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Questions and Answers on Catholic Marital Sexual Ethics
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
To submit a question, contact the author.


1. What determines the morality of an act?
2. What determines the morality of a sexual act?
3. Which types of sexual acts are moral between a husband and wife?
4. Which types of acts are moral for a husband and wife to use as foreplay?
5. Is the missionary position the only moral sexual position?
6. If the husband or wife is not fertile, due to injury, illness, or old age, is the act of natural marital relations still moral?
7. May a married couple engage in natural intercourse during the wife's pregnancy, or during her period?
8. Are divorced Catholics permitted to receive holy Communion?
9. Why is the use of contraception always gravely immoral?
10. May a married couple use barrier contraceptives to prevent disease transmission?
11. May a married woman use contraceptives for a medical purpose?
12. Must a spouse refrain from sexual relations with a contracepting spouse?
13. How is natural family planning (NFP) different from artificial birth control (ABC)?
14. Is passionate kissing only moral within marriage?

For an in-depth explanation of marital sexual ethics as well as the basic principles
of Catholic moral theology, see my book: The Catechism of Catholic Ethics.


1. What determines the morality of an act?

In moral theology, an act is the knowing choice of a human person. Each knowing choice is an act, and each act is subject to the eternal moral law. Some acts are moral, and other acts are immoral. An immoral act is a sinful act. Sin is a knowingly chosen immoral act.

The morality of any act is based on three fonts (or sources):

(1) the intention or purpose for which the act is done,
(2) the inherent moral meaning of the act as determined by its moral object,
(3) the circumstances of the act, especially the consequences.

To be moral, each and every act must have three good fonts of morality. The intention must be good, the moral object must be good, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences. If any one font is bad, the act is immoral. If an act is immoral due to a bad intention, the same type of act may be moral with a good intention. If an act is immoral due to the circumstances, the same type of act may be moral in different circumstances.

But when an act has an evil moral object, the act is inherently immoral, in other words, the act is evil, in and of itself, apart from intention and circumstances. Every intrinsically evil act has an inherent moral meaning (the moral species) which is contrary to the moral law of God. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances because the moral species (the type of act in terms of morality) is inherently unjust.

Pope John Paul II: "But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 67).

Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, and are never justified by intention, or by circumstances, or by other knowingly chosen acts.


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2. What determines the morality of a sexual act?

A sexual act is any deliberate use of the genital sexual faculty.

Sexual acts are not exempt from the moral law. To be moral, each and every knowingly chosen sexual act must have three good fonts of morality. The intention must be good, the moral object must be good, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences.

In order to have a good moral object, each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. Each and every moral sexual act always has these three meanings: marital, unitive, procreative. The deprivation of any one or more of these meanings from the moral object causes the sexual act to be intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

The natural sexual act is genital-to-genital intercourse between a man and a woman. This act is unitive and procreative. Natural sexual intercourse between a husband and wife is called natural marital relations. Only natural marital relations is martial and unitive and procreative.

The use of contraception deprives the act of natural intercourse of the procreative meaning, causing the sexual act to be non-procreative. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because it deprives sexual relations of its procreative meaning, which is required by God for sexual acts to be moral. Therefore, natural marital relations must always be open to life (not contracepted).

A non-marital sexual act is any type of sexual act outside of marriage. Acts of adultery, pre-marital sex, and masturbation are non-marital. All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because these acts lack the marital meaning, which is required by God for sexual acts to be moral.

An unnatural sexual act is any type of sexual act that is not unitive and procreative. Examples of unnatural sexual acts include oral sexual acts, anal sexual acts, and manipulative sexual acts (i.e. masturbation of self or of another). All unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because these acts lack the unitive and procreative meanings, which are required by God for sexual acts to be moral. These acts are not procreative because they are not the type of act that is inherently directed at procreation. These acts are not truly unitive, even if there is a certain mere physical union of body parts, because this is not the type of sexual union intended by God for human persons. Unnatural sexual acts are not justified by being done within marriage because the moral law requires each and every sexual act to be not only marital, but also unitive and procreative.

To be moral, each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. All non-marital sexual acts, all non-unitive sexual acts, and all non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All such acts have an evil moral object, and so they are not justified by intention, or by circumstances, or by other acts.


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3. Which types of sexual acts are moral between a husband and wife?

The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches that each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative.

Pope Paul VI: "The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

"The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life -- and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called." (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12).

Only natural marital relations (natural genital-to-genital intercourse) open to life has all three meanings: marital, unitive, and procreative. If a husband or wife are infertile, due to old age, or injury, or illness, the natural marital act remains moral because it is still the type of act which is inherently directed toward procreation (even if procreation is not attained). The essential moral nature of any act is determined by its inherent ordering toward its moral object, not by the attainment of the moral object.


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4. Which types of acts are moral for a husband and wife to use as foreplay?

Acts used for the purpose of foreplay are not exempt from the moral law. Some acts of foreplay are moral, and other acts of foreplay are immoral. Foreplay is a means to the end of natural marital relations. But the end does not justify the means. Therefore, the acts used as foreplay are not justified merely by being a type of foreplay.

