Category Archives: Sexual morality

Male Masturbation is a Grave Matter

Why do I sincerely belief that male masturbation is a grave matter? I realize that from the currently popular utilitarian moralities masturbation is a paradigm of triviality.

I wrote in Moral Gravity as Degrees of Disobedience to a Moral Authorityy: An act is a grave moral matter if its performance is the highest degree of disobedience to the moral commander. I proposed further that logical distance from basic moral principle measured degree of disobedience to commands. Acts whose wrongness is almost axiomatic are grave matters.

“Logical distance” refers to the number of theoretical assumptions and factual claims added to basic moral principles to show that an act is wrong. It is really common sense. For instance, the notion of logical distance explains the frequent discussions in my high school religion classes on how far a boy could go with a girl before it became a mortal sin. If much imaginative details needed to be added to show how the conduct led to the boy and girl physically stimulating each other sexually the conduct was not gravely wrong – not a mortal sin.

Back to the question: Why hold that male masturbation is immoral and from a Catholic perspective a grave matter, a mortal sin?

Strong cases can be made for the following claims. Making these cases was writing to convince myself that the claims are correct. I intend my writings help others do the same. Of course, the details cannot be repeated here.

1.There are basic moral laws and they are best understood as commands of a supernatural moral authority.

A case for a moral theory based on rules commanding pursuit of basic human goods is developed in several posts over two or three years. A post with which to start is Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality . “Authoritarian” was a bad label. I now call it “command moral theory.”

2. The Paternal Principle, used below, is one of these basic moral commands. See Chapter IV of my book* for an extended discussion in favor of taking the Paternal Principle as axiomatic or properly basic principle of even purely secular morality.

3. There is a reality upon which all other realities depend for their existence , viz. God.
See A Proof of the Existence of God for one of several posts on the Transcendent.

4. The moral commander can be understood as that God upon which all realities depend,
See Moral Authority as God .

These four claims entail that the Paternal Principle is a direct command of God.

What is this Paternal Principle?

The Paternal Principle tells us that a man should intentionally seek an orgasm only in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he has a life-long commitment to care for her and any conception resulting from their coitus.

A condemnation of male masturbation, and incidentally male homosexuality, is an immediate corollary of the Paternal Principle.

Hence, male masturbation and homosexual acts are contrary to morality and, from a Catholic perspective properly regarded as grave matters.

* My book is Confronting Sexual Nihilism, Oklahoma City, 2014. A free copy of my book is available by emailing

Non-Sexist Morality is Misogynistic

I am not digressing from trying to articulate what a morally grave matter might be. I intend to resume with specifying what it might mean to say that male masturbation is a grave matter. Focusing on male masturbation involves using a sexist moral theory. A sexist moral theory presupposes that some sexual obligations and privileges are prefaced with “because you are a woman” and “because you are a man.” I defend using a sexist morality in my book* although I did not there point out the misogyny of a non-sexist morality.

This observation of this post is also a critique of the moral theories used to justify abortion on demand. See Banning Abortions Might Undercut Prolife Goals It also supports a much earlier post that it is the prochoice camp and not the prolife groups that are waging a war on women. See HHS Mandate as a War on Women .

A rational person valuing autonomy could not consistently will that nature should be designed so that half the people seeking to satisfy a extremely strong inclination risk losing their autonomy. I will not digress to any discussion of Kantian moral theory. I want only to note that I need to set aside much of Kantian moral theory which has influenced me greatly. Kantian morality is non-sexist. The brief allusion to Kantian reasoning brings out a “hatred” of a non-sexist morality for the reality that nature has created men and women; more exactly a hatred for human sexual reproduction.

I won’t cite many implicitly misogynistic pleas, many by women, that we cannot have full sexual equality until women have the possibility of the same sexual freedom men allegedly have. I sketch an argument without details of daily between the sexes. The argument expresses opposition to women as they are naturally. With “women as they are naturally,” I refer to the way women were before birth control pills enabled millions, if not billions, of women to be infertile through most of their reproductive years. Implicitly, I think, Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae condemned use of The Pill because it would be a major step toward suppressing femininity.

(1)If morality is non-sexist, then sexual activity should not place obligations on women which are not placed on men.
(2) If women should stay as they are naturally, then sexual activity places obligations on women which are not placed on men.
Hence,(3) if morality is non-sexist, then women should not stay as they are naturally.

* Confronting Sexual Nihilism Oklahoma City, 2014 A free copy of my book is available by emailing me at

Why Is Masturbation Gravely Wrong?

Why Sexual Wrongs as Gravely Wrong

In this post, I try to make a case that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong, by making a case that masturbation is intrinsically gravely wrong. I make this attempt under the assumption that that some sexual acts are intrinsically wrong. Masturbation and homosexual acts are included in this assumption.

The assumption of the intrinsic immorality of male masturbation and male homosexual acts is well justified. The purpose of male orgasm is procreation and the unitive bond of male and female. These basic human goods are never to be directly inhibited. Male masturbation and homosexual acts directly inhibit the procreative and unitive goods of sexuality. So, they are always on the wrong side of being right. That takes care of intrinsic wrongness.

See Intrinsic Wrong vs. Formal Wrong for a defense of using “intrinsically wrong instead of formally wrong.

But how wrong? How grave? Compared with all the horrible evil humans inflicted upon one another, a couple of guys messing with each other’s penises seems naughty rather than evil.

In common sense and the law, the graveness of an immoral act is extrinsic to a wrong act. Gravity depends upon inflicting serious physical or mental harm or being done with the intent to inflict such harm. It is obvious that masturbation is not extrinsically grave as we ordinarily talk about gravity of offenses.

I could specify other extrinsic feature of masturbation as what makes it grave.

The Catholic church – my church- has simply specified that it is grave where “gravity” means that it must be forgiven in a sacrament of confession as a condition for avoiding the even more grave evil of receiving the Eucharist without such sacramental forgiveness. Of course, organizational specification of a type of act as gravely wrong is a feature external to the act.

Other external feature of sexual acts felt to be immoral, are cultural judgments about the gravity of these acts. Personally, I think that a horrible feature of humanity is the horror felt against sexual wrongs. These harsh attitudes and action upon them vary from place to place and time to time. But harsh societal reaction to harmless sexual acts is real. There may be social evolutionary explanations for these harsh judgments about sexual misconduct.

But the goal is to try to articulate the insight of the Church in her imposition of such sacramental requirements.
So, if masturbation is a grave wrong, its gravity must be intrinsic.

I suggest the following. The masturbator recklessly treats making the act for continuing humankind incapable of continuing humankind. That reckless attitude towards what is necessary for humanity to exist is a grave matter.

More generally, why might all sexual wrongs be gravely wrong? Other wrongs inhibit goods such as knowledge, friendship and beauty. But sexual wrongs inhibit human life. The fundamental nature of life for other goods makes inhibition of life a grave matter.

Authentic Male Opposition to Abortion

Coitus Without Commitment is Essentially Abortive

Coitus is for creation of new life in two ways*. One: It is for conception. Two: It is for the creation of the unity striving to emerge which is the male/female monogamous lifelong bond – the nuptial pair. In coitus without commitment such as in prostitution and casual sex, there is mutual dismissal of both of the goods. In intention any conceptus is aborted and in fact the joint new life is aborted.

It is not surprising, as Christine Emba reports that casual sex is disappointing. As the couple go their separate ways, one or both, are vulnerable to a sense of having pleasure at the expense of destroying new life. Implicitly we have a sense of coitus as immensely important. (Social-biological speculation could easily invent evolutionary hypotheses about why the life-giving activity would not be taken lightly.) If there was pleasure, it was for nothing. In a coitus fully open to conception and nuptial bonding, the pleasure is carried forward as having been an aid in forming the nuptial bond.

