10.06.2008

Premarital Sex

Well, it is my fault I asked the question about premarital sex – so now I have to write about it. Now, I have to warn you that I come from a particular background and context so as you read on, know that I share my opinion from within that worldview and framework. This may be convicting? Perhaps. Maybe frustrating and a bit one-sided? Yes. But I hope no one feels condemned. I am simply sharing my opinion and the thoughts of others I have appreciated, giving some of the reasons behind these opinions.
Much of this post will come from the arguments of Greg Boyd (you can read them more in-depth on his blog or listen to his sermon).

As many of you know, I LOVE the show “Friends”. As I re-watched one of the episodes the other day, and Boyd pointed out in one of his blog posts, I was reminded of this topic (well, really, most episodes remind me of this topic but…nevertheless). Monica asked Richard whom she’d begun to have sex with again (after a painful break-up): “Can’t we just be friends that have sex?” “Sure,” he replied. "It’ll just be something we do together – like playing racquetball.”

Greg Boyd puts it well when he says, “I think that pretty much sums up what sex has largely become in our culture. A nice form of pleasurable recreation. It's so pervasive in our culture that to call it into question is to come across to many as moralistic, repressive, Victorian and just down-right unenlightened. But we've got to help people see that sex was designed by God to be the precious sign of the most important covenant two people can make with each other: the pledge of marriage. And, perhaps most importantly, we've got to help people see that the racquetball philosophy of sex is ugly bondage while the sign of the covenant view of sex is beautiful FREEDOM.”

I think the problem we have here boils down to two things. One, marriage is not regarded as highly as it once was. And two, sex is seen as more of a pleasure-seeking individualistic activity. Marriage was once a relationship that people aspired to - now we see many people proud of the fact that they live together, build lives and families together, and never enter into that covenant of marriage. "Just in case" I guess is what you would call today's view of relationships. We have become more and more individualistic thinking that relationships and all that they entail (i.e. sex) are to meet our desires and at the disposal of our pleasure-seeking whims.

Here are common arguments:
We have to have sex before marriage to make sure we are sexually compatible.
They married earlier in the Old Testament days so those rules and regulations are out of touch, no one was really meant to wait this long.
As long as you are in a committed relationship and love one another what is the difference? A piece of paper.

What society will not tell you is how much pain comes from sex out of context. Obviously we are talking more so about rape, prostitution, teenage sex and exploitation. But there can be serious psychological diseases, depression and emotional ramifications for those who go into sexual intercourse without having thought it through. It actually frustrates me how much society tries to deny this. I blogged about one such instance on my other blog just last month – a young woman selling her virginity to pay for grad school. It frustrates me that this is now an instance that young woman around the world can look to and point at for a reason why it is not worth saving your virginity for marriage – it is now a valuable commodity. But what this woman has done is completely devalued the connection between the physical act of sex and the emotional and spiritual.

There is an undeniable connection between the body and the spirit – we can’t just ignore that. And I think that’s something we can’t take lightly. George Hinman from Bel Air Pres. says “God designed sex not for the body, but for the soul – and sex works every time.” If you give yourself to someone in that way, even if you wait until you are sure you love him or her and are committed to him or her, what happens if it ends? You can’t take that deeply intimate joining of yourselves back. As Chap Clark says, “sex only blesses when the beloved is totally safe and secure in the knowledge that the other will be there.”

Many say that the Bible does not really give any evidence that sex outside of marriage is wrong. I’ll admit it can be a little fuzzy, it would be nice if there was a 4 John 3.6 “Don’t have sex unless you are married to someone” but that does not exist. However, there are verses that are pretty clear about the issue. Take 1 Thessalonians 4.3 for example, “Obstain from sexual immorality” (or in other versions it says fornication which, incidentally, means sex outside of marriage).

Now I understand it is one thing to tell a teenager to wait a few years – it is not going to kill them, but what if you are an adult? What if you are in a committed relationship? What if you are widowed? What if you are 60? What if you only have ONE WEEK left to live…

Boyd makes four rather compelling arguments for withholding (granted, they are more compelling if you believe in the Bible):

1. The Bible says that when you have sexual intercourse with someone you become one-flesh. (Matthew 19.5-6) And what God joins together, no one should separate. Intercourse clearly involves much more than two people getting physically intimate with each other. God himself is involved in creating a new “one” out of the two.

2. Paul in 1 Corinthians preaches about the fact that whenever a man has sex with a woman the two become one-flesh…EACH time. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1Cor. 6:16). Even when the partners intend sex to be purely recreational – as when one has sex with a prostitute – it still creates this “one flesh” reality! Something profoundly spiritual, metaphysical and foundational is going on, even when the parties are “just having fun.”

