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October 18, 2006




Whatever happened to your 2006 Catholic Blog awards? Hope to see them soon!

Take care and God bless,

Married and Confused

When is non-intercourse sexual activity between married people grave matter? If my wife and I start "fooling around" (not trying to be vulgar, but it's the best phrase I can think of) knowing we won't consummate the activity due to fear of pregnancy, is that grave matter, if we stop short of orgasm (saying to ourselves, "This is going too far. We have to stop"). One knowledgeable man told me, "I don't think it's grave matter. Otherwise, you'd have no motivation to stop short of orgasm." I don't know. Do you mind fielding such a racy issue?


'Married and Confused':

Look in Genesis regarding the story of Onan who was struck down because of his contraceptive activity. In the ancient world, at least, in Israel, if a man died without leaving children, it was the responsibility of the Levere, the ‘brother-in-law’ (his brother), to marry the widow so that they could have conjugal relations and, then, the children that were born of that union would be reckoned as the children of the man who had died. So, they‘d legally be his children. It’s kind of a posthumous adoption by the dead father, dead adoptive father.

Now, Onan married his dead brother’s widow, but he 'frustrated their conjugal union' so that children would not issue from it. As a result – and it says, specifically, he did that because he knew the children wouldn’t be his. So, what we have here is the case of a man who, for selfish reasons, is engaging in conjugal relations but is frustrating them for what is basically a selfish reason: he doesn’t want to raise up children for his brother. Well, that’s what goes on an awful lot of the time in contraceptive situations today. I mean, Onan was practicing a form of contraception and he was doing it, wanting apparently to have the benefits – the personal benefit – of conjugal relations (I mean, he could’ve refused to marry his brother’s widow), and the penalty of that in later centuries came to be, in the Mosaic Law, a kind of public humiliation where the widow would then yank off his sandal in public and spit in his face and it would be a sign of shame on him, that he had refused to fulfill his obligation as a Levere by taking the woman to wife; and he would then be known as 'the one who had his sandal pulled off'. So it was a kind of public humiliation. That’s the penalty that’s prescribed for refusing the Levorite marriage in the Mosaic Law. So, that give us an indication of the level of gravity that God assigned to this obligation. It didn’t carry capital punishment though. There are a lot of things in the Mosaic Law that carried capital punishment, but refusing to fulfill your obligation as a Levere was not one of them. The penalty for that is humiliation.

And since Onan suffered much worse than humiliation – he actually did suffer death – it would seem to me that his crime went beyond merely refusing to fulfill the obligations of a Levere and it seems to me that the added component he did which resulted in him being struck down was the fact that he engaged in conjugal relations (he didn’t have to do that, he could have refused to marry her or he could have not engaged in them even if he did marry her and he would have only been shamed) AND he indulged in them AND, most importantly, deliberately frustrated them. And so he committed contraceptive sex acts and, it seems to me, that’s the added element in his situation that kicks his retribution up to the level of being struck down – what he did was gravely wrong – as opposed to merely being publicly shamed.


"Levir" and not "Levere"
"Levirate Marraige" and not "Levorite Marriage"



Neat analysis, but didn't Onan spill his seed (reach climax)?

Married and Confused isn't enjoying the conjugal relations (at least not fully). He's making himself stop, precisely so he doesn't commit the sin of Onan. I've been in the situation that MC describes: It's painful, not fun. You want to kick yourself for putting yourself in that position (getting worked up, then making yourself get up and walk away, heart and pulse pounding a mile a second), but you stop anyway b/c you realize things have gotten out of hand and it wouldn't be right to "finish" the act without being open to life.

I think MC asks a good question, but I'm not sure it can be answered without making this thread sound like a soft porn book. (Smile)

J.R. Stoodley

I'm not the best authority on the matter (havn't gone beyond holding hands with a girl, not counting an unfortunate event at a bar) but here's my take. The Catechism talks about mastrobation as being stimulation for the sake of pleasure. No mention is made of climax. While I grant that it is clearly envisioning situations outside of marriage, it seems to me that what M&C is describing would still qualify as mutual mastrobation, and therefore would be grave matter.

Besides, I have read several times that sexual activity needs to end the natural way. It seems to me that means not only the where but the what.

J.R. Stoodley

er, never mind the spelling mistakes.


Can't you just play scrabble? Go for a walk together? Make a list of baby names before you engage in any activities and then see how you feel.

Anonymous (Same one as above)

Yes, Scrabble and going for a walk together would be preferable. But on the off-hand chance that you hug or kiss your wife, or lie down with her to watch a movie, during a fertile time, then start getting carried away, what then? Off to confession before your next communion? For that matter, when does a person cross the line of sexual stimulation? Hugging and kissing? Watching your wife come out of the shower? These are honest questions, and I've looked and looked: no one seems to address them (except as described below). There's a confession book (an orthodox one) that helps some, and it seems to lean toward the short-of-orgasm approach, but not quite. I've also heard people I respect take the hard-line approach: If you had any fun (stimulation), you're dead (though making allowances for youngsters). There's no credit if you're trying to do NFP and trying to do the right thing and stopping short even though you didn't have to, even when it's hard. Just: To heck with ya. You're dead. Even the elements of deliberateness for mortal sin are presumed ("You shouldn't put yourself in that state").

Now move over Rover. And let Jimmy take over!

(Just kidding. I've been wanting to whip out that line from Hendrix for quite awhile. I'd like to see more banter, though I'd love to hear from Jimmy.)


Theology of the Body is what you need! Aren't you lucky there's a new translation coming out of one of Pope John Paul II's books about it! Also, there are plenty of books which not only explain the principles, but also get down to cases. I think Christopher West is your man for that.

Anyone got titles for the man?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Clarence the Hindu Love God

Two things:

1. Scrabble? Talk to the people who put out those NFP manuals. They encourage non-coital (sp?) cuddling and similar touching. That has always struck me as nuts. You're just asking for trouble. Scrabble is definitely better. But why do the NFP advocates push the cuddling, which (for me anyway) almost always leads to arousal (and immediate mortal sin, since I voluntarily cuddled)? Maybe I'm just a pervert. Overly attracted to my wife.

2. I told my wife about this discussion thread. She said she went to a HIGHLY conservative/ortho priest for confession (a Legionnaire), and this issue came up. He zeroed in on the orgasm issue pretty quickly. He didn't say, "That's where you crossed into mortal sin," but that was kind of how she took it. He clearly indicated that some sort of spiritual line was crossed when orgasm was reached.

Mary Kay

Clarence, a small hint to you. It's not the sex, but the openness to God's will.

Maureen's suggestion of John Paul II's Theology of the Body is excellent.

Ed Peters

How on EARTH did this string of posts get lauched on this entry?


"How on EARTH did this string of posts get lauched on this entry?"

It all goes back to being 'Married and Confused' -- no pun intended ;^)

The comments to this entry are closed.

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