In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sex and Faith

A few days ago I read an excellent post and ensuing comments on Increasing Marriage Age and It's Implications by Michael Bell over at the Internet Monk. The post presented the fact that the average age to get married has increased dramatically over the past few decades and brought up the issue that this presents obvious difficulties for Christians who believe that sex is intended to be exclusive to the marriage relationship.

That post has really got me thinking.

I looked around for more data on when people are engaging in sexual intercourse for the first time. I looked in a few places; the the Kinsey Institute, public health reports, the Guttamacher Institute , and Web MD. I found that it is difficult to access data from within the last two years, but, that the data out there did not demonstrate a huge variation from any of these sources. "Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades," says researcher Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher institutes data shows that by age 20, 75% of Americans have had premarital sex. Bell points out that "according to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), when we look at youth in society between the ages of 18 and 23 who are in a relationship but not married, 93% are sexually active. Among conservative protestant youth, that number is 80%."

This causes me to ask several questions; the main ones being:
Why do Christians believe sex belongs only in marriage? What can we do as a Christian community to help people keep sex within marriage? What is the outcome for people who do engage in sex outside of marriage?

I looked up the definition for the word fornication and it means to have sex without being married. The Bible has quite a bit to say about fornication; a simple search in the New Testament for the word fornication brings up 30 references. There's a few things I get out of reading those Bible references. Sex outside of marriage is not what God intended and it is sin. These Bible references make it clear that God takes this issue seriously. One of the things it took me years to realize is that God does not arbitrarily choose certain actions to be called "sin" just to see if we will be "good" and obey. He's a loving Father and warns us that some things are sin because those behaviors are not in our best interests. The concept of fornication indicates that sex belongs in marriage. Matthew 19:4-6 talks about the fact that in marriage two separate people become one flesh. I think that part of that becoming one comes about through sexual intimacy. Proverbs 5:17-19 refers to sexual satisfaction in marriage. The book of Song of Solomon is a beautiful and erotic love story which is also an allegory of Christ's great love for the church. God thinks so highly of the union between man and woman that He repeatedly compares this same union with His relationship with His followers.

Everyone desires sexual intimacy; for both physical and emotional reasons. While it was not such a big deal to refrain from sex outside of marriage when it was common to get married when in your late teens or early twenties, it is a much more difficult situation when the data shows us that the average marriage age for women in 2008 was around age 25 and for men it was in the between 27-29. Add to this the fact that there are many divorced individuals who have been through the devastation of divorce, are still people who live in a body that wants sexual intimacy, and now may have lots of negative thoughts, feelings, and fears regarding marriage. We are sexual beings, that is part of who we are created to be. I know that God put a perfect design into place and I know that He is clear in His Word that He created His followers to be in relationship, in community, because we need one another. So what can we do in the Christian community to help people keep sex within marriage? I'd really like to hear your comments on this question and then I'll share some of mine; I'd kind of like to talk about it.
God is righteous but He is also merciful. Believers are told in 1 John 1:5-10 that we sin. But that God is faithful and will forgive us our sin when we confess it to Him and choose to turn away from it. So the good news is that fornication, like all other sin, can be forgiven. The apostle Paul talked in Romans 8 about how the fact that just because we know forgiveness is ours, is not a license to go out and sin. Paul talked about God offering us a better way of life. I know that sex outside of marriage does not lead to good results. Besides all the valid conerns about disease and even pregnancy there is the issue of fracturing one's soul; if man and woman become one within the sexual union, then what happens when the two are no longer together?

This subject is one that is relevant in our world. I'd be really interested in dialoguing about your thoughts on what can we do in the Christian community to help people keep sex within marriage, as well as anything you'd care to say about why Christians believe sex outside of marriage is wrong or what is the outcome for people who engage in sex outside of marriage.

14 comments:

Stuff could always be worse said...

I love this post and i am glad i ran across it....it is so needed
kim

GCT said...

It's akin to the prohibitions on eating pork and shellfish. The rules (on everything, but speaking about pre-marital sex) didn't come from god but came from people doing a couple things:

1) Ensuring that children had homes
2) Ensuring that women could provide for their children in a patriarchal society where women were property and completely dependent upon men.

