Marital Chastity beyond the childbearing years


My wife and I are beyond child bearing years. We are Catholic. Is bringing each other to climax outside of intercourse sinful? Is this mutual masturbation?


Your question is really regarding what is morally acceptable for a married couple to do sexually. In your particular case, the question is further narrowed to a situation in which a pregnancy is no longer possible therefore the acts may not have the intention of being contraceptive.

A fundamental issue here is marital chastity. Chastity is defined by the Catechism as the successful integration of sexuality within the person and therefore his or her inner unity in body and soul. While sexuality clearly expresses our belonging to the bodily and biological world, it becomes personal and truly human only when integrated into the interpersonal relationship of man and woman, within the total and temporally unlimited gift of each other.

Only within marriage does human sexuality achieve its full sense and perfection as a vehicle for a love that is mutual, exclusive, permanent and self-giving between a man and a woman. Sex cannot be a manifestation of love if it violates God’s plan. The purpose of sex is procreation and the conjugal union between husband and wife. There is an inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unifying and the procreative significance of the marriage act. The Catechism reminds us that sexuality is directed to spousal love of man and woman. In marriage the couple’s bodily intimacy becomes a pledge of spiritual communion.

The questions you raise regarding infertile couples are very important not only for young couples who may be infertile but also for older couples who are no longer of a child-bearing age. The marital sexual activity and satisfaction of these couples remain significant goods, both in themselves and for their contribution to other aspects of their lives.

According to moral theologians such as Dr. German Grisez, the sexual activities of a married couple cannot be moral unless carried out as acts of marital love. That requires mutual consent; it is impossible for either spouse to compel the other. Marital love also requires that, in both intercourse and the sexual activity leading up to it and following it, the couple seek, not pleasure alone, but the wider good of marital communion, in which pleasure, though an important element, is subordinate. Acts taken by the spouses cannot be morally acceptable unless the behavior of both spouses expresses marital affection, is mutually agreeable, and is at least implicitly intended by both to serve the good of their marriage.

All moral theologians faithful to the Magisterium of the Church agree that the intentional stimulation of either or both spouses to orgasm entirely apart from intercourse must be excluded as morally unacceptable. By involving orgasm, that behavior constitutes a sexual act complete in itself, yet one that cannot unite the couple in one flesh. A sexual act complete in itself cannot extend previous, or prepare for prospective marital intercourse; an act that does not unite the couple in one flesh is not intercourse, and so cannot be considered “marital intercourse.” In fact, it is masturbation; and, if mutual, it is mutual masturbation.

Now, regarding the morality of a married couple’s sexual acts short of intercourse, if these activities are acts of marital love, and provided neither spouse intends or is likely to have an orgasm apart from intercourse, incomplete sexual acts, such as caressing and kissing, which lead to sexual arousal, are morally acceptable expressions of marital affection. For most married couples, such acts both bring about a continuing experience of one-flesh communion and prepare, at least indirectly and remotely, for eventual marital intercourse.

Marital intercourse must have both the intention and the outward behavior characteristic of a reproductive-type act. For the act to be reproductive as to intention, does not mean the couple must seek or intend pregnancy (and indeed may be physically incapable of conceiving). Two things are necessary with respect to the intention: a) there must not be an intention to impede conception (which may be irrelevant in the case of an infertile couple) and b) there must be the intention to carry out the appropriate behavior (intercourse).

Furthermore, in situations where the man may not always be capable of intercourse (or orgasm), for instance due to disease or advanced age, incomplete sexual acts can be appropriate expressions of marital affection inasmuch as they continue to realize, to the extent possible, the one-flesh unity realized in previous acts of marital intercourse, and to provide the couple with an experience, though imperfect, of their unity. Mutual stimulation, for example, in the process and with the intention of normal vaginal marital intercourse, (though this intention may not be realized) would be perfectly acceptable.

In summary, even when pregnancy is not possible (because it is the infertile time in the cycle, or the couple is infertile, or beyond the reproductive age), the marital act still accomplishes the goal of making the couple two in one flesh and thereby allows them to experience themselves as one. Evaluating the appropriateness of marital sexual expressions is really about developing an understanding of Marital Chastity, which is relevant to all couples, of all ages, and circumstances.

Fr. Gonzales

Answered By:

Fr. Marcos Gonzalez
Fr. Marcos Gonzalez, born in Cuba and raised and educated in Los Angeles, received his priestly formation at St. John’s Seminary, in Camarillo, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1994. He currently serves as Pastor for St. Andrew Parish, in Pasadena, CA. He is Past Vice President of the CANFP Executive Board.

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