Q – Is being physical before sex (foreplay, etc.) against the Catholic teaching? Even when married?
A – Thanks for the question! I have been getting great questions lately and I sure do appreciate them. For the first part of the question the simple answer is yes. But, I have written more detailed explanations to why previously. You can read two of those explanations here and here.
The second part of your question has not been answered in detail on this blog, so I will give it a go here, but first I will re-phrase it somewhat. I will answer the question – What is allowed in marriage and what isn’t? Why aren’t some things allowed? Before I go any further, I will let you all know that this is a post for adults and I will talk about sex with some detail.
We have to look to chastity again. Chastity is rightly living out your sexuality based upon your state in life. So, when one not married they are called to be celibate. But, in marriage you will be sexually active. But, does this mean that “anything goes” as some might say? No. We have to remember that sex in marriage is for the purposes of bringing the spouses together in a bond of love (unitive aspect) and to be open to having children (procreative aspect). So, if either of these aspects are taken out of the sexual act intentionally, then sex is reduced to something it was not intended for and it can then be sinful even within marriage. Sex in these situations becomes selfish and is not about the other, but yourself. Sex is about the other when done in the proper context.
Let me shock you somewhat. Here is what John Paul II wrote about orgasm and sex in his book Love and Responsibility.
We have defined love as an ambition to ensure the true good of another person, and consequently as the antithesis of egoism. Since in marriage a man and a woman are associated sexually as well as in other respects the good must be sought in this area too. From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved. This is implicit in the principle which we have already so thoroughly analysed, and which excludes exploitation of the person, and insists on love. In the present case love demands that the reactions of the other person, the sexual ‘partner’ be fully taken into account.
In other words – JPII is saying that sex, to be truly about the other person, must take into account the height of the sexual act, orgasm, so much so that it is selfish for only one to reach orgasm, esp. if this happens frequently.
He goes on:
Sexologists state that the curve of arousal in woman is different from that in man–it rises more slowly and falls more slowly…. The man must take this difference between male and female reactions into account, not for hedonistic, but for altruistic reasons. There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.
There is a “best-case” scenario in sex. Both spouses reaching orgasm at the same time.
If a woman does not obtain natural gratification from the sexual act there is a danger that her experience of it will be qualitatively inferior, will not involve her fully as a person…. it is usually the result of egoism in the man, who failing to recognize the subjective desires of the woman in intercourse, and the objective laws of the sexual process taking place in her, seeks merely his own satisfaction, sometimes quite brutally.
Men should never take advantage of women in order to “use” them. This goes for women too. Women should never use men.
There is here a real need for sexual education, and it must be a continuous process. The main objective of this education is to create the conviction that ‘the other person is more important than I’. Such conviction will not arise suddenly and from nothing, merely on the basis of physical intercourse. It can only be, must be, the result of an integral education in love. Sexual intercourse itself does not teach love, but love, if it is a genuine virtue, will show itself to be so in sexual relations between married people as elsewhere. Only then can ‘sexual instruction’ bestow its full benefits: without education in our sense it may even do harm.
In other words, couples need to learn how to have good sex in order to love one another better. This love will be selfless, even in sex. What conclusions can we draw from this? There are a few.
- Sex must not be separated from marriage. It is made for this safe, life-giving, self-giving, free, faithful, and life-long relationship.
- Orgasm is an important part of sex. If possible, both partners should reach climax.
- Foreplay is important. The couple needs to slowly build up to the sexual act, not just jump right in. This means, especially for the man, that the couple should learn how to arouse the other in order to be able to give this gift to each other better.
- Not everything goes. Once sex is made to be something that is not open to life, done freely, done in marriage, or forced on another, then it isn’t about love and can become sinful.
This means the following things are not allowed in the sexual act, even in marriage.
- Oral sex that results in orgasm.
- Male orgasm outside of intercourse (e.g., oral sex, masturbation, etc.) because it then seperates the life-giving part of the sexual act between the spouses. But, oral stimulation that does not result in orgasm may be permissable.
- Any foreplay or sexual act that re-creates violence or harming of another person’s dignity or freedom (e.g., bondage, forcing someone to dress in a way they don’t want, etc.).
I hope this helps clear up some of the misunderstandings about sex and marriage. Remember that sex is made for something wonderful. It is sacred and more beautiful than our current secular culture could ever try to make it.