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Dear Father Angelo,

Praised be Jesus and Mary.

I’m bothering you to get some spiritual advice regarding the sexual conduct to follow in matrimonial life, according to the Catholic faith.

I’m asking this because I’m beset by doubt any time that I share this problem with my confessor, who reassures me by saying “It is not an unholy act what happens within marriage, even though it is not meant for life, and thus it’s not necessary to confess it when it happens”.

My doubts are these: the marital sexual act should always be meant for life, tolerating natural contraceptive methods (for instance, the Billings method) or are other forms, such as petting, allowed too (I leave to your consolidated experience as Spiritual Director all the others types of sexual approach)?

Answer from the priest

Dear friend,

1. First of all, it is necessary to clarify the terminology. 

When we talk of contraception, we mean every act that within marriage alters God’s plan about sexuality and human love. 

2. Now, the Billings method is not a contraceptive because it doesn’t alter anything, but uses sexuality according to God’s plan, which also includes the duty of rekindling marital intimacy. 

While within marriage forms of petting, which simply end up with masturbation, are alterations of God’s plan and can be compared to unholy acts. 

3. You ask: “is it a mortal sin a sexual act that is not meant for life?”

The question is unclear.

If, when you say “meant for life”, you mean that every time there is marital intimacy you should seek a pregnancy, then the answer is no.  

Marital intimacy is also meant to rekindle harmony and mutual self-giving.

4. The teachings of the Church say that marital intimacy expresses an authentic love when it’s open to life, even though this may not blossom.

Indeed, only with this kind of self-giving, one does not fake the peculiar meaning of the act.

John Paul II said: “In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act. The one is activated together with the other and in a certain sense the one by means of the other. Therefore, in such a case the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love” (Audience, 08.22.1984).

And also: “The innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other.

This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality” (Familiaris consortio 32c).

6. You ask me whether these acts, when do not aim at procreation, should be confessed.

The answer is yes, if they involve contraception or unholy acts.

St. Thomas writes: “But in a measure the sin of fornication makes one more unfit for receiving this sacrament [Eucharist], because thereby especially the spirit becomes enslaved by the flesh, which is a hindrance to the fervor of love required for this sacrament” (Summa Theologiae, III, 80, 5, ob. 2).

In this regard, your priest’s words are not correct, but I’m afraid you misunderstood them.

7. If these acts happen according to God’s plan and are open to life, they do not need to be confessed, as they are “noble and worthy” (Gaudium et spes, n.  49) and they are not a sin.

I entrust you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Francesca