What’s Wrong with Premarital Sex?

(Hemant’s note: This is a guest post by JulietEcho. She is the admin on our Friendly Atheist forum and is currently applying to law schools. She has previously written about polyamory both here and on Daylight Atheism.)

I grew up with the understanding that all things sexual were meant only for married couples. You could kiss and hold hands if you were dating, but anything beyond that was verging into gray territory and then quickly into clear-cut sin. Some of my peers at church and in the ministry my parents worked for went further and endorsed “courtship” instead of dating, with some even planning to wait for their first kiss until their wedding day. Some followed through on this plan. Some others ended up pregnant at fifteen and sixteen. Most of us fell in-between, but those who stayed in the church at least kept up the appearance of chastity.

Most Christian denominations (and many other religious traditions) consider sex outside of marriage to be sinful, or at the very least, frowned upon. Many pastors and priests won’t marry couples (or won’t let them use the church for their wedding), unless they claim they’ve never lived together or had sex. Christian churches and ministries are behind the strong push in the US for abstinence-only sex education, which has continued to garner support despite conclusive studies that indicate the programs are not only ineffective — they decrease the chances that teenagers will use birth control and STI protection.

While even conservative Christianity has gradually eased restrictions on many activities formerly considered sinful (dancing, working on Sundays, gambling, movies and television, divorce/annulments, etc), I’d argue that one area that’s remained black and white in most churches is the chastity/abstinence issue.

Why is that? It’s a common observation that many conservative Christian groups seem obsessed with sex. Their response to the sexual revolution, continued evolution of feminism, and the gay rights movement has been to condemn sex more and more loudly, and sometimes to resort to outright lying (another sin) in order to discourage it. They support sex-negative legislation that bans sodomy, bans adultery, and limits or underfunds sex education and planned parenthood services. Christian missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, have lied to people in Africa about the effectiveness of condoms. Under Bush, the US even had a policy of refusing funding to international aid programs completely if they offered any abortion information or services.

I feel like I understand much of what drives certain religious attitudes, especially in conservative Christianity, since I have education and experience that has taught me a lot. This is one area where I’m clueless, though — so many of these actions seem contradictory. Sexual compatibility is a huge, huge, HUGE part of being able to sustain a lifelong, monogamous marriage — something most churches consider the ideal. But by following the no-sex-of-any-kind-until-marriage message, many couples set themselves up for incompatibility and don’t find out how unsatisfying their sexual relationship will be until they’re already married. Do they divorce (bad!) or do they live a lifetime of bad/no/insufficient sex and try (often unsuccessfully — bad!) not to cheat?

Teens often don’t have the impulse control to overcome their raging hormones, peer pressure, or curiosity (or perhaps they don’t believe sex needs to be saved for marriage), and statistics show that the vast majority end up having sex before marriage. Abstinence-only education makes it more likely the girls involved will get pregnant out of wedlock (even while still in high school) and that both parties will contract and transmit STIs. Do the girls get abortions (bad!) or become single mothers (children need mothers AND fathers!) or risk the physical trauma and social stigma of pregnancy, spending months with the evidence that they’ve “sinned” right there for their whole church to see and judge?

The religious belief that all sex outside a straight marriage is sinful seems to be contributing to a world with less sexual protection, more abortions, and more teen pregnancies. All the evidence points towards sex-positivity as a more healthy, beneficial attitude, so why do so many churches and denominations still condemn sex outside marriage?

  • http://twitter.com/Arduinnae Arduinnae

    It’s all part of a master plan. Ban abortions and make sure that girls and women can’t protect themselves from the necessity of them. Then, when they get pregnant and are destitute, when they’ve hit a low, they turn to the church for support.

    BAM! You not only get mom, you get fetus too.

    What we see again and again is that societies with a high standard of living abandon religion. High birthrate tends to go hand-in-hand with poverty. Therefore, the way to get the world back into the “fold” is to lower everyone’s standard of living.

    Plus, sex is omg liek so totally gross! :P

  • Bob

    I find it interesting that the default teaching of the Christian faith is shame, which – if we’re to take the Bible as accurate – is the outcome of eating that damned apple, and not by original design.

    On the whole, I detest the ‘lock your kid in a closet until they’re 18, and PRESTO! magically functional adult!’ method of child-rearing.

    The whole purpose of education is so that our children not only learn essential skills, but the intellectual, emotional, and moral foundations for later in life. Strip away this, and you have the intellectual equivalent of veal – tender, can’t stand on its own, and a taste treat for predators.

  • Robin

    I think it has something to do with a deep mistrust of the fully autonomous, fully adult human female. . .

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    betty dodson said it best:

    “the best way to keep a population docile and easy to manipulate is to prohibit masturbation, insist on marriage and monogamy, withhold sex information and birth control, criminalize abortion and prostitution, condemn homosexuality, censor sexually explicit entertainment, and deny the existence of sexual diversity. with a list like that, we’re all sexual sinners.”

    in the forward for ‘sex for one’, 1996.

    also a great video (youtube wants you to verify that you’re over 18 to see it):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGjVZT2CGWI

  • Trace

    “I grew up with the understanding that all things sexual were meant only for married couples”

    If your name was Abraham that changed things.

