Denying of Marital embrace to spouse


I’m still trying to find any thread on CAF that answers the moral implications arising from a married spouse denying marital embrace to the other. What is the teaching of the Church on this? Is it a mortal sin?


There are so many very personal details that would have to be filled in to give an answer, this question is best asked of your confessor.


This is a question for a one on one talk with a priest. There are a few reasons why one spouse may refuse another spouse.


I think the gravity of the sin is dependent upon the reason for the refusal. Is it because one has recently had a medical procedure that would make intercourse difficult or painful? This could be a legitimate reason, and would not be sinful. On the other hand, if it’s simply a matter of withholding due to anger, resentment or some other reason…well, then that’s something that I would definitely take up in the confessional.

BTW…I once heard a priest say that the real sin was that by withholding sex, you put your spouse in danger of a “near occassion” of sin, either by masturbation or having an affair.

Just things to think about…


+1 for the get actual help rather than virtual help.

Guessing you are the man here. In such situations, it is often that the man expresses and receives love via physical touch. But the woman doesn’t necessarily get the same emotional fulfillment from it that the man does. For her, it is unnatural and faked if she is not receiving what SHE needs to get from her man to make HER feel loved. Fill the empty spot in her heart and her sexual attitude often changes.

I suggest a book called “The Five Love Languages” (IIRC). Was a reall eye opener for me.




Search the term “marriage debt” or “marital debt” or “render the marriage debt”

That under ordinary circumstances we are to render the marriage debt to (i.e. have relations with) our spouse when asked to. This is by no means absolute-- things such as physical condition and other circumstances could make such a request unreasonable.

See especially the Encyclical Casti Connubii especially paragraphs 19 and 22-25. Here are some relevant passages of the encyclical:

*19. The second blessing of matrimony which We said was mentioned by St. Augustine, is the blessing of conjugal honor which consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what belongs to one of the parties by reason of this contract sanctioned by divine law, may not be denied to him or permitted to any third person; nor may there be conceded to one of the parties anything which, being contrary to the rights and laws of God and entirely opposed to matrimonial faith, can never be conceded. *

*25. By this same love it is necessary that all the other rights and duties of the marriage state be regulated as the words of the Apostle: “Let the husband render the debt to the wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband,” express not only a law of justice but of charity. *

This is based on the bibical teaching found in 1 Cor 7:3 Let the husband render the debt to the wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband

On the flip side, the encyclical also states:
Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church,"[24] that Church which of a truth He embraced with a boundless love not for the sake of His own advantage, but seeking only the good of His Spouse. **The love, then, of which We are speaking is not that based on the passing lust of the moment nor does it consist in pleasing words only, but in the deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action, since love is proved by deeds. *This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further;

A spouse loving their spouse as Christ loves the Church would not make unreasonable demands but would be self-sacrificing when called for.

It could be. It would depend upon the circumstances.


Perhaps in asking if denial of the marital embrace is a mortal sin, one needs also ask if the demand for the marital embrace is not simply an act of lust.

Last time I checked, lust constituted a mortal sin…

If one (or both) members of a marrige have reduced the marital embrace to the issue of right and demand, one has to wonder if the act has been reduced to the level of two animals rutting by one if not by both parties. Then, I suppose, we can ask the Biblical question of the Pharisees: “Who has the greater sin?”


There exists a legal description of duty within marriage in canon law:

Can. 1135 Each spouse has an equal duty and right to those things which belong to the partnership of conjugal life.

Clearly this duty/right would have limits. An unconscious spouse in a hospital bed cannot perform a duty. I do not know of any precisely defined list of what disqualifies what. I’d talk with my confessor. You would perhaps need advice on how to lovingly handle whatever your personal situation happens to be. Also, I imagine you could use a helpful ear. I think it is a huge cross to bear (being maritally rejected). It can be survived, though. In Christ it is possible.


I’m with others on this one. There are too many variables that could influence the decision to refrain/withold sex. See a Priest.


tons of questions. One observation is that the marital embrace is intended to be unitive, and procreative. To the extent it is not, then I suspect technically not having sex is not denying the marital embrace, but rather those factors that prevent it from being unitive and procreative are.

I am saying this because I have seen couples who had issues with their sexuality find out a major reason for their problems was artificial contraception.


I’m actually taking the POV of the one who witholds. At a certain age in a woman, say 50, she loses interest in sex, period. Since she lost interest, there is no mutuality in the act. If the husband demands sex, it’s going to be a selfish demand. As simple as that.


Speaking as one of those women of a certain age, there is no “period” in that statement. Sex drive may be reduced after menopause; it diminishes in men too. But if there is no interest at all, there is something more going on than just advancing years. Go first to your doctor, if nothing medical - try good Catholic counseling, and a priest for advice.

Abstaining from sex for good reasons is permitted and isn’t sinful. To make it a permanent state of life is not the natural way for a man and wife to live (absent a serious risk or health condition).


I take the position of one who understands the position of the one who witholds. The spouse has simply lost interest in sex. Even if the other behaves perfectly normal and does all the things to satisfy all the emotional fulfillment of the other spouse, whenever the other demands to have marital union, the act is considered selfish by the other, simply because one is not interested anymore in that aspect of marital relations.

And no, the witholder is not impaired physically and has all the perfect sexual faculty. Only, the interest in sex is not there.


The spouse is not in menopause and has all the physical faculties.

There is nothing “going on” since both spouses have almost daily dialogue and both receive spiritual direction regulalrly from the Priest.

The only thing that is lacking is the interest in marital act. Therefore the other spouse who is interested will be considered selfish if the demand for the act is not of mutual interest for both.


I think the “withholder” has an obligation to determine if there is an underlying condition.

If there is not, then doesn’t the mutuality of marriage demand that he/she essentially participate in the marital act out of love for the spouse, without a lot of complaining?

And, the selfish one is not the one seeking sex…


As stated elswhere, I took the POV of the one who witholds simply for the reason of losing interest in marital embrace. The other spouse has not complained one bit and does not “demand” as in your post. A spouse who endures being denied for 2-3 months cannot be classified as one who insists on “right and demand” as you portrayed.

That being eliminated from the question, the OP simply puts the issue of lack of interest. As such, does the spouse who lacks interest can invoke this to deny the other. That is the question put as a challenge.


Really :confused: No one told me:blush:


It is also true that the mutuality of the act should not be that of a legal right that can be invoked as a compelling thing but rather out of love. The question can also be reversed such that: Can the “no interest” in the act be the burden to be placed on the shoulder of the one who is denied?


Sorry if this was stated as a rule. I correct myself.

It’s just the fact of the case.

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