A knowingly chosen act is moral if it has three good fonts of morality (intention, moral object, circumstances). A knowingly chosen act is immoral if it has one or more bad fonts of morality. In order to be moral, each act of foreplay must have three good fonts of morality. (A font of morality is a source or basis for morality.)

The intention to use an act as a type of foreplay, i.e. in order to prepare for natural marital relations, is not sufficient to make the act moral. The circumstance that an act occurs in connection with (in the context of) natural marital relations is not sufficient to make the act moral. In order to be moral, each and every knowingly chosen act must have a good intention, and a good moral object, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences in the circumstances. The marital bedroom is not exempt from the moral law.

All three fonts of morality must be good for any act to be moral. The context of an act (its circumstances) and the intention of the person who acts are not sufficient to cause the act to be moral.

"It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1756).

The object (or moral object) of an act is the end in terms of morality toward which the act is inherently directed. When the moral object is evil, the act is in and of itself immoral; it is an intrinsically evil act. All intrinsically evil acts are inherently ordered toward an evil moral object. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or by circumstances because the very nature of the act is contrary to the Law of God (the moral law).

Pope John Paul II: "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81).

Pope John Paul II: "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62).

Unnatural sexual acts (oral sex, anal sex, and manipulative sex, i.e. masturbation of self or of another) are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because these acts are not unitive and procreative. The deprivation of the marital or unitive or procreative meaning from any sexual act causes the moral object to be evil, and the act itself to be inherently immoral. In order to have a good moral object, each and every sexual act must be not only marital, but also unitive, and procreative. Any sexual act that is non-marital, or non-unitive, or non-procreative is an intrinsically evil act.

Pope Paul VI: "The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12.)

Unnatural sexual acts are never justified by the intention (or purpose) to use these acts as a type of foreplay, nor by the circumstance that these acts occur in the context of natural marital relations. All unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral due to the deprivation of the unitive and procreative meanings from the moral object.

Each knowingly chosen act must have three good fonts in order to be moral. When an act is intrinsically evil, it has an evil moral object, and therefore a bad font of morality. One bad font is sufficient to cause an act to be a sin. Good intentions and dire circumstances can never justify an act that is intrinsically evil.

Furthermore, each act must stand on its own as to its morality. The three fonts which apply to any act are those which spring up from that same act. One act cannot borrow the fonts of morality from another act. An intrinsically evil act is never justified by being done before, during, or after another act because intrinsically evil acts are inherently immoral. Therefore, unnatural sexual acts are never justified by being done before, during, or after another act, even the good act of natural marital relations.

Unnatural sexual acts which lack climax are sometimes called 'stimulation' (oral stimulation, anal stimulation, manual stimulation). But the lack of sexual climax does not change the moral object from evil to good. These sexual acts remain deprived of the unitive and procreative meanings, and therefore they remain intrinsically evil, regardless of intention or circumstance. Other acts of foreplay, those which are not unnatural sexual acts, generally do not have an evil moral object and so they are not intrinsically evil.

Is all touching of the genitals prohibited to spouses?

No. However, touching the genitals of yourself, or of your spouse, in the same or similar manner as would be done in masturbation (i.e. manipulative sexual acts) is immoral. Any type of masturbatory touching is immoral (regardless of whether or when sexual climax occurs) because it is a sexual act that is non-unitive and non-procreative.

Any claim about the morality of an act which "dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition." (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 49.) In other words, the concrete act (the type of behavior) cannot be separated from its inherent moral meaning. An intrinsically evil act cannot become moral merely because the will directs the act toward a particular purpose. Certain kinds of acts are inherently immoral by the very nature of the act. And so, masturbatory touching of yourself or of your spouse does not become moral by being done within marriage, nor by being done to prepare for the marital act. The bodily act itself cannot be dissociated from its inherent moral meaning. So when an act, such as masturbation, is intrinsically evil, it can never become moral, not with any intention, not in any circumstances, not within marriage, not in association with the marital sexual act.

Which acts of foreplay are moral?

Any act is moral if the intention and the moral object are both good, and if the good consequences of the act outweigh any bad consequences. If the intention and consequences are good, then the morality of an act of foreplay will depend on the moral object. Any sexual act which is non-marital, or non-unitive, or non-procreative is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, even if used for the purpose of foreplay, due to the deprivation in the moral object of the marital or unitive or procreative meanings. However, acts such as a husband kissing and caressing his wife's breasts, or a wife kissing and embracing her husband passionately, are not sexual acts per se, and so these acts are generally moral and do not need to be unitive and procreative.

In order to be moral, each and every sexual act must be unitive and procreative. Non-unitive or non-procreative sexual acts (i.e. unnatural sexual acts) are intrinsically evil, and do not become moral by being used as a type of foreplay, nor by occurring before, during, or after an act of natural marital relations.


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5. Is the missionary position the only moral sexual position?

No. Any sexual position of natural genital-to-genital intercourse between a husband and wife thereby retains the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings, and so would have a good moral object. But to be moral, each and every knowingly chosen act, in addition to having a good moral object, must also have good intention, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences.


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6. If the husband or wife is not fertile, due to injury, illness, or old age, is the act of natural marital relations still moral?

Yes, natural intercourse is still moral, even if the husband or wife is not fertile due to injury, illness, or old age.