3. Intercourse is a sacred sign and seal of marriage. In the Jewish tradition a couple was not considered married until they had engaged in intercourse. In traditional Jewish weddings, the couple would go off to have sex after exchanging vows and the post-wedding celebration couldn’t begin until they returned – until the covenant was sealed with the sign. This is also why in the Old Testament, if a man had sex with a virgin outside of wedlock, he was commanded to marry her (Deut. 22:28-29). Since he’d already sealed the marriage covenant, it was believed he had an obligation to live up to the covenant.

4. And obviously we have to throw in a few statistics…so here's a few of the more obvious consequences. One out of five Americans has an STD. Almost 40% of kids in America are born out of wedlock, which contributes to poverty, crime and violence, especially among young people. Over 40% of all marriages end in divorce. There were 1.2 million abortions last year. Ironically enough, sexual dysfunction is on the rise in America. Millions have emotional and psychological scars from their promiscuous activity. I would argue there’s a connection between the massive promiscuity of our culture and the fact that Americans are more depressed, suffer more psychological disorders and see therapists more than any other country on the planet

I will admit I have my doubts in all of this as well. Marriages fall apart all the time and you seem to get just as burned as you would have been having sex in a committed relationship outside of marriage that ended up falling apart. And I know many people that have come from a very different background than me, and may not have even understood that waiting was an option. There are lots of pressures and perhaps it was presented to you as really the only logical way things are done. But I guess I can’t see the harm in waiting – I avoid hurt, possible disease, I’ve waited this long it won’t kill me to wait longer, and I won’t have the difficulty of comparison in my marriage bed having been with other guys before my husband.

I guess I’m pretty conservative in this regard – but there’s my soapbox two cents on the poll question I never should have asked. Thoughts?

17 comments:

Olivia McCain said...

would you ever marry a man who wasn't a virgin on your wedding night?

just wondering... :)
good blog! thanks for your honest insight!

Michi said...

Great blog. Thanks for taking the time to break it down. Truthfully, I was pretty surprised by the response of that poll. But I understand more after reading this. I still think it's ok if you're in a committed relationship, but to each their own. I respect people who wait...alot. Here's my honest thought: Do you ever fear that if you've only been with one person, you may someday be curious about how other experiences can be?

B-W said...

Even at Fuller, I find myself surprised to find such a break-down defending a more conservative teaching of sexual ethics. I essentially agree with your analysis, although I do want to push back just a little bit on the ambiguity of the New Testament language for "sexual immorality." On one hand, I'm convinced that the believers of the time probably did have any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage as something in mind to be avoided. On the other, I think they had higher ideals (such as relationship and covenant) in mind, rather than a legal prohibition against certain actions.

Which is ultimately to say that I still think that it's unwise (at best, disobedient at worst) to have sex before marriage, but I that I'm still willing to hear counter-arguments.

And, to bring up the obvious hot-button that isn't mentioned here, but about which this discussion has clear implications, how do these discussions affect our understanding of homosexuality? (That is to say, leaving aside more explicit teachings about homosexuality itself, especially those that have legitimate theological questions that aren't always answered honestly, teaching about sex itself should still pertain to the issue.)

Saturday Morning Mystic said...

I thought you did a good job on a difficult topic friend. I come from the same kind of moral framework as you, but also have a side of my family who are pretty open when it comes to sexuality. So, it was interesting reading this and being able to understand the struggle to say, "this is what I believe, but it's okay if you don't believe this way." Anyways...good job. (Hope this wasn't too stream of thought for you.)

konigsmark said...

Its crazy that we posted on the same subject, but from completely different perspectives. You battled a hard topic and I believe you won your argument, but it is still a battle we all face.

Searching for the Yeti said...

Good thoughts, people. Thanks for being so nice to me and my soap box ;-)

Olivia, yes I think I would - but I think it would depend on the situation? I don't think I would be OK with someone that was into one-night stands and was sexually active in that way. But if they had been in a committed relationship with someone and chosen to engage in sex I would be more OK with that. It is more the COMMITMENT issue with me, I think.

Michi, good question. I don't think so. I think "comparison" is something I am trying to avoid - but I can see your point of curiosity. But I guess in my naive mind right now the comparison would be more detrimental to me than the curiosity.

DanP said...

