Question 106


I am at my wit's end.  

My husband and I have been happily married for 14 years and have 3 children (12, 9 & 7 years old).  We rarely argue and truly love being around each other.  The one problem we have is that he asks for sex non-stop. This is the first thing he says to me in the morning and usually the last thing he says at night.  He will argue that he does not mention it very often, but I counted 6 times yesterday - I know this was wrong and he was angry with me stating that he will just go without for a month.  He also says that I never start it - I have tried to explain to him that if he would give me a chance to, I might surprise him.  It is to the point that I don't really enjoy having sex because I feel I never get a break. I even dread it when we are home alone because I know he will expect sex. I would like to just sit and have a quiet conversation with him or go to dinner.  If we go to dinner, he will make remarks about getting home.  My doctor suggested that we have a date night or two each week.  This way he can count on my undivided attention and I can know that he can hug/kiss me without him trying to steer it further.  He did not like this idea.  His biggest argument was that my doctor is not Catholic and may not be promoting the right thing.  Please help or steer me to the right person.  This is starting to really become a problem.  I would love to have a healthy sex life with my wonderful husband. -- Frustrated 

Dear Frustrated,

You must be very happy to be blessed with a loving and dedicated husband, with your three children, and with fourteen years of rich married life. 

The problem seems to be that your husband is making too many demands upon you for sex (“He asks for sex non stop.”). 

How can we explain that anything can be abused by going to excess?  I think that any loving husband must take into consideration the legitimate needs of his wife.  She is his bride and soul mate for life.  But she is also a person who has her own unique personal needs and psychological makeup. 

Perhaps the best way to explain this problem is to refer to the principle that a person is always a subject, and should never be reduced to the status of an object (of one’s pleasure).  A person is always an “end,” and is “never to be used” as a  “means.”  A woman knows immediately the difference between being loved and being used.  If a husband truly loves his wife, then he wants to do what is best for her.  He will not force his will upon her to satisfy his personal desires.  He respects her dispositions, her emotional needs and her moods. 

The spousal act is designed to be a totally unselfish act, where each spouse makes the total gift of self to the other.  But if the wife is not prepared, or is indisposed, to engage in sex at a given moment, then a husband’s advances become, not an act of love, but an act of self will, a seeking after his own sexual satisfaction, a forcing himself upon his wife.

I think that the two of you need to reflect upon the requirements of the virtue of chastity, as this pertains to your marriage.  Chastity means that we give good, conscious and reasonable, direction to our passions.  We refuse to be slaves to our sexual drives. We make our sex drives serve the purpose for which God created them.   For the single and celibate person, this means total abstinence from the sexual act.  For the married person, it means periodic abstinence during those times when it would not be a loving, or responsible, act to do. 

If a wife is willing to exchange the spousal act with her husband several times a week, which is the norm for most couples, then she certainly cannot be accused of withholding herself from her husband.   You might talk with your married friends and ask what the norm is for them. 

One of the advantages of Natural Family Planning is that it requires periodic abstinence during the fertile periods.  This forces the couple then to find other ways to express their affection and to nurture their relationship.  It means going back to the time of dating: talking together, a special meal, sharing a special event together, praying together, getting to know the deep mystery of each other better.  Genital sex cannot possibly replace all these dimensions of a marriage relationship.  This is also a time to think about the possibility of having another child, or to discuss the reasons why this is not a good time for having another child. 

I suggest that you read two great documents: 1) Humane Vitae (Pope Paul VI, 1968), and 2) A Letter to Families (Pope John Paul, 1994), and reflect upon them. You can find them on GOOGLE. 

Here are two good passages from these documents: 

 From Humanae Vitae:  9.  Characteristics of Married Love 

This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. 

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.

 From John Paul II’s Letter to Families:  12.  Responsible fatherhood and motherhood:

There is however a need for more in-depth study, analyzing the meaning of the conjugal act in view of the values of the "person" and of the "gift" mentioned above. This is what the Church has done in her constant teaching, and in a particular way at the Second Vatican Council. 

In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family. Certainly the mutual gift of husband and wife does not have the begetting of children as its only end, but is in itself a mutual communion of love and of life. The intimate truth of this gift must always be safeguarded. "Intimate" is not here synonymous with "subjective". Rather, it means essentially in conformity with the objective truth of the man and woman who give themselves. The person can never be considered a means to an end; above all never a means of "pleasure". The person is and must be nothing other than the end of every act. Only then does the action correspond to the true dignity of the person. 

 Cordially yours,

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB