The Church condemns Unnatural Acts

When the subject of contraception was being debated, prior to Humanae Vitae, an interesting question arose. If some contracepted acts are approved, based on the principle of totality, does this not imply that married couples may also use sexual acts which are inherently non-procreative? Well, the answer is that, if the Church approves of the use of contraception, She would thereby approve of all non-procreative sexual acts. And this would include approval for unnatural sexual acts in marriage. So the two questions are related. Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil because they are non-procreative as well as non-unitive. Contracepted sex is non-procreative, but still unitive and marital, though the choice to deprive these acts of their procreative finality harms the other two meanings.

Humanae Vitae says: “Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act?” And the answer, as we all know, is No. Each and every sexual act must be marital, unitive, and procreative: “each single act”.

But it is specious and facile to claim that certain unnatural sexual acts are not themselves acts, and that they take on the morality of a natural act committed subsequent or prior to the non-procreative acts. Each knowing and deliberate choice of a human person is an act subject to morality. These unnatural sexual acts can be committed in any order, or they can be omitted, and therefore they are separate acts, which must be judged according to the three fonts of morality that spring from, and apply to, those acts. No act can take its morality from another act, merely because the other act was committed in the same place, or about the same time.

“Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” Humanae Vitae 14

The term “specifically intended” is often misunderstood. It does not refer to the first font of intention, but rather to the intentional or deliberate choice of the intrinsically evil act (second font). All three fonts proceed from the will, each to its own type of end. So when a person intentionally chooses a disordered act, this choice of the act includes, at least implicitly, a choice of the nature and the object along with the act.

Pope Paul VI condemns any action which is ordered to deprive sexual acts of their procreative meaning (second font) — whether the intended end (first font) is good or evil, even when the non-procreative act is used as a means to a good end. This teaching implies that non-procreative sexual acts (unnatural acts) may not be used for the good end of preparing for natural marital relations. For an unnatural sexual act is inherently non-procreative, and that is what Humanae Vitae condemns. Then the argument that an unnatural sexual act may be used, supposedly, as a means to a good end (natural marital relations) is also rejected by Humanae Vitae. It doesn’t matter if the action, “any action”, is an end in itself or a means to a good end. Persons may not intentionally choose non-procreative sexual acts — not only contracepted acts, but also unnatural sexual acts.

In his article, “Natural Law and Unnatural Acts”, after condemning fornication (sex outside of marriage) and adultery, Finnis states the following:

“And if a question is raised about solitary sexual acts or sexual intercourse extra vas (whether homo- or hetero-sexual), the Christian response … turns on the fact that all sexual activity involves an inchoate [incipient] version, or perhaps a kind of reminder, of the procreative causal potency of ‘full’ sexual intercourse….”

“What, in the last analysis, makes sense of the conditions of the marital enterprise, its stability and exclusiveness, is not the worthy and delightful sentiments of love and affection which invite one to marry, but the desire for and demands of a procreative community, a family. Some sexual acts are (as types of choice) always wrong because of an inadequate response, or direct closure, to the basic procreative value that they put in question.”

“The principal bearer of an explicit theory about natural law happens, in our civilization, to have been the Roman Catholic Church … That Church has stringently elaborated the implications of the seventh requirement {of the sixth value – namely, that practical reasonableness should embody respect for every basic value in every act}, as those implications concern the basic values of life (including the procreative transmission of life), truth (including truth in communication), and religion. And it has formulated those implications in strict negative principle, such as those declaring wrongful any killing of the innocent, any anti-procreative sexual acts, and lying and blasphemy.”

The sexual faculty in men and women is given to us primarily for the procreation of children. Therefore, any acts which do not retain that inherent good ordering are disordered; they are intrinsically evil acts. How can you denounce the intrinsically evil acts of the divorced and remarried, when they commit adultery, and commit unnatural sexual acts yourselves or approve of them by other persons?

