Answer: St. Thomas Aquinas speaks about this question of the sexual act compared with eating in great detail in his Summa, and he shows, as we also have shown, that the marital sexual act is intoxicating and oppressive on the reason, which makes it necessary for the marital act to be excused with the absolutely necessary motive of procreation. In contrast to the intoxicating power of the sexual act, however, “in the act of eating there is not such an intense pleasure overpowering the reason”, and so this shows us that this objection is completely false and without any merit.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 1: “[Objection 1: Eating doesn’t need to be excused. Therefore neither does the marriage act.] Reply to Objection 1: In the act of eating there is not such an intense pleasure overpowering the reason as in the aforesaid action, both because the generative power, whereby original sin is transmitted, is infected and corrupt, whereas the nutritive power, by which original sin is not transmitted, is neither corrupt nor infected; and again because each one feels in himself a defect [of hunger] of the individual more than a defect of the species [of mankind]. Hence, in order to entice a man to take food which supplies a defect of the individual, it is enough that he feel this defect; but in order to entice him to the act whereby a defect of the species is remedied, Divine providence attached pleasure to that act, which moves even irrational animals in which there is not the stain of original sin. Hence the comparison [between eating and having sex] fails.”
Here we see St. Thomas explaining the very evident truth of the Natural Law that the sexual act is more oppressive on the reason than eating, thus making it similar to the effect of a drug. In addition, we see that St. Thomas explains that there are two reasons why the sexual act have “such an intense pleasure overpowering the reason... both because the generative power, whereby original sin is transmitted, is infected and corrupt, whereas the nutritive power, by which original sin is not transmitted, is neither corrupt nor infected; and again because each one feels in himself a defect [of hunger] of the individual more than a defect of the species [of mankind].” First, St. Thomas mentions the fact that “the generative power, whereby original sin is transmitted, is infected and corrupt”, in order to show why the marital sexual act is so intoxicating and oppressive on the reason. Thus, the reason why the marital sexual act is so intoxicating is because Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden affected the genital organs in a great way, which in turn made all of us humans ashamed to show our private parts after the fall. As a second argument why the marital sexual act is so oppressive on the reason, St. Thomas confirms the very obvious fact that since a person suffers more personally from the defect of being hungry or fatigued from lack of food, than from a defect of the human species, or that fewer people are being born to him, “in order to entice him to the act” so that more children can be born in this world “Divine providence attached pleasure to that [sexual] act, which moves even irrational animals in which there is not the stain of original sin.” It is therefore clear that “in order to entice a man to take food which supplies a defect of the individual, it is enough that he feel this defect; but in order to entice him to the act whereby a defect of the species is remedied, Divine providence attached pleasure to that [sexual] act, which moves even irrational animals in which there is not the stain of original sin. Hence the comparison [between eating and having sex] fails.”
In another part of his Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas confirms the fact that the pleasure of eating and having sex are quite different.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 153, Art. 2: “Venereal pleasures are more impetuous, and are more oppressive on the reason than the pleasures of the palate: and therefore they are in greater need of chastisement and restraint, since if one consent to them this increases the force of concupiscence and weakens the strength of the mind. Hence Augustine says (Soliloq. i, 10): ‘I consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heights as the fondling of women, and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.’”
St. Thomas continues to speak about the necessity for the marital sexual act to be excused:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 1: “Whether certain blessings are necessary in order to excuse [marriage and sexual intercourse in] marriage? Wherever there is indulgence [as St. Paul states], there must needs be some reason for excuse. Now marriage is allowed in the state of infirmity "by indulgence" (1 Corinthians 7:6). Therefore it needs to be excused by certain goods. Further, the intercourse of fornication and that of marriage are of the same species as regards the species of nature. But the intercourse of fornication is wrong in itself. Therefore, in order that the marriage intercourse be not wrong, something must be added to it to make it right, and draw it to another moral species.
I answer that, No wise man should allow himself to lose a thing except for some compensation in the shape of an equal or better good. Wherefore for a thing that has a loss attached to it to be eligible, it needs to have some good connected with it, which by compensating for that loss makes that thing ordinate and right. Now there is a loss of reason incidental to the union of man and woman, both because the reason is carried away entirely on account of the vehemence of the pleasure, so that it is unable to understand anything at the same time, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 11); and again because of the tribulation of the flesh which such persons have to suffer from solicitude for temporal things (1 Corinthians 7:28). Consequently the choice of this union cannot be made ordinate except by certain compensations whereby that same union is righted, and these are the goods which excuse marriage and make it right.”
Since all humans knows by instinct and nature that one may not get intoxicated for selfish or unnecessary reasons, it is clear that both the married as well as the unmarried who perform non-procreative or unnecessary forms of sexual acts are in a state of damnation, since they are sinning mortally against both nature and their own reason. “For necessary sexual intercourse for begetting [of children] is free from blame, and itself is alone worthy of marriage.But that which goes beyond this necessity [of begetting children, such as sensual kisses and touches] no longer follows reason but lust.” (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 11)
Just like in the case of the person who use drugs, one must have an absolutely necessary reason, such as an illness, for using the drugs in order for it to be without sin, and motives that aren’t absolutely necessary such as “love”, “pleasure” or “fun” can never be used as an excuse to excuse the marital act from being a sin, just like one cannot use such unnecessary and evil excuses for the purpose of excusing one’s drug abuse. In this context of speaking about the truth that the vehemence of the marital sexual act is “more oppressive on the reason than the pleasures of the palate”, St. Thomas shows us that the sexual act is intoxicating and thus oppressive on the reason, just like a drug is, which shows us that it is a fact of the Natural Law that the marital sexual act must be excused with the absolutely necessary motive of procreation, just like drug usage must be excused with the absolutely necessary motive of pain relief and health.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 5: “Whether the marriage act can be excused without the marriage goods [sacrament, fidelity, procreation]? On the contrary, If the cause be removed the effect is removed. Now the marriage goods are the cause of rectitude in the marriage act. Therefore the marriage act cannot be excused without them. Further, the aforesaid act does not differ from the act of fornication except in the aforesaid goods. But the act of fornication is always evil. Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused...”
Therefore, the natural and procreative marital act performed by two married spouses is the only sexual act that can be excused from sin since man knows by nature and instinct that one must excuse an act of intoxication with an absolutely necessary motive. Anything contrary to this is unnatural and evil.
St. Thomas Aquinas, In Sententiarum, 126.96.36.199: “I respond, it must be said to the first question that, as is clear from the things said before, that action is said to be against the law of nature which is not fitting to the due end, whether because it is not ordered to it through the action of the agent, or because of itself it is disproportionate to that end. However, the end which nature intends from lying together [in the sexual act] is the offspring to be procreated and educated; and, so that this good might be sought, nature put delight in intercourse, as Augustine says. Whoever, therefore, uses copulation for the delight which is in it, not referring the intention to the end intended by nature, [that is, procreation] acts against nature; and this is also true unless such copulation is had as can be appropriately ordered to that end [that is, one also acts against nature when one performs non-procreative sexual acts].”
In fact, sexual sins, whether between married or unmarried people are especially reprehensible and evil since they are very similar to the evil effect of a drug user abusing drugs in order to get intoxicated or high, or an alcoholic abusing alcohol in order to get drunk. In this context, St. Thomas Aquinas taught the following concerning the vice of sexual intemperance and how the “the reason is absorbed” when one performs unlawful sexual acts: “Among the vices of intemperance, venereal sins are most deserving of reproach, both on account of the insubordination of the genital organs, and because by these sins especially, the reason is absorbed.” (Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 151, Art. 4, Reply to Objection 3, Whether purity belongs especially to chastity?)