  • Bob

    @Robin:

    Well, that IS one of the features of the Bible. Women are immediately degraded from being an equal of man to an afterthought. Women are cast throughout the Bible as harlots and whores and sinners, except for the rare instances where one is so moved by the presence of God as to forsake her inherent evil nature.

  • Lifer

    “It’s either Multiamory or Polyphilia, but mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!”

    ~ The Internet

  • http://melliferax.wordpress.com Melliferax

    I’m slightly confused about the “(bad!)” interjections. Are those from the perspective of the author or the conservative christians? Because I for one don’t understand what’s bad about for instance divorce. If you’re not getting along as a couple, of course you shouldn’t be together. Sometimes divorce is the most healthy, happy option. And the whole “children need both mothers and fathers” thing is obviously a whole debate on its own…

  • http://gerusz.freeblog.hu Gerusz

    It’s pretty easy. Their holy book says no sex until marriage. This was pretty rational in the old times – with no condoms or BC pills lying around, sex led to pregnancy with a very high probability. However, the possibility of having a child didn’t keep people from having sex – after all, it’s too much fun! Therefore they just said that having sex for reasons other than reproduction is a free pass to an eternity of fire and brimstone. Also, in the old times, people married a lot younger, so once the hormones started raging, they were already a married couple.

    However, the world has changed. Now they have a dilemma: if they would allow premarital sex, they would have to admit that the holy book wasn’t written by Yahweh himself, but instead it was written by humans who can err. It’s a slippery slope: they can’t just say “Oh, well, the part about sex was written by a human, but all the other parts are still God’s words and they are infallible” (…OK, they can just say that, but it would sound even more stupid than the stuff they are saying now), so that might lead to people cherry-picking even more than now. Or worse, people asking questions! However, on the plus side for the church, if premartial sex wasn’t a cardinal sin, maybe more people would go to church.

    On the other hand, if they keep telling that it’s wrong, they’ll lose more and more believers, because being against all forms of birth control is just stupid. But the ones remaining will be the most devoted ones.

    I, for the sake of mankind hope that the pope after Ratzinger will be a progressive one who will re-evaluate the church’s views on birth control. Until then, I hope the government will tell abstinence-only advocates to GTFO..

    tl;dr: the Bible says premarital sex is bad, if they changed it, they would have to admit that the book is not so infallible after all, it would lead to their beliefs being watered down even more, that would lead to less control over the believers, thus premarital sex is bad, because God said so, period.

  • Bob

    @Gerusz:

    I’ve already encountered a ‘conservative Catholic’ who insisted that parts of Leviticus were ‘ceremonial law’ and other parts (like the anti-gay bits) were ‘moral law.’

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Arduinnae nailed it. To maximize operational success, a church needs to get involved with, regulate, dictate, and control our basic needs. Perhaps highest on that list is sexual behavior. If you can control the sexual behavior, the rest of the person will follow.

    There is also the redemptive aspect of the church to take in the fallen. I know some Christians who view the story of Mary getting pregnant (and Josef marrying her even though he wasn’t the father) as a metaphor for the church taking in “fallen women” or people in general. And yes, the church will get both the “fallen woman” and the child as well… I’ve seen this played out in a church I attended.

    Of course there are other Christians who take that story literally and will want to fight if you question Mary’s virginity and suggest that the father of Mary’s child was anyone other than Yahweh himself.

  • maddogdelta

    I think gerusz has the basics.

    Raising a child is by definition an expensive proposition, and in an era before effective birth control, society needed some method to minimize unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, if pregnancy occurred, it was either within marriage, or marriage was encouraged at the end of a shotgun.

    Unfortunately for those people that think the old ways are the best, we now have very effective methods of birth control. Which, in turn, ends the societal need for enforced marriage for child rearing purposes.

    I think the control of women is considered a beneficial side effect of harsh strictures on sex by those who wish to control other’s bodies. However, I don’t think it was the primary purpose.

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Victor

    They want to ruin everyone’s sex lives to make their own look better.

  • Paul

    One of the reasons religions exist, is that they are strong reinforcers for certain social rules. During times where humankind lived in relatively small tribes/groups, if was socially desirable to promote loyalty between man/woman. A woman needed the man to provide food and protection. Even though there is an evolutionary benefit in loyalty in men, the loyalty is further strengthened by disallowing unmarried sexual activity. In this way, men are bound to their spouse, if they wish to continue having sex…

  • Siobhan in Vermont

    There’s also the idea that the body is, inherently, sinful. It is taught that one should be striving to hold god and jesus in your thoughts. Striving for greater spirituality, which translates to being -less- in your body. Sex is pretty much the most intense “in your body” experience humans have. That and constipation… when you believe that the body is bad, and things “of the body” are bad, then being really in your body having sex, INSTEAD of thinking about Jesus and God and what they want you to do with your life is, automatically, bad. Another thing that’s “bad” is taking too much pleasure in food. Which explains the fare found at lutheran church suppers… and lutefisk. *shudder* But it’s bad because it’s all about earthly pleasures, not spirituality or Jesus or god.