I was very curious to see where you would go with this topic when the survey put it on the coming-soon horizon of your blog. Obviously you are in agreement with the survey results of your readership. I appreciate j.kent's point that all it takes to not wait is the choice to act on the desire to have sex. It is amazing that one (and I would argue ANYone) can go from a deeply held conviction of "never", to "well maybe", to having done the deed in a matter of minutes.

Based on my own experience with premarital sex, and those of some close friends, I would add another reason for withholding: premarital sex has many negative impacts on one's married sexual relationship and on one's parenting around sexual issues. This is true even if you only have sex with your your future spouse. The negative impacts involve fear, shame, comparisons, decreased libido, stunted growth of the sexual relationship, and many more. Parenting is much more complicated when on cannot speak from experience on the benefits of waiting.

The reality is that premarital sex is pervasive in the broader culture, as well as in Christian circles. Given that true love does not "always wait", I would like mention that grace and healing and transformation and redemption are so possible in this area. Other issues like sexual abuse, sex is dirty/bad teaching, and lack of sex teaching can cause worse problems for marriage (and are also redeemable). I sincerely and deeply regret my own past and look forward to working towards a healthy relationship in marriage, by God's grace. And I would argue that God can even redeem a situation that involved someone that was "into one-night stands" where He transforms that individual and brings blessing beyond measure.

Anonymous said...

i would like to say, that i think there are more than one reasons to have pre-marital sex. yes one is that 'i want to do this'. but how about 'i want to be intimate with someone i love', or 'i want to share this experience with someone i love' or 'i want to give my body to someone i love, because that is the most precious thing i own'

premarital sex doesn't always have to be shallow, or dirty, or thoughtless. and i don't think it's fair to sum up premarital sex in the idea of it just being lustful. just like i don't think it's fair to sum up saving one's self for marriage as just being prudish.

Searching for the Yeti said...

Dan, thanks for sharing from your thoughts and experience - lots of good stuff in there. I really appreciate it. And I, too, think God can redeem anyone and any situation.

Thanks for sharing, anonymous. I think you have a really great point. I think sex can come from a place of real commitment and love and that is a beautiful thing. I just think we each have to figure out for ourselves what is best for us and be sure that we have the "other" in mind and are not simply being shallow, or dirty, or thoughtless. Just as saving yourself shouldn't be viewed as prudish or come out of a sense of pride or better-than-that.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, please notice that i wrote that i do not think that wanting to have sex is bad or wrong, also implying that i don't think it is shallow, dirty, thoughtless, or purely lustful. i did include that disclaimer intentionally. i think it is a beautiful thing. i think it is an act of intimacy and deep connection with a person- my point was that once you make a decision to have sex, it's done, and all reasons to have waited are tossed out the window. that's all. :)

j.kent

Matt B said...

Quite a post. I think this is an important topic for Christians to wrestle with. I don't think the church has done an adequate job of discussing the role of sex in and out of marriage. A follow-up question I'd love to see you answer is what do you consider sex? How far is too far if you choose to abstain? And how should sexual feelings be handled outside of marriage (besides blogging...) "Alone" time? An ice cold bath? And what about lust v fantasy?

These are the questions that I think Christians should be grappling with. So often the only response that is given to the pre-marital sex question is to abstain. Period. But God has given us sexual desires; they are completely normal and natural. So how to contain that dragon within before you meet that prince or princess?

(Sorry for the lame attempt at a call-back)

sarah christoph said...

I loved this post. Very good insight. I think waiting for marriage is the right thing to do. But, One thing that concerns me is the notion that sex holds something extra special for a person who waits. I don't believe that those who wait (as I did) should expect an amazing sex life because they waited. You may feel incredibly let down on that ideal. For example, sometimes there are other issues, like childhood abuse, neglect, and intimacy issues that heavily effect the outcome of a couple's sex life. I have to say that no matter what anyone has done in their past, and no matter what was done TO them, God is a God of healing and restoration... And if a person's heart is truly submitted to Christ, He will bring them to a place where they can trust and love and be loved again. This is also an idealistic view... except counting on God's love and fulfillment is much greater than ANY spouse could ever offer. After all, one way or another, "we all fall down." ;)

Mav said...

Woohoo for being sexy and saved!

but seriously, thanks for tackling such a difficult topic with grace and authenticity.

I appreciate the questions that matt b. raised. When I was 13 they had just come out with the "True Love Waits" campaign and I, with passionate conviction, signed my little card saving in some treasure box to give to my beloved on our wedding day as a token of my commitment to our relationship (yeah, not really your average 13 year old kid, but then again going through parents divorce at 8 made me an old soul by then...)

