The Abode of Love

A.A.A. Terruwe, M.D.
Translated from the original Dutch edition
by Robert C. Ware

A reflection which we shall take as our point of departure is this: the regulation of the number of children in a marriage must be determined exclusively through love. The deepest meaning of marriage consists in love's self–bestowal, even in sexual relations. Children are the fruit of this loving surrender and as such, they also contribute to the married couple's union in love. The sole criterion for the proper realization of this endeavor is the couple's love for one another and for their children. If they allow themselves to be led in this matter by motives other than love, they are subordinating the most important factor in marriage to values of lesser significance. This will engender a psychic disorder which necessarily impairs the happiness of love.

It is perfectly conceivable that a couple's authentic love for one another and for their children should on occasion necessitate or make highly advisable that at least temporarily they have no more children. But, how are they to carry out this resolve in love? The most spontaneous response to this question would be: out of love for one another and for the existing children, they must refrain from sexual relations for as long as this is necessary. Since the discovery of the woman's ovulation cycle, such abstinence can be made periodic by using the so called rhythm method of periodic continence. For as long as no other contraceptives were available, this was the only method. The only possible alternative, coitus interruptus, was generally felt to be unnatural; furthermore, it was generally judged to be unfavorable psychically. In recent decades however, the use of mechanical and chemical contraceptives has become widespread. Last of all, the "Pill" has been introduced as a means of inhibiting the woman's ovulation, thus precluding fecundation during sexual intercourse. The use of these methods is often propagated with the assertion that they foster love in marriage by permitting unrestricted sexual intercourse and the expression of love contained therein.

On the surface, this is perhaps true, if one considers married love solely as emotional love. But, as we have explained above, the expression and experience of emotional love is not the heart or principal basis of married love. The essence of married love and that which distinguishes it from even other love outside marriage is its bestowal of the whole person on the beloved. This self surrender of the whole man includes man as a specific being and hence the surrender of one's nature, which is virtually contained, as it were, in the generative cells. For a woman, this entails her acceptance of man's nature comprised in these generative cells. Whenever sexual relations fall short of this surrender. it amounts to an action basically in conflict with the love a man must have for his wife and a woman for her husband.

They are then, restricting the self bestowal which, psychically, constitutes the essential core of marriage. They can still strive for an accessory good for the beloved…indeed, they put their bodies at the disposition of one another for the physical act…but, they consciously withhold their nature, that is to say, the full natural orientation and fertility of their embodied being. The use of mechanical and chemical contraceptives restricts the giving and receiving of this nature. The use of the Pill by positively repressing ovulation, eliminates the natural orientation of a woman's body to fecundation. Moved by a partial emotional love, one can still give one self partially, though this falls short of the fundamental human love of complete self bestowal. Such sexual gratification is adequate, if you will, to a relationship where there is no question of total self bestowal as in an extramarital affair, for example, but it is out of place in marriage.

Consequently, all these methods conflict with that demonstration of love which should find its natural expression in the sexual act. Hence, it is not surprising to find among emotionally healthy people, a natural reluctance to use such methods. We have frequently observed this in our psychiatric practice. I am thinking here especially of my experience with nonbelievers. For professing Christians, one could maintain that such aversion is a result of their religious belief. In the case of professed non–believers, this possibility is excluded. However, I have found this reluctance equally among the latter. I cannot avoid the impression that virtually everyone has this aversion. Usually they are able to master it but traces of reluctance persist in a certain dissatisfaction with whatever method they are using and a wish that they could "do it naturally." This dissatisfaction is a common experience and the fact that it is commonly disregarded makes it no less a symptom of natural aversion.

Inevitably, this natural aversion has detrimental psychic consequences. In the highly sensitive, it leads to serious neurotic symptoms. I have repeatedly diagnosed in women the sudden appearance of an inability to achieve orgasm and in men the occurrence of impotence. In the course of psychiatric treatment it appeared that the cause of the sexual disturbance lay in the use of contraceptives. A change in this matter brought about the disappearance of the morbid symptoms and related psychosomatic abnormalities. These were the more serious cases but I have no doubt that the constant repression of even a slight aversion must prove psychically harmful and produce neurotic tendencies.

One further note is in order with respect to the Pill. On numerous occasions in my medical consultation, I have observed how the repression of fertility which the use of the Pill involves, is detrimental to feminine emotions. The patients sense this as an interference with their feminine nature.

The method of birth control which is most suitable from the psychic viewpoint is abstinence. A woman without religious beliefs once said to me: "Doctor, we have tried literally all the methods but we have finally come back to abstinence." Whereas the most fundamental expression of love in the sexual act is restricted by all other methods, it is preserved in periodic continence. When a couple have sexual relations. both share in a mutual surrender of their human nature to one another in giving and receiving. Whether or not an ovum is present is of no consequence for the action in itself. One gives one's own nature and receives the nature of the partner just as it is at that time: therefore. the most fundamental expression of love pertaining to this action is in fact, present. Whether the act leads to fecundation or not has no effect on the action itself. This is something accessory which can vary without affecting the action itself. Even for elderly couples, sexual relations continue to possess this fundamental expression of love and it is no different with the "safe periods" in the rhythm method. As with every other human activity. the performance of this action must be subject to reasons. When it is not good to have more children. then it is only reasonable not to perform this act during the woman's fertile period.