Here, though, my focus is on male sexual morality. My goal is not a therapeutic goal of advising men on how to avoid regret about unsatisfying sex. I do not rely upon men feeling inchoate regret about pointless sex as do the women in Ms. Emba’s stories. On the whole, men may not be seriously dissatisfied with promiscuity. We ought to be. By reflecting on the double abortive element in promiscuous sex, I propose a standard for men to morally judge their actions – themselves and one another. It is directed to men who profess to be opposed to abortion.

Never lie with a woman if you are not willing to be her exclusive sexual partner and to care for her and any child which might result from your coitus with her.

A male who does not accept the above standard is not authentically opposed to abortion.
Also a nasty A-word describes his character.

*See Susanna Spencer’s
July 25, 2022 National Catholic Register article for a clear account of Catholicism’s development of the Church’s doctrine on this bifold good of sexuality

Contraception as Intrinsically Wrong but Not Gravely Wrong

Contraception as Intrinsically Wrong but Not Gravely Wrong

This post develops my previous post in which I distinguished being instrinsically wrong from being gravely, or seriously, wrong. I speculate judging contraceptive coitus of a married couple as intrinsically wrong but not, in general, gravely wrong. I am a Catholic. But what I write here is definitely not Catholic teaching. The thesis of marital contaception as only a venial sin is only presented for consideration.

An intrinsically wrong act is morally wrong regardless of the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and consequences of its performance. The gravity of an act can be mitigated by the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and the consequences of the performance of the act. The mitigating factors are not excuses for the wrong act although they may be considerations for mitigating punishment. I have not yet discovered a precise way of distinguishing gravely wrong from not being gravely wrong.

A paradigm distinguishing an intrinsically wrong act from a gravely wrong act is shoplifting a candy bar from a UDF convenience store and confusing a clerk at an AT&T store to walk away with a $500 cell phone. For theft the gravity mitigating factor is frequently the monetary value of the stolen item. I recall reading, once, that $25 marked the difference between a morally sinful theft and a venially sinful theft. That distinctiion seemed arbitrary to me.

Intrinsic wrongness is determined theoretically. If the theoretical determination is clearly developed, it is a deductive argument from theoretical premisses. Consider, for instance, a moral judgment against contraception.

A basic good of coitus is conception.
Coitus is a morally significant act.
It is always wrong to inhibit a basic good of a morally significant act.
Contraception inhibits the basic good of coitus.
Therefore, contraception is always wrong.

The circumstance of the contraception being an act of a married couple with children and planing to have more children in a year or so does not alter the theoretically determined judgment that the act is immoral. Theoretically, it is on the “wrong side” of being right.

A judgment that the act is gravely wrong – a mortal sin requires more than the moral theory presupposed in the above deductive argument. I do not think that secular reasoning alone can support a theoretical principle that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong. The notion of moral gravity is not clear enough and there seems to be sexually wrong acts which are not gravely wrong, viz., contraception of marital coitus.

However, living a good life is more than avoiding gross immorality. Even on a secular level, we need to consider the damage to our character by habitual performance of wrong acts, albeit venial immoral acts. On a religious level, it is folly to think God is indifferent to regular intentional disobedience.

Could anyone be genuinely seeking holiness while intentionally choosing what is immoral in any degree?

Why the Function of Sexuality Is a Moral Purpose

My moral defense of sexual privacy me to a break-through in how to justify and defend principles of traditional sexual morality. I finally employed the improved way of thinking about sexual morality which I have been developing in these blog posts in the eight years since I published my book, Confronting Sexual Nihilism. *

In Confronting Sexual Nihilism, I faced a theoretical problem challenging all of us who, in the last analysis, morally condemn a wide range of sexual acts as frustrating the natural function of the acts in question. In general, though, frustrating natural functions is morally accepted and, indeed, morally required. So, why, select from the innumerable morally neutral natural functions of natural functions the procreative and bonding function of human coitus as morally significant? Note in passing, that the problem is not about selecting procreation and bonding as THE function or main function. The main functions of most natural systems are also morally neutral.

