Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 02 March |
Saint of the Day: St. Chad
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Sexuality and the Engaged Couple

Albert Palmer

Toscana Oggi - published on 09/04/14

How far should an engaged couple go in physically expressing their affection?

"I would like a clarification on the definition of premarital relations. My fiancée and I are seeking to be chaste in our relationship because we don’t feel quite ready for full intimacy, so we limit ourselves to kisses and caresses. But I would like to know how far we can push our expressions of affection, before they’d be considered premarital relations. … I’m a little confused. …"

Fr. Maurizio Faggioni, a professor of Moral Theology, responds.

The reader’s question is a tricky one and quite relevant today. If an engaged couple has decided not to have sexual intercourse before they are married, but still wants to show their deep affection for each other, they might wonder what degree of physical intimacy is considered morally acceptable as they prepare for marriage.

In the past, moralists responded by reiterating that the parts of the body should be categorized as the proper, less proper, and improper parts, and norms of behavior for engaged couples were also derived from this topography of the illicit.

I think the question should be addressed in a different way and should begin with the idea that human love is naturally expressed in the language of the body and, therefore, that a gradual growth in mutual knowledge and commitment, with a view to marriage, is rightly accompanied by a gradual growth in intimacy.

The engaged couple’s love, although it is not yet conjugal love, is by its nature intended to flourish in conjugal love. The discovery and progressive gift of their bodies is part of the communication between two people who are moving toward an ever deeper and more serious understanding of their relationship.

The gaze that contemplates the beloved, a kiss, a caress are the many manifestations of tenderness and personal closeness that little by little prepare the couple for marital sexuality, while reserving full and definitive physical intimacy for the moment when their love has reached sufficient maturity and the vital phase of engagement has been fulfilled in marriage.

Setting clear limits that are applicable once and for all can be difficult, and they may not correspond to the specific and actual situation of an engagement which is always, by definition, a dynamic condition. In expressing their natural affection and desire for one another, the couple must keep in mind their plan [to marry] and the sensibilities and reactions of the two partners, in a climate of mutual respect, sincerity and dialogue.

Engaged couples are called to be responsible, wise and honest with themselves, avoiding behavior that can slide, even without willing it, into a complete relationship or take on a form, even masked, of genital contact capable of inducing orgasm.

In this regard, the document issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, “Educational Guidance in Human Love,” speaks negatively about “certain manifestations of a sexual kind which of themselves tend to complete encounter, though without reaching its realization.” It alludes to closeness and stimulation between engaged couples who are intentionally seeking sexual arousal and orgasm, while avoiding real sexual union.

According to Catholic morality, the genital expression of interpersonal communion, to be fully authentic and meaningful, must be rooted in the context of marital love.

This article appeared originally in Italian on Toscana Oggiand has been translated and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
12 Things every Catholic woman should have in her purse
Jacques Fesch
Brother Silas Henderson, SDS
Meet the Death Row prisoner who discovered a ...
V. M. Traverso
The 9 oldest images of Mary
Cerith Gardiner
10 Celebrities whose marriages have stood the test of time
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
Frei Giuseppe Ungaro
The 100-year-old Franciscan who knew 6 saints in person
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.