Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), clearly states there are at least “two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (HV #12). Certainly a husband and wife who cannot conceive a child are called to continue to express their love for one another (the unitive meaning). Sex is a gift and gifts are to be accepted and enjoyed. Just as a couple who are past child bearing years can relax and enjoy sex even more as their love deepens and ripens with age, so too can those who unfortunately cannot conceive still grow in their love for one another and express that love through their sexual union.
Secondly, the couple has no control over the natural rhythms of biology. So when the time for childbearing appears to be no longer present (either through infertility or menopause), the couple still is open to the possibility of a pregnancy even if it’s unlikely to happen. It’s about being open to the possibilities here and still expressing that unitive love for each other.
Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, fisherman and author. He is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and serves as a Chaplain at the college. His book, A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, (Orbis Books 2007) examines the relationships between the practices of faith and the cultural currents and changes so rapidly occurring in our ever more technologized and globalized world.