Visitors who have spent time on this website, know that Synergy Explorers features traditional materials from cultures and religions around the world that promoted or hinted at Synergy-style lovemaking. One of the most intriguing examples of a modern Synergy movement arose among French and Belgian Catholics in the 1950s.

At the end of 1949 Paul Chanson, a French socialist scholar, father of 5 children, and the brother of a priest, wrote Art D’Aimer et Continence Conjugale (The Art of Love and Conjugal Continence). His book recommended the “reserved embrace” (intercourse without orgasm, i.e., Synergy). Chanson saw it as a viable form of birth control for couples who couldn’t afford more children. He also considered it a pleasurable path to increased marital harmony.

Catholic Church debate

Chanson’s book detonated a vitriolic three-year conflict between different elements of the Catholic Church.

Priests and other clerical authorities arrayed themselves on both sides of the debate. Some favoured Chanson’s teachings because of their practical merits and others strongly opposed them. Ultimately Pope Pius XII (also known as “Hitler’s Pope” because he had refused to condemn Hitler’s cruelty against the Jews) stepped in with a Monitum (Admonition). It warned Church authorities “never to presume to speak as though no objection were to be made against the amplexus reservatus [reserved embrace] from the viewpoint of the Christian law.” Authorities then censored Chanson’s book, forbidding it to be republished or translated.

Fortunately for posterity, in 1993 French scholar Martine Sevegrand published an article documenting the drama surrounding Chanson’s work. Sevegrand worked from numerous original sources. She thoroughly summarised the arguments of the various protagonists. In English, her article’s title is “The Chanson Affair (1950-1952): Marital Continence or Catholic Eroticism?” A full English translation is available as a PDF at the preceding link.

Perhaps the most eloquent priest to defend Chanson and the reserved embrace (Synergy) was a brilliant Dominican Father Henri-Marie Féret. Here, we’ll focus on two examples of Féret’s insightful analysis. Material supporting the following content can be found in Sevegrand’s article. Those fluent in French can read Féret’s masterful Afterward to Chanson’s book.

The sexual instinct can be mastered

Far from viewing Paul Chanson as a dangerous apostle of carnal pleasure as some Catholic clerics did, Father Féret held that Chanson’s work opened the way to true Christian temperance. The reserved embrace (Synergy) invited Christians to live harmoniously in the married state without cutting each other off. Instead, they could achieve harmony by mastering their instinctual drives.

Féret admitted to being very dissatisfied with the usual solutions offered to Christian spouses who were obliged to control births. They had to choose between complete abstinence and the rhythm method (which frequently failed).

Moral insight

Féret had faith in divine revelation. He received the insight that it was a mistake to assume that man, a “moral being who has a conscience and freedom, cannot be master of the sexual instinct in this physical union of man and woman.” Father Féret pointed out that the Church’s interpretation presupposed that, apart from total abstinence, the sexual instinct cannot be mastered, and that “moral effort can do nothing against the inevitability of its release”.

Féret argued that believers should never have to resign themselves to admitting this presupposition. Otherwise, they end up with a strange paradox. Namely, with the grace of God, man is capable of reabsorbing disorder within and outside himself, of dominating the cosmos. Yet one thing, and only one thing escapes him: the mastery/control of sexual instinct! Father Féret felt this presupposition was fundamentally incompatible with the foundational teachings of the Christian tradition.

In the eyes of Father Féret, Paul Chanson was a liberator doing Christian work. Via the reserved embrace (Synergy), Chanson demonstrated the possibility of controlling the instinct during the sexual act itself. The sexual initiation necessary for such mastery taught temperance. It did not kill the instinct, but channelled it with its own riches into the service of the higher ends of marital union.

Onan’s sin revisited

Féret also boldly addressed another common objection to the reserved embrace. Some Church scholars condemned it on the grounds that it was, in their view, similar to the crime of Onan. In Genesis, God punished Onan, who spilled his seed on the ground rather than ejaculating into his brother’s widow.

Yet what was Onan’s actual crime? The traditional clerical position was that engaging in an “incomplete act” was the crime. In Onan’s case, this was intercourse without ejaculation within a partner. According to these clerics’ logic, the reserved embrace was necessarily a crime as well because lovers avoided ejaculation.

In contrast, Father Féret took the position that the Catholic Church had misunderstood Onan’s crime. Féret asserted that the fault for which God slew Onan, was neither about seeking erotic pleasure while refusing to attempt procreation, nor about contravening the natural finality of the sexual act (which Genesis doesn’t address at all). Rather Onan’s crime was that he refused to submit to the community demand of the family of Juda to create an heir for his childless dead brother. Avoiding impregnating his elder brother’s wife meant Onan’s children would inherit more instead. Féret thus sketched out a theological interpretation that was radically different from the cautious legalism of his colleagues.

Was the reserved embrace in line with earlier Christian teachings?

It appears that the essence of union-without-satiety may have been at the very heart of early Christianity in the form of the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber, with later echoes in the widespread but largely forgotten, Agapetae phenomenon. Seen in this light, the modern reserved-embrace movement in France and Belgium aligned rather intriguingly with earlier Christian practices.


What would Catholic marriages look like today had the hierarchy adopted Féret’s thoughtful reasoning? Instead the hierarchy disregarded Féret and took offense to Chanson’s proposal on the grounds that it both discussed marital sex too explicitly and applauded the sensual satisfaction of the reserved-embrace practice.

Speak with any experienced priest and you will hear how disturbing it is for him to watch so many new couples go from starry-eyed lovers to miserable married people within a year or two of their union. Perhaps it need not have been that way if Catholics had mastered the reserved embrace and thus learned to head off satiety in their marriages.

Of possible interest: