The One Rule for Marital Relations

Q 1: Is the “One Rule” of West and Popcak approved by the Church?
No. It is condemned by the Church.

The “One Rule” is the idea that every sexual act between husband and wife is moral, as long as the husband only climaxes during the natural marital act. This rule is asserted by Gregory Popcak:

“a couple may do whatever they wish as long as both feel loved and respected and the marital act ends with the man climaxing inside the woman. That’s it. That’s the only rule, the One Rule.” [Popcak, Holy Sex, p. 191]

This rule is also asserted by Christopher West, with different wording:

“”the one sure, objective criteria for evaluating the sexual behavior of spouses is that their physical intimacies must culminate in the natural act of marital intercourse, with the husband ejaculating only in his wife’s vagina.” [West, At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 225-226]

And this rule is often restated, with various wordings, by Catholics in online discussions. Sometimes they even claim that this rule is the teaching of the Church. In fact, the Church has condemned this very idea.

Pope Pius XII: “This anti-Christian hedonism too often is not ashamed to elevate itself to a doctrine, inculcating the ardent desire to make always more intense the pleasure, in the preparation and in the performance of the conjugal union, as if in matrimonial relations the whole moral law were reduced to the normal performance of the act itself, and as if all the rest, in whatever way it is done, were justified by the expression of mutual affection, were sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, and made worthy of praise and reward before God and conscience. There is no thought at all of the dignity of man and of the Christian — a dignity which restrains the excess of sensuality.” [Pius XII, Address to Midwives, n. 68.]

So we see from the quote above that Pope Pius XII, as an act of the Magisterium, rejected the idea that “the normal performance of the act itself” (the husband completing the act in the natural manner) would justify “all the rest, in whatever way it is done.” This is a clear unequivocal rejection of the “One Rule” by the Magisterium.

Moreover, in saying that “the normal performance of the act itself” does not justify “all the rest, in whatever way it is done”, including “in the preparation”, the Pope implies a condemnation of the idea that any sexual act at all, other than male climax, is justified as foreplay. Things done “in the preparation” are not justified by the mere “normal performance” of natural marital relations. So you cannot justify any and all sexual acts, other than male climax, as a type of foreplay prior to the natural act. That argument is contrary to Church teaching. Some acts of foreplay are moral, and other acts of foreplay are immoral. But the mere fact that an act is used as foreplay does not necessarily mean it is moral.

Pope Pius XII notes that this claim “is not ashamed to elevate itself to a doctrine”. And that is exactly what is happening today. Many Catholics are proposing this foolish “Rule” as if it were a doctrine. They explicitly claim that this is the teaching of the Church, when in fact the Church teaches the opposite.

Now the “One Rule” is often used to conclude that the wife may climax by any means — oral sex, anal sex, manual sex, masturbation, or the use of sex toys — as long as the spouses also perform the natural act at some point in time. But this corollary of the “One Rule” is also rejected by the Magisterium.

Pope Pius XII: “By the force of this law of nature, the human person does not possess the right and power to the full exercise of the sexual faculty, directly intended, except when he performs the conjugal act according to the norms defined and imposed by nature itself. Outside of this natural act, it is not even given within the matrimonial right itself to enjoy this sexual faculty fully. These are the limits to the particular right of which we are speaking, and they circumscribe its use according to nature.”

“What has been said up to this point concerning the intrinsic evil of any full use of the generative power outside the natural conjugal act applies in the same way when the acts are of married persons or of unmarried persons, whether the full exercise of the genital organs is done by the man or the woman, or by both parties acting together; whether it is done by manual touches or by the interruption of the conjugal act; for this is always an act contrary to nature and intrinsically evil.” [Pius 12, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, n. 22, 25.]

The Church teaches that neither the husband, nor the wife, may deliberately act so as to climax outside of natural marital relations. The idea that the wife may use all manner of unnatural sexual acts to reach climax, as long as the couple also performs the natural act about the same time, is contrary to magisterial teaching. Instead, these unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, even when done by married persons, even when done about the same time as the natural marital act.

A sexual act is unnatural when it is not inherently unitive and inherently procreative. Oral, anal, manual sexual acts and the use of sexual devices are each and all unnatural, as they are “contrary to nature”, just as Pope Pius XII taught. Climax outside of the natural marital act is inherently non-unitive and non-procreative, making the act intrinsically evil.

Can we say that all the sexual acts of one time frame, in the marital bedroom, are really “one natural act”? No, we cannot. Such a claim is incompatible with Church teaching, which says that the normal performance of the act does not justify all the rest, in whatever way it is done [Address to Midwives], and which says that neither spouse may act so as to climax outside of natural relations [Address to the Second World Congress]. And notice that this condemnation extends to acts done immediately after “the interruption of the conjugal act.” The Pontiff does not accept the claim that the acts done immediately after natural relations is interrupted are justified. He condemns all such acts, outside of natural marital relations, as “contrary to nature and intrinsically evil.”

Can we justify certain unnatural sexual acts by saying they are “foreplay”, used to prepare for the natural act? No, we cannot. For Church teaching is that acts done “in the preparation”, i.e. acts of foreplay, are not justified by “the normal performance of the act itself.” [Address to Midwives] And the Church also teaches that intrinsically evil acts are not justified by being done for a good purpose (such as to prepare for the natural act) [CCC 2399 and 1756].

The reason why these types of sexual acts are always gravely immoral is that they are inherently non-unitive and non-procreative. The deprivation of these two purposes makes the sexual act intrinsically evil and therefore always wrong to knowingly choose.

Can we say that unnatural sexual acts (oral, anal, manual, sex toys) no longer sexual acts and no longer intrinsically evil, if they lack climax? No, we cannot. The lack of climax does not make these acts unitive or procreative, and so the acts remain intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

More on marital chastity in my book: The Catholic Marriage Bed


The holy priest and stigmatist Fr. Zlatko Sudac spoke briefly on marital chastity. YouTube video

“The sixth commandment: You shall not commit adultery.”

“The young ones don’t even confess these things today. Why? because they don’t realize that it’s a sin. What? To practice chastity before marriage. And you who are in marriage, not everything is permitted. You are also called to have purity in sexual intercourse.”

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian