Debate-Marital Debt & Pornography


I am having a debate with a friend about the marital debt. I know if there is adultery involved then the wife is not obligated to have relations. However, what about if the husband has an ongoing addition to porn? Jesus said if a man lusts after a women in his heart, he has committed adultry…but would this give a wife a valid reason to refrain? I am looking for what the church teaches, not necessarily opinions. Thanks!:slight_smile:


I would say that stating in an unqualfied manner that the wife is “not obligated” to have relations if a husband is committing adultery is somewhat overstating the case. The Church urges rconciliation and nomdisruption of conjugal life.

Regarding pornography, perhaps the woman could make a case under Canon 1151, but i don’t know if the ecclesial authorities would see it her way and say it is a “legitimate cause” to sever conjugal living.

The relevant canons:

Can.* 1151 Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.

Can.* 1152 §1. Although it is earnestly recommended that a spouse, moved by Christian charity and concerned for the good of the family, not refuse forgiveness to an adulterous partner and not disrupt conjugal life, nevertheless, if the spouse did not condone the fault of the other expressly or tacitly, the spouse has the right to sever conjugal living unless the spouse consented to the adultery, gave cause for it, or also committed adultery.

§2. Tacit condonation exists if the innocent spouse has had marital relations voluntarily with the other spouse after having become certain of the adultery. It is presumed, moreover, if the spouse observed conjugal living for six months and did not make recourse to the ecclesiastical or civil authority.

§3. If the innocent spouse has severed conjugal living voluntarily, the spouse is to introduce a cause for separation within six months to the competent ecclesiastical authority which, after having investigated all the circumstances, is to consider carefully whether the innocent spouse can be moved to forgive the fault and not to prolong the separation permanently.


If he is married and is lusting after other women through pornography that is a sin. He must confess the sin and repent from the sin by turning away from it.


While that is true as far as it goes it does not automatically abrogated the wife providing conjugal rights to her husband. This is especially true if he fell into the sin because his wife denied him the marriage bed for unjust reasons. For example if a wife asked her husband to paint the house and then she denied him until he met that precondition then she shares some culpability in his sin. It doesn’t mean he didn’t sin but that they both did.

On a practical note a wife should be careful in providing an ultimatum as it can further damage the marriage. Pornography often requires help from a councilor to break the addiction. If she temporarily halts conjugal relations it should be as part of helping her husband break the habit and not as a punishment for his behavior.


If you have any thought that its even a remote possibility that this is not just an intellectual debate, but is connected to your friend’s personal life, my advice is:



This is an area of Moral Theology and Pastoral care.

Note the term “addiction” there in the question.

If such is the case that certainly is a factor (Freedom etc…)

Prayer, compassion, the Sacraments, and other assistance is called for. Rather than saying “no marital relations”.

But even if it is say an ongoing habit (but not to the level of real addiction) where the person is repenting and does not want to be so sinning. I would say similar.

Now if the person has “embraced” such as normal and they way they want to live.…that would perhaps be a different matter. That is a huge problem. I would see that as yes a legit question.


Thanks everyone for the input. I agree with a lot of what has been said. I guess it boils down to each individual case.

To the poster who said to “mind my own business”, it was a hypothetical question, so calm down. Next time, please refrain from answering any of my questions in the future.


My apologies, Dailey…but I think you didn’t understand my advice was not a personal attack…what I was trying to point out is sometimes we are lured into “debates” with others that are far from hypothetical, and then when you provide your advice, they sometimes blame you…no offense intended, sorry I struck a nerve.


Thanks for the explanation. It did strike a chord with me. This is the first time I posted at CAF in awhile. I’ve become discouraged because it seems like everytime I come here, someone wants to start an argument.

I totally see where you were coming from though, sorry for jumping down your throat! :o


If my wife started talking about “the marital debt” I would be down right hurt. Does she not realize that she has God’s gift to women? Putting such treasure in the terms of a debt seems churlish somehow, Are you looking for a reason to refrain? Its not like giving up fatty foods or something. Marriage requires communication in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Surely a real marriage would start with some heart to heart discussion of mutual expectations, rather than a referral to the tribunal rules of the “Church in Bed” manual.
If you want to go that way the post citing the relevant Canon Law hits the mark.


