The so-called marital obligation?

I don’t know about other women, but seeing lovemaking described as a debt or obligation that wives must give to their husbands, with the implication that their is never a valid reason to ask to postpone relations for a day or so, makes me feel even less likely to respond positively. No woman in her right mind wants to be reduced to a mere outlet for her husband’s sexual desires. It makes me feel dirty and used just thinking about it. The number of times in this forum that I have seen lovemaking described in such a demeaning fashion is unconscionable. What kind of message does that send to people considering marriage? Christian couples today must work very hard to rightly understand and use their sexual natures, in a loving and holy way. Throwing around words like debt and obligation, especially as it is almost always referring to a debt the woman must pay, verbally reduces the paying spouse to the level of an object to use…a dumpster even. Why do people keep using this term that is especially damaging to women, and doesn’t even adequately describe the power and the beauty of the marital act?

The “debt” goes both ways. Not just man imposing on woman. Remember that it is a unitive act. We are to share completely ourselves with our spouses.

To me, as a wife, the marital debt is not in any way lessened in its beauty or value (or my desire for it!) by calling it a “debt” I owe my husband.

It IS a debt I owe him–and he owes me–because on our wedding day we made a covenant, an exchange of persons. I am his, and he is mine.

Because I am his, when he wants the use of my body, it is not charity or grace on my part to give myself to him; it is justice. Why? Because I gave myself to him on our wedding day. And he gave himself to me.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in fact, mentions that husbands have even the greater responsibility to give of their physical love to their wives because wives might be shy about asking, so a husband is supposed to look for hints and implications, whereas a wife need only wait to be asked. :stuck_out_tongue:

Marriage has obligations. They are taken on willingly and freely, but once you take those vows they are obligations nonetheless. You are obligated to put your spouses welfare before your own, to be faithful to your spouse, to stand by your spouse, to care for them when they are ill, and yes, to engage in sex.

Acknowledging that it is an obligation does not diminish how special it is. In fact, acknowledging that you gladly took on this obligation for life makes it even more special.

I don’t see the word “debt” as being negative at all. :shrug:

What mfrances and the other posters said. I think the connotation of the word “debt” or “obligation” is throwing you off. It’s being used to convey the seriousness of the issue, not that it should be drudgery. We owe it to our spouses to love them in many different ways, including physically. What’s wrong about saying exactly that?

Perhaps it would be better for you to think of it as part of the covenant made before God and earthly witnesses, instead of using contractual language.

Maybe it’s gender differences. If I’m told I have an obligation or debt to love my wife I would totally concur. If I’m told I have to do certain things even when I don’t feel like it because that’s what love is all about, I’d say “yes, absolutely.” If I read or hear that my role in marriage is to be totally self-sacrificing to my wife physically, emotionally, spiritually and practically (such as in helping with the chores and what not) I’d give a hearty “hear hear!” But then again, as a man perhaps I respond more positively to language with the connotation of duty and obligation than women do.

Absolutely yes. And as a man let me just say it would be sooo much easier if there was straightforward communication on this. Then again, perhaps it would remove a bit of the mystery in the relationship. Men like a good puzzle. It’s part of the reason why we’re so intrigued by women.

Maybe it is my own marital history that is throwing me here. But when we converted, part of that process for my husband and I included a promise from him that he would never use me again, nor would he withhold affection or act cruelly toward me. He insisted, once he understood how a Christian husband should treat his wife, that he would never demand relations from me anymore, and that his job from now on was to love me however I needed to be loved, so that I would feel safe being vulnerable with him and therefore more receptive to his advances. Abandoning the notion of obligation and debt finally freed me from fear, to be able to love my husband and trust him. And then I see the terms debt and obligation used here on the forum and I feel like I am falling back into that scary place where sex is about being used, and none too kindly. FWIW, my husband and I were virgins, so the reasons for my emotional scars were from my and his upbringing, which was Protestant, but accepting of all kinds of deviancy. I love my husband and would not “deny” him, but he and I are both agreed that “debt” has no place in our vocabulary, nor does asking for a day or two to recover from a cold or stomach virus or needing a good night’s sleep equal “denying”.
I am thankful for how much he has changed, but the language some Catholics use to describe physically loving can sound just like being used. I am not the equivalent of a tissue for a sneeze, or a trashcan for waste. I don’t like feeling like I just have the necessary equipment to fulfill a function, and can then be forgotten or neglected. :frowning:

