Monthly Archives: May 2022

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.)