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The Expectations of Marriage - NSMSSS - 11-27-2020

A separate thread discussing surprise pregnancy, short spacing of births and the challenge of managing them have me wondering about a subject on which I would like the traditional Catholic perspective.

Modern literature on Catholic sexual ethics has put, I think, too much emphasis on the “unitive” aspect of the martial act and not enough on the “procreative” aspect, perhaps as an attempt to find an antidote to the sexual revolution (such as how NFP is merely taught these days as an attempt to get Catholics to stop using contraception, yet NFP is reserved for “grave” reasons only).

But there was a time in my innocent youth where my thought was that married couples only performed the marital act a couple of times per year at most (at least, if they were in the habit of bearing children at all).  I have learned that this is not the case, and not even amongst traditional Catholics as well.

One can never ask how often a Catholic couple engages in the marital act (at least not in accordance with any social norms of which I know), much as a prescribed number would be a great help for those contemplating the married life, to know what is expected; but my question is… What is the general expectation in this area?  Silly as this may sound to say, I was surprised to learn that even traditional Catholic couples are engaging in the martial act with conception welcomed but not explicitly sought (which is to say the reason they were performing the martial act was not solely to conceive a child), which can explain “surprise pregnancies” and such.

I would have thought that among traditional Catholic married couples, the martial act was performed with the explicit intent of conception; and unless you were truly ready to bear another child (should you conceive), you stayed clear of the martial act.  Both parties understood this, and both parties thus controlled their passions in accordance with that understanding.  I will make clear that, yes, Catholic couples should be bearing as many children as possible (four minimum, all things considered, was the prescribed number I read in one marriage theology book), but it also surprised me to learn that performing the marital act during pregnancy is not explicitly prohibited by the Church.

I hope to marry someday, and I also hope to avoid awkwardness where a couple in courtship have very different ideas on this subject, so really, what is to be expected here?  Because my original idea clearly is not close to reality, even amongst Traditional Catholics.


RE: The Expectations of Marriage - Sword of St. Michael - 11-27-2020

A personal subject, but going to dive straight into it lol.

For my wife and I, been married just shy of four years. Most nights we perform the marital act except when for a good reason we are unable to (that time of the month, sick etc), have gotten pregnant twice, two kids so far. No contraception , no NFP (we have no grave reason to not have sex/space kids out and we want a large family)

Thus, from our view point, with having no grave reason to not have kids, there is little reason for us to not have sex. And hey, it is fun too! This does fly in the face of the average number of times a couple has sex in America, which is at most once a week.

As far as surprise pregnancies go, take a look at the above numbers I gave:

We got pregnant twice in a span of 3.8 years of marriage, having had sex most days. That means say 5 times or more a week, 52 weeks in a year, 3 years 8 months time. Needless to say that the number of times we did not get pregnant after sex is substantially higher then the number of times we did, ie, hundreds. Thus it can be a surprise for a couple when they are pregnant due to the rarity.

In the case of the thread you alluded to, im pretty sure i know which one but could be wrong here, it is even harder to get pregnant after giving birth, especially if breastfeeding. Due to the hormones of giving birth and breastfeeding, a regular cycle generally dosent start back up till much later, thus the normal low percentage chance of getting pregnant is now substantially increased. Almost like God designed it so we wont stress our body to much with getting pregnant to much/to soon after the last. 

Marital act during pregnancy I would say is a must for the couple in general. Mostly unitive here, since she can't get double pregnant. The act helps to unite the couple especially during the physical changes the women goes through, and helps alot to support her especially but both of them during it all. This is within reason as during pregnancy it can be difficult to have sex, at all stages.

In short, sex- as often as we can due to no grave reason why not to, its fun/we enjoy it, and we want kids
    pregnancy- can be and often is a surprise due to the sheer number of times a couple has sex vs the number of times they get pregnant, and on top of that after giving birth and especially breastfeeding, it is very unlikely/hard to get pregnant due to hormones/changes in women's bodies that dont go back to normal till months later on average.
    sex while pregnant- almost completely unitive for the couple but is a necessary time for bonding and support for both of them as they go through the changes of pregnancy together.


Hope that answers some questions you had.


RE: The Expectations of Marriage - NSMSSS - 11-27-2020

(11-27-2020, 06:01 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: Marital act during pregnancy I would say is a must for the couple in general. Mostly unitive here, since she can't get double pregnant. The act helps to unite the couple especially during the physical changes the women goes through, and helps alot to support her especially but both of them during it all.

