Technically speaking, consummation in the marriage context refers to its actual beginning, with an official ceremony of a wedding, witnesses to the event, and a public announcement of the act. In some Western traditions, a marriage is not considered a binding contract until and unless it has been consummated. In a colloquial context, marriages, love relationships, or relations for pleasure, are said to be consummated when the act of sexual intercourse has taken place after the ceremony or confession of love.
Within the Catholic Church, a marriage that has not yet been consummated, regardless of the reason for non-consummation, can be dissolved by the Pope (see also canons 1697-1706). Additionally, an inability or an intention to refuse to consummate the marriage is probable grounds for an annulment. Catholic canon law defines (canon 1061 §1) that a marriage has been consummated when the "spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh." Some theologians, such as Fr. John A. Hardon, have stated that contraceptive intercourse does not consummate a marriage.
In Colonial America, hand-fast marriages (Handfasting) were allowed in several of the Colonies. These marriages were not done in church; instead there were public verbal commitments made between the man and the woman, and then they consummated it by having sexual relations. If the woman did not become pregnant within one year, the marriage was considered annulled. If she did become pregnant, the relationship would automatically become a fully-recognized marriage.
The adjective consummate describes something that is complete or a person that is supremely skilled.
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