November 12, 2008

  • Question 112 – Christopher West's Teaching on Sex in Marriage

    Question 112 – Christopher West's Teaching on Sex in Marriage


    Here are the quotes and references from Christopher West:


    “…but it's not inherently wrong if the wife climaxes as a result of oral stimulation, so long as it's within the context of a completed act of intercourse…. Furthermore, while there's nothing wrong per se with oral-genital contact as foreplay to intercourse, such expressions require the greatest degree of purity and reverence….”

    Good News About Sex and Marriage, p. 93


    “…if the wife, despite their sincere efforts, was unable to climax during penetration, it may well be the loving thing for the husband to stimulate her to climax thereafter (if she so desired). In this case, such stimulation is not inherently masturbatory since it is within the context of a completed act of intercourse.”

    Good News About Sex and Marriage, p. 91


    thanks for your help with this,





    R. Sungenis: J.T., the Church has never entered this subject by incorporating graphic descriptions of what a husband and wife can and cannot do in their conjugal relationship. The Church only gives general descriptions of what is permitted and not permitted. I will give you those teachings momentarily.


    As for Mr. West’s treatment of this subject, I, personally, do not think it is proper for him to either describe these graphic scenes of sex in his book or to make a personal judgment about their legitimacy or illegitimacy. Since the Church doesn’t enter into these specific areas (e.g., oral stimulation, post-intercourse orgasm, etc.) it is presumptuous of Mr. West to conclude that the Church would allow these acts. He simply doesn’t know for certain. I’m picturing a couple having a conversation about whether they should perform a certain act and one of them says to the other, “Well, it’s ok, because I read in Christopher West’s book that the Church allows it.” This would be an erroneous conclusion, since the Church has never remarked on the specific situations about which West elaborates. In such cases, the Church has thought it wise not to become overly detailed about the marital act, and subsequently, with all due discretion, has left the details up to the judgment of the married couple, which they should be. The Church has concluded that its general teaching on how to conduct oneself in the marriage act is sufficient for the Catholic masses. If the Catholic spouse has any further questions or doubts regarding the marital act, he/she can seek counsel from a qualified Catholic cleric or someone that the cleric could recommend, as opposed to general consumption in a Catholic self-help book.


    As for the Church's teaching, if anything, the Church seeks to minimize the prerogatives in the marital act, not expand them. One of the more general parameters comes from Pius XI in Casti Connubii: “Any use of the marriage act, in the exercise of which it is designedly deprived of its natural power of pro-creating life, infringes on the law of God and of nature, and those who have committed any such act are stained with the guilt of serious sin.” (Denz 2240).


    Also see 2231 and 2232 in Denzinger regarding marriage and the sexual act.

    The 1994 Catholic Catechism says the following. (I have underlined the more pertinent parts):


    III. The Love of Husband and Wife


    2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.


    2361 “Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.” [142]


    Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, “Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety.” So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying, “Blessed are you, O God of our fathers.... You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the race of mankind has sprung. You said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.' I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together.” and they both said, “Amen, Amen.” Then they went to sleep for the night.


    2362 “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:


    The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.


    2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.

    The Catechism by John Hardon says the following:


    Part Two: Morality and the Spiritual Life - X. Commandments of God

    Sexual Pleasure


    In order to understand the Church's teaching on the morality of sexual pleasure, it will be useful to briefly state some of the normative principles that underlie this teaching. They are always implicit in what the Catholic teaching authority tells the faithful they must do in order to live up to the Christian expectations of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments of the Decalogue.


    First of all, sexual organs are good and beautiful because they have been given to men and women by God for a most noble purpose, the continuation of the human race. In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, we are told: "God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it"' (Gn. 1:27-28).


    Second, the sexual act in marriage is also good and beautiful because of its twofold God-given purpose: for the generation of children, and as an expression of true mutual love between the spouses.


    Third, sex among Christians is essentially unselfish because it is to be directed toward others, ultimately to the offspring that God may give husband and wife and proximately to one's marriage partner.


    The fourth norm is that when sex is used for selfish purposes it is disoriented by Christian standards. The disorientation may be done in various ways: when its ultimate purpose is deliberately frustrated by contraception; or when intercourse is had in circumstances where the children would be brought into the world without proper care for their upbringing and education, as in adultery and fornication; or when sexual union is sought merely to satisfy one's own selfish desires without regard for the fatigue or illness of the other partner.


