The Catholic Church boasts one of the largest and most diverse religious congregations in the world, so it’s probably not surprising that Catholics think about sex in a lot of different ways. Catholics are often stereotyped as being uptight about sex, and it's true that the Church maintains very conservative official positions on a lot of sex topics, from masturbation to birth control.
But Catholic rules about sex and marriage have changed slowly over the course of a thousand years. Pope Francis, in particular, has modernized many of the Church's stances on issues related to sex, and it's believed he may do so even more in the future. However, many some Catholics resist these changes, and some want to go back to more traditional and conservative eras. Read on to learn about the way the Church is - and is not - keeping up with times when it comes to Catholics in the bedroom.
Sex Must Fulfill Two Purposes: Love and Babies
The fundamental Catholic teaching about sex is that it has two purposes: unitive and procreative. Unitive means that it seeks to unite married partners in love and intimacy; procreative, that it carries the potential to make a baby. If a sex act is missing either of these two elements, it's "disordered" and sinful.
Intentionally indulging in sex acts that can't produce offspring is disordered because it's concerned only with the pleasure of sex and not with procreation; on the other hand, things like artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization are also disordered, because they are concerned only with producing babies and contain no intimacy or pleasure.
Oral and Anal Stimulation Are for Foreplay Only
As in many religions, the Catholics put a strong emphasis on the procreative possibilities of semen. In every sex act, it's expected that the male partner will ejaculate into his partner's vagina, so that there's some chance of conception. However, most Catholics teach that oral sex, anal sex, and other forms of stimulation are permissible as foreplay, or as a way to make women achieve orgasm.
There are, however, ultra-conservative Catholics that teach that oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation are inherently sinful in all circumstances, even as foreplay for married couples.
The Only Acceptable Form of Birth Control Is Natural Family Planning
In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued a statement reemphasizing the Church’s stance that it's intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.
According to the former pope, "Contraception is any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible."
In this case contraception means everything from condoms to birth control pills - even the withdrawal method.
Instead, the church recommends natural family planning, a version of the "rhythm method" where couples refrain from having sex during a woman's peak fertile times of month.
You Can Think Beyond the Missionary Position
Good news for all you sex-crazed Catholics out there: as long as you're straight and married, whatever position you prefer in the bedroom is A-OK.
There's a stereotype that Catholics insist on sex with the male partner on top (hence the term "missionary") - but in fact, the Church has no specific rules or regulations about sex positions.
Father Ksawery Knotz, author of the so-called "Catholic Kama Sutra," a sex manual for married Catholics, says, "Every act – a type of caress, a sexual position – with the goal of arousal is permitted and pleases God."