Faith/Spirituality Forum: Sexuality within Marriage

Sexuality within Marriage QUESTION from Shirley on May 20, 2002 Peace to you in Christ
I was quite taken aback by your comments to Matthew Miller in answering his question on Clerical Celibacy.............
The Church teaching and the Bible all teach that marriage partners are NOT to deprive themselves of marital sex unless by mutual consent for a short time.
Marriage is ordered to procreation and to the bonding between husband and wife that stabilizing the marriage for the good of the children and the married partner.
One cannot be validly married if they intend to never have sex, or are incapable of having sex.
Could you please advise me as to where in Scripture or in the Church teaching this is located?
Is a person committing a mortal sin by abstaining from sexual relations with spouse?
If children are grown and I am trying to devote myself to Christ - keeping Him first in my mind, my heart and my life; by attending daily Mass when possible, receiving the Sacraments worthily, improving my self-knowledge with good spiritual reading, frequent confession (about every 3 weeks), why should I be intimate with a spouse who is verbally abusive, violates his own body frequently and thinks that sex is nothing more than something two people do for pleasure? Surely God would not expect this! Sex is supposed to be a gift; beautiful and special; a mutual self-giving of love not a mirror image of the garbage that spouse watches on T.V. How could bonding be possible in this case??????
If you'll pardon this example, to me, a good God filled marriage should be like a team of horses; well matched, both pulling the load together. Sharing in everything and keeping God at the helm. It's not just about sex.
Isn't it enough that I have remained in this marriage for 32 years, trying to live out the Faith?
I ANXIOUSLY await your reply.
In Christ
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on May 23, 2002 Dear Shirley:
Before I answer your questions concerning the teaching in scripture and the Church, first let me address the more personal exception to the rule.
The teachings are obviously dealing with normal situations and do not refer to abusive situations.
Certainly, in my opinion, you have no obligation to submit yourself to an abusive husband. Your husband, by virtue of his abuse and disordered thinking about sexuality has tainted the marriage bond. Under such circumstances sex cannot serve the purpose of sexuality in marriage to bond the couple in love.
Sex in marriage is a MUTUAL self-giving in love. From what you describe this mutual self-giving does not exist.
We will certainly pray for you and your husband. You are certainly in a difficult and unhealthy situation in your marriage.
As for the NORMAL situation I offer four quotes (two from scripture and two from Canon Law).
First, what is normal?
St. Paul gives us a description of the ideal marriage. Normal at least approaches this ideal and strives for it.

Ephesians 5:21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; 33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

----------- Second, as for the specific scripture concerning marital sex:

1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control.
----------- St. Paul wrote this in response to people at the Church of Corinth who were proposing that people already married should lives as celibates. Celibacy was highly regard since Jesus was celibate and because celibacy is on a higher spiritual plane than marriage, but St. Paul affirms here that marriage is good too (and necessary of course for procreation). Not all are called to a celibate life. For them marriage is a sacred and honorable estate.
Thus when married this passage in 1 Corinthians and the passage in Ephesians, among others, represents a beautiful essay from St. Paul on the beauty of marriage.
Third, in addition Canon 1135 states: Each spouse has an equal duty and right to those things which belong to the partnership of conjugal life.
Fourth, Canon 1151 states: Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.
Various canons also talk about the reasons for separation should you decide to follow that course.
================
As for my statement One cannot be validly married if they intend to never have sex, or are incapable of having sex, this DOES NOT refer to someone already validly married. It refers to a couple who WANT to be married.
From Canon Law we learn:
Canon 1055.1 The matrimonial convenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.
Canon 1061 gives us some definitions that a ratified marriage is one that is valid but where the couple have not yet had sex. It is possible for the obligations of a ratified marriage to be dispensed for just cause, or even dissolved, at the request of one of the spouses. This is because the marriage has not been consummated.
A ratified AND consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any cause. Consummated marriage is only in which the couple has had sex. The specific language is: ...if the spouse have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring...
Sex is a necessary element for marriage. This is revealed even more clearly in Canon 1084 which states that marriage cannot be valid if one or the other spouse is permanently and perpetually impotent (unable to have intercourse). This does NOT refer to sterililty only to permanent impotency which makes it impossible to have sex. Also, this applies only to a couples wanting to be married. If one is already married and then one of the spouses becomes permanently impotent (i.e. due to illness or injury), the marriage is still valid and intact.
The desire to have children is also a clear element in marriage in that Canon 1055 and every document of the Church affirm that the purpose of marriage is procreation. Without this intent, there is no valid marriage.
Canon 1095 says that those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties... of marriage (of which sex and children are the primary right and duty) are incapable of contracting a marriage.
Remember, now, this whole section concerning validity of a marriage refers to those WANTING to be married. It does not refer to those already validly married.
The bottom line for you, Shirley, is that you most likely have grounds for a Canonical Temporary Separation from your husband. If you want that, you will need to contact your diocese offices for further information.
Short of that, in my opinion, you have grounds to withhold conjugal relations given that you are under abuse and your husband is defective in his view of the purpose of the marital act. But, that is my opinion. I would have to check that with a Canon Lawyer. You might call your diocese offices and ask. Someone there, such as the Vicar General, should have a definitive answer for you on that.
We are praying for you.
Back to Index Page

You have successfully subscribed!