I’ve recently been learning about how the Catholic Church has historically suppressed Karezza, viewing it as incompatible with their teachings about the procreative end of sex. I was a whole-heartedly devoted Catholic until fairly recently and, when Catholic, was particularly interested in Catholicism’s teachings on love and sexuality. Thus, learning about the Church’s hostility to karezza both interests and incredibly annoys me.

Karezza isn’t necessarily inconsistent with Church teachings

This blog argues that Karezza isn’t necessarily inconsistent with Church teaching on love and sexuality. Based on my understanding of Church teaching, Catholic couples should be permitted to practice Karezza within specified contexts. To argue this, I am once again putting on my “Catholic” brain. In this blog I do not question or argue against Catholic teaching itself. Rather, I have chosen to meet Catholicism where it’s at. I temporarily assume its premises for the sake of my argument.

The key premises of Catholicism I assume follow:

1) Artificial contraception (condoms, the pill, etc) is immoral.

2) Natural family planning (ie. NFP, a method for avoiding or achieving pregnancy through tracking the woman’s natural periods of fertility and infertility) is permitted and even lauded by the Church.

3) The relevant distinction between artificial contraception and NFP, simply explained, is that the former changes the nature of a fertile act and renders it infertile. In contrast, the latter is simply a decision to engage only in naturally infertile acts if one wishes to avoid pregnancy. This distinction is what makes the former unacceptable to the Church and the latter acceptable.

If we accept these premises, I think it follows that, at the very least, Church teaching does not prohibit Catholics engaging in Karezza during the woman’s naturally infertile periods. (One could also argue that Church teaching does not prohibit Catholics engaging in Karezza at any time, provided the intention isn’t to contracept. However, I’m less certain that that argument ultimately stands up. So for the time being, I will limit myself to arguing the former point.)

Queasy authorities

Catholic authorities who have previously been queasy about Karezza seem to have viewed it as an act similar to artificial contraception. It strives to divorce the sexual act from its procreative end. True, Karezza prescribes abstaining from orgasm, and procreation obviously requires orgasm. So, that Catholic interpretation is understandable. However, recall the reason why the Church permits NFP as a means of avoiding pregnancy: NFP does not render a fertile act infertile, it simply involves engaging only in naturally infertile acts.

Well. If Catholics employ Karezza during the woman’s naturally infertile periods, abstaining from orgasm would not render a fertile act infertile. The act would already be infertile. I don’t see, therefore, why this shouldn’t fall into the permissible zone of NFP-like acts.

In fact, I would argue that Karezza falls even farther from the objectionable zone of artificial-contraception-like acts than NFP does. The intention and purpose of NFP is to avoid pregnancy (sometimes. It can also be used to achieve pregnancy if the couple wishes). But the intention and purpose of Karezza, as employed in contemporary times, typically isn’t to avoid pregnancy. It is simply to improve bonding between partners. It will help them avoid the gradual deterioration of attraction in monogamous relationships, brought on by the Coolidge Effect.

So, to a Church worried about acts which divorce sex from its procreative end, it makes more sense to prohibit NFP than Karezza. Yet the Church doesn’t prohibit NFP, so it certainly needn’t prohibit Karezza.

Karezza promotes monogamy

In fact, there’s arguably a place for the Church to laud and encourage Karezza. Karezza promotes monogamy and love-oriented sex, as opposed to the open relationships or casual sex common in today’s culture. This works well with Catholicism’s teaching on love and sexuality.

Now, at this point it must be acknowledged that, historically, Catholic couples have sometimes used Karezza to avoid pregnancy. In fact, Catholic clergy promoted it as an alternative to artificial contraception, before the Pope objected. This being the case at the time, I can understand why authorities once construed Karezza as inconsistent with Church teaching.

However, in contemporary times, I have never heard Karezza encouraged as a means of avoiding pregnancy. In fact, the Karezza educators I know make a point of emphasizing that it should not be used this way. As a birth control method it wouldn’t be reliable, as even the most experienced Karezza couples have accidental orgasms from time to time.

That being the case, it would be advisable for law-abiding Catholics who don’t use artificial contraception and wish to engage in Karezza to only have sex during the woman’s naturally infertile periods, in accordance with the NFP method. If they do that, I don’t see what the problem is according to Church teaching.

Of possible interest:

Catholic hierarchy meets Synergy