Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Q&A: Is it sinful to have marital relations during menstruation? Yes, according to the saints and fathers of the Church

Question: Is it sinful to have marital relations during the menstruation of a wife?

Answer: The question of whether marital relations during menstruation 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 even the married to perform 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.

The first Pope of the Christian Church, St. Peter, is recorded by the fourth Pope, St. Clement of Rome, to have said this concerning having sex during menstruation: “There is truly a certain peculiar observance of our religion, which is not so much imposed upon men, as it is sought out by every worshipper of God by reason of its purity. By reason of chastity, I say, of which there are many kinds, but first, that every one be careful that he “come not near a menstruous woman;” [Ezechiel 18] for this the law of God regards as detestable. But though the law had given no admonition concerning these things, should we willingly, like beetles, roll ourselves in filth? For we ought to have something more than the animals, as reasonable men, and capable of heavenly senses, whose chief study it ought to be to guard the conscience from every defilement of the heart. … But there is this further reason why chastity should be observed by those who hold the true worship of God, in those forms of it of which we have spoken, and others of like sort, that it is observed strictly even among those who are still held by the devil in error, for even among them there is in some degree the observance of chastity. What then? Will you not observe, now that you are reformed, what you observed when you were in error?” (Recognitions of Clement, Chapters 10-12)

Again, Pope St. Clement of Rome makes clear in one of his Homilies that it is evil to have sex during menstruation: “But who is there to whom it is not manifest that it is better not to have intercourse with a woman in her separation, but purified and washed. And also after copulation it is proper to wash. But if you grudge to do this, recall to mind how you followed after the parts of purity when you served senseless idols; and be ashamed that now, when it is necessary to attain, I say not more, but to attain the one and whole of purity, you are more slothful. Consider, therefore, Him who made you, and you will understand who He is that casts upon you this sluggishness with respect to purity.” (Homily 11, Chapter 30)

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.”

Even pagans understands that it is a filthy act to have sex during the menstruation period. The Roman naturalist Pliny (d. 79 A.D.) condemned sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman because any children conceived during menstruation were sickly, afflicted with purulent blood serum, or stillborn (Historia naturalis, 7, 15, 87).

Dr. DeSouza comments on having sex during menstruation: “Sounds gross, yes, but there some who practice it. I’ve come across people who ask how safe sex is during menstruation. It is still a controversial issue. For one thing we are sure about is that it never fails to make you frown upon hearing it. The good and bad of period sex are yet to be discovered. However, a number of theories suggest that the practice more of a disadvantage rather than an advantage. … Naturally during menstruation, the veins of the uterus are congested and are prone to rupture easily. Vaginal walls swell as well during menstruation. This explains the dull pain in the vagina during menses and is 100% normal. Having intercourse during your period can increase the chances of irritation to the swelled up walls. The advantages of endorphins at this point mask the danger of period sex where irritation of the vaginal walls and introduction to infection are major risks. Any wound or bleeding is a fine gateway to infection. The cervix is slightly opened during menstruation to let out blood. This heightens the risk of infection, not being limited only to the vagina, but additionally to the uterus. The penetration of the penis into the vagina during menstruation is no more than the introduction to germs at a time when the body is unable to fight them (studies have shown that immunity is decreased during menstruation). Orgasm results in rhythmic uterine contraction. During menstruation, this helps shed blood faster and shorten your periods. A similar reaction happens when a menstruating woman lifts up heavy loads or does strenuous exercises. This explains why most athletes experience amenorrhoea (missed periods). Sex during the menses also increases risk of HIV infection. Obviously, period sex can be really, really messy and unhygienic. This fact by itself drops the interest of both parties about the idea of having sex during menstruation. So, is period sex good or bad? Well, momentary pleasure versus risky health – you be the judge.”

The fact that science have confirmed that it is very unlikely for conception to happen during menstruation just proves the point even more. It is not a coincidence that science has even shown that sex during menstruation is harmful for the physical health, for in many cases, behavior that is condemned by God will be both physically and spiritually harmful, as God uses the physical sign and illness to indicate his displeasure, just like we can see happened to the Jews of the Old Testament, who endured different plagues because of their sins.

