Outdated and Represssive?

Hi my name is Richard and i am writing this e-mail to ask for some information on pre-marital sex. I am currently in grade 12 and completing a subject called The Study of Religion. We have been given an assignment which asks to analyse the stance that the Catholic Church takes on pre-marital sex, then draw to a conclusion, stating whether or not i believe the stance. If you could send me any information which could help me then it will be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Richard Bonora


Dear Richard,

The Catholic Church has transmitted Jesus' teaching on sex for about two thousand years now. She has done so in a variety of cultures with diverse sexual practices. Nevertheless, the teaching is quite simple and can be expressed in one sentence. It encompasses not only pre-marital sex, but all uses of the gift of sexuality. Before stating it, let me give a couple of cautions.

First, what I am going to say will not make much sense apart from a desire for Jesus. Taken out of context, it can be made to appear ludicrous, even cruel. However, as much as people make fun of it or attack it, they will let slip little things which indicate they do recognize the teaching.

Second, this teaching is intimately connected with Jesus' other commandments: you shall not lie, you shall not steal, honor your father and mother, etc. Jesus mentioned those commandments when a young man asked him what he needed to do to have eternal life (Lk. 18, 20).

I give these cautions, Richard, because when temptations come, even the strongest arguments can easily be brushed aside. Consider a recent notorious case: President Clinton had so much to lose by engaging in a sex act with an intern, yet he did. Most Americans sympathized with him, not his accusers, possibly because most of us have done similar reckless acts. The sad part is the web of deception - including self-deception - which almost always follows.

With those cautions in mind, let me summarize Jesus' teaching: The gift of human sexuality is meant to express a lifelong commitment, open to procreation. This is a hard teaching because, apart from marriage, it means unmitigated abstinence. And within marriage it rules out contraceptive intercourse.

Faced with such a stark teaching, a person has two choices. The easiest is to simply dismiss it with words like "antiquated, repressive, Puritanical." The favorite ones today are "intolerance" and "fundamentalism." However, as I mentioned above, those who make those statements have a way of betraying themselves. After writing off the teaching, they will say things like: "Why is the Catholic Church (or Jerry Falwell) so hung up on sex? They are making too big a deal out of sex. It's the affection, the whole relationship which really matters." Bingo.

Of course what Jesus cares about is the "the affection, the whole relationship." That's why he teaches, "you shall not lie." That is, do not use the deepest language, the language of the body, to say something false. As in the above example, sexual acts apart from marriage involve deception of others - and of ones own self.

What Jesus offers young people is a beautiful love. A technical word for that beautiful love is chastity. This teaching is not easy, but if you read these words carefully, I believe you will see not only their beauty, but their truth:

"Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech." (See Catechism #2337 )

The choice is yours. I would enjoy seeing your paper if you could email it to me. My prayers.

Fr. Phil Bloom

P.S. If you are seeking a more rigorous defense of Jesus' teaching, I would recommend reading the English analytical philospher, G. E. M. Anscombe. She has an excellent article titled Contraception and Chastity Here is quote to whet your appetite:

"If Christian standards of chastity were widely observed the world would be enormously much happier. Our world, for example, is littered with deserted wives - partly through that fantastic con that went on for such a long time about how it was part of liberation for women to have dead easy divorce: amazing - these wives often struggling to bring up young children or abandoned to loneliness in middle age. And how many miseries and hang-ups are associated with loss of innocence in youth! What miserable messes people keep on making, to their own and others' grief, by dishonourable sexual relationships! The Devil has scored a great propaganda victory: everywhere it's suggested that the troubles connected with sex are all to do with frustration, with abstinence, with society's cruel and conventional disapproval. As if, if we could only do away with these things, it would be a happy and life-enhancing romp for everyone; and as if all who were chaste were unhappy, not only unhappy but hardhearted and censorious and nasty. It fitted the temper of the times (this is a rather comic episode) when psychiatrists were asked to diagnose the unidentified Boston Strangler, they suggested he was a sex-starved individual. Ludicrous error! The idea lacks any foundation, that the people who are bent upon and who get a lot of sexual enjoyment are more gentle, merciful and kind than those who live in voluntary continence. The trouble about the Christian standard of chastity is that it isn't and never has been generally lived by; not that it would be profitless if it were. Quite the contrary: it would be colossally productive of earthly happiness."

Other Questions

Catholic Answers

Catholic Home Study Resources

Peter Kreeft

Homily on Boston Scandal

Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church

About Confession

Other Questions

Interview on Birth Control