5. Natural Family Planning and Sex and the Marriage Covenant

In summary, we have seen that God has revealed that sexual intercourse is a good act only within marriage, and we have seen that out of the will of man and woman to marry God creates a oneness which makes it good for them to express that oneness in the one-fleshness of honest sexual intercourse. What can we conclude except that God intends for their sexual union to be a unique sign, a symbol of their marriage union?

The next question which arises is this: “Once they are married, is the marriage act intended to reflect the caring, self-giving love the couple promised to each other?” To put it another way, “Can a husband demand sex from his wife no matter how harshly he has treated her? Does the teaching of St. Paul that a wife is to be submissive to her husband (Eph 5:22) and that she should give him his conjugal rights (1 Cor 7:3) mean that he is entitled to marital relations even if he should be drunk and abusive?”

The answer is to be found in the context of each of the passages above. St. Paul also commands that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Is that not both a beautiful and yet very forceful statement that husbands are to love their wives with a self-sacrificing love? Furthermore, in the passage of First Corinthians, Paul taught that “the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights and likewise the wife to her husband” (1 Cor 7:3).

In the strict sense of conjugal rights that are necessary for the validity of marriage, such rights are limited to honest sexual intercourse. That is, the lack of kindness and affection do not nullify a marriage, but the refusal to engage in sexual intercourse—ever—would provide grounds for nullity.

However, in a looser sense we can say that conjugal rights extend beyond sexual intercourse. Spouses also have a right to affection from the other spouse and at a bare minimum they have a right not to be abused. When one spouse acts against these rights, his or her claim to the right to sexual intercourse is correspondingly reduced.

The point I am making is that within marriage the spouses are called to keep alive the faith and the self-giving love, a caring love, they promised when they married.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

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