Can Married Couples Have Too Much Sex?

Another day, another dust-up about sex. This one is a little unusual, however, in that the controversy involves sex between married people.

Here’s what happened. A woman, two years married, went on a business trip. At the airport, she received an email from her husband containing a sarcastic note saying how little he would miss her. This was paired with an explanatory spreadsheet in which he had documented, for several weeks, all the times she had refused his request for sex, complete with her proffered excuse.

The woman posted it to Reddit asking for advice. This in itself is of course wildly inappropriate, but the resulting discussion was actually moderately interesting, as people discussed the scope of “wifely duties” and debated how much effort husbands should be obliged to make to facilitate marital intimacy.

I agree with a fairly widespread consensus that 1) the husband should find better and less combative ways to address the problem, 2) the wife should be paying more attention to her husband and marriage, and 3) online forums are not the place for resolving concerns about your intimate relationships. Even more interesting to me was the fact that, in all the voluminous discussion of the case, no one else seemed to think of the question that almost immediately occurred to me. Is it possible that modern society’s contraceptive mentality is actually threatening marriage? Might it in fact be a bad thing when sex is too readily available?

When artificial contraceptives were first introduced, one of their greatest selling points was the promise that they would improve marital intimacy. Everyone knows, right, that sex is good for marriage? Even fuddy-duddy religious types have mostly come around to this view. But it’s hard for married people to enjoy one another when they are perpetually worried about another pregnancy for which they may not be prepared. Artificial contraceptives were supposed to clear that obstacle, leaving married people free to consummate their love as often as they chose.

It turns out that even within marriage, it isn’t always healthy to have constant access to consequence-free sex. This comes home to me every once in awhile when I wander into a liberal forum like the Huffington Post, and read agonized missives from women around my own age (mid-thirties), trying to figure out ways to revitalize their interest in marital relations. Apparently this worry is common, since pharmaceutical companies are searching for a pill that will enable women to artificially ramp up their sex drive.

To me, it just seems like such a weird problem to have. With three small kids, I see alone time with my husband as a treat to be savored. When we have a young infant, we do sometimes worry about whether we’re ready for another pregnancy. But preferring late-night television to my husband sounds a little crazy to me.

The obvious moral is that, within marriage or without, romance requires context. Nowadays this is a problem for young people, who have mostly rejected the traditional courtship “script,” and who consequently find themselves befuddled about when and how to get married. (The result being that many never do.) For young people, the key is to make them understand that their amorous impulses are naturally ordered towards a particular kind of shared life.

Once you get to that point, though, stage-setting is still needed to keep spouses excited about being together. However much you like each other on the day of the wedding, it’s impossible to sustain that exact same pitch and tempo for decades on end. Life keeps moving, and you want it to move in such a way as to make marital intimacy something to relish. That requires more than just perpetual availability. In fact, perpetual availability may itself be something of a intimacy-killer.

When sex is “on the table” on a near-daily basis, a predictable pattern tends to develop. Men have a higher sex drive, and strongly associate sex with closeness and relationship health. Women comparatively place greater weight on other forms of interaction, and on a physiological level, their appetite for sex simply tends to be lower. Thus, when marital intimacy is perpetually possible, women can easily fall into the habit of putting it off, or even coming to see it as a chore. It’s also well known by now that hormonal contraceptives tend to decrease sexual appetite. So by preparing themselves physiologically to have sex at any time, women make it so that they rarely or never want to.

Should we be at all startled that this does not add up to a recipe for marital health? Men start to feel that they are perpetually begging, which is hurtful and degrading. Women start to feel that they are forever badgered and never wooed. Resentment grows on both sides.

The passive-aggressive spreadsheet-keeping husband illustrates an important point about sex and marriage. His problem isn’t just that he doesn’t get to enjoy marital intimacy with his wife as often as he would like. The real sting lies in the sense of rejection that derives from her lack of enthusiasm. One can easily imagine another couple whose marital relations were just as (in)frequent, but who felt secure in the knowledge that both were looking forward to the next available opportunity. Which couple would be happier, closer or more fulfilled?

When marriage was understood more traditionally, as a foundation for family, this created a natural script. It provided a context that helped married couples retain the romance. Sometimes natural obstacles (like infertility) require people to vary the plot a bit, but as every composer knows, good variations require a theme. Lacking that, modern couples find themselves quibbling over whether his desire for sex should trump the fact that she “feels grungy.” Everyone ends up feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied.

Like every other sort of relationship (but more so!) marriage is more satisfying when it’s about something. A marriage is meant to be an unusually involved and lengthy sort of relationship, so the “subject” matter should probably be more significant than a shared love of basketball and a passion for American Idol. Any idea what might fill the bill?

Editor’s note: The image above is an iconic scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr from the 1953 film From Here to Eternity directed by Fred Zinneman based on a novel by James Jones.

Rachel Lu


Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and four boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

  • Gail Finke

    All interesting points but this is key, I suspect: “It’s also well known by now that hormonal contraceptives tend to decrease sexual appetite. So by preparing themselves physiologically to have sex at any time, women make it so that they rarely or never want to.” Surely it’s hard for women to overcome all the other things you mention when they are artificially, but truly, uninterested in sex.

    • Hope

      Before I became Catholic I was for many years Jewish, and observant. The beautiful tradition of observing the “Laws of Family Purity” kept couples apart about 12 days of the month, determinded by the wife’s fertility cycle. Guess what? The divorce rate among the traditional Jewish community is famously low. Having lived it, I can tell you that this way of living gives plenty of room for intense togetherness and for much-needed space between a husband and wife. The experience of enjoying a “honeymoon” each month when you return to each other keeps things always new, and appreciation for each other high. Respecting the natural cycles, and the Creator of marriage and the family unit He made for our happiness, is always the best way to go.

      • DE-173

        Have you ever considered appearing on “The Journey Home”?

        If that’s not practicable or you want or need anonymity, perhaps you’d consider an article for this forum?

        I think cradle Catholics have much to learn from our newest brothers and sisters.

