Conjugal rights in marriage remain a sore topic of discussion, unfortunately, even within the Church.
Either folks are unaware they exist, or they blatantly just don’t much care. Either way, they do not seem to be taken as seriously as they ought to be in our American culture.
With our country ravaged by sexual sins of every kind, we would do well to follow the mandates we find in Scripture. If married couples would honor the conjugal rights in marriage, then we would see an increase in the strengthening of marriages and families. Surely we can all agree we need stronger marriages in our present culture.
Several times I have written about the traditional ends of Matrimony being the begetting of children, the mutual help of the spouses, and the providing of a remedy against concupiscence. Sometimes you with see these last two points combined into one, as in the case of the modern-day Catechism (1601; 1641). Nonetheless, I wish to discuss further this last end or purpose of marriage: the remedy for concupiscence.
Concupiscence is a fancy theological term meaning the attraction we have toward committing sin. Here we are referring specifically towards lust and sexual sins.
A couple years ago on this blog I explored the topic of the marital duty, and I wish to revisit it today from a slightly different angle. That is, I am going to turn to the third-century theologian (and borderline Father of the Church), Origen. Within his Commentaries on Matthew, he shows us the possible effects of not honoring the conjugal rights in marriage.
Note that while Origen speaks here about what can happen when a husband does not fulfill the wife’s conjugal rights in marriage, this can be applied just as easily the other way around. A wife who does not honor the conjugal rights in marriage her husband possesses would be guilty of grave sin just as well.
Origen writes, “Even the man who withholds himself from his wife, oftentimes makes her an adulteress, when he does not satisfy her desires, even though he withholds himself under the appearance of greater gravity and self-control.”
He goes on to describe the seriousness of withholding the conjugal act from one’s spouse, “And perhaps this man who, as far as it rests with him, makes her an adulteress by not satisfying her desires, is more culpable than one has divorced his wife for reasons other than fornication—for poisoning or murder or any of the most grievous sins.”
He concludes his discussion on this topic by discussing how a wife who leaves her husband for lack of her conjugal rights in marriage not being honored is still guilty of adultery, if she attempts marriage with another man. He adds, “But just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Savior, he commits adultery with her” (14, 24).
On what basis do spouses have conjugal rights in marriage? I will cite for you a passage from the Bible, no less, confirming as much. As Origen proves, this a matter taken seriously and it was preserved through the 2,000-year life of the Catholic Church.
“But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. /
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. /
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 set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
-1 Corinthians 7:2-5
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE CONJUGAL RIGHTS IN MARRIAGE?
The conjugal rights in marriage also go by the terms of ‘marital debt’ or ‘marital duty.’ The conjugal rights in marriage each spouse possesses is the right to request the conjugal act at any reasonable time. The other spouse has the duty to acquiesce to this request each time.
Why would a wife be obligated to give sex to her husband every time it is requested?
The answer to that question could go a few different directions. As a wife you are supposed to help your husband get to Heaven. In fact, Catechism 1605 speaks specifically of wives as being “helpmates” for their husbands, just as Eve was for Adam. It states, “[A wife] thus represents God from whom comes our help.”
If, in his fallen human nature, your husband is sexually ‘high strung,’ so to speak, his desire towards lust and other sexual immorality is heightened. Your honoring of the conjugal rights in marriage curbs his sexual appetite and helps him not to sin. The less sinful he remains, the more likely you will achieve your goal of helping him to get to Heaven.
As well, conjugal relations within marriage mimic the Holy Trinity. Each time you conjugate you are renewing your marriage vows and deepening your marital bond (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1602).
Finally, each married person is called to a “total, mutual self-giving,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1644). This involves a giving of one’s own body and one’s own will, as the Catechism explains (1643).
As a caveat, conjugal rights in marriage do not need to be honored when they are unreasonably requested, according to Catholic tradition. No, being tired or just ‘not in the mood’ do not qualify as worthwhile exceptions. Instead, the Church has in mind the period following childbirth, marital infidelity, or if the requesting spouse is in a drunken state, and other more serious circumstances.
It is a fact that some spouses deny the conjugal rights in marriage the other party holds. Raising this point and posting this article is not to say any spouse deserves to be cheated on. It also does not omit culpability for the sin of adultery by the adulteress or adulterer.
Marital fidelity is paramount. It remains a good of marriage, and every spouse is required to maintain it at all times (Catechism, 1646).
Rending the marriage debt not only fulfills your duty or obligation to your spouse, it also assists your marriage partner in keeping their continence in check. If we are not willing to assist even our own spouse with unselfish acts, then what good is the religion we claim to have?
Okay, I have to imagine people will want to weigh in on this one.
Please, leave your (charitable) comments below on the conjugal rights in marriage.