Sin I haven't heard of

From the mortal sin and porn thread… What is “refusing the marriage debt”? Never heard of this one before. :hmmm: (Of course, I’m still in RCIA coming from Baptist, so there’s quite a bit I haven’t heard of before… :smiley: )

In plain English, it refers to refusing sex to your lawfully wedded spouse, without a good reason.

The marriage debt is akin to the ball and chain.

a close friend of mine ran into that one. she pretended but just wanted a baby girl. she got her wish and then that was the end of the physical relationship. he is Greek Othodox and ended up getting a divorce and later finding someone more compatible and are very involved in their parish.

Interesting… I wonder what all qualifies for a “good reason”…


Keep in mind that if you refuse intercourse with your spouse, it is a mortal sin.

However, if he/she mutually agrees to wait for another time after you explain why you don’t want to have intercourse, then it’s prefectly OK.

I will also point out that any loving spouse would be sensative to the other’s feelings in the matter and probably wouldn’t insist on sex if they know you’re “not in the mood”.

The only exceptions that I’m aware of (where you can deny intercourse without mutual agrement) is if there is a health issue that makes it painful or if intercourse could worsen it.

Is this official church teaching? (I ask because I truly am curious and I didn’t know.)

I’m under the impression that it is, but now that I go digging to find a reference I can’t seem to find one.

Maybe someone else has the reference I’m looking for. I heard it from a good, but not definative source, so it could be wrong.

Lots of references on the internet for this, google “refusing marriage debt”. Always amazed that people don’t know this, it seems to be one of the most basic issues with regard to catholic sexual ethics. The unreasonable refusal of the marriage debt is just as serious as adultery, or at least that is the old-school teaching I was taught, and that makes sense to me.

From my favorite document on Catholic Sexual Ethics ( )


BY marriage a man and woman grant to one another certain rights
over their bodies for the begetting of children, the increasing
of love, the healthy ordering of passion. The fulfilment of this
concession is a matter of justice, its denial an injustice,
though a couple who are still newly in love may smile at such
terms. Justice, however, is a living virtue and not confined to
cold legal forms.

The principle is this: whenever either the husband or the wife
seriously and reasonably asks for the marriage due the other is
bound to render it. Reasonably asks: no one in marriage engages
to become a convenience for another’s passion; neither must force
their every wish on the other; they are equal and, particularly
as regards the marriage act, have the same rights. It is most
desirable that the action should be mutual. This will not be too
difficult if the two love one another in a human way and are
ready to be considerate and make sacrifices, if each tries to
serve the other, and if it is realized that for their happiness
together the act should be the comfort and content of both.

There are exceptions to the obligation of rendering the marriage
due. A married person is not strictly bound to grant it if the
other has been unfaithful to the extent of adultery. Normal
relations are only re-established by the generous forgiveness of
the injured party. There is no obligation if there is a danger of
the infection of disease. Or if the request is unreasonable, if
it be under conditions that are genuinely harmful and
distressing, then it may be refused. This particularly affects
the woman; she has not promised to be the man’s slave, but the
sharer of his human life, of his control as well as of his ease.
It is commonly held that a woman to whom pregnancy would be fatal
or highly dangerous is not bound to render the due; the request
for it would be unreasonable. Finally, there is no obligation of
granting it, rather the reverse, if it is going to be abused by
the sin of onanism.

There is no obligation of asking for the due except when harm
would be done by abstinence, a weakening of love, a risk of
impurity. In this connection, husband and wife will learn to
interpret and anticipate the wishes of each other.

By mutual consent married couples may abstain from intercourse
either for a time or for ever, not as evading the obligations of
their state, but as an offering and sacrifice to God. They must
not deny the existence of the right, but may forgo the exercise
of it.


Now this does not say it is a mortal sin, but the document says very little about mortal vs venial sins. But it is the best explanation, none-the-less, IMO.

What you find on the internet isn’t always the teaching of the church. I couldn’t find a reference in the catechism or any other official document or anything from anyone who speaks for the church.

This document declares it a mortal sin.

From the catechism

"1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; **the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its “supreme gift,” the child **(GS 50 § 1).
Turning a marriage away from the supreme gift sounds pretty grave to me. Once again, this is only logical.

Well, is EWTN the one who decides it’s a “church teaching” or Fr. William J. Cogan?

I’m not being smart here but where does it say this is an official church teaching? I know EWTN and Priest are a great resource but as far as I know they do not make “church teachings”.

I edited the above post to add a refernce from the catechism. I don’t know why it is not explicit in the catechism, but this has been the teaching for a long time. On the other hand, look at the sins it is grouped with and it seems pretty clear. Go ask a priest if you are concerned. There are so many references on the internet from apparently valid sources, that it is hard to believe they are all wrong without there being a whole lot of discussion.

Thanks, that makes more sense. I was told this is the way it was but couldn’t find the reference in the catechism.

By that wording it does lend to the thought that you can’t refuse intercourse. It would seem that it’s somewhat on the same order as using ABC (limiting fertility).

The whole “marriage debt” issue is like OACOW.

(Opening A Can Of Worms)

Oh…no doubt about that.

I don’t think the intent is to give a spouse a tool to get more sex but I can guess that there are those who would use it for that purpose.

Personally, I would not want intercourse with my wife if she didn’t want it. Seems like it would sort of defeat one of the purposes of the union.

Yes it can be, that is why I posted the long cut and past above, I think it covers the issue very thoroughly. But it happens all the time, a spouse uses it as a threat or punishment, or one of the spouses just decides they no longer have any desire and they indefiniely use that as an excuse. It is a very serious matter, likely to lead the injured spouse to temptation of other serious sins. How can doing that to one’s spouse not be a grave matter?

Yeah, that’s the other side of it. If the spouse is refusing intercourse to punish or hold leverage over the other, that’s not right either.

“not tonight, Hon, I have a headache” when there is no good reason to say that, but mere selfishness.

When I think of “refusal of fertility”, I think of birth control. It seems to me that this is what this passage is referencing?

I think it’s wise to be careful when referencing web pages as “official” sources of church teaching. I think what you pulled from EWTN was very well written and a beautiful explanation of the obligation spouses have to one another. However, it does not say that to refuse is a mortal sin, and I think that to make this claim without being able to point to where the church stands officially on it isn’t helpful.

Clearly it isn’t so simple as to say “it’s a mortal sin to refuse the marriage debt”. Even according to the quote from EWTN, which is not even official teaching, there are many instances under which the request can be considered unreasonable.

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