the incomplete act differs morally only in respect to the content of its limiting object, which is irrelevant to the act as sexual, and only relevant to it as a pregnancy-avoiding act, a disease-avoiding act, as less troublesome to conscience than a complete act would be, and so on.

4. Sexual Thoughts Take Their Moral Character from Sexual Acts

Sexual thoughts can refer to two diverse kinds of thing: (i) to memories, images, or perceptions that lead to sexual arousal; (ii) to thoughts of specific sexual acts that provide objects for acts of the will.

i) Intentional sexual arousal is an incomplete sexual act, which has the same moral significance as the act that would complete it. Thus, intentionally to entertain any thought in order to cause or maintain sexual arousal has the same moral significance as the act in which it would culminate. Since the only good complete sexual act is marital intercourse, a choice to entertain thoughts tending toward any other complete sexual act is wrong in the same way that act would be.

ii) Whether sexually arousing or not, thoughts of specific sexual acts can themselves become objects of the will. It is good in itself, though it can be bad as an occasion of sin, to will any good sexual act of which one thinks, for example, for anyone to approve the marital intercourse of a honeymooning couple, for those who are engaged to wish they already were married and could engage in marital intercourse, and so on. Similarly, to will any bad sexual act is a sin of thought of one or another kind (see CMP, 15.G). Since one hardly is likely to choose any incomplete sexual act without at least conditionally willing the complete act to which it would lead, a sin of thought of this kind almost always is involved in any sinful incomplete sexual act. However, a sin of thought of this kind can be committed without engaging in an incomplete sexual act. For example, without experiencing any personal arousal or satisfaction, or even wishing for it, one can intentionally approve of someone else’s sexual sins.

5. Sexual Satisfaction Can Occur without an Intentional Sexual Act

Sometimes, sexual arousal and even orgasm spontaneously occur. Such an occurrence in itself has no moral significance. Anyone aware of it can rightly be pleased to notice the healthy functioning of his or her body; there is no moral problem unless that functioning causes temptation or results from some earlier sexual sin (see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 5).

Sometimes, sexual arousal and even orgasm occur only as an unwanted side effect of some act chosen for a morally acceptable reason. Such acts must be distinguished from acts in which one intentionally does something to cause or maintain sexual arousal and/or bring about satisfaction. For when sexual arousal and satisfaction are only a side effect, it need not be sinful to accept them in making another, morally good choice. The moral importance of such acts is that they often are occasions of sexual sins (see 8.h, below).

6. All Intentional Sexual Acts Violating the Marital Good Are Grave Matter

As has been explained, apart from acts in which sexual arousal and satisfaction are not intended but only accepted as a side effect, all sexual acts by the unmarried violate the marital good in one or both of two ways: by abusing the body as a capacity for self-giving or by seeking an illusion of one-flesh communion. It is obvious how adultery, both for the married and for any unmarried person involved in it, violates the same good.

Complete solitary acts by the married not only violate the marital good as masturbation always does, but also involve the infidelity of treating the body as one’s own, contrary to the gift of it to one’s spouse. Complete nonmarital acts by the spouses, including contraceptive intercourse, are wrong in much the same way that fornication or sodomy is and they also involve a masturbatory element; thus, for the married, such acts also are at odds with the marital commitment. When the married intentionally seek or maintain incomplete sexual satisfaction with a view to—or as a partial substitute for—complete satisfaction in any act which would violate the marital good, that incomplete act likewise violates it.

That an act is morally wrong, however, does not automatically make it grave matter. Thus, it remains to explain why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, despite much contrary contemporary opinion, insists: “According to Christian and the Church’s teaching, and as right reason acknowledges, sexual morality encompasses such important human values that every violation of it is objectively grave [note omitted].”196

This statement must be understood as referring to intentional sexual acts by the unmarried and to sexual sins of the married which violate the good of marriage. For the document in which the statement occurs focuses exclusively on intentional acts and primarily concerns sexual sins outside marriage. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that the Congregation neither meant to assert that wrongly accepting sexual arousal or satisfaction as a side effect always is grave matter nor to reject the position, already explained (in 2.g), that within marriage imperfections of chastity that do not violate the marital good are only venially sinful.197

In explaining the Church’s teaching about gravity of matter, which the Congregation restates, the explanations already given of the wrongness of the acts will be presupposed. The point of what follows is that, given their wrongness, they are gravely wrong and do not admit parvity of matter.

a) This teaching of the Church has been proposed infallibly. Through several centuries, approved Catholic theologians unanimously agreed in teaching that every intentional sexual sin outside marriage is grave matter admitting no parvity, and that the same is true of every intentional sexual sin committed by married persons that involves either the use of contraception, complete satisfaction apart from marital intercourse, or incomplete satisfaction by one spouse unambiguously directed toward complete satisfaction apart from the other.198 The only kind of intentional sexual act which both violates the marital good and was not explicitly mentioned by the classical moralists is sexual intercourse between a married couple which fails to be marital because it is not performed freely and lovingly. However, their teaching extends to such intercourse just insofar as it is nonmarital, for in that case the sexual satisfaction is sought apart from true marital intercourse.

This theological consensus both reflected and shaped the belief of the whole Catholic Church. All the faithful, from the bishops to the least of the laity, held the same sexual morality. Moreover, they accepted it as part of the faith, for it was taken to be implicit in the sixth and ninth commandments and to be illustrated by various other texts of sacred Scripture. Now, the faithful as a whole cannot err when they all agree on what they take to be God’s revealed word about a matter of faith and morals (see LG 12). Therefore, this teaching on sexual morality, although never solemnly defined, cannot be mistaken. It is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit’s gift to the Church of infallibility.

Moreover, in teaching this sexual morality, the theologians did not act on their own authority. The authors of the manuals were approved authors, because the popes and bishops authorized their texts for use in teaching seminarians, who as priests would put into pastoral practice what they had learned. The popes and bishops themselves fulfilled their responsibility to teach sexual morality mainly in this way. (On other matters, of course, where theologians disagreed or treated obscure questions or dealt with explanations and details with little or no pastoral impact, their approved status did not imply that the popes and bishops themselves taught what the theologians taught.) Having once been seminarians themselves, the popes and bishops knew the teaching; they also knew the difficulty many of the faithful experienced trying to live by it. Therefore, in matters of sexual morality with great pastoral impact, about which all the approved authors agreed, the popes and bishops of the whole world clearly intended to teach precisely what they authorized their theologians to teach. This universal, constant, and most firm teaching of the popes and the bishops in communion with them around the world meets the conditions which Vatican II articulated for the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium. Although the Church has not solemnly defined the teaching excluding parvity of matter with respect to all intentional sexual sins against the good of marriage, that teaching has been infallibly taught.199

b) Trent definitively taught the core of this sexual morality. Against Luther, the Council of Trent solemnly defined that unbelief is not the only mortal sin (see DS 1577/837). Trent showed this by pointing out that, according to St. Paul, divine law also excludes from the kingdom “those with faith who are fornicators, adulterers, effeminate [molles], sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, eviltongued, greedy (see 1 Cor 6.9–10), and all others who commit mortal sins” (DS 1544/ 808).200 By this use of Paul’s text, the Council implicitly defined the proposition which Paul asserts there. For, in refuting one proposition by asserting another logically incompatible with it, one necessarily asserts the second proposition at least as firmly as the first is rejected. Trent’s solemn definition against Luther’s notion that unbelief is the only mortal sin implicitly defines as a truth of Catholic faith the Pauline proposition Trent invoked.

Plainly, Trent did not thereby implicitly define all the propositions about sexual acts that are infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium, for most do not follow with logical necessity from St. Paul’s text. It says nothing about incomplete acts and sins of thought, and mentions no sexual sin involving the married except adultery. Also, the word molles, which many moral theologians subsequently took to refer to masturbation, often was understood prior to Trent as referring to the receptive role in sodomy.201 More important, the text from Paul also refers to “thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers,” thus including in its list of sins which exclude from the kingdom some admitting of parvity. Thus, considered by itself, this text and the Council’s use of it leave open the question—which only Scripture and tradition as a whole settle—whether there can be parvity of matter in sexual sins.202

Nevertheless, by the use it makes of 1 Cor 6.9–10, Trent’s definitive teaching that unbelief is not the only mortal sin does show that it is a matter of faith that fornicators, adulterers, and sodomites are excluded from the kingdom—in other words, that their typical acts are in themselves grave matters.203 Other elements of the tradition excluded parvity of matter. Thus, one can see why the Catholic Church in modern times developed the firm and uniform teaching concerning sexual acts summarized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

c) The teaching concerning sexual sins’ gravity is reasonable. Many Catholics who accept and faithfully try to live according to the Church’s teaching concerning sexual acts nevertheless are puzzled by it. Why are all sorts of intentional sexual acts which violate the good of marriage the matter of grave sin? Why, moreover, is there no parvity of matter in this whole area as there generally is in others, for example, in most kinds of sin of injustice?

Insight into these matters can help one to see that the Church’s teaching on sexual acts is not merely a collection of rules, to appreciate its truth and value, and to live by it. For this reason, it is important not only to accept what the Church teaches but to grasp its reasonableness. That requires reflecting on two things: first, the important human and Christian values at stake in sexual acts, due to which they are in general grave matter; and second, the dynamic factors involved in human sexuality, due to which no kind of sin that violates the good of marriage and no single instance of such a sin will be morally insignificant.

d) The human values at stake in sexual acts are very important. While people differ about which values are at stake in sexual acts, nobody seriously denies that they are very important. It hardly needs saying that sex is one of the central human concerns. Considering human inclinations from an evolutionary perspective, this is understandable; otherwise, the human species would have become extinct. For unlike activities essential to the survival of each individual, whose value everyone quickly learns by experience, sexual activity serves a sociobiological purpose which individuals could ignore or even overlook. Thus, the sexual inclination necessarily is both powerful and deeply rooted in the human psyche. One need not agree with psychologists who reduce all human motivation to the erotic drive, in order to hold that sexuality colors every aspect of a man’s or a woman’s personality.

Moreover, while people differ about the moral norms of sexual activity, few who wish to be morally upright deny that marrying, having children, and raising them are among the best things in human life, those prized for their own sakes, and that it is important to integrate one’s sexuality with other elements of one’s personality. Faith both confirms and clarifies these human insights in its teaching on the goodness of marital communion, procreation, the raising of children, and chastity.

