Premise #1: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sex is for procreation

Peter Turner has an excellent answer to the question on Onan. In it, he suggests that Onan really was misusing sex, and that angers God.

When I also consider priestly celibacy and the general nature of Roman teaching on contraception, masturbation, and other regulations around sex, it seems like the Roman church really wants to suggest that the beauty of sex is when it furthers the end of "being fruitful and multiply"ing. I'm probably not doing it justice, but it seems like procreation is the point of sex.

Now, my question then, could be mis-read as antagonstic, but its not. I really do want to understand how these go together. Here's my conundrum -

Premise #2: The canonical Song of Solomon celebrates the passion of sex

The Song of Solomon clearly celebrates a sexual relationship between a man and a woman who dearly love each other. I know that some have historically tried to say that the Song of Solomon is Christ's love for his church, but I can't buy that with verses like these:

SOS 5:3 I have taken off my robe— must I put it on again? I have washed my feet— must I soil them again? 4 My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. 5 I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt.

I find it very hard to read that and not think that is physical. (We're all grownups here, right?)

The book goes on to warn us not to "arouse or awaken love, until it so desires, because love is as strong as death." (Its a common refrain). Clearly here the focus is on that passion.

But, that passion is seemingly celebrated, and not necessarily because of the kids that result. It may be dangerous, like fire, but the two lovers aren't saying its a bad thing at all.

Question: How do these fit together?

So, the question in all sincerity is this - How do Romans read the Song of Solomon? How is it reconciled with the seeming Papal preference for purely procreative reproduction?

Or, am I misreading Catholics here - maybe they're not nearly as stuffy as people make them out to be? The Puritans were no prudes either, and it would be nice to understand if a Roman could endorse "the joy of (marital) sex."

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    The answer to this is really to understand Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. A good paraphrase from that teaching to illustrate the Pope's view on sexual intercourse: Since men are likely to have an orgasm quickly, it is incumbent on the man to learn how to pace himself so that the women also achieves orgasm, if possible, simultaneously.
    – user32
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 4:08
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    Most of them aren't. For example, studies show that 98% of Catholic women in the US have used some form of contraception, despite the official ban.
    – hammar
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 13:28
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    @hammar and I'd be pretty happy to wager that most of those aren't apologetic about having done so, either (mutters something about moral relativism) Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 13:38
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    @hammar, I'd further wager that 98% of them are unaware of the ban and 99% of them have not read Humane Vitae. When do you think people learn about such things anyway. It's a rare priest who mentions contraception from the pulpit and as a Catechist who gets maybe 20 sessions with the kids each year there's almost no opportunity to talk with kids about contraception. If you have the contraceptive mentality coming at you every day and Stuffy McCatechist talking once, who is gonna win?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 15:49
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    Just because the point of eating food is physical survival does not mean that meals lack taste.
    – user46876
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 6:16

4 Answers 4


According to the Catholic Church, the marital act has two effects: procreative and unitive.

Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

CCC 2351

That Catechism reference is in relation to the sin of Lust, which Jesus equates with adultery.

It's lust that is the problem, and the Church does not teach that man and women are somehow freed from an inclination to lust by virtue of their marriage. Nor is it even logical, St. Paul says that marriage is better for those who whose inclination to fornicate burns within them he doesn't say that the passion will be put out by marriage.

I've heard that The Song of Solomon is the most commented on book in the entire Bible by Christians throughout the history of the Church and what St. Jerome makes of it is very interesting.

In the Song of Songs the precept is given as a hard one: "Regulate your love towards me." And so we plead that, if we err, we do so not from ignorance but from feeling.

St. Jerome - Letter 46

I'm not sure what verse he translated to be "Regulate your love towards me" but if it's the overall feeling he had in the translation it ought to have some effect. It's true that other commentaries use the Song of Songs to describe God's love for His church or just the whole Trinitarian dynamic of love. But that's just the necessary and fruitful anagogical understanding of the book. The literal interpretation is just that, make love to your beloved.

We even use scripture from the Song of Songs in scriptural rosaries to meditate on the 5th Glorious mystery, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. It doesn't mean we believe she was not a virgin, even though in some metaphor we see her as the woman in the song who everyone said, "Who is she?"

Love and Responsibility is the best and most dense way to gain a full understanding of the purpose of sex and marriage as put forth by the Catholic Church.

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    Is it possible, then, to commit adultery with one's own wife? Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 12:55
  • @MikeBorden no, but you can objectify your own wife, which is still a sexual sin. Adultery is specifically sexual relations with one who is not your lawful spouse.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Jun 11 at 18:29

Please consider this quote:

"The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it. So, as you will see, the breach and turning point in the development of sexual life lies in becoming subordinate to the purpose of reproduction. Everything that happens before this turn of events and equally everything that disregards it and that aims solely at obtaining pleasure is given the uncomplimentary name of 'perverse' and as such is proscribed."

This gem of a quote isn't even from a Catholic: it's from (the atheist) Sigmund Freud!

The key consideration is separating the physical act from the possibility of procreation. I've heard it stated in Catholic teaching that "the marital acts are those acts which are, of themselves, suitable for the generation of children." Catholic teaching doesn't require that such acts much be dispassionate, stoic exercises; to the contrary, there ought to be love and passion in the act as the marriage bond is more than just physical, it's emotional, intellectual, and spiritual and the act of love-making can be all of the above as well as open to the generation of children.


For a Catholic, it doesn't matter what those verses you quote seem but how the Church and the Fathers of the Church have authentically interpreted them. The Song of Songs is the sublimest of the Wisdom literature, where the relationship of the soul (personified as a bride) with Christ (the bridegroom) is understood in analogy to the relationship between a wife and husband (cf. Eph. 5:32: "This [i.e., marriage] is a great sacrament [in Greek: mysterion or "mystery"]; but I speak in Christ and in the church.").

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, uses the word ἔρως (eros, from where we get the word "erotic") to refer to ἀγάπη (agapē or self-sacrificial love) in its more acute form (cf. ibid.'s translator's fn. 19, p. 403). Ibid.'s Homily 11 (pp. 333-359) contains his exegesis of the verses you quote, and St. Gregory's preface (ibid. pp. 3-14) is worth reading to understand how King Solomon uses some of the most mysterious realities of the natural order to understand those of the supernatural order.


Impeding the procreative nature of the marital act is precisely what most commonly deprives it of its unitive nature.

In other words, what you sense is being celebrated as good in the Song of Solomon is precisely unreserved mutual self-giving, which is not possible in a marital context when fertility is artificially prevented.


Even the agnostic George Orwell realized this.


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