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Catholic Answers Apologist Trent Horn on Sex Toys in Marriage

How many Catholic theologians, apologists, authors, or speakers approve of the use of sex toys in marriage? Only two that I could find: Gregory Popcak and Trent Horn. In a recent podcast, Catholic Answers apologist Trent Horn speaks about “a vibrator tool on a person’s finger” as well as manual and oral “stimulation”, to completion on the wife. This type of act, unnatural sex to climax on the wife, has been condemned by the Roman Catholic Magisterium, regardless of the means.

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.” [1]

The right to make use of the sexual faculty, within marriage, is not “assigned to the will of human persons”. This means that the spouses cannot perform any type of sexual act to which the two spouses agree. Rather, there are limits imposed by God and natural law. The sexual acts of married persons are moral only when each spouse “performs the conjugal act according to the norms defined and imposed by nature itself.” Any sexual acts which are contrary to “the norms defined and imposed by nature” are unnatural sexual acts and are therefore intrinsically evil. These types of acts, which by definition are inherently non-procreative, do not become moral when used in marriage — no matter what the purpose might be.

Pope Pius XII: “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.” [2]

The Pontiff states that neither the husband nor the wife may attain sexual climax outside of the natural marital act: neither by manual touches, nor by the interruption of the sexual act. This teaching clearly refutes the popular claim that the wife may reach climax by manual touches (or by oral stimulation, or sex toys, etc.), if she does not reach climax during the natural act. Such a claim is absolutely rejected by the Roman Catholic Magisterium. For this type of act is unnatural and intrinsically evil.

Notice, too, that the Pontiff rejects the popular excuse, that these unnatural sexual acts occur about the same time as the natural act. For he says that even if this unnatural act attains sexual climax immediately after the natural marital act is interrupted, it is still contrary to nature and gravely immoral. And this implies the condemnation of another popular claim, that all the sexual acts of the marital bedroom are morally one act. If that were so, then Pope Pius XII would not have rejected unnatural sexual acts occurring immediately after the natural marital act is interrupted.

[1] Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, n. 22.
[2] Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, n. 25.

In addition, the Holy See has condemned the use of sodomy within marriage:

“If, however, the husband wishes to commit the crime of the Sodomites with her, since sodomitic intercourse is against nature on the part of both spouses who are united in this way and, in the judgment of all the learned teachers, is gravely evil, there is clearly no motive, not even to avoid death, that would permit the wife legitimately to carry out such a shameless act with her husband.” [Denzinger 3634]

“No motive” permits the wife to agree to “such a shameless act”, not even the motive to prepare for natural marital relations. This teaching contradicts those who say that the purpose (or motive) to prepare for the natural act justifies marital sodomy. It also contradicts those who say that oral, manual, or artificial means may be used for that same motive. The term “sodomy” has a broader meaning, which includes any unnatural sexual acts.

Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., who apparently has some type of association with Catholic Answers, has this to say:

“So it is clear that Aquinas, even though he does not spell this out, would logically consider even unconsummated oral and anal sex between husband and wife to be mortally sinful, thus creating a need for sincere sacramental confession prior to approaching Holy Communion.” [from the article: “Probabilism, Probabiliorism, and Marital Chastity”]

Fr. Harrison does not agree with the thinking of Trent Horn, that the lack of climax and the proximity of the act to another act of natural marital relations justifies all that is done. In another article, Fr. Harrison speaks about the meaning of the word sodomy:

” ‘Onanism’, the term derived from Genesis 38:9-10 which in traditional Christian usage has designated both masturbation and unnatural intercourse between a man and woman, is not exactly a pleasant theme to write about.”

“The classical Jewish commentators — who can scarcely be accused of ignorance regarding Hebrew language, customs, law, and biblical literary genres — certainly saw in this passage of Scripture a condemnation of both unnatural intercourse and masturbation as such.” [The Sin of Onan Revisted]

So when the Holy See and the Saints condemn sodomy, we should consider this condemnation to extend to any type of unnatural sexual act. The sinners in the ancient city of Sodom cannot reasonably be said to have limited themselves to only one type of unnatural sexual act. And the history of the use of the term is broad, not narrow.