In my book, I tried to solve the selection problem in a theoretically unsatisfactory way. I made an empirical case with anecdotal evidence that if we regarded our sexuality as too trivial for moral control or too animalistic for moral control, we alienated our sexuality from ourselves as moral beings. Then, assuming that sexual alienation was a bad condition, I justified taking a stance that the function of human coitus was a moral purpose. I did not answer why sexual alienation was a bad condition needing moral correction.

The selection of procreation and male female bonding purposes of coitus as morally significant requires argument that these purposes are basic human goods. It is not enough merely to observe that they are natural purposes. I believe that after careful reflection on natural facts about human sexuality a persuasive case can be made that these purposes are basic human goods. However, because the arguments require reflection on natural facts, I concede that intelligent people may not be persuaded. This lack of persuasive power arises because the notion of basic human good is tenditious. Basic human goods are obligatory goods. This means that we ought to pursue them and ought never act to inhibit them. It is the obligatory goodness which some might not accept. Obligatory goodness entails the notion of intrinsically immoral act. Intrinsically immoral acts are those intentionally inhibitingbasic goodness.

The selection problem for naturalistic sexual morality is solvable. But not without hard work. There is theoretical work in moral theory to establish a theory with a notion of obligatory goods. There is empirical work of making a case that procreation and life long male female bonding are obligatory goods.

* A free copy of my book can be ordered at

Good of Sexuality is Not a Premoral Good

Why hold that the genuine goodness of sexuality is natural but not chosen without a sense of moral obligation?

The natural good of sexuality is the natural purpose of sexuality. The natural purpose of sexuality is coitus for procreation and the life long monogamous bonding of males and females. If this natural purpose were a premoral good, people naturally choose it independent of any thought of what they are morally obliged to choose. In reality, though, people do not choose the natural purpose indendently of moral rules.

In a previous post, I stated a fundamental moral principle of male sexuality: a man should engage in coitus only in a lifelong marital commitment. I admitted that justification of this principle requires difficult empirical work. Theoretically, the empirical work would result in a description of life in accordance with the principle which would naturally lead people to choose living in accordance with the principle. This empirical work can never be completed satisfactorily. A description of a moral life may be appealing. But not appealing enough to make it a natural cause of choices.

The empirical evidence for the good of sexuality does not function as empirical evidence usually functions. Usually, empirical evidence guides us to agree that something is the case. For instance, we might bring a die into better light to see that it is really blue rather than black. If we had never thought about the matter, someone might point out that a die, from a pair of dice, is a cube and that not only is it the case that the cube has six surfaces. Counting the surfaces leads us to see that a cube must have six surfaces. This is a situation in which empirical considerations provides a proof. Similarly, factual considerations about sexuality in marriage are intended to lead us to appreciate that the sexuality which is in accordance with moral rules must be desirable along with being desirable. In reality no empirical descriptions are compelling enough to be a proof about sexual moral rules.

Each person must be led to appreciate that there is a good of sexuality by a moral awareness of laws requiring pursuit of this good. Significant appreciation of the good of sexuality is attained by pursuing it under constraints of these moral laws. Or maybe, as Christine Emba shows a better teacher is regret from seeking sexual satisfaction in violation of these moral laws. In sexuality the moral laws teach us the good the laws promote and protect.

There are no special people, philosopher kings, who come to see beyond the slightest shadow of doubt the goodness of the good of sexuality. Perhaps the only goodness of sexuality we can all be brought to see is the goodness of being bound by rules.

I hesitate, though, to propose duty as a good we pursue. Duty has no attraction by itself. Duty is not selected for its own sake. It is selected as the alternative to the chaos of choice by whims of our unbridled inclinations.

Review of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex: A Provocation,

Good Sex is Not the Good of Sexuality

I just completed a first reading of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex: A provocation, Penguin, New York 2022. She vividly exposes the wounds inflicted by what I, and she too, calls the belief in the moral neutrality of sexuality. Roughly, the moral neutrality of sexuality creed holds that no consensual sexual act may be morally condemned.

With the polished style of a Washington Post opinion columnist, , Ms. Emba reports numerous conversations, interviews and studies uncovering a deep dissatisfaction amongst college students, especially females, and successful professional women. Believing in the moral neutrality of sexual acts, they consented to sexual activity which left them feeling profoundly unsatisfied even if they enjoyed intense pleasure during the activity.

