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.