Catholic Sexual Morality

Deep breath. Here we go.

I’m considering converting to Catholicism. I will be talking to local priests and taking RCIA classes in due time, but I want to dig into some of the theological areas that I am wrestling with. I ask for your patience as I am still in the early stages of learning.

The teachings that worry me the most regard:

  1. pre-marital sex
  2. heteronormative perspective on marriage
  3. contraception
  4. ordination of women

It seems to me that all of these topics stem from the concept of complimentarianism.

Complementarianism is a theological view held by some in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.

(Wikipedia)
And the basis of complimentarianism is (among others, possibly) Scripture, specifically Genesis:

“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

“Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created.” – Genesis 5:2

So, women and men are created in God’s image as distinct and binary genders. Gender of the body is related to the nature of the soul (one cannot be fully separate, so women cannot be priests by their nature as women). Contraception and non-reproductive sex are prohibited because they deny the life generating purpose of intercourse. Sex outside of marriage is prohibited, and only hetero couples can marry because they can reproduce (but infertile couples can still marry).

Here is where I get confused - if these teachings hinge on the assumption that men and women are, by design, wholly distinct and binary, then what would happen if that assumption proved false? If humans were, by their nature, not so easily categorized in one of two options, then the premise behind these teachings would weaken, would they not?

God created man AND woman in his image, not man OR woman. Also, HIS image. If both men and women are created in the image of a single (usually described as masculine) being, isn’t it possible that men and women may not be strictly binary? Eve was not created separately from Adam, they started out as one being, and just because they were separated does not mean eve was solely feminine and Adam solely masculine when the dust settled. A binary view of gender does not adequately explain intersex or transgendered individuals. Men can have feminized brains and women can have masculinized brains. Science is showing us that gender is far more nuanced than culture generally accepts. So I am struggling to accept as given that men and women are completely distinct (or even the only options) and by extension certain teachings stemming from that.

That is not quite how I would put it. Couples must be open to life. Infertility, btw, is difficult to diagnose. Even couples who have been “fixed” have still conceived. Also, complementarity is not restricted to procreation, but procreation is a sign of man and woman’s complementarity.

If humans were, by their nature, not so easily categorized in one of two options, then the premise behind these teachings would weaken, would they not?

You mean like if we started cloning and couldn’t tell gender? It would just make things more confusing because of the unnaturality of it, but the teaching on men and women would remain true.

Concerning the four Catholic teachings you have difficulty with: it seems that your perspective might be coming from a secular view that contraception, male clergy, pre-marital sex come from a woman-hating or woman-as-inferior theory. While I realize that some men, Catholics included, might have that problem, I don’t believe these teachings come from that view.

Much of these teachings come from a respect for women and for life; it is the secular society teachings that have made women objects.

As for the issues of heteronormative marriage, remember that this adjective you choose is a relatively new word to define what marriage is for a very enormous percentage of the population. Anything opposite of that is still a social experiment. The Church rarely rushes into such rapid changes in Her teachings.

Let’s just say that the difficulties you might be having could be coming from a paradigm that does not reflect, include, or scope the greater world view that the Church must encompass. My mom used to say, “why should the Church embrace the birth control pill when it appears to be maiming and altering women?” (she knew many women with strokes and serious endocrine problems for which the pill seemed to be the culprit.) The Church must move slowly and more carefully because it is accountable and responsible for more than the immediate present. The Church’s teachings are for our bodies and souls.

No, I mean if people people are naturally born of indeterminate gender or with traits of both, such as, but not limited to, intersex individuals.

I wouldn’t consider converting if I believed the Church hated women. :slight_smile:

As for the issues of heteronormative marriage, remember that this adjective you choose is a relatively new word to define what marriage is for a very enormous percentage of the population. Anything opposite of that is still a social experiment. The Church rarely rushes into such rapid changes in Her teachings.

So is the word “homosexual”, and the modern definition of marriage is vastly different from the old women-as-property model. Yet the Church still teaches modern people using these modern terms, so it is worth considering the modern context as well.

Wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, whatever we read or others say to us, it will not be enough or not be correct answers. Because we might have a question that is not presentable in an easy way.
In our prayers, we can submit our thoughts, in a sincere and loving way, to our God. He will clarify these things to us.


Following things I really did not want to say… well… can I plead you to pardon me if there is anything wrong? Thank you…

Also, let us say, men and women are equal in the manner of opposing the so far existing complementary principles.