Furthermore, there was a long-lasting regret which they might have called moral shame if they dared talk of morally shameful sexual acts. In short, the sexual revolution, which is accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality, leads to an ever increasing amount of what is popularly called “bad sex.”

Ms. Emba’s provocative, for her intended readership, re-thinking of sex, is casting aside the moral neutrality of sexuality. The first two thirds of Re-thinking Sex: A Provocation prepares readers for her provocative proclamation that men and especially women must realize that some sexual acts ought never be done even if they want to perform them. With moral limits, they will have less bad and more good sex .

She sketches out how we might discover the moral constraints. I shall not critically evaluate as insufficient her speculations basing sexual morality on intentionally seeking the good of the other party in sexual relations. Ms. Emba does not claim to be a moral philosopher. At this time, it is sufficient that a writer for a popular readership cries out for moral evaluation of sexuality. The fact that she is willing to morally evaluate her own sexual activity and desires shows the sincerity of her cry.

However, I interpret her as proposing sexual morality as a means for having more good sex and less bad sex. Our priorities are mistaken if we accept morality as some type of mental technique for enriching sexual satisfaction – having good sex. On the contrary, we ought to pursue good sex as a means for attaining the good of sex, viz., that for which sex is good.

I state dogmatically what I defend extensively elsewhere. The good of sex is procreation and the life-long monogamous bonding for the mutual companionship and support of men and women in the care of life created by sexual activity.

It is proper to separate the good of sex from good sex. If we hypothetically assume that evolution has purposes or goods, we could say that the good or purpose of human sexuality is spread and perpetuation of the human species. Whether individuals are satisfied with their mating is totally irrelevant to perpetuation of the species. Maybe even the pursuit of good sex by individuals thwarts the evolutionary good of sexuality. Individuals might pursue good sex which avoids procreation.

Keeping good sex as the primary goal of sexuality is, in effect, keeping pleasure as the primary goal – the good of sexuality. It just turns out that sexuality within the limits of morality is a higher, longer lasting and, may I dare say it “more feminine” pleasure. Unfortunately, it also turns out that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure, even the most “spiritual” pleasures, leads to failing to find pleasure in what was pursued. Eventually, even morally constrained sex will become boring, viz., bad sex. And, then, when morality is no longer a recipe for good sex, the default setting is the downward spiral into sexual degeneracy which Ms. Emba has so saddeningly portrayed.

When our priorities are properly ordered, we will engage in sexual activity under moral rules to promote the good of sexuality and never intentionally frustrate them. Then it turns out that one of our sexual moral obligations is to pursue good sex in our married lives. Life shows us that we need to struggle-morally struggle- to avoid letting marital sexuality become morally dangerous routinized and boring. That’s a huge occasion of sin.

I try to avoid aphorisms. Nonetheless, I propose “Do not pursue sexual pleasure as the good of sexuality, but you ought to pursue sexual pleasure for the good of sexuality.”

Detailed Regulation of Marital Sex is an Invasion of Privacy

Does a detailed focus on the morality of actions a married couple while “making love” interfere with the privacy necessary for the good of intimacy? I am thinking especially of sexual moral casuistry coming from a religion. There is a natural sexual morality but religious embellishments of this natural morality brings in outsiders, viz.,the religious moral casuists who monitor “bedroom behavior.” It is disrespecting the privacy of a married couple to speculate, let alone evaluate, what they do for arousal, foreplay and erotic joy. Natural sexual morality shows that there should be no intention to have the husband ejaculate outside his wife’s vagina. That would be an intention to stop the basic human good of procreation. The language of their bodies tells them “that’s not the life giving way for it to happen.”

Natural morality without aid of moral theological casuists tells them coitus interruptus, use of condoms, fellatio up to ejaculation, anal intercourse to ejaculation are wrong. However, cunnilingus and other stimulation to bring the wife to climax are not naturally immoral. But it is best not to think about these kinds of topics; especially with respect to other couples.

