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January 6th, 2009

What does the Church Teach about Oral Sex?

Some surprising answers to a common question

 
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One of the most common (and frequent) questions Busted Halo gets from people is, What exactly does the Catholic Church teach about oral sex? It is an understandable question that is not easily answered with a simple yes or no response. The fact is, the Church’s teachings can’t be compartmentalized into questions on only one form of sexual expression. In order to understand what the church says about oral sex, one must first be aware of the Church’s teachings on the nature and purpose of all sexual expression.

First and foremost, the Church reserves all sex for marriage. This is not simply a way to restrict our natural sexual impulses, but rather to use them for what they were properly intended, namely for procreation of children and to build unity between husband and wife. Even Pope Benedict has spoken openly of his concern that limiting the Church’s attention on sex to “just moral prohibitions” can lead people to “have the impression that the church’s real function is only to condemn and restrict life. Perhaps too much has been said and too often in this direction—without the necessary connection to truth and love.”

While you won’t read any definitive lines in the Catholic Catechism when it comes to oral sex, the church does draw some directives from its traditional teaching on sexuality to provide some guidance. Many people are surprised to hear that even within marriage, the church makes a distinction between oral “sex” and oral stimulation. If we define oral sex as orally stimulating the male partner to orgasm, then the church would prohibit that even for married couples.

Getting Specific

Two books that offer specific directions about the Catholic Church’s teaching on oral sex are Christopher West’s Good News about Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000) and Vincent Genovesi’s In Pursuit of Love: Catholic Morality and Human Sexuality (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996).

Christopher West is a popularizer of the “Theology of the Body” based on Pope John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility. He has written several books and articles on the subject, and in Good News About Sex , which is a practical summary of this theology, West offers some instances in which oral stimulation (stimulating genitals but not to the point of ejaculation) is perhaps acceptable within marriage:

  • Foreplay: If it is used in the act of foreplay that leads to sexual intercourse where the male climaxes into the female, then oral stimulation is certainly permissible for a couple to engage in within marriage.
  • The Big O: If a man was able to orgasm during sexual intercourse but his wife did not, he may bring his wife to orgasm after intercourse in whatever way he chooses (manual or oral stimulation). West writes, “Since it’s the male orgasm that’s inherently linked with the possibility of new life, the husband must never intentionally ejaculate outside of his wife’s vagina. Since the female orgasm, however, isn’t necessarily linked to the possibility of conception, so long as it takes place within the overall context of an act of intercourse, it need not, morally speaking, be during actual penetration.”
  • No substitutions, please: Oral sex or stimulation can never be used as a replacement for sexual intercourse, but oral stimulation can be used to lead a couple to vaginal intercourse. Pope Benedict also points couples towards discovering love within sex instead of settling for substitutions for the real thing, stating: “No mechanical technique can substitute the act of love that two married people exchange as a sign of a greater mystery.”
  • Men: No sex 4u: The reverse, however, is prohibited. A man’s orgasm is always tied to his fertility so therefore the church states that oral sex that would end with a male orgasm outside of sexual intercourse is not permissible.
  • Intimacy Over Arousal: Not every single sexual act, per se, need be procreative, but within a “sexual session,” if you will, there needs to be openness to procreative activity. So there can certainly be oral stimulation throughout sexual activity within marriage, but if one is using oral sex simply to avoid pregnancy yet achieve orgasms, then one is limiting their sexual union to merely give arousal rather than intimacy.
  • Premature ejaculation?: For something to be sinful there needs to be both intent and full knowledge of that intention to do evil. If one were to get very turned on and orgasm prematurely, that indeed is not a sinful act. Accidents happen. One needs to be mindful of their intention to sin.
 
