Unitive "foreplay only" a grave matter?


Browsing the forums, I have seen many people say something along the lines of: " (sexual act with one’s spouse) is morally permissible *only if *it leads to vaginal sex." This entails that such an act is not morally permissible if it is done without “completion”; i.e. this entails that the sexual act is wrong if it is “foreplay only” even if it is unitive and does not result in sexual climax outside of vaginal intercourse. All sexual acts, from passionate kissing to heavy petting, are thus grave matter if they are done without intention to complete the act in this way.

Although this may be an unintended consequences of the above line of thought, I have seen many on the boards endorse this no-foreplay conclusion, saying that “foreplay only” is a grave matter regardless of whether it brings the couple together or not. However, many of these same posters also say things like “*any *oral stimulation is wrong” or “one must have *grave *(not simply ‘good’ or ‘serious’) reasons to use NFP.” This makes me think these posts are made from scrupulous consciences, and the rigor of these prescriptions is not based on clear Church teaching.

So here’s my question: Does the Church teach that engaging in a sexual act with one’s spouse as unitive, non-climactic “foreplay only” count as grave matter? If one argues that the Church does teach that, please include a citation or quotation from an authoritative Church document - hopefully spelling out how that document explicitly condemns “foreplay only” or entails that “foreplay only” is wrong - speculation or personal opinions are fine, but I’d like to hear arguments based on Church teaching if at all possible.

Also, yes, I’m sure Christopher West has seven encyclopedic volumes tackling this issue. I’d prefer, though, that the discussion does not just boil down to people plugging his books - but discussing those issues the books discuss. It’s fine to have a theologian on one’s side, but let’s talk about and evaluate the reasons the theologian has for his position.


In my opinion and it is only my opinion, such foreplay would not be grave matter, if there is always the possibility that should things “become urgent” the act could be completed. In other words as long as there is no danger that a couple might be tempted to relieve arousal symptoms in a non-procreative fashion, masturbation and so forth, it would be OK. One cannot put themselves or another into a near occasion of sin. In all my 50 plus years, including 47 years of marriage, I had never seen or read anything prohibiting such sex play until coming to these forums.


Well, the OP’s idea is pretty much a logical extension of the ideas that make masturbation (and other sexual activity) wrong.

IMO: It’s a bad, archaic system and ought to be replaced with something better. That being said, it’s not these forummer’s problem. They’re simply taking what the Church has told them about why these other sexual sins are wrong and applying them to more complex situations. The results, of course, are disturbing. Which points to a flawed system.


From what I understand, masturbation is wrong because it is a sexual climax that is not open to life within a marriage. This does not directly apply to non-climactic foreplay, unless you think it does - but I would like to see some argument, preferably an argument that has been officially endorsed by the Church in some way.

[quote=Exalt]IMO: It’s a bad, archaic system and ought to be replaced with something better … flawed system.

Attacking the Church is *certainly *grave matter, which is of no use here.


Up to the point of stimulation, foreplay should be fine. If it goes onto that, then the ending has to be in the right place.

That’s my opinion. I don’t think there are any definitions this distinct.


CCC 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."
The circumstances in OP’s question tend to imply that sexual pleasure is sought for itself and that there is no intention to integrate the foreplay into “procreative and unitive purposes”. Therefore it is against CCC 2351.
However, if the intention is not to limit the act within the “sexual pleasure only” but the couple remains open to the mutual self-giving within the procreative and unitive aspect of the act, there is no disorder.


The question was framed so that the sexual acts were unitive, and were sought to bring the couple together. Likewise, the sexual pleasure is not being sought “for it’s own sake” but for the sake of bringing the married couple closer.

If one reads the second clause of the Catechism as being informed by the first clause, then as long as one is not seeking the sexual pleasure for its own sake then it will ipso facto not be isolated from unitive and procreative purposes - particularly so when the sexual pleasure is not sought for its own sake but for the sake of a unitive purpose. That would then seem clearly to be permissible by this definition in the Catechism. But this seems to imply another question:

Assuming the sexual pleasure is not sought for its own sake, we may ask what the sense of “and” is in the Catechism (“isolated from its procreative *and *unitive purposes”) - is it the disjunctive ‘and’ or the conjunctive ‘and’? That is, must all sexual acts be done for the sake of something that is both unitive and procreative? Prima facie, no: for, if so, that would imply that a passionate kiss is morally impermissible even if it is done as foreplay leading up to sex - as it is isolated (at least in some sense) from a procreative purpose - the act of kissing does little to bring about a child. Additionally, NFP seems to allow that even completed sexual acts lack procreative purpose (understood as ‘intent to bring about a child’), even though they are open to life. Likewise, it seems as though the ‘and’ is a disjunctive ‘and’: sexual acts should be done for the sake of either uniting a couple, or procreating between the couple, and ideally both (but not both by moral necessity).

This seems to leave us right where we started from, unless a good case can be made that the ‘and’ is a conjunctive ‘and’ - meaning all sexual acts must be both unitive and procreative, but that seems intuitively wrong. Also, it seems legitimate to ask for what the Church defines as an act being “isolated” from procreative and unitive purposes. If one is open to having ordinary marital relations if things get too “hot and heavy” (as rwoehmke described) does that mean that the actions are not isolated from these purposes? More clarification seems to be needed to secure definitive teaching against “foreplay only.” Don’t you think?