What I have written directly conflicts with the opinions of a lay Catholic theologian, Ron Conte Jr. presented in a blog post Grave Sins . I have endorsed the so-called “One rule” Conte condemns.

Conte wrote “Over at a popular Catholic discussion group, a question is frequently raised as to which sexual acts are moral in the marital bedroom. And unfailingly several Catholics will emphatically and even angrily assert that all sexual acts are moral for the spouses, as long as the husband intends to ‘complete the act’ (so to speak) in the natural manner. This “one rule”, as it is sometimes called, has absolutely nothing to do with the teachings of the Church on the basic principles of ethics, nor on sexual sins more specifically. If a sexual act is immoral to do apart from natural marital relations, then it is immoral to do in conjunction with the natural act.”

The concept of sexual act is vague. But the vagueness does not prevent people from using it carefully For instance, Conte quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Each and every sexual act in a marriage needs to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child.” [p. 409]. In this context, the authors of the catechism are thinking of coitus of a married couple. They are expressing the decision of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. They are offering moral guidance on birth control. Especially, they are pointing out that the possibility of conception for coitus cannot be directly inhibited even if on the whole their coitus conception is not intentionally blocked.

It is not misusing the concept of sexual act to characterize a woman handling a man’s penis as a sexual act or a man placing his hand on a woman’s vagina as a sexual act. Outside of marriage depending upon circumstances people handling the genitalia of the other sex, is immoral. So, there are case of sexual acts outside marriage being immoral. But handling the genitalia of one another is not immoral for a married couple. Indeed, coitus outside marriage is immoral but not withing marriage. So, Conte’s principle that marriage is not a morally relevant circumstance is incorrect.

He quotes Alice and Dietrich von Hildebrand as characterizing some sexual acts as pornification of marriage. Yes, if we start to think about what some couples might do for foreplay and sexual arousal, we think of what would be pornography. These thoughts are like a masturbator’s fantasies. So, we should not think that way. The couple making love are not making pornography. They are acting in private for their own good of marital relations. It is only pornography to outsiders who imagine what they are doing. We ought not violate marital privacy in this way.

Sexual Privacy Necessary for New Life

In the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, I appealed to the decent opinion of humankind to recognize my right to criticize the LBGTQ+ agenda as promoting immorality. In general, I exercise this right by defending traditional sexual morality. In particular, I illustrate defending traditional sexual morality by making a case that coitus in public is immoral. This apparently unusual issue may diminish anxieties that criticism is based on some non-moral tabu about the sexuality of LGBQT+ people.

An example shows how public coitus could be a reality for “ordinary” people. Massive pornography shows that public coitus is all too real. The standard careless utilitarian reasoning, preaching that what does not hurt anyone is permissible, is unable to locate any immorality in the example scenario. In search of alternative ways of reasoning about sexual morality, I turn to ancient Greece. We read of the Cynic Philosopher Crates morally criticizing his wife Hipparchia for being ashamed of public coitus. I dismiss Crates’ non-utilitarian reasoning for thinking that it is positively moral. I go on to set aside St. Augustine’s non-utilitarian reason criticizing Crates. Then combining elements of the new natural law morality of G. Grisez et al. , Kantianism and St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, I offer a line of reasoning to a conclusion that the marriage act, the coitus of a married couple, ought not be public. I indicate how a persuasive case can be made for crucial premises in the line of reasoning. The case for the premises uncovers the moral requirements inherent in sexuality. This shows that reasoning about sexual morality is not topic neutral; that sexuality is not morally neutral.

Dan and Lisa are hosting a small party in their apartment after returning from their honeymoon. The guests are two couples they have known since high school. After drinking a little wine, there’s a little bawdy chatter about how married life is really pretty good. As a serpent in Eden, someone proposes to the newlyweds “Why don’t you guys strip down and show us some of the kinky tricks you learned on your honeymoon?” Stunned silence, nervous laughter, then “”No, no, not really kinky” from Lisa. More suggestive remarks suggestive remarks. With more cajoling from the others, Lisa seems to waver. That breaks down all of Dan’s hesitation; Lisa and Dan start pawing on one another. They quickly pull off each others’ clothes to engage in especially passionate love-making inflamed by wine and the sense of being watched. With nervous “good by’s” the party prematurely dissolves.

