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.