Pope Paul VI: "The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, 'noble and worthy.' It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws." (Humanae Vitae, n. 11.)

In order to be moral, each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. This is the threefold object of every moral sexual act. This natural sexual act is procreative precisely because it is inherently directed toward procreation. In other words, it is the type of act that is intrinsically ordered toward the good end of creating new life. But even when this act does not or cannot achieve this good end (its moral object), the act remains inherently ordered toward that same end, and so it retains that good, the procreative meaning, in its moral object. An act does not have to achieve its moral object to be inherently ordered toward its moral object.


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7. May a married couple engage in natural intercourse during the wife's pregnancy, or during her period?

Yes, natural intercourse is permitted between a husband and wife during those times.

Although the natural marital act does not result in a new conception during pregnancy, the act itself is still inherently directed toward procreation. Natural intercourse is the type of sexual act that is inherently ordered toward the procreative meaning, as well as toward the marital and unitive meanings. And so the marital act remains moral even when conception cannot occur due to pregnancy.

There are two common reasons that Catholics ask if marital relations is moral during the wife's period. First, some ask because St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that marital relations is not moral during menstruation. However, his opinion was based on a misunderstanding about reproductive biology, in that he thought harm would result to the offspring. Given the medical knowledge that no such harm results to the offspring from marital relations during menstruation, his opinion on this point is in error.

Second, some ask because they mistakenly think that conception cannot occur as a result of sexual relations during menstruation, and they mistakenly think that marital relations is not moral if procreation cannot possibly result. But as long as the sexual act is the type of act inherently directed at procreation, i.e. natural genital-to-genital intercourse, the act retains the procreative meaning intended by God for marital relations. For it is the inherent ordering of an act toward its moral object, not the attainment of the moral object, that causes an act to be either good, or intrinsically evil.

Even when natural intercourse is unable to attain procreation, it remains ordered toward procreation, and so it retains its proper procreative meaning. Natural marital relations is moral, even when the husband and wife are unable to conceive, because the essential moral nature of the act remains inherently ordered toward the threefold good intended by God for sexual relations: the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings.


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8. Are divorced Catholics permitted to receive holy Communion?

A divorced Catholic who is not remarried can usually receive holy Communion. Divorce is not intrinsically evil, and so it is not necessarily a sin. But divorce can sometimes be a serious sin, depending on the intention and the circumstances. A divorced Catholic should consult with his pastor or his confessor about whether or not he has sinned by getting a divorce.

Divorced and remarried Catholics are not allowed to receive Communion because they are having sexual relations with a person to whom they are not married in the eyes of God and the Church. If the prior marriage was the true Sacrament of Marriage, then the divorce cannot break the bond of the Sacrament. The couple remains married to each other in the eyes of God and the Church. So when that person remarries, he or she is having sexual relations outside of a valid marriage.

Divorced and remarried Catholics can sometimes obtain an annulment, if the previous marriage was, for some reason, not the true Sacrament. Another option is for them to cease from sexual relations, but stay together for the sake of the children. A third option is for them to separate. After any of these three options, with confession and permission from the Church, they may resume receiving holy Communion.


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9. Why is the use of contraception always gravely immoral?

Contraception deprives the sexual act of its procreative meaning, thereby causing the contracepted sexual act to be intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. When a man and woman choose to deprive the sexual act of its procreative meaning, they are choosing to reject one of the inherent meanings of sexuality in the plan of God for human nature. This rejection is gravely immoral because "the moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious." (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, X.)

Pope Paul VI: "The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12.)

The moral object of an act of natural marital relations is threefold: marital, unitive, procreative. The deprivation of any one or more of these three meanings from a sexual act causes the moral object to be evil, and the act to be intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Premarital sex is intrinsically evil because it is non-marital. Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil because they are non-unitive and non-procreative. Contracepted acts of natural intercourse are intrinsically evil because they are non-procreative.

Pope Pius XI: "But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who, in exercising it, deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious." (Casti Connubii, n. 54.)

Contraception is intrinsically against the design for human nature chosen by God, whereby sexual relations is ordered toward procreation, through the union of man and woman in marriage. The deliberate deprivation of the procreative meaning from sexual relations is contrary to natural law, contrary to the definitive teaching of the Magisterium, and intrinsically immoral. (The phrase 'intrinsically vicious' is a translation of the Latin text 'intrinsece inhonestum,' which is perhaps better translated as 'intrinsically immoral'.)

Pope John Paul II: "When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as arbiters of the divine plan and they manipulate and degrade human sexuality -- and with it themselves and their married partner -- by altering its value of total self-giving. Thus 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." (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32.)

The two meanings inscribed by God in the being of man and woman, for use only within marriage, are the unitive and procreative meanings. In order to be moral, each and every marital sexual act must be unitive and procreative. The use of contraception separates the unitive and procreative meanings, depriving the sexual act of a good intended by God in His divine plan. The use of contraception closes the sexual act to life, and is therefore immoral.

Pope John Paul II, writing about Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae: "And he concluded by re-emphasizing that there must be excluded as intrinsically immoral 'every action which, either 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.' " (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32, quoting Humanae Vitae, n. 14.)