When married spouses do not excuse the marital act (which is intoxicating in a way similar to a drug) with the honorable motive of begetting children by only performing the normal, natural and procreative marital act, they perform an act that is inherently sinful, selfish, unreasonable, and unnatural since “the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii # 54) and since “the act of marriage exercised for pleasure only” is condemned as a sin by the Natural Law (Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Matters #9, March 4, 1679). And so, the marital act needs an absolutely necessary excuse to legitimize and make moral the inherently evil act of getting intoxicated just like one needs an excuse, like a grave illness, to legitimize and make moral the inherently evil act of getting intoxicated by a drug.
Since the marital act performed by two married spouses gives the spouses the same pleasure and sensual intoxication of the flesh that a fornicating unmarried couple experience in their sexual acts, St. Thomas is indeed right to say that: “The marriage act differs not from fornication except by the marriage goods. If therefore these [the procreative end and intent, fidelity, and faith] were not sufficient to excuse it marriage would be always unlawful; and this is contrary to what was stated above (Question 41, Article 3). … Therefore these goods can excuse marriage so that it is nowise a sin.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 4)
An inherently evil act must always be excused with an absolutely necessary motive or purpose. Otherwise, it will always be a sin. Two examples that clearly demonstrates this fact of “excusing” an otherwise evil act are found in the case of a man injuring another person, which is excused in the case of self-defense; or in the case of a man getting intoxicated, which is excused when a man is sick and requires this intoxication in order to get pain relief. All other inherently evil acts than what is absolutely necessary are strictly condemned as sins, since they cannot be excused by an absolutely necessary motive. For example, a man cannot hurt another man if he wants his money, or if he does not like him; and a man cannot get drunk or intoxicated just because he is sad, unhappy, or want to feel “love”, for none of these excuses are absolutely necessary. Thus, these excuses are not enough by themselves to excuse these acts from being sinful. In truth, some evil acts cannot even be excused at all, such as in the case of a man who is suffering from hunger, but who nevertheless is never allowed to kill another person in order to get food to survive. It is thus a dogmatic fact of the Natural Law that “the generative [sexual] act is a sin unless it is excused.” (St. Bonaventure, Commentary on the Four Books of Sentences, d. 31, a. 2, q. 1) It could not be more clear from the Natural Law as well as the teachings of the Church that “Coitus is reprehensible and evil, unless it be excused” (Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Paris, Sententiarum, 3, d. 37, c. 4) and that is also why all who commit the marital act without excusing it, will always commit sin. “Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused...” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 5)
Question: Is it sinful to have marital relations during the menstruation of the woman?
Answer: The question of whether marital relations during the menstruation of the woman is sinful or not is hard to answer since ambiguous statements by Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii are interpreted by some to mean that it is allowed. Pope Pius XI explains that a husband and wife may use their marital rights in the proper manner, although on account of natural reasons, new life cannot be brought forth, but his teaching does not define whether it is speaking about the menstruation of the woman or some other sickness or defect of the woman, like the monthly infertility of women.
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 59), Dec. 31, 1930: “Nor are those considered as acting against nature who, in the married state, use their right in the proper manner, although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivation of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider, so long as they are subordinated to the primary end [that is, Procreation of children] and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”
This teaching does not directly address the question of whether it is allowed or not to perform the marital act during the menstruation period of the woman, and so there is some measure of uncertainty whether the Church allows this filthy act to be performed since the Old Testament of the Bible, as well as the Popes, Fathers, Saints and Doctors of the Church throughout the ages, condemned or opposed marital relations during this time period.
Pope St. Gregory the Great, in his “Epistle To Augustine, Bishop of the Angli [English]” (c. 597 A.D.) writes that all women: “are forbidden to have intercourse with their husbands while held of their accustomed sicknesses [menses]; so much so that the sacred law smites with death any man who shall go into a woman having her sickness [Leviticus 20:18].” (Epistles of St. Gregory the Great, Book XI, Letter 64, To Augustine, Bishop of the Angli)
As mentioned, it was forbidden and a capital offense (that is, it was an act that was punished by death and execution) for spouses to have marital relations during the wife’s infertile monthly cycle during the Old Covenant era. This clearly shows us that God does not want spouses to perform the marital act during this time.
