The Catholic church teaches that sexual love between a man and a woman is to be reserved to within marriage.

My question is in the opinion of the Catholic church what is defined as pre-marital1 sexual activity and what is considered chaste behaviour? It seems from the little information I have found on it that intention, action and result are all to be considered. However, what is considered unchaste, for instance would any activity that can lead to orgasm be considered unchaste? Would tender kissing to show affection be unchaste? Would the same action be unchaste if it were for sheer enjoyment?

Or perhaps is there some other definition or key idea that I am missing?

1. i.e. For the unmarried

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    Did I ask something bad? As usual, comments very welcome if you think that there is a problem with the question. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 0:48
  • I am thinking you are meaning foreplay. As with anything, there is morally permissible foreplay, and that which is not. Search for Pope St. John Paul II [the Great]'s writings on the matter. HIS writings, and not the ones others interpret.
    – user13992
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 0:59
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    I suspect the downvote was related to what might be perceived as crude sexual language, but I think it's a good question and I +1ed.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 1:04
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    I think the part that can be read as offensive is " The Catholic position seems to be that sex is to be between married couples, to avoid contraception and to ensure that male orgasm occurs inside his wife's vagina." That's a gross mis-characterization of the stance of the Church or the reasoning behind it. It's off enough to be easily read as sarcastic statements about their teachings. This would be better if it were simpler. "Does the Catholic Church teach that only intercourse is pre-marital activity, or does it include foreplay? If the latter, where's the line?" Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 1:37
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    I've made some alterations to try to illuminate the question and removed my clearly faulty knowledge of R.C. opinion on the subject. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 1:47

3 Answers 3


I kind of think the answer to this question is purely pastoral. It's not in any Encyclical or the Catechism, but the answer comes to a person who forms their conscience well and the Church has a lot of guidance on how to form your conscience.

  1. Seek first the Kingdom and the Will of God.

    Marriage (and the acts that follow) is what God calls man to most of the time, we can tell it's His will through the natural law (it's the only way we're going to get anything accomplished) and because He said so "Go forth and multiply" in Genesis a few times. But, even though it seems obvious that you should just have sex right away. It may not actually be the right person you're having sex with therefore:

  2. Pray with (and for) your future spouse

    In one very Jewish story that only Catholics and Orthodox seem to remember is the story of Tobias who, not wanting to be killed on his wedding night by the demon in his wife, prayed with her before the consummated their marriage. And

  3. Pray for purity every day

    This is a pretty concrete and well known practice of praying three hail mary's before bed for purity of heart. Purity is something you pretty much always get when you ask for.

So, I know that you probably think that didn't answer your question in the least, but that's the approach a Catholic might take in forming their conscience towards the questions that you raised.

What I, as a Catechist, would tell my students if they asked how far they could go with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Is that the purpose of dating in null, what they need to do is court. That involves knowing the entire family of ones future spouse and getting to know them intimately so that you know if your heart is in the right place. Kissing, other than customary kissing, shouldn't be a part of that pre-marital relationship. You shouldn't have any sexual intimacy that would be reserved for marriage before marriage. That would be unchaste.

Chastity is a virtue, not a verb, like all virtues, it's really a spiritual muscle that can be worked up over time to just react rightly in all situations.

  • Tangential note: The reason that Protestants don't "remember" the story of Tobias is because we do not have the book of Tobias in our Bible, so most Protestants have never read it.
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 6:43

There are indeed things that the Catechism has to tell us about chastity; in fact, there is a whole section on it (Part Three, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 6, Heading II) titled "The Vocation to Chastity". Chastity, we are told, is

the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.

(paragraph 2337)

Considering that sexuality, and therefore marriage and the family, are oriented to the begetting and raising of children, it seems therefore that chastity is all about how one guides one's activity by a Catholic understanding of the purpose of sex, marriage, and family.

Peter Turner's answer is a good one to display the general principles by which one should determine for oneself what sort of behavior is unchaste—the topic is of course broad, and whether a behavior is unchaste can depend on a number of things.

Thomas Aquinas actually addresses the two specific questions you raise ("Would tender kissing to show affection be unchaste? Would the same action be unchaste if it were for sheer enjoyment?"). He states:

A thing is said to be a mortal sin in two ways. First, by reason of its species, and in this way a kiss, caress, or touch does not, of its very nature, imply a mortal sin, for it is possible to do such things without lustful pleasure, either as being the custom of one's country, or on account of some obligation or reasonable cause. Secondly, a thing is said to be a mortal sin by reason of its cause: thus he who gives an alms, in order to lead someone into heresy, sins mortally on account of his corrupt intention. Now it has been stated above, that it is a mortal sin not only to consent to the act, but also to the delectation of a mortal sin. Wherefore since fornication is a mortal sin, and much more so the other kinds of lust, it follows that in such like sins [to] not only consent to the act but also consent to the pleasure is a mortal sin. Consequently, when these kisses and caresses are done for this delectation, it follows that they are mortal sins, and only in this way are they said to be lustful. Therefore in so far as they are lustful, they are mortal sins.

(Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 154, Article 4; emphasis added)

It appears, therefore, that both your questions are answered affirmatively: It is not unchaste in itself to kiss someone in order to show friendly affection; but it is if you are doing it for the pleasure of the kiss.

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    Great answer! It's good that the Catechism provides guidance as to how someone can be chaste even while married, that's a hard one to explain to 8th graders
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 17:27

Please allow me to present a different approach to the selected answer by @PeterTurner, and the other by @MattGutting.

In order to make a good confession, one of the steps for a Catholic is to make an Examination of Conscience.1

The section of that examination that may guide one as to what is/is not chaste behavior is e.g. this excerpt from An Examination of Conscience for Young Adults | What Must I Do? The Sacrament Of Reconciliation And Young Adults | USCCB

  • Have I engaged in sexual fantasies?
  • Have I looked at others lustfully?
  • Have I read pornographic literature or looked at pornographic pictures, shows or movies?
  • Have I masturbated?
  • Have I lustfully kissed or sexually touched someone?
  • Have I had sexual intercourse?

It is clear that the above need not be expanded upon.

The other way to look at this is to ask oneself, would I do this if mom and dad were here, or a brother and sister? How would I feel if what I am doing is being done to my mother, my sister, my daughter? Above all, knowing that we are always in the presence of God who sees all that is done in secret, how can I continue to what I am being tempted to do, knowing that the other is a child of God, and a brother/sister to Christ, just as I am?

One clearly comes to common sense conclusions.

1. cf. This answer to "What makes a confession sacramental? | C.SE"

Please see also:

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