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The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
See more articles by (245).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Brendan B

    OK, let me add another factor to the debate. As our good Catholic couple enters their 60′s & 70′s, some physical changes begin to take place. At times, not everything works the way you want it to. Sometimes the male may not be able to achieve a full erection. Other times the female may experience painful intercourse. This couple still has urges and wants those intimate moments, but “full intercourse” is not always possible. Under these circumstances, what are they permitted to do? If anything? Admittedly, I do have a vested interest in the answer to this.
    Thanks

    • PetiePal

      Permitted to take viagra at that point but manual stimulation is still not allowed.

      • naksuthin

        If the main purpose of sex is to bear offspring, the Catholic church should outlaw the marrying of couples who are
        1. infertile
        2. too old to bear children.

      • PetiePal

        It’s not the MAIN purpose, it’s one of the purposes. I highly suggest you reach the Theology of the Body and the Catechism as you seem to keep expression simple opinion.

      • naksuthin

        I AGREE. bearing children is only ONE reason to have sex.
        Just as nutrition is only ONE reason for eating.
        The other reasons are
        1. pleasure
        2. entertainment
        3. intimacy

        Oral sex provides 1,2 and 3
        So therefore it is moral and legitimate

      • PetiePal

        It isn’t moral no matter what way you slice it or which way you try and twist it around.

        Oral sex can NEVER offer the chance of a pregnancy. Hence it isn’t life offering.

        That’s like eating sand. Can you eat it? Sure? Might someone enjoy it? Absolutely! But it will never provide nourishment. Only vaginal sex provides all of the above.

        Speak to a priest, you’ve got a lot of questions and they can answer you best.

    • Cj Mon

      Intimacy is more that sexual intercourse.

    • James Witter

      As far as I can see it you can do anything that you want that brings you pleasure.. have at… the song of solomon in the bible had all kinds of oral sex with his bride.

  • Amy

    Where would the Church stand on the question of oral sex without vaginal intercourse while a woman is pregnant? I think that the teaching would be the same, i.e., that it would not be permissible outside of a complete sex act. However, my husband thinks otherwise and argues that if you cannot conceive while you are pregnant, why the prohibition on oral sex? Any clarification you can provide would be much appreciated.

    • PetiePal

      Having sex during pregnancy is never an issue. It’s the SAFEST time to have sex as it were lol. There is no prohibition on regular sex, so there’ snot need to replace it with oral.

      • naksuthin

        If the woman is already pregnant, giving her husband oral sex is perfectly permissible since she cannot get pregnant “again” through vaginal intercourse.

        Vaginal intercourse between them would not meet your requirement that sex be strictly for procreation since I’m pretty sure having vaginal intercourse with a pregnant woman will NOT lead to a second pregnancy.

      • PetiePal

        That’s not permissible from what the Catholic Church teaches. Sex must always be a unitive act.

  • mike

    Jane and Andrew,

    The church’s teaching is actually that each act must be procreative AND unitive–meaning that sex is not merely for procreative activity but that that activity must spring from love.

    More importantly each act needs to be OPEN to procreation–so procreation need not happen such as having sex during an infertile period or if you are infertile yourself.

    Jane, it’s not about being a burden–that’s exactly the teaching’s point. The point is giving one’s self fully and completely without fear in sexual expression to your partner.

    • naksuthin

      An 80 YEAR OLD catholic INFERTILE couple are not OPEN to procreation. There is no chance that they will produce offspring.
      So why would God still require them to have ONLY VAGINAL INTERCOURSE since GOD is the one who decided in advance that THEY WILL NOT BE HAVING CHILDREN?
      You begin your arguments against oral sex by basing it on procreation and love.
      Then you tell the aging couple they can’t have oral sex even if they can’t procreate.

      • PetiePal

        Correct they cannot.

  • Andrew

    Jane, the teaching concerning a man’s orgasm during oral sex is in place to teach that vaginal intercourse is the fullness of sexual expression between a married couple. In JPII’s book “Love & Responsibility” he says that men should try to delay their orgasms so that their orgasms may be simultaneous with their wife’s orgasm. This is all taught because vaginal intercourse is the literal moment that “two shall become one flesh”. However this can only apply in a licit manner when there is an openess to new life. Performing acts of sexual expression that seek to limit the openess to new life is contrary to natural law. As it states in the article a man’s orgasm is directly tied to the creation of new life and any use of it that is contrary to its main purpose is contrary to God’s Will. There also happens to be Biblical Proof in the story about Judah and Tamar, the part that has to do with Judah’s son, Onan. Read Genesis 38:9.

    • PetiePal

      I’d also add to this that the two become one flesh is very metaphorical as well for the creation of a child…

    • naksuthin

      “men should try to delay their orgasms so that their orgasms may be simultaneous with their wife’s orgasm.”
      That’s the trouble with people who are “experts”. They start making up rules not only about who should have sex with whom, what body parts should be in contact with which body part but also WHEN YOU SHOULD HAVE YOUR ORGASM.
      First of all, not all women are orgasmic. A large percentage of women report having no orgasm. So delaying your orgasm while you wait for such women is going to be a long painful process.
      Second of all, couples are free to make up their own rules. Not every man enjoys vaginal sex. Sometimes oral sex delivers a much more intense sexual experience than vaginal sex, especially if the woman is “dry”.

      • PetiePal

        Sometimes ecstasy delivers an immense euphoria more than everyday life, but it doesn’t mean we should do it.

      • naksuthin

        What???

  • Jane

    This is a Church teaching that I cannot agree with. (I have thoroughly educated myself on the topic – so I am not uninformed!) I understand that procreative sex needs to be a part of a marriage. However, I do not believe that every sexual act/encounter must procreative. I don’t think God meant for sexual pleasure to be such a source of burden and worry. Spouses should love each other & seek to please each other. To reiterate: procreative (vaginal) sex should absolutely be a part of marriage, but I don’t see any good reason to limit ourselves to just that form of sexual expression!

    • PetiePal

      Unfortunately you have to agree with it, or be what Pope Francis deems a Lukewarm Catholic. You don’t have to like it, (I don’t oral is wonderful) but adhere.

    • James Witter

      I totally agree with you

  • mary

    so Oral stimulation in marriage is ok by the Catholic Church as long as the man (husband) does not climax outside his wife.
    right?

    • PetiePal

      No incorrect. West says it is, but the Church says that it is not.

  • Bob McGauliff

    Is kissing, hugging, petting, making out, oral or otherwise by definition considered sex? I am a bit confused by this.

    • PetiePal

      All of the above are ok except for oral sex or manual stimulation. Those are no nos pretty much ever.

  • Joe Brisbois

    Scenario: An aged couple, man 79 and woman 83, both lost their spouses, meet and fall in love, and the man is impotent but can ejaculate with stimulation. With procreation not possible is it premissible for them to have oral sex as an act of love and devotion between them before their marriage or when they are married as per the Catholic Church? Since procreation is out of the question, I cannot see why this would be sinful in either case as long as it is an act of love and devotion for one another.

    • PetiePal

      No.

    • PetiePal

      Also important to note here if he’s impotent he won’t be able to ejaculate with stimulation anyways.

  • Jim Irving

    It seems a little restrictive if the male, despite using medicine to overcome impotency, that a married couple’s days of intimacy are over because male penetration is not possible and oral sex is the only way to achieve a climax for both of the couples. But, it appears that if the male ejaculates while trying to have sex it is all right to perform oral sex on the spouse. Am I missing something?

    • PetiePal

      Yeah, you’re not really supposed to manually stimulate her in any fashion if he does ejaculate.

  • Mike Hayes

    Tom and Gerardo–

    Tom the answer is no here. There is the unitive aspect of sex that needs to be part of this as we said above: “Oral sex or stimulation can never be used as a replacement for sexual intercourse. Stimulation is another matter.

    And Gerardo, we’re not specifically talking about addiction here, but you make a good point, but there’s lots to consider. See our series “Skin Deep” at http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/skin-deep-part-1/

  • Gerardo

    Sorry. Isn’t there a source where the Church says what is a sexual perversion and what isn’t?. Because any perversion is bad (is demonic in its origin). I think it would be important for the Church to clearly define this. Officialy. (Sorry for not putting all my comments in one).