    Sex is so primal, so out of control, so clearly us being ruled by our bodies, that it -must- be controlled.

  • john henry

    wouldn’t the fact that the three monotheisms, judaism, christianity, and islam, were born in a desert have something to do with their extreme conservatism and prohibitions regarding sex?

    sex means babies, which means a drain on resources, hard to come by in a desert. treating women like property, creating all kinds of taboos about sex in order to control access to it and by whom…

    of course, it’s more complicated than that, now. but all the justifications heaped on over the centuries by organized religion after organized religion seem to me to show that you can take the culture out of the desert but you can’t take the desert out of the culture…

    and this doesn’t explain the ridiculous and tragic attitudes towards homosexuals…

  • Danielle

    This idea has run rampant throughout my years in college. Instead of teen pregnancy, I see my friends getting married after only months of dating, and then having children in wedlock. That’s even worse. No health insurance, no money, no job, no affordable place to live, no parents to help out, and they still have to make use of all the debt they’re in by completing college. My boyfriend’s old roommate had bookshelves of christian texts telling him how to abstain from sex. The obsession was scary.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    It would be helpful to leave all of the judgmental talk for other issues and look at this objectively.
    The fact that nearly all cultures frown upon female sexual activity occurring outside of some sort of committed relationship indicates that there is probably an evolutionary answer to JulietEcho’s rhetorical question. To paint this as some sort of overt and conscious religious conspiracy is mistaken, in my opinion. To say that all of this is being perpetrated because the religious are silly, evil or dumb is a rather simplistic approach.
    Religion provides an environment by which certain evolved behaviors that no longer serve a function (biologically speaking) continue to flourish. Conservative thinking and behavior served a purpose from an evolutionary standpoint, but it seems to have caused a great deal of grief in modern times.
    In order to be effective agents for change, we need to understand the root causes for problematic behaviors and attitudes and refrain from setting up straw men and ideological barriers to fruitful, objective discussion.

  • Phoena

    If right-wingers want to feel that sex outside of marriage is sinful or that homosexual marriage/sex is sinful, then they shouldn’t do it. I don’t know why they think that they must force other people to live by their morals. If the old idea of “Having to answer to god/St Peter at the pearly gates” is true, they can only answer for their OWN sins, not mine, so they need to butt out.

    I have a friend who is still single and in her 30s, and she has some very conservative friends. She won’t tell them anymore when she’s dating someone as they will start getting creepy, lecturing her about pre-marital sex and becoming snoopy about her life, driving by her house to see if his car is there too late at night, etc. trying to figure out if she’s “doing” it. It’s bizarre.

    One of the fundiest people I know — my older sister — is the most rabid about the evils of pre-marital sex, and yet I KNOW she was having it herself. I’ve come to the conclusion the ones most worried about sex-issues are the ones who were deviants themselves.

  • TychaBrahe

    First of all, keep in mind that every society that has ever existed has controlled sex in some way: who has it and when and with whom. Even in societies with ideas utterly antithetical to our traditional ideas, societies where a woman must have sex and get pregnant before she is considered marriageable, that is a rule about sex.

    Second, patriarchal societies try to limit female sexuality because if a man’s wealth is to pass to his sons (and his daughters through dowry) then he wants to be certain that those daughters are his. Men restricting women’s access to sex makes as much sense in the time when religions like Judaism and Christianity were founded as does a lion that takes over a pride killing the cubs to bring the females into estrus. If he’s going to be putting forth an effort to protect the pride, he’s going to be protecting his offspring, not someone else’s.

    Note that the portions of society where men still want to restrict women’s sexual behavior are also those portions of society where it is considered better for men to be the sole providers. Not because children should have a stay-at-home parent, but because it is the role of men to make wealth and the role of women to maintain the home.

  • CabezaDePatata

    Here’s a decent set of research supporting the opposing viewpoint. Over 60 studies cited. Please ignore the political focus and note the potential consequences of pre-marital sex. Surely they all can’t be wrong.

    http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=IS06B01

  • Deiloh

    I’m in favor of stable marriages and stable family environments (should a couple choose to have children). I was brought up to believe that premarital sex made both more difficult, especially with the possibility of STDs or accidental pregnancy. Since leaving religion, I really haven’t visited the issue much. I definitely don’t want any government policy on the issue, and feel abstinence only education is a very bad idea. I’m interested in how premarital sex shapes relationships.

  • plutosdad

    As the godless monster states, evolution can provide a lot of these answers.

    In many species of mammals, while males are promiscuous, females are serially monogamous. Apparently this is a winning strategy for females to make sure their young survive to adulthood and make sure there are grandchildren to carry on their genes.

    Females who are not (serially) monogamous, for whatever reason, have fewer children surviving to adulthood.

    Males who make sure the female is carrying and caring for their children only probably have a better chance of passing on their genes.

    It doesn’t mean it’s the only reason, or the main reason, but we see the same patterns in nature, except for the fact that male mammals don’t usually harm the females, they kill the young of another male. Harming the female just means that they have to spend energy wooing another. But we also have instincts to protect young, not even our own, which interfere with the instinct to kill rival males’ young. And protecting the young of the community seems to be a very successful strategy, so apes stopped killing other male’s young. Maybe threatening the female if she strayed became the best strategy to ensure survival of genes.