If a man is not complement to a woman, why would then a man or a woman look for a partner. They should not. If they should, what is the meaning of a partner if one do not need another in some aspect.

And If they are not complementing, then intercourse or attraction between them is for what? May be science will prove the attraction to be an illusion.

In this case, unless sexual pleasure is proven not complementary, why would not a man or a woman still look for some one who can complement their physical pleasure. May be science can prove that this physical pleasure is something not real. I am sure the whole world would buy it.

If the complementary nature is not defined in the terms of Love (which is grounded in the realms of non-physical thing), then it will be in the terms of mere physical business. What kind of respect you would get in a physical business? Then, on pure physical aspects, what will happen to unattractive men or women or to those in case of not classifiable?
In order to be equal, either we have to surgery the attractive to unattractive or the unattractive to attractive.

Well… my thoughts go on.

I totally understand where you’re coming from. There was a thread on here about transgender people not long ago where I tried to bring up the same issue and didn’t really get anywhere. Basically, I asked whether the church determined sex based on DNA, physical appearance or how a person self-identifies and I was told the answer was “none of the above.”

So I really don’t know what would happen if, say, a hermaphrodite wanted to be ordained, or if someone born a man had gender reassignment surgery to become a woman and then wanted to marry a man.

Those issues seem to be along the same vein of what you’re thinking about. If there are only two options, and our possible roles in life are determined by which box we check, what do you do about the people who don’t fit in a box?

Here we go again…“heteronormative marriage.”

The new word for same sex relationships…

OK, so what is so good about it? Will it make the world a better place? How will society, in general, benefit?

The basis is revealed nature. You don’t need scripture to reveal complementarity.

So, women and men are created in God’s image as distinct and binary genders. Gender of the body is related to the nature of the soul (one cannot be fully separate, so women cannot be priests by their nature as women). Contraception and non-reproductive sex are prohibited because they deny the life generating purpose of intercourse. Sex outside of marriage is prohibited, and only hetero couples can marry because they can reproduce (but infertile couples can still marry).

Here is where I get confused - if these teachings hinge on the assumption that men and women are, by design, wholly distinct and binary, then what would happen if that assumption proved false? If humans were, by their nature, not so easily categorized in one of two options, then the premise behind these teachings would weaken, would they not?

God created man AND woman in his image, not man OR woman. Also, HIS image. If both men and women are created in the image of a single (usually described as masculine) being, isn’t it possible that men and women may not be strictly binary? Eve was not created separately from Adam, they started out as one being, and just because they were separated does not mean eve was solely feminine and Adam solely masculine when the dust settled. A binary view of gender does not adequately explain intersex or transgendered individuals. Men can have feminized brains and women can have masculinized brains. Science is showing us that gender is far more nuanced than culture generally accepts. So I am struggling to accept as given that men and women are completely distinct (or even the only options) and by extension certain teachings stemming from that.

I recommend Theology of the Body if you have any fluency in philosophy.
Or Christopher West’s explanation of it.

There must be male, and there must be female, or you would not be here to ask these questions. Right?

Crow_and_dove #1
The teachings that worry me the most regard:

  1. pre-marital sex
  2. heteronormative perspective on marriage
  3. contraception
  4. ordination of women

It seems to me that all of these topics stem from the concept of complimentarianism.

This is the mandate from Christ Himself:
**All four promises to Peter alone: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later to the Twelve, also].

Sole authority:
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

So the reality is that they come from Christ as he gave His Church the commission to teach concerning His truths – that Catholic Church which Christ established on St Peter as His Supreme Vicar and His Apostles, sending the Holy Spirit as He promised: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:15-18) “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name, He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26) “But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15).

The Church is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:16).

Where then is the justification for querying Christ speaking through His Church?

Perhaps I wrote that rather inelegantly. Actually “heteronormative” does NOT refer to same-sex marriage:

Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It asserts that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes.

As to how would it make the world a better place? I’m not trying to answer that, or ask it. I am trying to determine if the Biblical teachings on gender align with science, and how Catholic teachings address the issue of gender when it falls outside of the assumptive male/female binary, and the implications.

Right. But there exist, in nature, those that cannot be so easily classified. So what does that, if anything, do to the concept of complimentarianism?

