Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why do Christians Oppose Pre-Marital Sex?

In many pulpits this Sunday, pastors will preach about the sanctity of marriage. One of the things some will mention is the need for Christians to refrain from premarital sex. Some evidence suggests that this is one teaching many young Christians (as well as their secular counterparts) simply are not following. It is worth considering why Christians have this teaching in the first place.

There are both practical and theological arguments advanced. In this post, I will consider the practical ones. Even today, sex carries with it the risk of disease and unintended pregnancy. AIDS for example, is prevalent in parts of Africa. Even in America and other industrialized western nations, there is no shortage of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis or chlamydia. Each year in the US alone, about 800,000 teenagers become pregnant without wanting to. This is in a day and age with condoms and birth control pills. Historically, there were none of these, so the risks of careless sex were even higher. Seen in this light, the prohibition on premarital sex was one way a loving God sought to keep people healthy. Today though, with modern birth control methods, many wonder if the same goals couldn’t be accomplished by providing better access to birth control.

Another argument is that not having premarital sex facilitates marital fidelity. If young people can keep from having sex despite their raging hormones and can build some self-discipline, they will be better able to resist temptation in marriage. They will remember that they went years without impulsively having sex at a time when their sex drives were at their highest, and then be able to summon the ability to turn down an offer of sex from someone they’re attracted to. This becomes even more plausible if they were in a long term relationship with the person they married and refrained from having sex. If they could say no to the person they loved, won’t they be able to say no to someone they simply have a temporary infatuation with?

Lastly, premarital sex opponents believe that sex is an extremely personal act with the ability to bring two people closer together. If both partners have had sex with a lot of people though, perhaps there is the risk that they will worry about how they measure up to previous sex partners at a time when they should simply focus on experiencing a profound expression of love. Such comparisons could only make sex less enjoyable. So perhaps, pastors asking young people not to have sex are really asking them to make a choice that leads to the most fulfilling sex life in the end. This again could be evidence of a loving God trying to ensure that those who follow him have the happiest lives possible.

Moreover, sex is generally considered as the highest form of intimacy a couple can have. It is the way two married partners express their love for each other. Most people still frown upon adultery--when a married person has sex with someone other than his partner--because they feel in some sense that sex is evidence of a unique bond that only a married couple can share. If the two spouses have had sex with lots of previous partners though, can the couple actually enjoy a highest form of intimacy that sets their relationship apart from the other relationships they have had? In other words, since both husband and wife have had sex previously, is sex evidence of the unique bond they share? If sex cannot be evidence of such a bond, then how can two people show affection to each other in a unique way?

But the minute Christians make practical arguments for the teaching on premarital sex, they invite interesting responses. Specifically, what does the teaching on premarital sex do for church membership? A lot of young people might feel that an absolute ban on premarital sex is unrealistic and prudish. They may well shy away from churches where they listen to what they perceive to be lectures on their sex lives. If they don’t go to church, they can’t get the message on salvation or the need of following Christ. That raises an interesting question: does prohibiting premarital sex diminish the number of souls the church can save?

By extension, does prohibiting premarital sex diminish the moral influence of Christians in society? If people assume that Christian morality is a relic of a time long past, will they listen when the church tries to push for a more just or more “Christian” society? They may not even be tuning in.

None of that matters though, if the theological case against premarital sex is solid. Here there is a lively debate centering on history and theology that I will consider later. For Christians, what the Bible has to say will win the day over practical considerations. I look forward to writing a post in the near future about the theological basis for the prohibition on premarital sex.

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