WARNING - A frank discussion on sexual matters.
Q - I enjoy your blog and clear explanations of Catholic beliefs. I have a question someone (a Catholic) asked me, but I am at a loss for an answer. I'm hoping you can help me present the Catholic view.
It involves a practice in the context of the marital act where people cause pain during intimate relations; specifically, WHY would that be wrong between two married people. A friend asks, "As long as both people enjoy it, why would it be wrong?" and another asks, "Why is enjoying pain wrong?"
I tried (clumsily) to answer that inflicting pain for the sole purpose of pleasing oneself (as opposed to say, the pain from a therapeutic surgery, for example) is wrong, even if the other person says it's ok. I know that these practices are twisting the marital relationship, but can't really lay my hands on a specific Scripture or paragraph in the CCC that addresses this.
I want to counter the notion that "anything between married, consenting adults is ok". I have seen "The marriage bed is undefiled" used as a proof text showing this practice is okay, but I'm pretty sure that is not the Catholic view.
Thanks for your time!
A - Thanks for the question. I know these issues are tough for many Catholics to find answers to, because many are too afraid to talk about them in public. But, because many have questions and yet we don't want to scandalize, I will try to answer them with as much modesty as I can while remaining as honest as I can.
First, let me address the scriptural reference. You quoted:
Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. - Heb 13:4
This is not saying that "anything goes" in the marriage bed or that the marriage bed is made undefiled by marriage, rather it is a call for the marriage bed to remain undefiled. In other words, the author of the book of Hebrews is exhorting Christians who are married to practice marital chastity. The contrast is between the chaste and those non-chaste (immoral and adulterers).
Before I go further, here is the definition I use for chastity, taken from the Catechism:
2337 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.An easy way to understand chastity is the right-ordering of our sexuality in whatever state of life we currently live in. So, married couples are called to have marital sexual relations, but in a chaste way, that integrates the self-gift portion of their sexuality. That is, the two are called to give and receive each other completely in their sexual relationship.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.
When chastity and integrity is taken out of the relationship because of violence, kinky behaviors, etc. then the relationship is no longer about gift, but about selfishness and thus their is no longer the bonding that exists through giving and receiving giftedness of the other.
What happens is these types of sexual relationships are lustful - yes lust can exist within a marriage also. Lust is the sin of grasping, taking, or using another person sexually. It is a selfish act of seeking pleasure, not love.
Love = "choosing what is best for another regardless of the cost to myself". When the sexual act is made into a wrestling match or a violent act, it is no longer about love. It becomes an objectification and use of the other which means it is lustful and sinful.
We must remember that sex should never just be a physical act. It should be an act of the whole of both persons. It is emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, and is the most intimate thing a couple can do. Making this human act (an act of the entire person) into a mere physical act is to make it something less than human.
Sex is made to foster mutual married love. By definition, these kind of perverted sexual acts cannot be called human, married, chaste, or most importantly loving.
For more on this integrated understanding of our sexuality, I recommend a careful reading of JPII's Theology of the Body.