In this reflection I continue my prolonged look into the thought of Germain Grisez on the morality incomplete sexual acts in marriage. He writes, following what I quoted in the previous reflection:
iii) Any act of the wife or the husband intended to bring about his ejaculation outside her vagina cannot be ordered directly to marital intercourse, and so is not a marital act. As will be explained, every attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction in a nonmarital act is wrong, and so such nonmarital acts always are morally excluded. If such acts are intended to serve in some way as means to the marital good—by maintaining intimacy when intercourse is impossible, satiating the sexual urge during a period of separation and so lessening temptation to commit adultery, treating sexual dysfunction, and so on—they are morally bad means to an ulterior good end.
There is a fallacy hidden in the words: “every attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction in a nonmarital act is wrong.” If one didn’t know the way that he had subtly redefined his words, one would think he was expressing the Church’s position against masturbation and extra-marital acts (even between married persons); but this is actually not what he is saying. What he means is that every intentional seeking of a full sexual climax outside of penetrative intercourse is wrong. Thus “sexual satisfaction” does not mean what common sense understands: that is, stimulating the sexual organs and experience the pleasure this brings. Rather, the word “satisfaction” has been narrowed to mean nothing but the moment of climax. And “marital” does not refer any longer to the whole sacred space of intimacy between husband and wife, in which the full and transparent expression of the sexual embrace finds its place as a privileged sealing of their union, but rather simply means the man ejaculating within the woman. This, now, is what defines an act as marital. Thus, if both persons are not intentionally seeking an orgasm (as we have seen above), acts that are deliberately sexually stimulating are not wrong, because, by his definition, they are not “seeking complete sexual satisfaction.”
Notice, here also, the one rule: intending to bring about an inherently contraceptive act is the only thing that makes an act unmarital. I would also note that his “good ends” in the last sentence are not actually authentic goods, albeit sought by a bad means, but are directly contradicted by this means such that they are inherently destroyed by the very thing that would seek them. After all, what would it mean to maintain intimacy by engaging the sexual sphere outside of natural intercourse? How would satiating the sexual urge lessen a temptation to commit adultery, by “giving vent” to one’s sexual drive? Isn’t the opposite really what would happen? It is, rather, authentic love and a deep affective and spiritual attachment between husband and wife, alone, that completely—and quite spontaneously!—excludes any and every temptation towards adultery. It is almost like the author has a presupposition that the human person is inherently going to be “enslaved” to the sexual drive, to the need for sexual stimulation and pleasure, and so essentially says all the ways in which this can be sought without transgressing the moral order (and an order understood in a minimalistic and merely legal way). And the only rule is to avoid an orgasm at the wrong time and to make sure to enjoy sex (or “incomplete” sexual acts) in a way that is mutually satisfying. This is exactly what Grisez says following, in the same point:
The wife’s complete sexual satisfaction (orgasm) is not necessary for sexual intercourse insofar as it is a reproductive function, but it does contribute to complete marital intercourse as a mutually satisfying experience of one-flesh communion. Hence, acts by the husband or the wife intended to intensify to orgasm her sexual arousal in continuity with any complete act of marital intercourse belong to that intercourse, and so they are marital, even if done during foreplay or after the husband’s ejaculation and withdrawal. However, any act intended to bring about her orgasm through arousal in no way continuous with that involved in marital intercourse would be a nonmarital act, and therefore wrong.
Let me state in clearer words what he is actually saying: masturbation is not masturbation unless it seeks an orgasm completely outside of the sexual act and unrelated to it; but as long as there is no orgasm, it is, for all practical purposes, morally irrelevant, or even positive. A man may not stimulate his wife to orgasm, or her the man, if it does not culminate in or occur around penetrative intercourse. But they are welcome to stimulate each other or themselves “moderately” (that is, not to a complete orgasm) whenever they find it beneficial, as long as they don’t climax. Indeed, as far as I have been able to find, nowhere does Grisez indicate that masturbation is the deliberate stimulation of the genitals for the sake of pleasure, but only ever the deliberate seeking of an orgasm outside of intercourse. Would this mean that a moderate self-stimulation of the man, to keep himself “prepped,” would be a moral act, remotely oriented as it supposedly is towards the sexual act?