    As we evolved, at some point when we started codifying our ethics into morals, we coded these rules as well, and put gods and mysticism behind it, because we didn’t understand why this was our natural instinct.

  • plutosdad

    Sorry I was not done:
    while technology allows us to behave differently now, we still have the instincts from millions of years of evolution to overcome, which even atheists cannot simply decide to do.

    And our laws have still not caught up with technology: if a couple agrees not to have children, and the woman deceives him into thinking they are using birth control, the man is forced to pay for the child, even though they had a contract and technology allowed them to ensure it wouldn’t happen. This also, while many atheist feminists think it’s “right”, is not right anymore, because it is a holdover of the same patriarchal instincts from evolution: the male must provide for his offspring, and the female must do what she can to make him devoted to her and her offspring. 100 years ago it was an acceptable law, but no longer. Contracts are evolutionarily novel and not as strong as reproduction.

    So it’s not just theists, not just religion. When it comes to sex and reproduction our laws and our society are still operating as if we were hunter gatherers.

  • Christophe Thill

    “All the evidence points towards sex-positivity as a more healthy, beneficial attitude, so why do so many churches and denominations still condemn sex outside marriage?”

    Because angst and guilt are the logical consequences of this kind of double bind ; and they lead people to being dependent on religions. Which gives religions power on people’s life.

    A life well managed, on the other hand, causes most people to feel happy, with no need for religion. In order to need God’s help, you must have some serious problems first…

  • JD

    The Torah had clear prohibitions against premarital sex, but the New Testament seems to be vague at best, it really comes down to unproven meanings of certain words. In some ways, Christianity is probably stricter about this now than in points in the past. Today, there’s this worry about all this nudity, but it really didn’t seem to be a problem back when the Sistine Chapel was painted, with copious nudity.

  • Angie

    I don’t believe that it is fruitful to point to “evolution” as the root of human sexual behaviors. It’s too easy to take stereotypical or sexist social norms and condone them by saying “evolution did it!”. To boot, human sexual behaviors are so diverse that it becomes very difficult to point to one root cause for them.

    On the topic of why Christianity restricts sexual expression, I suspect that it is for the sake of (1) instilling guilt, which will make people dependent on the forgiveness of their god, and (2) controlling women, because if you control a woman’s body and reproduction, the rest will follow.

  • Parse

    Something slightly different than what everybody else has written:
    Christianity is all about guilt and forgiveness. Without guilt, there’s no need for forgiveness, which is the main product Christian churches sell. The easiest way to instill guilt into believers is to drive into their heads that their basic urges are sinful. People want feel good about what they have accomplished; therefore pride becomes a sin. People want to enjoy the fruits of their labors; therefore gluttony is a sin. People want what others have; therefore envy is a sin. People want to have and enjoy sex; therefore lust is a sin.
    Heck, even among married people, sex is sinful, not something to be enjoyed. If you enjoy it, that’s the sin of lust, which needs forgiveness that only your church can provide (for the low, low cost of 10% gross income).
    The reason why premarital sex (and enjoying sex in general) in the rest of society is such a big issue among conservative Christians is mainly schadefraude, in my opinion. When you’re driving on a highway, and a flashy red sports car passes you at twice the posted limit, there’s a smug satisfaction when you pass them when they’re pulled over for speeding. By having premarital sex, nonbelievers are committing spiritual speeding, and unplanned babies are the equivalent of getting a speeding ticket. By teaching about safe sex and by allowing abortions, we escape the consequences of breaking their laws. And why should we get away with that when they can’t?

  • http://10plusyears.blogspot.com/ 10plus

    They’re deluded, plain and simple. Finding out after it’s too late that you’re very incompatible sexually? Jesus can fix that. He’s got all the answers, you just need to listen to him. Increased abortions, single parents, teens fucking around, etc.? Jesus has the answer to that, too- it’s not that sex only-after-married is unrealistic and leads to all those issues- it’s just that we’re not listening to Jesus.
    Jesus, Jesus, Jesus- he’s right, we’re wrong, no matter what, end of story.

    Deluded, plain and simple.

  • CatBallou

    I’m disappointed to read Paul’s assertion that “a woman needed the man to provide food and protection.” Research on hunter-gatherer tribes indicates that the gathering aspect is more important for daily food, and women don’t depend on men for that.
    I also doubt the assertion that “nearly all cultures frown upon female sexual activity occurring outside of some sort of committed relationship,” thus indicating an evolutionary component. In fact, the tremendous variety of relationship norms among different cultures indicates just the opposite–that there is NOT a significant evolutionary component.
    It seems that whenever the relationships between men and women are examined, people want to fall back on poorly researched and supported “just so” stories.

  • http://stereoroid.wordpress.com/ brian t

    If I step back a little, and look at the institution of marriage in general (regardless of religion), the part that bothered me was: why go to all that trouble at all? Marriage is not actually necessary for procreation, is it?