        Welcome home.

      • WSquared

        Welcome home! 😀

      • ng

        Hope, its so good to hear someone making comparisons from where you come from, taharat mishpacha can be a frustrating experience for many participants, many couples use chemical contraception at one point or another, as its is precisely the opposite of NFP – marriage prep and the nature of communal observancethe couple are part of play a big role in how successful an experience it is. If you were frum before dating your husband, people would benefit from hearing about the dating ways as well, much to learn there. I was about 12 years Orthodox before my decision to convert and id love to be in contact, if you like that admin has my permission to share my email with you.

      • Fred

        Your comments as a Catholic and for many years before Jewish, were interesting – however I don’t think that has anything to do with the Jewish divorce rate. Most Jewish families have about 15 divorce attorneys on each side of the family – no need for more blood shed. Hope you are happy as a Catholic – I sure am.

    • James

      The only time my wife and I ever fought about sex was when she was on the Pill. Not only did she have considerably less interest in sex, she was moody, clingy, and mildly depressed—all great for a marriage. As soon as she went off, the problems went away.

  • ForChristAlone

    My first reaction to the question posed by this piece: “Can Married Couples Have Too Much Sex?” is that it really is none of our business. One of the problems, as I
    i see it, in our modern tell-all society is that people have poor or no boundaries. It is not for us to insinuate ourselves into a matter such as how often a couple chooses to be a gift of themselves in their marriage. This is a matter for the internal forum.

    • fredx2

      She was not trying to insinuate herself into anyone’s marriage. She was trying to discuss a broader point about marital relations in general. The point being that contraception may make things worse rather than better, by removing naturally occurring barriers to sex.

      • ForChristAlone

        No disagreement about the deleterious effects of contraception. I think that a couple needs to be guided by God’s will for their marriage. Obviously, God did not make man for contraception.

        There are couples who might choose to live a marriage without conjugal relations altogether because it is their understanding that God calls them to love one another this way. A further development to my notion about sex in marriage is that far too often couples (or anyone for that matter) decide what *they* want for their marriage rather than discerning and living out what God’s will is. For us Catholics, we do not see marriage as a purely human exchange but one divinely ordained to fulfill God’s purposes – not ours.

        • slainte

          I suspect it is easier for a woman than a man to abstain or limit sex because, as Dr. Lu suggests, a man has a higher sex drive than a woman.
          One wonders whether the difference in the strength of the sex drive between male and female is a nature driven response to ensure the survival of the species by causing within the male a “need to spread the seed” with frequency.
          If so, are men then at an increased likelihood to seek out additional women for sex and was this the basis for polygamy in the past (ie., Old Testament times).
          Catholicism aids men and women to control their bodily passions.

          • Evelyn

            I’d say no, because there are plenty of women out there who have stronger sex drives than their husbands, if they aren’t using hormonal contraception. I think we hear about it more when it’s men complaining, but that’s far from universal, and we can’t call it nature-driven if it’s really contraception-driven.

            • slainte

              Thank you for an interesting point. Hormonal contraception, by altering a woman’s natural body rhythms, produces unexpected and often undesirable results which include a decreased libido. So many couples don’t realize this downside.
              In addition, the carcinogenic effects of the Pill, which have been recognized by the World Health Organization, and its link to causing breast cancer make hormonal contraception an overall dangerous proposition for a woman’s health and a couple’s physical fulfillment in marriage.

          • Tony

            For what it’s worth, you are quite right. They’ve done brain scans to prove it; the man’s system is designed for lots of thinking about conquest. That makes him strong in one sense and vulnerable in another. I doubt very much that a woman can imagine what it is like, no more than I can imagine what it is like to be pregnant.

    • mikidiki

      I must state that I fully support your view. Rachel’s article is inappropriately intrusive and it has a flavor of attention seeking.

      • Augustus

        You and “ForChristAlone” missed paragraph four where the author states “online forums are not the place for resolving concerns about your intimate relations.” She is not giving advice to specific persons as in a “Dear Abby” column but about the impact of contraception on marriage and the potential harm it can cause to intimacy. Our thinking about sex is largely influenced by secular forces not the Christian tradition; this has had unwelcome consequences. Given the high rates of contraceptive use among Catholics and the high divorce rate among that same population, a discussion of this subject is not at all out of bounds. And as with all columns on this and other similar sites, readers can take what they find valuable and ignore the rest without claiming to be personally offended by a difference of opinion.

      • DE-173

        “The woman posted it to Reddit asking for advice”

        If you put your bloomers on the clothesline for all to see, it’s not the same thing as having somebody rummaging through your underwear drawer.

        • WSquared


    • DE-173

      “This is a matter for the internal forum.”

      “The woman posted it to Reddit asking for advice”
      Too late.

    • redfish

      Then move away from the personal issue, and move on to the cultural issue, which is that society teaches people that marriage is primarily about sex — that people can’t help their sex drives, can’t be happy without sex, and marriage is an outlet for it.

      When Ms. Lu started with “1) the husband should find better and less combative ways to address the problem,” I asked, why does he think there’s a problem to begin with?

      Building marriage around sex naturally leads to bad marriages. Its natural that you stop having as much when you start having children and you get busier. Couples who don’t understand this, often have trouble coping, and sometimes even realize they don’t like each other that much, and the marriage often starts to fall apart. In order to keep their marriage together, many experiment with role-playing and pharmaceuticals.

    • Bruno

      Yes, we are used to understand this kind of thing this way. For that reason, if contraceptives are marriage-killers, and sex-on-demand tends to turn into uninteresting-sex, we will probably not deepen our understanding of that as a society and are thus damned to marital crisis. Good for the sex toy shops, which perhaps not coincidentally have proliferated from my point of view.

      Of course that is only a possibility, one which I myself cannot verify, not being married, though my knowledge of too-much-ice-cream-being-a-bad-thing enables me to give it credit.

      Relying on sentimental and marital education received from Hollywood and declining to consider othe people’s experiences, that will surely keep us in the dark.

