Must I be celibate in my marriage?


This is my story in a nutshell.

I have been married to a non-Christian for fifteen years. I have two children after two difficult pregnancies (preeclampsia and toxemia). The last pregancy was so rough that we both nearly did not survive (I spent most of the last trimester in the hospital, had four surgeries and eight kidney stone episodes because of a reaction to medication and we almost died on the table during the last surgery). My doctor indicated that I would not likely survive another pregnancy and offered sterilization (I declined).

My husband never had much interest in marital relations during our first thirteen years together (maybe one or two times a year at best), which made me comfortable with not having to deal with the issue of pregnancy. I also have a medical condition which causes me not to be able to maintain a reasonable body temperature without drugs. I take medication twice a day and measure my temp constantly – based on the readings, I adjust my medication daily.

In the past year and a half, my husband has begun to show an interest in having some sort of intimacy with me, which (though it has helped our marraige life considerably) has put me in a terrible situation. I cannot use NFP with my body temp and cycle issues. A pregnancy will likely be fatal for at least me, and possibly the child (depending on how long I can survive through the pregnancy). If I should die, I am quite sure that my children will not be raised in the Catholic faith.

At the present time I do not technically “contracept” but we also do not do anything that would lead to pregnancy. I asked my pastor if I am to tell my husband that we have to live as brother and sister for the rest of our lives (which may not be an issue if my husband leaves me due to this edict) and he said “no” but at the same time is unsure as to what he should tell me to do. He suggested that I contact a moral theologian on the issue. Can you help me?

Risking my life – if it was just the two of us – would not be so big of a deal, but now I have the souls of my children to think of. Dying is not something I can afford to risk, given my situation. At the same time, I want to be faithful and will do what I am told by my Church, regardless of what the outcome is. As I see it, either there are special circumstances under which I fall, or I must be married (or not) and celibate.

I held much shame and suffered much because of my husband’s lack of interest in me. Now I realize that it was a blessing in disguise. If you can’t help, can you direct me to someone who can? Please pray for me.


We will certainly keep you in prayer at Catholic Answers and ask readers of the forums to do so as well.

You do not have to remain celibate in your marriage – although it is one option that you and your husband have before you to consider – but you cannot contracept. (And rest assured that contraception is not fool-proof anyway.) Used correctly, NFP can be extremely reliable and it is possible that there may be methods of use for women in your situation. I recommend contacting the Couple to Couple League for information on how to use NFP in cases such as yours. You might also contact the Pope Paul VI Institute, a Catholic center that specializes in women’s health issues, for information on what you can do to manage your fertile periods. One other resource you might check out is the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which can either help you with the marriage issues that you and your husband are facing or refer you to a Catholic counselor in your area who can.

Hopefully, these resources will help you to maintain both your marriage and your health without becoming pregnant again. If you do become pregnant again though, entrust yourself, your baby, your husband, and your children to the mercy of God, and perhaps also to the intercession of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a Catholic doctor and mother of three who sacrificed her life for her unborn fourth child. Remember, God can work miracles. But eventually, since we all die some time or another, death may come before you are ready to go. (This can happen to all of us.) Just remember too that death does not separate us from our loved ones (cf. Rom. 8:38-39, 1 Cor. 15:53-57). You would be in a much more powerful position to protect your children because you would be able to place your petitions for your children’s faith directly before God.

Final note: The National Catholic Bioethics Center can be a helpful source of information on morally licit means of preventing pregnancy. If you do become pregnant again, they may also be helpful in discerning morally permissible methods of saving your life and, if possible, the life of your unborn baby.

Recommended reading:

That Celibate Bachelor Was Right! by Rachel Fay

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