Saint Augustine's teachings on sexuality

On his teachings on sexuality Saint Augustine says that lust is needed to copulate and that all sex acts perpetuate sin but from what I see it looks like he sees lust as sexual desire and the Church says sexual desire is good so please can someone explain.

Basically not all opinions are infallible, even those of saints.

For myself, I stick with St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It helped bring me into the Church.

Theological speculation before that, even from other saints, I personally consider footnotes.

This is just me of course. But I do think the point is worth making. Even St. Aquinas (who I love reading) made some mistakes (eg about Mary). It is what it is.

God invented sex. Sex (between spouses ordered together in self giving love) is good. Not sinful.


There are a lot of saints from the early centuries of the Church who say things about sex, including sex in marriage, that sound very negative. St. Bridget is another one who talks about sex in marriage in a very negative light, even though she was married and had a number of children with her husband before he passed away.

Keep in mind that

  1. Saints aren’t infallible (unless the saint is a Pope making an infallible pronouncement, which obviously doesn’t apply here).

  2. Unless whatever the saint is saying is also in the current Catechism, then it’s likely the saint’s opinion rather than a teaching of the Church, and saints often had varying opinions;

  3. The background and life of the saint may affect how they talk about matters such as sex. St. Augustine struggled greatly with his sexual desires and spent years indulging in sinful sex before he straightened himself out. St. Bridget wanted to be a nun but she had to get married instead. There are other saints who had similar struggles with self-control. Sex was not a positive thing for these people. But not every saint or every person struggles in the same way.

  4. St. Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is a much better and more contemporary writing of a saint on sexuality, that speaks to us more in this day and age when Western society doesn’t have arranged marriages and such.

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Source please.

My understanding is that people are made Doctors of the Church because they contributed significantly to the development of Church teaching, not because we’re beholden to read all their works and accept everything they say in lieu of an explicit rejection from the Church. St. Hildegard of Bingen said a lot of unusual things. And there are people all over this forum as well as clergy in the larger church rejecting many things St. Therese of Lisieux said, all day, every day.

Also, I’m pretty sure that if something in “Theology of the Body” doesn’t comport with St. Augustine, then it constitutes a “rejection” by the Church.

Do you have a problem with “Theology of the Body”?


If Saint Augustine believed all sex = sin, then he was obviously incorrect, because if that’s true then God commanded us to sin when He told us to be fruitful and multiply. That’s a non-starter.


Sexual desire is good when used in accordance to God’s will. Sexual desire is good because God created it.
Lust is disordered sexual desire and cannot ever be good. It is our choice what we will do with it.
2 sides of one coin.

Is your source Augustine’s Confessions?
Because there is no any wrong teaching on sex in his book.
If some other work then please post source. I never heard or read that. Augustine should be read in right context.

This is totally false.


Did St. Augustine really say that? I’ll try to look it up. Augustine also said something like “Love, and do what you want.” I’ll try to find that too.

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I think this is another case of St Augustine being misquoted, taken out of context. St Augustine, pray for us!


Hmm. Perhaps I have been irreverent.


His Highness Quasitenebrous is interested to see that on the Casual Discussion forum, lust and copulation (and all that which the solids do) can be discussed causally.

Your Highness is most observant. The Forum’s Master Crew Chief will have the topic moved to a more appropriate category.

What was misquoted? The “Love and do what you want” or what I said?

First, this isn’t true–he is not so sweeping. Second, what he says, and say, what St. John Paul II teaches in his Theology of the Body audiences are not really all that different.

St. Augustine, in opposing the Manicheans, teaches the desire is good–like the desire to eat–because it leads to the sustaining of the human race, like eating leads to the sustaining of the individual–and both are pleasurable to encourage this. He said those acts done solely for pleasure and not open to propagation are done by lust (and then only venially). He uses the analogy of eating both temperately and intemperately.

JPII’s Theology of the Body also discusses the possibility of the sin of lust, even in marriage. Sexual desire strictly for pleasure is still considered lust, just as eating strictly for pleasure is gluttony.

Both Augustine and JPII agree that even marital relations can be tainted from the “intemperate carnal lust” (JPII’s words), but both agree that this evil can in principle be separated from the act, and that this does not make the object of the lust itself evil (ie only the lust is evil).

Where they differ is St. Augustine had a more pessimistic view of man’s ability to separate them due to his fallen nature than other theologians and moralists (but he was not alone in his view either). And while we may have a more optimistic view than St. Augustine, even St. John Paul II warns that we need be mindful of the “call to dominate the lust of the flesh.” And both are clear that this call is not to denigrate marriage, like the Manicheans said, but to preserve its dignity.

See e.g here for JPII (sorry, can’t seem to find it on english online, but here is the Spanish which runs well through google translate):

And Augustine:


Yep. It looks like this was one of the instances where Saint Augustine made an error in judgement. In this case I think he was overly-suspicious of sex because of his own past - during his Manichean years he lived in sin with a woman and sired a child out of wedlock with her. It could be that after he converted he wanted to get as far away from that sin as possible and ended up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Augustine led a very promiscuous life before his faith conversion and had a son I beleive who he adored and the son died and that seemed to be the turning point of his conversion. Im sure his opinions about lust were from his own experiences.

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Thomas is a good guide for reading Augustine - he is always quite deferential, while also clarifying things. See the Summa on these topics - lust, use of marriage, concupiscence, etc.

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Actually Augustine’s son Adeodatus was still alive when Augustine became Catholic, and got baptized on the same day as his father. Though Adeodatus did die in his teenage years due to illness.

thats wonderful to know. I guess he converted because of his sons birth not death. Some take till death occurs , so he didnt. I think of that radio therapist dr laura how she used to tell on the radio how she looked at her newborn son and was converted to faith in God.


I’m sure that was one of the factors that helped push him towards Christ. Parenthood does cause people to reconsider what’s important in life.

Though it seems like the big factor was his mother, Saint Monica. When he told her he was a Manichaen she wanted to disown him, but then she had a vision telling her not to give up on her son so instead she followed Augustine for seventeen years even when he went out of his way to avoid her. She died in the same year as her grandson Adeodatus in Ostia, thankfully having lived long enough to see her son’s conversion.

Augustine’s father Patricius also had a subtle influence. While he’s often remembered as an adulterous pagan (though he had a deathbed conversion thanks to Saint Monica), Patricius still recognized his son’s intelligence and paid for Augustine to have an education. This is what lead Augustine to Italy and to meet Saint Ambrose, and while he might still have become Christian without an education he almost certainly wouldn’t have gone down as a theological giant.

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