What Does the Church Say About Heavy 'Petting?'

Author: Marty Barrack


(Marty Barrack responds to the following question posed on the Catholic Resource Network)

"How does the church feel in regards to heavy 'petting'. I believe that sex belongs inside of marriage, but when you are dating someone is it ever really possible to get to know someone intimately without any sexual contact? Many teens I know ask me this and I struggle with a good answer as to what is and isn't'allowed' by the doctrines of the faith. Please respond. Thank you." The first short answer is: All sexual arousal waits for marriage. We can happily enjoy watching attractive members of the opposite sex, but we avoid doing what we know will induce sexual arousal or desire for sexual activity. If we find ourselves inadvertently aroused or desirous, we stop whatever is causing it. All sexual arousal and desire outside marriage is a mortal sin if it is engaged in with full knowledge that it is sinful and if there is a deliberate decision to do it anyway. The second short answer is: You can get to know someone much better without sexual contact. If a man truly loves a woman, he will accept her personal commitment to premarital chastity. We know that a man who refuses to accept a woman's commitment to purity does not love her, because her commitment is an essential part of who she is. What he loves is his own gratification at her expense. Young devout Catholics try to date other devout Catholics, whom they can meet at church socials. They can share a lifetime of joy in Christ together. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches: (2337) "Sexuality ... becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and woman." You'll find more on sexuality on page 562 of the CCC. Marriage is a covenant relationship. A covenant is a contract binding God into the agreement. In the sacramental covenant of Holy Eucharist, Christ gives all that He has, his body, blood, soul, and divinity, to us; we give him all that we have, our body, blood, soul, and humanity. In the covenant of Holy Matrimony, the husband gives all that he is and all that he has, including his body, as a gift to his wife; the wife gives all that she is, and all that she has, including her body, as a gift to her husband. If they are both baptized, they are joined through Christ as long as they live. When we join together through Christ and give all that we are and all that we have to our spouse, we want the gift by which we share in His ongoing creation to be pure as He is pure. If our marriage is pure and true, we are well prepared to enter God's kingdom. The children we bring into the world and love will also be well prepared. Nonmarital sex makes it impossible to give ourselves wholly to our spouse through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony because we have already given a very special part of the gift before marriage, even if we are having sex with the person we plan to marry. The marriage has less value because it is no longer the canopy under which we give all of ourselves to one another. Nonmarital sex also teaches us to use another person for our own sexual gratification. Notice that this is the exact opposite of marital sex, in which we give ourselves to our spouse; we desire the spouse's pleasure above our own. This selfish use of sex damages our preparedness for heaven. When Jesus told Zacchaeus, "I will dine at your house tonight," I'll bet the little tax collector hurried home at top speed and spent the rest of the day cleaning his house so it would be a fit place to receive the King of Kings. Jesus cares very much that the place where He is, is clean. Look how he overturned the moneychangers' tables in the Temple. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If it is not pure, the offended Holy Spirit will depart. He can be invited back through the Sacrament of Penance only if we are truly penitent and resolve to live in a pure way. God's design is often larger than we can see from our limited perspective. Sacred Tradition teaches us that sex within marriage has two purposes: procreative (bringing new souls into the world as God's invitation to the wedding feast in heaven) and unitive (bringing the spouses together). As soon as we break that connection, as soon as we say that sex entirely for one's own pleasure is good, we have no limit. Given that premise, how can we justify preventing a man from having sex with his friend's wife? Or sex with his brother? Or sex with his dog? You end up with a dissolute and selfish world from which God is excluded, and you ultimately end up in a dissolute and selfish place from which there is no return. Pax Christi, Marty