What IS Acceptable Sex?

Posted on November 12, 2012 by


This is a post about the sacredness of sex in marriage. The mechanics of it, I mean. Consider yourselves warned.

When I was about 13 years old the pastor of the small Baptist church I attended as a child took to the pulpit to rail about the evils of oral sex. He was gone not long after that, ostensibly because of the children in the pews, but I don’t really know. Clearly this was before the days when oral sex was nothing more than a way middle schoolers passed time on the bus ride home.

As a young wife and mother, I read Mary Pride’s The Way Home. In it she went to great lengths to discredit all forms of sex besides vanilla, missionary position style sexual activity in marriage. Because of my fervent belief in wifely submission even then, I summarily dismissed her opinion of what is right for me and my husband to engage in when we shut our bedroom door. Nevertheless, it was clear to me that the issue of what is considered an acceptable sex act, even in marriage, was something that has been a hot topic for quite some time.

The editorial staff of this blog is primarily Catholic. I am the lone token Protestant voice, and when we discuss these issues the default assumption is that the Catholic approach to sex and marriage is more sacred, more chaste than the Protestant position. While on the surface it may appear that way, I have on a number of occasions respectfully disagreed.

The argument of the superiority of the Catholic approach to marriage and sex covers two areas: The permanence of marriage and the adherence to natural law, which includes both the contraception question as well as the supposed acceptance of sodomy by Protestants as acceptable in the marriage bed.

On the first issue, I have to agree that the Catholic position is doctrinally superior. We Protestants have raised liberal  Scriptural interpretation to an art form when it comes to valid reasons for divorce as well as acceptable terms for remarriage. However, this is due to the hardness of our hearts. It’s not a flaw within the Sola Scriptura approach to the faith.

Though it appears that the watering down of the marriage commitment was in part instigated by the Reformation, careful reading of Scripture clearly indicates that marriage is permanent, mysterious, and sacred. Remarriage is not at all mentioned in the New Testament, and there are Protestants who do not believe in remarriage at all.

That brings us to natural law.  The question that inspired this post was about oral sex. Does it violate natural law?

Protestants do not have Biblical add-ons such as  the Magisterium or the Theology of the Body to guide us when making these decisions. The general consensus among Protestants is that whatever a man and wife agree to do in the privacy of their own bedroom is their business. I agree fully with this even though we are very attuned to issues of natural law.

The Catholic position as I understand it is this. Oral stimulation as foreplay is acceptable. Oral copulation is considered sodomy, therefore not sex, and the spilling of the man’s seed anywhere beside a wife’s vagina undermines the sacredness of sex, ignores the procreative nature of sex, and defies natural law.The Catholic position also leaves little argument of this; that what’s good for the goose is not at all good for the gander, since the goose has no seed to spill.

But what does the Scripture say?

Paul warns us about the dangers of moving away from “the natural use” of sex. I am aware that he was referring to homosexuality. Still,  it would be obtuse of us to ignore that any sexual relationship that depends more heavily on activities that ignore the key and lock  design God created to solidify the one flesh union and bring forth life potentially defiles the marriage bed.

There are passages in the Song of Solomon that theologians interpret as a clear reference to oral sex, and I agree. This is not a picture of  couple following rules and doing their duty solely for the purposes of procreation. They are enjoying one another in every way. It’s a beautiful picture of sexuality in marriage. Passages such as these come to mind:

(Bride) Awake, O north wind
And come, wind of the south
Make my garden breathe out fragrance
Let its spices be wafted abroad
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits! (4:16)

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
So is my beloved among the young men
In his shade I took great delight and sat down
And his fruit was sweet to my taste. (2:3)

My goal here is to make clear that the modern notion of  “if it feels good do it so long as you have a marriage license” is fairly new territory, even amongst Protestants. Whether it was the Baptist pastor from my childhood congregation, conservative Christian author Mary Pride, or any number of other sources, the general consensus among Christians was that missionary was best. The Catholic position was the Christian position.

As our entire culture has turned more and more pornographic, as the church has joined the  culture in separating marriage from procreation, and as both Protestants and Catholics have discovered ways to make serial monogamy “Biblically acceptable”, these issues have come to the forefront and are a source of greater discussion.

We can argue whether or not the increase in freedom that Christians claim a right to is simply an extension of our pornographic culture, and whether the elevation of the sensual to the level of preeminence at the expense of spiritual oneness and the procreative nature of sex is damaging to marriages. These are valid questions and each couple should examine them closely for themselves.

Given the often repeated meme that most marriages are miserable and sexless, I am loathe to attempt to use religion to discourage couples from doing the things they enjoy within the confines of matrimony. When Scripture offers no clear prohibition,  married believers should enjoy their sexual relationship in whatever way they feel comfortable. This is certainly preferable to the alternative, where ambiguous  rules not in found in Scripture overshadow the beauty of uninhibited marital pleasure.