As part of the continued fall-out from the controversy over my past, Scarleteen — perhaps the nation’s best sex education site — has removed all articles I wrote or to which I contributed. (Scroll to the bottom of this link for their statement.) I was kindly informed in advance of the public announcement of this decision by the site’s executive director, who also gave me permission to rerun the pieces here on my own blog. I’m grateful for that kind consideration.
So below the fold, find a post that ran at Scarleteen in 2009: my answer to a young Christian woman agonizing over the ethics of pre-marital sex.
Hello, my name is Christine, I am 20 years old and I have had a boyfriend for about 5 years. We have been having intercourse for over 2 years now but recently, for about 3 months, I have started going to an apostolic church and I am thinking about getting baptised and becoming a christian. But I have a question about what I should do about my sexual life…should I abbandon it until I get married now? Because this really weighing heavily on my morals. I have asked many friends in my church on their opinion about this, and they tell me that premarital sex causes to leave an open doorway for the devil get in so that he can distort sex after marriage. I know that God will not love me any less or be disappointed in me, but if you sacrifice something for God, it will be so much better for you in the end. Everyone has heard that silly line: “sex stops after you get married”. I don’t want that to be the case…so will sex be better in marriage or does it really make a difference if I continue to make love to my significant other? Because this sounds like a skeptical concept to me… please help!! Thank you
Thanks for writing.
As someone just beginning a new faith journey, it’s understandable that you’d be a bit confused by the messages you’re hearing from your friends in church. Surely, they want the best for you, and they’re giving you information based upon their own understanding of what it is that God wants for us. But even though you’re very new in the church, not even baptized, it’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions – and maybe discover some answers that are different from the ones you’ve been hearing.
First off, you need to know that a lot of what folks say the Bible says about sex isn’t really in the Scriptures at all. There is nothing in the Bible that condemns masturbation (the sin of Onan is about the withdrawal method), nothing that condemns loving and mutually committed homosexual relationships, and very, very little about pre-marital sex. The references in the New Testament to “sexual immorality” and “fornication” are based on a very loose translation of a single Greek word, “porneia (yeah, we get the word “porn” from it) which is better translated as “adultery.” Adultery, of course, is sex that breaks a commitment to someone else. If you were to cheat on your boyfriend (or, if you guys get married, your husband), you would certainly be committing “porneia”. But sex before marriage between two people who are not committed to others? Most scholars think the Bible says nothing about that at all.
Let me suggest, Christine, that God cares more about the content of our sexuality than he does about its form. Traditional Christian sexual ethics are often discussed in the context of what Christians can and can’t do. Some Christians will often say things like “the only form of genital contact sanctioned by God is that which happens in a marriage between one husband and one wife.” The implication is clear: if you get the “form” (heterosexual marriage) right, then the sex that follows is okay. If you haven’t got the form right, then you’ve “fallen short of the mark.”
But “form-based” sexual ethics clearly have their problems. For example, it ignores entirely the great likelihood that coercion, disrespect, and force can take place within marriage. The Churches did not start condemning marital rape — or even acknowledging that such a concept was possible — until the second half of the twentieth century. Is a situation in which a husband demands sex from his wife against her will somehow more in keeping with the spirit of Christ than a situation in which two unmarried people make love with mutual enthusiasm? If you’re a stickler for “form-based ethics”, you bet. For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is less of a serious sin than homosexuality or pre-marital sex, because form matters more than content.
“Content” based sexual ethics are concerned with the way in which people, in the process of being sexual, value themselves and their partners. Content-based ethics are deeply concerned with mutuality, with pleasure, and with the willingness of each partner to take responsibility for the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences of what is done. Form-based ethics teach the Christian to ask the question “Am I allowed to do this?” Content-based ethics teach the Christian to ask “Am I truly loving — in every sense of the word — the person or persons with whom I am doing this, including myself?”
As for marriage, there’s no evidence that sex before marriage ruins sex after. I know a great many happily married people (my wife and I are two of them) who had great sex while they were dating – and great sex after they were wed. God isn’t in the business of punishing people for pre-marital sex by making the sex they have as husband and wife tedious and unfulfilling! What makes sex in any long-term relationship seem stale is a lack of communication and the habit of taking one’s partner for granted – and that can happen just as easily to folks who were virgins on their wedding night as it can to those who weren’t.
Good, just, and spiritual sex can happen both inside and outside of marriage. And I’m certain that the God you’re just starting to get to know, Christine, cares more about the care and concern that you and your boyfriend share together than he does about the fact that you’re not married. Focus on the way you treat each other – the content of your relationship – and give thanks for the pleasure you both give and receive. Your friends may quote to you Hebrews 13:4, the chapter which is often mistakenly used to condemn pre-marital sex. (It only condemns infidelity and sex with underage prostitutes if you read the Greek closely). Focus instead on Hebrews 13:15, from the very same chapter. It says that the best sacrifice is the “sacrifice of praise.” You know, even atheists sometimes cry out “Oh God!” when they orgasm; that’s giving thanks for the gift of receiving and sharing pleasure.
God made our bodies to give and receive intense joy. When you make love with your boyfriend, thank God for giving you that power and that possibility.