How is it that some Catholics loudly decry the sin of homosexual acts, which are wrong partly because they are non-procreative, and then use or approve of unnatural sexual acts in a Catholic marriage? What hypocrisy! If the LGBT community ever realizes that Catholics who speak out against their choices in life also commit those same types of acts themselves, or approve of their commission by others, they would deride and denounce this hypocrisy. Rightly so.

It is a severe and sinful hypocrisy. The very same Catholics who loudly condemn same-sex marriage and homosexual acts, also commit unnatural sexual acts in their own marriages and/or they publicly approve of these acts. They are saying to same-sex couples, “You cannot do this or that because these acts are unnatural.” And then they go home do the very same thing with their spouse. And next they go forth on the internet to preach the perverted Gospel of encouraging other Catholic spouses to use unnatural sexual acts in their marriages.

The argument used by these hypocrites is that the unnatural sexual act is not completed (no climax) and is used only as a way to prepare for natural marital relations. So they say when they are defending these acts. But in fact, they approve of unnatural sexual acts to completion on the wife at any time, before or after natural intercourse. And if the husband happens to climax during an unnatural sexual act, they approve saying it was unintended.

Gregory Popcak, in his blasphemous book “Holy Sex….”, proposes that a husband put on a condom and use a type of unnatural sexual act as foreplay. Then the husband is supposed to take off the condom and “complete” the act only in natural intercourse. But once you approve of using a condom for sodomitic sex, adding the provision that climax has to occur later, without the condom, in a natural way, is an absurdly small fig leaf over the abject approval of unnatural sexual acts in marriage.

What happens if the married couple are using unnatural sexual acts as foreplay, and the husband completes the act unintentionally? They approve of this situation as well. They don’t care that this act goes far beyond what classical moralists termed “danger of pollution”. The act is ordered toward unnatural climax. What if the couple never get around to performing an act of natural marital relations? They approve this case, too. As long as the couple have the mere intention to perform natural marital relations at some time, even hours later in a different place, they approve. Nothing is condemned as sinful, except the deliberate completed unnatural sexual act on the husband. But once you have approved of everything but that “one rule”, couples following this advice understand the implicit approval for that eventuality as well.

And I am not the only author who objects to this ethics-free approach to marital relations:

John C. Ford, S.J. — “By the mutual consent which constitutes their compact of conjugal love, a couple do not give and receive the right to any and every sort of behavior, but only to true conjugal acts ‘by which the spouses are intimately and chastely united to one another’ ” [inner quote from GS 49] John C. Ford, S.J. “Example of a Possible Statement of the Holy See concerning Contraception”

Alice von Hildebrand on her husband Dietrich’s views of marital sexual ethics versus the claims of modern authors, such as West and Popcak:

“These ideas would have struck Dietrich von Hildebrand as abhorrent. It is precisely because the marital bed is sacred that one should approach acts within it with enormous reverence. Degrading and perverse sexual behavior– even it is it done by a married couple, who do not practice contraception– should be condemned, as an assault on human dignity. The “pornification” of marriage should be resisted as vigorously as the pornification of our culture.

I cannot describe what Dietrich thought of pornography: the very word triggered an expression of horror on his noble face. The same thing is true of sodomy. He had such a sense for the dignity of human persons that any posture, which sins against this dignity, was repulsive to him.” [CNA]

Back to the topic of contraception. If you approve of contraception outside of a valid marriage, and within marriage for a medical purpose, and you approve of abortifacient contraception, because the risk of death to the prenatal is “acceptable” and “small”, and you approve of contraception with a non-contraceptive intention or in a difficult circumstance, there is essentially nothing left. Hearing this alleged set of moral rules, the Catholic couple does not conclude that they should avoid contraception, but that they should use it, whenever they see fit. And there is no sense saying to them that their particular case does not fit the stated “exceptions”, once you teach multiple broad exceptions to intrinsically evil acts, the average Catholic correctly understands that this arrow is aimed at the target of allowing all intrinsically evil acts, whenever the individual thinks it is a good idea. Why should the judgment that permits an intrinsically evil act, under certain conditions, be made solely by theologians and anyone with a blog? If that is the way ethics works, then the individual Catholic correctly understands that there is no reason why he or she cannot also make exceptions to intrinsically evil acts.