  • Anne Hendershott

    Great article – really made me think about PD James’ book, Children of Men. In the dystopian society she depicts in London in 2021, everyone is infertile – no children have been born in more than 2 decades. There is no “risk” of pregnancy in having sex… But, no one wants to have sex. Not married couples, not singles – no one seems to want to have sex. Rachel’s fine article helps us understand why.

    • Rachel Lu

      I hadn’t thought about that book in a long time, Anne, but great reference. Very apropos.

    • musicacre

      My mother warned all my sisters and I more than 3 decades ago, (while we were teens) why the pill was so bad…aside from being against Church teachings. We saw this pattern a long time ago. In the ’70’s my sister had a friend who was in a new marriage and they were ready to divorce after a few years. They had a house paid for, a large boat, good jobs, lots of holidays, no children and already almost couldn’t stand each other. After a few years of intense alienation my sister said they decide to go off the pill and even though they were a non-religious couple, their marriage blossomed after that. That story always stuck in my memory even though I was around 16 when I heard it. Since then my husband and I (many years later )became a Billings teacher-couple and have ourselves enjoyed the benefits and joys of a no-contraception marriage (for 30 years so far…) and lots of wonderful children! Throw in homeschooling and it even got better!

  • JERD2

    When I was a kid and wanted more of something that I really liked — ice cream for instance — my mother would always say “no” and explain, “it’s too much of a good thing.”

    That same wisdom applies here.

  • DE-173

    An interesting question, “does absence make the heart grow fonder?”, but not much will be gleaned from the couple described. It sounds like they have the opposite problem (and quite a few others).

    • Evelyn

      Truly. If he’s only not going to miss her because there is not enough sex, there are deeper issues. I have a number of close friends whom I miss a great deal when we are apart, because there is banter and deep conversation and shared activity, and sex has never been part of the equation.

  • AcceptingReality

    How about a spiritual partnership of shared faith experiences directed at helping each other obtain the grace for eternal life. And how about the living of that faith in tandem, directed toward the love of God and neighbor. Mutual love and support in all areas of life and shared leisure activities, too. All that stuff better be in place for the couple that plans to grow old together.

  • jd

    True enough but neglects to mention the oft-observed complaint among Catholics practicing NFP and trying to avoid a pregnancy. The natural hormonal rhythms keep women generally uninterested in sex during the infertile times of the month. It’s also true that women having lots of babies and doing ecological nursing have diminished interest too. Women with many small children, whether from exhaustion or hormones or tiredness of being touched all the time by their kids, they have a diminished interest by the end of the day. This article seems an insufficient theory to explain these phenomena.

    • musicacre

      jd…I don’t know if you are male or female or prefer to be gender-anonymous. I tend to think male, since I have a nephew named JD. Anyways, there probably isn’t a “perfect” system to be moral, natural AND still have all the hormonal drive. All the stars needn’t be lined up before a husband and wife can experience intimacy. I would say that having a large amount of small children should make the father feel a little more understanding and sensitive to his wife, and on the other hand, having copious amounts of children doesn’t make a wife into an ice cube. I had many small children, at one point, three in two years with an older child also. We were never closer than we were then. It’s a matter if one grows up with everything perfect and has high expectations of things always going their way. When you’re accustomed to compromising, life stays interesting because you really appreciate the unexpected good moments! I grew up with 6 sibs so really learned to enjoy very small pleasures in life, and my husband grew up in a third-world country, so we absolutely enjoy even the smallest of pleasures that come our way. I think our children are that way also and people notice that. They ask why they are so friendly and I don’t honestly know, just that we didn’t really plug into the ever-shifting me-culture as they were growing up (no TV, still don’t have one) and the kids were always heavily involved in music (hence 3 are professsional musicians now…4th almost done cello studies….) and so their “spare” time was actually practice time and time to jamb with other musician friends. I don’t think we need to have a perfect theory to “…explain these phenomena…” of a family being called on to be understanding and compassionate to each other. If a person is always thinking about their sex drive and not in the context of a family they really shouldn’t have got married in the first place.

    • James

      Yes, a woman is most interested during fertility and less interested the rest of the month.

      But if she is “generally uninterested”, either she has a hormone imbalance or her husband may not be giving her anything to be interested in.

  • Father of Eight

    I’ve been married to my lovely wife for close to 2 decades now and I have found her very irresistable more than ever. My challenge on the matter of intimacy is to remember to keep my passions(me first) subordinate to reason(her first). I used to ‘pout’ when denied requests/attempts for intimacy which I used to silently argue as my spousal ‘right’. I have learned since that my ‘duty’ to her trumps any of my ‘rights’.

  • Major914

    The marriage vow implicitly includes a permanent relinquishing of any right whatsoever to deny/withhold sexual relations.

    “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time…” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5)

    This is unequivocal, and basic to the nature and substance of the marriage commitment.

    • Evelyn

      I cringe and throw up a little whenever I read stuff like this. I don’t know if people just don’t get it, or if it just doesn’t occur to them how easy it is to abuse this. My ex husband put his foot down about his marital rights, and I laid there and took it for more than a decade, until my soul was shredded. Beating a wife over the head with a Bible until she lies down and pulls up her dress is rape. Sex is an excellent barometer for the rest of the relationship. If a woman does not want to have sex, trying to guilt or pressure her into it only makes things worse. We want to share our bodies as gift, not because they are demanded of us. Solve the underlying problem in love rather than insisting on “rights.”

      • Billy Pips

        Being obliged to have sex isn’t rape. Rape is forced sex, the use of force in this situation implying psycological or physical violence. Coercion does not equal forced. Nor does submitting to coercion make you a rape victim. Not all marital sex is entered into, or finished off, in a spirit of deep unity and togetherness, like some Richard Gere love scene. Much marital sex is by necessity quick, vigorous, strenuous and initiated by only one person in the couple. And that’s okay too.

        I don’t speak for your marriage, but to use your own experiences as a measure for all relationships of what you deem to be a similar character is a mistake.

        • Evelyn

          There is a big difference between coercion and persuasion. Coercion is not consent. Insisting on sexual access is not an act of love. Marital sex is to be both unitive and procreative, and saying, “It’s an obligation; problem solved.” is not useful. I would not object to a reminder that sex is an essential part of marriage and needs to be taken seriously, but that’s not what I was responding to.

          • ForChristAlone

            Agreed. We must always be wary of the commodification and objectification of our spouse. Let’s remember that the marital embrace is to be modeled after Trinitarian Love. It is against this revelation that we enter into all marital encounters. And the Sacrament of Reconciliation is there for us when we come up short. (At least it’s there for me when I come up short of the mark).

          • Major914

            The consent was given during the marriage ceremony.

            • Deb

              No. St. Paul describes the role of men and women in marriage beautifully. As my holy parish priest said, men have to be the type of husbands that women will lovingly submit themselves to. Your above comment is not an example of that man because you disregard the free will of the wife.

              • Major914

                False. Women have an independent a priori obligation–if Eve had followed that obligation, or Adam had enforced it as was his duty, events would’ve transpired very differently…

                The freewill has been freely committed during the marriage ceremony, and is no longer free–its all an issue of faithfulness after that. The irony is that after 2000 years some females still seek and find their own way to make a manipulative uproar out of the simple truth.

                There is no prerequisite to the authority of the husband–if there were, it would not be authority. As Paul makes clear, a wife is to be in submission even to an ungodly, unbelieving husband–thus submission depends not at all on the qualities exemplified by the husband (that is a totally seperate issue).

                • Deb

                  One cannot give free will once, at a marriage ceremony and then never again. Free will is temporal. By your understanding, the woman is then merely acquired at the wedding and is the man’s slave.

                  St. Paul says that a man must love his wife as Christ loves his Church. Last I checked, Christ never once MADE is church love Him and serve Him. He allows us to choose Him. We choose Him because of His great love for us, His church. And some do not choose to love Him. Such it is with free will. The same is true of husband and wife.

                  • Major914

                    If freewill can permanently relinquish the right to divorce, it can relinquish other ‘rights’, obviously. You have the wrong idea about what consititutes freedom.

                    Persons are free not to chose Christ, but they can never be free of the consequences of failing to chose Him as they must.

                    There can never be a facade of legitimacy given to the failure to chose as required–and service will per force be given, the only question is to whom. “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve,…” (Joshua 24:15)

                    Your emphasis on sovereign individuality as an overarching value is a falsehood, and is a cheap descent from the significance of transcendent marriage.

                    • Deb

                      There is no such thing as divorce. There is a civil divorce, but that is of man. There is no divorce with Christ in His Church (Catholic). The two that are married relinquish nothing at the moment of their vows.

                      A person is free to not chose Christ and then they pay the consequences. Same is true for marriage. If the husband does not choose the self-denying love that Christ exemplified and St. Paul exhorted husbands to do for their wives, than the wife will not choose to lovingly submit herself to his authority. And the married couple will suffer the consequences of a painful marriage.

                      I don’t quite follow the third paragraph.

                      I am not emphasizing sovereign individuality. I am pointing out that both man and woman are made with free will. To say once a woman marries her duty is to meet her husband’s wants for sex at all times reduces the woman to chattel. There are times when it can be right and just in the eyes of God for a woman to deny her husband. This is not to say that some women may turn down their husbands too frequently. This could be due to a fault on either partner’s part of not living as Christ exhorted.

                      Are you Catholic? The Church does not view marriage as you are presenting it. Not even close. In fact, if one of the two people entering into the Sacrament of Marriage were to believe that the woman relinquishes her free will upon marriage, than the marriage is invalid and does not exist.

                    • Major914

                      Complete nonsense. You have a false conception of what freewill is, and of what marriage entails.

                      You have created for yourself a secular and false dichotomy between an exaggerated freedom of will, and an exaggerated bondage of will–“chattel”.

                      God’s word is clear, and quite simple in this particular matter–though you have avoided conforming or answering God’s word, and have sought to substitute your own.

                    • Deb

                      I have substituted nothing. I get my interpretation of God’s word from His church, the one headed by the pope in Rome.

                      So I ask again, are you Catholic?

                      So if I am wrong about free will, what is it then?

          • guest

            Excellent, Evelyn! Thank you for those good words.

        • guest

          Sorry, you are WRONG!!! Coercion IS forced sex and has nothing to do with what it is supposed to be, making mutual love. Anything less is simply using the spouse without any regard for her general disposition and sensibilities, which should never be a necessity.

        • Sandy

          Here’s my guess: Judging by the content of sites like No Longer Quivering, it seems to be a fairly common experience in Christian fundamentalist churches, that husbands are pretty much expected to force themselves on their wives whenever they want sex, regardless of the timing or other considerations. This is so foreign to the Catholic mindset, that it’s hard for us to believe it actually happens. When people with those experiences hear/read about an obligation to sex, that’s their reference point, and it’s heinous.

          • James

            Yes, there seems to be quite a bit of projecting fundamentalist theology onto Catholic teaching.

            The Catholic Church does find such a view abhorrent. The Vatican recently listed it as a serious problem in certain areas of the world that the Church must oppose.

          • Deb

            I am surprised to find this ‘obligation to sex’ thinking at a Catholic site. Entering into a Catholic marriage with a view such as this would be grounds for nullification. Furthermore, I find these men seemed hyper-focused on the sex aspect of marriage. They are seemingly constantly displeased with the amount of sex in their marriage, and they feel their wife owes them. Nothing in this thinking is of self-giving, it is all me,me,me, I, I, I. There is no place for it in Catholic marriage.

          • accelerator
      • DE-173

        I know two men who were summarily “cut off”. In one case 15 years, the other 13.

        Both men are lying there and taking it.

        Lifetime network hasn’t yet done a special on this sort of situation, if you get my drift.

        • Evelyn

          That’s awful, and it shouldn’t be happening, and I hope there is some way for them to redeem the situation. That said, lying there and “taking” not-sex is very different from lying there and taking it as one’s body is being used for another’s pleasure. One is deprivation and the other is violation. Both bad, but in very different ways and with very different consequences.