It's outdated and blindly holding to some rules written by desert nomads thousands of years ago doesn't seem to be a very prudent course of action. Abstinence only education doesn't work. People are going to have sex, and really, there's nothing wrong with it so long as both partners are willing, of able mind to make the choice, and are aware of the risks and responsible enough to face them - it's also part of being human. If you think differently, then you should point out why pre-marital sex is bad.

Denise said...

We need to follow God's commandments.

Tricia said...

IMPO, I think people should not wait so long to get married. I find it cruel to expect people to stay single and celibate through the years with the highest sex drives.

Along with this, however, I think we should encourage our youth to grow up faster than they typically do these days. Many people now live at home with parents well into their 30s without taking personal responsibility for their lives. Marriage is a huge responsibility and therefore requires great maturity.

A benefit to marriage at an earlier age (in addition to the sexual intimacy) is that in youth we are typically more moldable. Therefore, with guidance from our Godly mentors, we can grow into a healthy marriage easier, learning how to compromise and work together more easily, growing together in maturity.

Inge' said...

I think that God prohibits premarital sex for all the reasons others have listed but also for our protection. That is the reason for all of God's commands to us. As our Father, He desires to keep us safe just like we have that desire for our children.

The one thing no one talks about is the emotional implications of premarital sex. If you start making adult decisions before you are an adult, then all subsequent relationships are affected. This can lead to long term issues with your future spouse not to mention the things you will teach your own children.

Since we often tend to leave God out of important decisions,this one being no exception, it is no wonder that our views on premarital sex are so eschewed.

Michelle said...

Tricia makes excellent points.

And I believe, Tracy, in your post you stated something about God making these "regulations" to protect us. Sex outside of marriage can lead to physical and emotional issues for Christians as well as nonbelievers, especially once marriage does come.

I believe the only way we can keep sex within marriage is to start at home with our children. Being the good mentors our children need. (Basically what Tricia said.) I don't believe we can make changes in the secular world and the best thing is to protect our children from the images and the ideas portrayed by the secular world.

BTW- speaking of children in our homes...good job Tracy. I read Daniel's response the other day and I was very impressed. I can truly see God's hand on you in leading him and training him up. I place my hope in Him that we will acheive similar results with our little ones...we have a long road! Do I always get off subject? :)

Tracy said...

GCT I do agree that there are obvious practical good things that come from keeping sex within marriage. As far as that goes I still think it is an issue that children need homes. Although women today have more options for being able to work and provide for a family; I think it very naive to think that women are not currently taken advantage of with regards to sex. There are whole industries (prostitution & pornography) that exploit women. Not to mention the dishonesty in the dating arena.

Also, I want to clarify that this post is not meant to advocate abstinence only education. For what it's worth, my opinion is that sex ed needs to include all the options, including abstinence but not limited to abstinence.

I so agree Inge', that there are lots of emotional implications to sex outside of marriage. I don't have an exact Biblical passage for it, but as I said in the post, I believe that part of what makes a married couple one is the physical intimacy and to then pull those two people apart does fracture their souls to some extent (or, in the case of some people, they become so hardened that they are separate from their very self so they do not feel the impact).

Tracy said...

Michelle, I agree that one way we can help is to raise up our children in the ways we believe God is helping us.

With regards to sex ed for young people, or anyone else, we need quality Christian curriculum. Some of the best stuff I've found has been from secular sources. Dobson has done some good stuff for young pre teens and Steve Arturburn has put out that "Every Young Man's Battle" series that is great. I believe there are a lot of parents who want to help their kids but are at a loss as to how. I think it would be great for churches to offer classes for parents on how to teach and help their kids and had resource lists as part of those classes (I'm sure some churches do but I do not see this as the norm).

Tricia, I agree that it is not reasonable to tell young people to wait to finish their education, get a job and have money for a down payment on a home prior to marriage (common thoughts in our current culture) while expecting them to maintain celibacy through the years with the highest sex drives. I think you also make an excellent point about helping our children to become more independent; to raise them to learn to take responsibility and to take care of themselves.