You came to the right place! :slight_smile: Glad to have you on the site.

I’m considering converting to Catholicism. I will be talking to local priests and taking RCIA classes in due time, but I want to dig into some of the theological areas that I am wrestling with. I ask for your patience as I am still in the early stages of learning.

The teachings that worry me the most regard:

  1. pre-marital sex
  2. heteronormative perspective on marriage
  3. contraception
  4. ordination of women

It seems to me that all of these topics stem from the concept of complimentarianism.
(Wikipedia)
And the basis of complimentarianism is (among others, possibly) Scripture, specifically Genesis:

So, women and men are created in God’s image as distinct and binary genders. Gender of the body is related to the nature of the soul (one cannot be fully separate, so women cannot be priests by their nature as women). Contraception and non-reproductive sex are prohibited because they deny the life generating purpose of intercourse. Sex outside of marriage is prohibited, and only hetero couples can marry because they can reproduce (but infertile couples can still marry).

Just to clarify, it is not that every act of sexual intercourse must be for the purpose of procreating (a common misunderstanding), just that we are not to render infertile an otherwise fertile act.

And since the marital act must be at least open to procreation, it follows that making use of it outside of marriage (fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, masturbation, etc.) is a grave injustice.

Here is where I get confused - if these teachings hinge on the assumption that men and women are, by design, wholly distinct and binary, then what would happen if that assumption proved false? If humans were, by their nature, not so easily categorized in one of two options, then the premise behind these teachings would weaken, would they not?

God created man AND woman in his image, not man OR woman. Also, HIS image. If both men and women are created in the image of a single (usually described as masculine) being, isn’t it possible that men and women may not be strictly binary? Eve was not created separately from Adam, they started out as one being, and just because they were separated does not mean eve was solely feminine and Adam solely masculine when the dust settled. A binary view of gender does not adequately explain intersex or transgendered individuals. Men can have feminized brains and women can have masculinized brains. Science is showing us that gender is far more nuanced than culture generally accepts. So I am struggling to accept as given that men and women are completely distinct (or even the only options) and by extension certain teachings stemming from that.

The question is more of a philosophical one than a strictly theological one (except as regards ordination, which depends on the express wishes of Jesus).

The moral precepts that you mention are applicable to all people in all times: they are simple tenets of morality, that all reasonable people can discern. (I realize that it can be difficult, especially in a world, like today’s, that is hostile to them, but it is possible.)

Keep in mind that we are the “image” of God not so much in our particular sex (man or woman) but inasmuch as we imitate God in our spiritual attributes: like God, we can know things, love things (above all, know and love Him), even create things, up to a certain point. And this image is something that we possess simply for being human. Men and women participate perfectly equally in being the “image of God,” because both are perfectly equally members of the human race, although they evidently express that image in differing and complementary ways.

That men and women are complementary I think is a simple and easily verifiable fact. There is no danger that we will “discover” that we are not complementary, any more than we will “discover” that the sky is pink instead of blue. To put it simply, we have many tens of thousands of years of experimental data (at least), and so far we have never discovered more than exactly two sexes. (There have been a few isolated cases of hermaphrodism and similar conditions, but they are extremely rare and clearly anomalies.) Not even the modern phenomena that we hear of nowadays (homosexual attractions, so-called sex changes, and so on) fundamentally challenge that fact.

Now, I would caution against the particular exegesis of Genesis 2 that you commented on. I do not see any indication in the text that the sacred author intends to portray the first man as a sexless or unisex creature before the creation of the woman. Instead, every indication is that he was a fully formed male human being. The reason that the author has the man name all of the other creatures is to show that no mere animal is sufficient as a “helpmate” for him. Why not? Because they are of an inferior nature. Rather, God needs to take “flesh of the man’s flesh” and “bone of his bone” and fashion a creature of the very same nature as the man. So the Scriptures show us that the complementarity of man and woman is, so to speak, hard-coded into the human race right from the very beginning.

Note that Genesis (unlike most of the pagan cosmogonies!) emphasizes the profound equality of the sexes. They may be different and complementary, but the are both equally partakers of the Divine Image.

Hello QuasiCatholic, let me attempt to answer your questions.

I think it would be better to say “all of the above,” rather than “none of the above.” What definitively determines a person’s sex is what scientists call the “phenotype.” You will occasionally find otherwise normal men who have two X chromosomes, for example (and this happens because the sex-determining portion of the Y chromosome has somehow become transferred to the X chromosome).