    The fifth principle indicates that there must be a morally good reason for any action that brings about sexual stimulation, whether the stimulation is primary, e.g., by touch, or secondary, e.g., through the other senses. Direct sexual actions, whose immediate and exclusive intention is to arouse or encourage sexual pleasure, are the privilege only of married partners between themselves. They are forbidden to the unmarried, because such conduct would be contrary to the virtue of chastity. Indirect sexual actions are those whose purpose is not to arouse sexual stimulation but some other good reason. If there is such a reason, the actions are not sinful, provided a person neither intends the sexual pleasure nor consents if it spontaneously arises.

    Lest there be any misunderstanding about the Church's attitude toward sexual experience between married spouses, we should recall the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: "The sexual activity by which married people are intimately and chastely united is honorable and worthy and, if done in a truly human fashion, it signifies and fosters the self-giving by which the couple gladly and gratefully enrich each other." It is unfortunate that words like "impurity" and "unchastity" have taken on nuances that suggest there is something wrong with the sexual experience. It is sacred, and its very sacredness is the reason why indulgence outside of marriage becomes profanation of a holy thing.


    Catholic moralists have always given due attention to sexual experiences outside of marriage that are called "unnatural," notably masturbation and homosexuality. But their increase in certain affluent cultures has led some people to wonder if, perhaps, they are all that sinful. What can be so wrong about "relieving emotional pressure" or, in the case of homosexuals, about two men or two women "being in love"?


    Writers who defend the practices generally follow the expedient of reducing the morality of human acts to the intention. How a person enjoys sexual pleasure is unimportant; what matters is the reason why. Self-abuse then becomes sex release, and the sin that St. Paul said excluded one from the kingdom of heaven is described as a form of gaiety.

    The Church has consistently proscribed homosexuality and masturbation as objectively contrary to the will of God. At the same time, she recognizes that the subjective responsibility of the persons involved is greatly affected by the culture in which they live.


    As a society's attitudes change toward sexual activity outside of marriage, it becomes increasingly difficult for men and women to maintain their Christian convictions and accept the Church's teaching. Accordingly, manuals in moral theology now give special counsel to confessors and spiritual directors about helping their penitents come to grips with the problems that underlie self-indulgence. Pastoral psychologists have found a remarkable correlation between the urge to masturbation and physical or emotional fatigue, insecurity, or lack of acceptance by others. They have also connected homosexuality with disoriented relations between child and parents, and with imbalanced sense of guilt, exorbitant malice, and inner depression.


    More than ever, the Church is becoming aware of the need for probing beneath the surface of not only what a person is doing but why he is doing it. Impulses and tendencies that well up from the subconscious (or unconscious) are seen as contributing to overt actions that reflect the behavioral pattern of the environment, even while they contradict the deepest values in which a person believes. He may have an unexplainable desire and feel the desire persist in spite of conscious reasons to the contrary; he may experience an unaccountable inner drive without apparent cause in his conscious life; or he may experience an unclear sense of fear or attraction for which there is no assignable cause.


    That is one reason why religious instruction, especially of adolescents, should take into account their tendency to identify with surrounding customs as an expression of personal autonomy. "From this kind of autonomy there arises what can be called a 'temptation to naturalism,' which makes adolescents tend to perform their actions and to seek their salvation by their own powers. The bolder the personality, the stronger will be an inclination of this sort."


    Hence the importance of sound pastoral care and the Church's insistence that her priests and teachers not only present the moral doctrine to the faithful, without dilution and with perfect candor, but also help the people to cope with their moral problems and train them to Christian maturity.


    This Christian maturity is a new term in the Catholic vocabulary. It corresponds to the achievement of a fully developed personality, one of whose features is a balanced control of the sex impulses and a harmonious unity of all the experiences of one's personal, social, and spiritual life. What must be kept in mind, however, is that such maturity is not some starry ideal but an attainable reality. Of course, this means self-mastery, with the help of divine grace. "If we wish, we can keep our body and spirit chaste. The Master, who speaks with great severity in this matter (Mt. 5:28), does not propose an impossible thing. We Christians, regenerated in baptism, though we are not freed from this kind of weakness, are given the grace to overcome it with relative facility." We have the promise that "since the Spirit is our life," we shall be "directed by the Spirit," which means that we shall not be victims of our "self-indulgent passions and desires" (Ga. 5:24-25).


Comments (8)

  • Don't theologians always get into the details (subject to modesty) and derive conclusions from such things as natural law and Catholic doctrine?  What's wrong with that?...And does it not matter what constitutes the "substantial act" of the marital act?  What is the aspect of female orgasm that would preclude what West says?   Is pleasure now bad instead of neutral?This is fuzzy thinking...and I don't even like West's stuff.Vince (Louisville, Ky.)

  • Vince, in the past, if theologians wrote about such things in manuals or treatises of moral theology, it was for students of moral theology or confessors, not for a lay audience.

  • Where is the Love?As I understand it you have still not addressed the logical premises set forth by West from JT on based on JPII text. While these quotes are West's opinion they seem to conform to the theology he puts forth in TOB as expressed by JPII. Addressed in TOB are those concerns mentioned in your listed "teachings".  The theology seems to be in line with historical church teaching other than the detail you describe as a problem. They (his opinions) also follow the virtures too. (ie doing a right thing for the wrong reason and so forth) So both logically and theologically speaking they seem to "flow". As a catholic lay person the root is love. God's love for us (1st comd) and our love for one anther (2nd comd). Without use, objectivity or suspicion, his advice appears to be a good guideline. It seems most complaints about TOB & West are not addressing the premises of his beliefs but merely his format. If this is your only concern I would ask you to also consider "decisions by couples" prior to the "details". Wouldn't you agree that the majority of these decisions have been, not only opposed to catholic teachings (contraception, abortion), but in support of some new presentation of the old heresies (if it feels good do it, health and wealth gospel teachings, focus on man without God). These heresies have found their way into even those in Holy Orders thinking let alone much of our culture. Thus making the job of finding "qualified" clergy very difficult. In light of past mistakes and following the wrong paths by catholics I think the challenge placed before us to live life according to TOB would place many of us closer to the right (more perfect) answer (way of life) than without the guidance of the "details". Granted just focusing on these simple passages (of West) w/o a full understanding of their basis is wrong. In pondering the premises in TOB & JPII's text, I feel a greater understnding of not just what God wants for me but what the church has been trying to say for many years in a practical sense (at least in this area of my life). (Get away from my self focus & concupiscence.) In my quest to live according to gal 5:24, I need that "candor" I find in West's writing & JPII speaks of. It has moved me (i think) closer to a fuller understanding of self and God. That which I think is characteristically catholic. God Bless you as you endevor to find & "do the will of God" & follow His commandments. May His kingdom come thru each of us as a response to His Gift and thru our obedience.  This thru our Triune God. p.