All contraceptive acts deliberately render the use of the sexual faculty non-procreative. Contraceptive acts done "in anticipation of the conjugal act" would include taking a contraceptive pill or applying a contraceptive barrier before sexual relations. Contraceptive acts done in the "accomplishment" of the sexual act would include the withdrawal method of contraception, and any inherently non-procreative sexual act (unnatural sexual acts). Contraceptive acts done "in the development of its [the conjugal act's] natural consequences" would include methods that interfere with conception after intercourse, such as spermicides and pills that prevent ovulation.

Since the use of contraception is intrinsically evil, no intention and no circumstance can justify its use. Intrinsically evil are always immoral, even with good intentions, even in dire circumstances (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81). The use of contraception, even by married persons, is always gravely immoral.

Pope Paul VI: "From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out." (Humanae Vitae, n. 10.)

The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. The use of contraception is an objective mortal sin because it closes the sexual act to life. The use of contraception with full knowledge that the act is gravely immoral, and with full deliberation, is an actual mortal sin.


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10. May a married couple use barrier contraceptives to prevent disease transmission?

No. The use of contraception deprives the sexual act of the procreative meaning and is therefore intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. When an act is intrinsically evil, neither a good intention, nor dire circumstances, can cause the act to become moral.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)." (CCC, n. 2399)

The end does not justify the means. And so the intended end of preventing disease transmission does not justify the use of an intrinsically evil means, contraception. Acts which are not intrinsically evil may be moral, depending on intention and circumstances. But acts which are intrinsically evil are always immoral, regardless of intention and circumstances.

Pope John Paul II: "But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the 'creativity' of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 67.)

The moral species is the type of act in terms of morality; it is the essential nature of the act according to the eternal moral law of God. Contraception is always gravely illicit because it is a type of act that is inherently contrary to the law of God on human sexuality. The deprivation of the procreative meaning causes the moral object of contracepted sexual acts to be evil, and the act of using contraception to be, in and of itself, gravely illicit. Even good intentions and dire circumstances cannot cause an inherently illicit act to become moral or justifiable.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." (CCC, n. 1756.)

Pope John Paul II: "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62.)


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11. May a married woman use contraceptives for a medical purpose?

There are three fonts (or sources) of morality.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; the circumstances of the action. The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the 'sources,' or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts." (CCC, n. 1750.)

Compendium of the Catechism: "The morality of human acts depends on three sources: the object chosen, either a true or apparent good; the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act; and the circumstances of the act, which include its consequences." (Compendium of the CCC, n. 367.)

USCCB Catechism: "Every moral act consists of three elements: the objective act (what we do), the subjective goal or intention (why we do the act), and the concrete situation or circumstances in which we perform the act.... All three aspects must be good -- the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances -- in order to have a morally good act." (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, p. 311-312.)

The three fonts of morality can be summarized as follows:

[1] the intention or purpose of the person who chooses the act
[2] the moral object, which determines the intrinsic moral meaning of the act
[3] the circumstances, especially the consequences, of the chosen act

When the moral object is evil, the act is intrinsically evil and always immoral. A good intention and good consequences cannot change the moral object of the act from evil to good. All three fonts must be good for the knowingly chosen act to be moral. Whenever any one or more fonts is bad, the act is immoral (sinful). An act with an evil moral object does not become moral by being done with a good intention (or purpose), or in difficult circumstances.

Pope John Paul II: "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)

A medical purpose (first font) cannot transform the moral object (second font) of the act of using contraception from an evil to good. The use of contraception deprives the sexual act of its procreative meaning, making the moral object and the intrinsic moral meaning of the act evil. When the act of using contraception is done for a good purpose (or intention), the moral object of the act remains evil. Intentions and circumstances cannot change the moral object. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, even when used for a medical purpose, or in dire circumstances.

A good end does not justify an intrinsically evil means.

[Romans]
{3:8} And should we not do evil, so that good may result? For so we have been slandered, and so some have claimed we said; their condemnation is just.

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "It is never permitted to do something which is intrinsically illicit, not even in view of a good result: the end does not justify the means." (Dignitas Personae, n. 21.)

Pope John Paul II: "…the end never justifies the means." (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2004, n. 8.)

Pontifical Council for the Family: "…one cannot do evil for a good end. The end does not justify the means." (Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, Pontifical Council for the Family, 3. c.)

Catechism of the Catholic Church: " 'An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention' (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means." (CCC, n. 1759; inner quote from St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Ten Commandments.)

The use of an intrinsically evil means is never justified by a good purpose (i.e. a good intention). The use of contraception is intrinsically evil because it deprives the sexual act of its procreative meaning. A medical purpose (the intended end) can never justify the use of an intrinsically evil means to achieve that end.

Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II taught that the use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, "whether as an end or as a means." (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32, quoting Humanae Vitae, n. 14.)

A contraceptive act is an end when the purpose (the intention or intended end) is to prevent conception. But even if the contraceptive is used as a means to another end, such as when chemical contraceptives are used to treat a medical problem, or when a barrier method is used to prevent disease transmission, the use of contraception remains intrinsically evil. The intended end is in the first font; the effects (consequences) are in the third font. But the act of using contraception remains inherently directed at an evil moral object: the deprivation of the procreative meaning from a sexual act. A good intended end and good anticipated consequences cannot change the inherent moral meaning of the act itself. Contraceptive acts are inherently immoral.

