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In Catholic marriage which emphasizes procreation, what about an older couple creating a holy union in marriage that includes a life of love in serving God together in the Church but where sexual pleasure is still an obvious consideration?

You ask a question that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not address specifically. The Catechism does say, in general, that fecundity “is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful” (§2366), and that “the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life” (§1653). Note that this service is not just about procreation; it also involves educating children2367), so that through an intelligent and realistic perception of the world children may grow to love and serve the will of God.

So it would make sense that, if a parent with young children were left widowed, a husband or wife to replace the deceased spouse could serve to provide a generous and warm family context in which to continue to educate the children. 

The sexual aspect of Holy Matrimony, however, does refer specifically to procreation. Note clearly, though, that the Catechism says only that all sexuality must be open to the transmission of life (§2366). This is not to say that every sexual act must produce a child but that every sexual act should express a desire to conceive a child. Without this desire to conceive a child, the sex act is merely an act of lust. This is why birth control which blocks fertility in some way (as opposed to simply abstaining from intercourse if children are not desired), and acts directed solely to erotic pleasure (such as masturbation, anal penetration,[1] and oral sex) are grave sins; all of these things are closed, not open, to life transmission. By making narcissistic pleasure their ultimate delight, these things lead you away from a holy, spiritual path into a useless dead end, precluding any service to God.

The Catechism also says that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament” (CCC 2360). But note carefully that the “physical intimacy” which serves as a marriage bond involves far more than, and does not even have to include, genital contact.

So, in the end, the answer to your question can come from answering another question: How exactly would Holy Matrimony in such a context serve God? If the only purpose of matrimony were to provide personal pleasure, then the sacrament wouldn’t result in any service to God, would it? We are told, as Christians, to seek the spirit, not the flesh. But maybe you don’t really desire to live a Christian life. Maybe you want to be free to do whatever you want to do, and maybe you want to make up your own religion. But if anyone wants to live a genuine Christian life, then he or she should at least do what Christians have been instructed to do.

What, then, should such a couple do? Well, consider that staying single under those conditions and pursuing an individual or communal life of prayer and service to others in the greater family of the Church might serve God far more than a “marriage” of convenience.

To be able to endure feeling rejection and loneliness, to continue on in humility, and not to think that you deserve far better is a real blessing, especially if you can feel this way for the honor of God, and if you do so willingly.

—Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ,
Bk 2, Ch 9: “Of Emptiness”
(Trans. by William Creasy)


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1. Acts or fantasies of bondage, rape, and anal penetration pull us away from spiritual responsibility into a realm of anger and self-loathing, reflecting—or even compulsively re-enacting—those times when we weren’t unconditionally accepted as infants or children. The erotic element of such fantasies is directed toward the feeling of defiling the other, or being defiled yourself, and it derives from the anger of having been made into an object—indeed, a piece of garbage—as a child, in which all human dignity was surrendered and defiled. These acts or fantasies, therefore, lead you right into the psychological dead-end of sado-masochism, for in their deepest psychological sense they represent a “worship” of putrefaction and death as a psychological defense against the fear of death, and consequently they defile any responsibility to life itself.


 Read about Jesus’ teachings on marriage


What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children. In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.

2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is on the side of life, teaches that it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility.

Related Pages:       

 The issue of lust

 Saint Paul’s teaching


 Back to the list of questions


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