Non-Fecund Marital Intercourse and the Church Fathers


I am aware that the Catholic Church in the 20th and 21st centuries recognizes both a unitive and a procreative side to the marital sex act; that is, it creates children, and it brings husband and wife close together to form a stable home in which those children can be raised. When the procreative aspect no longer obtains due to, for example, menopause in the wife, the unitive aspect means that the marital sex act is still valid and holy. This was expressed in post #20 of this thread:

This is the situation that my wife and I find ourselves in. We’re both pushing 60; she’s obviously post menopausal, and furthermore she had female surgery back in the '80s. On top of that normal stuff, I had a vasectomy in the '70s while I was still living as a lower-case-p pagan, so we’re both non-fecund, and it would take a creative miracle by God for either of us to be fertile again.

(For the record, if my wife suddenly did become pregnant, we would 1) have a BIIIIIIIG gulp, 2) welcome the child, and 3) finance his/her college education by selling our story to the highest-bidding tabloid.)

The thing is, I am getting a mixed message between what the Church teaches now, and what the early Fathers said. In this article…

…in the January 1996 issue of This Rock, there are several patristic quotations that seem to indicate that non-fecund intercourse is wrong. The simplest statement is that of Clement of Alexandria: “To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature.”

A couple of questions arise out of this:

  1. Was this the actual teaching of the Church at this time, or are these Fathers expressing their personal opinions?
  2. If this was the teaching of the Church at the time, then when and why did it change into what it is today?

Note that if “having coitus other than to procreate children” is in fact a sin, then that knocks the foundation out from under NFP, when NFP is used to schedule intercourse so as to avoid pregnancy.

I’m confoozed. (Not for the first time, certainly not for the last.)



Chalk it up to development of doctrine. Much of the early view of sex was dominated by Augustine. To quote part of another section of the CCC: “reformulated positively”…

Much of the changes have to do with outlook. Could something that was a sin before the 20th Century be not sinful now? Of course.



It is my understanding that, if a couple is open to having children with all acts of intercourse, they are free to have sex whenever they’d like. Even though procreation seems impossible for you and your wife, you are still open to having children so it would not be a sin. I say ENJOY. Old people deserve to have a little fun, toooo. (Said tongue in cheek! I’m old, too, dang it!) Life is too short…remember there is no marriage in heaven, so, to my way of thinking, you should make the best of it while you’re here on earth.



It is important to ask about the context of such statements: What was their audience? Are there any unspoken situations that they are responding to? Were they trying to write a carefully crafted theological opinion, or were they making a more broad, general statement?

We often desire to treat language mathematically – If someone communicates something, then the full literal meaning of what they wrote or said must be what they intended. However, normal speech is full of generalizations, hyperbole, and a full range of nuances. A man is not necessarily a liar if in the course of everyday speech he says, “It rains all the time.” Literally, that would mean that it rains 24/7, or at least once each day. However, that phrase could simply be an observation that it rains frequently, at least often enough to bear mentioning.

Therefore, there is not necessarily any contradiction between the words of these Church Fathers and our current understanding.


Did you ever notice that we always seem to think that the Saints must be addressing every situation in everything they said? Sometimes special circumstances need to be found in other writing which will probably only address those certain circumstance! Look at the “over the hill” parents in the Bible. I don’t remember anyone frowning on them for having marital relations because most thought them to be well out of conception range.


use it or loose it


[quote=bear06]Did you ever notice that we always seem to think that the Saints must be addressing every situation in everything they said? Sometimes special circumstances need to be found in other writing which will probably only address those certain circumstance!

That was why I asked specifically if they were expressing their own opinions or if they were expressing the teaching of the Church. That question hasn’t been answered yet.



Dave: I read a post in the Apologist’s Forum where the answer was that older people past fecundity were absolutely ok in seeking closeness in the marriage act.


I know this is not the way most Catholics makle decisions…I am Catholic by the way…
Speaking from a biblical point of view…Abraham and Sarah had a child very late in life. They did not think that it was still possible. Yet, it appears that the marital/procreative act was still taking place in their marriage.

Just a silly guess…


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