Can an unmarried woman, who is not sexually active, use the contraceptive pill for a medical purpose?

Yes. When the contraceptive pill (the birth control pill) is taken by a woman who is not sexually active, the pill does not deprive sexual acts of the procreative meaning, because there are no sexual acts. Therefore, the moral object is not evil, and the act is not intrinsically evil. When an act is not intrinsically evil, the morality of the act then depends on the other two fonts of morality, intention and circumstances. So if the intention is good, and if the good consequences of taking the pill outweigh the bad consequences, then the act is moral.

Can a married woman use the contraceptive pill for a medical purpose, while refraining entirely from sexual relations?

Yes. But when a woman is married, she must have a grave reason to refrain from marital relations with her husband for an extended period of time. The husband and wife have a moral obligation (called the marriage debt) to have natural marital relations with each other.

[1 Corinthians]
{7:3} A husband should fulfill his obligation to his wife, and a wife should also act similarly toward her husband.
{7:4} It is not the wife, but the husband, who has power over her body. But, similarly also, it is not the husband, but the wife, who has power over his body.
{7:5} So, do not fail in your obligations to one another, except perhaps by consent, for a limited time, so that you may empty yourselves for prayer. And then, return together again, lest Satan tempt you by means of your abstinence.

Only for a grave reason could a married woman deny her husband marital relations for an extended time.

If a wife has a serious medical problem, which can only be effectively treated with the contraceptive pill, then she might take the contraceptive pill while refraining from marital relations with her husband. As long as she is not sexually active while taking the pill, the sexual act is not deprived of the procreative meaning, and so she avoids committing an intrinsically evil act.

Can a married woman use the contraceptive pill for a medical purpose, and also use natural family planning (NFP) so that she may continue to have sexual relations with her husband?

No. Natural family planning is moral because it does not deprive sexual acts of the procreative meaning. NFP allows natural marital relations to retain the unitive, procreative, and marital meanings in the moral object. However, the use of the contraceptive pill does deprive sexual acts of the procreative meaning. And the use of NFP, while also using a contraceptive, does not remedy that deprivation. In other words, if you try to combine a contraceptive with natural family planning, the sexual acts remain deprived of the procreative meaning by the contraceptive, and so the use of the contraception remains intrinsically evil.

NFP is based on refraining from marital relations during certain times (e.g. times of increased fertility if the couple wishes to avoid conception), and engaging in natural marital relations open to life during other times. The use of artificial contraception causes any acts of marital relations to be closed to life, thereby making the attempt to use natural family planning not truly natural. NFP is effectively nullified whenever the couple uses any method of contraception along with a method of natural family planning.

Does Humanae Vitae permit the use of contraception, if it is a therapeutic means or if it is for a therapeutic purpose?

No. The passage that is usually cited to support this claim is the following:

Pope Paul VI: "The Church, on the contrary, does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism, even if an impediment to procreation, which may be foreseen, should result therefrom, provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive, directly willed." (Humanae Vitae, n. 15).

The above passage refers to indirect sterilization, such as when a woman has a hysterectomy in order to treat a medical disorder, with the result is that she is sterile. In such a case, the therapeutic means is not intrinsically evil, and so it is morally permissible, even when sterility is foreseen as an unintended consequence. But the same passage cannot be applied to contraception because the use of contraception is intrinsically evil. The moral teaching of the Church does not permit the use of an intrinsically evil means to achieve a good end. The end never justifies the means.

Notice that the last portion of the above quote excludes as immoral the choice of an "impediment to procreation," if it is, "for whatever motive, directly willed." So even when the motive (the purpose or intended end) is therapeutic, if the means is a directly willed act which impedes procreation (e.g. contraception, or direct sterilization), then the act is morally illicit. This distinction is important to a correct understanding of the Church's teaching. Intrinsically evil acts are never moral for any motive or purpose whatsoever, even a therapeutic motive (or medical purpose). What is permissible is an act, such as a medical intervention (e.g. removing a cancerous uterus), which is in itself moral and therefore not intrinsically evil, and which has the unintended effect of sterilization.

The impeding of procreation is an evil moral object, and the deliberate choice of any act directed toward that end is an inherently immoral act. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral.

There are three fonts of morality: "the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act," the moral object, and the circumstances. (Compendium of the CCC, n. 367.) The intention or purpose can never justify an act with an evil moral object; such acts are intrinsically evil and always immoral.

Pope John Paul II: "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62.)

Is the use of contraception for medical purposes, by a married sexually active woman, justified by the principle of double effect?

No. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. The principle of double effect never justifies an intrinsically evil act. Nothing can justify an intrinsically evil act because such an act is, in and of itself, morally illicit.

"Principle of Double Effect
"An action that is good in itself that has two effects--an intended and otherwise not reasonably attainable good effect, and an unintended yet foreseen evil effect--is licit, provided there is a due proportion between the intended good and the permitted evil….

