Gray area sins against chastity

I am thinking that I have committed at least a venial sin and it may be mortal, but the area seems a little “gray”, and I can’t seem to find a clear-cut answer. I have a rather high “drive” if you get what I mean, and I try to live a chaste (married) life, but sometimes my past sinful life (coupled with obsessive compulsive disorder) gets me into trouble. So last night, I felt the “drive” kick in (while I was praying the rosary no less). When I finished praying, I thought, “I need to be with my husband.” The problem is, my husband wasn’t feeling well, and I couldn’t “demand” conjugal rights. As usually happens when I become focused on the “urge”, I start to worry that focusing on it is a sin. Then I research whether or not it’s a sin and become more focused on it. I let it go for a big part of today, but then my mind went back to it, and I kept thinking, “I really want to have sex.” I know that desiring to be with my husband is not a sin. It’s just that I’m pretty sure my desire was more for physical pleasure than to be with my husband, if that makes sense. I wasn’t entertaining any thoughts about anyone else, and I really wasn’t having thoughts about my husband either (well, maybe for just a few seconds). On the one hand, I just desired the physical pleasure and release of sex, but on the other hand, I don’t want to have sex outside of marriage, and when I do have relations with my husband, I always want them to be unitive and open to life. I’ve focused on this so much (even after realizing that I should stop focusing on it) to the point of repeating in my head, “I really want sex.” I feel that I have at least sinned venially because I know that desire should always be a desire to be unitive with spouse, not just because we have a “need”. And then there’s the definition of lust: 2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes. So even though I wasn’t entertaining impure thoughts or physically acting on the impulse, it seems as though what I did fits the definition of lust. If you were me, would you be heading to Confession ASAP?

Since you asked, I would have to say no, I would not be in a great hurry to confess it. If it troubles you, put it on your list for your next Reconciliation or the next time you see your spiritual director.

My conscience would put it pretty firmly in the venial range because the sexual drive itself is of biological origin. When thoughts of sex occur spontaneously, you don’t have control over how they first appear. You can direct those thoughts toward the unitive and procreative aspects, but in so doing, you do not have to deny that sex involves desire and pleasure. God did not create us as pure spirits, but as body and soul together, and so I think it must be right to appreciate the physical as well as spiritual aspects of sex.

Your situation is addressed in the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii:

“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.” [n. 59]

Quelling the urge for sex by having natural marital relations open to life is what he means by “the use of the matrimonial rights” for the secondary end of “quieting concupiscence”. Openness to life is the primary end of marital relations (procreation).

Also, some substantially limited disorder in the desire for marital relations [e.g. some selfishness] would generally be only venial.

Jesus describes lust as adultery of the heart (Mt 5:28) because any act of lust is a willingness to commit an illicit sexual act, including any gravely immoral sexual act, the primary example of which is adultery. If the person is not willing to commit the immoral sexual act, then even if there is some degree or type of sin, the sin is not lust.

If one includes interior lusting (thoughts etc) or consent to sexual pleasure as “an act”. One can sin in just ones thoughts or in ones desires without any exterior act. Some might think one means by act an exterior act only.

This here is though NOT directed at the original person asking a question - but simply a note for other readers (and also I am referring in particular to those who are not married or to those who are having thoughts etc about someone else that their spouse…for the married there are other aspects to consider - such as reasonable thoughts about their spouse or desires that are ordered and moderate and not near occasions of sin etc)


Firstly, what would your spiritual advisor say regarding doubtful sins?

Secondly, there is nothing wrong in wanting pleasurable sex with your spouse.

From the Catechism, CCC 2362:

The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment.

It is no more wrong to think about sex with one’s spouse than it is to think about food when we are hungry. It is natural and within the correct moral context.

Can sexual thoughts go too far or become lustful? Yes. But I don’t see anything in your post to suggest this has happened.

I think what bothers me most is that I kept desiring sex, but it wasn’t a desire to be with my husband. I wasn’t thinking of anyone or imagining any acts, just wanting sex for itself, if that makes any sense. Just a craving…and one that I dwelt on a long time. Am I making any sense?

Yes. But that is just a natural appetite. Try to not think of food while you are hungry. Can you do it? No (well, at least I can’t).

Sexual desire is not in itself sinful. It can lead to sin (lust, fornication, adultery) or can lead to good (enjoyable marital sex, procreation). Or it can just be a desire that is felt for a while and passes without any good or evil moral act occuring.

Sister, a thought is a thought, and nothing more. God is likely pleased with your desire to please Him, but I think He would want the best for you and that is to likely be free of your worry. To be free of your worry, remember a desire is likely no sin, and certainly not mortal. But if confession makes you feel better, go. Jesus will always hear your prayer in and out of the confessional booth, and He knows your good intentions. And even if your intentions weren’t good, which they were totally fine, Jesus is a loving Lord. These are my thoughts, based on sound teaching. There is certainly gray area if you will, but one thing is black and white, very clear, God loves you.

What happens if you are pregnant and you want to have sex? You are hardly doing it with a regard to the ‘openness to life’. You can’t be pregnant twice.

Good point. The interior sin of lust does not need to be expressed in an exterior act to be gravely immoral.

The act need only be “open to life”. In other words, the couple cannot do anything to thwart the primary meaning of sexual acts, which is procreation. An elderly couple, beyond the age when they can conceive, can still have marital relations. But the act must maintain its proper “telos” (ordering toward an end).

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