The Holy Bible and the Saints also teach that a couple's virtue and chastity will effect whether their child will be born whole or with defects of different kinds, and this shows us that filthy practices such as having sex during menstruation or pregnancy should be avoided. Thus, we read that “the third night [of praying and observing chastity before having sexual relations] thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you.” (Tobias 6:20) The blessing on the third night of “sound children” obviously means that those couples who do not perform the marital act for the sake of lust or too often, and who are virtuous and wait for three days in accordance with the promise of Holy Scripture, will receive a child without birth deformities or defects. This may be hard for many to believe, but this is really and truly what Holy Scripture is promising and saying.

In the teaching of such Fathers of the Church as St. Clement of Alexandria, Saint Jerome (c. 400) and Origen (c. 200), children conceived during menstruation were born handicapped. Saint Jerome writes, “If a man has intercourse with his wife at this time, leprous hydrocephalic children are born of this conception, and the effect of the tainted blood is such that the contaminated bodies of both sexes become either too small or too large” (Commentary on Ezekiel, 18, 6). “He that has intercourse with his wife during her period”, warned Archbishop Saint Caesarius of Arles (d. 542), “will father children that are leprous, epileptic, or possessed by the Devil”. Abbot Regino of PrĂ¼m (d. 915) and Bishop Burchard of Worms (d. 1025) laid it down that priests in the confessional should question penitents on the subject of intercourse during menstruation.

Great theologians of the thirteenth century such as Sts. Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus condemned intercourse with a menstruating woman as a mortal sin because of its detrimental effect on children. Berthold of Ratisbon, “A Franciscan of the monastery of that city and the most powerful preacher of repentance in the thirteenth century”, made this abundantly clear: “As for the children that are conceived at such times, you will delight in none of them, for they will be either possessed by the Devil, or leprous, or epileptic, or hunchbacked, or blind, or malformed, or feeble-minded, or club-headed… Even if you have been absent for four weeks, nay more, for two years, beware of desiring her...”

As to whether menstruating women should be permitted to receive Communion, this was disputed by some until well into the Middle Ages even though the Catholic Church has always allowed it. Patriarch Dionysus of Alexandria (d. 265), a pupil of Origen, declared that “it was unnecessary even to pose the question of permissibility for it would never occur to pious, devout women to touch the sacred Communion table or the Lord’s body and blood” (Epistolae can. 2, PG10, 1281A). Cardinal Humbert, the papal legate who formally consummated the Great Schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern “Orthodox” sect at Constantinople in 1054, reproached the Greek Church for discriminating against women in this respect. Theodore of Balsamon (d. 1195), a Greek “Orthodox” canonist and “patriarch of Antioch”, supported the practice of discrimination, as did Cyril III, the Coptic “patriarch of Alexandria” (d. 1243). The Maronites did not abolish it until 1596.

The Catholic Church adopted a milder stance. Although Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) did not forbid menstruating women to enter churches and receive Communion, he regarded menstruation as the consequence of original sin. Thus, women should not be “prohibited during these same days from receiving the mystery of holy communion. … The menstrous habit in women is no sin, seeing that it occurs naturally; yet that nature itself has been so vitiated as to seem polluted even without human volition” (Letter in reply to Bishop Augustine of England, 10th answer).

Women should receive Holy Communion as often as possible, and defects such as menstruation should not hinder them from communing with Our Lord. Our Lord’s intention of why he declared a woman unclean who was menstruating in the Old Testament Bible, is that he wished spouses to have a period each month to be pure and chaste in order to be better able to pray and commune with Our Lord. It was not intended as a sign to make the woman avoid Communion, since menstruation is not an act as such, but only a defect that happens involuntary. In contrast, the Church condemns all spouses who do not practice chastity before receiving Communion, for this is an actual act, and not a defect. “The dignity of so great a Sacrament [of the Eucharist] also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion.” That is also why chastityis particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent)

The tenth-century Anglo-Saxon Scriftboc Penitential (less properly also called Confessionale Pseudo-Egberti) states: “Whichever freeman has intercourse with his wife during the menstrual period is to fast forty days. And whoever drinks a man’s blood or his seed is to fast for five years. … A man is not allowed to have intercourse with his wife forty days before Easter, nor seven days before Pentecost nor forty days before Midyear (Christmas). … If he fornicates with her in the month before birth he must fast for 40 days.”

We will also see many more quotations from the early Church concerning the traditional teaching against sexual relations during menstruation in the next post about sex during pregnancy.

For those who want to read and learn a lot more on sexual ethics, I can recommend the following interesting and informative article that is absolutely packed with quotes from the popes, saints and fathers of the Church:

Sexual Pleasure, the Various Sexual Acts, and Procreation

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