Thus, the use of sex toys within marriage is gravely immoral, as a type of unnatural sexual act. It is also immoral when it is used to bring the wife to climax outside of the natural marital act — something explicitly condemned by the Magisterium under Pope Pius XII.

Therefore, Trent Horn’s approval for the use of sex toys and for the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage is indefensible. It is contrary to magisterial teaching and the teaching of the Saints, especially St. Thomas Aquinas and Saint Alphonsus Liguori. See the teaching of St. Alphonsus here.

The teaching of the Church condemns as contrary to nature and intrinsically evil, the idea that the husband or wife may use any type of unnatural sexual act (oral, anal, manual, sex toys) in order to reach climax outside of the natural marital act.

And yet Trent Horn claims and teaches the contrary. He is an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers (catholic.com). In a podcast dated July 26, 2018, described as “a production of Catholic Answers”, Trent Horn answers questions about Catholic sexuality, in particular, what’s OK and what’s not OK in marriage: What’s Okay for Married Couples to Do (Sexually)?

Trent Horn: “So, yes, it is acceptable, as part of the marital act, as part of vaginal intercourse, to use manual, oral, or artificial stimulation, and, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that, but if it means putting on something like a vibrator tool on a person’s finger, so that they are able to more deeply stimulate their wife to help her to reach orgasm, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that as long as it’s done as part of the marital act itself.”

That answer is contrary to the teaching of Pope Pius XII and the Holy See. The Pope taught that neither the husband, nor the wife, may act so as to climax outside of natural marital relations.

Trent Horn justifies his position by reference to Gregory Popcak’s “One Rule” — that anything goes as long as the couple also preform one act of natural marital relations. But this type of claim was considered and rejected by Pope Pius XII in his Address to Midwives, and by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.

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.” [Address to Midwives 68]

Pius XII refers to “the preparation” for the marital act, meaning foreplay. Then he absolutely rejects the idea that, in acts of foreplay, as well as in whatever other sexual acts are done, “the whole moral law” can be reduced to “the normal performance of the act itself.” So he is rejecting the idea — nowadays referred to as “the One Rule” — that as long as the husband completes the act during natural intercourse, everything else that is done is moral: “as if all the rest, in whatever way it is done, were justified….”

Therefore, the Church, in her official teaching, has rejected this “One Rule”. The Pope calls this idea a type of “anti-Christian hedonism”. So it is absolutely not true that the spouses can do whatever they want — that they can perform all manner of unnatural sexual acts, absent climax for the husband, all done as foreplay (“in the preparation”), even including climax for the wife — as long as there is one “normal performance of the act itself”, i.e. one natural conjugal act, at some point. Pope Pius XII absolutely condemned any type of sexual act to climax outside of the natural marital act, whether on the husband or on the wife, even if this is done to the wife immediately after the interruption of the natural act. And he rejects the idea that everything is moral, as long as the husband only climaxes during natural relations.

Trent Horn says much the opposite to Pope Pius XII.

Trent Horn: “Sex is for the expression of marital love. What marital love seeks is the total one-flesh union between husband and wife, a real union, and that union can only exist through vaginal intercourse. But that doesn’t mean that a husband and wife in engaging in the marital act only engage in vaginal intercourse…. That there’s other, of course other sexual behaviors that lead up to vaginal intercourse that are acceptable within the context of the marital act for married couples.”

No, Trent, those “other sexual behaviors” are not moral, not even if they “lead up to vaginal intercourse”. For the end does not justify the means. Certain sexual acts are intrinsically evil and therefore always gravely immoral. There is a simple way to determine which consensual sexual acts in a marriage are moral: each sexual act must be inherently unitive and inherently procreative.

USCCB Catechism: “Each and every sexual act in a marriage needs to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child.” [USCCB Catechism, p. 409.]

Pastoral Letter of the U.S. Bishops: “A marriage is only as open to procreation as each act of intercourse is, because the whole meaning of marriage is present and signified in each marital act. Each marital act signifies, embodies, and renews the original and enduring marital covenant between husband and wife.” [Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan]

Humanae Vitae: “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” [Humanae Vitae 11].