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  • SODOMITICFOREPLAY IN MARRIAGE IS MORTALLY SINFUL ACCORDING TO SAINT ALPHONSUS LIGOURIAND SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS     There have been a number of discussions on theinternet in recent years as to whethersodomy as foreplay to natural intercourse between husband and wife ispermissible, and some theologians have maintained it is (although some stronglycaution that the practice is nevertheless not sanitary and could be emotionallydebasing). Two of the greatest moral theologians in the Catholic Church, bothof whomare Saints and Doctors of the Church, have expressed the opposite opinion,namely,that such conduct is mortally sinful.     Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, proclaimed Doctor of theChurch in 1871, was the founder of the Redemptorists and one of the church'sgreatest moral theologians. Professor Smithsummarizes his views on the issue in question in the following italicizedquote:For instance, in the 1912 edition ofTheologia Moralis, Editio Nova by St. Alphonsus Liguori (written in 1748), weread this question: "Whether a man sins mortally by beginning intercoursein the posterior receptacle (the anus), so as to consummate it afterwards inthe appropriate receptacle (the vagina)?" The answer given to thatquestion is: "[Various theologians] deny it is a mortal sin as long asthere is no danger of pollution [ejaculation outside of the vagina] because allother touches (as they say), even if sexual, are not gravely illicit amongspouses. But it is more generally and truly affirmed [to be a mortal sin] by[various theologians], because coitus itself of this kind (even if withoutinsemination) is true sodomy, although not consummated, just as copulation inthe natural vessel of another woman is true fornication, even if inseminationdoes not take place."[1] Liguori supports the view of those who argue that analpenetration as foreplay is a mortal sin. (emphasis added) (      In his Encyclica Studiorum Ducem,Pope Pius XI presents St. Thomas Aquinas as the church's preeminent theologian.In paragraph 20 of the encyclical the Pope states: " He also composed asubstantial moral theology, capable of directing all human acts in accordancewith the supernatural last end of man. And as he is, as We have said, theperfect theologian, so he gives infallible rules and precepts of life...."(see     FatherHarrison, in the quote which follows, shows how Aquinas saw this sin ofsodomitic foreplay as aserious moral violation. Because he explains the matter so well, I quote atlength from his article at"Forone thing, arguments from silence can cut both ways: the silence might also bedue to the fact that earlier Catholic bishops and theologians took for grantedthe sinfulness of such actions, considering them so obviously impure that itwas hardly necessary to spell this out in writing. Furthermore, the silence wasnot total over the centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas, in discussing "the sinagainst nature" (under which heading he understands the whole ensemble ofdeviant acts listed near the beginning of my previous paragraph), has a coupleof terse remarks that could really only refer to impure and unnatural forms offoreplay. In ST IIa IIae, Q. 154, art. 11, at the end of the corpus, he speaksof a man and woman "not observing the natural manner of copulation, eitheras to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial methods ofcopulation" (my emphasis). Since these "monstrous and bestialmethods", being clearly the worst of the "either/or"alternatives he has in mind, would have to include consummated(orgasm-attaining) acts of oral and anal sex, what could the previousalternative be ("undue means") other than unconsummated acts of thesame sort? The very end of the next article (Q. 154, art. 12, ad 4) is similar,but clearer. Here Thomas again brands as an unnatural sin the behaviour of aman and woman who "do not observe the right manner of copulation".But he adds that such a sin "is more grievous if the abuse regards thereceptacle (vas) than if it affects the manner of copulation in respect ofother circumstances". Now, classical theologians used the word vas to meanthe place wherein the semen is deposited in ejaculation. The only "fittingreceptacle" was of course the wife's vagina. Any place else was called an"unfitting receptacle" (vas indebitum). So in saying this kind of sinis more grievous when it involves "abuse regarding the receptacle",Aquinas clearly means it is more grievous when ejaculation occurs, i.e., whenthe wife's mouth or anal cavity in fact becomes a receptacle for the semen. Butthat in turn can only mean that the less grievous form of this sin - that formwhich Aquinas has in mind when he mentions "other circumstances"involved in the "manner of copulation" - must be sins in whichsimilar oral or anal contact takes place, but without reaching the point oforgasm on the part of either the male or the female.    And how grave are such sins? These same articles of the Summa make it clearthat St. Thomas sees unnatural male-female acts as being the least grievousform of the “sin against nature” except for masturbation. But, like allorthodox Catholic moralists, he considers even unconsummated masturbation to beper se mortally sinful (“grave matter”, in theological language). So does theCatechism of the Catholic Church, which says that masturbation, defined simplyas deliberately seeking isolated sexual pleasure from one’s own organs (i.e.,with or without reaching orgasm) is “gravely disordered” (no. 2352). So it isclear that Aquinas, even though he does not spell this out, would logicallyconsider even unconsummated oral and anal sex between husband and wife to bemortally sinful, thus creating a need for sincere sacramental confession priorto approaching Holy Communion.)"     From the discussion above, we seethat two great moral theologians and Doctors of the Church (not to mention Saints),Saint Alphonsus Ligouri and Saint Thomas Aquinas, view sodomitic foreplay inmarriage as a serious violation of the moral law. Vatican II emphasized thevirtue of conjugal chastity. The Council stated:   “Thesexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfullyexceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves whichare proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuinehuman dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there isquestion of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission oflife, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincereintentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined byobjective standards. These, based on the nature of the human personand his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and humanprocreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless thevirtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on theseprinciples, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control whichare found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfoldingof the divine law.(14)Allshould be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are notrealities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured orperceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternaldestiny of men” (emphasis added by underlining)(Gaudium et Spes, n. 51). Tom 

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