Aside from still being in the dark on the "unitive meaning" (as if that was really a thing in the pre-conciliar era), I still have a hard time understanding how this is morally licit.  The seed cannot be used.  It seems nothing short of wasteful when conception cannot occur.

(11-27-2020, 06:01 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: Hope that answers some questions you had.

It only makes me have more.  My thought was that, realistically, there are so many "blackout dates", if you will, aside from the biologically dictated ones.  For instance, my initial thought would have been that it would be inappropriate to engage in marital relations on penitential days (so, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, the entirety of Advent and Lent, Holy Week, Ember Days, etc.) as well as those times when conception is impossible (and certainly not on Sundays).  I understand the Church does not, nor ever has, dictated blackout dates.  I understand that kind of rigour is also not practiced amongst most traditional Catholics.

Still, I have a hard time seeing a holy and pious couple such as Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, two who knew how important it was for their marriage to bear children, ever engaging in martial relations with anything close to the frequency you have described.

How did I miss the mark so much?

But if anything, what you have described for yourself must certainly be a testament to a happy marriage.  Not that it is filled with much intimate behaviour, but on the contrary, you must be so well connected and love each other so much that you can achieve that level of intimacy.  It is a product of your love, not what begets it.

It's not the lack of marital intimacy that leaves me feeling sad while my friends around me marry and bear children.  It's the lack of companionship... and also the lack of children.


RE: The Expectations of Marriage - Sword of St. Michael - 11-27-2020

"Aside from still being in the dark on the "unitive meaning" (as if that was really a thing in the pre-conciliar era), I still have a hard time understanding how this is morally licit.  The seed cannot be used.  It seems nothing short of wasteful when conception cannot occur."

Pope Pius XI stated in Casti Connubii:
Quote:Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved (sec. 59; emphasis added).

Pope Pius XII stated the following in a 1951 allocution to midwives:
Quote:It is necessary first of all to consider two hypotheses. If the application of that theory implies that husband and wife may use their matrimonial right even during the days of natural sterility no objection can be made. In this case they do not hinder or jeopardize in any way the consummation of the natural act and its ulterior natural consequences (emphasis added).

Thus from Pope Pius the XI, unitive act would the secondary aspect, that is mutual aid, mutual love, quieting of concupiscence. Thus, not every act of marital love must constitute a chance for procreation in a strict sense. This has been abused as of late, but in the case of pregnancy, the couple are still "subordinate to the primary end" as they are already pregnant and they are acting within their rights of each other to have sex. I tend to call it unitive vs procreative because typing out the list of it all is far harder then writing 'unitive'.

For us, we practice abstinence the night before receiving our Lord. Personal thing, not a required. Its an act that all priests from temple days till now had to follow, celebite when they were about to enter the holy of holy's. Afterward, they were allowed to engage in the marital act. Catholic priests, as they are always serving God and always in the Holy of Holy's, literally in God's presence daily, they are never allowed to have sex. (Among other reasons). My understanding is that this holds true even for married priests, must be celebrate before mass. Could be wrong here, but my initial understanding. Personal again, and not a requirement and not to seem holier then though, just a thing we do that ties into what you listed above.

Something to keep in mind here, (1 Corinthians 7:5).

“Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.”

The church has never stated a restriction on time for sex for couples. Some couples will abstain much more then others, to the point of even splitting and wife goes to a convent and husband goes to a monastery for the rest of their lives. What has been emphasized though from the church is a mutual agreement in this. The wife can and has rights to her husband's body due to the marriage contract, and likewise, the husband has rights to his wife's body for the same reason. Thus, since in a way your body is no longer yours but your spouses, any decision to abstain must be made by both parties, not just one. A refusal of sex for no grave reason is actually grave matter, something that is not mentioned much in today's world.

"Still, I have a hard time seeing a holy and pious couple such as Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, two who knew how important it was for their marriage to bear children, ever engaging in martial relations with anything close to the frequency you have described."