    • PetiePal

      Yes. The Catechism of the Catholic Faith.

      It’s pretty clear that in the city of Sodom they were practicing immoral sex (which was anal and oral intercourse)

  • Gerardo

    I think if it is OK to perform oral sex, it should be discontinued if it is becoming a vice for anyone of the couple.

    • PetiePal

      The key here isn’t what the everyday man thinks though, but the Church.

  • Gerardo

    What about the mental attachment that a person can have after giving oral sex. Example, become mentally obsessed with your wife genitals? (I think this should be also considered, because it can be enslaving). Also women can get obsessed with the man’s genitals. There is a lot of evidence of that (sex addicts, etc.).

    • PetiePal

      The sin may be venial…but that’s an addiction.

  • Tom

    My wife is not Catholic and had her tubes tied when she was in her early twenties. We had all the children she could comfortably raise and decided she did not want to have any more. So, since it is impossible for her to have any more children (and is now in her 60′s), does that mean that any kind of sexual climax is OK for me, including oral sex since procreation is not humanly possible in our situation?

    • PetiePal

      No Tom, only vaginal intercourse is permissable. She’s committed a grave sin by the tube tying though.

  • Garth

    Great article Mike. Marc to respnd to your comments. NFP is not preventing creation. All necessary elements are present God can still act to create a human soul even when a man and woman are sure that they are not fertile at the time of intercourse. Many will attest that he He does still create even when couples are using NFP methods that are 98 – 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy. Think of it this way if God intended a woman to conceive everytime a husband and wife have sex then why didn’t He make woman fertile all the time as men are? It is because He wanted husbands and wives to enjoy the unitive nature of the marital embrace even when a child is not the product. NFP allows the option to avoid pregnancy when we discern, through prayer, that having a child at that particular time would not be prudent, but is still open to creation.

    • PetiePal

      This is exactly right. NFP isn’t 100% effective it just lessens the chance, but not like contraception does. The Church also teaches that NFP used for invariably long periods of time is immoral as all marriages should be open to life.

  • Charles

    But what is wrong with bringing your wife to orgasm if we do not have intercourse? No fertility is lost. Pleasure cannot in itself be evil. This is truer when is oral sex is an expression of affection and passionate devotion.

    • PetiePal

      Because the act, which must be viewed as a separate act itself not a now and later, is not conducive and open to life. Pleasure is not evil, intent can be.

      • PetiePal

        Also sex is meant to be a unitive act…and having it take place separately through other means removes it from being such

  • Fred

    Very informative article, but seems to assume that procreation is always possible. What if the wife is unable to conceive or, as happens, is unable to have intercourse? Why should lovemaking that leads to ejaculation in these circumstances be sinful?

    • PetiePal

      We are to assume that it is always possible. God allowed barren women to conceive…hence nothing is out of His power.

  • Christine B. Whelan

    Excellent piece, Mike! Something that all readers of my Pure Sex, Pure Love column should consult as well…

  • Marc

    Yes…Nice Article Mike. I’m still not sure though why the church is so concerned with procreation. Would it be a sin (in the eyes of the church) for a married couple to never have kids? I think in oral sex (while neither supporting nor criticizing it), if a man climaxes outside of a woman, he neither provides opportunity for life nor kills any life. This seems to very closely related to the church’s position on condoms. Are all married couples supposed to either have 10 kids or have sex twice in their lives? I guess that’s where NFP comes in….but even that would be an action with the intention of preventing procreation! Let’s be honest…I’m confused.

    • PetiePal

      Because the Church is on the side of life…completely. All of this isn’t about telling people what they can or can’t do but what brings them closer or pulls them away from God.

      Catholics aren’t to use any form of birth control. NFP works just fine when people use it well.

  • Gideon

    Nice article, very informative.

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