Commonly, a mother who has a cesarean section birth will consent (or request) that her “tubes be tied” afterward.
The formal term for this procedure is a tubal ligation. By having herself sterilized, she thinks she has just removed herself from the “burden” of worrying about ever becoming pregnant again.
Other times, husbands, who do not want to put their wives through that surgery, will instead get a vasectomy.
By doing so, he has his vas deferens blocked, which sterilizes him. The sperm he generates will not be released, preventing him from ever becoming a father again.
I have seen estimates that up to 789,000 tubal ligations are done each year in the US alone! On top of that, up to 354,000 annual vasectomies are performed.
Despite their popularity, such procedures remain gravely immoral. Let’s examine why that would be the case…
THREE BIG REASONS WHY THE CHURCH CONSIDERS VOLUNTARY STERILIZATION A GRAVE SIN
The human body is a sacred object. Not only were we created in God’s image and likeness, as humans, but we were also purchased at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). The human body is subject to natural law. Therefore, I will lay out three reasons the Church condemns voluntary sterilization, whether it be by vasectomy, tubal ligation, or any other means.
1. To purposely mutilate or to destroy the organs of our bodies goes against our human nature
Each of our organs serve a purpose in God’s great design. The sexual organs exist for the purposes of procreation, just as the ears for listening, the eyes for seeing, etc. To physically alter any of our organs so as to purposely damage them, thus, destroys the moral order.
When it comes to getting a voluntary sterilization, the same principles apply. To purposely mutilate one’s flesh, so as to render one’s self sterile is a grave sin. Doing so removes the end for which the organs were made.
2. Purposefully-sterile sex is a grave sin
As I have discussed in the past, even earlier this week, sterile sex is not an act of love. Obtaining a tubal ligation or a vasectomy is a form of permanent birth control, which is also gravely immoral.
Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using that person. Holding back one’s fertility , therefore, qualifies as using another person, in this case for sexual pleasure.
The purpose for sex is two-fold. First and foremost, it is ordered toward the procreation of children. Obviously, if one or both partners are sterilized, then the conjugal act no longer is ordered toward its primary purpose.
Second, the conjugal act is supposed to be unitive for the spouses and a remedy for concupiscence. To purposely hold back one’s fertility from one’s spouse means the second purpose becomes frustrated as well. How can there be unity, when one or both spouses are not fully committed?
3. The purposes for marriage are ignored
Finally, sterile sex sought by vasectomies and/or tubal ligations defy the two-fold purpose of marriage.
The purpose of marriage is for the procreation and education of children and for the sanctity and well-being of the spouses.
The former obviously cannot be fulfilled, if the conjugal act is not open to life. While the latter has taken a hit, as at least one of the spouses has performed a grave sin (by obtaining a sterilization).
Additionally, all of these same problems with permanent sterilization apply to temporary sterilization in the form of contraceptives, such as the Pill, condoms, IUD’s, etc. Purposely-sterile sex is a grave sin, whether that sterility is obtained for the duration of a one-night stand, for the rest of one’s life, or anywhere in between.
OBJECTIONS TO CHURCH TEACHING
I will try to anticipate a few objections and address those here, quickly.
What about sterilization caused by medical necessity?
This is a good question. Perhaps a woman needs to have a hysterectomy due to cancer or some other medical condition? Is she sinning by having any subsequent sterile sex?
No, in that case it is not a sin to have sex when one cannot possible conceive a child. If a medical condition necessitates someone to lose the use of or to have removed their sexual organs, then this is not a sin. There, the mutilization is a therapeutic means of improving one’s life physically. There is a difference between that and seeking out a tubal ligation for no medical necessity.
What about menopause or couples who physically cannot conceive? Are they sinning in the conjugal act?
If a physical ailment prevents a couple from conceiving, then they are not sinning by having conjugal relations without the ability to get pregnant. This is different from using contraceptives or sterilization to purposely render the marital act sterile. The former is accidental, the latter is purposeful.
As for menopause, this is a natural function of women that their ovaries eventually stop producing ovums, and so they cannot become pregnant again. This too is natural and any subsequent marital relations are not sinful.
WHAT DOES THE CHURCH SAY TO THOSE WHO REGRET THEIR STERILIZATION?
If you find yourself in a position where you obtained a tubal ligation or a vasectomy, and now regret it, the Church extends her arms to you in mercy.
The Church would ask that you take that to Confession. Since it is grave matter, if you knew it was grave, and you freely chose to do it, the Catholic Church would say you are guilty of a mortal sin. Like I said, take it to Confession.
The Church does not require such people to get their sterilizations reversed. You are encouraged to do so, but you are not required to do it.
In many cases, vasectomies can be reversed, and tubal ligations can be undone. However, such surgeries not everyone will be able to afford or want to subject themselves to.
Either way, having admitted a mistake and having sought forgiveness, the Church will welcome you back with open arms.
Basically, the Church does not teach that all sexual relations much result in a child.
What the Church teaches is that all conjugal acts must be open to the transmission of life.
If an accidental impairment prevents this, then no sin results. But if a couple purposely renders the act sterile, then they defy their human nature and God’s divine law.
Did this, perhaps, enlighten you as to what the Catholic Church teaches about sterilizations?
Do you still have an objection to the Church’s teaching?
Do you have a testimony you would like to share?
Please share your thoughts below!