Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Q&A: “Can Catholic Married Couples Use Sex Toys, Such As A Vibrator Or Phallic Device”?

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No, they cannot. The use of sexual devices (“sex toys” or “marital aids”), even in marriage, is gravely immoral. There are a number of reasons why this type of act is intrinsically evil and morally illicit.

First, this type of sexual act is non-natural, non-unitive and non-procreative. And the Magisterium teaches that each and every sexual act in a marriage must be natural, unitive and procreative. Thus, any sexual act which is inherently non-natural, non-unitive or inherently non-procreative is intrinsically evil.

Second, a sexual act does not cease to be a sexual act, if climax is lacking. Such devices cannot be used as mere “stimulation” prior to the natural marital act. The normal performance of the marital sexual act itself does not justify “all the rest, in whatever way it is done”, such as in acts done “in the preparation” (foreplay). And St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches that sodomy is still sodomy if climax is lacking (Moral Theology, On Matrimony, Book VI, Q. 916); and he also condemns oral sex as a mortal sin (Moral Theology, On Matrimony, Book VI, Q. 491-492).

Pope Pius XII makes it clear that a Christian has “a dignity which restrains the excess of sensuality” even in marriage, and non-procreative sexual acts are precisely “excess of sensuality” as they are not necessary for procreation, and thus are excess of sensual desire.

Unfortunately, unceasing waves of hedonism invade the world and threaten to submerge, in the swelling tide of thoughts, desires, and acts, the whole of marital life, and not without serious dangers and grave prejudice to the primary duty of husband and wife. This anti-Christian hedonism too often is not ashamed to elevate itself to a doctrine, inculcating the ardent desire to make always more intense the pleasure, in the preparation and in the performance of the conjugal union, as if in matrimonial relations the whole moral law were reduced to the normal performance of the act itself, and as if all the rest, in whatever way it is done, were justified by the expression of mutual affection, were sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, and made worthy of praise and reward before God and conscience. There is no thought at all of the dignity of man and of the Christian -- a dignity which restrains the excess of sensuality.” (Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession)

Third, the use of a sex toy is a type of masturbation, even when the person using the device is one’s spouse. And masturbation has been condemned by the ordinary and universal Magisterium as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

Fourth, the use of sexual devices is specifically condemned by the Magisterium: Sacred Penitentiary, 3 June 1916, Denzinger 3638-40. The Sacred Penitentiary considers the situation in which a husband proposes to use a “artificial instrument” in a sexual act on his wife. The Sacred Penitentiary responds that this act is gravely immoral, and that the wife may not consent, nor even offer only passive resistance.

“Questions: 1. Is a wife, when her husband wishes to practice onanism by means of an (artificial) instrument, required to exercise positive resistance?
3. So that the entire matter might be developed and taught in a more certain way, must a man, using such instruments, truly be regarded as an equivalent to an aggressor toward whom the wife must offer the same resistance as a virgin would toward a rapist?
Response: to 1. Yes ... To 3. Yes.”

The term “onanism” is used here to refer to masturbation. Sometimes onanism refers to contraception. Other times it refers to masturbation, even by a female. Both contraception and masturbation are similar to the sin of Onan in the Bible. In some cases, the onanism can refer, more broadly, to a range of unnatural sexual acts between a man and a woman. In his article The Sin of Onan Revisited, Brian W. Harrison explains:

“‘Onanism’, the term derived from Genesis 38:9-10 which in traditional Christian usage has designated both masturbation and unnatural intercourse between a man and woman, is not exactly a pleasant theme to write about.” 
“The classical Jewish commentators — who can scarcely be accused of ignorance regarding Hebrew language, customs, law, and biblical literary genres — certainly saw in this passage of Scripture a condemnation of both unnatural intercourse and masturbation as such.”

Onan’s sin is sometimes used to refer to contraception, or to unnatural sexual acts between man and woman, or to masturbation, since all these acts are “intrinsically sterile forms of genital activity” (as Harrison notes in his article). If you look up “Onanism” in Denzinger’s index, it says “See Contraception; Masturbation”.

So the term “onanism”, in the Denzinger quote above, refers to an unnatural sexual act committed on a wife, by her husband, by means of an instrument (i.e. a sex toy, such as a vibrator or phallic device). This can be considered a type of masturbation, specifically, but in any case it is an unnatural sexual act — an intrinsically non-procreative form of sexual activity.

The answer given by the Sacred Penitentiary, across three questions on this subject, is that the act is gravely immoral, and the wife must offer active resistance, not merely passive resistance. The answer to the third question reveals that this act is morally equivalent to an aggressor who is attempting to rape a virgin.

However the question itself does not concern rape, but whether the wife may consent to this act. She cannot morally consent. The act is so gravely immoral that she must offer active resistance. And this implies that a wife cannot use such an instrument on herself, nor on her husband. All such sexual acts are gravely immoral. They are unnatural sexual acts, because they are non-natural, non-procreative and non-unitive.

Notice that this act is so gravely immoral that it is compared to the rape of a virgin. Certainly, then, the act does not become moral by being done in the context of the natural marital act. And it does not become moral if climax is lacking, just as rape does not become moral if climax is lacking.

Related article: Q&A: “Is it Moral for the Wife to climax outside the Natural Marital Act”? “Can Catholic Spouses use Masturbation in the Context of Natural Intercourse”?

More on marital chastity: Chastity: The Angelic Virtue

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