The fact that they cannot have sexual relations during this period means, of course, that the married partners cannot express their love for one another in the way of sexual intercourse. However, this neither necessitates nor effects a diminution of love. On the contrary, when abstinence is prescribed because of the genuine love they have for one another or for the children already born and when they also continue the sensory demonstrations of their love even though sexual relations are out of the question. then continence will rather deepen and purify their love. Periodic abstinence can also be exercised out of egoism or material motives. In that case, it only detracts from genuine married love, because this subordinates the manifestation of love of one's partner and children, it restrains the satisfaction of this particular demonstration of love because of a more intimate love. This engenders an even deeper experience and practice of married love, self–restraining love, as we have called it, is a necessary form of marital love. A couple's loving companionship requires that each shall constantly restrain, out of love for the other, his own drives and desires, that he shall not seek himself, that he shall respect the sanctuary of the beloved's existence. This self–restraining love must also have due place in their sex life. Only then can the sex life become genuinely human, since self–restraint is the expression of rationality in life, it makes this love more integrally human. Seen and lived out this way, periodic continence can only foster the love between married persons and give them a taste of the truly human spiritual joy of love.

The great objection raised against periodic continence however, is that abstinence, even periodic continence, is in practice impossible for many people; or, when possible, it would give rise to such psychic tensions that married love would inevitably suffer. My experience as a psychiatrist points in another psychic direction. The practice of abstinence and in particular, of periodic continence is certainly possible, especially if abstinence is seen as a demonstration of love. When a man and a woman really love one another and their children, for the sake of this love. it is not too difficult for them to restrain their natural longing for sexual cohabitation. However. they must experience this restraint as love. As long as abstinence is felt to be purely negative, a "shalt not", an "obligation going against nature", they will find it difficult to carry out their resolve. Such an attitude prompts inner resistance. But it is my experience that when the married couple have understood this self–restraining love and its significance, they find in it a powerful assistance in accomplishing what this love asks of them. They begin to comprehend just how much their married life is enhanced by this love and they themselves made more truly happy. I have come across this time and again: "we are so happy that my husband is content with so little. And, it makes him so happy that I can believe so deeply in his love." This comment by a woman forced to live in periodic continence is typical of what we often hear. But, once again. an authentic love must prescribe this abstinence. When the persons are not up to this love, periodic continence will fail.

Some will perhaps call this "idealism" and a failure to take practice into account. To be perfectly honest, it is precisely my psychiatric practice which has brought me to these insights.

At the beginning of my career as a psychiatrist. I had a great deal of difficulty understanding how the ecclesiastical prohibition of contraceptives could be right. Time and again I sought explanations and over and over again I even thought I had understood them. But as a matter of fact. the logic of the thing continually eluded me. Since then experience has taught me a different reason, the one I have set forth here. I was witness to the psychic damage which conscientious people with the best of intentions suffered from the use of contraceptives. They became ill and disturbed with respect to their experience and practice of love.

It was then that I understood why I could not grasp the theological arguments: they failed to make it clear that it was the person's own natural good and well–being which they were defending. And. this I have now seen for myself.

Perhaps a further remark is in order concerning me personally. Since I am not married, it is quite possible that someone will object: "How can anyone who is not married make a judgment about this?" …a remark made rather sarcastically not long ago with regard to priests in a television program about birth control. However, what is at issue here is not something which is primarily a question of feeling. It is primarily a bestowal in love of one's whole person and in particular, of one's nature. About this it is possible to make a perfectly sound judgment even when one has not had that special emotional experience. Specific emotional, sensory experience can be significant when there is question, for example, of the technique of sexual intercourse in a particular instance, but it is irrelevant to the judgment about its human value. It can take on such great significance for the emotions that it hinders one from seeing the objective relationship clearly.

This is the first point. Moreover, with respect to emotional love, knowledge from first hand experience is not the only and not even the most trustworthy way of knowing this love. In no two single marriages is the emotional experience of sex felt in precisely the same way. Every love reveals not only spiritual but also new physical horizons. The psychiatrist, because of all he studies and is told about in these matters…down to the finest details…acquires a much greater knowledge of the emotional life, including its sexual components, than he could possibly gather through his own experience. Even though unmarried himself, he can make a judgment with expertise.

After this digression, let us return to the question of the psychic feasibility of periodic continence. There are circumstances in which total abstinence and not merely periodic continence, can become a necessity even apart from any question of an increased number of children. Experience has taught us that where authentic love is present, it is not diminished by such abstinence. On the contrary, love is then both deepened and strengthened precisely because each partner senses the other's abundant love. The lesson of this experience with necessary abstinence is also valid for periodic continence, if only this latter proceeds from love, self-restraining love. The tensions which can arise here are not so great that they cannot be borne by normal people.