Is this sex act licit or illicit?


My friend and I were sitting around talking moral theology as we sometimes do. Specifically we were talking about the conjugal act as it refers to a husband and a wife. Now we both understand the teaching of the church when it comes to having sex with procreation in mind, but differed in our opinion on how a couple meets or does not meet the ‘unitive’ part of the requirement.

Say for instance there is a couple whereby both parties are Catholic, and they have a valid sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church. Now, after several years of being married, they obtain a civil divorce, but never seek an annulment. All Catholics here would agree that they are still married in the eyes of God. Even so, they now live in separate houses, and quite frankly they have fallen out of love and even dare i say ‘hate’ each other. However, once a week, they feel in order not to add adultery into the mix, they come together once a week for sex. They try to fashion their sexual schedule around non-fertile times, since they also practice NFP. Technically they are still ‘open to life’ thereby fulfilling the ‘procreative’ requirement. My question is, if they aren’t renewing their marriage covenant every time they come together for the conjugal act, and giving love to one another freely, then do they meet the unitive requirement of the conjugal act?

So, in short how is the unitive part of the requirement defined? Is the requirement fulfilled simply by the fact that it is husband and wife, or does there have to be mutual love and giving of ones self to another for the ‘unitive’ requirement to be met?


interesting question, it sounds like in this case they’re still doing it for selfish reasons… Even in a marriage, sex for selfish reasons is illicit, so I guess my guess would be that it’s illicit. I think in this case, they really might as well be contracepting. Perhaps not as bad as adultry, but still not totally licit.

At least that’s my guess, I look forward to seeing others.


Is it illicit for people that “hate” each other, have no intention to unite, or desire for children to engage in the unitive act? If they are doing it solely for their individual pleasure it sounds more like a case of self-pleasure in tandem. Though God might choose to work through their mere proximity to rekindle their relationship, the apparent intent of the parties involved does appear to be selfish. I vote illicit. (Not that this is a democracy. God is the final judge.)


Ah, but they are.

They come together freely, by an act of their will, and engage in a completed act of intercourse. This is a unitive act. It is not dependent upon their “feelings.” It depends upon objective criteria: free will, completed act of intercourse.

Certainly they do meet the requirement regarding the act.

That is not to say there are not *other *moral problems, specifically refusing the live a common life, ordering their marriage to the witness of their vocation, giving scandal, ordering their marriage to the procreation and education of children, etc.


Interesting scenerio. I like 1ke’s response.


I also agree with 1ke. I would add that it is also morally wrong to divorce and live apart because they have broken their marriage vows to God and the Church ( until death do us part). I also agree with the others that this arrangement is extremely selfish. Having the pleasure part of being married and not having to do the sacrificial loving part.


1ke…I appreciate what you are saying about love not always being a feeling, but it seems to me (and I’m not trying to sway the masses here or just have people see it my way), that this act is not a renewing of the marriage vow if the couple is already separated and hates each other. Seems to me that this sexual act is done merely out of selfishness and would qualify as lustful. If a sexual act is done out of selfishness, even in marriage, how does it meet the requirement of being unitive? Furthermore, it seems to me in my example, this couple is practicing NFP for illicit reasons because they are not really open to life. They are simply fulfilling their animalistic passions.

It’s not that i am arguing the point. Perhaps I needed to give a little more background on my theoretical couple.


I’m really with you here, just because the sex act happens in marriage it doesn’t mean that it’s always licit. If it’s being done for the wrong reason, as this seems to be the case, then I believe it must be illicit. As was previously stated though, God is the real judge of this. There are just my thoughts.


It is unitive because they freely enter into the act and it is a completed act of intercourse. That is a 100% unitive act. And, yes, it does renew their marriage vow. That does not mean that they have committed no sin. It simply means the sin isn’t that of a disordered sex act.

There were many heresies in the early Church regarding marital sexuality. Desiring one’s spouse is NOT wrong. There is always a “selfish” element in the sex act in the sense that we desire the pleasure that goes with it. God created that desire of one spouse for another. Don’t fall into the belief that this is wrong, or selfish.

Certainly we can use another in a selfish way, but don’t take it to a wrong conclusion.

That may be true. Their sin would not be contraception. The act is 100% procreative. Their sin lies elsewhere.


“They try to fashion their sexual schedule around non-fertile times, since they also practice NFP. Technically they are still ‘open to life’ thereby fulfilling the ‘procreative’ requirement.”

IMHO they are not open to creation because they are always planning the act around non-fertile times. There is the sin.

Very interesting and thanks for making us think. I appreciate reading everyone’s thoughts on questions like this.


