A Defense of Premarital Sex

Premarital sex in the BibleSex before marriage isn’t much of a worry if you live in a society where people get married shortly after they become sexually mature. Unfortunately, the West isn’t such a society. Take a look at how things have changed.

Medieval marriage

Centuries ago, first marriages in Europe were typically at 25 years, with brides a couple of years younger than grooms. Yes, Shakespeare portrays Juliet as only 13, but that was uncommon. Noble folk typically married earlier, but Juliet would’ve been young even for a noblewoman.

Onset of puberty in the 1800s was about 16–17 for girls and a year later for boys, with sexual maturity requiring another five years.

This meant that young people typically had just a few years between sexual maturity and marriage. Even so, premarital sex was common (though out-of-wedlock births were frowned upon). Until the mid-1700s in Britain, betrothed couples could live together and have sex, and pregnant brides were common and accepted. Customs in Colonial America were about the same, and a third of New England brides were pregnant.

Marriage today

The average age at first marriage in the U.S. is now 27 for women and 29 for men, a bit older than centuries earlier. The bigger difference is the age of sexual maturity. Onset of puberty is now 10–11 for girls and a year later for boys. The process is complete about five years later.

While the cause of this change in puberty is debated—some combination of improved nutrition or hormone-like chemicals in our environment?—this means an average of over a decade of sexual maturity before marriage. Abstinence before marriage has become much more difficult.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible has a lot to say about sex. It talks about a girl who is presented as a virgin but isn’t. It talks about adultery. It talks about when rape is okay. It talks about how to take captured women as wives. It talks about which relatives you may not sleep with. It even talks about which relatives you must sleep with. (More.)

The Bible also has plenty to say about premarital sex. Or nothing, depending on your interpretation. The issue revolves around the Greek word porneia.

The New Testament uses this word a lot. It’s clearly a bad thing, but it’s not clear exactly what it means. It’s often translated as “fornication,” which Webster’s defines as “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.” That includes premarital sex, so the Bible prohibition appears to be clear.

But explore other translations, and the issue is trickier. Some define it as “prostitution,” because the Septuagint used the word this way.

A popular translation is “sexual immorality,” though this ambiguous. Even if the sins in this category were clear in Paul’s mind, it’s not clear in ours, and we are only projecting our own biases when listing what this prohibition must mean. No, “sexual immorality” doesn’t clearly prohibit premarital sex.

Wikipedia’s take on the subject:

There is much debate amongst Christians as to whether or not sex between two people who have never been married constitutes a form of fornication. The Bible itself is silent on the issue of consensual, premarital sex between an engaged couple.

And even if premarital sex were prohibited in the Bible, so what? The Bible celebrates genocide and slavery, and we reject them. If a ban on premarital sex makes no sense for modern society, drop it.

The Christian response

One approach, often adopted by conservative Christians, is to get married early. You want sex? Fair enough—just get married first. But an early marriage driven by a desire for sex can make for a poorly grounded marriage. A Barna study validated earlier studies when it concluded, “divorce rates are higher among people who are members of conservative Protestant faiths,” and “divorce rates were lower for people who described themselves as atheist or agnostic.”

Sex-driven marriage isn’t the best approach, and neither is abstinence-only sex education. More knowledge leads to less risky sexual behavior. Not teaching safe sex or discouraging teens from the HPV vaccine is like banning fire extinguishers because otherwise everyone will set things on fire.

Another approach

Let me propose a different approach. Nature will give adult bodies to teens whether we like it or not. We don’t give them the keys to the car without driver’s education, so give them the owner’s manual to go along with their adult bodies as well (more).

Instead of a one-size-fits-all demand that premarital sex be off limits, society should (1) provide sex education that minimizes unwanted pregnancy and STDs, (2) make contraception and condoms available, (3) emphasize that “No” means no in a relationship, and (4) teach that sex alters a relationship and shouldn’t be treated lightly. (And have abortion available as a backstop.)

Yes, there can be harm with sex, but there can be harm with cars and the internet, too. Sexual compatibility is an important component of a strong marriage; should the couple figure it out before or after getting married?

The gap between sexual maturity and marriage has gone from a couple of years to more than a decade. The ban on premarital sex is naive, especially when it’s just a tradition and isn’t in the Bible. There’s nothing inherently harmful in premarital sex, and the sin of premarital sex is one of those rare problems that you can simply define away.

