From one case to the next, romantic relationships and human sexuality can be a source of tremendous joy and affirmation. They can also be a source of heartache and even abuse. Overall, though, there’s no denying that relationships and sexuality are an integral part of the human experience. However, the practicing Catholic must remain constantly mindful of freedoms and restrictions placed on relationships by church doctrine and by Scripture.

Premarital Sex

According to the Center for Disease Control, 86.4 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have ever been married admitted to having premarital sex. Among married men aged 20 to 44, 90.6 percent had engaged in premarital sex. Despite the widespread acceptance of premarital sex, the Catholic Church continues to maintain its traditional view. Without exception, the only appropriate context for sexual intercourse, according to Catholic doctrine, is marriage. The Vatican declaration "Persona Humana" expressed and explained this view at length.

Cohabitation

Increasingly, couples are choosing to live together prior to marriage. This is known as premarital cohabitation. Some couples cohabitate without marrying as an alternative to matrimony. Both living situations are frowned upon by Catholic Church doctrine. The beloved Pope John Paul II said that “de facto unions” are weaker than unions of matrimony as they are inherently more transient and unstable than the irrevocable bond formed through marriage. Common arguments made against premarital cohabitation are that premarital cohabitation encourages premarital sex, or that it results in a gradual transition into marriage, rather than a conscious decision made between two people to enter into a joint lifestyle.

Birth Control

The Catholic Church opposes the use of birth control and sterilization to prevent pregnancy, even within the context of marriage. In a letter known as “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) argues that procreation is the most important function of marriage, and that the use of birth control only serves to interrupt God’s design. In the letter, the Pontiff issues a personal appeal to Christian couples to remain mindful of their vocation to a Christian lifestyle and to act in accordance with the laws of God, who is the author of human life.

Homosexuality

Homosexual men and women have increasingly become part of the public debate in recent years, particularly with the rise of gay marriage as an important social issue. The Catholic Church is diametrically opposed to the recognition of homosexual couples. The "Persona Humana" declaration argues that homosexual behavior is “intrinsically disordered” and that it cannot be justified or approved of, even in cases where homosexuality seems to be the result of “innate instinct” rather than learned behavior.