Premarital Sex: Maybe You Shouldn’t

I got lots of comments — and more than a little hate mail — for suggesting that premarital sex might not be that bad for Christians and that maybe we should get over it.

My thoughts were primarily theoretical. Not so for Jamie Wright, the Very Worst Missionary. She’s got teenage sons, and she most definitely does not want them having sex:

I want my kids to be armed with the truth (and maybe with condoms, but mostly with the truth), and the truth is that they should wait to have sex.

There are obvious reasons why:

1. You could accidentally create another human being (like I did, oops).
2. You could cause yourself or someone else emotional harm by sharing intimate behavior in an irresponsibly casual way.
3. Most compelling, you could contract a horrible, painful, itchy, burning, smelly STD, and your penis could fall right off.

But I believe there’s another really good reason to put sex on hold. 

It’s that when you wait to have sex, you are creating an important connection between the very powerful urges to do things that feel really good and the ability to control those urges. Otherwise known as self-control. This practice of self-denial and delayed gratification makes you a healthier, more poised, and better moderated person (who definitely still has a penis, phew!). Ultimately, self- control is a character trait ~or *ahem*, fruit of the spirit, for the Christian folk~ that will help you be a better long-term partner in your ’til-death-do-we-part relationship.

Listen. I don’t want to kill anyone’s romantic ideas about marriage, I really don’t – but it’s not like you get married and then you’re unfailingly super stoked to have sex with the same person three times a week for the rest of your God given life. I mean, married sex can be amazing – the longer I’ve been married, the better it gets (19 years, Suckas!!). But it really shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that married, monogamous people still have sexual thoughts, desires, and impulses which do not include their spouses. Porn happens. Crushes happen. (Seriously, everybody has crushes. Even Christianbodies have crushes.) The problem is that, in a culture that demands instant gratification and consumes sex like a drug, a quick brush with porn or a simple crush on a coworker can quickly spiral into something devastating.

Read the rest.

  • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

    I find it interesting that Jamie talks explicitly about penis’ above, but never about vaginas. What’s that about? Sexual patriarchy?

    • http://commonplacebook.tumblr.com/ mattsaler

      I think it’s simply that she’s writing as the mother of sons.

      • curtismpls

        The parents of daughters are often more worried about penises than the parents of sons!

        • Craig

          Her precise worry was not of said member, but of said member falling off.

          • curtismpls

            Parents of daughters would be very happy if that were to occur! ;-) I know what she is saying. I’m just kidding around.

          • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

            I know, she just seemed REALLY worried about her two sons penis’ rotting and falling off. And it seems like she’s using it as a scare tactic.

    • Patric Hayes

      I am betting Freud and his Penis Envy diagnosis?

  • curtismpls

    The problem with this line of reasoning is it reduces sex to an act of inserting a penis into a vagina. That is not sex. From the moment we hit puberty, we are all sexual. We cannot avoid what we are, and we cause ourselves harm if we try. From the time of puberty, we all experience sex, or “have sex” in some form. Sure, avoiding sexual intercourse is often the best choice. But that is not the point of sex. The point is, are we healthy, comfortable, and accepting of ourselves, and of our relationships, as people who “have sex” as part of our very nature? If not, we need to work on ourselves and our relationships first, not obsess over what we are doing with our penis.

    Reducing sex to a single act makes it impossible to build a healthy personal identity, and to enter into healthy relationships with others. If we work on ourselves and our relationships, and fully accept our sexual nature, the behavior part will work itself out. People who are confident in themselves and their relationships are the least likely to engage in unhealthy sex behavior. But they get there, not by obsessing about their behavior, but by caring for themselves and others first.

  • Craig

    “This practice of self denial and delayed gratification makes you a healthier, more posed, and better moderated person”

    The jury is still out on this one. Some heroes of self-discipline are self-righteous, high-strung, sexually inept assholes.

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

    I left this comment on “Love Joy Feminism”, but I think it applies here too:

    It seems to me that there are two important questions that are sidestepped amidst talk of consent and self-control.

    1.) Should we conform our behaviors to the designs of God?
    2.) Has God designed/commanded sex to be experienced exclusively within the context of marriage?

    How we answer these questions are, in my opinion, fundamental to how how we approach sexuality. It seems like many progressive Christians have had such a negative experience with “because God says so” sex-shaming that we’re hesitant to even consider whether or not God says so. Not in a “thou shalt not” sense, but rather in a “this is the way it’s designed, and we should operate within God’s design” sense.

    • Craig

      But the “because God says so” system of thinking has a lot more problems than those related to sex-shaming.

