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Offline ggreg

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Sexless marriages and very small families
« on: January 23, 2019, 06:23:59 AM »
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  • This is a difficult topic for discussion, but a recent revelation from a forum member and a number of in-depth observations and conversations with Trad stalwarts, over the years, strongly suggests to me that this is a problem, somewhat swept under the carpet in the wider Trad world.  The more I have raised it with stalwarts the more I have found that everyone knew of at least one couple like this (and no, they were not the same couple).  From Washington, to London and Santander to Sydney I've seen and heard this.  But you have to ask, it is never volunteered.  People feel like it is not their place to discuss it (kind of like the child abuse scandal that was kept quiet for decades).

    It is a hard topic to investigate or discuss because there are exceptions, you cannot reach a judgement about any particular couple, unless they reveal the inner workings of their marital life, (which they rarely do), but the population as a whole shows a statistically significant number families with low numbers of children.  And it is in no way apparent to me how this can be the case without either contraception or avoiding sex.

    A Catholic married couple is required to have some amount of sexual intercourse.  How much will depend on the couple and their mutual appetites but a wholly sexless marriage is not a valid marriage.  Marriage is both unitive and procreative.  How much sex is not enough?



    Most people, most of the time desire sex with their married partner.  If this were not true there would be almost no desire or need to contracept within marriage.  Contraception an small family sizes are proof that sex is desired more than babies are.

    So let's describe some real life scenarios all applied to couples where both are practicing Catholics at the time of the wedding and the wedding was conducted by a Trad priest.  These are marked actual and hypothetical depending on whether I have first hand evidence from the man/women or not.  If they are anecdotal I put them as hypothetical.

    1.  ACTUAL - Couple marry have two children, born two years apart, and then stop because the woman does not 'feel' she can deal with more. Women is 31 had children at 25 and 27. The husband is not desirous for a large family either so they call it quits at 2 children and have separate beds.   As I understand it this is morally legitimate but often not very wise is as much as there is a natural sexual desire with most people most of the time.  It is much like going on a very harsh diet which will be hard to stick to.  In certain, rare, circumstances it COULD be a neutral or even a virtuous thing but a spiritual director would tread very carefully and make sure that both the man and woman were up to the task.

    2.  Actual -  The same case as the above, but the couple share their marital bed and engage in foreplay, cuddles, kissing.  The woman does not want sex and the man is prepared to go along with that over a period of years.  He wants children but he is too weak to dominate his wife into having them.   Is this legitimate?  It would seem to me it was a flawed state and kinda sorta an abuse of the natural order to make a habit (consistent practice) out of it.  On the other hand, lots of married couples who have large families do this on some days because the one or other isn't up to it that night or the wife wants to give her womb a break of 9months.  So if it is wrong to "pet" then it must be the long term practice of it, rather than the occasional incident.  And the difference here is intention.  By making a habit of it you are saying petting is enough and sexual intercourse is off the cards.

    3.  Actual - The same case as 2 above but after 10 years after their wedding the couple has no children.  Husband states that they have never had sex or had sex so rarely (let's say once every 2 years when she thinks she is on a safe period) that there is no procreation.  In this particular case an SSPX priest has been involved and tried to council the wife but to no avail.  Husband appears to think it is his duty to just put up with this and support a wife who refuses to have his children.  I am not sure this is right and since there a no children from this union I would think he had a VERY good cause to apply for and get an annulment.

    As I understand it, this would invalidate a marriage if a women refuses her husband sex because she does not want children.

    4. Hypothetical - Couple marry young, woman is fertile and has 10 children by the age of 35.  A some point the husband who has a blue collar job is worked ragged providing for them all and just says, "no more".  Since they are not going to abuse NFP the only thing they can do is stop having sex.  However the wife still wants to have sex and is open to having more children and making the triple bunk beds into quadruple bunk beds like a submarine.  At what points can the husband lay down the law and say we HAVE to stop.

    ---

    What I am after here is the principles, the exceptions, things that are absolutely non-negotiable, things that are nuanced and why they are nuanced.  In short how such things should be navigated to make the best of a bad lot.

    I'd also be interested in hearing in your own experience (anecdotal) how many of these arrangements are mutual and not without other problems such as fornicating with others, masturbation, porn use etc.  How many marriages have you heard of breaking down, or annulments being applied for, on the basis of one or other of the partners not wanting children and therefore refusing to have sex.  I personally know of 7 such cases in the UK and USA.  I knew one, or both, parties while they were married and thereafter and they told me the reasons they were granted an annulment.