    The conclusion I came to is that marriage is how the parents retain control over their offspring’s sexual partners, and this must naturally include prohibition on sex before marriage. A marriage in a tribal society can have wider implications e.g. the joining of two tribes, the paying of a debt. A virgin bride is more valuable, since she won’t be carrying a STD or another man’s baby. These days we have condoms, but old habits die hard.

  • Eliza

    Paul, aren’t you rewriting history? Religion sanctioned marriage not only for the new followers/army but to reclaim pregnancy for men, securing male heirs and property rights. NOT because weak little women needed big strong men to find them food and protect them from randy brutes.

    Come on, you’re supposed to be educated and enlightened.

  • JulietEcho

    @ Melliferax – The “bad!” interjections are meant to point out where, by Christian logic, the results of their rules lead to other rules of theirs being broken or threatened.

    The anthropological and evolutionary theories are all interesting, but I think the observation that really hits the nail on the head is that religions provide environments where outdated, unnecessary, and even harmful memes and behaviors can thrive. Wherever old laws and inhibitions about sex can from, the fact that religions hold onto them when the rest of society moves on is very telling.

  • Jerzy Mike

    First – can someone point me to where it says premarital sex is sinful in the Bible? I’ve read it a lot but never actually seen that in there.

  • Nakor

    I agree with Gerusz on the origins of the sex-before-marriage-is-bad thing; it probably comes from the time when pre-marital sex really was a problem. But I disagree regarding why it’s still around. I don’t imagine theologians and (especially) priests or pastors actually look at the book and think, “We know this is wrong, but if we admit it then we’ll be admitting the book is wrong.” Frankly, I’m just not sure they’re that rational.

    This is one of the themes of Christianity. It is ingrained into the minds of children by their parents. These people actually believe it is sinful to have sex before marriage. Even the ones who did it themselves; they likely have asked forgiveness for this in their latter years, those who have not converted partially or fully away from their beliefs. They believe this as strongly as they believe in God and Jesus, or nearly so.

    They don’t need reason to believe in something like this; if you don’t believe me then look at the incredible number of Americans who think that evolution didn’t happen, or who are on the fence. That’s how strong the faith message is, even against utterly clear truths. And a moral issue like this will naturally be even harder to shake their faith in than a purely factual issue like evolution whose proof can be laid out in what any sane person would consider indisputable fashion.

    I agree that the church is deceptive, but frankly I don’t think that’s intentional and planned deception so much as they actually believe the deception themselves and think they are truly doing good by this. And in a sense, that’s kind of sad.

    @Jerzy Mike: It’s a common theme throughout the bible. It’s referred to as “fornication” in the King James version.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com infophile

    The most consistent way of looking at their “logic” I’ve found is that it isn’t a matter of true/false but of right/wrong. That is to say, they use the moral center of their brain to decide facts and policies rather than the reasoning center. You set up a list of things that are “right” (saving sex for marriage) and a list of things that are “wrong” (premarital sex). (Side note, if you expand the lists, you find a ton more things in the “wrong” column, and most of the “right”s are just avoiding the “wrong”s.) Anything that punishes a wrong or rewards a right is right, and vice versa.

    And when I say “anything” there, I don’t mean simply policies, I mean facts and beliefs as well. For instance, since premarital sex is wrong, anything that decreases punishments for it, such as condoms or abortions, is also wrong. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work, but it’s right because it directly encourages a right.

    Or, to reference Colbert, it’s a matter of Truthiness, not Truth. Their teachings may in fact lead to more wrongs, but the alternative is to let sinners get off without punishment, which is certainly wrong. Therefore the opposite is right.

  • CarolAnn :)

    I don’t give a flying flip when, how or with whom anyone has sex, but I will say that the idea that pre-marital sex somehow ensures sexual compatibility 20 years down the road is way out of the park. It ranks right up there with those who think living together is a reliable barometer of whether or not a couple can stay married.

    Not. Time, and that little piece of paper (no matter who signs it) changes everything.

    So, if you want to have sex, have sex, and if you want to get married, get married – just don’t run over anyone else in the process. If you are one of my kids and you’re fooling around in the house at 3:00am, just make damn sure you don’t make the dogs start barking and wake me up.

  • JulietEcho

    @ CabezaDePatata – Interesting that you link to the Family Research Council specifically, as their co-founder, George Rekers, just made breaking news by hiring a young, gay escort to accompany him on vacation.

    The truth is, groups like the FRC are formed specifically to counter studies done by legitimate organizations (like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which I linked to in my article). They run problematic studies specifically looking for results they can use to support their anti-sex, anti-gay positions. They cherry-pick information from legitimate studies to piece together a false picture that suits them. They essentially lie their asses off and have no place in an evidence-based discussion about premarital sex.

  • JulietEcho

    @ CarolAnn – I don’t think that premarital sex guarantees sexual compatibility down the road – nothing can offer people that kind of prediction. People change, and so do their sex drives and desires. I do, however, think that premarital sex heads off the possibility of a couple being sexually incompatible at the very outset of their marriage!

  • lilybird

    @CabezaDePatata

    In addition to what JulietEcho says, the studies only demonstrate the negative effects of having a child out of wedlock (many of which probably result from the social stigma, not from actually having the child) OR they look at teens who had sex at a very early age, younger than 15.

    It says very little about premarital sex inside of a healthy adult relationship.

    The church’s ban on premarital sex is a poorly veiled attempt to control people, especially women. I know many of you probably already follow Unreasonable Faith, but there was recently an interesting post on premarital sex: http://unreasonablefaith.com/2010/04/30/sex-and-the-single-atheist/.

    I thought it was funny that on average, single Christian men have more sexual partners in a year than nonbelievers do!

  • http://www.thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com Shane Hayes

    Just testing to see if my new Gravatar photo will appear. Shane

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    What may be even worse than the condemnation of premarital sex, is the idea that sex itself is devious and only to be used for procreation. You are not even supposed to enjoy it, even if you are married – especially not if you are female. And of course, guilt makes sure that some people can’t in fact enjoy sex.

    As to where these attitudes about sex come from, I think they are mostly symptoms of misogyny.

  • Alph

    Seems to me sex was invented a long time before marriage. The whole idea is a form of control by religions, same a cutting foreskin to prove you are worthy of that particular club.

  • CatBallou

    I highly recommend the book “Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church” for a history of the RCC’s attitudes about women and sex. Mind-boggling, really.

  • http://www.thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com Shane Hayes

    One more test for Gravatar photo. Shane

  • JustSayNoToDrums

    Talking about the beliefs and motives of churches is a difficult thing to do, as there are fairly wide range of beliefs among the denominations. The Bible, though, from the perspective of the the majority of churches, is God’s inspired word. God, being the omniscient being he is, knew that we would develop birth control methods and protection against STDs. Thus, it is difficult to make the point that the Bible only tells us not to have premarital sex because it was healthier at the time. This is why churches condemn premarital sex.

    All churches are not just trying to get power in people’s lives, as some have said on this forum. And they can’t just start saying it’s okay to have premarital sex just to bring in members. The first priority is (or should be) truth, not attendance. To use an extreme, if you have half the human population attending your “church”, yet speak not a word about God or His commands, you have accomplished nothing, in a spiritual sense.

    As far as health goes, though, we still cannot cure all of the STDs in the world. Having a single sex partner is safer in that sense. Birth control, on the other hand, we have essentially 100% effective methods. I do, however, believe that people should be educated about sex. Obviously, not everyone will be capable of controlling their hormones, and need to know what can happen, as well as ways to prevent these things from happening. Otherwise, single mothers and STDs will still be prevalent.

    As far as compatibility goes, while sex is a large part of marriage, it is not the most important part for a successful marriage. There are other facets of compatibility that can be evaluated before marriage, without what the church would consider sin.

    To get more on my personal beliefs for a moment (I am an unmarried virgin), I think it will be way more exciting on my wedding day to know I’m going to get some for the first time. Also, I would feel more special and loved if I knew that I was the first person to be given what I was receiving. However, as I said, that’s just me.

  • Sarah

    I am probably repeating someone else, but I am a lazy poster. I must ask:
    Isn’t the more relevant question what’s wrong with PROTECTING those who DO have premarital sex?

  • Alexrkr7

    Someone has already said it I’m sure but the reason they hold these positions is dogma. They are right and they don’t care or don’t care to know about the facts.

    And when you don’t base your ideas on logical reasoning based on facts you’re bound to hold contradictory and incorrect beliefs. It’s not some deep agenda it’s just ignorance.

    I mean look at the way they’re trying to hold adherents; with emotional appeals and indoctrination. That works well for uneducated and isolated people like those of a hundred years ago and prior (or the south *zing*) but not in this day and age where information is a few clicks away. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing adherents fall these days. But I digress.

    • poetry girl

      you’re right but that doesn’t apply to every southerner. In fact, many of them are more progressive than you seem to assume. 

  • Rupert

    It’s all to do with men controlling women. Until the man ‘owns’ the woman through marriage he can’t fully control her. If there is sexual activity prior to marriage it opens up to many possibilities for the grand plan to go wrong or for women to experience some level of control before they are ‘owned’. One or the other may find that they are incompatible and move on.
    I’m not young, and having been through both the ‘not before marriage’ bit leading into a 25 year marriage; and then a ‘going at it like rabbits from day one’ relationship now happily in it’s eighth year, I agree with the incompatibility experience.
    Whilst I don’t advocate a super-permissive root anything ethos, I believe it is pointless to abstain, be misled and miss out on shared pleasure.

  • sarah

    Being a product of the Catholic School system, I was taught that sex is evil, abstience is the ONLY way, premarital sex will bring you hellfire.

  • miles

    Ok I disagree with some of the facts some of you are basing your arguments on. First off, archeologists, historians, and researchers of today’s tribal societies say the same thing: tribal hunter-gatherer societies were almost always led by women. In societies that worship nature it was natural that the leaders would be those with the deepest connection to nature ie the ones whose temperament follows the cycles of the moon. Male dominance was a side-effect of civilization, where the ability to kill became the more important than anything else.

