Unitive and Procreative Nature of Intercourse

That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. (Humanae Vitae 12)

By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s most high calling to parenthood. (Humanae Vitae 12)

The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2363)

Never is it permitted to separate these different aspects [unitive and procreative] to the point of excluding positively either the intention of procreation or the conjugal relation. (Pius XII, Allocution to the Members of the II World Congress of Fertility and Sterility, May 19, 1956)

The husband and wife do no wrong in seeking out and enjoying this pleasure [cooperating with God in propagating the human race]. They are accepting what the Creator intended for them. Still, here too, the husband and wife ought to know how to keep within the bounds of moderation. As in eating and drinking, they ought not to give themselves over completely to the promptings of their senses, so neither ought they to subject themselves unrestrainedly to their sensual appetite. This, therefore, is the rule to be followed: the use of the natural, generative instinct and function is lawful in the married state only, and in the service of the purposes for which marriage exists. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

It is one of the fundamental requirements of the right moral order that, with the use of conjugal rights, there should correspond a sincere acceptance of the duties of motherhood. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

The moral lawfulness of such conduct [limiting the use of the marital act to times of natural sterility] would be affirmed or denied according as to whether or not the intention to keep constantly to these periods is based on sufficient and reliable moral grounds. The sole fact that the couple do not offend against the nature of the act and that they are willing to accept and bring up the child that is born notwithstanding the precautions they have taken, would not of itself alone be sufficient guarantee of a right intention and of the unquestionable morality of the motives themselves. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

To embrace the married state, to make frequent use of the faculty proper to it and lawful only in that state, while on the other hand, always and deliberately to seek to evade its primary duty without serious reason, would be to sin against the very meaning of married life. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

The seriousness and holiness of the Christian moral law does not permit the unrestrained satisfying of the sexual instinct, nor such seeking merely for pleasure and enjoyment. It does not allow rational man to let himself be so dominated either by the substance or the circumstances of the act. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

Make it clear that nature has undoubtedly given the instinctive desire for pleasure and sanctioned it in lawful wedlock, not as an end in itself, but in the service of life. Banish from your hearts this cult of pleasure, and do your best to stop the spreading of literature which considers it a duty to describe the intimacies of married life under the pretext of giving instruction, guidance and reassurance. In general, common sense, natural instinct, and a short instruction on the clear and simple maxims of the Christian moral law, will suffice to give peace to husband and wife of tender conscience. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

Responsible fatherhood and motherhood directly concern the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting themselves “in one flesh”, can become parents. This is a moment of special value both for their interpersonal relationship and for their service to life: they can become parents—father and mother—by communicating life to a new human being. The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself. (John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane, 12)

But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. (Casti Connubii 54)

No attentive observer fails to notice that today’s society favors the promotion of unbridled hedonism and a confused meaning of sexuality. The exercise of sexuality has been separated from conjugal communion and from its intrinsic orientation to procreation, so that all that remains is a superficial enjoyment to which even the dignity of persons is often subordinated. (Pontifical Council for the Family, From Despair to Hope: the Family and Drug Addiction, June 22, 1991, C)

Parental respect for life and the mystery of procreation will spare the child or young person from the false idea that the two dimensions of the conjugal act, unitive and procreative, can be separated at will. Thus the family comes to be recognized as an inseparable part of the vocation to marriage. A Christian education for chastity within the family cannot remain silent about the moral gravity involved in separating the unitive dimension from the procreative dimension within married life. (Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family, December 8, 1995, n. 32)

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life. (Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors: Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, February 12, 1997, n. 2; 4)

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2 Responses to Unitive and Procreative Nature of Intercourse

  1. Michael says:

    If a married couple knowingly could not conceive because of medical reasons, would they be expected to remain celibate because they could not fullfill both aspects of the conjugal act?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The act of natural intercourse, unimpeded by any type of contraception, is inherently directed toward procreation. Even if the act cannot be expected to result in new life, the act still retains its inherent ordering toward the procreative meaning. It is the intrinsic ordering of any act toward its moral object that makes the act good or bad, not the attainment of that object.

      So a couple practicing contraception, who accidentally conceive, did not have the procreative meaning in their act. But a couple whose act of natural intercourse is open to life, but who cannot conceive due to old age or a medical problem, still have the procreative meaning in their act.

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