Even people who reject most of Catholic sexual morality can see how much harm is done by the kinds of acts its norms indicate to be sins.204 The facts are plain: women abandoned and left alone to care for children, children unwanted and aborted or abused, marriages and other intimate relationships strained and destabilized. These evils follow directly from extramarital and premarital intercourse. But most such intercourse is not motivated only by the desire to experience intimate communion; usually an important element in the motivation is the elementary desire for sexual satisfaction. Sexual desire is natural, and chastity is not easily achieved by fallen humans. But the devastating power of undisciplined sexual desire is the fruit of the theory that everyone is entitled to regular orgasms and of putting that theory into practice: masturbatory sexual activity as an accepted part of many people’s lives.

That theory and practice also lead to the success of enterprises built on manipulating men by arousing their lust, pandering to them, and making women into sex objects. These enterprises usually also encourage and exploit a dark fascination with violence, and thus reinforce the reduction of personal bodies to the status of mere objects, to be used and abused for the sake of psychological satisfactions.

The promoters of sexual liberation thought it would eliminate the pain of sexual frustration and make society as a whole more joyful. What has happened instead shows how wrong they were. The pain of sexual frustration is slight in comparison with the misery of abandoned women and unwanted children, of people lonely for lack of true marital intimacy, of those dying wretchedly from sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, unchastity’s destructive effects on so many families impact on the wider society, whose stability depends on families. The social costs not only are immense, but reinforce the personal problems that give rise to them. Boys and girls coming to maturity without solid formation in a stable family are ill prepared to assume adult social responsibilities. Public assistance to those who suffer private abandonment or neglect is both costly and inefficient; and people accustomed to self-indulgence find repugnant the sacrifices which providing adequate help for those in need would require. Thus, public attempts to mitigate the damage lead to the vigorous promotion of contraception, programs of sex education that take for granted and even encourage the masturbatory motive, and the legalization and public funding of abortion.

e) The Christian values at stake are even more important. Since central truths of Christian faith employ concepts drawn from marital and familial relationships, no one can accept the faith who does not understand well the human significance of a father, a child, a brother or sister, a faithful spouse. Indeed, the sounder people’s experience of these realities is, the more easily they understand and accept God’s tender mercy and absolute faithfulness. Underlying these revelatory realities is human sexuality and God’s plan for its right use. Human sexuality might be said to be part of the language God uses to reveal himself. God did not learn this language from his creation; he invented it, among other reasons, to serve his revelatory purpose; and every abuse distorts the meanings of this “language” of God and garbles the message he wishes to communicate as much to every man and woman of today as to people of all nations and all times.

At the heart of the revelatory function of human sexuality is the natural sacramentality of marriage. This is the foundation for its specifically Christian sacramentality, which gives Christian marriage its special firmness and holiness. The sacramentality of marriage foreshadows the ultimate fulfillment of the human body as a capacity for self-giving: communion in the one-flesh reality of Jesus’ risen life (see C.4, above). Since this is the human body’s ultimate end, every abuse of human sexuality violates not only the natural marital good but an infinitely greater good: the body of Christ.

The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6.13–20; cf. 1 Thes 4.1–8; GS 14)
St. Paul’s argument against fornication tells against other sexual sins.205 For example, masturbation is not merely self-abuse, but abuse of the body of Christ; in damaging the body as a capacity for self-giving in genuine interpersonal communion, masturbation damages the Christian’s capacity for sharing in the communion of the new covenant.

Besides, just as sexual immorality damages civil society, so it also weakens the body of Christ insofar as that body is a visible human community: the Church. For the large Church depends on stable families, its little domestic Churches, to provide new members, well prepared to live apostolic lives. Habitual unchastity nips in the bud not only vocations to priesthood and religious life, but also vocations to marriage, since people who cannot subordinate sexual desire to marital love are hardly prepared to accept marriage as a vocation.

Moreover, as explained earlier, much sexual immorality involves objectifying the body and alienating it from the conscious subject. When a Christian habitually degrades his or her own body and the bodies of others to the status of mere sex objects and instruments of satisfaction, he or she tends to carry this attitude over into other relationships, eventually depersonalizing everyone’s body and the human body as such. Once depersonalized, the body seems to lack personal significance, to be only an instrument, perhaps dispensable and, if so, better dispensed with. Gradually this implicit acceptance of body-soul dualism makes it difficult to see why one should hope for one’s own bodily resurrection, center one’s faith on Jesus’ resurrection, regard his bodily presence in the Eucharist as real, consider his virgin birth significant, or even regard as meaningful the teaching that original sin is transmitted by propagation. Indeed, once the body is depersonalized, it no longer seems credible—unless one supposes that God himself is a mere object and instrument—that a bodily human individual could be divine, that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1.14), and that one should live in the hope of seeing and touching “what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 Jn 1.1).206

Thus, when sexual immorality becomes an accepted part of a Christian’s life, it subverts the incarnationalism and sacramentalism at the heart of Catholic faith. More than that, it subverts faith in God the creator. For insofar as sense satisfaction is so highly valued that one is willing to violate intelligible goods for its sake, one tends to regard only two realities as important: the conscious experience in which that satisfaction is obtained and the instruments—the alienated body and desacralized world—used to bring about the satisfaction. Everything transcending immediate experience, including truth and virtue and God himself, begins to seem less real, perhaps completely irrelevant and even unreal.

Furthermore, insofar as the person is alienated by sexual immorality from his or her own body, its meaning and value seem to arise from the conscious subject’s plan in using it and satisfaction resulting from that use. But deriving the human body’s meaning and value from these sources directly contradicts its divinely given meaning and value, its capacity for self-giving, which sexual immorality violates. Consequently, sexual immorality makes it very difficult to believe that the human body and the natural world of which it is a part have meaning and value independent of human use, and so makes it very difficult to believe in the source of that meaning and value: God the creator. Although St. Paul did not explain how sexual immorality leads to unbelief, he saw the essential relationship between them, for he pointed out that unbelief leads to sexual immorality (see Rom 1.18–28).

f) The evil of sexual sins is never merely private. It is clear from the preceding that even solitary sexual sins are social sins insofar as they violate the body’s capacity for self-giving and the sacramental significance of human sexuality. Moreover, if one considers masturbation not as an abstract kind of act but concretely, its social significance is even more unmistakable, for people are hardly likely to regard others’ bodies with more respect than they regard their own. Also, it is questionable whether anyone can masturbate without some fantasy of a partner with whom sexual inclination would be more adequately satisfied. Thus, masturbation tends to make everyone’s body into a sex object and predisposes masturbators to treat their sexual partners as masturbatory tools. But sexual intercourse cannot be a communion of persons if it is little more than the juxtaposition of instruments used by isolated self-conscious subjects to reach individual and incommunicable enjoyable sensations. Therefore, masturbation is essentially a social sin against interpersonal communion.

Then too, the kinds of sexual sins that most plainly have socially destructive consequences—adultery, fornication, and sodomy—would be committed far less often if it were not for the masturbatory component in their motivation. And that motivation would not be so prevalent if the practice of masturbation were not considered a minor moral evil, if that.

Besides, other areas of the masturbator’s life are bound to be affected by the fact that he or she treats sensory satisfaction as a—perhaps, the—basic good, and also by his or her handicap with respect to sexual communion and attitude toward the body. If people habitually subordinate the marital good to the experience of sexual satisfaction, they are hardly likely to exercise self-mastery for the sake of relevant intelligible goods in their use of drugs, alcohol, food, play activities, and so on. If they habitually regard their own bodies, not as integral components of their selves but as mere instruments of their real selves, they are hardly likely to understand the self-alienation involved in lying and are likely to perceive other human bodies—other people—as instruments to be manipulated. Little wonder if living human persons who are not yet, or else no longer are, conscious subjects are regarded as mere objects, which, if not useful, may be disposed of.

The sensate culture manifests and also serves the masturbatory personality. Not only the professional prostitute and the pornographer but a very substantial proportion of those involved in socially accepted media employ them not so much to communicate with audiences as to manipulate them by appealing to and encouraging the masturbatory component in each individual’s personality. Thus, the whole society becomes polluted, with the bad result that chastity, always difficult, becomes almost humanly impossible for children as well as for repentant adults struggling to achieve sexual self-control, and is very difficult even for the virtuous. Moreover, the sensate culture’s impact goes far beyond its explicitly sexual content. Even in watching a seemingly innocent cartoon, children are likely to imbibe false beliefs and attitudes about the value of sensory satisfaction, how to regard one’s own body and other persons, and all the human and Christian values at stake in sexual activity.

g) No individual sexual sin is a merely transient evil. While isolated, individual sexual sins are possible, they seldom occur in practice, except as lapses on the part of those who consider them gravely wrong and usually manage to avoid them. Temptations to commit many other kinds of sins—for example, lying and most kinds of injustice—spring from circumstantial factors, not from any deep, constant, strong human motive. But the sexual appetite is active and powerful through a long part of one’s life, and so sexual sins are very likely to become habits. Satisfying the appetite intensifies it; sex is very habit forming. To try sex, focusing on the enjoyable experience itself, is to like it and want more of it. As time goes by, satisfying this habit, like a drug habit, demands more intense and fresh sexual stimuli. That is why the masturbatory component in sexual motivation always demands new partners and new thrills, and is the implacable foe of fidelity and normal heterosexual intercourse.

Even if sexual acts done solely or primarily for the enjoyable experience were not so strongly habit forming, someone who considered isolated sexual sins not seriously wrong never would be strongly motivated to repent them. Instead, he or she frequently would be strongly tempted to commit them, since the motivation and opportunity to enjoy the experience are nearly always present. Hence, failing to appreciate the gravity of each individual sexual sin is very likely to lead to a habit of sinning. Individual sexual sins which are not considered seriously wrong are not likely to be repented, and are almost certain to contribute to and share in all the evils of habitual sexual sins.