          • DE-173

            The reality is the dominant culture likes to portray some fat, hair guy in a sleeveless t-shirt spewing curses and abuse about his home, with a wife and children living in fear-but ignores other forms of the sort of situation I described.
            If I, in my small circle of friends, know of two individuals with this issue- and they aren’t insisting on marital rights, or straying I wonder how many more haven’t revealed it.

            “My ex husband put his foot down about his marital rights, and I laid there and took it for more than a decade, until my soul was shredded.”

            I still wonder about this-what does this mean? Did you marry without any intimate desire for your husband. It’s my experience that when people start insisting on “rights”, that’s a last resort-are just realizing that they have been denied significantly for a long time.In any fight, there’s ger side, his side and the truth. We only have your side, just as I only have the accounts of my friends.

            • Evelyn

              Things turned abusive. He decided that he didn’t like the natural consequences of his behavior and pulled the “rights” card, supported by clergy and the church we attended (not Catholic). Like you say, I wonder how many haven’t revealed it, given how until I started talking to Catholics, church people told me this was appropriate and I should do my duty and wait for God to change his heart.

              • DE-173

                Once again, we only have your account of things.

                • Evelyn

                  Of course you only have my side, because that’s all I can tell. Rest assured that I did nothing without the guidance of my pastor and spiritual director. Because I don’t care to share possibly identifying information in a public place, I’m nebulous on purpose. I’m feeling squeamish enough that I will probably delete some of what I’ve written already.

                  • DE-173

                    Are you “Evelyn” or “Guest” or both?

          • DE-173

            ” I hope there is some way for them to redeem the situation.”
            The redemption is that the husbands keep their vows of fidelity, while the wives have decided summarily that intimacy is no longer part of the marriage.

            Most men have no problem being “rain-checked”, but this is different.

            Make no mistake, these two men are the victims of “soul-shredding” spousal abuse.

    • Evelyn

      The cultural context of 1 Cor matters here. Through our individualistic modern American eyes, we like to read this as a straightforward “permanent relinquishing of any right whatsoever to deny/withhold sexual relations,” written to remind tired spouses with headaches that the spouse with the higher sex drive holds the God-given trump card. In Corinth, though, what was going on was a trend on the part of married Christians to give up sex as a part of their pursuit of holiness, in stark contrast to the licentiousness of the world around them. Paul is reminding Christians that except for special cases, and except for brief seasons mutually agreed upon, giving up sex in the context of marriage does not make one holier. Sex is a good and holy part of marriage, and it’s heretical and dualist to say it’s not. Apples and oranges.

      • Major914

        No. None of this would matter even if it were accurate. Paul obviously gives here the broad basic prescription, regardless of whether or what any local reason to give it may have been. The absolute is quite clear. That is not to say it is not simultaneous to other absolutes, but the fact that all the ‘yeses’ have already been said is clear.

        The selfishness, hyper-individualism, would be on the other side–the Bible here defines what unselfishness is. It is a sign of humanistic modernism to define the selfishness on the one particular side as you do, rather than on exactly the other side.

        To interrupt the Biblicaly defined unselfishness with thoughts of, “Do I…I…I want, or not…” is the relevant selfishness here. Committing to Christian marriage is a mutual permanent renouncing of this form of selfishness/individuality.

        • Evelyn

          Here’s a practical difficulty: if the husband is interested and the wife is not, she can lie back and think of England, however unwanted the interaction. Last I checked, though, the reverse is not true, and a husband whose wife requests intercourse when he is too tired/whatever to perform, cannot avoid depriving his wife if he cannot convince his body to become aroused (and there is no other licit way for him to satisfy her). It seems to me that this scripture cannot be taken as a simple, literal, overarching principle, since biology keeps it from applying mutually to both members of the couple.

          • Major914

            Who cares? What difference to the principle could it possibly make?

            Where does a person get the equality fetish from? Equivalent worth as a soul before God very obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with physical, material equality.

            “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9)

            What is best for woman is, again obviously, what she was created for–her beliefs should fall into line therewith, for her own good and the good of others as God intended.

          • Gilbert Jacobi

            That’s what she has those small, delicate, dexterous hands for.

  • Billy Pips

    You didn’t mention the influence of TV in The Sad Case of the The Spreadsheet Chap. His wife was often watching the goggle, if I remember rightly, and didn’t want to miss ‘her’ show. Telly has a direct effect on fertility rates; people would rather watch it than have sex, and once they’re done with ‘their’ show, are too tired or emotionally exhausted to get down to it.

    • Evelyn

      I have a friend with lots of kids who occasionally gets those questions about “Don’t you know what causes that?” and “Don’t you have a TV or something?” and her reply is always that if they think TV is better than sex, they’re doing it wrong.


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    • ForChristAlone

      get lost….you’re not welcome here

      • JanCosgrove1945

        uncharitable, Jesus would have spoken thoughtfully to her/him?

  • JanCosgrove1945

    Now why does the Catholic Church (and others) spend so much time pondering such personal questions. interference in the private lives of people? Mote and beam maybe the first consideration and having considered, maybe it then might occur that this is plainly intrusive. It whiffs a lot of being seen strolling in the market place – there are a lot of “the least amongst us” (that is, the least in the eyes of each of us) out there whom we all need to recognise. I suggest that there is enough work to go round for all of us recognising the godhead in each of these, the least, and no time for such prurient pre-occupation.

    Squatting down, Jesus sees the woman still standing there after her would-be stoners have melted away. “Who has condemned you” “No one” “Neither do I, go and sin no more”. By the way, that was sin in round not adultery ….

    And of marriage, Jesus also says it’s not for everyone. (The Church always insists it is bar the clergy.) For example (so there will be others), he says, the eunuchs, of 3 kinds: those born so, those made so and those by choice – the last mainly not about self-emasculation but about the celibate etc. The second, those brutalised by the powerful, robbed of their sexual capacity. Of the first group, I have read that it contained not only the sterile from birth but also the word was used to denote effeminate men and gayness in general.