For them, that is a wonderful gift they were able to do, to grow in holiness if they did abstain a significant amount of the year. Similar to men and women that went out into the dessert by themselves, or stay in a cloistered monastery/convent, its giving up something good for God to be closer to Him. However, that is not the path for everyone to achieve holiness. It is a possibility we have talked about later in life, but after alot of praying our path to holiness from God is through raising a family and the necessary sacrifices, issues with anger, conflict, pride, etc that comes from it all. Lol, thinking on it, it would be easier for me to go into a dessert and live my life alone then to raise a family. Would not have to worry about others, just myself. Far easier to pray and contemplate God then to have a family to feed, a toddler destroying things and a crying infant. And that there is why celibacy and or very limited marital love is not for everyone. It is a way to holiness, but not the only way. I am made much more perfect if you will by having the family, having the chance for a large family while we can (biological clock), and having all the pride, ego etc exposed daily infront of me, at this point in my life, then if I was to be in a different situation.

As far as giving up a good for lent, advent, ember days etc, definitely can be a good for a couple's spiritual formation, and help to refocus a couple on God. It also can help as its sacrificing a good for God and not for self. Again, its not a requirement though and the church has not made it a necessary thing. It can be good, nothing wrong with it.


"But if anything, what you have described for yourself must certainly be a testament to a happy marriage.  Not that it is filled with much intimate behaviour, but on the contrary, you must be so well connected and love each other so much that you can achieve that level of intimacy.  It is a product of your love, not what begets it."

Thank you for the compliment, and really hope we can live up to that ideal. We have had our challenges, still have some, and will have more. At times we have had our breaking points reached, with each other and the kids. But since we went into marriage knowing this was permanent, there is no divorce, and by the grace of God, we have been able to build our marriage over time, together.

"It's not the lack of marital intimacy that leaves me feeling sad while my friends around me marry and bear children.  It's the lack of companionship... and also the lack of children."

Same, so many of the couples we know live like roommates, no kids, no future, just day to day, and they dont seem happy. They are living for themselves, not someone else, as marriage and later kids demands of you.


RE: The Expectations of Marriage - Some Guy - 11-27-2020

The Church has never prohibited the conjugal act simply because someone is incapable of getting pregnant from natural causes or is already pregnant. Sure Adam and Eve pre-Fall might have maybe been super rational about when they exercised their marital rights, but a married couple is allowed to exercise that right every evening as far as I am aware. Yes they should be avoiding exotic positions, foul language, and other self indulgent actions that make a mockery of the Sacrament, but when approached with humility and love, the conjugal act is one of the primary means of receiving sanctifying grace within the Sacrament of Marriage.

I mentioned in that other thread that my wife and I were surprised by our new pregnancy, but as already explained above, a woman's cycle isn't really supposed to return so soon after a baby, but it likely happened in our case because my wife had two clogged ducts one after another in the early months of breastfeeding, which basically put an early end to her production, which likely caused her body to kick start her cycle again. We don't practice NFP in any form. We were simply surprised we got pregnant again so quickly, but this is our 3rd pregnancy in less than 2 years.

My understanding is that in prior eras of the Church it was more common for married couples to abstain from the conjugal act during Lent and/or Advent. If that is correct, then clearly your hyper utilitarian approach to baby making was never the norm for married Catholics, other wise what would there be to abstain from during those penitential seasons?


RE: The Expectations of Marriage - NSMSSS - 11-28-2020

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: [Quotes from Casti Connubii and the Address to Midwives]

I have read both of these documents in full, and while it is pre-counciliar material, it's still so dangerously close to that era of upheaval that I tread cautiously.  I would love to see a papal document of the High Middle Ages that discusses this "unitive meaning".  Yes, I know it has been referred to in documents over the centuries, but only in the last century has this really been elevated to almost the level of the procreative meaning.

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: For us, we practice abstinence the night before receiving our Lord. Personal thing, not a required... My understanding is that this holds true even for married priests, must be celebrate before mass.

The latter case is what I have heard too for Eastern rites (which is why many of such parishes do not have daily Mass).

And speaking of daily Mass, your practice I would consider very reasonable, much along the same lines of the fast from food prior to Communion: It all helps with the preparation.  That being said, it would be very difficult to be a daily communicant if one was exercising their marriage rights so frequently.

This may be diverting off into a separate discussion, but even amongst traditional Catholics, I am surprised to find how few daily communicants there are.  I get that many travel from far away, but daily Mass is not out of reach for the majority of the parishioners, is it?  Should we not strive for that daily Communion above everything else?  (Full disclosure: I make it to Mass five days per week.  If my parish ever adds the two weeknight Masses that are missing from the schedule, I will then be a daily communicant.)