"The object of the act must not be intrinsically contradictory to one's fundamental commitment to God and neighbor (including oneself), that is, it must be a good action judged by its moral object (in other words, the action must not be intrinsically evil)…."
Ascension Health, Healthcare Ethics, Key Ethical Principles

The principle of double effect may justify an act only if the act is 'good in itself,' in other words, only if the act is not intrinsically evil. Whether an act is 'good in itself' or 'evil in itself' is determined by its moral object. This 'object' is the end in terms of morality toward which the act itself is inherently directed (or intrinsically ordered). When an act is inherently directed toward a morally evil end, then that act is inherently evil. So the moral object determines the essential moral nature (or inherent moral meaning) of the act, in and of itself, apart from intention (or purpose) and circumstances (including consequences).

Pope John Paul II: "These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed 'intrinsically evil' (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that 'there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object'." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 80; inner quote from Reconciliation and Penance, n. 17.)

Furthermore, the type of contraception which is used for medical purposes (e.g. to control an irregular period with excessive bleeding) is abortifacient contraception. This type of contraception can prevent conception by preventing ovulation. But it can also prevent the implantation of a conceived prenatal, causing the death of that very young human person.

Abortifacient contraception has two evil moral objects, to deprive the sexual act of the procreative meaning, and to deprive the innocent prenatal of life. Both moral objects are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. The evil of abortion is worse than the evil of contraception. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. Therefore, under the second font of morality, the act is a grave sin.

In addition, the harm done by the abortifacient action of the pill, especially if the woman is on the pill for an extended period of time so that a number of innocent prenatals are killed, far outweighs the good done by the medical effects of that same pill (regulating the woman's cycle so as to provide some therapeutic benefit). In the third font of circumstances, the harm done by killing innocent prenatals gravely outweighs the medical benefits of the use. Therefore, under the third font of morality, the act is a grave sin.

Under the first font of intention, the intended end of obtaining the medical benefits of the contraceptive pill (as a therapeutic intervention) is good. However, a person's intention includes not only the intended end, but also the intended means. In this case, the woman intends a good end (health), but by a means that is intrinsically evil. The intention to use an intrinsically evil act as a means to a good end is an evil intention. Therefore, under the first font of morality, the intention to use an abortifacient contraception while remaining sexually active is an evil intention, despite the good intended end. For, even as concerns intention, a good end never justifies an evil means.

In summary, the principle of double effect only justifies an act if the act has a good intention, and the act is not intrinsically evil, and the bad consequences (effects) do not outweigh the good consequences (effects). An act that is justified by the principle of double effect is an act that has three good fonts. But when abortifacient contraception is used for a medical (therapeutic) purpose, all three fonts of morality are bad. Even one bad font is sufficient to cause any act to be a sin. In this case, all three fonts are gravely immoral. Therefore, it is in no way justifiable for a sexually active woman to use abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose.


[Return to List of Questions]

12. Must a spouse refrain from sexual relations with a contracepting spouse?

Yes. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because it deprives the sexual act of the procreative meaning. Intrinsically evil acts are not justified by intention or circumstances. So even if the intentions of the one spouse are good, and the circumstances are very difficult, he or she cannot morally choose to engage in sexual relations with a contracepting spouse. To do so would be an objective mortal sin.

In one sense, only the contracepting spouse is 'using' the contraception (taking the pill, or using a condom, etc.). But in another sense, both spouses are contracepting because both are knowingly choosing to engage in contracepted sexual relations. The 'non-contracepting' spouse is deliberately choosing to participate in contracepted sexual relations, and so he or she is participating in the deprivation of the procreative meaning from the marital act. The lack of an intention to contracept on the part of the one spouse does not change the moral object of the act that he or she has deliberately chosen.

Moreover, if the wife is using an abortifacient contraceptive, such as the birth control pill, both spouses are participating in the sin of direct abortion as well as the sin of contraception. The husband cannot justify continuing to have sexual relations with his wife if he knows that she is using an abortifacient contraceptive. In the second font, both contraception and abortion have evil moral objects, and so they are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. In the third font, the bad consequences of the deaths of prenatal children (due to the abortifacient action of the contraceptives) far outweighs any good consequences. This bad consequences is particularly grave because the human persons who are killed are particularly innocent and defenseless, and because the killing continues to occur as the married couple continue to have sexual relations while using abortifacient contraception.

It is not possible to redefine what constitutes contraception, or what constitutes abortion, based on intention and circumstances, so as to somehow permit continued sexual relations while using contraception, or abortifacient contraception. Intrinsically evil acts are not defined by intention or circumstances because intrinsically evil acts are independent of intention and circumstances.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." (CCC, n. 1756.)

If an intrinsically evil act were defined by intention or circumstances, then an act would only be intrinsically evil if the act were accompanied by a bad intention, or if the bad consequences outweighed the good consequences. The result of this approach would be to justify an intrinsically evil act by basing the moral definition (or 'moral species') of the act on intention and circumstances, rather than on the moral object. All manner of intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts would then be said to be justified by being redefined, as if they were a different type of act, based on good intentions or dire circumstances. But such an approach is contrary to the definitive teaching of the Magisterium on intrinsic evil.

Pope John Paul II: "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)

Pope John Paul II: "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62.)