    That is, Jesus recognised reality, diversity and the need tor tolerance and acceptance. He didn’t inquire, so far as I have read, into any couple’s sexual capacity or privacy, the sanctity of their vows indeed. He did, we are told, turn water into wine at a wedding party ….. MYOB = Mind Your Own Business.

    • Guest

      Where else do you exclude Jesus?

      • JanCosgrove1945

        No. Where do you exclude him? He included. All.

        • Guest

          You post said you exclude Him from your private life.

          • JanCosgrove1945

            Fantasy, it’s you I might well exclude given such a comment. typical arrogance, those who use him to justify their own warped intentions to make all of us do what they want. I’ll leave it between him and me to discuss whether I exclude him. I just don’t agree with your right to determine what he meant, I can read for myself and think for myself. I exclude prurient snooping. You don’t seem to recognise privacy even in the marriage bed. What a nasty religious viewpoint masquerading as virtue. Jesus didn’t spy into the life of the woman taken in adultery but you want even to pry into the marriage bed.

            • Guest

              Again, what other parts of your life do you exclude Jesus?

              • JanCosgrove1945

                I never it at all

                • Cap America

                  It’s an artificial separation you make, kind of “willing it to be so”, this notion of a purely personal space absent from any concern for others. . . or others concern for/in you. You’re in the human race, like it or not. And the love of Jesus isn’t really something one should ignore.

                  • JanCosgrove1945

                    Nice try …. I don’t need you to tell me whether Jesus loves me or not, that’s for sure. Nor was he much concerned with the rules you have set around him. “Purely personal space” … what a marvellous excuse for you to be able to tell me or anyone else what they can do in their bedrooms. If love is there, then it’s no matter how much or little sex takes place, and you have no right to demand any accountability from anyone. If it’s not, then the issue is wholly irrelevant for, whether it’s within or outside marriage makes no difference. Tell me that love only occurs within marriage and that it always occurs within marriage and that it doesn’t happen outside of. I think that is better understanding of the human race than your lecturing. I go back to the fact that Jesus said a lot more about recognising the godhead in the least of us (whoever that may be for me or for you), that has to be the hardest demand of love, far more challenging than your bedroom pre-occupations. If Jesus says he doesn’t judge, then why do you think you have such a right? His injunction is “to sin no more”. All sin, not adultery. He didn’t say that to her. He warns about being seen as righteous in the market place …. you have your reward (a rather acid point, meaning you won’t get brownie points from him for it….. We do have personal space, Jesus speaks of it.

                    • Guest

                      You have created a new Church. Christ already founded His Church. You must think you know more.

            • Objectivetruth

              Christ is there in the marital bed…..whether you choose to believe it or not.

              • JanCosgrove1945

                Pathetic justification. Listen to yourself. It’s incredible. Next you’ll tell me the Virgin Mary was impregnated through her ear (a theory in the Middle Ages to get round their insistence it was not through “normal channels”). “Christ is in the marriage bed”. What on earth do you mean? This is your unhealthy preoccupation with the sexual lives of other people. Christ would have had none of it. You measure the marriage bed but take no measure of decency. You may want to be there in another’s marriage bed, I am damn sure Jesus doesn’t.

                • Objectivetruth

                  Don’t type angry….! Why such angst?

                  Christ is everywhere. Especially during the marital act, whose primary end is procreation. The creation of life. Can you really argue that Christ has no involvement at that point?

                  • JanCosgrove1945

                    Angst? Some impatience after so many centuries.

                    How literal of you. He also respects privacy, he can do both, unlike us. We cannot be both there even if “in mind only” and respect privacy. He can. You cannot question Jesus on that, none of us would understand how.

                    “Primary” as opposed to “sole” (so maybe some progress). But primary denotes secondary maybe other orders of priority. The primary has to be regulated so as not to produce more children than a family should try to manage – for some that is one, others ten etc. For some, none? But in any case, logic and experience tells us that the primary, if there be so, is going to be many less instances than the secondary. So if secondary is mainly leisure/ pleasure, then we can see it will predominate is instances if not importance. Here comes the privacy bit you dislike, it seems. It is for the couple, with their Maker, to decide which is which, and them alone. You have no say, nor do I. God respects their free will. They have the sex, they may use means to try to plan, but in the end they do not decide conception. You will argue, as you must, that God alone decides that. How any of this squares with a quantum-based reality, God only knows – I really believe that.

                    Does this apply outside of church-sanctioned marriage? Does God’s law not apply there too? Yes, it must. Whom God hath joined …. not man. We perhaps need to ask, who does God join? That has to be a fundamental question, and no ‘pat’ doctrinal answers, please. If you claim that there are not couples who have not had church- or state-sanctioned marriage ceremonies who are not as joined by God, then I would think you are somewhat blind to the world around you. Praying in secret: I rather think that would cover me and a partner in private asking for God’s blessing and understanding from our lives that God has rewarded our prayer in a happy and loving relationship thereafter, come thick and thin.

                    Is it alright for people married in church not to have children? Tell me that. Not, oh they can’t because of this and that fertility issue etc etc, but simply because they don’t want to. If they have sex it is not for procreation. Condemned? You may ask why get married? Well, they love one another, try that one. They want God to join them together.

                    Jesus got very angry indeed, scathing. A little angst I may be allowed. After all this whole business came to me in a communication not me seeking it out.

            • Guest

              What nonsense. Jesus is not a “snoop”. His moral law exists no matter how much you deny it.

              • JanCosgrove1945

                I don’t deny it, I don’t agree you have “read” it correctly at all

                • Guest

                  Your words say differently.

                • Objectivetruth

                  Hmmmm……and I guess you have 100% correctly “read” it? How are you so sure?

                  • JanCosgrove1945

                    I’m not sure. “guest” started quoting His moral law, not me.

  • Cap America

    good column.

