Sexual Ethics

A Theological Introduction

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler

"This book is productively controversial. . . . Salzman and Lawler have revived the call to dialogue by writing this text."
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Two principles capture the essence of the Catholic tradition on sexual ethics: that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life, and that any human genital act must occur within the framework of marriage. In the Catholic tradition, moral sexual activity is institutionalized within the confines of marriage and procreation, and sexual morality is marital morality.

But theologians Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler contend that there is a disconnect between many of the Church’s absolute sexual norms and other theological and intellectual developments explicitly recognized and endorsed in the Catholic tradition, especially since the Second Vatican Council. These developments include the shift from a primary static worldview to a historically conscious worldview, one that recognizes reality as dynamic, evolving, changing, and particular. By employing such a historically conscious worldview, alternative claims about the moral legitimacy of controversial topics such as contraception, artificial reproduction, and homosexual marriage can faithfully emerge within a Catholic context. Convinced of the central role that love, desire, and fertility play in a human life, and also in the life of Christian discipleship, the authors propose an understanding of sexuality that leads to the enhancement of human sexual relationships and flourishing.

This comprehensive introduction to Catholic sexual ethics—complete with thought-provoking study questions at the end of each chapter—will be sure to stimulate dialogue about sexual morality between Catholic laity, theologians, and the hierarchy. Anyone seeking a credible and informed Catholic sexual ethic will welcome this potentially revolutionary book.

Table of Contents

“Nature” Defined
Perspectivism vs. Relativism
“Nature,” Knowledge, and Norms
Questions for Reflection

1. Sexual Morality in the Catholic Tradition
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in the Catholic Tradition
Reading Sacred Scripture
Old Testament Teaching
New Testament Teaching
The Fathers of the Church
The Penitentials
Scholastic Doctrine
The Modern Period
Von Hildebrand and Doms
Second Vatican Council
Papal Birth Control Commission
Questions for Reflection

2. Unitive Sexual Morality
Conjugal Love and Sexual Intercourse
Multiple Dimensions of Human Sexuality
Truly Human and Complementarity
Sexual Orientation Complementarity and Truly Human Sexual Acts: A Reconstructed
Holistic Complementarity, Truly Human Sexual Acts, and Sexual Norms
Questions for Reflection

3. Marital Morality
Modern Catholic thought and Marital Morality
Marital Morality and Contraception
Contraception and Historical Contexts
A Renewed Principle of Human Sexuality and Contraception
Totality and the Conjugal Act
The Inseparability Principle Revisited
Questions for Reflection

4. Cohabitation and the Process of Marrying
Cohabitation in the Contemporary West: What the Sciences Tell Us
The Meaning and Nature of Commitment
Betrothal and the Christian Tradition
Historical Considerations
Sociotheological Considerations
Complementarity and Nuptial Cohabitation
Marriage as Sacrament
Catechumenate for Marriage
Questions for Reflection

5. Homosexuality
The Bible and Homosexuality
Homosexual Orientation and the Bible
Interpreting the Bible on Homosexuality
Magisterial Teaching on Homosexual Acts and Relationships
The Moral Sense of the Christian People and Homosexual Acts
The Morality of Homosexual Acts Reconsidered
Questions for Reflection

6. Artificial Reproductive Technologies
Defining Artificial Reproductive Technologies
The CDF’s Instruction and ARTs
ARTs and Health Complications among Children
Family and Society: ARTs and the Common Good
Questions for Reflection

Intrachurch Dialogue
Extrachurch Dialogue
Questions for Reflection



"This book is productively controversial. . . . Salzman and Lawler have revived the call to dialogue by writing this text."—Horizons

"The book includes questions to the reader at the end of each chapter and these work well as they challenge the reader to engage both at a theological and personal level. The book is written very clearly and in accessible language making it of use to undergraduates and Church groups examining these issues. Its unpacking of doctrine and ethics is sensitively done but as mentioned the authors are not slow to demonstrate where rethinking urgently needs to take place. They clearly sit within the tradition but a tradition that they see as dynamic and changing."—The Expository Times

"Salzman and Lawler do good Catholic theology, showing how current magisterial teachings may not be faithful or in accord with Catholic theological understandings or traditions. This book is highly recommended for libraries and classroom use."—Aaron Klink, Duke University, Religious Studies Review

"Will help further dialogue within Catholic circles."—Catholic Books Review

"Salzman and Lawler masterfully critique Catholic teaching in light of the many sexual issues Christianity faces today… This fascinating introduction to sexual ethics is sure to generate much conversation and debate. It is a must for any course on religion and sexuality."—Choice

"Lawler and Salzman's mastery of the long and complex history of Catholic sexual ethics is truly impressive. In this volume, the authors manage to present this history, as well as its contemporary implications, in a clear and accessible manner. They challenge Catholics to think seriously about how experience and culture inevitably shape attitudes about sex. Anyone who doubts the vibrancy of the contemporary Catholic conversations about sex should read this book!"—Aline Kalbian, associate professor of religion, Florida State University


Supplemental Materials


2013 Illustrated Jacket/Cover Award, Large Nonprofit Publishers Category of the Washington Publishers Book Design and Effectiveness Awards, Third Place

About the Author

Todd A. Salzman is a professor of Catholic theology at Creighton University. He is the author of several books, and is coeditor of Marriage in the Catholic Tradition.

Michael G. Lawler is Amelia and Emil Graff Professor Emeritus of Catholic Theology at Creighton University. He is the author of several books, including Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions. Together they are the authors of the award-winning The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology.

280 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
1 table and 1 figure
May 2012

280 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
1 table and 1 figure
ISBN: 978-1-58901-913-3
May 2012

280 pp.
1 table and 1 figure
ISBN: 978-1-58901-941-6
May 2012

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