Why Saving Sex for Marriage Still Matters
In my teen years, there was a lot of talk among Christian circles about "purity," which was a euphemism for virginity and innocence. It took on many forms: At Christian concerts, teens would be asked to sign purity pledges, daughters were taken to "purity balls," Josh Harris kissed dating goodbye, people made crass references to half-eaten pastries, Rebecca St. James wrote a song about it, pop stars wore "purity rings," and "true love waits" became a catchphrase for all youth ministers. It was an interesting time to be alive. But a problem emerged...
The teens kept having sex anyway.
I imagine the morning after was often like what Adam and Eve felt after their fruit tasting experience: A mixture of guilt and shame, coupled with the bewilderment that they "did not surely die" as forewarned.
Since then, many have emerged to decry the "purity movement" as nothing more than a patriarchal tool for the systematic subjugation of women. Like most social waves, the purity movement came about as a reaction to a previous movement, "The Sexual Revolution," and then spawned its own counter-movement, which is currently unnamed. (But, if any sociologists are reading, can we please call it "The Sexual Pornolution"?) This new cultural movement is — ahem — loosely defined, but it involves things like Tinder, Grindr, sexting, revenge porn, gender dysphoria, slut walks, and the arguably mislabeled "neo-feminism." It is an interesting time to be alive. But a problem keeps emerging...
The research keeps coming out anyway.
So, as a society, we've tried it both ways, and we still can't seem to improve the results. If the goal is to produce humans with the best possible opportunities for success, we're not achieving our goal. We've tried the fire-and-brimstone approach, and we've tried the more "flexible" approach, but neither seems to make much of a difference. Which begs the question: What's missing?
In John 1:1, we read that Christ was the divine order and logic (logos in Greek) that created the world. Isaiah 1:18 commands us to "reason together." In Titus 2:12, we're told to be sensible. Throughout Acts, the apostles practiced reason to make the case for their belief. But somewhere over the last 2,000 years, we checked our brains at the door. Instead of allowing reason and truth to inform our behavior, we've resorted to baseless sensationalism in an attempt to control the behavior of others and excuse our own behavior. Nowhere is the abandon of reason more evident than within the debates regarding sexual morality.
On both sides of the debate, reason has been abandoned. The old guard of my teen years made the argument that sex was evil and uncontrollable, which simply isn't true. Sex is a gift from God, a good thing, and a controllable human behavior. Meanwhile, the libertine crowd keeps trying to make the argument that sex can be inconsequential and universally safe, which is also untrue. Sex is designed to be consequential (whether the consequence be conception or just oxytocin) and no biological or interpersonal activity is universally safe. One side produces shame, while the other side produces guilt. Both are rooted in half-truths, or, should I say, half-lies.
Sex isn't inherently evil. Your behavior is controllable (assuming you're sane). Sex is deeply consequential on just about every meaningful level: physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. And sex requires precaution to maintain a degree of safety. The truth is exactly what the Bible says: Sex is not just good, it's "very good." With this foundation in place, we must then look at the context in which sex occurs, which really gets to the heart of the debate.
If the goal is to achieve the best possible outcome throughout the duration of our lives, we should manage our behavior to achieve that result. So I ask you, what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of marriage do you want to ultimately have? What type of relationships do you desire? If you're like most people, you probably aspire to have a long, prosperous, healthy life, filled with loving relationships, lasting security, and enduring trust. So what investments are you making in your life today to ensure the likelihood of those goals? If you ultimately want to have a strong, lifelong marriage, are you currently doing anything to undermine the probability of that outcome?
Now, this is where truth and logic collide. We're fortunate to live in a society that values objective research. We can use the truth of that research to make logical, informed decisions about our lives. Here are just a few findings:
- Having sex with someone you don't marry increases the odds of a future dissolution of your eventual marriage (source)
- The more sexual partners one has before marriage, the lower they rank their happiness in their eventual marriage. People who married their only sexual partner have the highest-quality marriages, statistically. (source)
- Pre-marital cohabitation drastically increases the likelihood of divorce by more than 50% (source)
- Having sex prior to a clear commitment (e.g. marriage) results in decreased satisfaction with the relationship (source, another source)
- Saving sex for marriage has profound results across a number of metrics: (source)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As it turns out, universities and think tanks are continually churning out research that shows that there is tremendous benefit to abstaining from sex prior to marriage, assuming one wants to have a happy, lasting marriage.
- The nice thing about marrying as virgins is that you can both honestly say that your spouse is "the best [you] ever had."
- STIs are essentially a non-issue within virginal, monogamous marriages.
- Babies are real.
- The release of oxytocin (the "bonding chemical") through sex can create a feeling of closeness with someone who may not be your best match. It can also cloud your judgement. Who you bond your life to is a serious, consequential decision. It should be made with as much clarity as possible.
- Assuming you intend to have complete honesty in your eventual marriage, it's a lot easier to not have a "sexual history" to confess.
- Guilt, emotional baggage, and shame are both unfortunate and real. Keeping your behavior aligned with your values (whatever they may be) helps reduce the weight of such burdens.
- The behaviors you choose pre-maritally will impact the person you are during your marriage. Choose wisely.
I find it compelling that the Bible's guidance on pre-marital and extra-marital sex is perfectly supported by contemporary research and our own ability to reason. You may have noticed that I've not yet mentioned sin. While fear-mongering about hellfire has a long history in this discussion, I simply don't see good fruit from that strategy. Plus, as a motivating factor, it doesn't work. Christian teens know God loves them, and damnation doesn't fit in the narrative they believe about themselves and God. (Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.)
I believe the Bible's instructions are designed so we can have the best possible human life. They're not simply a list of arbitrary sufferings we must endure to garner halos in the afterlife. Therefore, I believe that the behaviors the Bible describes as "sins" are simply things that are counterproductive to our lives. We shouldn't do those things — not simply because they're "sins" — but because they undermine the life we actually want to live, which is the life God designed for us.
Don't let mistakes and the mistaken logic of others dictate how you will construct and live your life. Just because the purity balls and slut walks may have failed, don't lose sight of your value and your values. Your future is worth more than that.