Btw, St. Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on communication regarding intimacy were one of the things that helped us to lay some ground rules for my own feeling of safety. His assertion that a wife should not have to ask verbally, but that the husband needs to use words to ask helped me and my husband a lot these past couple years. I don’t have to fear affection anymore. Thanks to St. Thomas Aquinas. :thumbsup:

As a single person who’s never done “it” this is how I visualize a marriage–a beautiful obligation and desire to serve. In my ignorance, I may have an idealized view of things, but I just don’t get it when married couples don’t have intercourse (for non-medical reasons obviously). :shrug: It just seems so non-loving to deny your spouse. :frowning:

Well there you go. So yeah, your history probably is throwing you for a loop and that’s OK. You don’t need to fear that anyone here is trying to reduce anyone to a utility. We’re just using certain language to convey that the “right” to physical intimacy is included in the marital contract. That contract is a sacred and holy one, so undermining any part of that contract is a serious situation.

I think it also being used to be radically opposed to the culture of the day that basically dictates, at least in my mind, that wives have no sexual obligations to their husbands and that men who complain or are annoyed by that about it are just whiners. Sure, women are by their nature the gatekeepers of sexuality but Catholic doctrine teaches that the keys held by both parties are handed over to their spouses on their wedding day. Using sex as a weapon or at least a tool for leverage in other things is seen as a good way to “win” a marital battle in pop culture and Catholicism rightly teaches that using sex in such a way is seriously wrong. That’s why I think this language is used so often.

I’m not particularly fond of the term “debt” either- I think it’s an unfortunate word used to describe something good. It is not supposed to be used to demand sex from your spouse, and does have the potential to be misapplied. I think it’s better to think of it in terms of the one who is less interested at the moment-sometimes one of you is not in the mood, but remembering that you promised yourselves to each other can make you reconsider. The “marital obligation” is not ever meant to he used as a tool for the initiator to threaten with, or to be thought of as a transaction. Nor is it wrong to say “how about another night?” for any reason at all, as long as it’s not a pattern that becomes harmful to the marriage. It is good for both spouses to be aware that they do have this obligation to one another, but that doesn’t mean either one should use it as a demand. If in a good marriage, that wouldn’t happen.

Despite my problem with terminology, I have never used sex as a weapon. That is horrible. My husband has told me that for the first 13 years of our marriage, I was the one who was doing all the sacrificing, and I have the emotional scars to prove him right. He says it is his turn to sacrifice, and probably will be for the rest of our lives. God bless him, he has become the man I knew he could be since our conversion. I am so proud of him. But the fear of domination remains. Oh well, just another thing to get counseling for I guess.:blush:

I have never heard any Catholic say,nor read in any moral theology write up any implication that there is never a valid reason to ask to postpone relations.

I suggest you first do a careful reading of what the marriage debt is and what it is not. It is an obligation to have sex when a reasonable request is made. Or conversely, a spouse cannot say “no” for an unreasonable cause. What is a reasonable cause to say no? Without a doubt: infidelity, being asked to have unchaste acts, illness. What is an unreasobablecause to say no? simple "not being in the mood"or and certainly for any type of retribution or manipulative cause.

We do not own our bodys after we are marriage. We have given ourselves completely to our spouse. Hence the term debt and obligation are not only appropriate, they are most enlightening.

It is not a term that is damaging to women. But yes it is part of marriage. Just as there are other obligations --like raising your kids, feeding them etc. Just because these are obligations (as is Sunday Mass and Holy Day Mass) does not make the obligation the focus.

And it is a mutual obligation (debitum).

There are of course also limits to the various obligations --and even some exceptions.