I've got to confess that I'd fallen into the worldly trap of thinking my sons should wait on marriage. Then my 21yr old came to me and told me that he wants to marry his girlfriend this May, the day following their college graduation (they are both in their last yr at USMA West Point & this school does not allow cadets to be married). At first I voiced concerns to my husband about Devon being so young...but John really had some wise things to say. He said I should rejoice that I had such an honorable young man for a son; a young man who when he loves a woman wants to marry her (instead of just have an active sex life with her or live with her as denoted "healthy" by our current culture). He also pointed out that God has blessed these two with each other; that they both have the same heart to serve our country and make the sacrifices that takes and now they can be together in that.

I don't have all the answers with regard to this but I think in the Christian community we somehow need to provide avenues for connection and accountability. I know Tricia that you & your husband have facilitated classes for engaged and young couples through the church and I think that type of thing is part of solution; that the Christian community offer help with making successful marriages. I also think we need to make sure as churches that we are inclusive toward single again adults. I remember being single at 40 and attending a somewhat large very conservative church near my home that I'd picked because it has an outstanding program for my sons. But that church had nothing for me. I felt like an outcast.

In addition to the physical reasons people want sexual intimacy, people desire connection. If they are unable to get connection in other places, a woman can certainly always find willing sexual partners. Somehow, as a Christian community, we need to reach out. But I don't really know exactly how to do that.

I'd be very interested in people's ideas on ways to provide connection and accountability.

photogr said...

Sex the taboo subject.

Back when I was a young lad, not much was said about sex in the families. You had to pick up on it from your older peers which in some cases were good as you didn't want to talk much about it with your parents. However today in schools thanks to Obamas Safe Schools Czar, the kids are exposed to all sorts of Sex bordering on pronography starting in grade schools. What kind of message is that to the kids??

It is good that parents should have an open line of communication with their children about sex so that they can know what is right and wrong and make the right decision and when to become active ( preferably after mariage)sexually.

The scriptures is a good rule of thumb to use as a guide in sex education to our kids I would think. All we can do is pray that they make the right decision should that issue arise in their youthful desires and later in life.

As long as we are of flesh, the desires of the flesh will always be a temptation whether we are of the faith or not. It will depend on our moral values if we can resist that temptation till after marriage. Very few I would imagine can. In adults it is even more of an issue.

The saving grace is that God is a forgiving God when we sin if we ask for that forgiveness. Such as David in his sexual flings which displeased God, He did forgive David.

GCT said...

OK, so what I'm hearing here is mostly that god doesn't want us to have sex outside of marriage because it somehow protects us.

How?

Also, can we be more precise in our language? Are we talking about sex outside of marriage for married couples or only about pre-marital sex. There is a difference, of course, and I don't want to mix up the two.

Sex outside of marriage isn't necessarily bad, BTW. Some couples make arrangements to have extra-marital sex and are happy and well adjusted with the arangements they make. Poly-amory is not always bad (I would say it is only bad when it is forced on members of the polyamorous group, like in FLDS-style cults for instance).

Also, I'm not seeing the "it keeps us from harm" things as especially compelling. What type of harm, what severity, how does it stack up against other potential sources of harm to the extent that god must prohibit it, and why should it be prohibited instead of left up to free choice? For instance, eating fatty foods (junk food) can be very detrimental to your health, but we don't see the Xian god proclaiming that we should not do this. In fact, fatty foods can directly lead to heart disease and death. Is this not something god should be concerned with?

likewise, pre-marital sex could lead to disease or pregnancy, although in most cases it won't, so long as the participants are well informed and educated. The worst thing that will happen to most is that they will be emotionally heartbroken when the relationship ends. I don't see that as a reason to bar people from going through it.

In fact, I see pre-marital sex as a good thing for people. Imagine marrying someone with no prior knowledge of their sexual appetites and learning that you simply aren't sexually compatible. How dreadful would that be? Not to be crass, but I wouldn't buy a car without a test drive, and cars don't last for the rest of my life, for better or worse. Why would I shut off and blind myself to a whole aspect of what my marriage to my potential mate would be like?

