WARNING: The following post contains information of a “delicate” nature. We hate to be considered an explicit blog, but sometimes you have to talk about the topics that no one else will. Many thanks to our guest responder, Rev. Dr. Gifford Grobien, assistant professor of systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., for being willing to address such a sensitive topic from a pastoral perspective.
Question submitted: My doctor says that in order to find out the cause of our infertility, my husband should really be tested as well. I guess this requires that he submit a sample of sperm. To my knowledge, this is typically collected outside of intercourse. Although I have heard that there are special prophylactics that could be used to collect it during intercourse but I have no idea where one would obtain these. I know of several other couples where the husband has been tested, but now that we’re in this situation and I have to think about how this is really done, I’m wondering if it’s really OK to do. I know that our end goal is good, and that we’re just trying to give the doctor as much information as he can so he can help us, but something just doesn’t feel right about what he has to do in order to get this sample. Any advice?
This is one of those questions that is extremely difficult both emotionally and morally. Emotionally, certainly, because of the good desire of the husband and wife for children. When this good desire is not fulfilled, a couple may feel shame, guilt, inadequacy or other difficult emotions. They may wonder what they have done wrong that they are unable to have children; if they pray long enough that God will end their infertility. Or they may develop hollow, cynical or withdrawn perspectives, with few or no companions to console and be with them.
The question is also difficult morally. It is easy to look at the goal of taking a sperm sample as being good–to try to have a child; to try to be fruitful. But goals are never isolated from action. The ends in themselves don’t justify the means because the means are not merely instrumental. Action is not merely instrumental. Action engages mind and body. Action commits a subject to a certain way of being, even if just for the moment of the action. Action familiarizes a mind and body with the action, so that the action becomes more familiar and easier. Action, even just once, is habit-forming. This is why we always learn through practice, even a one-time run-through. Reading something even once before presenting it publicly establishes comfort and familiarity. Taking a practice test does the same. Swinging the bat or shooting the basketball or walking through the steps of a recipe with the ingredients in front of you focus your mind and clarify the context. Action is inherently habit-forming.
So, should we encourage the act of masturbation, even if just once? Is masturbation as an act value-neutral? What about using a condom in marital intercourse? Is this better? Any kind of sexual climax outside of uncontracepted marital intercourse inherently separates the pleasure of the act from the sexual union of a husband and wife. Sexual intercourse means the use of the sexual organs, which is to ejaculate for the purpose of procreation. This is the basic meaning and purpose of sexuality and sexual organs. Sexual pleasure that is divorced from truly sexual (procreative-seeking) union separates two parts of an act that in creation were intended to remain together. Separating pleasure from marital, sexual union introduces a tolerance, an acceptability, a familiarity, a level of comfort with non-procreative sexual stimulation, whether with contraception, or as masturbation or sodomy.
In marital sexual relations the exciting and mysterious integrity of pleasure and procreation remain intact. With each union there is the pleasure combined with the joyous wonder and hope that this might bring forth a new creation. Even those who are scientifically sterile cannot deny that God may choose–in this act–to give life. Even those who are past childbearing age, by maintaining the physical integrity of the act, confess faithfulness to God’s design. They do not denigrate the act by turning it into mere pleasure, but they uphold that in this particular way of giving pleasure to each other, they conform to God’s design for bringing forth a new life, for deepening their own love beyond themselves, to embracing the love of children. They also bring to remembrance for themselves the joyous hope of years past, and excite in themselves an analogous kind of hope–perhaps not for themselves at that moment, but in thanksgiving for what God has given them, or in the joyous hope of life that God brings forth in others. Most basically, the act still submits to the created way of being.
How much more, then, for those who are of childbearing age, whether seemingly sterile or fruitful. The physical excitement and pleasure of sexual climax, because of its intensity, when separated from the possibility of procreation, is selfish. Physical pleasure is not wrong, of course, but God purposely brings it about in an act that is inherently selfless–the expectation of a third person and the expansion of love for that person. When the divinely designed integrity between pleasure and procreation is broken by human action, the outward-oriented aspect of the act is lost, so that only the inward-oriented aspect remains.
Is there no option for testing sperm of an infertile couple? Yes, if there is a way to do it without breaking the integrity of marital sexual relations. There is this possibility: either percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA), or microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA). The former uses a needle to collect sperm, while the latter is a minor surgical procedure to collect sperm. It appears that medical providers do not typically think of using these procedures unless a man’s vas deferens is blocked or deficient in some way. It’s also possible that health insurance would not cover them if there is no problem with the vas deferens. Nevertheless, it may be an option for those persistent in requesting it and who meet other medical criteria.
Rev. Dr. Gifford Grobien