    If one is in one of these non-mutual sexless 'marriages', is there a duty, obligation or merely a right to remove oneself from it and how long does one give the witholding partner?  1 perhaps 2 years would seem reasonable.  10 years seems an insane amount of time to put up with it and suggests to me that the motivation of the husband is something else or that he is a massive weakling and can't face life on his own. In effect his wife is his live in girlfriend and he gets company but no sex.

    Finally, is there a material difference whether sex is withheld at zero, one, two........12 children.  Seems to me practically and morally there is.  Partly because of the child(ren) involved who need a stable upbringing (their needs outweigh other factors) and partly because while the contract has been defaulted on - it has been part delivered.

    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #1 on: January 23, 2019, 07:21:20 AM »
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  • I'm not a Trad priest and neither are > 99% of the CathInfo members. So you really need to take anything you read here with a grain of salt.

    Unless someone was at the seminary for MORE than 4 or 5 years, but didn't get ordained... let's put it this way: theology and canon law are taught LAST. Those men who spent "a few years" at the seminary only made it through Philosophy. I know "the upper years" spent a lot of time on Divine/Church rules on marriage matters in detail.

    1. If one or both spouses didn't intend to have children, that is a reason for annulment. It goes against the very basic matter of the marriage contract.

    2. As far as sex/no sex goes, it gets much more dicey once the marriage is consummated.

    3. There is no mandated minimum frequency for requesting the marriage debt from one's spouse. The rule is that EITHER spouse can request it at any time within reason. One spouse can't be morally browbeated into not requesting it, either. If the couple abstains for X weeks, it must be because BOTH spouses WEREN'T INTERESTED (i.e., it was the will of both of them. So this includes not being interested because they were pursuing spiritual growth).

    4. The Church rules for abstinence within marriage are taken RIGHT from St. Paul's guidelines in Scripture: it must be A) for a time, B) by mutual consent, C) can be withdrawn by EITHER party at ANY time, and D) for spiritual reasons -- not because you don't want to get pregnant, are fearful you can't support more kids, etc.

    5. I'm sure there are as many situations as there are couples. Human beings have an infinite variety to them. But in many cases, sexual conflict is a symptom of another problem: psychological problems, emotional problems, porn and/or masturbation use/addiction, one spouse ignoring the other, various degrees of infidelity, etc. Nevertheless, I'm sure there are plenty of strained marriages where porn, self-abuse, and infidelity don't enter into the picture at all.
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    Offline ggreg

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #2 on: January 23, 2019, 07:59:22 AM »
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  • How does one post facto determine intent?

    It is reasonable to assume that a women or man who refuses to have sex in the first few years of a marriage (10 years in the case above) did not intend to have children?

    After all children come about because of the sexual act.  You cannot wish them into existence.  So if you intended to have children then you intended to have sex.

    - - -

    Consummation is a single act of intercourse.  If that validates a marriage it would mean that a person with no intent could marry a Traditionalist, have sex once, and trap them into an otherwise sexless marriage.  Is it like "you broke it you own it"?

    - - -

    Let's suppose further than the woman begrudgingly has sex once every six months just after her period, calculating that her chances or getting pregnant are very low.  Would this behaviour demonstrate intent to not have children.

    - - -

    Does having 1 child and then refusing sex until her menopause mean that she cannot be accused of not intending to have children?  She had one.

    - - -


    The Church rules for abstinence within marriage are taken RIGHT from St. Paul's guidelines in Scripture: it must be A) for a time, B) by mutual consent, C) can be withdrawn by EITHER party at ANY time, and D) for spiritual reasons -- not because you don't want to get pregnant, are fearful you can't support more kids, etc.

    So that means that using abstinence to limit your family size to 2 or 3 is wrong under many, if not most, scenarios in first world countries such as UK, USA, Australia.  None of us are living in mud-huts.

    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #3 on: January 23, 2019, 08:08:38 AM »
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  • Yes, none of us are living in mud huts, yet plenty of First World-ers dare complain about "economic hardship".

    It's interesting that those who have traveled the world have a more objective grasp (their horizons have been broadened) as to the objective wealth of virtually all Americans. Even the homeless here are surrounded by abundance, such that it's pretty easy to get food and not starve if that's what you're truly after. The homeless get to push their carts on nice paved roads, and people won't abuse or murder them because we have law and order. There are well-funded charities and shelters all over the place -- you just can't be violent and/or high or you might get kicked out. (But let's face it: drug abuse and violence are CHOICES that we can and SHOULD hold against people!) Americans take so much for granted.

    I haven't traveled much at all physically, but I have traveled mentally via books, listening to others, the Internet, etc.