Finally, I agree with a sentiment that I am sensing from some here, that frankly I find rather refreshing from Xians, since I don't often encounter it. The best thing that you can do for your children is to educate them. Knowledge is power and the more of it they have, the better equiped they are to make good decisions. That doesn't mean they will always make the best decisions, but it certainly increases their chances.

Tracy said...

GCT - I was specifically referring to sex outside of marriage, hence the 30 Bible passages about fornication; but actually think that God is just as clear in the Bible that sex is between only the 2 people who are in the marriage relationship.

Once in another post, when Michelle guest posted here, she mentioned to you that she recognizes that these things do not make sense to you because the Bible declares that unless the Spirit of God reveals truth to you, what He says will be meaningless. I basically said the same thing to you once in a discussion we were having. My son Daniel, after reading your comments the other day said how much he likes reading what you have to say because you are such an intelligent guy, but he was reminded of the same scriptures about only God's spirit can reveal truth to someone as he read your words.

The point I'm taking so long to make here is that I think what you said last seems very reasonable from a human view point and that many people in our current American culture would totally agree with you. But I choose instead to base my life upon what I believe God's Spirit reveals to me through the Bible.

jenny said...

I've read this last night and it made me nod in agreement. In our country, sex has now become a trend.
Girls as young as 13 got involve in this trend.
I've even heard a story when a girl of 12 got pregnant. She and her friend got into this thing after the month of her first menstruation. It was really shocking since she's in the elite school.

photogr said...

GCT made some good points on this article and I understand his position.

I don't agree with sex after marriage with other partners. A couple makes a vow and a commitment when they get married and should follow that vow for life unless it is an abusive or one sided relationship. Then it is time to escape that situation.

To me, a marriage is the sacred bond between two people ( man and woman) based on true love of one another wishing to consumate their joining together as one and share equally their lives together with devotion only for each other.

Young teenagers having sex. I dont think that is good as they are in many cases not mature enough yet to understand it's true purpose and meaning other than to satisfy a desire for sexual gratification, urges, or experimentation.

I am sure most of us have all went through that period in our younger lives. As we mature, our values do change to an abstinance point of view for the younger generation based on our own experiences.

GCT said...

Thanks for the kind words photogr and Tracy (and your son, Daniel, as well - that was very nice of him to say).

Tracy, I will disagree with you that sex is clearly delineated as supposed to only happen between one man and one woman in the Bible. I seem to recall many stories of concubines and multiple wives.

As for the things of the Bible seeming foolish to those not in the know, I would reject that as well. Empiricism reveals truth as best as we can tell. Revelation leaves us with "beliefs" that we can not verify as true or not, except through empirical verification.

Either way, we've gone off topic, so I'll end there on that topic.

I think we can all agree that it's a bad idea for young girls (and boys) to be having sex, as they are probably not mature enough to handle it. This, however, doesn't mean that sex in itself is a bad thing, or that sex outside of a marriage arrangement is bad. Sex is a perfectly natural and normal occurrence on Earth, even amongst us "higher creatures" that have a tendency to let our brains get in the way. I still don't see why it is so singled out in our modern day and age. Before contraception I can see, since a woman would be burdened with a child much more easily and it could produce a burden on the tribe/social group. Today, that no longer holds true, and with rising marriage ages, it's a bad idea to expect that people won't have sex. This is why the abstinence only education (and policy in Africa) doesn't work - sorry, not trying to harp on it.

I also think that making it so taboo helps to propagate the behavior of younger teens to want to do it. Just like with alcohol. I bet that binge drinking would decrease in colleges if the drinking age were lowered. Our collective attitude towards drinking is that it's scandalous until a certain age, and it creates a situation where young adults are desirous of doing something mature and taboo, and not prepared to handle it because we've told them it's taboo. It's probably the same with sex. Young adults want to feel like they are mature and adult, so they do mature and adult things...expressly mature and adult things, like sex. I really believe that changing out collective attitude would do a world of difference towards lowering the instances of unprepared teens having sex.

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