Well, let’s think about this analogously. Jesus said on the same occasion that whoever hates his brother or his sister has committed murder in his heart. Should we therefore lock up and/or execute those who feel dislike for others?

Of course not! What he is saying is that we need to interpret these Commandments broadly, and not in the sort of mincing, minimally legalistic way that the Pharisees understood it. The Commandments have to do, first and foremost, with dispositions of the heart. They are not concerned primarily with juridical processes or technical details or legal minutiae. When God says “Thou shalt not murder,” he isn’t just saying “Thou shalt not do this one act under these specific circumstances.” He is saying don’t be the kind of person who murders. The kinds of people who murder are the kinds of people who foster hatred in their hearts. Etc.

So it is certainly fair to say that people who use pornography are sinning against the Seventh Commandment without literally being adulterers. And literal adultery seems, to me, to be required to absolve a woman of the marital debt. I echo the commenter who said this is especially true if the man’s use of pornography was spurred, in part, by his wife’s lack of generosity in satisfying that debt (being mindful, of course, of the possibility that the opposite is true in this case, and that the woman cannot satisfy her husband because his mind is addled by pornography).

Just prudentially I would say a good woman needs to counsel her husband, preferably with the aid of a spiritual director, through this, in order to heal him, rather than look for legal options to escape her obligations.


I think this is a cold, icy way of looking at this. A vast number of women will rightly feel disgusted by their husbands’ porn addiction. This is hardly conducive to loving and mutually satisfying marital relations. A wife in this case would just be “giving in” to her husband with little or no satisfaction possible for herself and in fact the lack of preparedness for the act due to the revulsion may even make it painful; a woman can’t just flip a switch and suddenly be ready for intercourse. I don’t think this fulfills the “unitive” aspect of the marital act one bit. It may be physiologically so, but not on a spiritual or mental level.

The problem is that this can cause a death spiral. The wife withholds… not as punishment, but because she’s revolted and feels betrayed by her husband at that particular point in time and just can’t bring herself to having relations with him. The husband feels frustrated, and delves even more into porn as a (very unhealthy) outlet, which further reinforces his wife’s disgust. It becomes a vicious cycle that is notoriously difficult to break and ultimately the centrifugal force may be enough to break apart the marriage. At that point it matters little “who started it” (e.g the wife withholding sex as a weapon, or the husband simply fulfilling his lust): it will take the cooperation, forgiveness and will of both to break the cycle. A big part of that is learning to accept our spouse as-is, where-is. None of us is perfect, and a husband (or wife that matter) viewing porn does not make him or her a “bad person” but rather a sinner like the rest of us, potentially a good person who just happens to be doing a bad thing. Similarly, a spouse who is passive-agressive and withholds sex to “punish” the other spouse is not a bad person, just a sinner.

When the vortex reaches that point, it’s pretty obvious that professional and spiritual help is essential; with a sympathetic priest and a Catholic-friendly counselor. One or the other alone may not be enough.

Another point is that we men tend to clam up when we’re hurt by our wives, and escape into our own worlds, and with the internet, well we become ripe for Satan’s picking… it’s a constant danger we have to guard against. It’s important to have ongoing dialogue with our spouses, and to never fall asleep on our anger. It’s important also for men to understand that for many if not most women, a sense of trust is vitally important, and betraying that trust will have deleterious effects on marital relations, regardless of what the Church says about “debts”. It’s just the way it works. For us men, we have to learn what makes our wives tick, and what sets them off, and take responsibility for the fact that we may be contributing to her not “being in the mood”, when we do stupid things like letting dirty socks pile up in the bathroom or whatever.

So it’s important for men to do their best to always earn their wives’ trust, and if it’s lost, to do their best to rebuild it, and it’s vitally important that we respect her and try to anticipate her needs and wants.

In closing, I’ll say this mano a mano for those men listening who have fallen into or may fall into the porn trap: man up guys, be a gentleman, and ditch the porn, even if your wife isn’t “in the mood”. No good can come out of it. Take the high road, and if necessary use the sacrament of reconciliation and even counseling to help overcome this ugly addiction.


Wow, excellent response.:clap:


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