Some argue that, at least in the case of masturbation, very little is at stake in any particular act, so that isolated acts can be considered light matter and, even if fully deliberate, only venial sins. This argument makes two key assumptions which have already been criticized: that at least this kind of sexual sin is not grave and that it makes sense to talk about isolated sexual acts motivated by the desire for the enjoyable experience. Even if these two key assumptions were granted, however, the argument still would fail. For someone who masturbates is likely to fantasize some kind of sinful intercourse with a partner; and to consent to that fantasy would be a grave sin of thought. So, each act of masturbation—even supposing, though not conceding, that it otherwise would only be light matter—is grave matter insofar as it is a proximate occasion of a grave sin of thought (see 4.D.3.c).

h) The evil of sinful incomplete sexual acts is not merely partial. Some offer an argument along the same lines for parvity of matter in the sinfulness of incomplete sexual acts. The answer also is along the same lines. Moreover, an incomplete sexual act involves some sexual arousal, and emotional desire for and enjoyment of any sexual arousal tends toward complete satisfaction. Thus, sinful incomplete sexual acts occasion not only sins of thought but also sinful complete sexual acts. There can be no more justification for entering this proximate occasion of sin than for entering the other one.

It will be objected that the preceding argument assumes that the incomplete sexual acts in question are at least venially sinful, whereas many incomplete sexual acts should be considered different in kind from the complete sexual acts to which they correspond, so that, for example, even a passionate kiss is an entirely different thing, morally speaking, from fornication. The first thing to notice in answer to this objection is that there are passionate kisses which are not sinful incomplete sexual acts, for example, some kisses of chaste engaged couples (see I.3.a, below). But if experiencing passion is included in the choice carried out by the passionate kiss, and if the passion would find its complete satisfaction in fornication, then, as has been shown above, although the two plainly do differ greatly as outward performances, the moral act of passionate kissing is the same in kind as the moral act of fornicating. In that case, the passionate kiss is grave matter (see DS 2060/1140), for what one chooses is morally determinative, even though one for some reason forgoes complete satisfaction.

i) Sins intentionally violating the marital good admit no parvity. The considerations in f–h explain why parvity of matter in sexual sins is not to be found where some have looked for it: in supposedly private, isolated, or incomplete sexual acts. Still there remains a general reason for puzzlement. The classical moralists had a saying: “No parvity of matter in the sixth and ninth commandments.” Yet it seems odd that almost any deliberate sexual sin is mortal while deliberate sins of other kinds often are only venial, even if they involve unfairness and manifest lack of Christian mercy and love of neighbor. A fully satisfactory solution to this puzzle would require articulating a complete theory of gravity and parvity of matter, and applying it to every kind of sin. But even without that, the previous explanations and a few additional considerations can throw a good deal of light on the matter.

To begin with, “No parvity of matter in the sixth and ninth commandments,” is an oversimplification. As has been explained in the introduction to this seciton, there can be parvity of matter (and thus only venial sin) in sexual sins which do not intentionally violate the marital good: some sinful accepting of sexual satisfaction as a side effect and the imperfections in the chastity of spouses who nevertheless engage in essentially upright marital acts. At the same time, parvity also is excluded from some kinds of grave sin outside the sexual domain, for example, kidnapping, enslaving, and murdering someone. Moreover, there are many other kinds of sinful acts, such as sacrilege, whose definitions do not distinguish between an intentional violation of the good at stake and harm to it which is accepted as a side effect. In such cases, the intentional violation of the good sometimes excludes parvity of matter (for example, intentional irreverence toward God), but parvity is possible in other cases (certain cases of slight irreverence accepted as a side effect). Thus, the idea that the other commandments are altogether different from the sixth and ninth in regard to parvity is to some extent merely the result of how kinds of sins happen to be defined: the definitions of the various kinds of sexual sins imply an intentional violation of the marital good, while the definitions of many other kinds of sins do not imply the intentional violation of any basic human good.

If a sin grave in kind admits parvity, that must have a cause. In matters of justice, as was explained (in 6.A.7), the cause of parvity is that unfairness begins as soon as one does not do unto others as one would have them do unto oneself and those for whom one cares, while grave injustice only begins when one does not do unto others as one would have them held to do. While that does not explain the possibility of parvity in sins such as sacrilege, still the cause of parvity in sins against God is analogous: revelation, as interpreted by the tradition, makes it clear that, although certain sins against God are intolerable, in his tender love he is prepared to overlook some offenses even in matters of religion where the harm is only accepted as a side effect. But there is nothing analogous to cause parvity in intentional violations of the marital good. Although these sins never are merely private, their sinfulness is not primarily in offending against God or neighbor considered as persons distinct from oneself, but against oneself—“the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor 6.18)—and only thereby against God and neighbor, insofar as one should be in communion with them. Thus, in sexual sins, there can be no cause for parvity of matter analogous to the factors which account for it in sins of injustice and irreverence. If sins intentionally violating the marital good were to admit parvity, there would have to be an altogether different kind of cause.

Several factors sometimes suggested as causes of parvity in the sexual domain were examined in f–h and found not to be so, because sexual activities constitute so tightly knit a fabric. That tightness of knit also has been clarified. All the sins in question not only violate the basic good of marital communion but flow from the same nonrational motive: sexual desire unintegrated in a way of life bearing on that good in accord with reason. Sexual appetite is a powerful, continuing motivator, not easily restrained and not naturally opposed by other emotional motives. Insofar as a person becomes resigned to any kind of sexual sin, rational motivation no longer curbs sexual appetite. And insofar as virtue remains imperfect, no constant emotional motive opposes the satisfaction of nonintegrated sexual desire. By contrast, the various activities in which injustice occurs do not constitute so tightly knit a fabric. Some emotional motives for treating others wrongly—anger and hatred—are not constant, and are elicited only by some factor outside oneself. Although desire for goods, for oneself and those one cares about, as well as fear of threats to those goods, are constant motives which easily lead to injustice, they encounter constant opposition at their own level: the natural desire for community and fear of isolation. Hence, if an injustice is not grave, on the basis that makes for parvity of matter in matters of justice (explained in 6.A.7), it need not be grave on another basis: by carrying out a choice to act on the very motives underlying great injustices. Therefore, someone striving in large matters to fulfill the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself can resign himself or herself to some kinds of petty unfairness, without giving free reign to unreasonable motivations of the sorts that lead to grave injustices. But someone who hopes to achieve chastity cannot intentionally make even the smallest unreasonable concession to sexual appetite.

Finally, although the evil in sexual sins is not primarily in any injustice they may involve, they should not be supposed to be compatible with love of neighbor. As has been explained, these sins are never merely private and always violate that basic human good in which love of neighbor is realized in a very fundamental and clear way: marital communion and the whole network of intimate relationships flowing from and depending on it. Moreover, sexual sins violate the requirements of neighbor love not only insofar as it bears on the natural goods of human persons and their communion, but also, as has been explained, insofar as it directs Christians toward a life of grace and heavenly communion. Indeed, since love of God depends on faith in him, and sexual sins inevitably pose a threat to faith, they never can be considered insignificant violations of charity toward God.

Grave sins are grave because incompatible with faith and its specific requirements (see CMP, 16.G.7–12). Christian tradition recognized that any intentional violation of the marital good has this character. While theological explanations were not as clear as they might have been, traditional talk about the daughters of lust—the observed effects on Christian life of habitual, sinful sexual indulgence—shows that the opposition between sexual sin and faith was known sufficiently well.207 Consequently, “No parvity of matter in the sixth and ninth commandments” is no mere rule.

7. While Subjective Factors Can Mitigate Guilt, Sex Sins Remain Serious

Since grave matter is not the only condition for mortal sin, not all sins intentionally violating the marital good are mortal. Sufficient reflection and full consent also are necessary (see CMP, 15.C). Therefore, even if one does something which of itself violates the marital good, it is possible that one commits only a venial sin due to lack of full consent or sufficient reflection. But their frequent absence should not be presumed, on the basis that it is hard to control sexual appetite. On the contrary, even those enmeshed in quasi-compulsive sins of weakness should be presumed to be acting with sufficient knowledge and freedom (see CMP, 17.E). And in examining one’s own conscience, one must be aware that, having judged a certain matter to be grave and simultaneously having chosen to do it, one has committed a mortal sin, despite choosing reluctantly, being motivated by intense passion, and hoping, even while sinning, for the grace of repentance.

Moreover, such a sin remains serious even when it is venial due to lack of sufficient reflection and/or full consent. Though compatible with charity, like any venial sin, it still carries with it the evil that makes sins of its kind grave: it still abuses the body and violates the marital good, still undermines the Christian attitude toward the body and so weakens faith.

Eventually, too, this abuse and violation are very likely to lead to mortal sins. For example, those who commit sexual sins of thought or incomplete acts, not realizing them to be grave matter, will surely be tempted to commit complete acts of masturbation, fornication, sodomy, or adultery, and almost surely will do so. Again, adolescents misled into thinking that isolated acts of masturbation are not grave matter will surely be tempted, and almost certainly will sin again and again, until a habit of yielding to unchaste desire is formed. This habit probably will lead at least to later heterosexual or homosexual sex play, if not to fornication or sodomy. In very many cases, it also will manifest itself in marriage: spouses not only will find it difficult to abstain when there is a reason to do so, but will engage in marital intercourse with seriously mixed motives, so that its power to express and nurture conjugal love will be greatly weakened. When marital difficulties arise, old habits of unchastity will reassert themselves, leading to the practice of contraception, recurrent masturbation, the use of pornography and fantasies of adultery, acts of adultery, and the marital instability and conflict which all too often end with divorce.

8. Grace Empowers Christians to Pursue Chastity and Attain It

Plainly it is difficult, even humanly impossible, for people to avoid sexual sins. But what fallen men, women, and children cannot do by themselves can be done with the Holy Spirit’s assistance. It is a truth of faith that grace enables every Christian to avoid mortal sin. Quoting St. Augustine, the Council of Trent definitively teaches: “ ‘God does not command the impossible; but in commanding he cautions you both to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot,’ and he helps you so that you can do it” (DS 1536/804, translation amended; cf. DS 1568/828). For mortal sinners to tell themselves that this truth is not true for them—that they no longer can count on God to enable them to live blamelessly in his sight—is the sin of despair.

Despair, however, is not the only sin against hope. It is presumption to suppose God will save someone who ignores his caution to do what can be done. Grace does not substitute for doing what one can. Rather, God’s good will is so great that he wishes his gifts also to be human merits (see DS 1548/810; cf. 1582/842). So, the realities to which grace refers include the gift of the desire for holiness, the power to act, the awareness of what should be done, the free choice to do it, the doing of it, the merit for so doing, and the reward for that merit.