Leviticus 20:18 “If any man lie with a woman in her flowers, and uncover her nakedness, and she open the fountain of her blood, both shall be destroyed out of the midst of their people.”
We read in the Old Testament that God had forbidden the marital act by separating the wife from her husband during the infertile monthly menstrual cycle of the woman. Leviticus 15:19: “The woman, who at the return of the month, hath her issue of blood, shall be separated seven days.” Haydock Commentary explains: “Days, not only out of the camp, but from the company of men.” As soon as a woman shows signs of infertility, intercourse would cease. “Thou shalt not approach to a woman having her flowers: neither shalt thou uncover her nakedness” (Leviticus 18:19).Haydock Commentary adds: “Saint Augustine believes that this law is still in force. [On Leviticus 20:18] This intemperance was by a positive law declared a mortal offence of the Jews.”
This wondrous law from God not only diminished the time a couple could have marital relations, but it also prohibited the women from the company of men, and this certainly includes her husband. What was God’s reason for separating the woman from her man you might ask? In truth, God who knows more about human weaknesses and sins than all of humanity combined ordained this so that the temptation to violate His laws and have marital relations during this period would not happen. For most temptations work like this: as long as you take away the source of the temptation, it will always be easier to control.
Ezechiel 18:5-6,9 “And if a man be just, and do judgment and justice, And hath not eaten upon the mountains [that is, of the sacrifices there offered to idols], nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel: and hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife, nor come near to a menstruous woman... he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God.”
Another reason why God made this wondrous law was so that a couple would have marital relations less frequently, which in turn would help them get stronger in resisting and conquering sexual temptations of different kinds. For as we have seen already, those who indulge in the marital act too often commits a sin of gluttony of sorts and will fall more easily into other sins since they do not order their actions in accordance with right reason, but in accordance with their unmortified and sensual desires like animals or brute beasts.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also did not believe that it was lawful, and taught very clearly in his Summa Theologica that it is a sin to knowingly demand the marital debt when a woman is menstruating. He also compared demanding the debt on such occasions with the case of a madman being dangerous to other people, both bodily and spiritually (Summa Theologica, Suppl., Q. 64, Art. 4, Objection 3).
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 64, Art. 3: “Whether it is allowable for a menstruous wife to ask for the marriage debt? On the contrary, "Thou shalt not approach to a woman having her flowers" (Leviticus 18:19) where Augustine observes: "Although he has already sufficiently forbidden this he repeats the prohibition here lest he seem to have spoken figuratively." Further, "All our justices" are become "as the rag of a menstruous woman" (Isaiah 64:6) where Jerome observes: "Men ought then to keep away from their wives [at this time]… so that those parents who are not ashamed to come together in sexual intercourse have their sin made obvious to all": and thus the same conclusion follows.
“I answer that, It was forbidden in the Law to approach to a menstruous woman, for two reasons both on account of her uncleanness, and on account of the [spiritual and bodily] harm that frequently resulted to the offspring from such intercourse. With regard to the first reason, it was a ceremonial precept, but with regard to the second it was a moral precept. For since marriage is chiefly directed to the good of the offspring, all use of marriage which is intended for the good of the offspring is in order. Consequently this precept is binding even in the New Law on account of the second reason, although not on account of the first. Now, the menstrual issue may be natural or unnatural. The natural issue is that to which women are subject at stated periods when they are in good health; and it is unnatural when they suffer from an issue of blood through some disorder resulting from sickness. Accordingly if the menstrual flow be unnatural it is not forbidden in the New Law to approach to a menstruous woman both on account of her infirmity since a woman in that state cannot conceive, and because an issue of this kind is lasting and continuous, so that the husband would have to abstain for always. When however the woman is subject to a natural issue of the menstruum, she can conceive; moreover, the said issue lasts only a short time, wherefore it is forbidden to approach to her. In like manner a woman is forbidden to ask for the debt during the period of that issue.”
We will also see many more quotations from the early Church concerning the traditional teaching against sexual relations during menstruation in the next question.
Question: Is it sinful to have marital relations during the pregnancy of the woman?