A reader writes:
When pregnant, I have am prone to receiving a type of bacterial infection that can cause pre-term labor, and my first child was born several weeks early because of it.
During my second pregnancy, I read that many doctors recommend the use of condoms during pregnancy to try and reduce the transition of the bacteria, because the male germ cells can aggravate the condition (this is not related to a sexually transmitted disease.) My midwife recommended this practice as well, although there have not yet been studies to see if it is effective.
I solicited opinions on a Catholic e-mail list as to whether or not the use of condoms during pregnancy under these conditions would be licit. I assumed that it would be. If I'm already pregnant, I am obviously not trying to contracept, right?
I was surprised that the opinion fell the other way, feeling that the "unitive end" of the marital act would be frustrated if a barrier were between us.
Could you give me your opinion on the subject?
I can, but let me do so in the below-the-fold section of this post so that people don't have to look at the discussion who do not want to read it. (I'll also keep as clinical as I can).
The Church has not directly addressed the matter that you have raised, so we must fall back on Catholic moral theology to try to answer the question. The answer below would be representative of what many orthodox Catholic moralists would say.
First, Catholic moral theology holds that the marital act includes both a unitive and a procreative aspect and that neither of these may be deliberately frustrated.
The procreative aspect is frustrated, obviously, in the case of contraception, while the unitive aspect is frustrated, for example, in the case of in vitro fertilization. In the former case the spouses are united in marital congress but procreation is thwarted. In the latter case procreation occurs but the spouses are not united in marital congress.
God designed human sexuality so that both aspects (actual union and openness to procreation) are to go together, and neither may be pursued apart from the other.
The unitive aspect involves more than just the spouses giving each other the experience of sexual release. That could be accomplished any number of ways that would not be open to procreation. For the spouses to truly be united in marital congress that is open to procreation, at least some insemination must occur. Without insemination, one does not have a completed marital act.
The use of an intact condom prevents insemination and thus prevents the spouses from being united in true marital congress.
For this reason, even when a condom is not being used to prevent procreation, it could not be used on the grounds that it prevents the spouses from being united in marital congress.
So I would say that your friends from the e-mail list are correct in the opinion you report.
I should point out, though, that there is another possible consideration here. While it is necessary for some insemination to occur in order for the marital act to be completed, it does not appear that there is any set amount of insemination that must occur.
Some orthodox Catholic moralists have suggested that this fact could be utilized as part of obtaining samples of the seminal fluid needed for male fertility testing. They have thus proposed the possibility of using a perforated condom that would allow some but not all of the seminal fluid to be transmitted. That which gets caught in the condom could then be used for fertility testing, while that which went through the condom would complete the marital act.
I should underscore that this is a proposal and not something that the Church has either endorsed or prohibited, but the same thing might be possible in your case. If allowing a smaller amount of seminal fluid through would pose less risk of aggravating your condition then the use of a perforated condom might be morally licit.
Not having marital congress also would be an option, but complete continence for nine months could cause marital strain as well as the occasion of sin, and so it would be for you and your husband, based on the best medical advice you could obtain and your knowledge of yourselves, to weigh the varying risks and benefits involved as part of determining whether the perforated condom technique would be justified in your case.
As I indicated at the beginning, all of the above deals with matters that the Church has not explicitly addressed. This does not mean that we can simply do what we want, though. It means that we must do the best we can to inform our consciences, seeking out and considering arguments both for and against a position, praying, making the best determination we can, and then acting on it, trusting the results to God.
Hope this helps!