    Also this statement is misleading: “All the evidence points towards sex-positivity as a more healthy, beneficial attitude, so why do so many churches and denominations still condemn sex outside marriage?” Sex-positivity, (which I assume means a positive view toward sex) is definitely beneficial. But that doesn’t mean extra-marital sex is beneficial. I’ve seen many studies that show that people who wait till after marriage to have sex tend to have happier sex lives than those who don’t. Yes, you could definitely argue that abstinence is next to impossible in today’s society, but can you really blame the religious for not abandoning their beliefs?

  • fritzy

    Simply more evidence that attempting to mold a modern society according to the dictates of a pre-scientific, pre-enlightenment bronze-age desert tribe is not only rediculously ill-advised, but downright destructive.

    These were laws written when people lived in harsh, violent, inhospitable conditions, in small tribes that needed strict rules to keep order and establish group identity. When women were property of their father till they were bartered off to a boy as soon as they both started sexually maturing and when people typically died in their 30s (and often during child-birth–one more reason to limit pre-marital sexual activity.) And frankly, for a scientifically ignorant people, sexual feelings, the sex act and reproduction were probably quite frightening.

    Many moderate xtians will often argue that atheists are guilty of taking passages out of the context of the time and culture in which they were written. This is incorrect. We are considering the context it was written in as evidence that the bible is egregiously outdated, irrelevant and inappropriate for a modern world, particlarly when it comes to sexual matters.

  • plutosdad

    Hunter gatherers treat women with more respect than agrarians, and tended to trace bloodlines through women, but that is not the same as saying they were “led” by women.

    As far as “providing” that someone mentioned, what we see is that in hunter-gatherer tribes where men are more promiscuous, they hunt much more, to provide more meat for all the women they sleep with. In monogamous hunter gatherer tribes the men hunt much less, and work almost not at all compared to us in modern societies. The number of people in both is the same, but the first has more meat going around. Anthropologists theorize that the meat is not so much for sustenance as it is a form of bribe and display of power. The important of gathering vs hunting for sustenance was of lesser importance, it was about displaying your power to the other men and to the women.

    Angie wrote “It’s too easy to take stereotypical or sexist social norms and condone them by saying “evolution did it!”. ”

    No one is condoning anything, but rather trying to understand. Certainly understanding is better since then we can attack the roots of our problems in society. Why do you think saying “religion did it!” is any better? Will blaming all our problems on religion will somehow solve them? We are religion, we made it, we created it, for various reasons. That is why throwing out religion won’t solve anything, because we are still around, and the forces that drove us to create religion are still there inside us, and need to be understood.

    Saying “religions do this to control women” doesn’t answer the question. If that is true, then why did early humans want to control women in the first place?

  • VincentNex

    “Chastity – the most unnatural of all sexual perversions.”-Huxley

    “It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imaged that virginity could be a virtue”-Voltaire

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  • http://nfl.com Nick

    We all know that STD’s, and children born out of wedlock are on the rise. You can’t argue against it or you’ll just look foolish. I agree that they should teach teens about safe sex, because let’s face it whether your theist or atheist, it’s likely you won’t be saving yourself for marriage. However, I don’t think premarital sex is a necessity. So many are quick to say that sexual compatibility is important, but 80% don’t even know what that means. They just throw out the same arguement as everyone else. If you marry someone out of love, the sex will be great regardless because your spending time with that person. And more then likely that is the best sex one can have. That sex beats someone being good in bed that you have no feelings for.

    • poetry girl

      loving someone deeply doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be sexually compatible. There are many spouses out there who love each other very much but are not sexually compatible – I’ll wager that  at least some of these married couples are practicing Christians.  Now show me that absolutely no Christian married couples, who waited until marriage, are dissatisfied with their sex life. This is not to say that premarital sexual experience WILL guarantee sexual compatibility with one’s future spouse. I’m just saying that there are many factors. Now you may tell me that the Holy Spirit will infuse both spouses and helps a husband and wife enjoy each other sexually, and that may be so. I don’t deny that the holy spirit may indeed help spouses. More power to them then. Different people have different ways. Married Hindu couples probably use the Kama Sutra and some meditative techniques that help them reconnect sexually as well as the Holy Spirit can for Christians. The problem I have with many people is that they say Christianity is the only way. Also, yes the risk of pregnancy and STD’s is a  very real one for which I have much regard and act accordingly. I’m in a monogamous, committed relationship, and it happens to be “impure” as you might call it, because we happen to have sex. that’s fine. You go ahead and think that. But hear me out (or read me out, rather): Many of my Christian friends are under the impression that if you have premarital sex, when you are married to someone else, you’ll be comparing them to your former partners and those images of your former partners will haunt you and make you unsatisfied with your spouse. This assumption, I tell them, is unwarranted. I do not compare my current boyfriend with my past boyfriend. I am merely satisfied with my current one, and my former experience merely helps me please him. And if I don’t know what sexual compatibility means, then tell me what it means, but it’s unfortunately not always correlated with other types of compatibility. Now, I have written this with the utmost respect for you and I assume you will reply in the same fashion.
      Have a good day.

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  • http://rbl3601.blogspot.com ryan

    Maybe the reason that christianity has not given in to the ‘abstinence’ belief is that it is documented very clearly in the Bible, unlike many of the practices that you listed in your post above that the ‘church’ has in history condemned.
    Oh and the part about ‘sexual compatibility’ is almost laughable. Compatibility is primarily based on a much more solid foundation. The sexual compatibility is not foundational, but a side-effect of good emotional stability and physical attraction which I would hope
    would be a part of every marriage.

  • JulietEcho

    Really, ryan and Nick? Sexual compatibility is part of physical attraction. If you’re attracted to feet, for example, you’re not just going to want to marry someone with feet you admire – you’re going to want someone who’s happy to indulge a foot fetish. If you’re attracted to someone of the same-sex, that’s both a romantic AND sexual compatibility. If you’re only turned on by blondes, and your partner refuses to dye their hair for you, that has to do with physical attraction AND sexual compatibility.

    Just because you find someone physically attractive does NOT mean that you two will find sexual satisfaction – even if you have great “emotional stability” as well. Humans haven’t evolved to be chaste, and monogamy itself has proven to be a difficult endeavor (just look at the statistics on cheating, which is hardly limited to the non-religious).

    Yes, a good marriage should involve a strong emotional and intellectual bond, and it should be built on more than just sexual compatibility and attraction. But we can’t pretend that sexual compatibility will somehow come automatically to those who master the rest of the equation, any more than we can pretend that those with a strong intellectual bond and good sexual compatibility will be able to forge a strong emotional bond as a “side effect.”

    Christians who expect both abstinence and eventual sexual compatibility in a marriage when it’s gone completely untested are naively asking their fellow Christians to take unnecessary risks in marriage. They’re asking for superhuman (and often simply impossible) feats – and so far, no amount of prayer or Biblical guidance has made those feats possible across the Christian population.

  • Jona

    As wonderful as it would seem to say that premarital sex is great and safe there are a huge number of issues that are never addressed.

    Having sex just once out of wedlock even with your future spouse has yielded terrifying results. The divorce rate of those who have had sex before marriage is 80%! Compare that to 20% divorce rate of couples who have abstained until marriage.None Christian statistics for you there. I am a young person and I have friends who have had sex before marriage. They all regret what they have done and wish they could go back and change their past. Suicide rates are insanely higher in teens who have had sex before marriage. About 40% of people who are sexually active have Genital herpes. HIV/Aids is one of the 39 STD’s that are out there! It is absolutely devastating I live in South Africa where about 48% of people have HIV and will die young. The average lifespan here is 45 and it is mainly because of our Aids epidemic. So many children also are born with Aids. Suffering because of their parents immorality. The U.S. and much of the world have thrown all morals out the window destroying them slowly. You do know the U.S. is not even close to being the Worlds’ Superpower. China has surpassed you as they own half of your money. You are absolutely in debt this is really sad as I’m half American. The more and more “tolerant” we become of stupidity the more and more we go down the drain. I can quote thousands of terrible statistics about premarital sex but you probably won’t listen. You can’t say that nobody warned you though. I hope that some people visiting here will think twice before having sex and won’t ruin their lives because they can’t wait to find their true love and wait for marriage. Did you know there are 900 000 Americans who are living with Aids? What I’ve learned from Christians is that they promote sex within marriage and so does God. Why don’t you start being “tolerant” and listen to them for once. Intensive research discovered that married couples who waited to have sex in marriage have far more satisfaction from sex and have it more often. Those who had premarital sex don’t enjoy sex as much and have it less frequently. Ya, they’re really trying to ruin your fun (rolls eyes). You’re ruining your own fun and your own lives. Maybe think for yourself and look at the facts and stop thinking with your hormones. Wait a while and enjoy the rest of your long life without unwanted murdered babies, Infections and sores, emotional scars and divorce and cheating.

  • http://bookwormgracie.wordpress.com Grace

    Some things I noticed while reading through the comments:

    I’ve seen several people here claim that Christians think it’s wrong to enjoy sex. That’s not true. And we don’t think that sex is only for procreation – otherwise we would say that infertile people couldn’t get married, which would be dumb. Pleasure is not sinful. (As such, in response to one commenter, gluttony isn’t enjoying food, it’s eating too much of it, which is just dumb because it contributes to obesity and other health problems. And pride isn’t feeling good about something you’ve done; it’s being arrogant or conceited.)

    I also don’t understand how saying that premarital sex is wrong is a method of controlling women. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong for both men AND women.

    With all of that being said, if I ever get married, I don’t think I’ll ever look back on my life and wish I had had sex with a dozen boyfriends (or girlfriends) beforehand.

    Guys, with your stereotypes of Christians, you’re being as judgmental as you say we are. With that said, any “Christian” who is self-righteous and judgmental is missing the point. If you read Matthew/Mark/Luke/John, you’ll see that the people Jesus condemned most strongly were the judgmental ones, so it’s silly for someone to act like the people Jesus spoke against and then call themselves Christians. Some of us (and maybe more than you think) aren’t like that. Give us a chance. :)

  • cowboybob

    Brother Luther said that we all sin daily and confess our sins daily. He said that his sins were food and drink.
    Luther said,“No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”


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