Is It Really That Bad For Christians to Have Sex Before Marriage?
In 2011, a survey came out that showed how over 80% of self-professing Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers. But even though Christians today are having sex more than ever, I don't think they're sleeping around from partner to partner. Rather they're sleeping with their boyfriend/girlfriend whom they're in a committed relationship with.
And is that so bad? After all, most Christians have every intention of getting married to the person they're dating. So while having sex with multiple partners may be wrong, what's the harm in sleeping with someone whom you're planning to share life with? I mean there seem to be plenty of other Christian couples who slept together before marriage, and they seem fine.
In fact, where does the Bible even prohibit premarital sex? Aren't there benefits to sleeping with someone before marrying them? Wouldn't it strengthen the bond you have with each other and help you know if this person is actually "the one" for you? Is there really any harm in this?
Unfortunately, I think there is but most dating couples are just unaware of it. Let me explain.
The Challenge of Waiting
First of all, I understand why Christians struggle to wait. In fact, I think Christians today have a more difficult time waiting than any other time in history. Why so? Well, our modern culture has written a compelling script for dating couples to follow. Watch any movie and you'll see it: a couple gets together, falls in love, and then sleeps together as an expression of that love.
Since we've adopted this narrative, premarital sex has become more socially plausible than ever before. You see, in order for any behavior to be accepted as a norm, society needs to reinforce the "plausibility" of that behavior. For example, in the '90s dudes never wore skinny jeans. But now they always wear them. Why? Because everybody wears them. It became socially plausible.
The same thing has happened with premarital sex. Since everybody is doing it, it's now socially plausible. In fact, to not have sex before marriage is almost seen as laughable (as humorously depicted in the 2005 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin).
But perhaps the main reason why Christians aren't waiting to have sex anymore is because they're having to wait longer than ever before. In the ancient world people got married as teenagers, so they didn't have to stay chaste for long. But now? Couples are getting hitched far later. So now Christians have to endure about 15 years of temptation and quite frankly, many find this too difficult.
How Pre-Marital Sex Will Hurt You
Given these sociological factors, it's understandable why unmarried Christians are sleeping with their partners - especially if they plan to marry. But as I mentioned above, this tends to be more harmful than young people realize. Here's why:
1) Sex Actually Weakens the Relationship
In their landmark book Premarital Sex in America, sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker argue that there's no evidence that sex strengthens a dating relationship. Quite opposite - sex seems to weaken it. Statistically, they demonstrate how couples who sleep together are more likely to break up than those who abstain.
From personal experience, I also notice this. Christian couples who are sexually intimate tend to fight more, become lackadaisical, and grow unhealthily attached to one another. Why does this happen? Well, sex seems to almost transform a dating relationship into something that it's not ready to be. That's because there's power in sex - and unmarried relationships aren't capable of handling it.
2) Your Breakup Will Be A Lot More Painful
In the movie Vanilla Sky, Cameron Diaz's character says something insightful when she explains to her sexual partner, "Don't you know that when you sleep with somebody, your body makes a promise whether you do or not?" She's absolutely right. There's power in sex that commits you to someone far more than you anticipate.
And that's why Christians who sleep together but don't end up staying together have a much more difficult time getting over each other. It's because they've bonded in a way that only married couples are supposed to bond. And so the breakup ends up feeling more like an amputation than a separation.
3) Your View of Sex Will Be Distorted
Sex before marriage is different than sex after marriage. When you have sex before marriage, it's often filled with passion and excitement. However those feelings are fleeting and lack depth. And that's not what sex is about. As author Lauren Winner writes, "[Sex] between two people who are not married is only a distorted imitation of sex, as Walt Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort is only a simulation of real wilderness."
Marital sex is a lot different. It's clumsy. It's awkward. It's frustrating. It's satisfying. It's comforting. It's real life. But if you only saturate your sexual appetite with a distorted imitation of sex, you're going to have a harder time appreciating the real thing.
4) The Bible Actually Speaks Against Premarital Sex
Some Christians argue that no passage in the Bible specifically speaks against premarital sex. But this just isn't true. The most common word the Bible uses in reference to fornication is "porneia," which is a catch-all phrase for any sexual misconduct outside of marriage. And the Bible frequently speaks against this (e.g. 1 Cor 6:18-20; 1 Thess 4:3-5; Gal 5:19-20) and tells us to flee from it.
Why so? Well, sex was originally designed to take place only within the covenant of marriage (Gen 2:24-25). That's because God knew only a relationship with this type of commitment can handle sex's power. Therefore to use sex in any other context is not only to misuse it but to misunderstand it completely.
5) Your Heart Will Grow Hardened
The Bible describes anything that goes against God's design as "sin" - and one thing that sin always causes is a hardened heart (1 Tim 4:2). So even if you don't see any relational consequences when sleeping with your partner, there will always be internal consequences within your soul.
And deep down inside, Christians know this. Dating couples often feel themselves slowly dying inside after they have sex. They feel further from God and less motivated to serve Him. So they slowly but surely grow numb towards Him.
Why Christians Need to Fight
Sometimes I feel like pastors have given up the battle against the epidemic of premarital sex that plagues our churches. We know the dating couples at our church are having sex. After all, we always see pictures of them vacationing together. Are we really naive enough to think they're sleeping in separate hotel rooms? But we rarely address this.
But we must fight this. Even though our sexually saturated culture makes it more difficult than ever to confront this, it simultaneously makes it more important than ever to talk about it. As one historian puts it, "Sexual purity was always a hallmark of the Christian community." Why so? Because sexual indulgence was always the hallmark of pagan behavior.
But Christians profess that as great as sex is, Jesus is even greater. Whatever intimacy we crave from sexual partners, we find something better through our intimacy with Him. That's what we communicate to the world when our sexual lives look different from the rest of the world. We show that we have something even better.