Remember “unitive” in church language also involves the one flesh union.It cannot be separated from we make each other feel good as a couple. So depending upon what your defenition of foreplay is it can be sinful. The goal of foreplay is to prepare the couple to engage in the one flesh union. Therefore foreplay that has no intention of creating the one flesh union is wrong. It comes to pass in every marriage that sometimes foreplay is interrupted by a child or some other urgent matter. In that case there is no sin . But to intentionally engage in foreplay with the full knowledge that you will stop before intercourse occurs is problematic.


This is a non-sequitur, as far as I can tell. Even if the purpose of foreplay is to prepare one for the completed sexual act, that does not imply the preparation must be for an *immediate *sexual act. Nothing in the language of the Catechism precludes that preparation from occurring several days before the act - nor do I see anything in the Catechism that defines the only permissible goal of foreplay as preparation for sex. Thus, “foreplay only” several days before the sexual act would be morally licit, insofar as it psychologically prepares one for the marital relations being planned for in the near future.

Additionally, you seem to be suggesting that the definition of a “unitive purpose” is a purpose to have ordinary marital relations; “unitive” thus means something like “of or pertaining to vaginal sex.”

This does not seem to be defined as such by the Catechism (or, if you think it is defined in that way, please show why we should agree). Certainly ordinary marital relations would be sufficient to be unitive, but it does not seem to be necessary. My giving my wife a hug is unitive too. It unites and celebrates the fact that we are one flesh. Insofar as foreplay also celebrates that fact, I do not see how this definition condemns “foreplay only” as lust.


Woooo!! Are you a lawyer? :smiley: :hmmm: Good sounding argument.



Withholding any argument I might have one way or another, I would suggest that, in order for both sides to have equal footing in this discussion, you may want to determine a definition of sexual pleasure, and from that, identify acts that seek such pleasure.


Arousal = spousal. If the husband and wife know how to keep it from orgasm, and their intentions are not masturbatory, I’d say it’s fine. But we do need to say that certain acts wouldn’t be allowed in this scenario because they are too far to start with: oral and manual stimulation of the genitals. Kissing, petting, touching within just limits , i.e., no orgasm…is fine, I thought.


Wouldn’t this lead to sexual frustration? I can’t imagine doing foreplay and then not feeling terribly frustrated if the act were not completed.


Does the Church draw this line in the sand, or is this your personal opinion (and if it is your personal opinion - why arbitrarily draw the line at these acts, rather than others like passionate kissing)?

[quote=Paul2274]Woooo!! Are you a lawyer?Good sounding argument

LOL - No, philosophy grad student. :stuck_out_tongue:


I learned that part of the NFP philosophy, if you will, encouraged certain acts of physical affection during those in-between times so that the partners still felt loved and valued and and anticipating the time when they could once again go for broke. That was long before we called it NFP. A little frustration was a positive thing. I am not talking of mutual masturbation which is obviously out.

If I am not mistaken there was a time in the history of Christianity when any pleasure what-so-ever in the act was at least venially sinful. It was for procreation only. Sex during pregnancy was frowned upon. I no longer remember the source where I read this. The joke about the “missionary position” was no joke and a decent woman would not enjoy having sexual intercourse…


My wife had a philosophy grad student as a teacher for a philosophy undergrad course. He told the class that he and his newly married wife had agreed before the wedding never to kiss, so the words philosophy grad student kind of tickled my funny bone. I majored in chemistry and always envied what I perceived as a superior ability to “think” among philosophy majors. Nice job with the question at hand. :slight_smile:


Nobody by any stretch of the imagination can define foreplay as happening days before sexual intercourse. It takes place minutes before, not days. That’s common sense. You hardly need the CCC to define that.Taking place just prior to the unitive sexual act it is permissable but I hardly think petting and stimulating each other days before that can count as anything other than a lustful act.


That’s an interesting opinion, does the Church teach it?


I think we are looking for lines in the sand that are not drawn. Many here wish we had a list of things that are “too far” or “not far enough” to go by. Some, even make it up based on personal opin. Based on my reading of Christopher West, what you suggest is NOT too far for some couples and too far for others. It does come down to what is love and what is lust. Some people just can not imagine any activity with clothes off (so to speak) to be the intiation of anything but the marital act.

CW, and I’m going from memory here, stated something like " this does not imply a ‘hands off’ policy, either." While our actions should be prudent in everything we do, I don’t see where doing something more than kissing, is wrong. In fact it may be very right depending on the couples capacity to do it in a loving way instead of a lusting way. Touching, tasting, using one’s body to show love to the other is encouraged from all that I’ve heard and read about TOB. That may be why it is rejected by so many.

We don’t know what is in other’s hearts so we should not judge this. But that won’t stop others from judging, none the less.


Intention is also an issue.

If the intention of foreplay is to lead to “play”, then fine … even if the “play” does not occur for whatever reason.

If the “overall event” is interrupted, whether it is by a crying child, or by some urgent outside event (a major plumbing failure in the house … “what’s that noise??”), there is no sin if the intention was to continue the overall event thru to completion.

In Christianity, intention has always been a consideration … keeping in mind, however, that the “road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.

Nevertheless, sexual intercourse between a husband and wife (as recognized by the Church, with its various parts … foreplay, play, and afterplay … is a good thing. A spontaneous 20-second “event” between fully dressed husband and wife is not going to happen. Once one gets beyond the 20-second “event”, there is an almost endless array of possibilities.

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