Consequently, since grace empowers Christians to attain chastity by doing what they can, it is important to recall and apply some of the things said elsewhere about organizing one’s Christian life and overcoming sin. Here as in other areas of life, of course, the Christian is not a Stoic engaged in a lonely quest for moral perfection, but part of the body of Christ, whose members, enlivened by his Spirit, should work and grow together in holiness by bearing one another’s burdens.

The general program for avoiding and overcoming sin was spelled out (in 4.D): keep relevant truths in mind, pray, deny oneself, serve others, avoid occasions of sin, anticipate and resist temptations, seek and accept help and support from a person or group capable of providing it. What is said here presupposes that program, while focusing on mistakes to be avoided and steps to be taken in dealing with sexual sins.208

a) One must not use a self-defeating strategy to overcome sin. Certain misconceived pastoral attempts to help people deal with sins of weakness involve strategies which not only fail to help but make matters worse. Sometimes pastors give advice which is sound as far as it goes—for example, to pray for grace and receive the sacraments regularly—but omits other things (treated in 4.D and below) essential for success. Those who try to follow the advice are likely to fail repeatedly, and as a result to lose confidence not only in themselves but in God.

Not only that, discouraged sinners, and even inexperienced children, sometimes receive not only inadequate but pernicious advice about dealing with sexual temptation. Some teachers and pastors say, for example, that virtually everyone sometimes commits sexual sins, that too much should not be made of them, that the only thing really necessary is to struggle against temptations to impurity, so that gradually sexual sins become less frequent and eventually perfect chastity is achieved.209 For two reasons, this advice guarantees failure at least as surely as would similar advice given to someone with a habit of abusing alcohol or some other psychoactive substance.

First, it implicitly assumes that intentional sexual sins admit parvity of matter. But they do not; and part of the reason why—the dynamic factors at work in this area of life—guarantees that the advice, far from helping in the eventual achievement of chastity, will lead to a continuing and even stronger habit of impurity.

Second, and even more pernicious, an unstated but real component of this bad advice is: do not have a firm purpose of amendment—in other words, do not repent. Similar-sounding advice can rightly be given to people struggling with habits of venial sin, which they commit nondeliberately, that is, without sufficient reflection or full consent or both. But those struggling against temptations to commit sexual sins must be presumed to be sinning deliberately. They are, or should be, acutely aware of the evil to which they are tempted, and their surrender to the temptation generally is a fully conscious choice against conscience (see CMP, 17.E). Someone who attempts to reduce sexual sins gradually has an effective will to continue committing some such sins; not committing them at all remains only an inefficacious wish (see 4.C.3.b). Even if the wish remains when temptation arises, the effective will takes specific shape in the choice to sin again. For achieving any virtue, however, a will consistent with itself is absolutely essential, since a virtue’s core is precisely the steady volitional love of the goods at stake and hatred of the evils that mutilate them. Advice to follow a gradual program of reducing sexual sins is therefore certain to be disastrous. The only way to stop committing sexual sins is simply to stop committing them, at once and forever, and the only hope of doing that is to have, not merely the wish for eventual chastity, but a firm and efficacious commitment to be chaste today, tomorrow, the next day . . ..210

b) One should always keep in mind what is at stake in sexual sin. For several reasons, it is very difficult to keep in mind the human and Christian values at stake in sexual acts. Human sexuality itself is mysterious, and sexual appetite tends to distract attention from intelligible goods. Moreover, the surrounding sensate culture insistently conveys an ideology which conceals the real values at stake, while rationalizing their habitual and even systematic violation. It is not surprising if even Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching in this area and try to live by it sometimes see it as a kind of penance, something like the old Friday abstinence but more burdensome. Then even the gospel’s plain norms concerning sex can seem to be an odd bit of bad news, to be accepted along with the good news, while, at least in this matter, people who do not accept any of the Church’s teaching are better off because they can enjoy guilt-free sex.

As the preceding sections of this question make clear, this attitude is entirely mistaken. In particular, Catholic teaching concerning sexual morality is not a set of rules made up and imposed by the Church. St. Paul already encountered that error and firmly rejected it, blocking legalists’ evasions by using language they would understand:

This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thes 4.3–8)
Thus, Christian sexual morality is an essential part of God’s wise and loving plan, which also includes the gift of the Holy Spirit. Moral truth and the Spirit’s power liberate Jesus’ followers from the degradation of the unbelieving world and enable them to live with honor and holiness: human fulfillment in Jesus together with a share in his divine sonship. “The fruit of chastity,” John Paul II teaches, “is the interior harmony of the person, the capacity to realize a generous and unselfish love, in freedom of spirit and with a more lively sensitivity to the value of divine and transcendent goods.”211

In practice, moreover, a legalistic attitude makes it virtually impossible to live chastely. Anything felt to be an imposed restraint on one’s deeply rooted appetites provokes anger and rebelliousness; and if sexual self-indulgence is regarded as a very desirable but unfortunately forbidden fruit, one is likely to look for some way to reconcile its enjoyment with Christian faith and life, for example, by a repeated round of sinning, “repenting,” confessing, and sinning again. Consequently, it is very important to understand, reflect on, and regularly call to mind what really is at stake and how much one stands to lose if one commits sexual sins. Both love of God and love of neighbor require that chastity be regarded as something worth working for, and, insofar as one has it, something to be prized and cherished.

c) One’s sexuality should be integrated with one’s personal vocation. Christian love’s general requirement of chastity is specified for each individual by his or her personal vocation; moreover, the latter must provide the necessary emotional motivation to channel sexual appetite. This it does by establishing a set of commitments toward particular goods and particular persons which implement faith and love. In carrying out those commitments, one sensibly experiences the persons to whom one wills goods, their enjoyment of them, and their suffering through privation of them; and one good result is that these emotions are experienced in harmony with faith and love. In this way, personal vocation generates the emotions required to motivate a consistent Christian response to the values concretely at stake in sexual acts as well as in other areas of life.

d) For spouses, conjugal love is the principle of chastity. Marriage remedies concupiscence, not merely by providing a legitimate opportunity for sexual gratification, but by making available the sacramental grace of the Holy Spirit so that spouses can integrate their sexual desire with the good of marriage (see 1.e, above). Constant prayer for the Spirit’s help, fidelity practiced from the beginning of marriage, and chaste marital intercourse, as well as other acts of good family life, strengthen both volitional and emotional love. Conjugal love, the central principle of sexual morality, does not will the marital good as an abstract value but as it is concretely realized in one’s own marriage. Thus, the principle of sexual morality becomes, and is experienced as, an important part of one’s own fulfillment and that of one’s spouse.

One’s responsibilities in the situation are obvious, and chastity is developed in fulfilling them as well as one can. By doing what is appropriate as a spouse and parent, a person serves those to whom he or she is committed. Their needs, and the benefits they enjoy from one’s service, are not abstractions but realities, seen and felt and shared in. This experience involves and elicits powerful emotions—not only erotic affection but other feelings—which can limit, even oppose, sexual desire at its own level, thus harnessing and channeling it toward the intelligible goods at stake.

As the couple’s chastity grows, they appreciate and rejoice in each other, their love remains lively even when difficulties arise, and, even in a psychological sense, adultery and divorce become unthinkable. Thus, Vatican II teaches:

Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ’s sacrament, this [conjugal] love remains indissolubly faithful in body and in mind, in bright days or dark, and so it entirely excludes adultery and divorce. Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of marriage will radiate from the equal personal dignity of wife and husband, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love. The constant fulfillment of the duties of this Christian vocation demands notable virtue. For this reason, strengthened by grace for holiness of life, the couple will painstakingly cultivate and pray for endurance in love, largeheartedness, and the spirit of sacrifice. (GS 49)

e) For priests and religious, chastity rechannels sexual energy. Those called to celibacy or virginity for the kingdom’s sake must not view sexual continence as a mere means to fulfilling their vocation, much less an arbitrary condition for ordination or sharing in the mission of a religious community. How they use sexual capacity is at the heart of their vocation, which for them must play the role which marriage plays for the married. Their commitment also requires them to interact with and benefit particular persons. If they properly fulfill their responsibilities, they rightly and richly realize their bodies’ capacity for self-giving, and others receive their persons, not merely their services. In such selfless giving to the wider family of God, they receive benefits analogous to those of spouses and parents. Espoused to Jesus and spiritually parenting the children of the Church, those who live in perfect continence for the kingdom’s sake also can develop the emotions necessary to transform sexual desire, not by satisfying or repressing it, but by rechanneling its energy into affection for a particular group of persons: these parishioners, this group of students, these patients . . ..212

This use of sexual capacity by no means negates its human and personal value. Indeed, in cherishing certain particular persons, and Christ in them, chaste priests and religious make present important features of heavenly communion which are absent from the sacrament of marriage. While in marriage two persons are so truly united that they become, as it were, one new person, even so their distinctive bodily communion is limited to themselves and based on only one human capacity: reproduction. By contrast, the priest or religious can love and serve an indefinite multitude and realize the body’s capacity for self-giving in a wide range of interpersonal relationships. In this way, continence for the kingdom’s sake truly becomes an effective sign of the coming kingdom and its perfect communion of risen humankind in Jesus with God.213

f) Anyone’s present vocation can provide this integrating principle. For part or, in some cases, all of their lives, all Christians lack the integrating principle of commitment to marriage or to complete continence for the kingdom’s sake. But none ever lacks a personal vocation capable of integrating sexual appetite.

Since those who are neither married nor committed to complete continence for the kingdom’s sake usually can and should look forward to making one commitment or the other, their vocation now is to prepare to fulfill whichever they may eventually make. This requires not only maintaining their bodies’ capacity for self-giving by not abusing them sexually but employing that capacity, somewhat as faithful priests and religious do, in unselfish interpersonal relationships. In doing this, they should not suppose their effort to be chaste will bear fruit only in the future, in relation to those with whom they will enter into more specific communion later; for it has present benefits for those with whom they live now in the general communion of Christian life.

Moreover, their unselfish relationships and sexual self-control already manifest the value of the kingdom for which they hope and the power of the Spirit by whom they walk. Of course, that is true of every aspect of a faithful Christian’s life, but it is especially true of this one. Not every Catholic adolescent, for instance, has occasion to bear witness as St. Maria Goretti did, yet the example of unembarrassed chastity given by a cheerful and outgoing Catholic boy or girl is a powerful proclamation of the gospel in the contemporary world and a great encouragement to other Christians, not least those already committed to marriage or complete continence for the kingdom’s sake.