    It's amazing how much people think they NEED, but most of it can be forgone.
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    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #4 on: January 23, 2019, 08:11:02 AM »
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  • Also, you have to distinguish between

    Failed marriage
    Bad marriage
    Marriage with major issues

    and

    No Marriage


    Because yes, if you're foolish and marry poorly, you ARE going to have to suck it up and pay the price. Don't be foolish when choosing a spouse! The Church -- or any one else, for that matter -- doesn't force you to marry any particular individual -- or get married at all! But when you take your destiny into your hands, the consequences are on YOU.

    Think with the right head, gentlemen!
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    Offline ggreg

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #5 on: January 23, 2019, 08:13:11 AM »
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  • Since most people contracept the above scenarios will usually involve a spouse who is anti-sex (sees sex as dirty or sinful), or does not want children, or bizarrely wants to obey the churches teaching on contraception, but not honour their marriage vows/debt.  And I've seen this very thing happen.

    Since Catholics aren't supposed to be fornicating before marriage, what signs are there, in your experience, that your fiancee might be disinclined?

    What happens if a woman marries a homosexual, for example, and he consummates the marriage and then spends the rest of the evenings on his work or hobbies?  I know a Polish woman with one daughter that this happened to.

    I guess a woman should be looking for a man she has to push away and set limits but who equally has the self-control to be pushed away and respects her for it.  What does a man look for in a woman and how does he know the difference between a frigid ice-maiden and a well brought up Catholic lady?

    Once you marry and find you have made a mistake you are in for a world of hurt.

    So how does one avoid mistakes?

    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #6 on: January 23, 2019, 08:54:42 AM »
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  • Sounds basic, but maybe bring it up in conversation?

    Maybe that's the problem -- Sex is such a taboo in some circles, that even engaged couples don't bring up the topic.

    For our marriage we had a very good priest (Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer -- not to be confused with his brother, Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer!) and he really did his job in this area as well. You could tell he wasn't comfortable talking about such things (e.g., describing what is licit within marriage and what is not), but there's nothing that man wouldn't do to execute his priestly duties faithfully and well. I still admire him for it. He is a zealous apostle. We were blessed to have him as our priest for 1 year.

    He also had us read a good pre-Vatican II book, "The Catholic Marriage Manual" which covered a lot of subjects that trip up many couples and destroy many marriages: sex, in-laws, money, discipline, you name it.

    It gave us, while engaged, some useful profitable topics to talk about. Fortunately, we were on the same page in these areas. But it's not quite that simple. We also learned a thing or two. To this day, I still have a healthy caution for "in-law interference in a marriage" since reading that book. It's good to know where the dangers lie, so you can be cautious.
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    Offline Ladislaus

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #7 on: January 23, 2019, 09:04:23 AM »
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  • IMO, complete abstinence for the sake of avoiding children would be wrong.  St. John Vianney spoke of the women who would go to hell for not having the children that God intended for them to have.  Now, it's always been allowed ... for NOBLE motives, e.g. to do penance or seek perfection, by mutual consent ... but simply to avoid having more children?  I doubt that's legit.


    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #8 on: January 23, 2019, 09:17:28 AM »
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  • IMO, complete abstinence for the sake of avoiding children would be wrong.  St. John Vianney spoke of the women who would go to hell for not having the children that God intended for them to have.  Now, it's always been allowed ... for NOBLE motives, e.g. to do penance or seek perfection, by mutual consent ... but simply to avoid having more children?  I doubt that's legit.

    Yes, though I would say abstinence to avoid children is at least in line with nature, whereas artificial contraception goes against nature. So the person would have a more comfortable place in Hell. But it's still Hell!

    St. John Vianney is absolutely right, too. "Women shall be saved through childbearing." What of the woman who willfully decides not to have children, even though she is married and God (through His providence) has made NO suggestion that she shouldn't have children? Such a one is lost.
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    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #9 on: January 23, 2019, 09:21:09 AM »
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  • This is why men AND women BOTH must be taught discipline: a.k.a. mortification, how to work, how to do that which you don't want to do, etc.

    After "loving and fearing God", if there's one other thing I want to make sure to teach my children, it's that. All virtue and goodness hinges on that.
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    Offline Ladislaus

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #10 on: January 23, 2019, 09:31:12 AM »
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  • Yes, though I would say abstinence to avoid children is at least in line with nature, whereas artificial contraception goes against nature.

    Agreed.  Well, at least it's not contrary to nature.  Nature tends to impel people to procreate.

    And, of course, this goes for men too when they want to abstain to avoid having children.


    Offline ggreg

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #11 on: January 23, 2019, 09:40:23 AM »
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  • This is a somewhat different problem.  Though it has at its root the same misunderstanding and misuse of sex.

    Sounds basic, but maybe bring it up in conversation?