Of course, these false teachers never forget to pay lip service to the idea that intrinsically evil acts are always wrong. But they approve of very many intrinsically evil acts, in many cases for many reasons, along with the disingenuous claim that the particulars of the case make the act not intrinsically evil. It is supposedly a different type of act. It shouldn’t even be called “contraception”, they say, when it meets the criteria they have decided on, to permit the act. Call it something else. It shouldn’t be called sodomy or oral sex or mutual masturbation. Call it something that sounds as if it might be moral: foreplay or stimulation or some such term.

Yeah, right. The average Catholic is not stupid. They know that contraception is still contraception when you are unmarried, and they know that abortifacient contraception can kill your own children in the womb, regardless of your reasons for using it. Once you make exceptions to intrinsically evil acts, it’s over. Every Catholic then says to himself or herself, why can’t I also make the judgment as to which acts are exceptions? This sexual act seems right to me, so I will use the same approach and just call it something else. “I’m not robbing a bank. I’m making a withdrawal, at a bank where I don’t have an account. It shouldn’t even be called bank robbery.”

And then these hypocrites have the gall to rebuke the divorced and remarried, saying, you can’t have natural marital relations open to life, because it is the sin of adultery, which is intrinsically evil, and to chastise homosexual couples, calling their sexual acts unnatural. Yet they themselves use unnatural sexual acts in marriage, which is a worse sin. The Catholic couple who use unnatural sexual acts sin not only against nature, they also commit a sacrilege against the Sacrament of Marriage. The same-sex couple sin less, as they do not sin against the Sacrament.

Which Saint was it, who called these types of acts in marriage a figurative type of adultery, or worse than adultery? Was it Augustine, Aquinas, or Jerome? No, it was all three. Then, in addition, Saint Alphonsus Liguori condemned unnatural sexual acts in marriage specifically in the case of foreplay, and then also in the case when the wife would reach completion after natural marital relations. Four Saints, all Doctors of the Church, condemn these acts.

And has the Church Herself been silent on this topic? Or is Her only teaching the one implicit in Humanae Vitae?

Casti Connubii 59: “Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”

The “proper manner” is natural intercourse, and this is moral even when the act cannot attain the procreative end toward which it is ordered as a natural act. And the secondary ends stated are also permissible as intended ends; one does not have to intend children with each natural act, as long as the act retains that intrinsically good ordering toward procreation.

But notice what Pope Pius XI teaches next. The husband and wife must make certain that any good ends they intend are subordinated to the primary end of procreation. They are forbidden from choosing any sexual acts which do not preserve that intrinsic nature of the act: the procreative end. This states clearly a condemnation of unnatural sexual acts, which are inherently non-procreative. The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty. The natural end of normal sexual relations and the purpose of the sexual faculty is procreation, but unnatural acts are inherently non-procreative.

Then, too, in Address to Midwives, Pope Pius XII teaches the same point, that unnatural sexual acts cannot be used in marriage, even when circumstances make the natural act unattainable.

“41. If, in your sure and experienced judgment, the circumstances require an absolute “No”, that is to say, the exclusion of motherhood, it would be a mistake and a wrong to impose or advise a “Yes”. Here, it is a question of basic facts, and therefore not a theological but a medical question; and thus it is within your competence. However, in such cases, the married couple does not desire a medical answer, of necessity a negative one, but seeks an approval of a “technique” of conjugal activity which will not give rise to maternity. And so you are again called to exercise your apostolate, inasmuch as you should leave no doubt whatsoever that, even in these extreme cases, every preventive practice and every direct attack upon the life and the development of the new life is, in conscience, forbidden and excluded, and that there is only one way open, namely, that of complete abstinence from every performance of the natural faculty. Your apostolate in this matter requires that you have a clear and certain judgment, with a calm firmness.”