What about those who are married but apparently permanently separated from their spouses and those, including some with a homosexual orientation, who apparently lack the gifts for either marriage or a life of committed continence? Though such people suffer under a serious obstacle to living a good Christian life, their condition is not in itself a moral evil. Perhaps they never will achieve a habit of chastity so stable that they will no longer need to struggle against sexual temptations. But if they faithfully do what they can to remain continent, making determined, persevering use of the same means that others struggling against temptation must use, they need not commit any mortal sin.

After all, no one commits a mortal sin without freely choosing to do so, and the necessary grace to support one’s freedom always is available to one who asks for it. To doubt this would be to doubt God’s honesty, since he has promised: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12.9; cf. Mt 7.7–11, 21.22; Mk 11.24; Lk 11.9–13; 1 Jn 5.14–15). Keeping up this struggle, even if it turns out to be lifelong, belongs to the proper vocation of such people; like other vocations, it too bears constant fruit, not only in their own spiritual growth but also in their outstanding witness to the truth, both about the values at stake in sexuality and about the Holy Spirit’s power to sanctify every person who seeks and accepts his grace.

Due to the fallen human condition, everyone suffers from some spiritual and moral handicaps, and is more or less disabled in the matter of sexuality. Often enough, those less disabled in this area suffer under some great handicap in another, perhaps involving matters which are less sympathetically viewed by others. Whatever one’s handicap, that is one’s cross: not only a burden but a grace, inasmuch as it is one’s way of following the Lord Jesus, sharing in his redemptive work, providing material for the heavenly kingdom, and there attaining everlasting life.

g) Every available means must be used to avoid sexual sins. Previous paragraphs treated the specific truths which must be kept in mind to avoid sexual sins and spoke of the necessity of serving others in relationships determined by one’s personal vocation in order to develop chastity.

The classic advice to pray for purity, especially to the Blessed Virgin, also remains sound, because she is both a perfect model of chastity and a loving mother who understands her children’s weakness and wishes to nurture them in holiness. Another patron also might well be chosen for one’s struggle—St. Augustine, say, who had the same struggle. By itself, however, prayer of petition is not enough. One also needs meditative prayer, by which an intimate personal relationship with Jesus is developed and sustained, and God’s love is experienced. Only in this way can those striving to be chaste live in God’s presence, feeling not threatened but accompanied, protected, and strengthened.

Deliberately frustrating other appetites by fasting and other forms of bodily self-denial helps integrate sexual appetite by subordinating sensory appetites to reason, and thus reintegrating reason, good will, conscious experience, and bodily performances. This has the good result of helping to heal the self-alienation of the masturbatory component of sexual sins. For a similar reason, serving others by corporal works of mercy, especially those which involve close personal contact, contributes in a special way to chastity’s growth, since these corporal works involve experience based on an upright attitude toward the bodily person. Squarely facing challenges encountered in studies or work, and in this way having the satisfaction of overcoming difficulties, also builds sound self-confidence and develops the courage needed to endure the pain of frustrated sexual desire.

When sexual temptations arise, the strategy for dealing with them necessarily is indirect: stop attending to the temptation and turn to some other, absorbing, decent matter unrelated to the temptation’s source. While experiencing a temptation, one should not try to get rid of it by praying about it, since that keeps it alive.214

h) Nonsexual acts that cause sexual arousal are occasions of sin. More serious sexual sins very often result from less serious ones, and complete sexual sins from those which are incomplete. Sinfully choosing to go somewhere or do something with the anticipation of sexual arousal frequently triggers a chain of such sins. Here it is easy to see what must be done: not commit the prior sins which lead to the additional sexual sins. But one must go beyond this, since nobody can hope to be chaste without practicing modesty, that is, systematically avoiding nonsexual actions and omissions which are occasions of sexual sins.

People often imagine they cannot avoid occasions of sexual sin, since the temptation arises from within and the opportunity to commit the sin, at least by desire, always is present; but that reflects a misunderstanding of what an occasion of sin is. (See 4.D.3, above, regarding occasions of sin in general.) The occasions of sexual sins are other actions or omissions that bring about or fail to avoid sexual arousal or things which cause it. To be sure, in these acts or omissions a person neither intends to bring about or risk sexual arousal as an end nor chooses it as a means (otherwise, the act or omission would be in itself a sexual sin, not only the occasion of one). Rather, sexual arousal and incomplete (or even complete) satisfaction, or their risk, are foreseen and accepted in choosing some other act, which, considered in itself (that is, apart from this side effect), might be morally good. For example, those doing some kinds of work—fitting clothing, doing physical examinations, studying certain sorts of material, and so on—sometimes know by experience that in doing their job they will be sexually aroused. Again, cleansing one’s own or another’s body can cause sexual arousal, and certain forms of legitimate exercise can have a like effect. Of course, the act of which sexual arousal and satisfaction are a side effect also can be morally bad, for example, a wasteful, self-indulgent act done for entertainment or amusement.

In either case, the side effect’s occurrence constitutes an occasion of mortal sin, and so must be dealt with like any other occasion of mortal sin. Accepting sexual arousal or/and satisfaction as a side effect can be morally good or bad, and, if bad, can be grave or light matter, depending on the reason for choosing the act of which these are side effects and on the measures taken or omitted to ensure not giving in to any temptation.

It is a mistake for someone with sufficient experience to anticipate occasions of sexual sin to ignore the question until already deliberating about doing something which might be such an occasion. People instead should shape their lives in such a way that, insofar as possible, they are filled with worthwhile activities which carry out their personal vocations and involve few or no occasions of sin. For example, most people have no need to deal with the occasions of sexual sin presented by much contemporary literature and entertainment, since there is an adequate supply of wholesome literature, entertainment, and other recreational activities of a superior quality among which to choose.215

i) In one way, impurity is relative to individuals and situations. The impurity of intentional sexual acts in no way is relative. However, the same behavior may or may not be sinful or an occasion of sexual sin for particular individuals and in particular situations. Similar behavior not only can carry out very different intentions but also can have different effects on different people, or even on the same person under different conditions.

For example, kissing and embracing plainly are not always the same sorts of behavior but differ insofar as they involve different amounts and intensities of bodily contact. But even two kisses or embraces that are exactly the same outward behavior can be entirely different morally. Sometimes, due to the intention, they are incomplete sexual acts; sometimes, although not sexual acts at all, they cause sexual arousal or otherwise lead to sexual temptation; sometimes they neither are sexual acts nor lead to any sexual temptation.

Consequently, to avoid impurity a person must not only avoid intending any sexually sinful act but must pay careful attention to the actual effects of various kinds of acts and the foreseeable risks of sexual temptation. Because many of those effects and risks are relative, one person often may not do something entirely innocent for another.

Likewise, it is foolish and harmful to imagine that outward behavior which is virtuous in some cases will be virtuous in all, or to try to draw morally helpful lines on the basis of descriptions of outward behavior. In matters of purity, people often make too much depend on which parts of the body make contact or falsely imagine they are settling things by saying it is permissible to kiss and embrace “according to the customs of one’s country” or “as chaste people do in showing affection for relatives and friends.”

j) Christian communion and cooperation are needed for chastity. Someone pursuing chastity must cooperate closely with a confessor whose pastoral approach is sound. One also can benefit from the help of others, for example, a mutual support group or an individual who has fought and won the battle for chastity.

Beyond these obvious forms of cooperation, it is very important to try to enter or establish some sort of genuine Christian community larger than the nuclear family and, unlike most parishes today, something like an old-fashioned neighborhood. In such a community there are many close and easy personal relationships; people never struggle with their problems alone, for someone else quickly sees they need help and moves to supply it. Adults and children of different ages and both sexes have plenty of companions who share their faith and moral commitments. There are many opportunities to do good things with others, and strong social motives to avoid doing bad things, either with others or alone. Without becoming a ghetto, such a Christian community can provide a field, not completely overgrown with the weeds of sensate culture, in which the wheat of Christian life can grow. One approach would be for groups of devout young Catholic couples to purchase or rent homes close together, so that they could build up good neighborhoods of the sort seldom found today.

Even without such a community, families and single persons can try to establish and carry on chaste friendships, which are valuable in themselves (see 7.D.3.a) and helpful in achieving and persevering in chastity.216 Lacking these, an individual is likely to be lonely, and a lonely person is likely to experience sexual temptations. With them, one engages in activities which serve intelligible goods and so provide real benefits for those involved, including many of the emotional satisfactions of a good marriage. Moreover, through nonsexual communication, friendships directly contribute to chastity by helping people resist or overcome the self-alienation resulting from the masturbatory element of sexual sins. Last, but not least, all the delightful experiences involved in such friendships can serve as absorbing, decent matters to which someone experiencing sexual temptation can redirect his or her attention.

9. One Has Responsibilities with Respect to Others’ Chastity

One’s primary responsibility bearing on other people’s chastity is to practice modesty. And as modesty in relation to oneself is avoiding the occasions of sexual sins, so in relation to others it is avoiding, insofar as possible, communicating wrongful sexual thoughts and doing anything likely to arouse wrongful sexual desires. One also should do what one can to resist others’ immodesty and promote others’ chastity.

Immodesty sometimes takes the form of sexual manipulation and sexual aggression. Understanding both kinds of behavior and their interrelationship helps clarify the meaning and moral significance of so-called sexual harassment.

a) Justice and love call for modesty toward other people. People often, and in different ways, lead others into sexual sins. Plainly, that should not be done; it is scandal in the strict sense, and a grave violation of justice and love of neighbor (see 4.E.2). Thus, one must not ask others to commit sexual sins and must avoid giving bad example in this matter.

It also is necessary to avoid unnecessarily doing or saying anything which, even if innocent in itself, is likely to be an occasion of sexual sin for others. For instance, one should avoid not only public nudity and patently obscene behavior but unnecessarily dressing and/or acting in any way which proves likely to provoke anyone else’s lustful thoughts and desires. Moreover, unless by way of admonition, no one should tell someone else of the inappropriate sexual thoughts, feelings, or reactions he or she arouses; married couples should be careful about what they do in their children’s presence; girls and women should bear in mind that behavior which is not sexually arousing for them may well be so for a boy or man.