All intrinsically evil acts are defined solely by their moral object. So the intentions of the spouses do not determine if the chosen act is the sin of contraception, or the sin of abortion. Even if the one spouse has a good intended end, does not intend to deprive the marital act of the procreative meaning, and does not intend the deaths of any prenatal children, a good intention does not justify the deliberate choice of a gravely-disordered intrinsically evil act. The non-contracepting spouse is deliberately choosing to participate with the contracepting spouse in contracepted sexual acts, even acts which might result in abortion. And so the 'non-contracepting' spouse is actually a participant in the sin of contraception, and even in the sin of abortion. Though the one spouse is not using the contraceptive, or the abortifacient contraceptive, this same spouse is deliberately choosing to participate in the contracepted sexual act. This type of participation is intrinsically evil.

Some moral theologians might view the non-contracepting spouse's participation as a form of formal cooperation. However, formal cooperation with an intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act is itself intrinsically evil and gravely immoral. And so, even in this approach, the 'non-contracepting' spouse is committing an objective mortal sin by agreeing to have sexual relations with the knowledge that the other spouse is contracepting.

Neither the sin of contraception, nor the sin of abortion, can ever be justified by any good intention, nor by any difficult circumstance, no by any other factors whatsoever. A good intention does not justify an intrinsically evil act. And every human person is obligated by the eternal moral law to avoid committing any and all intrinsically evil acts, regardless of the consequences.


[Return to List of Questions]

13. How is natural family planning (NFP) different from artificial birth control (ABC)?

To be moral, each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. NFP allows marital relations to be open to life and open to the will of God concerning procreation. The sexual acts of a husband and wife who use natural family planning always retain the unitive and procreative meaning. Therefore, the use of NFP is moral.

But the intentional use of contraception deprives the sexual act of its procreative meaning. Therefore, the use of artificial birth control is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

"The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life. A specific and more serious moral evil is present in the use of means which have an abortive effect, impeding the implantation of the embryo which has just been fertilized or even causing its expulsion in an early stage of pregnancy." (Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum 'Go with me' for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, n. 4-5.)

The deliberate use of ABC is intrinsically evil because it deprives the marital act of the good of procreation, and also harms the unitive meaning. The use of artificial birth control is contrary to the moral law and inherently immoral.

However, natural family planning does not deprive sexual acts of the procreative meaning. NFP consists of two types of acts: abstaining from sexual relations for a period of time, and engaging in sexual relations open to life for a period of time. But when engaging in sexual relations, the spouses' sexual acts are always marital, unitive, and procreative. They do not use any type of contraceptive pill or device. They engage only in natural marital relations open to life. While it is true that abstaining from sexual relations for a time is not procreative, it is also not a sexual act, and so it need not be procreative. The Church has always permitted married couples to refrain from marital relations for periods of time.

[1 Corinthians]
{7:1} Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
{7:2} But, because of fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
{7:3} A husband should fulfill his obligation to his wife, and a wife should also act similarly toward her husband.
{7:4} It is not the wife, but the husband, who has power over her body. But, similarly also, it is not the husband, but the wife, who has power over his body.
{7:5} So, do not fail in your obligations to one another, except perhaps by consent, for a limited time, so that you may empty yourselves for prayer. And then, return together again, lest Satan tempt you by means of your abstinence.

Notice that Sacred Scripture permits both types of acts which comprise NFP: natural marital relations open to life, and abstaining from marital relations for a limited time, with the consent of both spouses.

Furthermore, the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent implies that NFP is moral.

CANON VIII. "If anyone says that the Church errs, in that she declares that, for many causes, a separation may take place between husband and wife, in regard of bed, or in regard of cohabitation, for a determinate or for an indeterminate period; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, 24th Session, On the Sacrament of Matrimony)

So anyone who claims that the Church errs by allowing "a separation… between husband and wife, in regard of bed" (i.e. abstaining from sexual relations) "for a determinate or for an indeterminate period" is asserting a heresy. Those who claim that natural family planning is not moral, and is no different from artificial birth control, are contradicting the definitive teaching of an Ecumenical Council.

The good end of family planning must be sought by a good means in order to be moral. The use of artificial birth control is the use of an immoral means to a good end. For the end does not justify the means. But natural family planning allows every marital act to be open to life. ABC is inherently directed toward closing the marital act to life. That is why NFP is a moral means, and ABC is an immoral means to the good end of family planning.


[Return to List of Questions]

14. Is passionate kissing only moral within marriage?

May a man and a woman who are dating, but unmarried, engage in passionate kissing? Is passionate kissing outside of marriage moral, or a venial sin, or a mortal sin?

Many moralists claim that 'passionate' kissing is always an objective mortal sin for any unmarried man and woman, regardless of intention or circumstances, even if the couple is engaged. But they allow that non-passionate kissing is moral. There are several doctrinal problems with this claim.

First, only intrinsically evil acts are always immoral regardless of intention or circumstances. There are three fonts of morality, if an act is immoral regardless of two fonts, it must be immoral under the remaining font. Intrinsically evil acts have an evil moral object; the moral nature of the act is inherently disordered. But the addition of the adjective 'passionate' does not signify a different moral nature, nor a different moral object. So if the type of act and the moral object have not changed, then the act cannot be intrinsically evil. For the moral object always is the sole determinant of the moral nature (or species) of an act.