There is no going back. Eden is no more.

Why was their love-making immoral? Immediately, we try to answer with what can be considered standard moral reasoning about sexuality. What harm was done? We can quickly imagine all sorts of disastrous consequences. Regret and shame might destroy their respect and love for each other leading to early divorce. But this example has been proposed for philosophic consideration of the issue. So, details are added setting aside all possibilities of physical or emotional harm. First might be added the detail that pregnancy resulting from this marriage act was highly desired by Dan and Lisa. Questions about emotional damage are set aside by specifying that somehow all present enjoyed a type of amnesia about the event. So, when all possibilities of physical or mental harm have been ruled out, standard moral reasoning leaves us with no resources for saying that anything wrong – morally wrong occurred. It is fair to require those of us who want to show that a type of act is intrinsically wrong to consider the act abstracted from all non-moral harm. It must be shown that it is wrong regardless of the consequences.

For perspective, let us look back to Athens around 300BC. In the Hipparchia article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we can read

[…] Crates of Thebes…was so passionate about Cynic ideas that, leaving behind the wealth of his father, he moved to Athens with his wife Hipparchia, who was an equally zealous follower of his doctrine. And when he wanted to lie down with her in public, and she…pulled over her cloak as a cover, she was scolded by her husband: “obviously you are not yet wise,” he said, “since you don’t dare to do in the presence of others what you know well to be the right thing to do.”
The story of Hipparchia’s Cynic marriage quickly became the premiere example of that virtue, which is based on the Cynic belief that any actions virtuous enough to be done in private are no less virtuous when performed in public. As exemplars of anaideia, Hipparchia and Crates influenced their pupil Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.

About six hundred years later, St. Augustine comments on this case.

It is this which those canine or cynic philosophers have overlooked, when they have, in violation of the modest instincts of men, boastfully proclaimed their unclean and shameless opinion, worthy indeed of dogs, viz., that as the matrimonial act is legitimate, no one should be ashamed to perform it openly, in the street or in any public place. Instinctive shame has overborne this wild fancy. For though it is related that Diogenes once dared to put his opinion in practice, under the impression that his sect would be all the more famous if his egregious shamelessness were deeply graven in the memory of mankind, yet this example was not afterwards followed. Shame had more influence with them, to make them blush before men, than error to make them affect a resemblance to dogs. And possibly, even in the case of Diogenes, and those who did imitate him, there was but an appearance and pretense of copulation, and not the reality. Even at this day there are still Cynic philosophers to be seen; for these are Cynics who are not content with being clad in the pallium, but also carry a club; yet no one of them dares to do this that we speak of. If they did, they would be spat upon, not to say stoned, by the
mob. Human nature, then, is without doubt ashamed of this lust; and justly so, for the insubordination of these members, and their defiance of the will, are the clear testimony of the punishment of man’s first sin. And it was fitting that this should appear specially in those parts by which is generated that nature which has been altered for the worse by that first and great sin—that sin from whose evil connection no one can escape, unless God’s grace expiate in him individually that which was perpetrated to the destruction of all in common, when all were in one man, and which was avenged by God’s justice. Augustine, City of God Book 14.20*

Let us examine the reasoning.

I interpret Crates’ browbeating Hipparchia that she should not be ashamed to have coitus in public with him as follows.

Coitus with me is morally permissible in private.
What is morally permissible in private is morally permissible in public.
Hence, coitus with me is morally permissible in public.
Shame which is based on public opinion but not nature inhibits you from engaging in public coitus with me.
You ought not let that which does not come from nature inhibit you from engaging in public coitus with me.
So, you ought not let shame inhibit you from engaging in public coitus with me.

The argument demands Hipparchia work on developing the Cynic virtue of anaideia (an-ah’-ee-die-ah’ ) which means shamelessness.

