Marital Sexuality: Do’s and Don’ts

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Dear Catholic Exchange,

I would like to know how Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2361 should be interpreted in regards to the portion that states “. . .through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses. . . .” Does this mean types of sex other than sexual intercourse are okay provided they don’t interfere with the possibility of becoming pregnant? I am specifically wondering if oral sex is okay to be performed in marriage.


Dear James,

Peace in Christ! The previous paragraph, no. 2360, states, “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. . . .” The Church does not teach (and never has) that the only act a married couple may perform is intercourse. Enjoying one another sexually is a part of the gift of sexuality in marriage. This gift, however, is governed by the virtue of marital chastity. This means that sexual pleasure is not sought apart from the value, dignity, and integrity of the person. One must not objectify one’s spouse, reducing him or her to a means of sexual gratification.

Lust is listed first in the Catechism in the “Offenses against chastity.” No. 2351, states, “Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (emphasis added). Sexual pleasure is always and ultimately ordered to procreation and the union of spouses. Sexual acts cannot be isolated from the primary end of procreation (this doesn’t mean that spouses can only have sex if they are trying to have a baby). Neither can sexual acts be isolated from their unitive meaning, which is objectively possible only in marriage.

A few words should be said regarding the “inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.” This is an offense against chastity, including marital chastity. Using your example of oral sex, most Catholic moralists agree (some do not, but reasonable minds can differ on non-definitive matters), that oral sex is licit as a form of foreplay. In other words, as long as oral sex is not “sought for itself,” but is a part of a total act that is ordered to and is completed in intercourse, it is morally licit. One more thought on “inordinate enjoyment”—couples should be careful to avoid sexual satiation that reduces intercourse to merely a final release. Sexual intercourse is very truly a sacramental sign of the love and unity of the spouses and couples find the fulfillment of marital love and union thereby, not by satiating acts of foreplay.

For more information, see our FAITH FACT Marriage in God’s Plan: Discovering the Power of Marital Love.

I hope this answers your question. Pease keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I was wondering if you might be able to tell me if there are limits/rules married couples need to follow when they make love. Where does one draw the line as far as what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to trying to add a little spice?


Dear Dana,

Peace in Christ! We are not aware of a complete “this-is-allowed” and a “this-isn’t-allowed” list, but there are some general principles that can be mentioned and a few books that may be helpful.

Sex in marriage involves mutual and exclusive self-giving. Spouses taking pleasure in one another sexually isn’t simply “okay,” but part of the human meaning of the marital act. Sexual pleasure is part of mutual self-giving, in contrast to how sexual pleasure is understood in our age—objectifying another for the gratification of sexual lust.

Our beloved Holy Father has beautifully expounded what he calls the “language of the body.” The body has a “speech” of its own. For example, a handshake has an objective meaning. If a person shakes the hand of another in friendship, but in his heart he is waiting for that person to turn his back so he can steal from him, he has lied with his body. His handshake said “friendship,” but his intention did not correspond to the bodily act. Likewise, the body speaks through sexual acts. Sexual acts have an objective meaning to which the intent of the heart of the spouses must correspond. The marital act “says” total self-giving and love. Objectifying another for sexual gratification by performing acts that objectively say, “I love you,” is to lie with your body. In addition, performing sexual acts in a way that doesn’t fulfill the self-giving character makes an objective statement, even if the subjective intention of the couple is good.

Therefore, in discerning where to “draw the line” in sex, one must keep in mind fundamental principles. All sexual activity (i.e., foreplay) is ordered fulfillment in sexual intercourse, i.e., a completed sexual act. Hence, activities such as bringing the husband to orgasm without intercourse through mutual masturbation is gravely immoral. Obviously, the biological structure of the wife is different, and she can be brought to orgasm prior to intercourse without breaking the moral law. As the respected moral theologian Germain Grisez and others have pointed out, orgasm for the wife does not serve the procreative meaning of the act, nor does it render the marital act unable to be completed, so it is not immoral. In fact, after the marital act is completed, bringing the wife to orgasm if she did not experience it during intercourse can be rightly considered a loving act.

Acts prior to completing the marital act in intercourse must be judged by the standard of whether they are acts of self-giving and mutual enjoyment or if they are objectifying acts or acts that introduce into the marriage bed that which should not be a part of it. For example, the use of pornography between spouses for sexual stimulation introduces others into an act that is intended to be intimate, private, and between the spouses (cf. Catechism, no. 2354).

So while a complete list of “do’s and don’ts” can’t be offered, Catholic moral principles of sexuality in marriage can guide a couple in sexual behavior. Given the moral guidelines, God intends for married couples to have plenty of fun, enjoying each other and strengthening the marriage bond through sexual self-giving.

Sex and the Marriage Covenant by John Kippley, which is available via The Couple to Couple League International at (513) 471-2000, is good reading. It has some sections that provide a moral evaluation of specific acts. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love and Purity: The Mystery of Christian Sexuality are at once remarkably readable and remarkably profound. A very practical book is Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West. Chapter 5, “Chastity Within Marriage,” is particularly applicable to your question.

I hope this answers your question. If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”

United in the Faith,

David E. Utsler
Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith

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