(And, while I strongly support the free speech rights of Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” the Bible doesn’t say that homosexuality is wrong either.)

We are living at a time where some people …
want to test whether the milk is good before they buy the cow.
John Sentamu, Archbishop of York,
(commenting on the decision of Prince William and Kate Middleton
to live together before their wedding)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • JT Rager

    I’m so glad for your number 3. I didn’t have the best Sex ed class, but it wasn’t ENTIRELY abstinence-only. I do recall, though, that the idea of consent wasn’t even touched upon. This is ridiculous. Sex education is the best opportunity to talk about consent and what is and what is not ok as far as treating other people in relationship. It’s not going to stop things like rape entirely, but hopefully it will reduce the effects. Furthermore it will educate people on what consent really means and get people to have a fuller sense of the rights an individual will have.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s been a long time since I had public school sex ed (lumped in with “health class,” as I recall), but the idea of how guys and girls should get along sexually (what makes a healthy sexual relationship, etc.) was inconceivable. But yeah, it’s pretty essential.

  • RichardSRussell

    This makes such eminent good sense that I suspect it’s only a matter of time before some fundie paints you as an agent of Satan on Earth, sent to pervert and despoil the morals (and thus the “eternal soul”) of unwary Christians.

    Personally, I’m a fan of not only pre-marital sex but also the peri-, co-, extra-, and post-marital kinds.

    = = = = = =
    “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”
    — Mae West

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You have a very liberal attitude. I’m imagine you agree with everyone on some of the harms of sex–STDs, unwanted pregnancy, coercion or peer pressure–but you’re OK with sex outside of an existing relationship? That sounds like a bad thing, at least in certain circumstances. No?

      • Itarion

        That would depend on whether the spouse is aware and accepting of said peri-, co-, and extramarital sex. It’s certainly not for everyone, but acceptance pending circumstances could save politicians a whole lot of trouble. [Take Bill Clinton: was his wife okay with it? Different answers *should* set the situation in very different lights.] Setting that aside, there are some people who enjoy the lifestyle – the more the merrier, variety is the spice of life, etc.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If both parties are cool with it, that’s fine. Maybe they both have some extramarital fun; maybe they do so together; maybe one partner is satisfying his/her larger libido with the consent of the other.

          My point is: there can be harm if the other partner is not cool with it or if a promise is being broken.

        • Itarion

          I’ll speak for myself, but not Richard Russell.

          That’s a huge no-no, man. Permission, not forgiveness, I don’t care which is easier.

      • RichardSRussell

        Any human activity can be a bad thing under “certain circumstances”. Drinking water, for example.

        What drives me up the wall are people who think “We must bring the full weight of government to bear against this situation in all circumstances, because some harm might possibly occur under some circumstances.” That black-or-white attitude lacks all nuance, which is probably why religionists, with their maniacal, insecure desire for 100% confidence and certainty at every turn, are so fond of it.

        But religionists are not alone in their hang-ups when it comes to sex. They pervade our entire culture, probably a part of our Puritan heritage. I recall something like 25-30 years ago having a long-running disagreement with a guy whose atheist credentials are impeccable about whether it would be OK if I had sex with his wife (with her consent, of course). He was adamant that it would be inappropriate. I figured that it was simply because the activity in question was sex, so I asked whether he’d get just as bent out of shape if she and I had spent the afternoon canoeing instead of canoodling, and to my surprise he said that that too would be inappropriate. Apparently he figured that his marriage vows required exclusivity in all activities in life, an attitude I hadn’t previously encountered in person, tho I’d heard of it applying widely in Muslim cultures.

        Anyway, FWIW, I live in Wisconsin, they lived in Texas, and I’d never even met his wife, so all of this was a strictly philosophical discussion, but it underlined for me once again that, just because somebody’s an atheist, that’s all you can safely assume about them.

        • Itarion

          See, I think transitive would be a possible metric. If I would be comfortable with X activity with Y person, I should be comfortable with my [theoretical] wife doing X activity with Y person.

          Of course, since that runs both ways for both couples, codifying that can get complicated really really fast.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Right. But no one is planning to criminalize adultery.

          Yes, that’s a good lesson about atheists. No god belief is the only guaranteed common thread.

        • smrnda

          Actually, Brian Fischer, of the American Family Association, has promoted the criminalization of adultery. He is a fringe figure but he is more than *nobody.*

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I was unclear–my bad. I meant “nobody here.