A person can be immodest by persisting in behavior which provokes an unexpected sexual response. Even though the behavior was not deliberately immodest, persisting in it will be a mortal sin if one chooses to persist after coming to know that doing so is gravely evil, or if the behavior’s bad effect is willingly accepted due to some other unrepented mortal sin. Otherwise, immodesty of this kind is not a mortal sin, though greater love of neighbor often would preclude it by making one more sensitive to others’ moral welfare and more careful to safeguard it.

b) One should resist others’ immodesty and promote their chastity. To cooperate in sexual sins or give in to those, such as pornographers, who intentionally try to arouse and serve sinful sexual desire provides these other sinners with part of what they seek in committing their own sins and so reinforces their bad motives. Even though such elements of one’s own sexual sins may not constitute a distinct sin, they do harm others, and so provide an additional reason for avoiding them.217

Responsibility toward others does not end with being careful to avoid unnecessarily doing anything that might harm their chastity. One also should do what one can to help them achieve and maintain chastity. That includes admonishing those who appear to be committing sexual sins (see 4.E.1), as well as communicating the relevant truths, when possible, and bearing witness to their importance, especially by openly and firmly holding Catholic teaching and living according to it. In today’s world, what St. Paul says about Christian life in general applies here with special appropriateness: “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world” (Phil 2.14–15).

c) Sexual manipulation and aggression are forms of immodesty. If immodesty toward others is deliberate and not unwelcome, it is sexual manipulation: the purposeful motivating of another by wrongful sexual desire. Sometimes, sexual manipulation is intended to lead to a wrongful sexual act; then the manipulation itself is an incomplete sexual act of the sort to which it is meant to lead and also of seduction. Sometimes, however, sexual manipulation is intended to elicit some nonsexual behavior, and sexual desire is used only to attract attention and motivate the desired response. Then, while not itself a sexual act, it is a grave sin of scandal. Such scandal is common in advertising, but also occurs in interpersonal relationships, for example, when a woman uses “feminine charms,” intending to motivate a man to satisfy some other desire of hers by sexually stimulating him. Men, of course, similarly manipulate women, and people also manipulate those susceptible to homosexual temptations.

If someone’s deliberate immodesty toward another is unwelcome, it is sexual aggression. When intended as seductive—to arouse another’s desire so that initially unwelcome sexual advances will be accepted—sexual aggression is wrong not only as an incomplete sexual act and as deliberate scandal, but as an imposition contrary to the other’s upright will. But not all such behavior is intended to motivate the person toward whom it is directed, for sometimes those engaging in it seek only a sort of self-satisfaction, for example, when a man, regarding a woman as a sex object, manifests a masturbatory attitude by directing immodest and unwelcome words and gestures toward her. Women and homosexuals, of course, can engage in similar aggression.

Sometimes an attempt at sexual manipulation meant to motivate nonsexual behavior misfires and provokes an unwelcome sexual response. For example, an employee seeking a promotion deliberately stirs up a manager’s sexual interest, and the manager, while not giving the promotion, responds with unwelcome sexual advances. In such cases, both parties act immodestly and do each other a grave injustice.

d) So-called sexual harassment is largely a problem of immodesty. Harassment connotes a pattern of behavior intended to disturb or annoy. Thus, the concept of sexual harassment is complex. Systematic insults bearing on someone’s gender or sexual characteristics constitute sexual harassment even if no immodesty is involved (see 7.B.5.k–l). Isolated acts of sexual assault do not, strictly speaking, constitute harassment (see 8.G.2), though a practice of unwelcome sexual touching does.

For the most part, however, sexual harassment involves immodesty but stops short of sexual assault. Very often it takes the form of persisting in sexual aggression after it has been made clear that it is unwelcome (or when, at least, that ought to be presumed). Inasmuch as the immodest activity is ongoing, such harassment is worse than an isolated act of sexual aggression, which is more likely to be a sin of weakness.

Nevertheless, the emphasis placed by feminists on men’s sexual harassment of women is confusing because of what it overlooks. In the first place, all deliberate immodesty toward others is a grave injustice; only a society which in general accepts immodest behavior is compelled to draw the line when it persists despite being unwelcome. Thus, trying to end sexual harassment while tolerating other immodesty in interpersonal relations sets too low a standard. In the second place, women and homosexuals sometimes sexually harass men and boys.

More often, of course, a woman’s immodesty toward a man is welcomed, so that, by definition, it is not sexual aggression and cannot constitute harassment. Still, such immodesty always is gravely wrong insofar as it is likely to lead to sexual sins and gravely unjust insofar as it is scandalous; and it is still more seriously unjust when it is manipulative.

No doubt, many victims of sexual harassment, whether women or men, boys or girls, are entirely innocent; despite behaving modestly, they become the objects of others’ habitual immodesty. The injustice in such a case is obviously very grave. Sometimes, though, a victim of harassment has provoked it by his or her own immodesty, or even by sexual manipulation which has misfired. The harassment then remains grave matter and should not be condoned; but the injustice is less than when similar harassment is directed at an innocent victim.

In sum, focusing attention on sexual harassment while ignoring sexual manipulation leaves out of consideration a factor which in some cases is essential to a fair judgment on the harassment’s injustice. Moreover, since most sexual harassment involves immodesty, and since immodesty often provokes harassment, vigorous action against harassment, while necessary and good in itself, is unlikely to repress that evil unless modesty in general also is promoted.

160. For a more extensive treatment of some of the matters dealt with in this question, including a chapter on the biblical teaching on sex and critiques of opposed, contemporary views, see Ronald Lawler, O.F.M.Cap., Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., and William E. May, Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, and Defense (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1985); William E. May and John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., “On Understanding Human Sexuality: A Critique of the C.T.S.A. Study,” Communio 4 (1977): 195–225. A brief, synthetic treatment of many of the ethical arguments developed in this question: John Finnis, “Personal Integrity, Sexual Morality and Responsible Parenthood,” Anthropos (now Anthropotes) 1 (1985): 43–55; a valuable study from a different, but sound and complementary, theological perspective: Quay, The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality.

161. See Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 11, AAS 60 (1968) 488, PE, 277.11 (“ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat,” translated “must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”); and John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 29, AAS 74 (1982) 115, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 6, following proposition 22 of the 1980 session of the Synod of Bishops (“apertus ad novam vitam,” translated “open to new life”). Also see: Karol Wojtyla, “La visione antropologica della ‘Humanae vitae’,” Lateranum 44 (1978): 125–45.

162. Moreover, when husband and wife cooperate in a sexual act which is not a marital act, what they do cannot be an act of conjugal love, that is, the reciprocal self-giving which brings about one-flesh unity. So, their action must have other motives, which, even if they include mutual affectionate feelings, are unintegrated with conjugal love and more or less at odds with it. Thus, John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 32, AAS 74 (1982) 119, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 7, teaches that “the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.” For another articulation of the same line of argument that contraception is incompatible with marital intercourse, see Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 30–41.

163. This is implied by Vatican II when it teaches: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” (GS 50). Francis X. Meehan, “Contemporary Theological Developments on Sexuality,” in Human Sexuality and Personhood (St. Louis: The Pope John Center, 1981), 177, makes the same point: “Sexuality implies by its very bodily phenomenon a human-life dimension. What is often not understood, and what I would like to emphasize here, is that life and love are really not two separate meanings but are inherently connected and mutually conditioned. For this reason Humanae Vitae is more than a teaching on birth control: it is an anthropological insight suggesting that love calls for life—indeed so much so that any lack of orientation toward life actually flaws the love.”

164. See Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 12, AAS 60 (1968) 488, PE, 277.12. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 29, AAS 74 (1982) 115, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 6, cites proposition 21 from the 1980 session of the Synod of Bishops: “This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et spes, 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life (Humanae Vitae, 11; cf. 9, 12).” To this the Pope appends the note: “Section 11 of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae ends with the statement: ‘The Church, calling people back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life’.” Also John Paul II, General Audience (18 July 1984), 4, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 103, OR, 23 July 1984, 1, teaches “that the above-mentioned moral norm belongs not only to the natural moral law, but also to the moral order revealed by God: also from this point of view, it could not be different, but solely what is handed down by Tradition and the Magisterium and, in our days, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae as a modern document of this Magisterium.”

165. See G. E. M. Anscombe, Contraception and Chastity (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975), 18–21.

166. Many who dissent from received Catholic teaching claim that the Doctors of the Church who developed traditional sexual and marital morality, including St. Thomas, thought marital intercourse entirely free of sin for both spouses only if they chose it in order to procreate, since, these Doctors are alleged to have said, if one spouse engaged in intercourse for the other worthy motive—to render the debt (a phrase derived from 1 Cor 7.3)—the other spouse, seeking intercourse to avoid unchastity, would be guilty of venial sin. However, while Thomas thinks that a spouse who must seek intercourse to avoid unchastity sins venially, he says, In Sent., 4, d. 31, q. 2, a. 2 (S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 5), that the spouses are wholly excused from sin if their marital intercourse is a mutual rendering of the debt, which pertains to the good of fidelity (“quando conjuges conveniunt . . . ut sibi invicem debitum reddant, quae ad fidem pertinent, totaliter excusantur a peccato”). Thus, for Thomas, rendering the debt can refer to the spouses mutually giving themselves in marital communion, and on this matter his teaching is similar to Vatican II’s: Germain Grisez, “Marriage: Reflections Based on St. Thomas and Vatican Council II,” Catholic Mind 64 (June 1966): 4–19. See also Fabian Parmisano, O.P., “Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages,” New Blackfriars 50 (1969): 599–608, 649–60.

167. Of course, it does so only if the couple make a serious and persevering effort. See GS 51; Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 25, AAS 60 (1968) 498–500, PE, 277.25. A helpful treatment of chastity in Christian marriage, with additional references to relevant theological sources: Lawler, Boyle, and May, Catholic Sexual Ethics, 128–43.

168. See Ford and Kelly, Marriage Questions, 169–207. Innocent XI condemned the proposition: “The marriage act performed for pleasure alone is completely free from all fault and venial defect” (DS 2109/1159, translation amended). The point is not that sexual pleasure is bad in itself or that it should not be part of the motive for marital intercourse. Sexual pleasure is morally indifferent in itself; the pleasure of a morally bad act is bad, but the pleasure of a morally good act is good. If married couples who abstain when appropriate at other times have marital intercourse if they are so inclined—that is, for the integral joy, which includes orgasmic pleasure, of experiencing their marital communion—their sexual urge is subordinated to their marital love; in that case, their habitual intention of living a good married life, sexually as in other ways, includes intelligible benefits, so that they do not act for pleasure alone. Thus, Pius XII, Address to Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, AAS 43 (1951) 851, Catholic Mind 50 (Jan. 1952): 62, teaches that sexual pleasure belongs to God’s good creation and adds: “In seeking and enjoying this pleasure, therefore, couples do nothing wrong. They accept that which the Creator has given them”; but he at once goes on to point out that pleasure must be subordinated to the ends of marriage and that marital happiness is proportionate to the couple’s mutual respect, not to the pleasure they experience. Cf. Anscombe, Contraception and Chastity, 25–26.