Keep in mind that, even though the phenotype is what helps a person to know his sex, his sexuality is much deeper than just physical appearance: it runs through his whole psychology, and even his spiritual faculties (intellect, will). The phenotype is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

In the vast, vast majority of cases, people readily identify with the sex that their bodily organs indicate. In the very small minority of cases where that is not the case, I think the correct course of action is to help such persons identify with their sex, which is the one that their physical organs indicate. (In particularly difficult cases, they may need psychological help for this.) Trying to do something else (surgery or what have you) ends up causing a lot of harm.

So I really don’t know what would happen if, say, a hermaphrodite wanted to be ordained, or if someone born a man had gender reassignment surgery to become a woman and then wanted to marry a man.

One criterion for admission to ordination is basic bodily integrity. Hermaphrodism is clearly a kind of illness or disorder, and so such persons would not be admitted for that reason. Even if for some reason the question came up, the person could not be admitted to Holy Orders is there is any doubt as to his sex.

As regards marriage, so-called gender reassignment surgery does not really change a person’s sex, only the external appearance of the organs. (As I mentioned, sexuality goes much deeper than the organs.)

Frankly, someone who has undergone this kind of surgery is most likely ineligible for marriage, because that surgery generally has the effect of rendering the person impotent (at least with respect to his or her original organs). That is another reason why such surgery should never be attempted.

In any case, assuming marriage is still possible, the person should be regarded as having whatever sex he was born with.

Those issues seem to be along the same vein of what you’re thinking about. If there are only two options, and our possible roles in life are determined by which box we check, what do you do about the people who don’t fit in a box?

The box we check is indicative of a much greater reality, one that cannot be changed by merely external means (e.g., surgery). Basically, people should be helped, as much as that is possible, to identify with the sex that they have been given: that is by far the most compassionate course of action.

Hermophrodites are a somewhat unique case: however, even in these cases, it is usually possible to determine the person’s sex. (Usually one sex prevails over the other.) In such a case, a reparative surgery that removes the contrary organs is permissible. In that case, provided he is not impotent, the person may marry, as normal.

We are, in design, male and female. Other cases are a defect. We are, in design, having 2 arms, 2 ears, etc. other cases are a defect.

I could be wrong but it seems to me that the Church’s teaching is that Adam and Eve were originally designed as wholly distinct and binary and had they not sinned their descendants would have been as well. But they did sin. If some humans are now not so easily categorized into one of two options, physically and/or mentally, it is result of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.

If a man is born deaf, we don’t call into question the function of ears. I am bewildered why defects in the reproductive function cause doubts in respect of the Church Teachings you listed.

Form and substance are important and have value.
A person has a soul, and a body. The body is real and it has meaning.
Human beings are created male and female. The two forms complement one another. It easy to observe the natural form of humanity.

So, disordered desires do nothing to the complementarity of human beings.
A man still has the real form, or the equipment, to complement the form of the woman, who has another set of equipment, which is also complementary.
The whole of the person is involved in this complementarity, not just the physical organs. Even though a person has disordered desires, his form is still ordered to this complementarity.

A person may desire to masturbate for instance, which is very common. His body is designed to be complementary with a woman…his equipment is designed to be used in an ordered way, even though he desires and uses it for self gratification.

One of the more prevalent and illogical lines of thinking these days is the denial of physical reality naturally revealed in human beings, and the *subjecting of it *to personal desires and whims. As if my desires determine reality.

A paraplegic man requires you help to survive. He cannot hunt, drive to the store, cook, or feed himself to survive. In a sense, the two of you complement one another. His abilities and yours complement one another to make a good…survival.

You may have desires that are not ordered to this good. For instance, you may be too busy watching the football game to help this person.
The question is…does the paraplegic man still have a physical reality to deal with, or has your desire changed all that?

A human being is born with difficult to define physical features. As a result they are hard to define as a particular gender. Perhaps this is a genetic anomaly, perhaps a result of epigenetic response to environmental factors, perhaps this being is simply the way God made. They are told repeatedly that they need to be “corrected”, that the are the result of Original Sin, because to consider them to be unusual but still made in God’s image would make us all uncomfortable. Does that multi or neithee-sex induvidual have a physical reality to deal with, or does our desire change that?

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