Anyway, 13 was a loooooong time ago and while I have no current relationship to tempt me, keeping a commitment to purity of heart, mind and body seems to get harder and harder as the years go by.

I agree that the message from the church that merely states, "Sex: don't do it," is just not enough to carry a person through sometimes decades of singleness. I don't at all have the answers, but I think frank conversations about sex, about desire, about sexuality are vital to not only healthy singleness, but to healthy sex lives once we enter into that awe-inspiring wedded bliss.

I would recommend a reading of "Authentic Sexuality" by Jack & Judy Balswick for those looking for some more guidance on "how far is too far"--ways to create healthy physical boundaries with your partner, and for those looking to find grace and liberation into the sexuality that God created and dreams for us to revel and delight in.

The teaching that sex is dirty, bad and sinful is so damaging to a healthy and thriving sex life within a covenanted relationship like marriage. Sex itself is not so much the sin, but rather the context and motives for the action that can be sinful. If couples move through their entire dating journey thinking that sex is a sin, one ceremony and a couple of "I do's" are not going to instantaneously remove the deeply rooted sense of shame a couple feels and will most certainly make for a turbulent road to a healthy and happy sex life.

The more we can talk honestly and boldly about sex, about our desires, about our impatience, about our curiosities, about our struggles, and about our hopes for authentic sexuality, the more we can work to restore grace and redemption where shame and brokenness once reigned.

In the end, maybe Salt N Pepa had a point: http://www.lyricsdepot.com/salt-n-pepa/lets-talk-about-sex.html

Olivia McCain said...

offering up salt-n-pepa lyrics is the most awesome thing written on this blog! mav, you just got 1 billion cool points in my book!

(quick shout out to josh, who loves him some salt-n-pepa)

chris, my boyfriend, and i had an awesome conversation about this topic last night. he knows lots of people who saved themselves for marriage. he said this one couple in college were waiting to have sex until marriage, so instead they had anal sex.

really? REALLY?!?

Yanela and Mark said...

interestingly enough, many folks i ran into in college said that they thought someone who was waiting was more desirable, but only in the vein that they could potentially convince that person to give in, sort of from a "i got game" point of view. and this wasn't gender-specific. ladies as well as dudes were all about trying to become the victorious one where others had failed with the "waiter".

sort of seem "conquest"-ish to me.

as for the church, i wish that heterosexual folks were held to the same standard that homosexual folks are expected to adhere to.

in the united methodist church, ordination is dependent on celibacy in singleness...at least on paper. out of the closet folks are asked in ordination interviews if they are keeping their covenant of abstaining from sex, and promise to for their lives. you think anybody is asking heterosexual folks if they are abstaining from sex if they're not married? hell no! i do the non-member weddings at my church, about 15 a year. at least 8 or 9 out of 15 are living together, have a kid, or been divorced once. these things aren't a huge deal to me, since i believe the Holy Spirit can inspire anyone to "holier" living at any point in their lives, but damn, it sure does suck for gay people who want to monogamously live out their love together. at least cali hooks em up, missouri won't be ballin for years i bet.

just some solidarity for those left out, from a left-side ally.

thanks for bringing up the h-word
b-w....

mark

Daniel D. Farmer said...

I can't comment about premarital sex for everyone. However, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, the point about staying 'pure' (the language of purity and impurity is, I think, entirely unhelpful) isn't to stay out of trouble or out of hurt. Rather it's about our calling. Christians are called to live in particular ways (justly, simply, nonviolently, etc.) not because that's the only conceivable way to live, but because in doing so we serve as images of and signposts to God.

Sex is unitive. And so as Yoder puts it (keep in mind that his audience is Christians):
"[W]hat is questionable about 'pre-marital sex' is not that it is sex, nor that it is pre-marital, but that the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of legality, the postponement of common residence and finances, the withholding of public pledge, constitute both a handicap for the marriage's success and prima facie evidence that the love is not true. This is not sex-without-marriage but marriage without honesty." (see http://hopeful-daniel.blogspot.com/2008/01/yoder-and-hauerwas-on-premarital-sex.html)

Just as God has been faithful to the Church (in Christ) so also Christians are called (have the privilege!) of being faithful to those with whom God has made us one.

My two cents.
Peace,
-Daniel-

Searching for the Yeti said...

WHEW!!!! Really good comments all. And I will take into consideration the request for more posts on some of these tangents that are all really good and relate - I just don't know as though I have formed really good opinions or beliefs on some of this stuff. But, I guess I can try and put some of it out there and let all of you bright minds go at it ;-)
Thanks for the insightful comments.