First, let me say that, while being a very conservative Catholic, I tend to speak extremely informally - I do not cite my examples, I indulge frequently in inexact terminology, and I believe that good Catholic communication relies on us all remembering that, for all our occasional disagreements, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we shouldn’t get combative over the mutual exploration of our shared faith. So, please share your thoughts, but don’t be offended if I address serious topics in a light tone, and don’t be surprised if I ignore combative of legalistic replies.
I’m getting married in a few months (yay!) and, on account of both my and my fiancee’s being cradle Catholics with no impediments to a regular, honest-to-goodness Catholic marriage, it has been very smooth sailing. Both of us have also been very patient with regards to our pre-marital chastity. I daresay I am marrying a saint, and being chaste has really just been consistent with all other aspects of our relationship. In any case, as our wedding draws near, we’ve allowed ourselves to discuss what we anticipate to be a fulfilling and fruitful conjugal life - neither of us have any difficulties with the Church’s teachings on marital conduct.
I have been puzzled, however, that between discussion of one extreme (Actual Thread Title: “Can I hold my girlfriend’s hand?”) to the other (Actual Thread Title: “I’m considering gender reassignment…”) there is a pretty wide blank space in the dialogue on sexual morality beyond sexual acts. As non-experts in Catholic theology, I’ve seen the whole gamut between KISSING = ANATHEMA to IT’S ALL RELATIVE, implying either that Catholic teaching leaves this area not wholly defined or that there’s a lot of layperson-level disagreement or confusion. I have three months to go until I’m married, and I know the rules once I’ve crossed that threshold - so, in the short span of technical bachelorhood I have left, I’d like to discuss the following:
[Incidentally, talk of sexual matters ahead - ye’ve been warned.]
I accept as a given that any act that involves genital stimulation is a sexual act, regardless of persons involved or even intent. I also accept as a given that acts not involving genitalia at all, even if immediately concerned with sexuality (same-sex attraction, for example) is not itself a sexual act. Any of the former, done in a non-marital/unitive/procreative fashion, is inherently sinful. Any of the latter, unless they sufficiently precipitate into a sexual act, is not inherently sinful. Non-sexual acts, even ones that do precipitate into a sexual act, are not inherently sinful, as long as the sexual act is marital/unitive/procreative - in such a situation, the non-sexual act only promotes sexual union in its intended form.
Where non-sexual acts become sinful is if they present a near occasion of sin, as some non-sexual acts expose a person to undue inclination to non-marital/unitive/procreative sexual acts. Near occasion of sin is a very mushy boundary, though certain broad judgments can be made about that line. (Example: objectively speaking, while the nude images of Renaissance art are, in form, not conducive to lust, the carefully tailored spreads of porn magazines are. Thus, while imagery involving nude figures is not inherently sinful, the specific composition and intent of the images can be grounds for objective moral judgments about them.) The same can be true of non-sexual acts - kissing someone while drunk, say, and not able to make wise moral decisions, is pretty objectively a near occasion for sin. However, in physical deed it is no different than kissing while sober, which generally does not expose one to undue risk of sin.
The question: at what point can non-sexual acts, even quite passionate ones, or ones that exceed publicly appropriate boundaries, be considered objectively in the realm of near occasion of sin? For example, if kissing of the lips is to a degree arousing, but generally speaking not a sin, does kissing a woman’s neck or stomach, or for discussions sake her breasts, cross the boundary? If so, why?
Having never done those things, it is hard for me to say whether they would present me an undue risk of engaging in sexual acts. Intellectually, I know I am capable of withstanding my sexual appetite, simply on account of my never having succumbed despite being presented with significant temptation in the past (not all my previous girlfriends were saints, which is why I am marrying this one, not them!) I also know I am not at risk of gambling, on account of never using a slot machine despite desperately wanting to have a million dollars. Thus, despite thousands of people having a gambling addiction, walking through a casino is not a near occasion of sin for me, because I know I could do so without being unduly tempted to gamble. While it isn’t a perfect comparison, I know that I have the moral fortitude not to engage in a sexual act before marriage - does “second base” still constitute the near occasion of sin?
While the maxim, “If you have to ask, it’s probably a sin,” is generally true, it’s not intellectually rigorous. Rather than approaching this as somebody trying to get away with as much as one can, instead I am seeking an actual understanding of God’s will here. To speak in analogy, I drive as slowly as I can when I do not know the speed limit, but it’s much better for all involved if I find the sign telling me the speed limit. With this question, I’m asking what the speed limit is, not how high above the speed limit I can go before I get caught!
Again, I am only a couple months away from getting married - I’ve been very patient for my whole adult life, and I can handle twelve or so more weeks! Nevertheless, I find answers on the matter surprisingly lacking, and as a Catholic I like to know what the Church says!