If a sexual act is non-unitive and/or non-procreative when done on its own, then it remains non-unitive or non-procreative when done about the same time as natural marital relations open to life. And the latter cannot justify the former. Moreover, it is clear from Humanae Vitae as well as from the basic principles of ethics on any subject that a set of acts cannot be considered as “one act”, so that only one or a few of the sexual acts need be unitive and procreative.

Humanae Vitae asks: “Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act?” And the answer is that non-procreative sexual acts cannot be said to “merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these.” [Humanae Vitae 3, 14]

And then there is the fundamental principle of ethics, which applies to every intrinsically evil act:

“Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.” [Pope Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 81]

If any act is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral to perform in isolation, it NEVER becomes moral by being done for a good intention, such as the intention to prepare for natural marital relations, nor in a particular context or circumstance. And an evil act is never justified by the commission of a good act about the same time.

Now if you need the true Catholic Answers to specific questions on marital sexual acts, why not read what Saint Alphonsus Liguori taught. Saint Alphonsus Liguori on Marital Chastity. He rejected as a mortal sin the claim that oral or manual or anal acts of “stimulation” would be justified by leading up to, or being preceded by natural intercourse. The explanation given by Trent Horn and others to justify the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage was condemned by the Church’s greatest moral theologian: Saint Alphonsus Liguori.

It is very disturbing to listen to Trent Horn explain to married Catholics what is and is not moral — in direct contradiction to clear teachings of the Church and the Saints — without telling them that his ideas have been rejected by the Magisterium, the Saints, and by many present-day orthodox theologians. He misleads his audience into thinking that there is no other point of view on these types of acts. He speaks as if his position is not controversial. He ignores the teaching of the Magisterium on this very topic. And he prefers the teaching of Gregory Popcak over that of the Saints.

Trent Horn mentions, as a justification for these unnatural sexual acts, the Pleasure Principles set forth by Gregory Popcak in his book “Holy Sex”. But those principles are not from Church teaching, nor even from moral theology. They are his own invention, based on his experience as a social worker. Gregory Popcak is not a psychologist; his Ph.D. is from a for-profit online university, and it is in “human services”. Why does Horn ignore the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, on the basic principles of ethics, and the other teachings of the Church specifically on sexual ethics, in favor of a book that contains explicit (pornographic) descriptions of unnatural sexual acts? Why does he ignore the teaching of the Saints also?

Trent Horn presents his answers to these questions without stating what is and is not Church teaching. He approves of certain sexual acts which he claim can be part of “holy, happy, healthy marital lives”. But he does not explain that some of these acts have been condemned by orthodox priests and theologians as mortal sins. He does not explain that some of these acts have been condemned by the Roman Catholic Magisterium and by the Saints. His own answers to these questions, justified by very little in the realm of theological argument, are offered to the listener as if they were indisputable facts, or clear teachings of the Church, when there are teachings of the Church that would make these acts gravely immoral.

By this podcast, offered by Catholic Answers, Trent Horn is harming souls and marriages by justifying acts which have been condemned by the Saints and the Church as intrinsically evil and gravely immoral. And his approval, in particular, for the use of sex toys is shameful, ignorant, and unchristian.

More Reading on this Topic:
* Church Teaching on Marital Sexual Ethics
* Pope Pius XII on Marital Chastity
* Saint Thomas Aquinas on Marital Chastity
* Saint Thomas Aquinas on Marital Chastity
* Saint Augustine on Marital Chastity

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian

Categories: TOB

3 replies »

  1. Per his credentials, Trent Horn has a master degree in theology. I wonder what kind of moral theology are being thaught at Catholic Universities nowadays. Or if a person has to go to these Universities in order to learn some theology but more likely just to get a title next to one’s name.

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    • When I received my bachelor’s degree, I took a number of post-graduate classes. It was pretty bad back then, and it’s only gotten worse. The people teaching at Catholic theology faculties have mostly rejected the Faith. JP2 warned about this in Veritatis Splendor n. 4. No one listened.

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