Yes, there’s always a selfish element, and no it’s not wrong to desire ones spouse. But where this crosses the line is that it is entirely selfish, it’s about getting your sexual kicks alone. If things really worked the way you describe, there really wouldn’t be anything wrong with contraception, but there is. What’s wrong with it is that it reduces sexuality to a completely selfish act, and that is exactly what is going on here even though they aren’t using a condom. it’s a completly selfish act.


It is illicit. This is not what one would describe as chastity in marriage. Though married in the eyes of God, they are using each other for sexual gratification, and as such are regarding each other as things, and not persons. Since their end is pure sexual gratification for the sake of their own enjoyment, this would not be moral.


Well, the ancient writers of the Church said one of the ends of marriage was “a remedy for concupiscence,” and that does seem to be how they’re using it. But, on the other hand, they hate each other! We’re not supposed to hate anyone … and having sex with someone you hate can’t possibly be that great.

Personally, I think that this couple needs to realize that they CAN live without sex, that not having it with each other doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to commit adultery. We have willpower, and lots of people have to live celibate lives for all kinds of reasons.

Furthermore, if they didn’t have a good reason to obtain the civil divorce (abuse, for instance), that itself is probably a sin. They promised “to have and to hold, to honor and to cherish,” etc. – how are they keeping that promise? It’s a couple’s duty to try to keep their marriage in good shape, to work through their problems, and so forth. Not to just bail on it (keeping the sex part because it’s the one thing they think they “need”) because they don’t feel like being married.


I think only the couple themselves would truly know what is in their heart and whether or not what they were doing was sinful or not. This is one of those situations where you need to listen to and heed your conscience to know whether or not you are renewing your commitment to each other and caring for each other or using each other with little or no regard for the other. We have the Church that helps to guide us away from situations that could be harmful, but we still have a responsibility to examine our own conscience.



I think if they were merely separated that would be one thing. But even though the Church does not recognize civil divorce, this couple has legally and publicly repudiated their sacramental bond. They live apart. They have, without valid reason, caused scandal among those who knew they were Catholic. Believe me, if there were serious reason to justify divorce, at least one of the spouses couldn’t withstand being in the same room with the other, much less a bed. It would be too painful, to fear-inducing, too disgusting… fill in the blank with your own adjective.

Furthermore, if they had children, it would cause severe confusion in the children, these “conjugal meetings.”

The couple has reduced a renewal of their sacramental vows into an act of basically mutual masturbation.

Rape is a sexual union without love. If the couple hates each other, this activity differs from rape only in degree of malice involved.

What God joined together, let no man tear apart. They have separated the love giving from the act.

The opposite of love, according to Pope John Paul II, isn’t hate. It’s “use.”

Whether the couple is open to life is absolutely secondary to the complete twisting of the fundamental meaning and purpose of the marital act. It turns it into a lie. It says “I don’t want your heart and your soul and your mind. All I want is your body.” So it reduces what should be the pinnacle of union of spouses to a selective using of only one part of the other, the least important part.


I know this post is supposed to be a “what if” scenerio, but I can’t help but think, would 2 people who “hate” each other, really come together once a week for consentual sex with each other?


And would the wife go out of her way to make sure she was charting so that they could carry on? I think this would turn out to be a good example of NFP being a remady to a strained marriage.


I know I know…if you could just try to play along here. Mostly i am trying to resolve a debate as I said in my original post. My focus really is on the unitive aspect of the conjugal act. My point to my friend was that if you aren’t in the mindset of freely giving yourself completely to that person in the act of intercourse then you fail to meet the unitive requirement. In my example here, the couple is coming together merely for sex. I understand they are mis-using the NFP responsibility as well, so I personally don’t feel they even meet the procreative requirement.

However, I am very much appreciating everyone’s input to this scenario. Please keep posting.


Then wouldn’t that make all NFP acts of all other couples sinful too?


NFP seems to be a grey area, some say it should only be practiced by those who have a good reason not to have a child. But I think Father Mitch on EWTN stated that since God gives us the infertal period, then that may be used to avoid having childeren.

I wouldn’t judge this illicit based on NFP, rather I would judge it illicit based upon intent which I beleive must be considered, otherwise we are in danger of raising the law (cannon) above God in the same way the pharasies did. The problem is this couple hates eachother, and otherwise wants nothing to do with one another. Further they have aboslutly no intent to have any kids what so ever. All they have is a legalistic understanding that they can’t have sex with anyone else. Since they can’t have sex with anyone else, or marry anyone else, they are using each other to fulfill their individual sexual desires strictly.

This reduces the sex act to a strictly selfish act, to fulfill the individual sexual desires of each partner in this situation, rather than an act truely open to God.

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