Let me point out very clearly that what Grisez says in the point above about the woman’s orgasm is essentially saying that, if the man is unable to bring the woman to climax through natural intercourse, then he should fondle or masturbate her in whatever way he can, both before and after intercourse, so that she too can achieve complete “satisfaction.” The same would therefore also apply to the woman’s helping the man (or the man helping himself) to become aroused and climax. This, after all, is the definition of foreplay that people usually assume: “playing” with one another’s bodies in order to build up the tension of sexual excitement towards climax. I cannot but say, with an aching heart, that this is disgusting and inherently obscures the radiance and beauty of the whole sexual sphere. What was meant to occur permeated by reverence and love, now has been dragged down to the level of pleasure and instinct and orgasmic excitement. Indeed, there is, as I have said before, a demonic element, in that not even animals stimulate one another this way. A radical twisting of the human heart has to occur before a man or a woman finds it appealing to have another person fondle their private parts, or to practice oral or anal sex. These things, for good reason, are inherently disgusting to those who first learn about them, and the more so the more one’s sensitivity to the authentic beauty of the sexual sphere matures.
But because of the bondage of the spirit of evil that has descended upon the sphere of human sexuality because of sin, what before was meant to be utterly permeated by a deep reverence, awe, and amazement at the sacred beauty of love that speaks of the Trinity, now can incline in the very opposite direction. The person, rather than being lifted up closer to the Trinity, and into the orbit of true personal love and mutual affirmation, rather inclines towards a diabolical fascination with pleasure and body-parts and, indeed, with a kind of delightfully “forbidden” feeling of doing bizarre and unnatural things.
It has been shown, for example, that there is a compulsive quality, at least in those who engage in same-sex relationships, to the licking of the area around the anus, even though it has been medically shown that this almost inevitably causes a sexually transmitted disease. People who know this, however, are unable to stop, and there is an irrational and compulsive fascination, submerging the person and his or her freedom. One is enslaved in the very desire to be “free” to do as one wishes. One is enslaved to the very desire for autonomy, hurt and consumed by the addiction to pleasure, and consumed by the desire to “eat” the forbidden fruit, to “take possession” of the other person’s body in the very place where the only adequate word is that of total giving away of self.
Yes, for the sexual realm, in a special way, God intended to speak the word of mutual unveiling in reverent tenderness, in which the nakedness of two persons—utterly sheltered by one another and by the One who unites them—allows them to be drawn together in a mutual self-donation that flowers in deep and abiding intimacy on every level of their being, an intimacy that, for its part, is inherently fruitful. The only adequate response in the sexual realm, therefore, is the total surrender in which I give away my entire self as a gift for the other, and receive them in return with open hands and an open heart, so as to be united in the poverty, obedience, and chastity of authentic love and mutual belonging. Anything less than this—anything less than this makes the act less than a marital act.
iv) A couple’s sexual acts short of intercourse can be incompatible with marital communion in various other ways: by being repugnant to either spouse (with the result that they do not express affection), by using pornographic material to bring about sexual arousal (thus arousing adulterous desire toward a third party), by involving significant and avoidable risk of causing the husband to ejaculate unintentionally outside his wife’s vagina (thus interfering with complete intercourse and/or tempting him to intend the nonmarital satisfaction), by causing frustration and tension due to excessive arousal when intercourse is inappropriate, and so on.
Many acts that appear to meet the other criteria must be excluded inasmuch as they do not meet this one. For instance, some wives find oral stimulation of the penis repugnant, and for many men the practice leads to ejaculation outside the vagina. Again, any self-stimulation which does not pertain very closely to marital intercourse is likely to constitute masturbation or to be an occasion of that sin.