    Not sure how effective that is unless it is really thrashed through over multiple conversations.  Bad women/men are deceptive and the kind of woman you want to marry has no practical experience of sex within marriage since she has not been married before and neither have you.  How can she say what her appetite is likely to be and how much is too much.  Women's appetites change by the time of the month, let alone from year to year.  After babies the hormones are all over the place and after a really difficult birth they can be thrown for six.

    The hope is that as you age you can keep each other happy in the bedroom.  A happy relationship, with the woman respecting the husband, normally leads to this, not guaranteed.  If there is a big mismatch that is a problem.

    Also once people are engaged to be married they are not likely to make this a make or break issue.  Has taken a lot of effort to get to that point.  Takes a lot of confidence and wisdom and bravery to walk away.

    Yet... you are unlikely to bring it up as a topic on the second and third dates.

    - - -

    A more practical method might be to observe the kinds of media she reads, watches.  The marriages of her older sisters, her parent's marriage.

    I am a big believer in the old adage, if you want to know what your wife is going to be like in 30 years look at her mother.  This is USUALLY true.

    A technique you can use early on is to discuss and dissect OTHER people's relationships, real or fictional.  People are far more likely to expose their true feelings about things if they are not the subject of the discussion and this holds for dishonest and deceptive people as well as honest people.

    Skilled salespeople use this technique all the time to get senior managers in one business unit in the company to expose the losses, screw-ups, money wasted in another part of the company.  Then armed with that knowledge they approach that unit and sell to a known point of pain.

    Offline ggreg

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #12 on: January 23, 2019, 10:19:50 AM »
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  • Yes, though I would say abstinence to avoid children is at least in line with nature, whereas artificial contraception goes against nature.
    I am not sure I agree with this completely.
    I'd reckon that it was more in line with nature to have 5 children and contracept so they were spread 2-3 years apart, than to have 2 and stop having sex from the age of 30 in order to not have more (assuming the reasons are facile).  The second one seems to me to LESS of an openness to life than the first.  It is certainly pretty unnatural not to want sex with your spouse.
    As an example, I know a number of rich families in New York and Moscow who plan when they are going have children, the women comes off the pill at some convenient point to their lifestyle and then goes back on.  I've joked that I just leave it to God/fate to decide and they think I am crazy, like not turning air-conditioning on in my car in a hot day.  They plan everything, when and where their kids are going to school, pensions, who flies coach or business class and what they are eating at the weekend.
    But they still have 5 children, because they like children and they see a large family as a good healthy thing that makes their marriage meaningful.  They don't want 2 because they have more of everything and they have tons of energy.
    There is the very good argument that it depends HOW you contracept.  Some contraception is abortifacient.  That is clearly not more in line with nature.
    The ancients must have contracepted as soon as they understood the natural cycles of a woman (which the Greeks and Romans understood), but they all had reasonably large families.
    I guess I am having a hard time picturing Trad men who really want to get married and scrape and save for it, having sex one or two dozen times in their marriage (which is all it would take to have two kids) and then living on the memories of that for the last 50 years of their life.
    What a miserable existence.
    Why not go on Spring Break, go to confession afterwards, and remain single, or adopt an orphan?  Frankly, you'd probably have better memories.

    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #13 on: January 23, 2019, 10:34:48 AM »
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  • I agree with Ladislaus' clarification of my wording.

    I didn't mean that abstaining from marital relations for years on end was "natural" for human beings, from a psychological or emotional point of view -- I only meant it in this way:

    marital relations = nature says you might have kids
    abstain, no marital relations = nature says you WON'T have any kids

    THIS is natural.

    engaging in marital relations, but artificially frustrating conception = NOT natural.
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    Offline Matthew

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    Re: Sexless marriages and very small families
    « Reply #14 on: January 23, 2019, 10:42:43 AM »
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  • ggreg,

    I'm surprised you haven't brought up a related issue:

    how often is "too often"?

    After all, Catholic doctrine talks about when the spouses must render the debt, and the expression "reasonable" is thrown in there. But obviously, what is reasonable for one might seem like nymphomania for another. To a large degree, it is completely subjective. I've certainly seen lots of discussion and debate on this point, in pagan, Catholic, and Trad Catholic circles, both online and IRL.

    Where do you draw the line between "healthy, having lots of energy" and "nymphomania"? When, on the grounds of frequency, can the spouse (let's just be realistic here -- usually the WIFE) lawfully reject her husband's advances because he is "unreasonable" about his request? Let's assume they're at home, around bedtime, the kids are asleep, etc. so there are no propriety issues there.

    The Church is quite vague on this topic, and it seems to tie right in to the topic of this thread.

    And I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is a more widespread -- and therefore important -- issue than "sexless marriages" per se.
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