Chastity in Marriage

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Vatican II

Excerpts from Gaudium et Spes: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Part II, Chapter I Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family

Emphasis added in italics.

§ 47
The excellence of this institution is not everywhere reflected with equal brilliance, since polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements have an obscuring effect. In addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love, the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation. ...
§ 48
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their offspring as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. ...
Christ the Lord abundantly blessed this many-faceted love, welling up as it does from the fountain of divine love and structured as it is on the model of His union with His Church. ...
Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother.
§ 49
The biblical Word of God several times urges the betrothed and the married to nourish and develop their wedlock by pure conjugal love and undivided affection. ...
This love is an eminently human one since it is directed from one person to another through an affection of the will; it involves the good of the whole person, and therefore can enrich the expressions of body and mind with a unique dignity, ennobling these expressions as special ingredients and signs of the friendship distinctive of marriage. This love God has judged worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and exalting gifts of grace and of charity. Such love, merging the human with the divine, leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift providing itself by gentle affection and by deed, such love pervades the whole of their lives: indeed by its busy generosity it grows better and grows greater. Therefore it far excels mere erotic inclination, which, selfishly pursued, soon enough fades wretchedly away.
This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the appropriate enterprise of matrimony. The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will. Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ's sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark.
§ 50
Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) and "Who made man from the beginning male and female" (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: "Increase and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day. ...
Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. ...
The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,134 who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.
Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
"The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude."145 Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.146
The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.
The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one's given word. God is faithful. The Sacrament of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into Christ's fidelity for his Church. Through conjugal chastity, they bear witness to this mystery before the world.
St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.150
Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is "on the side of life,"151 teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life."152 "This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act."153

134 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1813-1816; CIC, can. 1108.

135 Cf. CIC, can. 1063.

136 GS 49 § 3.

137 Cf. CIC, can. 1124.

138 Cf. CIC, can. 1086.

139 Cf. CIC, can. 1125.

140 1 Cor 7:14.

141 Cf. 1 Cor 7:16.

142 Cf. CIC, can. 1134.

143 Cf. Mk 10:9.

144 GS 48 § 1.

145 GS 48 § 2.

146 Cf. CIC, can. 1141.

147 LG 11 § 2.

148 LG 11 § 2; cf. LG 41.

149 GS 48 § 2.

150 Eph 5:21; cf. Gal 6:2.

151 Tertullian, Ad uxorem. 2,8,6-7:PL 1,1412-1413; cf. FC 13.

152 FC 13.

153 Mt 19:6; cf. Gen 2:24.

Frequently Asked Questions about Marital Relations

Q: Why is it that two people of the same sex who love each other cannot get married?

A: They do not have complementary bodies and cannot produce children by a natural sexual act. Married couples should love one another (not having the proper sexual desire and personal affection for one's partner may be grounds for an annulment), but that is not the essential foundation for marriage policy in the eyes of the Church.

Q: Aren't heterosexual couples who sterilize themselves by surgery or other artificial methods engaging in the same kind of hedonism as same-sex couples?

A: Yes. Those who separate sexual pleasure from the potential for procreation by surgery, medication, barrier methods, anal sex, oral sex, mutual masturbation, early withdrawal, and the like, are, like those who engage in same-sex behavior, acting contrary to nature.

Q: Are heterosexual couples who are incapable of conceiving children prohibited from having sex?

A: No. All couples eventually become sterile through the natural processes of aging. All couples go through sterile phases during every cycle of fertility and infertility. Married couples may legitimately use the non-fertile times to express their love for each other and to re-create the marriage bond so long as the sexual act itself retains its integrity (the husband ejaculates within the wife's vagina, with no artificial barriers to conception).

Q: Does the Church demand that couples use the missionary position?

A: No. Anything goes for foreplay and for afterplay; no sexual postures, times, or places are prescribed or prohibited before or after consummation of the natural act using the sexual organs appropriately (ejaculation within the vagina). Care should be taken not to scandalize children or neighbors, of course; the intimate activity between husband and wife is for their eyes and ears only.

Q: So married couples can't substitute oral or anal sex for vaginal sex?

A: No. Oral sex in foreplay or afterplay is acceptable so long as the consummation of play is natural. The sole biological purpose of the clitoris is to make women feel good. The wise and loving husband should find out what pleases his wife and should be sure to make sex as enjoyable for her as it is for him. "Happy wife, happy life."
This is the theme of the second part of Bishop Karol Wojtyla's book, Sex and Responsibility (Wojtyla later became Pope John Paul II). He notes the finding of sex therapists that, as a general rule, men get aroused and reach climax far faster than women. Men tend to be satisfied quickly and focus on genital activity; women tend to want an engagement of the whole person (body, mind, and feelings). For most women, intimate conversation is as essential to them as bodily pleasure is to men.

Q: Doesn't the Church teach that every act of married love is infected by sin?

No. Consummation of the vows is essential to the sacrament of marriage. The gift of married love is from God--He designed us "male and female," in His own image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27), and intended the pleasure of union between husband and wife to make them "one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
St Augustine, a man who had two mistresses and who fathered a child out of wedlock with one of them, understood from personal experience that there is always a temptation to take one's own pleasure in a selfish manner at the expense of the good of one's spouse. Spouses know this reality from their own experience. Achieving real love in the act of love requires growth in selflessness. Growth comes from "learning by doing." Practice makes perfect, and the act of love proper to marriage is something that is good even when it is not perfect.
It is true that all human beings, with the exception of Jesus and Mary, are born in a state of Original Sin. This is not a consequence of obeying God's command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28). God designed the human body for intimate relations and crowned the marriage act with the power to bring great joy to the couple. It is not sinful for the couple to enjoy God's gift of bodily union nor is Original Sin caused in the children by the pleasure of their parents in conceiving them.

Q: Do couples have to strive to get pregnant every time they have intercourse?

No. This is a straw man used by anti-Catholics to discredit the Church's authentic teachings (cf. Monty Python, among many others).
Every act of married love must be a natural act. It must be open to procreation. If the couple chooses to express their love during a fertile time, they accept that there is a good chance that a child will result from their union. However, they may also become aware of the natural cycle of fertility and infertility and use the naturally occurring infertile periods to re-create and intensify their bond of union. Taking pleasure from one another and giving pleasure to each other is a proper use of the power of sex in marriage.