We are not here discussing lust, which is intrinsically evil, because lust is a type of act, not an adjective describing an act. Although, in secular terms, any act might be described as lustful, such a phrasing does not necessarily signify the objective mortal sin of lust. If kissing, or any other act, even the mere act of looking at a person, is accompanied by an interior act of lust, it is that interior act which is always gravely immoral, not the kissing or the looking.

Second, passion refers to emotion. But emotions, even strong emotions, do not necessarily imply sin. For example, Jesus became angry in the Temple, when He drove out the buyers and the sellers: "Zeal for your house consumes me." (John 2:17). And He experienced the emotions of sorrow and fear in the garden at the beginning of His Passion: "My soul is sorrowful, even unto death." (Mt 26:38), and, "And he began to be afraid...." (Mk 14:33).

Now the emotion of sexual passion is a result of the fallen state, and so neither Jesus nor Mary experienced sexual passion or sexual arousal. But this emotion which results from being in the fallen state is not itself a sin, and when it is accompanied by sin, the sin is not necessarily mortal. Emotions are not knowingly chosen acts. Only knowingly chosen immoral acts are sins. A knowingly chosen immoral act might result in one emotion or another, or a person might knowingly make a sinful choice in response to an emotion, but emotions are not themselves sins. So the idea that kissing becomes a mortal sin merely because an emotion occurs during kissing is absurd.

Third, kissing does not have an evil moral object. "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (Romans 16:16). A kiss might be accompanied by a sin of one type or another. "And he who betrayed him gave them a sign, saying: 'Whomever I will kiss, it is he. Take hold of him.' " (Mt 26:48). But the act itself of kissing is not intrinsically evil.

Neither does any emotion, even emotions resulting from the fallen state, have an evil moral object. Although certain interior sins, such as lust, or hatred, or envy, etc., are often confused with the associated emotions (feelings), morally there is a very sharp distinction between experiencing an emotion, and knowingly choosing an immoral act. The emotion of anger is not the sin of hatred. The feeling of jealousy is not the sin of envy. The emotion (or feelings of) passion are not the sin of lust. No emotion has an evil moral object, because feelings are not knowingly chosen acts.

An excess of anger might occur if a person is harmed by another person, and he sins by choosing to dwell on that harm, and he sins by choosing not to forgive the injury, and he sins by choosing various acts that result in excessive anger. And in experiencing this excess of anger caused by his sins, he might next choose the sin of revenge. But the initial anger is not a sin. And the subsequent excessive anger is a bad consequence of his knowingly chosen acts, but it is not itself a sin. (Excessive anger is 'physical evil', not moral evil.)

An excess of passion may be the result of sinful acts, such as unmarried persons choosing acts of excessive physical affection or excessive sensuality. And the resultant feelings may make it difficult for the unmarried couple to remain chaste. In this case, if the acts of physical affection or sensuality do not include any intrinsically evil acts, then the morality would depend on intention and circumstances. But the fact that the emotion of passion occurs during kissing (or similar acts) does not cause the act to become an objective mortal sin.

Fourth, when an unmarried man and woman kiss, the fonts of intention or circumstances might be gravely immoral: such as an intention to induce the other person to commit an intrinsically evil sexual act, or a circumstance in which the kissing can reasonably be anticipated to have gravely harmful bad consequences (such as a near occasion of mortal sin). Or a related but distinct act might be gravely immoral, such as an interior act of lust. But the use the term 'passionate' to describe the kissing does not imply that any of the three fonts is gravely immoral, nor does it imply an accompanying gravely immoral act.

Fifth, kissing and similar acts of limited sensuality (but always non-genital acts) assist a couple who are considering marriage, or who are engaged, in preparing for later acts of natural marital relations open to life. This good consequence can certainly outweigh some bad consequences of limited moral weight. And the intention to express affection, or to prepare for moral sexual acts at a later time, within marriage, are moral intentions.

Sixth, the usual approach to this question lacks any consideration of degrees of sin. Kissing is said to be moral, but when it becomes, at some point, passionate, it is said to be suddenly gravely immoral. There is no acknowledgement of degrees of sin. But without any gravely immoral intention, or a gravely immoral object, or bad consequences that outweigh good consequences to a grave extent, there is no basis for this claim of mortal sin.

Seventh, under the three fonts approach to morality, none of the fonts is gravely immoral merely because the kissing has become passionate. Some degree of selfishness might be present in the intention of one or both persons, but this would be a venial sin. There may be some limited bad consequences to excessive sensuality in that the persons are aroused and chastity becomes somewhat more difficult, but not necessarily gravely so. And there is no gravely immoral object in such acts, since all genital sexual acts are absent from mere kissing and similar limited expressions of affection and sensuality.

Therefore, passionate kissing and similar acts of affection between an unmarried man and woman are not necessarily objective mortal sin. The mere emotion of sexual passion is not a knowingly chosen immoral act. And the acts that lead to this emotion may be moral, or may be venial sins. Kissing with passion may have some degree of disorder in intention or circumstances, but not so that this knowingly chosen act would be always entirely incompatible with the love of God and neighbor, and with the state of grace in the soul.



by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
Translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible
More about the author

For an in-depth explanation of marital sexual ethics as well as the basic principles
of Catholic moral theology, see my book: The Catechism of Catholic Ethics.



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