There is a lot here, but I would like to conclude my words on Grisez’s text very soon. Let me only point out that he explicitly says that self-stimulation does not necessarily constitute masturbation, but only could “likely” constitute it or be an occasion of it (that is, if the orgasm is explicitly intended and sought). Let me tie all of this together by pointing out the fundamental distortion that has occurred in his text. I hope that it is already quite clear to you. The problem is first of all this: he has a fundamentally “masturbatory” understanding of sexual acts, including full intercourse itself, in which the primary meaning of the sexual sphere is, for all practical purposes, pleasure. And yet this pleasure has a certain limit, namely, that the orgasm must occur within (for the man) or around (for the woman) natural intercourse. That is, again, the one rule: mutual pleasure (in the name of love) open to procreation.
This becomes very clear, for example, when one compares his definition of masturbation with that given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (The exact same thing occurs in his definitions of fornication and of homosexual acts.) The Catechism is radiantly simple and abundantly clear, whereas Grisez’s is filled with subtle and unnecessary nuance that makes it profoundly confusing, and almost impossible to understand where the line should be drawn.
Grisez defines masturbation in this way: “An unmarried individual can intentionally think, do, or undergo something other than intercourse to bring about his or her own orgasm. Such an act is masturbation, regardless of the means used” (3.a.i.). Notice: masturbation requires the deliberate seeking and experience of the orgasm. (Is something less not masturbation? Does this mean that self-stimulation up to the point of orgasm, but just short of it, is not masturbation?) Grisez also clarifies that this is for an unmarried individual. For a married individual, as he says elsewhere in the text, the rule is only that one does not seek this complete satisfaction (orgasm) apart from one’s spouse and the natural marital act. But stimulation of all kinds, as we have seen, is allowed by him. Indeed, he says that these acts are “good” because they foster the “marital communion,” that is, the mutual enjoying of the sexual organs, both self-stimulating and other-stimulating. (And, in fact, this need not even be the mutual enjoying, but as long as the man simply thinks of his wife while he stimulates himself, for example on a business trip, he is, so we are told to think, “perpetuating the one-flesh union.”)
The Catechism, in a single and succinct sentence, dispels all of this confusion. And, in doing so, once again our Mother Church gives us the great gift of clarity—a clarity that allows us to truly find the freedom in love, oriented wholly towards authentic intimacy, for which we were created, free from the distorting and enslaving lies of the tempter who wants to seduce the human heart to eat anew of the forbidden fruit which causes nothing but loneliness and isolation. The Catechism says: “By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure” (par. 2352). Notice, this covers everything. Not only does it cover the self-stimulation that climaxes in orgasm (as Grisez would say), but also any mutual stimulation between spouses that is aimed at seeking pleasure (i.e. the “good of marital communion”), whether in proximity to the natural sexual act or not. Thus these “incomplete sexual acts” that Grisez speaks in such detail about through his text are inherently and intrinsically wrong. They are, in essence, masturbatory acts, masturbation, even when occurring between the spouses, and even when practiced in and around natural sexual intercourse itself. This is still masturbation.
I would like to make one final point about this. Not only is it implied in Grisez’s text that these inherently masturbatory acts in some way become good because they indirectly serve or accompany or enhance the gratification of sex. The blindness goes even deeper: the very understanding of natural intercourse itself, when engaged in in this way, loses its inner form as a mutual donation of self oriented towards authentic intimacy open to procreation. Even if it externally looks the same as natural intercourse, it becomes an act of mutual masturbation. For masturbation, “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure,” can occur just as well with one’s own hand as within the intimate space of one’s wife’s body. I am sorry to speak so explicitly, but even natural intercourse engaged in with a focus on pleasure and the orgasm and mutual gratification bears the same inner form as an act of masturbation. It is mutual use.
One cannot but get the impression, in all of Grisez’s words, that the essence of the whole sexual sphere has almost entirely disappeared under a mass of “you may’s” and (a few) “you may not’s,” even, I expect, contrary to the author’s intentions. This is because the very orientation of the sexual embrace towards a total, chaste, interiorly virginal union of the spouses is not seen; but, rather, the whole sexual sphere has been assumed to operate by radically different laws than the rest of human existence. The inner Trinitarian form of love and intimacy—the virginal essence that I have spoken about throughout these reflections—has been entirely lost in the realm of pleasure-seeking and mutual use.