    I’d be interested in finding a book on the history of marital relations. Seriously. I think our era over-celebrates sex for pleasure (is it REALLY the chief end of existence?) and has a skewed notion of what it’s about.

  • BE

    How many women who used the earliest Pill, which by the way was tested first on Puerto Rican women, died of breast cancer? It’s a not a well known story.

    • RufusChoate

      A high percentage of Women in the Puerto RIco blind test of the Birth Control died of pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks and heart disease that required a reduction in the dosage level.

      They were also infertile and told the pill would help them conceive.

  • anon

    There is nothing wrong with making love to your spouse almost every day. God gave couples this gift, and it is meant to be enjoyed, but it requires two unselfish people who have submitted themselves 100% to the other. Anything less than 100% diminishes desire.

  • Major914

    Pope John XXIII specifically confirmed the Council of Trent, proclaiming, “What was, still is.” Of course this is exactly what one would expect, as truth is timeless and unchanging.

    Here is what the Council of Trent produced regarding the duties of Wives and Husbands:


    It is the duty of the husband to treat his wife generously and
    honorably. It should not be forgotten that Eve was called by Adam “his
    companion.” “The woman,” he says, “whom thou gavest me as a companion.” Hence,
    it was, according to the opinion of some of the holy Fathers, that she was
    formed not from the feet but from the side of man; as, on the other hand, she
    was not formed from his head, in order to give her to understand that it was not
    hers to command but to obey her husband.

    The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest
    pursuit, with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to
    avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice.

    He is also to keep all his family in
    order, to correct their morals, and see that they discharge their duties with


    On the other hand, the duties of a wife are thus summed up by the
    prince of the Apostles: “Let wives be subject to their husbands: that if any
    believe not the word, they may be won without the word by the conversation of
    the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Let not their
    adorning be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the
    putting on of apparel; but the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility
    of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after this
    manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves,
    being in subjection to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him
    lord” (i Peter iii. 1-6).

    To train up their children in the practice of virtue, and to pay
    particular attention to their domestic concerns, should also be especial objects
    of their attention. The wife should love her home and should not spend her time
    elsewhere, unless duty requires this and she has her husband’s

    Again, and in
    this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to
    God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding
    to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing

  • “Another day, another dust-up about sex.”

    Such is the history for a religious denomination that wrongly equates celibacy with spirituality and views marital sexuality as subservient to procreation.

    As a former Catholic, now evangelical for 45 years, here’s an alternative perspective.

    • Guest

      More propaganda.

      • …I was raised in an uneducated Catholic household and am fully aware of the deep emotional insecurities that are often triggered when being challenged to think and evaluate on your own.

        • Guest

          You are not challenging anything. You are a propagandist.
          Learn the faith before you make assertions.

        • Objectivetruth

          Oh….Look!!! Now “Pope RealityMerchant” is claiming Divinely given authority over the interpretation of scripture. Amazing! Finally…..someone with the authority to “bind and loose” and speak on Christ’s behalf! I guess Jesus Himself dropped by your place the other night and renamed you Cephas?

        • Objectivetruth

          “Brothers, you are not to be childish in your outlook. You can be babies as far as wickedness is concerned, but mentally you must be adult.” 1 Corinthians 14:20″

          Excellent passage, Pope RM! Now my own, “sola scriptura” interpretation tells me that it pertains to you, and that YOU’RE the one being childish in your outlook. My interpretation is as valid as yours…..correct? Or am I right and you are ridiculously wrong?? Goodness… do we know who is right and properly interpreting scripture?

          WAIT!! Was there a Church in history that got together in councils guided by the Holy Spirit and given authority from Christ Himself to decide which books belong in the canon of scripture, the bible? Maybe we should go to that Church started by Christ for the proper interpretation instead of relying on our own, possibly erroneous interpretation? Hmmmmm….which Church is it? It can’t be your Church, Pope RM! I don’t think Christ started your Church 2000 years after His ascension, correct? You’re just a guy who picked up a bible one day and is trying to take stabs in the dark trying to correctly interpret scripture, we both know that!

    • Aldo Elmnight

      Educate yourself on the Catholic faith.

    • Objectivetruth

      “Another day, another Protestant heretic.”

      Such is the history of a poorly catechized Catholic who knows nothing about Catholicism but sure does like to attack it.

      Let’s drill down: what’s your real beef against the Church? Are you divorced and remarried? Gay? Pro abortion? All of the above?

      BTW…..the Catholic Church is not a “denomination.” “Denomination” was the word used by the Church to try and describe all the heretics that left the Church.

      But good luck with your heretical organization started by men, not Jesus Christ. We’ll just toss you on top of the rotting heap of 35,000 false prophet communities claiming authority. It’s a shame you are so blinded with self centered arrogance you can’t see the fullness of the Truth of the Catholic Church.

    • RufusChoate

      For clarity sake, embrace your proper title. Theologically there is no such thing as a former Catholic. You are either an Apostate or a Heretic. Your single page exposition on Marriage complete with an info-graphic and the prerequisite bible quote that no self appointed Protestant is silly vacuous nonsense.

      I don’t understand what you found compelling in the 500 years old heresies of the Protestant rebellion was it the indolent hate filled corpulence of the Bad Monk, or perhaps the power crazed theocracy of the French Lawyer or the debauched license and murderous misogynist inclination of the syphilitic English King?

      For some reason I suspect you are a Jehovah Witness. You have the easy facility with non-rational reality that they exhibit.

  • Eric Worthington

    But what of sex after the procreative years? I screwed up most of my wife and mines first 20 years by always pressing her for sex, I did chart our sexual activity at one time, and even got a vasectomy to “free us to have sex anytime” which, although not mentioned directly in the article, is also a sex life suppressant. Now, as a Catholic convert I am looking to repair the damage I did to our marriage, specifically, intimacy in our marriage, but what to do? Then I found Pope JPII’s Theology of the Body and, lo and behold, learned that procreation is not the point of sexual relations in Catholic teaching, the point is to try to achieve a Unitive Experience while having sexual relations with your spouse. We are “made one flesh” in marriage and are called to sexual intimacy to remind us, if only for a brief moment at a time, of how unified we once were in pre-fall Eden. Now, before I get all jumped on and misunderstood, let me say that I’m sure I am poorly paraphrasing and that I am a novice in my understanding of the full teachings of Theology of the Body, but if you thought it was mostly about Natural Family Planning, as I did, then you are in for a surprise. Of course it teaches that the sexual act is to remain open to procreation, but it makes clear that the point of the sexual act is not procreation, its the potential unitive experience of the sexual act itself.