Crates’ line of reasoning to twist Hipparchia loving him into a means for making a philosophic statement is terrible.

What is right in private may be wrong in public. A guideline for good management of employees is” Criticize in private, praise in public.” He assumes a ridiculously reductive sense of human nature. What is not natural for dogs who have no culture by nature is not natural for humans who by nature have cultures.

Augustine is not foolish as Crates. Mostly from the later part of the passage, I interpret Augustine as arguing that Hipparchia ought to let shame inhibit her from engaging in public coitus with Crates.

Shame is the instinct we have for hiding from public view that which clearly exhibits our fallen nature.
Actions which clearly exhibit being driven by passion far more than reason clearly exhibit our fallen nature.
Coitus is an action which clearly exhibits being driven by passion far more than reason.
So, coitus clearly exhibits our fallen nature.
We ought not clearly exhibit our fallen nature.
So, we ought to use shame to hide coitus from public view.

Augustine is correct about our being fallen creatures. To say that we are fallen creatures is to say that human beings collectively and individually are not as they ought to be. We are fallen creatures. However, admitting our falleness does not require admitting that what is good for us is any less good than “before the fall.” Our falleness resides in the weakness of intellect and will to know what is good and then choose correctly from what is good. In particular, coitus with its special mixture of thought and sentiment might well be as good now as “before the fall.” Actions driven far more by passion than reason do not clearly exhibit our fallen nature.

This critique of Augustine segues to a line of argument basing sexual morality on the goodness of sexuality

Sexual intimacy is a basic human good.
Sexual intimacy requires privacy.
To intentionally choose to engage in the marriage act in public is to intentionally choose to inhibit the basic good of intimacy.
One ought to never intentionally choose to inhibit a basic human good.
So, one ought never intentionally choose to engage in the marriage act in public.

The marriage act is a tri-partite basic human good. Conception, sexual pleasure and intimacy are the three components. The focus is on intimacy. Long discussion of conception , sexual pleasure and their connection to intimacy would distract from the line of argument. Contrary to Augustine, note in passing that a component of the good of the marriage act is a special type of pleasure, or erotic joy, whose moral value ought not be overlooked. At the right time, in the right way, with the right person sex is and ought to be sexy.

Why, though, is in private the right way? The marriage act is doubly life giving. It is the biological procreative act and the human act for creating and re-creating the life long one flesh entity of a man and woman. It is to be life long for to bring to life that unity with an explicit or implicit intention to not hold the unity is to intend to abort the new life being created. A couple seeks privacy so that they can say, or signal, to one another “Right now, we have no interest but each other .” They strive to be one. They need, or need to be seeking, that aloneness so that they have nothing else to pull them apart. To intentionally preclude the possibility of that solitude necessary for that unity of will is to preclude the basic human good of the one flesh unity of a man and woman.

I could go on trying to articulate the necessity of privacy for the one flesh unity. It is important that this task can be left for non-philosophers. If intimacy is a basic human good, then its being so and its necessary conditions are accessible to all. The best support for the premises of my line of reasoning is the testimony of sensitive, wise and experienced men and women. Traditional sexual morality is to be defended by those who realize its truth. Philosophers only point out crucial premises for which testimony is needed.

In closing, reconsider how that night might have struck at the unity of Dan and Lisa. Imagine two continuation of their lives.

Dan and Lisa are mortified. They cannot believe they did what they did that night. Trust in themselves and one shaken. With our ability to push to the back of our minds the many stupid things we do in our youth, they go on with their lives as if it never happened. Yet, there is a new sadness in their lives. But life goes on. They delight in the daughter born nine months after that night. Over the next few years, they are feel blessed with two boys. In the eyes of their children their unity is being parents. God has forgiven them, long before they forgive themselves.

Dan and Lisa are surprised and delighted about how bold they can be in pursuit of sexual excitement. After that night, they start seeking out other couples interested in group sex. In the eyes of the group sex subculture, their unity is that of a team seeking sexual excitement.

Venial sins wound the soul. Mortal sins kill the soul.

*Source. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.)