Tuesday, December 14, 2010
A Question Concerning Sexuality: How Far is "Too Far"?
A friend of mine (let's call him "Brody" for the sake of anonymousness) that I know through The Catholic Forum sent me this question last week concerning Catholic sexuality and with it my answer. "Brody" has given me permission to publish his question to me; I hope you find the answer I provided helpful for yourself.
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Brody: I didn't want to post this question on thecatholicforum.org or on your wall because it is a bit awkward, and you are the smartest person I know in Church teaching.
I was having a discussion at work with the guys on shift (they seem to always ask me religious questions) and they began to ask me about sexuality, and I wanted to ask just to clarify my own answers to their questions and also so I know too.
Where is 'the line' for sexual behaviour between a couple? Is passionate kissing allowed? I told them that having sex is a mortal sin. Is that correct? Do the rules apply differently for engaged couples.
Also, I understand and believe that contraception is a mortal sin, but how is a married couple to have sex if they don't want kids? Is the man to just withdraw every time and stop?
I'm sorry for the akward questions.
Thank you brother Hospitaller, PAX
Me: Sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin, that is correct. It is in violation of the Sixth Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery". All of this is actually covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church from paragraph 2331 to 2400 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm)
As far as "the line" between a couple in a committed relationship (dating, I'm assuming) is concerned, there'd certainly be nothing wrong with a exchanging a kiss with your significant other as a display of affection, but the advice I always give to my male students when they ask about where "the line" is, is this: always make sure you're thinking with the "right head" because if you're not careful you may become consumed by your lust. Be prudent and exercise chastity: uphold the dignity of yourself as an individual and that of your significant other.
Men should always see women as daughters of God. It becomes very difficult for your lust to consume you if you keep this thought in mind, so do nothing to a woman that God would not want you to do with his daughters.
Concerning engaged couples: yes, even they must remain chaste. For even for them it is a mortal sin to engage in sexual intercourse before marriage:
"Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity." - CCC, par. 2350
Concerning not wanting kids: This is covered in paragraphs 2366 to 2372 of the Catechism, but this paragraph in particular hits the bullseye with your question:
"Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil" - CCC, par. 2370
Onanism, the sin of "seed spilling", is so called because Onan who had a moral obligation to bear children with his dead brother's widow, was struck down by God because he refused to bear offspring for his brother; he "withdrew" (Genesis 38:6-10). Onan acted selfishly; he contracepted. Further reading here: http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1991/9107chap.asp
What paragraph 2370 of the Catechism means when it refers to "methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods" is Natural Family Planning (or the Rhythm Method. More information on NFP here: http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/quickquestions/keyword/natural%20family%20planning (some good answers to other questions there too).
My wife and I have been using a combination of NFP methodology and abstinence in our own marriage, and while it is challenging at times we're sure to communicate any feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction between us in order to come to some sort of compromise. Personally I have found that I have been able to grow more in love with my wife over the years because of this; the type of love we call "agape".
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If you want some great reading about the Church's teachings on sex and sexuality, then I highly recommend reading Jason Evert's material over at Catholic.com and by visiting his website over at Chastity.com.
Have you got a question that you want answered? Feel free to shoot me an email here. I look forward to your correspondence.