The Whys and Wherefores of Catholic Sexual Ethics

Bookmark and Share

 The Way to True Freedom and True Love

By William E. May

 Catholics for the Common Good Advisor William E May, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family

In some ways the teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual ethics is well known. Most people know what the Church teaches. Her basic teaching is this: one can rightly choose to exercise one's genital sexual powers only when one, as a spouse, freely chooses to engage in the conjugal act and, in that act, chooses to respect fully the goods of mutual self-giving and of human procreation.

"a great many people, including large numbers of Catholics, do not know why the Church teaches [no sex outside of marriage]"

From this it follows that it is never morally right to unite sexually outside of marriage, i.e., to fornicate or commit adultery, or to masturbate or commit sodomy, i.e., have oral or anal intercourse, whether with a person of the opposite or of the same sex, nor ought one intentionally to bring about or maintain sexual arousal unless in preparation for the conjugal act.

Unfortunately, a great many people, including large numbers of Catholics, do not know why the Church teaches this. Many believe that her teaching is anti-sex, rigoristic and repressive, completely unrealistic and indeed inhuman. Some, among them influential Catholic theologians, charge that "official" Catholic sexual teaching is based on an untenable, "physicalistic" view of natural law, one that makes persons slaves to their biology and one completely irreconcilable with a "personalistic" understanding of the moral order.

Here I hope to show that the teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual ethics, far from enslaving persons, liberates them and enables them to become fully themselves. It helps them come into possession of their desires and not be possessed by them. It does so because it is rooted in a profound reverence for human persons, male and female, as bodily, sexual beings, summoned from their depths to self-giving love. I will proceed by considering

  • the true moral norms necessary if our freely chosen deeds are to be morally good, and 
  • major issues of sexual ethics.

<<  1   2     3     4  >> next


William E. May is an adviser for Catholics for the Common Good and the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.


Copyright 2006. Posted with permission from Dr. William E. May



Copyright © 2004–2012 Catholics for the Common Good®
Permission granted for use of content with attribution to  
ccgaction.org.