Should I Abstain From Sex During Lent?

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As we journey through the sacred season of Lent, a time of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, some Catholics find themselves asking, “Should I abstain from sex during Lent?” While this question might seem unusual, it does touch on important aspects of faith, relationship, and self-discipline. As a Catholic scholar, let’s explore what the Church teaches about this subject, considering both universal teachings and theological opinion.

Fasting and Abstinence: The Core of Lenten Discipline

Lent is a time for renewal of faith and deepening our relationship with God. The Catholic Church urges believers to engage in fasting, abstinence, and prayer as forms of penance during this season. Fasting typically involves eating one full meal a day, while abstinence usually means avoiding meat on Fridays.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (CCC 1438).

There is no explicit teaching that mandates abstaining from sexual activity during Lent. However, the emphasis is on self-denial and growing closer to God, which can manifest in various ways, tailored to one’s individual spiritual journey.

Sex Within Marriage: A Sacred Act

The Catholic Church teaches that sex within the confines of marriage is a sacred act, intended for procreation and the deepening of the marital bond. The Catechism explains, “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (CCC 1601).

This means that within a Catholic understanding, marital sex is not something inherently ‘worldly’ or ‘sinful’ to be abstained from like eating too much chocolate or drinking alcohol. Rather, it is an important part of human relationships, ordained and blessed by God, and used by couples to express love and unity.

The Bible says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). So, when pondering whether to abstain from sex during Lent, married couples should remember the intrinsic goodness and divine purpose of their sexual relationship.

When Abstinence Might Be Helpful

While the Church doesn’t explicitly instruct couples to abstain from sex during Lent, some might consider it a personal form of penance or a way to deepen other aspects of their relationship. St. Paul says, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Note that St. Paul is not setting a hard and fast rule but suggests a mutual decision, for a “limited time,” to focus on prayer. He also stresses the importance of coming together again, recognizing the importance of marital unity.

Theological Opinions and Personal Discernment

There are theological opinions that suggest periods of abstinence can deepen a couple’s emotional and spiritual connection. However, these are not universal teachings of the Church but rather insights that some have found helpful. If a married couple decides to abstain from sex for a period during Lent, it should be a mutual decision aimed at fostering spiritual growth for both partners. This choice should not stem from a view of sex as ‘bad’ or ‘impure,’ but from a desire to grow in other facets of their relationship.

It’s also crucial for such a decision to be made prayerfully, with the understanding that it’s not a higher form of penance but a different form, which some might find beneficial for their unique spiritual path.


Should you abstain from sex during Lent? The Catholic Church does not explicitly say so, emphasizing instead the virtues of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Sexual relations within marriage are viewed as fundamentally good and aimed at procreation and the mutual good of spouses. If a couple chooses to abstain, it should be a mutual, prayerfully considered decision aimed at spiritual growth.

In summary, while the Church offers guidelines for fasting and abstinence during Lent, the decision to abstain from sex is largely a personal one for married couples. Like all Lenten observances, the ultimate goal should be to draw nearer to God and to grow in virtue, love, and holiness.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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