Re-considering Our Sexual Practices in Light of JPII


My wife and I have been married for eleven years and have three wonderful children. We are Catholic, and since the death of the late Holy Father John Paul the Great, we have immersed ourselves more fully in the faith and have grown as a result more deeply in love with Christ, the Church, and with each other. We have grown very happy.

Yet we have questions regarding our sexuality that we have been unable to answer despite our reading of John Paul’s “Theology of the Body” and Christopher West’s “Good News” explanation. I am hopeful you might offer some insight.

Prior to our rededication to the faith, we engaged almost exclusively in sexual acts that were not open to life in order to avoid intercourse that might lead to an unwanted enlargement of our family. We routinely engaged in mutual masturbation with the intention of fully satisfying our sexual desires and achieving orgasm and ejaculation outside the vagina. While we thought at the time we were engaging in these activities out of love, we now recognize these acts to have been founded on lust instead.

Fr. Marcos Gonzalez wrote a response to a question earlier this year about this topic. As I read his article I am evaluating the expression of my wife’s and my sexuality over the past five months in light of his words. We have several questions we need answered. I’d like to ask them in relation to points Fr. Gonzalez made in the article.

Point one: Sexual acts within marriage must serve, first and foremost, the unitive (love) and procreative (children) aspects of marriage. Marital intercourse and sexual acts preparatory to it often are too only suitable but obligatory for married couples.

Question: May I stimulate my wife manually, even to orgasm, if we are not prepared to have intercourse immediately thereafter? Does the Church consider that the love fostered by such tender spontaneity may profit our marriage by allowing my wife as a result to be more receptive to me when we later do have intercourse?

Point two: Not all sexual acts within marriage are conducive to the good of marriage, and only those fully integrated with commitment to this good are chaste. Hence, Christian married couples should not consider themselves entitled to any and every sexual activity which they find mutually agreeable, but should engage in chaste acts of marital intercourse.

Question: If we engage in an act of manual stimulation of my wife leading to her orgasm not immediately leading to intercourse and we engage in it lovingly and with firm commitment to the good of the marriage, are we chaste?
Especially if we consider that every loving interaction whether sexual or otherwise leads to a strengthening and deepening of our love for one another, for Christ, and the Church?

Point three: A marital act expresses and fosters the couple’s marital communion (love) precisely because, when they willingly and lovingly cooperate with each other in an act of itself suited to procreating, their mutual self-giving actualizes their one-flesh unity. If one or both spouses engage in a sexual act that does not realize one-flesh unity in this way, that act is not marital…. Furthermore, however, even within marriage sexual acts must always take into account the very reason for the act, namely: the union of husband and wife as well as the openness to the possibility of procreation. When a man or woman engages in a sexual act which results in orgasm outside of actual marital intercourse this is equivalent to an act of mutual masturbation and goes contrary to the very nature of the sexual acts within marriage.

Question: We recognize now that the reason for human sexuality is the creation of life. We look at the entirety of our marriage as a framework within which this openness to life exists. Accordingly, every act we engage in is one of love which deepens our relationship. In short, we see every act as an act of loving and tender foreplay which will lead, eventually, to intercourse. Can every act, whether willingly bathing the children, gladly mowing the lawn, offering a sincere compliment, or manually and spontaneously stimulating my wife, be considered as leading up to intercourse, even if these individual acts predate intercourse by days?

Point four: Within marriage various sexual acts short of complete intercourse can indeed be chaste and therefore, moral. Of course, like intercourse itself, such acts are chaste only insofar as spouses seek in them, not pleasure alone, but the wider good of marital communion in which pleasure is a subordinate element. Marital sexual acts short of intercourse are good in themselves if they a) are necessary or helpful to marital intercourse and/or b) express and foster marital affection. Still, even if good in itself, an act short of intercourse can be bad due to a wrong intention or some circumstance. Thus, such acts become bad if they either a) are intended to bring about complete sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse or b) are in some other way at odds with the good of marital communion.

Question: In the past, while engaging in intercourse, my wife would stimulate herself manually to orgasm because she knew the delight I took in her willingness to do this assisted me in achieving my own orgasm. My wife regularly has multiple orgasms, so the one or two that she would thus have would not preclude me from giving her subsequent orgasms while engaged in intercourse or manually afterward. If marital acts short of intercourse are good in themselves if they are necessary or helpful to marital intercourse, can marital acts during intercourse such as my wife’s manual self-stimulation also be good inasmuch as they are helpful to our immediate act of marital intercourse and express and foster marital affection? Is my stimulation of my wife to orgasm, not immediately preceding intercourse, bad if neither my wife’s nor my intention is to bring about her complete sexual satisfaction, and we both feel more love for each other as Christian spouses afterward?

Point five: If they (other ways of satisfying sexual “tension”) are truly acts of affection and love in a manner that is chaste, then certainly, they are not condemned. However, if these acts basically amount to mutual masturbation by permitting sexual orgasm to take place outside of the normal act of intercourse, then they would be condemned….

Question: Masturbation is a lustful activity that is not based in love. If acts short of intercourse however are engaged in as “truly acts of affection and love in a manner that is chaste,” then is my manual stimulation of my wife not leading immediately to intercourse something other than mutual masturbation if I perform it out of true affection and love? Is my wife free to stimulate herself to orgasm during intercourse if this act is performed out of affection and love for me and not out of lust for her own satisfaction?

Point six: You are quite correct that “this is your wife” and certainly you should express the love and affection that you have for each other. However, this must always be done understanding and appreciating each other’s dignity rather than simply the “use of each other” for the sake of personal pleasure.

Question: Christopher West’s treatise on “The Theology of the Body” refers to the wife engaged in lovemaking as something like taking in a giving manner and to the husband as giving but in a taking manner, so that they become one. Are we permitted then as husband and wife to engage in sexual acts that are founded in love of self, spouse, Christ, and Church that lead ultimately if not immediately to intercourse? May my wife bring herself to an intermediate orgasm while we are engaged in intercourse if such orgasms do not lead to her complete sexual satisfaction and she does this out of love for me and not for desire of her own pleasure?

We want to do right by ourselves and the Lord. We love each other deeply and believe we have been behaving chastely. Please advise us.


Last Updated: July 24, 2013
You have raised several questions which touch on the morality of particular marital acts and which can be summarized as follows. First, is it morally permissible to stimulate manually one’s spouse to the point of orgasm if this is not followed immediately by intercourse? Second, is it morally permissible for a spouse to stimulate oneself during the act of intercourse, even to the point of orgasm, as long as the act of intercourse is completed?

In answer to your queries, I would first of all like to affirm the points which Father Gonzales made in his response to a similar question posed earlier in the year and which you allude to in the beginning of your question. Father Gonzales wrote: “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.” Thus, the answer to your first question is that it is not morally permissible to stimulate manually one’s spouse to the point of organism if the spouses do not intend to complete the marital act. The act you describe is merely a form of masturbation, and therefore considered to be an immoral act.

Essentially, a moral act is considered good when its intention, object and circumstances are all good. If one of these elements is bad, then the act is immoral. The object of God’s gift of sexuality to married couples is to unite the spouses more closely to each other and to God and to allow spouses to be co-creators with God in bringing children into the world. God gives the pleasurable aspect of marital love to spouses so that they might experience His love, goodness and beauty and also express their love for each other. Nonetheless, as Father Gonzales has previously pointed out: “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.”

Therefore, in lovemaking, helping one another to experience pleasure is to be subordinate to the greater good of fostering marital communion. The difficulty with seeking pleasure merely for the sake of pleasure is that it can lead to self-centeredness and self-gratification which threatens marital communion. The particular form of lovemaking which you have presented appears to be a form of masturbation and therefore would be immoral. Authentic lovemaking is based on a giving and receiving, not on self-seeking pleasure.

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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