So, when the Pope says that a married couple seek “a technique of conjugal activity” which is not ordered toward the procreative end, he refers discretely to unnatural sexual acts in marriage. And he condemns such acts, even when the natural act would give rise to a pregnancy that might endanger the life of the mother. And if unnatural sexual acts are condemned even for that very grave reason, they are not to be approved for lesser reasons. The Church never says, “You cannot do that, even for a grave reason. Oh, you have a reason of much lower weight? Then go ahead.” Anything forbidden for a grave reason is also forbidden for lesser reasons.

Now, if you say to me that the case of unnatural sexual acts in marriage is different, because it is foreplay or it is for the wife after natural relations, I will again refer you to Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who condemned unnatural sexual acts in both those cases, very specifically.

Are unnatural sexual acts not really sexual acts at all, when they are not completed in climax? In truth, they are sexual acts regardless of whether climax occurs. The USCCB, in its document “Create in Me a Clean Heart”, condemns masturbation, “which is deliberate, erotic stimulation often to the point of orgasm.” Thus, even when climax does not occur, it is still an intrinsically evil sexual act.

Is it the case, as some commentators say, that touching or kissing the genitals is no different than touching or kissing other parts of the body? What a ridiculous thing to say. A husband is caught by his wife kissing another woman on the cheek. She might be a little upset, or maybe not at all. A husband is caught by his wife kissing the genitals of another woman. Then he says to her, “touching or kissing the genitals is no different than touching or kissing other parts of the body.” And then, what happens? She agrees? It’s just obvious to everyone that it is no different? I would like to see her reaction to that claim.

Some acts are per se sexual acts, and other acts are mere foreplay. Suppose a husband goes to an office party without his wife. When he comes home, he admits that “something happened” with a secretary there. His wife wants to know if a certain line was crossed, and that’s the line between kissing, making out — what I call ordinary foreplay — and any type of sexual act. If it was only making out, she’s not nearly as mad as if a type of sexual act occurred. There is an immense difference between the two. And do you think that his wife will be reassured if her husband says that the acts with the secretary were only oral or manual “stimulation”, lacking climax? He labels these acts as “foreplay” and claims no line was crossed? She will not find that acceptable, and neither does God. It is still a type of sexual act.

Now many online commentators speak in this way. They say that this type of approval for unnatural sexual acts is “the current Catholic approach to sexual ethics” and that my condemnation of those acts sees sin “where the Church teaches there isn’t any”. But that is proven false by the above argument. The Church has never approved of unnatural sexual acts for any reason, neither by homosexual couples, nor by heterosexual couples, neither by the unmarried, nor by the married, not for any reason. For if She did give such approval, this would imply an hypocrisy in Her condemnation of the same types of act used by same-sex couples. But the Church is not a hypocrite, though some of Her teachers unfortunately are.

Sacred Scripture teaches us: “Keep yourself chaste.” (1 Tim 5:22), and “Flee from fornication.” (1 Cor 6:18).

[1 Thessalonians]
{4:3} For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from fornication,
{4:4} that each one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor,
{4:5} not in passions of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God,

But most Catholics who discuss this topic online have no real interest in what Sacred Scripture teaches, or what the Saints and Doctors teach, or what the Magisterium teaches. They seek only a technique of theology that can rationalize the acts they wish to perform. And if you say to them, one unnatural sexual act is approved, and so is another, but don’t do this, they understand. They see you winking at them. They realize that the true meaning of these claims is “anything goes” in the marital bedroom. Just close the doors and pretend there is no God. That is the real meaning of these claims.