169. John Paul II, General Audience (8 Oct. 1980), 3, Inseg. 3.2 (1980) 808–9, OR, 13 Oct. 1980, 7.

170. John Paul II, General Audience (23 July 1980), 3, Inseg. 3.2 (1980) 289, OR, 28 July 1980, 1, explains: “The ‘heart’ has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the latter experiences the nuptial meaning of the body, and the less it becomes sensitive to the gift of the person, which, in the mutual relations of man and of woman expresses precisely that meaning.” Ibid., 6, Inseg. 291, OR, 12: “Concupiscence entails the loss of the interior freedom of the gift. The nuptial meaning of the human body is connected precisely with this freedom. Man can become a gift—that is, the man and the woman can exist in the relationship of mutual self-giving—if each of them controls himself. Concupiscence, which is manifested as a ‘coercion ”sui generis" of the body’, limits interiorly and reduces self-control, and for that reason, makes impossible, in a certain sense, the interior freedom of giving. Together with that, also the beauty that the human body possesses in its male and female aspect, as an expression of the spirit, is obscured. There remains the body as an object of lust and therefore as a ‘field of appropriation’ of the other human being. Concupiscence, in itself, is not capable of promoting union as the communion of persons. By itself, it does not unite, but appropriates. The relationship of the gift is changed into the relationship of appropriation."

171. John Paul II, General Audience (12 Nov. 1980), 5, Inseg. 3.2 (1980) 1133, OR, 17 Nov. 1980, 9, contrasts the spontaneity of the sexual drive as such with the spontaneity of genuine love: “There cannot be such spontaneity in all the movements and impulses that arise from mere carnal lust, devoid as it is of a choice and of an adequate hierarchy. It is precisely at the price of self-control that man reaches that deeper and more mature spontaneity with which his ‘heart’, mastering his instincts, rediscovers the spiritual beauty of the sign constituted by the human body in its masculinity and femininity.”

172. Michael L. Barré, S.S., “To Marry or to Burn: [To Burn] in 1 Cor 7:9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 36 (1974): 193–202, argues that this verse does not mean that marriage is to be chosen by those who cannot be chaste. He points out that, while cannot is found in many translations, it is not in the Greek, and argues that the verse is addressed to those who both unreasonably resisted marriage and failed to practice self-control.

173. See St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 26, q. 2, a. 3, ad 4 (S.t., sup., q. 42, a. 3, ad 4); cf. In Sent., 4, d. 2, q. 1, a. 1, qu’la 2; John Paul II, General Audience (1 Dec. 1982), 3, Inseg. 5.3 (1982) 1486, OR, 6 Dec. 1982, 6–7. Those called neither to marriage nor to virginity or celibacy for the sake of the kingdom also can live chastely: see 8.f, below.

174. Thus, the feminist claim that a woman has an exclusive right to control her own reproductivity is false not only because it is taken to justify contraception and abortion but also, and more radically, because it presupposes an individualism at odds with the reality of marriage as a one-flesh communion of persons and so reduces the marital relationship to (at best) a contractual arrangement for mutual services.

175. Many approved authors held that marital intercourse is wrong when it involves a serious risk to health; see, for example, I. Aertnys, C. Damen, and I. Visser, C.Ss.R., Theologia moralis, ed. 18, 4 vols. (Turin: Marietti, 1967–69), 4:257–58. A recent argument along the same lines: John M. Haas, “HIV and Marriage,” Ethics and Medics 16 (Feb. 1991): 1–3, (Mar. 1991): 3–4. However, St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 32, q. 1, a. 1, ad 4 (S.t., sup., q. 64, a. 1, ad 4), holds that a wife should have intercourse with her leprous husband (although Thomas says that she need not share the same dwelling with him, since that more quickly leads to infection). Moreover, those who engage in chaste intercourse for the sake of marital communion can be as justified as people intending other goods in risking bad side effects (see 8.C.2.d, above). Today, some argue that, in order to avoid transmitting a disease, couples may practice so-called safe sex (“intercourse” with a condom). But that opinion is unsound, since a sexual act of that kind is not a marital act.

176. A sound treatment of these matters, including the morality of oral-genital contacts preparatory to intercourse: Ford and Kelly, Marriage Questions, 210–13, 224–34. Also see Aertnys, Damen, and Visser, Theologia moralis, 4:282–83, 290–94.

177. Moreover, as often is the case when bad means are chosen, such sexual acts are not likely to serve the end effectively. The impossibility of intercourse should occasion a quest for deeper intimacy by means such as conversation; masturbation during a period of separation is likely to occasion temptations to commit adultery, at least in the heart; and focusing attention on genital behavior may well worsen sexual dysfunction.

178. A helpful treatment of acts contrary to marital chastity, with additional references to theological sources: Lawler, Boyle, and May, Catholic Sexual Ethics, 146–75.

179. Like many other norms, the commandment proscribing adultery reaches its full scope and clarity only in the New Testament, where teaching on the matter is entirely consistent and firm: see Mt 5.27–28, 19.18; Mk 7.21–22, 10.19; Lk 18.20; Jn 8.3–4, 11; Rom 2.17–22, 13.9; 1 Cor 6.9; Heb 13.4; Jas 2.11; cf. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. moicheia.

180. See St. Thomas, Super evangelium S. Matthaei lectura, on 5.27–28.

181. No explicit magisterial teaching supports this point, nor was it taught by the classical theologians. So, someone who denies that the marital union itself is the persisting sacrament can deny that adultery is a sacrilege without denying that it is always grave matter.

182. Edward J. Bayer, Rape within Marriage: A Moral Analysis Delayed (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1985), 3, argues that “any sexual act of a husband, which is capable of impregnating his wife, and which is at the same time forced upon her by her husband against her objectively justified and serious refusal of consent” constitutes rape. However, although such a violent act is nonmarital, a grave injustice, and insofar as it violates marital love (other things being equal) worse than rape, it is specifically different from rape. For the married couple truly are one flesh, and so sexual violence within marriage does not violate another person’s body. To call forcible intercourse within marriage “rape” is to use the word in an analogous sense, and this extension seems unwise inasmuch as it tends to support individualistic conceptions, according to which there is no one-flesh unity but only a dissoluble contract of marriage.

183. If the couple attempt to engage in marital intercourse and the husband unintentionally ejaculates outside his wife’s vagina, their act is marital in intent even though not in fact a complete marital act. Provided the couple do what they can to avoid such accidents, acts of this kind have the same moral character as their other acts short of marital intercourse.

184. It seems to follow that initiating such an act or sharing in it as a sexual act (as distinct, say, from engaging in the relevant behavior under duress, not as a sexual act but in order to forestall physical abuse) always would be formal cooperation, and so is excluded. However, many sound moralists, with some support from the magisterium, think that, subject to various conditions, the spouse who wishes to engage in intercourse open to new life may share in, and perhaps even initiate, intercourse as a sexual act with his or her spouse, despite that spouse’s choice to engage in an act not open to new life; see, for example, Aertnys, Damen, and Visser, Theologia moralis, 4:266–69; Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 560–61, PE, 208.59; cf. Noonan, Contraception, 432–34, 506–8. But such moralists (and, undoubtedly, the magisterium) assume that the reluctantly cooperating spouse need only cooperate materially. They make that assumption because they think, I believe mistakenly, that under the conditions which they specify, such an act can remain marital intercourse (and perhaps they think this because they assume that each spouse’s act can be an act of marital intercourse whether or not the other’s is). If anyone really thinks that is true, he or she can follow the moral opinion which is based on it without in any way rejecting the Church’s teaching.

185. See St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 31, q. 2, aa. 2–3 (S.t., sup., q. 49, aa. 5–6).

186. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona humana, 5, AAS 68 (1976) 82, Flannery, 2:489. For a helpful treatment of the requirements of chastity outside marriage, with additional references to theological sources, see Lawler, Boyle, and May, Catholic Sexual Ethics, 176–209.

187. Someone might object: According to this definition, which is necessary for the subsequent argument, not all deliberate genital stimulation of a man to the point of ejaculation is masturbation, for example, if the intention is not to experience orgasm but solely to provide a semen sample for analysis. Yet Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility (19 May 1956), AAS 48 (1956) 472–73, The Pope Speaks 3 (1956–57): 195–97, rejects this practice as an unnatural abuse of the generative faculty. The answer is: While self-stimulation to obtain a semen sample is physically the same as any other masturbation, it is morally different. However, even if Pius XII’s argument on this matter is not cogent, obtaining a semen sample in this way is grave matter, for it is a proximate occasion of grave sin (the more or less probable sexual fantasy and willing of the experienced sexual satisfaction) which is easily avoidable, since any semen sample required for any morally compelling reason can be obtained in some other way.

188. The word sodomy is used, not as a term of reproach, but in its descriptive sense, precisely to distinguish between the act of homosexual intercourse and the disposition toward it. One should not allow sentiment to cloud the truth about this act. John Paul II, Address to the Bishops of the United States (Chicago), 6, AAS 71 (1979) 1224–25, OR, 29 Oct. 1979, 9, makes the point clearly: “As ‘men with the message of truth and the power of God’ (2 Cor 6.7), as authentic teachers of God’s law and as compassionate pastors you also rightly stated: ‘Homosexual activity . . . as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong’. In the clarity of this truth, you exemplified the real charity of Christ; you did not betray those people who, because of homosexuality, are confronted with difficult moral problems, as would have happened if, in the name of understanding and compassion, or for any other reason, you had held out false hope to any brother or sister. Rather, by your witness to the truth of humanity in God’s plan, you effectively manifested fraternal love, upholding the true dignity, the true human dignity, of those who look to Christ’s Church for the guidance which comes from the light of God’s word.”

189. Someone might argue that, since some animals masturbate, it is a natural function. That may be true for animals, and also for the spontaneous behavior of very small children. But here masturbation is considered, not simply as a pattern of behavior, but as a freely chosen act, whose intentional structure reveals its moral significance. This act’s outward similarity to animal behavior is as irrelevant to morality as is the similarity of a parent’s deliberate infanticide to the behavior of an animal killing its own young.