        • smrnda

          Good to know, though there are some real loons who frequent patheos blogs; luckily I don’t think you’ve been hit by the worst of them, and some of the most irritating I haven’t seen post in a while.

  • Pofarmer

    This would be a really good article that could be distributed widely and would be fairly uncontroversial if you would drop the one line about having abortion as a backstop. I agree with having the morning after pill as a backstop, but have problems going much further than that.

    • MNb

      Still some catholic influence?

      Abortion is illegal in Suriname. Still there are some clinics in Paramaribo and women know to find them. These clinics are left alone. This is a typical Dutch phenomenon:


      I know a few Surinamese women who have had an abortion. They have convinced me that your “problems going much further than that” – personally I have them too – are non-problems in practice. Luxury abortion is a myth.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        I’ve heard this as something of a French attitude as well. You technically break a law, but you convince the cop that there were mitigating circumstances so you get let off. Am I correctly seeing a parallel?

        I’m not following your last paragraph. Are these women criticizing your evaluation of abortion?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      So you wouldn’t counsel anyone to use abortion as an option, but you also want it illegal so no one else can, either?

      Maybe we somewhat on the same page here (give me your thoughts), because I would think that a best-practices approach to avoiding unwanted pregnancy will do far more to reduce the number of abortions than either the status quo or a Roe-free America.

      • Pofarmer

        No, I don’t want abortion illegal, but I think it’s an absolutely worst case scenario. I think that the recent study in St. Louis showed just what best practices can be. From something like 32 abortion per 1000 to 4? I think that’s pretty clear, and I think if the Catholic Church in the U.S. was really worried about abortion they would take notice and change their stance on contraception.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Tell me more about the St. Louis study. I don’t know what that refers to. Sounds like you’re talking about improved education?

        • Pofarmer
        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          An excellent data point, thanks. I never fail to be amazed that pro-lifers would do their cause far more good focusing on education and access than protesting at clinics.

          (But then, actually reducing abortions isn’t the point, IMO. It’s just a diversion that gives politicians power.)

  • smrnda

    This reminds me of some advice one of my friends got from her father. Her father wanted to make sure that she had all the information she needed about sex, and simply took at as the most likely event that she’d have sex before she got married. He had a rather derisive attitude towards people who didn’t teach the facts and did abstinence only – after all, all it takes to make a huge mistake under that plan is having sex ONCE. If you have the right information on protection and contraception, you can have sex all the time and avoid bad consequences, at least as well as you can doing other potentially dangerous behaviors.

    You make a good point that getting married *because you want to have sex* is a bad idea. If someone has sex before and doesn’t think of it as a tragedy, then marriage is a decision you aren’t making because you just happen to be aroused a lot.

  • MNb

    “Let me propose a different approach.”
    This is pretty much the approach in Suriname (yup, many religious folks here show they can be reasonable). Alas it doesn’t work too well. I can think of two causes.

    1. People, including kids, strongly identify with the ethnical groups they belong to and the cultural values attached, which are far from always the same;
    2. The governmental campaigns are ad hoc, not permanent and systemetical.

    So I’m afraid your approach isn’t a miracle cure.

    • Itarion

      I’d be leery of anyone offering a miracle cure. Stuff’s complex, but if we get started going in the right direction, maybe we’ll just keep walking. Alternatively, there could be a knee-jerk opposition that pulls us the wrong way, but ya never know til ya try.

  • MNb

    Alas there aren’t comparable numbers on divorce in The Netherlands (categorized in denomination).


    It’s interesting that the amount of divorces is increasing (the percentage not so much since divorce has become legal in The Netherlands in 1970), but that the duration of marriages before a divorce increases as well: 14,5 years in 2012, 11,2 years in 1950. As a consequence the average age of people having a divorce is increasing as well. This rather undermines the argument that the easy option of a divorce undermines the stability of marriage.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Perhaps slightly related: the fraction of people who have asked for something to end their lives and then actually use it is about 1/3 (IIRC). I think these are Oregon numbers.

      Simply having it as an available option must be comforting or reassuring. I could imagine that.

      • Greg G.

        My dentist always tells me to raise my hand if there is too much pain. I had read long ago that giving patients this control allows them to tolerate more pain. We seem to be able to endure more suffering with the removal of the fear of it getting uncontrollably worse.