Sexual ethics is like a Jenga tower. Once you remove enough blocks, whatever is left crumbles to the ground. Once you approve of various unnatural sexual acts in marriage, for various reasons, whatever you claim is left falls away. The couple is not going to follow the alleged “one rule” of Popcak and West, to do whatever you want, as long as the husband only completes the act in natural relations. Once you’ve convinced Catholic couples that “the Church approves” of all manner of unnatural acts termed “acts of grave depravity” when done by same-sex couples, they get the idea. You don’t have to tell them twice. They understand that this implies they can commit any kind of sexual act, even if it breaks the “one rule”. Once you convince them that the husband can put on a condom and commit unnatural sexual acts with his wife, nothing is left. He is not going to stop and take off the condom and then have natural relations. So saying that the one rule is for the husband to complete the act in the natural way has no practical difference from saying do whatever you want.

Here is what those false teachers are like, who promote and approve of acts of grave depravity within Catholic marriage:
{2:19} you become confident within yourself that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
{2:20} an instructor to the foolish, a teacher to children, because you have a type of knowledge and truth in the law.
{2:21} As a result, you teach others, but you do not teach yourself. You preach that men should not steal, but you yourself steal.
{2:22} You speak against adultery, but you commit adultery. You abominate idols, but you commit sacrilege.
{2:23} You would glory in the law, but through a betrayal of the law you dishonor God.

You speak against the adultery of the divorced and remarried, but you commit figurative adultery with your wife. You speak against the unnatural sexual acts of same-sex couples, but you do the same thing in your marriage.

Teachers will have the stricter judgment (cf. James 3:1).

“May marriage be honorable in every way, and may the marriage bed be immaculate. For God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Hebrews 13:4)

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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8 Responses to The Church condemns Unnatural Acts

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Its a shame to see that unnatural sexual acts are approved by many Catholics. Go on answers forum and get attacked if you state unnatural sex acts are grave sin. Christopher West has a big following among Catholics. Even the orthodox and traditional Fr.Chad Ripperger FSSP errors on this. In one of his audio talks he approves of the husband (after natural marital relations) manually stimulating his wife to climax.

  2. Mark P. says:

    This area is simply one where there is a lot of confusion because it isn’t taught at the parish level or in marriage preparation courses. Like Matt says, many people go into online forums where you’ll get dozens of answers by everyone claiming to speak the truth. Until these issues are addressed directly at the parish level, they will persist.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It’s an offshoot of the intrinsic evil problem. Many ethicists have abandoned the traditional view that intrinsically evil acts are always wrong. They each have a different scheme for how you determined, in a revised system, which acts still count as intrinsically evil, but it is a greatly narrowed set of acts.

  3. DD&S says:

    It is a very simple and very beautiful ethic, and so tragic when the husband and wife cannot come to an agreement on what’s moral. You would then have to resort to either an “internal forum” or a “conscience.”

  4. Francisco says:

    A person asked the following:

    “If there is nothing wrong with the “unnatural” act of working through the night (night shift) and sleeping during the day (since people naturally sleep at night – dark; and work during the day – sun); then, how come there can be something wrong with the so called unnatural sexual acts (including homosexual acts)?”

    So he calls both activities as “unnatural”, 1) working at night, sleeping during the day; and 2) homosexual acts. And if one is “ok”, why the other is not?

    How would you respond to this? is # 1 not an unnatural act at all? Or are not all unnatural acts (in general) intrinsically evil ? (all unnatural *sexual* acts are intrinsically evil, of course).

    Thank you.

    • Ron Conte says:

      By the term “unnatural” the Church means acts which are inherently contrary to the natural law and the purpose which God imbued in human nature (e.g. that the sexual faculty be ordered toward the procreative unitive and marital ends.) Working at night does not contradict the natural law, nor the purpose of work or sleep as ordained by God.

  5. Erlin Maci says:

    Hey Ron, what’s the church’s teaching on the genesis account of creation? You wrote an article about it a while back addressing it that also talked about evolutiin. I’d like to read through it again if you still have it.

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