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: Something to keep in mind here, (1 Corinthians 7:5).

“Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.”

I may be naive here, but is the self-control element really that difficult?  I suppose every man has his own challenges (and every woman hers).  Frankly, unless I knew I had the proper supports in place for another child, financial and otherwise, I would be frightened to risk conception.  That's enough to regulate self-control for me.  I wouldn't want to be irresponsible, especially to my wife and children, by bringing upon them a burden exceedingly difficult to bear.

Allow me to be very clear: Children are a gift and not a burden.  That is very true, but I am sure all can agree that the proper supports have to be in place to raising a family (stable housing, steady income, etc.).  If my wife is exhausted full-time raising a six-month old, that being her first child, is it really responsible to have another so quickly (if capable), particularly if money is tight?  What would seem to me to be the better part of valour in such circumstances is to abstain.  Certainly not the practice of NFP, as if such circumstances would constitute "grave" reasons to try to deliberately avoid the fertile window.  I would highly doubt it.

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: The wife can and has rights to her husband's body due to the marriage contract, and likewise, the husband has rights to his wife's body for the same reason. Thus, since in a way your body is no longer yours but your spouses, any decision to abstain must be made by both parties, not just one. A refusal of sex for no grave reason is actually grave matter, something that is not mentioned much in today's world.

Agreed, but when this is spoken of, it is almost always in the context that the husband is more demanding of the marriage rights than the wife.  Has there ever been a traditional Catholic wife who requested the martial act more than her husband?

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: thinking on it, it would be easier for me to go into a dessert and live my life alone then to raise a family. Would not have to worry about others, just myself. Far easier to pray and contemplate God then to have a family to feed, a toddler destroying things and a crying infant. And that there is why celibacy and or very limited marital love is not for everyone. It is a way to holiness, but not the only way. I am made much more perfect if you will by having the family, having the chance for a large family while we can (biological clock), and having all the pride, ego etc exposed daily infront of me, at this point in my life, then if I was to be in a different situation.

Agreed.  It is still difficult for me, however, to view the contemplative life and it's austerity versus the married life with its physical pleasures as anything but a trade-off.  Sure, you get to experience bodily pleasures... and then deal with the responsibility of saving not just your soul but the souls of others.... and there will be sleepless nights and crying children (which, for the record, does not scare me away from marriage.  I understand it would require a lot of sacrifice, and fussy children are just one of them.).

(11-27-2020, 08:16 PM)Sword of St. Michael Wrote: Same, so many of the couples we know live like roommates, no kids, no future, just day to day, and they dont seem happy. They are living for themselves, not someone else, as marriage and later kids demands of you.

You have hit the nail right on the head.  It is the lack of demand in my state in life that has me greatly unsettled.

(11-27-2020, 09:27 PM)Some Guy Wrote: The Church has never prohibited the conjugal act simply because someone is incapable of getting pregnant from natural causes or is already pregnant. Sure Adam and Eve pre-Fall might have maybe been super rational about when they exercised their marital rights, but a married couple is allowed to exercise that right every evening as far as I am aware.

St. Thomas Aquinas said in the pre-Fall state, Adam and Eve would have exercised their marital rights with perfect ordering of their passions.  If I remember correctly, he also said it would have always resulted in conception (makes sense with the perfect ordering).  He did say too that all would be married, that every man would have a wife and vise versa.

(11-27-2020, 09:27 PM)Some Guy Wrote: My understanding is that in prior eras of the Church it was more common for married couples to abstain from the conjugal act during Lent and/or Advent. If that is correct, then clearly your hyper utilitarian approach to baby making was never the norm for married Catholics, other wise what would there be to abstain from during those penitential seasons?

"From the pleasures, of course.  How dare we experience so much happiness and joy in seasons of ‘sackcloth and ashes’ as penitential ones."  This is the line that's run through my thinking, and I would not say it is necessarily reflective of my beliefs, though I do believe abstinence during penitential seasons makes a lot of sense to growing in the spiritual life.

And again, as I mentioned above, it's still hard to wrap my head around the pleasures being anything but a trade-off.  Even in the austere, contemplative life, though, I suppose one can ensure his fair share of suffering.  Suffering is inevitable no matter what path in life you choose.  I have heard it said, and I am sure others as well have, that you should "choose the vocation that's most generous for you".  As a natural loner, the celibate life appears less generous to me than the married state would be.  I'd enjoy the solitude too much.