  • Jason

    Bob, how dare you address sex this close to Christmas!
    (The war on celibacy?)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, I wasn’t trying to point out any connection. But hey–I’ve unintentionally ruffled feathers before. More of the same, I guess.

  • Jason

    I grew up in the deep south where people often get married very young (probably often “for sex”). My parents got married at 18 and 21 and ended up divorcing, but luckily my mother simply horrified me with the dangers of pregnancy and STDs and then explained what a condom was. After my parents divorced, Dad moved in with another women for a few years who he never married. In hindsight, he was being much more responsible the second time around.

    PS Bob, in addition to sex, another reason conservative people get married young is to simply get out of the house. According to my mother, one reason she got married at 18 was that she wanted to move out and there was simply no easy way she could imagine doing this without getting married.

  • http://batman-news.com Anton

    Bob, I think we’re doing just fine in this country, bombarding kids with vulgar imagery and then feigning outrage when we find out they’re sexually active. Why, an open, sensible approach to sex would kill the advertising industry. The next thing we know, female pop stars would be wearing clothes that fit them.

    • Itarion

      Not to mention the flak that Miley would catch for a chaste waltz in ballgown.

  • Greg G.

    I never thought I was having pre-marital sex because I didn’t plan to get married.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The church has a long way to go to get you on the straight and narrow.

      • Itarion

        Straight and narrow sounds to restrictive. Can I do variable and wide?

  • BoBecca Ball

    This is one of the things that enrages me most about the conservative, christian right – the hypocrisy! Responsible sex education and mandatory HPV vaccines are the work of an evil, overbearing government but yet telling people who they can marry and forcing a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion are necessary to protect the morality of the nation.

    Conservatives need to make up their mind – either they want the government out of our personal lives entirely or they want big brother making all of our major life decisions.

    • 92JazzQueen .

      The way the responsible sex education is worded there is more to it than meets to eyes. Because some programs have very questionable activities that have been promoted without any knowledge from parents. Not to mention how some groups before it was publicized the ultrasound thing actually was advocated by some abortion rights group. Not to mention forcing institutions to give out certain contraceptions they don’t agree with. Labeling abortion as a woman’s right while also superseding a unborn girl’s life.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Sounds like there’s a lot more behind what you’re saying. You might want to slow down and make your position clearer.

      • RichardSRussell

        Institutions are not human, therefore they have no brains, therefore they have no thots, therefore they have no opinions, therefore they can’t either agree or disagree with anything. This fundamental fact was utterly ignored by the Supreme Court in its 2010 Citizens United ruling, and look what the resultant “corporations are people, my friend” attitude has done to boost the corruption level in American politics. Dividing by zero is never a good idea, whether in math or public policy.

        • smrnda

          Dividing by zero will get you a NaN exception.

          Unless an organization is purely ideological – a specific religious sect and the house of worship ONLY, a political party it cannot have ‘beliefs.’ The whole idea behind incorporation is to create an entity separate from the individuals who own it. This isn’t bad, since if you’re an LLC and your business goes under, your business assets can be seized but they can’t take the shirt off your back (unless it was, specifically, purchased for work.) But the ‘corporations are people’ crowd wants to give the owners all the perks of being separate from the entity but without the drawbacks of having to treat the entity as a legal entity, NOT A PERSON, separate from themselves.

        • RichardSRussell

          Dividing by zero will get you a NaN exception.

          This is true only for electronic devices, where they feel obliged to show you something, but in pure math, the result is said to be “undefined”. This is particularly important in mathematical proofs, where the nature of the zero may have been disguised by expressing it as a calculation. Here, for example, is the classic “proof” of how 2 = 1, with division by 0 being the hard-to-spot cause of the absurdity:

          Proof that 2 = 1:
          Let a and b be equal nonzero quantities
          a = b
          Multiply both sides by a
          a^2 = ab
          Subtract b^2 from both sides
          a^2 – b^2 = ab – b^2
          (a – b)(a + b) = b(a – b)
          Divide by (a – b)
          a + b = b
          And since a = b,
          b + b = b
          2b = b
          Divide by b (which is nonzero)
          2 = 1

        • smrnda

          True. I *used to be* a mathematician but I develop software now, and I’ve spent the last week or so debugging legacy code that was churning out absurd probabilities thanks to the NaN error.

        • RichardSRussell

          So you might appreciate this one, which is getting old and tottery, with a long gray beard by now, but can still provoke a knowing chuckle among computer types who lived thru Y2K.

          There was a COBOL programmer back in 1997, when management finally became alarmed at the looming catastrophe that Y2K might possibly cause, who got assigned to doing nothing but COBOL maintenance programming, looking for Y2K bugs and stamping them out. After a couple of years of this, he was so sick of it he decided to have himself cryogenically preserved, with instructions to wake him up in about 2002 or so, when it was finally all over.

          The next thing he knew, he was blinking at the bright lights overhead the gurney he was lying on. “Ah”, he said in relief, “2002 at last!”

          “Well,” said the doc, nervously, “not quite. There was some kind of mixup in your paperwork, and they forgot to wake you up on schedule. Quite a bit of time has elapsed since then.”

          “How much time?” he inquired, alarmed.

          “Nearly 8000 years, I’m afraid. Everyone you knew is long dead. I’m sorry.”

          The programmer is crushed and silent for a moment. Then he thinks to ask “What is it that prompted you to finally wake me up after all these centuries?”

          “Well,” said the doc, “you see, it’s now the year 9998, and we’re coming up on the year 10,000, and according to your records, you know COBOL ….”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I imagine they’d just wrap their opinions up as moral necessities so that government carrying out their wishes sounds like wholesome morality, not intrusive Big Brother.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      Conservatives need to make up their mind – either they want the
      government out of our personal lives entirely or they want big brother
      making all of our major life decisions.

      Why do they need to make up their mind? It’s working out well for them that the government spends more time paying attention to our immodest women and political radicals than regulating the business entities that like using the world economy and environment as a roulette wheel.

  • KarlUdy

    Although it might surprise you I actually agree with most of what you say here. Our current societal attitudes towards sex and marriage come out of unique circumstances, and what worked for the previous generation may not necessarily be a good plan for the next.

    With respect to the average age of marriage, from memory it has actually gone up and down over the generations and I think that it may have been comparable to now during pioneer times. The major difference between then and now is that our current culture is saturated with sex to the point that what would have been considered pornographic in any other generation is considered normal today.

    Is it realistic to expect young people to put off sex for ever longer periods while being bombarded with titillation everywhere they look? Probably not. Is the best solution to simply affirm pre-marital sex? I’m not so sure. Why? Because I’m not convinced that pre-marital sex is harmless. Sure, contraception provides protection from some of the physical risks, but for humans sex is more than simply a physical act, and the emotional and psychological risks of harm are very real.

    • smrnda

      I’m not sure that most people who have sex before marriage sustain any significant harm from it. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but I also worry that part of the ‘harm’ that occurs comes from people being taught it’s something they should be ashamed of later on. I’m also not sure that the alternate perspective is healthier – when I hear about people saying they can’t imagine having sex with someone *tainted* and so they’re glad they didn’t have premarital sex, I’m not sure that the alternative is necessarily healthier or more humanizing. Representing *a person who had sex* or perhaps more specifically, a *woman who had sex* as a piece of chewed up gum strikes me as a rather unhealthy and nasty perspective.

      As the type of person who likes research and empirical data, I’d prefer to see some studies that examine whether or not having premarital sex causes lasting harm, but I worry that the problem will be that there won’t be enough people who haven’t done it for the study to be very useful.

      On the saturation with sex: I agree that some unhealthy messages are getting out, but I also think that you can get just as bad messages about sex, relationships and gender roles from G rated entertainment as you can from hard-core porn at times, and perhaps tamer fare is more insidious because it slips under the radar and takes people off guard.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Coaching a 15-year-old through months of driver’s education can be difficult for a parent. But y’know what’s scarier than a 15yo learning how to drive? A 25yo learning how to drive.

        I think sex is a bit like that. A couple that hasn’t kissed until their wedding day at age 28 will be pretty clumsy in the sack. The marriage night won’t be bliss; it’ll be embarrassment as they stumble their way through. They have no expertise in knowing how to do things so that it’s pleasing to their partner.

        • MNb

          Ha! On our marriage night we didn’t have sex at all as we were way too tired from partying. Of course we didn’t need to due to the many months before.
          Sick tradition, if you begin to think about it.

        • Pofarmer

          Ya know, if you haven’t kissed until your wedding day at 28, do you really understand how to share intimacy with someone at all? We learn the best from our early to late teens, and are the most flexible then. I start my kids driving at around age 10, while Dad still has the appearance of power. By the time they hit 16 they are much more hard headed and less pliable. Good habits start early. If you are waiting till 28 to be intimate with someone, I think you are gonna have very real issues that are gonna be very hard to overcome. Which might explain the high divorce rate between Evangelicals and Fundies.

        • smrnda

          I think the importance of sexual experiences in marriage gets overrated. Not that it isn’t relevant, but there’s a lot more to marriage than sex. Most people know that.

          I *DO* worry about the kids who got the ‘abstinence before marriage and then thanks to following the rules MIND BLOWING SEX EVERY TIME!’ are getting set up for major disappointment because it won’t be like that, and it isn’t easy for someone within such a subculture to say ‘hey, you were all wrong. We followed the rules and sex wasn’t a mind blowing experience.’

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          it isn’t easy for someone within such a subculture to say ‘hey, you were all wrong. We followed the rules and sex wasn’t a mind blowing experience.’

          It’s not often that one experience can lead to shame, disillusionment, and alienation simultaneously.

        • smrnda

          You forgot to add confusion!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I agree that marriage is much more than sex. And I find it ironic that the anti-same-sex marriage crowd is forced to handwave that marriage is about little but procreation.

        • smrnda

          I’m not that surprised. The ‘no sex before marriage’ crowd, at its most extreme, believes in very rigid gender stereotypes about men and women being *practically from different planets* and that if it wasn’t for the sex instinct, the men would all sit in a cave talking about bashing skulls with rocks and the women would all be sitting in a circle knitting and sewing and talking about feelings. The idea that a relationship between a man and a woman isn’t primarily driven by a need for sex release blows their minds.

          That’s also one of the anti-equality arguments they make (and I think it’s one of the worst ones.) It’s that it’s *hard* for a man and woman to stay married since men and women are so different, and same-sex couples are cheating by doing something easier.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I hadn’t heard that particular attack on same-sex relationships. Interesting.

        • smrnda

          I’ve read some bits by Orson Scott Card that took that angle if you have any interest in reading them. I can’t think of the others offhand who used that argument, but he stands out.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I just went to see the “Ender’s Game” film. I tried unsuccessfully to buy a ticket for another movie so his franchise wouldn’t get the credit. Dang.

          I protest because I don’t like his meddling politics.

        • PyrrhicV

          perhaps because it’s already viewed and cast negatively and anything else (like premarital sex) that follows is already drowning in so-called sin and iniquity

    • Pofarmer

      “Is it realistic to expect young people to put off sex for ever longer
      periods while being bombarded with titillation everywhere they look?”

      Are you sure this is actually true? In those Halcyon pioneer times everybody pretty much pee’d and pooped out doors, or in an outhouse if they were civilized. Do you think children living in one room cabins ever noticed their parents having sex? I think what is unrealistic, is our ideas about what the past was like. We have been on the road straight to hell ever since Christianity was formed, each generation successively worse than the last. It’s awful! Oh, the humanity!!

      • Itarion

        I suppose that this means that someone needs to do research into the sexual psychology and sociology of historical societies?

        • RichardSRussell

          Unless you can invent a time machine, you’re stuck with historical records about something that hardly anybody ever wrote about, even in cultures where at least some people were literate and/or much more sex-friendly than ours.

          At all times and places, most everyday practices tend to be just taken for granted and not jotted down for posterity. How many books have you ever picked up where the author remarked that the hero took a deep breath and sighed “ahhhh, oxygen again today”? In general, our historical records are of big and/or unusual events, not mundane, routine ones.

        • Itarion

          Well… yeah. sadly.

          Except for what little is preserved in the literature of the time. Which, while non-negligible, is also a very sketchy picture ate best.

          ADHD thought for you: explicit cave drawings. “Here’s the mammoth I hunted down, and used as the bride-price for the girl I married” sort of thing.

        • Pofarmer

          There was a big show the other day on pornography in Ancient Egypt. Good stuff.

        • Itarion

          Sounds interesting. Where can I find it?

        • Pofarmer

          I’m not sure. It was on Discovery or one of the science or history channels.

        • Pofarmer

          Yes. I think we get too much influence in the U.S. from the puritanical prudish wing.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        And when most people lived on or near farms, they see the livestock doing the boy/girl thing. Then, that was natural and uninteresting. Today, that would be pornographic.

        • Itarion

          Oh, there’s just so much research potential here. Break down the numbers by generation, by rural/suburb/urban, by marital status of parents, by etc, etc. Sociology is an under-appreciated science, and I say this as someone who thinks science generally is under-appreciated.

        • Pofarmer

          I can tell some pretty good stories about that sort of stuff. Town kids sometimes get educated.

        • smrnda

          This reminds me of how Kinsey ( I believe) noted that bestiality was more common during times when more people were engaged in farming and was mostly opportunistic or spur of the moment experimentation. These days, it’s not a kink too many people are likely to get into.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s good to hear that we agree.

      As a fraction of total life expectancy, the age of marriage has come down dramatically in the last 150 years or so in the West. I’d be surprised if long ago, marriage age was much higher.

      The major difference between then and now is that our current culture is saturated with sex to the point that what would have been considered pornographic in any other generation is considered normal today.

      And what would be considered normal in another generation might be considered pornographic today. I’m thinking of topless styles in tropical countries, for example. I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder.

      Pofarmer’s point is good as well. In tenement housing in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution or NYC after immigrants flooded in, Mom and Dad and all the kids lived in very close quarters. Mom and Dad might’ve gotten it on with the kids in the same bed.

      Is it realistic to expect young people to put off sex for ever longer periods while being bombarded with titillation everywhere they look?

      Thought experiment: imagine a society where media didn’t “bombard” young people with titillation. Then what? I think they’d still be pretty darn horny.

      for humans sex is more than simply a physical act, and the emotional and psychological risks of harm are very real.

      To some extent, I agree. I acknowledged that above.

    • MNb

      Of course this has been investigated too.


      Average age of deflowering has decreased in The Netherlands from 17,3 in 1980 to 16,7 years now. Dutch youngsters are equally or more bombarded with titillation as their American counterparts.
      In Iceland teens lose their virginity at the youngest age in the world: 15,6 years on average. I am not aware that Icelandic teens suffer more emotional and psychological harm than anywhere else in the world. So that might very well be a cultural thing. Now the USA being the most christian nation in western civilization this suggests that actually the christian tradition in the States is responsible for that harm …. (yes, I know this is a premature conclusion).

      • Pofarmer

        “this suggests that actually the christian tradition in the States is responsible for that harm ….”

        ding, ding, ding. I think it’s all in our perceptions.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, it’s not the sex but the guilt dumped on that’s the problem.

  • Itarion

    Sex will out. Humans are, among other things, sexual creatures and so have sexual needs/desires/urges. There’s no getting around that, and even if someone has no exposure to anything sexual for the entirety of their young life, I have doubts that they wouldn’t develop the same.

    The core of this issue, as far as I can see it, is in reconciling the intelligent mind with the sexual part. That reconciliation is necessary, and very difficult to achieve when one has no idea what one is looking for in a partner, even generally.

    The nature of sexuality in the US is indeed radically different than that of the pioneer times. It’s there, yes, but seen as a temptation, as if the desires are something to be ashamed of. But at the same time, sex is used in advertising or sales of even the most demure stuff, and there are huge [illicit and not] markets that sell sex and related stuff. So you end up with confusion of whether sex is “good” or “bad”, and how the “good” is different from the “bad” when there’s not really much clear difference, and as much or more difference between different types of “bad” than between “good” and “bad”.

    It looks like society as a whole needs to take a moment to think about what “good” should be, why “bad” is, and whether “different but still good” can be an option, and premarital is part of what needs to be examined. Along with this comes an individual reflection on what’s “possibly good, but not for me”. Is it gonna happen, this epiphany? Probably not, but it would be nice and make coming-of-age far less confusing.

    What definitely can stop is judgmental attitudes towards different sexlifestyles, and that would be a step in the right direction.

    • MNb

      “I have doubts that they wouldn’t develop the same.”
      I don’t share your doubts. Humans also being imaginative beings I guarantee you that they would develop more of it. Why do you think young hermits so often get tempted by the Evil one with overheated hallucinations?

  • Itarion

    Here is a question that I find interesting: What is marriage?

    What does the fact of marriage change about a relationship between two people that sex goes from “frowned upon” to “acceptable”?

    As far as I can tell, it’s an intrinsically meaningless social construct that’s given meaning by context and nothing more. A representation of what already exists within the relationship, being acknowledged by something outside of the relationship.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    • RichardSRussell

      It’s easier to describe what it used to be in Biblical times: a straightforward property contract, in which the woman’s original owner (her father) gave her to her new owner (her husband), often upon payment of some agreed-upon price, which was generally the bride-price paid by the groom but might, if she was marrying up in social class, be a dowry paid by the bride’s family in return for their new social alliance.

      • Itarion

        Unfortunately, my liberal tendency to treat women as people renders ownership thereof impossible, but thanks.

        Man, outdated cultural norms that don’t keep up with changing traditions are the worst.

        • Pofarmer

          “outdated cultural norms that don’t keep up with changing traditions are the worst.”

          That’s pretty much what religion is good at.

    • smrnda

      As a person who doesn’t see sex outside of marriage as anything but normal behavior, and most people I know regard it the same way, marriage is something you do when you’re relationship is going to be more or less long term and the legal or financial perks are worth it. It’s kind of the last stop on a spectrum where people gradually become more and more committed, though I don’t regard it as really necessary.

  • Greg G.

    It seems to me that people who oppose pre-marital sex theave never had responsible pre-marital sex. There are many who have never had pre-marital sex but there are few who have had pre-marital sex only once. Of those who have pre-marital sex exactly once, I would expect the majority are anticipating their second experience. Most who try it only stop by getting married.

    In general, we are better off giving more credence to the experienced. However, I think the decision should be made prior to reaching the throes of passion.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      That’s an interesting point. I imagine many prudes would admit that they had had premarital sex but judge that action (or actions) as wrong. Perhaps the same would be true for drinking or smoking or pot or some other teenage experiment. I’d never considered that the strength of their rejection might come from the strength of their guilt. So it’s an emotional prohibition, not an intellectual one.

  • RichardSRussell

    “Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth. And you should save it for someone you love.”
    —Butch Hancock

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Awesome quote, thanks.

  • Georgina

    fornication: consensual sexual intercourse between two persons.
    See I always knew it was a good thing.

  • Jeff

    My goal is to set believers free from

    This is the most detailed answer you
    will ever read that the idea of PRE-MARITAL SEX as a sin does NOT
    exist in the Bible. There are not even rules that require a ceremony,
    a minister nor a written agreement to establish marriage, certainly
    not a requirement for any government to issue a license. Pastors and
    Preachers will NEVER teach this to you, because it would cause the
    congregation to divide and their salary to dry up. It would also
    cause loan payments to the bank for the church building to go into

    It’s too long to post here- the blog
    will not allow it. But I guarantee if you read it you’ll be
    astonished and won’t be disappointed by the peace it will bring.

    Please read here:


  • Bible bill

    This is blasphemous!!!!
    read a Bible instead of searching things on the internet.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Bill: If there is something wrong with the analysis, let me know. Otherwise, all I hear is that this is legitimately offensive, for which I don’t have much sympathy.

  • Will

    The argument lies with the definition of “sexual immorality” which most Christians don’t seem to care about except for their own definition that they learned in church. Anyone with normal ability to think and interpret readings properly can see that we (none of us) adopt all of OT laws.

    For example, do we stone women for having premarital sex? No. Do we adhere to
    letting our mustaches grow and not trimming our hair? No. Do we prevent someone with uneven limbs or scars from attending church or becoming a priest? No. Do we consider a woman in her period as unclean for seven days (including
    everything she sits on and whomever touches her)? No. The list goes on and on. When we read the Bible, we must consider the when, where, why, how, and for whom… We need to consider the times, the culture, and situations then compare that to what the NT says. In the OT times, men often married many wives and concubines (now, with this in mind, read the sex rules in Lev-Num-Deut. You will understand it better). Do we practice this today? No. So when I fast forward to the NT… I am left with what it states in Acts 15:29:

    (Act 15:28-29)
    “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater
    burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food
    offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and
    from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

    So then we must understand what “sexual immorality” means
    according to the Bible and not according to our own tradition.

    I think I got to this blog by searching, “can engaged people have sex, Bible”.
    Well, according to the Bible, when two people are engaged, they are considered to be married:

    (NLT Deu 22:23-24) “Suppose a man meets a young woman,
    a virgin who is engaged to be married, and he has sexual intercourse with her.
    If this happens within a town, you must take both of them to the gates of that
    town and stone them to death. The woman is guilty because she did not scream
    for help. The man must die because he violated another man’s wife. In this way,
    you will purge this evil from among you.

  • Grep

    before marriage it can be very harm for you if you live in a critical society.
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