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The Distinction between Ordinary Foreplay and Sexual Acts

Certain popular Catholic authors claim that unnatural sexual acts are moral in marriage, if climax is lacking and if an act of natural marital relations open to life is included in the set of acts. I strongly disagree. And so do theologians Alice von Hildebrand and Dietrich von Hildebrand:

The popular authors who justify unnatural sexual acts (West, Popcak, others) are not using the three fonts of morality to determine the morality of an act. They are telling people what they want to hear. And since we all live in an immoral overly-sexualized society, the answer that justifies unnatural sexual acts might seem right. Our culture approves of those types of sexual acts, and we are influenced by our culture.

But the three fonts of morality is Church teaching, found in Veritatis Splendor (Pope John Paul II) and the Catechism and other documents. And the requirement that sexual acts be marital, unitive, and procreative is also Church teaching.

An act does not become moral merely by being labeled "foreplay". Essentially, an act of foreplay has the purpose (goal, intended end) of preparing for natural marital relations. But the end does not justify the means. In the case of unnatural sexual acts, the act is intrinsically evil, so it is not justified by a good purpose, i.e. by being used as foreplay.

Ordinary foreplay (kissing, hugging, "making out") is moral for married couples even if natural marital relations does not occur or is not intended. Why? Because these acts can stand on their own as moral acts, under the three fonts of morality. By comparison, unnatural sexual acts are immoral in and of themselves; they are intrinsically evil. And the difference is not subtle.

Unnatural sexual acts are unnatural because they are non-procreative sexual acts. Oral or manual or anal "stimulation" (as proponents term it) is a sexual act, but one that is not ordered toward procreation, whereas ordinary foreplay is not a sexual act. And it is not the presence or absence of climax that make the act moral or immoral, but rather the type of act.

Let me present a couple of examples in order to explain this distinction between ordinary foreplay and any type of sexual act.

Suppose a husband goes to an office Christmas party without his wife. When he comes home, he admits that "something happened" with a secretary there. His wife wants to know if a certain line was crossed, and that's the line between kissing, making out -- what I call ordinary foreplay -- and any type of sexual act. If it was only making out, she's not nearly as mad as if a type of sexual act occurred. There is an immense difference between the two. And do you think that his wife will be reassured if her husband says that the acts with the secretary were only oral or manual "stimulation", lacking climax? She will not find that acceptable, and neither does God. It is still a type of sexual act.

The husband making out with the secretary is sinful, but not the sin of adultery. However, if the husband commits any type of sexual act, even one lacking climax, with the secretary, it is adultery. He cannot say in confession that these extra-marital sexual acts are not adultery, or are not mortal sins, merely because climax was lacking. His confessor will not accept that explanation, and neither does God.

Or suppose that a married couple's teenage daughter goes out on a date. When she comes home, her parents overhear her talking about the date on the phone. If she says that all they did was "make out", her parents are not upset. If she says that they did any type of sexual act, even if the act lacked climax (so-called "stimulation"), her parents will be upset. It is absurd to equate those two types of acts. Ordinary foreplay is not a sexual act; so-called oral/manual/anal stimulation is a sexual act.

Each and every sexual act must be marital, unitive, and procreative (open to life) in order to be moral. Ordinary foreplay is not a sexual act, so it does not need to be procreative. But no sexual act becomes moral merely by being labeled as foreplay or by being used for the purpose of foreplay. Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil, and therefore always gravely immoral, because they are not procreative (and not truly unitive).

Do you really believe that our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary would approve of unnatural sexual acts within the holy Sacrament of Marriage?

{5:27} You have heard that it was said to the ancients: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
{5:28} But I say to you, that anyone who will have looked at a woman, so as to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
{5:29} And if your right eye causes you to sin, root it out and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into Hell.
{5:30} And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body go into Hell.

Or do you think that any Pope is going to proclaim that married couples can commit unnatural sexual acts as long as an act of natural marital relations is included? Certainly not. These acts are condemned when they are committed between persons of the same gender, and they do not become moral when done by a man and woman, or a husband and wife. They remain non-procreative and therefore intrinsically evil. The couples who commit these acts are acting in accord with sinful secular society, not in accord with holiness or the will of God.

The Catholic authors who justify these gravely immoral and intrinsically evil types of sexual acts are very popular because they give people clever rationalizations to justify grave sins. These authors are committing formal cooperation with mortal sins. They are harming millions of marriages and encouraging innumerable gravely immoral sexual acts. They are causing severe harm to the Sacrament of Marriage and the Church. They will be punished by God.

More Reading: The Catholic Marriage Bed

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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