    • “…but what to do?” I’d suggest you obtain a copy of book, THE INTIMATE MYSTERY: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage, Allender and Longman.

      “…the point is to try to achieve a Unitive Experience while having sexual relations with your spouse.”

      Did you read my one page explanation of marriage and sexuality below which (similar to TotB) hold “Relational Communion” as the primary teleology of marriage? Such communion is both unitive in a metaphysical sense and designed to be an *on-going* “experience.”

      However, listen carefully to what you wrote, “…try to achieve.” Let me suggest something rather radical. Such “unitive experience” is the blessing of those married couples who are directly connected to the Risen Christ (Colossians 2:19).

      • Eric Worthington

        Thanks RealityMerchant, I think you are referring to the Authentic Marriage and Sexuality one page doc I found linked on your profile page. I found it to be a very cursory explanation of how sexuality fits into the marriage equation, but it does touch on some of the fundamental teachings that I found in Theology of the Body, and I looked up the book you referenced too, but for me I’ll stick to the Pope’s Theology of the Body, it’s pretty mind blowing stuff, which many believe will bring about change in the Catholic Church for centuries to come, and it will certainly keep me busy for years to come.

        • Your welcome, Eric. I also hope Theology of the Body brings about change. The irreparable damage done during past centuries by Catholicism is tragic and the pain widespread. I deeply respect the late John Paul’s effort to begin the process of setting things right.

          PS. Yes, my one-page article is by design a concise explanation (a tease), just some central *points* from a short book I’m working on. A majority of the public are not willing to read seriously (or can’t) in our media drenched culture. How many are willing to plow through the 129 transcribed lectures of TotB?

    • 90Lew90

      Why did you consult a book by a virgin celibate for guidance on your sex life? I mean, I could understand it better if I were a priest and had taken up the same vocation as him, and taken the same vows as him. I might then approach his literature to find out how to suppress my sexuality; but for his advice on sex and marriage and family life, about which he must necessarily have little real knowledge? That makes no sense. This is an intimate question so take it as rhetorical, but was your wife raised catholic? If so, the chances are she’s been brought up to think of sex as filthy. And if that’s the case, then the problem was never yours. It’s admirable that you appear to have gone to great lengths to preserve your relationship but your sex drive is not your fault and neither was her apparent frigidity hers. The source of the latter problem is your adopted church. But best wishes to you from a stranger in Ireland.

      • Eric Worthington

        I felt the same way when I first approached Theology of the Body, how can a celibate have anything useful to say about marital sex? Other than “don’t have premarital sex” and “don’t have sex for fun, have sex to fill the pews!” But I was pleasantly surprised to not only find a refreshing look at sex and Catholicism, but a refreshing look at the very meaning of life. For Theology of the Body tells us what a human is, and furthermore, what we are to do with our humanity. For instance, we are not animal bodies which are temporarily entwined with an otherwise eternal soul, that is a common misconception, even among Catholics. We are created as eternal physical bodies and and the notion that our bodies wear out and die is a mistake, it is the direct result of our turning away from God during the fall, it is what we have chosen to do with free will.
        But how can a celibate teach us of marital sex? It is precisely because of what you said, a priests vocation is different than a married couples vocation. But they both have the same aim, union with God. For a priest it is through controlling the temptations of the flesh in order to look forward, and for married couples it is to control the temptations of the flesh in order to look back. The priest is looking forward to, actually trying to catch an earthbound glimpse of, heaven. And the call of the marital vocation is to look back to the beginning, to catch a glimpse of how we were before the fall, and a glimpse of this blissfull unified state is available to us during the sexual act.

        • 90Lew90

          Thanks very much for your temperate answer. On re-reading my post it seems bargy and rude. I was brought up catholic but I’m atheist. Having said that I’m not “militant” although I don’t see how that label fits; as the philosopher AC Grayling said, “militant atheism is like sleeping furiously”. There is a lot of faith evident in your response that I’m afraid I can’t accept. But it is yours and you seem a gentle type, so if it works for you then good luck to you. I just find too much in religion which is unbelievable (at best) and repugnant and objectionable (at worst). Anyway, you strike me as a good guy so we won’t get into that. All the best.

      • RufusChoate

        I am sure your reference to Bertrand Russell as an expert on Marriage is unintentionally comic. Thanks for the laugh. Old nutter Bertie is no longer in vogue these days but he had a glorious run about be on the wrong side of history his entire long life.

        p.s. Catholics were never taught that sex was filthy at any time in Church history but that is just the type of silly mendacious sophistry one could expect from a Russell devotee. .

        • 90Lew90

          I was brought up catholic and pretty much fed the line that sex is filthy. The fact that “old nutter Bertie” wasn’t a novice, never mind a celibate virgin, makes him better qualified by far in my eyes to comment on marriage and morals than any celibate virgin. If you can’t see why then more fool you.

  • Cate

    Normally I would not comment on such issues but feel I must for the sake of an young single people who feel that marriage will be the end of a romantic carnal love after reading many comments here. I strongly support the use of contraception to limit a family size or to not have children at all if they are not wanted. I have two very wanted children that a feel I can look afte well I do not feel I could cope with several (all other do so very well). I love my husband more now then when we married and cannot understand the debate on whether or not I should accept my wifely duties as I have none. Sex is not a duty to be endured, it is an expression of love to be enjoyed and intiated by husband and wife. I’ve been married for 20 years and haven’t found any part of our relationship boring yet!

  • Fred

    Can gay people?