And there can be mutually agreed upon postponements (aside from a near occasion of sin). One spouse may feel rather tired…

Well, the “obligation” refers to both the husband and the wife (being a mutual obligation, as Bookcat said):

Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband.

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

The greater issue that I see here is that the words “obligation” and “debt” refer to a much higher context: procreation.

The union between a man and a woman under the sacrament of Marriage (from the Latin “matrimonium”, “the action of the mother”, or “the action of her that gives life”) is - as you probably know - a reflection of both the Trinity and of the mystical union of Christ the Bridegroom and the Church, His Bride.

The desire and the pleasure are complementary, not an end in themselves. Donating ourselves to our spouse is done out of sheer love (“this is my body, which will be given up for you”) and the “obligation” comes into play because procreation requires mutual consent.

I exhort you to find out about the “Theology of the Body” (there are very nice books and videos, some on youtube) :slight_smile: Also this section of the Catechism describes in a very readable yet complete way “the goods and requirements of conjugal love”.

St. Paul also talks to the husband in a different way, placing on him a greater responsibility:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it …] That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.

You know, I am actually a woman with a stronger sex drive than her husband. So being in this situation, I feel gives me a little bit of a different perspective on this subject as a woman. It doesn’t happen often, but when my husband refuses my advances, it makes me feel horrible. It makes me feel unwanted, not sexually appealing to him, and the like. Now I don’t expect him to take me up on the offer every time, there are valid reasons to turn me down (being sick, way too tired to perform, having to wake up really early, or whatever other good reason), but most of the time the reasons I hear of people turning down sex, aren’t good reasons. Part of my wanting to have sex with my husband (each time I initiate) is that I love him and I want to be intimate with him and when I am turned down with these things in mind the rejection is crushing.

Just letting you guys know, my husband is an amazing husband and rarely turns me down, so please don’t think lowly of him. I am just showing that it isn’t always the case of using your spouse just as a sexual outlet and it isn’t always the men who want more sex.

Thank you for this clarification. I have heard many Catholics actually say, in these forums, that we are never to refuse for any reason. It is disturbing, to say the least. But your clarification helps so much. My reasons for requesting to postpone have to do with fear of lack of privacy, health issues that I was working to resolve that would interfere with comfortable relations, illnesses, or sheer exhaustion. When one of those reasons don’t exist, it is usually me coming to my husband with that look in my eye. I feel much better knowing that there are legitimate reasons for asking for a day or two to get ready. Thank you again.

Thank you everyone for your perspectives and input. I have a much clearer picture of what people actually mean now, and it is not what I assumed. Although some people do use those terms to justify treating their wives horribly, I am so glad to see that is not what is meant here.

You are welcome. But to be honest, I question how closely you are reading the responses. I have read many and posted on several threads concerning this very subject. I do not ever recall reading what you claim. On the other side, there have been many people who will deny the obligation to the point of “not being in the mood” is reasonable or that it is ok to deny the obligation every now and then as long as it is not habitual.

Fear of lack of privacy seems very reasonable to me, as do health reasons and sheer exhaustion; especially when you put it in the context of a requestion for postponing, as opposed to denying.

Again, do not be put off by the terminology. It is actually wonderful terminology IMO. It reminds our strong our committments to our spouse is supposed to be. And we have lots of debts and obligations in our everydaing a day lives, feeding our kids, doing laundry, earning a paycheck. It all comes with our family and marital obligations. Why should this one, very important part of our marriage be given a seemingly lower priority (based on teminology).

It also occurred to me, after reading the post about obligation being linked to procreation, that the widespread use of contraception may be the largest reason why obligation and debt are words so damaging to women. If a husband repeatedly demands sex from his wife and expects a sexkitten performance from her, all the while he is denying her the ability to create a child, there is no love here. There is no mutual sacrifice for the sake of the other. There is only taking and using and dominating. This is exactly how my husband and I was raised. It was Catholic teaching on human sexuality that actually drew me to the faith. Initially, it was for that reason alone that my husband and I converted. Most of the rest of Christendom, outside of the Catholic Church, has schizophrenic and dangerous teachings on sexuality.

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