Note from CM: One of our regular commenters asked permission to engage the community in a sensitive but relevant discussion. Contemporary culture is saturated with sexuality, and younger people today have grown up in a world where access to sexual materials and depictions of all kinds is remarkably easy and former societal standards regarding sexual behavior seem to have been toppled. The other day, I heard an interview on the radio the other day between two progressive people talking about sex outside the Christian context, and both of them were saying they worry about the sexual expectations that are placed on people in relationships today. The church has the advantage of a long tradition of teaching on sexual morality, but that tradition is being seriously challenged today. There are even many Christian voices critiquing the kind of “purity culture” that conservative Christianity has advocated. Add the fact that Christian people have a less than shining record of chaste behavior, any number of spectacular sexual scandals, and a history (both perceived and real) of judgment without compassion toward sexual sin — all of this makes the “moral standards” we urge on others seem all the more unreasonable.
I hope we can have a humble, enlightening, and encouraging discussion on sexual matters today. How might a Jesus-shaped spirituality speak to our brother’s questions below?
Sexuality is a topic that I could use some clarification on. I’ve tried to withhold discussions on sex from here because of how messy the discussions can get, but I’m becoming very unsure about my opinions on the matter and this place has the wisest, most theologically inclined people of anywhere I visit, online or physically, so I trust that the answers I get here will have value. Before I go any further, I must emphasize that I am not a theologian. I also must stress that there is a distinct possibility that my knowledge is based on flawed or incomplete data and biases that I will discuss later.
So with the introduction out of the way, let’s talk about premarital sex. My default belief system growing up was of course that any sex outside of marriage was sinful, but over the past couple of years, I’ve been questioning that for assorted reasons. I have the reasons for my questioning listed in order of when they occurred to me.
First, not every marriage is necessarily a good relationship. It makes no sense to me for sex occurring within a loveless/abusive/etc marriage to be sacred and God-approved while clearly loving long-term relationships between unmarried people are not. Such thinking seems to me to be focusing too much on the letter of the law, if you will, than on what actually makes sense.
Second is the vast cultural shift from Biblical times to now. I do not pretend to be an expert on ancient Israelite society, but even a cursory reading of their laws regarding women and sexuality show a pretty different system of social function regarding women’s rights and so forth, and within such a culture, it actually does make sense to be very strict about sexuality for the purposes of property… stuff. However, it does make one wonder if the standards applied to them still matter. This is the part that I could use the most clarification on. Any further discussion on this bit would be greatly appreciated.
Third and pretty obviously the most self-motivated reason of the three is the more practical function of very few people actually abstaining now. Realistically, I don’t think many long-term dating relationships outside of perhaps those between really hardcore evangelicals actually make it to the wedding night without having had sex, and even among evangelicals, I’ll wager more couples than you might think do more sexually than they’d ever admit to before marriage. I know this probably seems like a weak reason. It probably seems like I’m trying to justify my hormones by saying that premarital sex is necessary to get and keep a girlfriend; in fact, it could probably be countered with the classic “If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?” argument, and I don’t know any actual stats to back up my assumptions either, but I still think it is something legitimately worth looking at. Is premarital sex eventually going to be only mildly disapproved of, ignored/not talked about, or perhaps even grudgingly approved of among Christians going forward, perhaps similar to what happened with divorce? I think that may end up being the case. Cultural shifts do alter what was once perceived as absolutes of morality among religion. It’s something worth pondering.
And finally, we come to the practicality of marriage. There are some situations where marriage simply can’t happen. In our society, things can get complicated in regards to marriage. Take me for instance. Say I met a girl at school next week and we really hit it off and sometime in the summer, we decide that we should get married. Well, I still live with my parents, I have no job, and I’d be two semesters from graduation, and that does not even factor in any of her potential circumstances or the possibility of me staying in school to get a master’s degree. In that scenario, should we wait for sex anyway? I don’t really see any reason for it.
So that brings me to the sexual ethic I’ve postulated after some consideration. I’m not really sure if I buy into it yet, but regardless, here it is. I think premarital sex is okay. Not promiscuity; I think that emotionless hookups, no matter how much people say that they are harmless fun, require too much detachment of emotion from the sex act itself to be a good thing. Sex is not meant to be an emotionless experience, therefore it is best experienced in a loving and secure relationship, but that does not necessarily have to involve marriage. However, it is not wise to add sex to a relationship too early as good sex could potentially mask other issues present in the relationship. It is logical to get to know each other well prior to sex so that it is more of a support to an already strong relationship rather than potentially a crutch holding up a relationship that isn’t going to last.
Now, in closing, I shall disclose potential biases and reasons for me arriving at my conclusion. First, I’m twenty-one. It is logical at my age that my libido should be trying to convince me to have sex, especially now that I’m attending a college full of nubile young lasses. Second, you may have noticed that none of my musings have any Biblical basis. I didn’t break out any clobber verses here. This is strictly my own reasoning, and of course like any human, my reasoning could be highly flawed. And third, my conclusion reeks of mushy, noodly, liberal wishy-washiness. It could be argued that I’m watering down the WORDAGAWD in order to accommodate the culture, and that could be valid.
So there you have it. Please discuss/debate/rip apart anything that you’d like to in this post. I highly value everyone’s opinions, so whatever you have to say, feel free to spit it out.