190. The capacity in question is what John Paul II calls the “nuptial meaning of the body.” He also has articulated a central point in the argument presented here: General Audience (4 June 1980), 4, Inseg. 3.1 (1980) 1681, OR, 9 June 1980, 19: “ ‘The love that is in the world’, that is, lust, brings with it an almost constitutive difficulty of identification with one’s own body; and not only in the sphere of one’s own subjectivity, but even more with regard to the subjectivity of the other human being: of woman for man, of man for woman.” With this point in mind, one can see why the dualistic attitude is manifested in attempts to rationalize sexual acts which cannot be integrated into authentic conjugal love. For treatment of an important instance involving the majority of Paul VI’s Commission on Population, Family and Birthrate, see Germain Grisez, “Dualism and the New Morality,” Atti del congresso internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino nel suo settimo centenario, vol. 5, L’agire morale (Naples: Edizioni Domenicane Italiane, 1977), 323-30.

191. Some try to justify “preceremonial” intercourse, meaning the act of a couple who seriously intend to marry and have a “growing commitment” to each other: Anthony Kosnik et al., Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), 183–84, 188. Marital consent, however, does not grow; it is a definite cooperative performance. Until it is given, the couple are free to change their minds about marrying. Others try to justify “preceremonial” intercourse in a different sense, on the ground that a couple can fully consent to marriage without waiting for the public celebration: Paul Ramsey, “A Christian Approach to the Question of Sexual Relations Outside of Marriage,” Journal of Religion 45 (1965): 112–13. Even for non-Catholics, this notion is questionable, since marriage is not simply a private agreement but a social act; still, it must be admitted that in the past the Church considered to be married a couple who, after a formal engagement, had sexual intercourse: see St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 28, q. 1, a. 2 (S.t., sup., q. 46, a. 2). In any case, for Catholics today, valid marriage is impossible without witnesses (and normally requires an authorized representative of the Church); see CIC, c. 1108, §1.

192. See John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 80, AAS 74 (1982) 180–81, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 16. For a development of the essential argument against fornication and trial marriage, with pastoral guidance, see Bishops’ Committee for Pastoral Research and Practice, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Faithful to Each Other: A Catholic Handbook of Pastoral Help for Marriage Preparation (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1989), 33–38, 71–77.

193. James P. Hanigan, Homosexuality: The Test Case for Christian Sexual Ethics (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 97–104, explains this point well, though not all parts of this book can be recommended.

194. Some say that for those with a homosexual orientation, sodomy is natural and therefore good. However, a homosexual disposition is natural only in the sense that any handicap for which an individual is not personally responsible is natural. Recent psychological work on homosexuality makes clear its pathological character and fits well with the argument against sodomy proposed here. See Bartholomew Kiely, S.J., “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons: A Psychological Note,” OR, 12 Jan. 1987, 6–7, for a useful bibliography and clear summary of relevant literature; Elizabeth R. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic (Cambridge, England: James Clarke, 1983), for fuller development of one plausible psychological account of the homosexual condition and the possibility of healing it. Also see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 2–7, AAS 79 (1987) 543–47, OR, 10 Nov. 1986, 2. The C.D.F.’s use of Scripture regarding sodomy often is criticized, but there are cogent criticisms of the common arguments offered in defense of sodomy: Manuel Miguens, O.F.M., “Biblical Thoughts on ‘Human Sexuality,’ ” in Human Sexuality in Our Time: What the Church Teaches, ed. George A. Kelly (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1979), 115–18; P. Michael Ukleja, “Homosexuality and the Old Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (1983): 259–66; Lynne C. Boughton, “Biblical Texts and Homosexuality: A Response to John Boswell,” Irish Theological Quarterly 58 (1992): 141–53.

195. St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 41, q. 1, a. 4, qu’la 1, locates the specific deformity of incest in its violation “naturalis foederis”; also see S.t., 2–2, q. 154, a. 9.

196. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona humana, 10, AAS 68 (1976) 89, Flannery, 2:494.

197. The position was articulated by St. Thomas—see De malo, q. 15, a. 2, c.—and held by all the approved authors. See, for example, Aertnys, Damen, and Visser, Theologia moralis, 2:175–76, 4:256–59, 4:290–94; Marcellinus Zalba, S.J., Theologiae moralis summa, 3 vols. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Auctores Cristianos, 1957–58), 2:138–43, 3:721–23; Benedictus H. Merkelbach, O.P., Summa theologiae moralis, 4 ed. (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1942), 2:955–58, 3:950–53.

198. Patrick J. Boyle, S.J., Parvitas Materiae in Sexto in Contemporary Catholic Thought (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987), 31–44, provides references to the literature which substantiate this fact (especially in respect to extramarital acts), although Boyle goes on to reject the classical teaching. For substantiation regarding teaching on contraception: John C. Ford, S.J., and Germain Grisez, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium,” Theological Studies 39 (1978): 277–80.

199. See LG 25. See Ford and Grisez, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium,” for the full development of this line of argument. See Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 119–52 for a critique of the Ford-Grisez argument; and Germain Grisez, “Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion,” Thomist 49 (1985): 248–87, for the response to Sullivan’s critique. For a summary of other theological debate, see Germain Grisez, “General Introduction,” in John C. Ford, S.J., et al., The Teaching of “Humanae Vitae”: A Defense (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 13–18.

200. Some deny that the New Testament’s Greek word, porneia, refers to what is meant by fornication today, but see John J. O’Rourke, “Does the New Testament Condemn Sexual Intercourse Outside Marriage?” Theological Studies 37 (1976): 478–79; Joseph Jensen, O.S.B., “Does Porneia Mean Fornication? A Critique of Bruce Malina,” Novum Testamentum 20 (1978): 161–84.

201. For example, see St. Thomas, Super primam epistolam ad Corinthios lectura, on 6.10; S.t., 2–2, q. 138, a. 1, ad 1.

202. It is important to note that, when Church teaching focused on sexual morality itself, New Testament passages other than the one Trent cites against Luther often were used as illustrative. For example, Eph 5.3–12 was cited because it seems to teach the gravity of all intentional sexual sins. Warning against “fornication and impurity of any kind” (Eph 5.3), the sacred writer says nobody committing these sins “has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5.5). Such sins are “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5.11), completely unsuitable for children of light. Alternative views are excluded: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph 5.6). To whom does no one refer? Barth, Ephesians: Chapters 4–6, 566, mentions several views, but says Abbott’s is to be preferred: “Eph 5:6 refers to ‘Christians who made light of sin.’ ” Thus, dissent from Christian teaching on sexual matters began in New Testament times, and is not exclusively a twentieth-century phenomenon.

203. Someone might object that the use Trent makes of 1 Cor 6.9–10, does not show it is a matter of faith that all the kinds of sinners Paul mentions are excluded from the kingdom, but only that at least one kind is, because a single counterexample falsifies Luther’s position, so that for Trent’s purpose it was sufficient if at least one of the kinds of acts Paul mentions is grave matter. However, although Luther indeed is refuted if any kind of act other than unbelief is a mortal sin, he is not refuted by Paul’s proposition unless that proposition is asserted, and the proposition is that all the kinds of sinners mentioned are excluded from the kingdom, not that at least one kind is.

204. A telling critique of many permissive opinions from a strictly humanist viewpoint: Maggie Gallagher, Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution Is Killing Family, Marriage, and Sex and What We Can Do about It (Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989).

205. For the generalization of the argument, see John Paul II, General Audience (11 Feb. 1981), Inseg. 6.1 (1981) 258–61, OR, 16 Feb. 1981, 3, 12. An illuminating commentary on the relationship between charity and chastity in St. Paul: Barnabas Mary Ahern, C.P., “Christian Holiness and Chastity,” in Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics: II, Commentaries (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1977), 111–19.

206. See Germain Grisez, “Turmoil in the Church,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review 85 (Nov. 1984): 12-22.

207. See, for example, St. Thomas, S.t., 2–2, q. 15, a. 3; q. 20, a. 4; q. 53, a. 6; q. 153, aa. 4–5; De malo, q. 15, a. 4.

208. A sound work offering helpful insight and many suggestions for nurturing chastity: Benedict J. Groeschel, O.F.M.Cap., The Courage to Be Chaste (New York: Paulist Press, 1985).

209. See F.1.i, below, for a very clear response by John Paul II to advice along these lines given married couples in respect to the practice of contraception.

210. It follows that many frequently employed pastoral strategies are disastrous. For a sound pastoral strategy, to which Vatican II made reference (in DH 14, n. 36 [n. 57 in Abbott]), see Pius XII, De conscientia christiana in iuvenibus recte efformanda, AAS 44 (1952) 270–78, The Pope Speaks: The Teachings of Pope Pius XII, ed. Michael Chinigo (New York: Pantheon Books, 1957), 93–99. Also see Germain Grisez et al., “ ‘Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life’: Toward a Clearer Understanding,” Thomist 52 (1988): 418–26.

211. John Paul II, Homily at the Tomb of St. Maria Goretti, 6, Inseg. 9.2 (1986) 738, OR, 20 Oct. 1986, 10. Cf. Georges Cottier, O.P., “La conception chrétienne de la sexualité,” Nova et vetera 52 (1977): 1–21.

212. See John Paul II, General Audience (28 Apr. 1982), Inseg. 5.1 (1982) 1344–48, OR, 3 May 1982, 3, 12.

213. See Paul Conner, O.P., and Basil Cole, O.P., Christian Totality: Theology of Consecrated Life (Bombay: St. Paul Publications, 1990), 59–88.

214. For a constructive approach to overcoming habitual sodomy: John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).

215. An excellent treatment of the responsibility of Christian families entirely to exclude pornography: Burke, Covenanted Happiness, 126–48; a collection of insightful, nontheological essays (not all of which are sound): The Case against Pornography, ed. David Holbrook (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1973).

216. With respect to religious life, Vatican II exhorts: “Let all, especially superiors, remember that chastity is guarded more securely when true brotherly or sisterly love flourishes in the common life of the community” (PC 12).

217. Carl Hoffman, “A Psychiatric View of Obscene Literature,” Bulletin of the Guild of Catholic Psychiatrists 8 (1961): 3–13, argues that pornography does affect behavior with detrimental social consequences.