Spouse Initiating Sex After Vasectomy?


According to an article I found online (from the Diocese of Madison Catholic Herald) a spouse of a man who has had a vasectomy shouldn’t initiate relations.

Specifically, it says: " Pope Pius XI addressed this issue as far back as 1930, but the clearest teaching of the Church came in a 1997 Vatican document called the Vademecum for Confessors . It notes that cooperation in the sin of one’s spouse, by continuing to engage in the marital act when the spouse has taken recourse to contraception, can be permissible when “proportionally grave reasons” exist for doing so, and when one is earnestly “seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such sinful conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity, and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).”

The Vademecum and sound counselors say that participation in such an act would not be in and of itself immoral on the part of the non-contracepting spouse, but these counselors would also say that the one trying to lead the Christian life ought not to initiate sexual relations with the contracepting spouse."

Is this true? Or just the opinion of some “counselors?” Nothing I’ve read on the topic seems to forbid a spouse from initiating sex…

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I’ve brought up a similar question with a couple of priests regarding my wife’s intent to not have any more kids. We use NFP, and she uses it specifically to avoid children indefinitely. (Our first pregnancy was not a great experience for her, so I understand it, but I still want more kids…)

The general response I’ve seen and received is that as long as I’m open to life then it’s okay for me to engage.

The prohibition against intercourse while on contraceptives is because certain contraceptives also act as abortifacients, meaning that you might be conceiving a child and then, as a result of chemical changes in the ovaries, those children might be killed. (Usually through changes in the lining that prevent implantation.)

In your case, this was your husbands decision. As long as you were not supportive of it, and as long as you remain open to life (even if it is now technically impossible through standard means), then you should be good. There is no risk of a child being conceived and then artificially aborted here. If you’re still concerned, talk to your priest.

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No, that’s not why contraceptives are prohibited. And of course, if one is taking a hormone medication for an underlying medical condition, one is not barred from having intercourse simply because the side effect of the medication is contraceptive.

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My understanding is that even if the contraception is permanent and was initiated by one party, once that party has confessed it is treated as any other form of infertility.

Note, vasectomies and tubal ligations are one and done events. If the person in question has repented and gone to confession* they are no longer contracepting (present tense). Their past actions may be responsible for their infertility, but they are no longer sinning. Contrast with ongoing and/or removable contraception where the person has to continue their actions in order to be infertile.

*Standard warnings about the sin of presumption apply.


What if the man is not Catholic and doesn’t believe it’s a sin, and therefore no repentance/confession will take place? Can the spouse still initiate sex?

I think a priest could better handle this one better than I can. I think that the other spouse only contributes to the sin of the contracepted act when the contraception is optional. That gives them a say in it’s use. Permanent contraception is no longer optional.

That’s speculation, though, and I’d rather hear from someone who knows for sure.

I didn’t say it’s why contraceptives were prohibited, I said it’s why sex with women using contraceptives is generally discouraged.

Remember, the Vademecum is a document to help PASTORS to counsel penitents IN CONFESSION.

The pastor is the one doing the counseling. He may indeed counsel the innocent spouse to refrain from initiating marital relations in such situations. He would be applying the Vademecum to the person’s specific situation.

My understanding has always been that where one spouse is contracepting and the other spouse does not will this, the other spouse is always justified in exercising their marital rights. In other words, the marital rights trump the fact that the other spouse is contracepting. The sin of contraception is on the one doing the contracepting, not the innocent spouse. Using an abortifacient method of contraception would be another thing entirely.

Where one spouse has had themselves surgically rendered unable to conceive, or to impregnate, as the case may be, assuming the surgery can’t be reasonably reversed, “what’s done is done”. Whether that spouse is bound to “mimic” NFP in some way (e.g., to abstain during what would otherwise be the fertile time) is between that spouse and their confessor. I have heard of this being prescribed as a penance. I have my own thoughts about the suitability of this, but I will keep those to myself, for as I said, that is between the spouse and their confessor. I can foresee that different instances of the same sin, committed by different people, would call for different penances.

But is that Catholic law (for lack of a better word) thar the innocent spouse should not initiate, or just advice a priest may give?

You are looking for a “law” or a “rule”. That isn’t the right question to ask. The Vademecum is a pastoral guidance for pastors in confession.

So it’s not a rule, rather advice someone might be given in confession given an individual situation?

It’s not a rule, but it has more weight than advice you are free to take or not take.

If a man is contracepting through condoms or withdrawing initiating pushes the man to commit a grave offense.

In the case of the vasectomy it is somewhat different, but it could cause scandal if the spouse is understood to be giving mixed messages— it’s a sin, you should get a reversal, let’s have sex!

It’s a weighty matter, and the counsel around initiating should be considered in light of the three-fold criteria outlined in the Vademecum, for example proportionally serious reasons. Maybe a spouse has proportionally serious reasons in a specific case, but in others they wouldn’t.

Sorry for any confusion. I read your post to imply that someone taking a medication with a contraceptive side effect would have to refrain from intercourse. Which is not correct.

If I recall correctly, the teaching about this depended on whether using contraception was obvious. Consenting to sex when the spouse is known to habitually use coitus interruptus would not be a sin, because the contraception is not evident in advance. However, when there is a condom, the contraception is evident.

No, it doesn’t depend on whether it’s known in advance or not.

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I have had reason, thinking it over today, to doubt somewhat the advice my priest gave me — I was asking whether I would be guilty if any future wife of mine were to contracept against my wishes, and he assured me I would not be. (He advised against marrying someone who would resort to that, citing “your strong feelings against it”, advice I ultimately followed.)

My doubt is that, by approaching one’s contracepting partner to exercise one’s conjugal rights, the innocent spouse is inducing the other spouse to perform a contraceptive act, whereas if they refrained from exercising those rights, the other spouse would not perform that act, and thus would not commit an act that is objectively a grave sin.

That would be very complicated — things such as this rarely admit of easy, pat, cut-and-dried, “one size fits all” solutions. Without attempting to second-guess what the innocent spouse should do (or not do) in such a situation, the best solution would be to marry someone who would never treat contraception as an option — which was the priest’s advice to me.

(He held a doctorate, but is now deceased, so there is no way to ask him if he could “weigh in” on this.)

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