    • curtismpls

      I don’t believe experiencing sex before one is married is a violation of God’s design or command. If it were, we would be getting married at the age of 12. Everyone past puberty experiences sex in some form.

    • matybigfro

      I think that’s because the ‘this is the way it’s designed’ is the same argument used against same sex relationships, divorce re-marriage, interracial relationships, male patriarchy and domination and subservience of women. Many of us have moved beyond finding these things themselves disturbing to finding the ideology/philosophy/theology behind them equally disturbing and lacking in validity.

      I think that most progressives want to move beyond the naive, puritanical, artificial, dirt averse nature of that tendency and start dealing with these issues with a bit more complexity and maturity.

      • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

        Do you think the idea the ideas I suggested are inherently naive, puritanical, and artificial, or are they just twisted into that for some peoples’ purposes?

        • matybigfro

          I’m not sure what idea’s your pointing too?

          • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

            1.) Should we conform our behaviors to the designs of God?
            2.) Has God designed/commanded sex to be experienced exclusively within the context of marriage?

            • Rob Davis

              No.

        • Gary Held

          I think they have some inherent problems.

    • Thursday1

      Not in a “thou shalt not” sense, but rather in a “this is the way it’s designed, and we should operate within God’s design” sense.

      This.

      I simplify, but in modern thought, morality is about reducing harm, increasing happiness and distributing those things fairly. In premodern thought, morality is about acheiving an essence or ideal.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    I believe the over-riding issue is the same for all behavior. Does it harm people? If we love others as we love ourselves, then we should seek the good of others.
    If it happens that we do not even consider the best for ourselves, then hopefully we can discover how much the Father loves us and, in response to his love, begin to love ourselves and consider our well-being so that we can then love our neighbor as ourselves and consider their well-being.

    • Craig

      I like the suggestion, but maybe some actions are inappropriate but not primarily because of the harm they do to people. For example, setting an abandoned puppy on fire, or pissing on the last living member of a orchid species.

      • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

        I agree with you. Burning a puppy shows a lack of the love and concern inherent in loving your neighbor as yourself. Environmental impropriety is of a different ethical sort.
        The behavior I was addressing is behavior among people, which is what is involved in sexual activity.

        • Craig

          Alright, but I think it might be surprisingly revisionist to restrict our sex norms to the harm principle. Consider some examples which suggest, I think, that certain of our hard-to-surrender sex norms are interestingly complex. (Stop reading immediately to avoid sexually disturbing imagery.) What should we say of the woman who has trained her german shepherd to copulate with her for a doggy treat; or of the guy who buys a frozen chicken, defrosts it, masturbates with it, and then roasts it in the oven for his own dinner; or of the sex club that offer necrophiliacs the opportunity to safely indulge their fantasies with real human corpses?

          • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

            All the things you describe seem to me to reflect personal brokenness rather than living the principle of loving our self and promoting our own good.
            You ask, “What should we say of the woman…” I am not sure I understand your question. What do we say to her? What do we say about her? How do we judge her? How do we respond to her?

            Obviously I think these things are degraded, but they flow from a person’s negative self-image. The problem is not the behavior but the low self-image. What we can do is respond by sharing the love of the Father. Judgment and rebuke will not help the situation
            .
            I am sure some of the things you mention have been determined illegal by society. There are penalties for that, but it has little to do with the issue at hand: where do Christians find appropriate guidelines regarding pre-marital sexual behavior?

            • Craig

              I was interested in your claim that the issue of harm (does the activity harm people?) is the overriding issue for sexual activity. I wondered, “all sexual activity?” I gave examples of sexual activities in which the overriding issue, if there is one, doesn’t seem to be the harm that it does to people. That is, it may well be that there are factors that override any considerations that count in favor of engaging in such activities. However, for the sexual activities I listed, it is hard to see how such overriding factors concern harm done to others.

              • Thursday1

                Yes, one thing Christians need to ask is whether morality should be boiled down to harm and fairness, or whether there are transcendent aspects to morality, like purity, loyalty and respect that have value in themselves.

                Jon Haidt is very good on this. In fact, I think you took some of your examples from him.

                • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

                  I think that purity, loyalty, and respect are all part of oving one’s self and loving others.

                  • Thursday1

                    I think that’s the issue: they aren’t always the same thing. Purity, loyalty, and respect aren’t always reducible to harm.

              • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

                I think I see the disconnect. I suppose I was unclear in my original post. I do not contend that the issue is whether a person is harmed; it is whether the person’s good is being affirmed and pursued. And this does not include just ‘others’ but the person responsible for the behavior as well.
                This is all based on Jesus’ point of loving God and others, but I think that one can only love others properly as they love their self if indeed they DO love their self. This is why it is important to respond to the love of the Father in order to love one’s self properly and have concern for one’s own good.
                Otherwise, we are trying to live by rules instead of principle. What is your alternative? Is it something other than legalism?

      • Cat lover

        But the puppy is harmed. Why doesn’t that count?

        • Craig

          In my view it certainly does count, even if harming puppies doesn’t involve harming people.

  • http://robertanthonydavis.com/ Rob Davis

    I have two sons: one who is almost 14 and the other who is almost 13. We might not “want” them to have sex (which may say more about us than anything), but, living in the real world, we have to accept that they probably will long before marriage. With that fact in mind, how do we help them understand all of the implications and possibilities and consequences? That’s what I think is much more important than drawing that hard line between good and evil, right and wrong, that Christians tend to jump right into. We try to give them as much information as we can, teach them to be decent people who think critically about everything, and then try to relax and sleep well.

    • curtismpls

      There is not one right answer. There is only right relationships. Maintain a healthy relationship between you and your children, and model for them having healthy relationships with others. Kids are smart and resilient; with the right relationships they will work out fine.

    • http://www.countonamerica.info/ Ellery

      Studies have shown that parents who talk to their kids about sex, the responsibility it entails (including, yes, birth control) AND encourage them to wait and avoid it in their teenage years…usually succeed in getting the kids to wait. Be honest, respect their maturity and demand maturity and they will often reward you by rising to that demand. Kids want their parents to engage with them, respect them and set rules. But you can’t do it like they’re 3 anymore when they’re 13 and 16.

      • Rob Davis

        What studies?

  • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

    I posted this over on Jamie’s blog, but I think it mostly applies here, also:

    “Is using the term “purity” the right thing here? It comes from the Latin “puritatem” meaning cleanliness. Equating having sex with being unclean is actually a really good way to create unhealthy sexual behaviors. A recent poll just came out via The Journal of Sexual Medicine saying that people with fetishes
    actually have a healthier sexual life than those who practice “vanilla”
    (read plain ‘ol, uneventful missionary position) sex. A lot of people
    equate sexual fantasies, BDSM, fetishes, etc., with impure sex, when in
    reality if it’s practiced between two consenting adults it can be
    freeing, exploitative, and enjoyable. All I’m suggesting is that those in
    the Christian world choose their words wisely when talking about human
    sexuality because if not, we will continue to make people feel ashamed,
    confused or even closeted for wanting a certain type of sex.

    Also, telling teenagers what they can’t have is a good way for them
    to A) feel endlessly guilty when they “slip up” (like I did, being
    raised with a purity ring and all, although after being freed from that
    guilt I don’t feel like I slipped up at all having sex at 18 years old)
    and B) it will likely make them want to have that which they “can’t
    have” all the more.

    All I’m positing is that a healthy moderation is the best medicine.
    Maybe teaching kids that they won’t be shamed if they have sex, but that
    self control and sexual attraction that accompanies an emotional
    relationship equal healthy sexuality, instead of telling them “no” over
    and over again. I would recommend you read “Authentic Human Sexuality:
    An Integrated Christian Approach” by Jamie and Jack Balswick, it has
    some great insights, while still viewing sexuality from a Christian
    perspective.”

    • Craig

      All good points here. I wonder, however: in what ways does a distinctively Christian perspective helpfully contribute to our questions about sex? We can easily list a lot of sex-related problems associated with that perspective. What are its benefits? Does it offer any helpful insights that likely wouldn’t be gained from a thoughtful, non-Christian perspective? What are they?

      • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

        I don’t believe that we need a distinctly “christian” perspective on healthy human sexuality. But I’m sure some Christians feel they need to hear from their “trusted Christian pastors, friends, et al” on the subject. That’s sometimes the only way into those conversations.

      • http://robertanthonydavis.com/ Rob Davis

        Nope.

      • curtismpls

        Jesus does not have a monopoly on healthy sexual behavior. Any rational person can figure it out. What Jesus does offer, which is unique from others, is what happens after you fuck up. (Am I allowed to say the f-word here?)

        • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

          Might I ask what “happens after you fuck up” that Jesus offers?

          • Patric Hayes

            forgiveness and the admonition to sin no more

            • curtismpls

              And if you do sin more, then what? Is the forgiveness void? It is simple forgiveness. Anything after that is a bonus.

          • curtismpls

            Forgiveness, love, and new life.

            • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

              I’d just argue that that isn’t uniquely Jesus-like. Those are things I strive for in my daily life, and while I find the Jesus story inspirational, I don’t believe Christians have a monopoly on them, either, and one doesn’t need to participate in the Christian rituals to participate in forgiveness, love and new life.

              • curtismpls

                I don’t think Jesus was interested in Christian rituals either. I think he made that pretty clear. But the forgiveness, love, and new life, told by the Jesus story, has to be found somehow, for someone to experience life. There are certainly other ways to find them that don’t involve the word “Jesus”, but they are the same thing, and the Jesus story is the way I describe them.

                • http://www.briannakocka.com/ Brianna Michele Kocka

                  Well said.

              • curtismpls

                I do want to push back a little on the idea that forgiveness is easy to find outside of the Jesus story. In the secular realm, when someone commits a crime, you hear words like: reform, restitution, repentance, justice or retribution. You don’t hear the word forgiveness. If a secular judge were to completely forgive someone convicted of a crime, he wold be thrown off the bench. A Muslim would say that someone who commits a crime needs to be punished. A Jew would say they need to try harder next time. A Christian would probably say a lot of stupid things. But Jesus would have one simple message: “you are forgiven”. Jesus even forgives those who are unable to forgive others. I think Jesus’ message of forgiveness is actually quite rare, if not unique. You may find it elsewhere, but forgiveness is certainly not a very common or popular message.

        • Jake Litteral

          Fuck yeah you are.

      • Ric Shewell

        Yep. Baptism. That’s what the church offers. The church offers itself to an individual. When someone is baptized, they are baptized into a community that is investing in that person, and is deeply interested in what that person does. Everything every person does, affects the community.
        That’s what I think we’ve forgotten about when the church talks about sexual ethics. We forget that we are free from the law, that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. We’ve made a new law around sexual ethics, making free people slaves again.
        So what we have to offer is a community of people that will love and support you in your sexual activity. This is why weddings are church services, community activities. The community gathers, prays, and encourages the whole lives of people, including their sex life. Who those people have sex with matters to the community. For thousands of years, the church has found this to be a good way to go, unfortunately, we’ve also turned it into a new law in many Christian circles.
        I still think its a good thing that the community is concerned about its members and their sex lives. After all, venturing into the world of sexual activity can be scary, especially for young folks, and the church has to be there to offer support and relationship to people trying to figure it out. We can’t stigmatize it any more, we have to engage, and let people know that who they have sex with, does matter to and affect a group of people that love them.
        I hope this makes sense.

        • http://robertanthonydavis.com/ Rob Davis

          Ric, I used to have a very high view of baptism and its implications for the individual in community. But, in my experience, none of those high ideals ever amounted to anything more than words. On the flipside, I’ve also experienced the cult-like negative tendencies when “community” is held up as this beautiful thing. In short, it might sound pretty and actually work for some people, but for most I would assume it doesn’t. For most people, baptism is nothing more than something you’re “supposed” to do. Which doesn’t inherently mean it’s wrong or useless, but the question seemed to be: what makes a Christian approach to sexuality uniquely beneficial? Few people have actually experienced the kind of symbiosis that most Christians wish to be the case. There’s just really no way to validate it, other than diving in and taking that kind of risk. I, for one, just don’t think it’s worth it.

          • Ric Shewell

            Rob, not surprised that you didn’t agree! :) I know that the meaning of the sacraments do not carry into a lot of Christian traditions or circles, nonetheless, a unique Christian approach to sexuality is an understanding of being in this together, and who you have sex with matters to your community, and your community loves you and wants to support you in your relationships, jobs, love life, etc. Even if you agree that this is not the norm or experience for many, it is what the church has to offer, and the church needs to lean more into that reality. I think a rediscovery of the sacraments is happening, as well.

            (on another thought) I think something that continues to be ridiculous is Christians telling people who have not decided to be Christians how to live. See that all the time in politics and education, that’s pretty ridiculous and is expressly condemned by Paul.

            • Rob Davis

              Ric, if someone takes Jesus seriously, it would seem that the thought of sex is just as important as the act. Do all of those thoughts “matter to your community”? If so, what does that actually mean? Memorizing – maybe writing down? – every single time someone thinks about sex and sharing that with the community? Is it the entire community, or just a few people? Maybe your closest friends? Or, just the “pastor”?

              • Ric Shewell

                That’s a weird reading of the sermon on the mount, right? I mean the next line, Jesus tells us to chop off body parts to avoid sin. I don’t know anyone that’s done that, so I guess you would say that no one takes Jesus seriously? Isn’t it more likely that Jesus is saying something bigger about The Law and reconciliation with God?

                So, no, there’s no need to take that literally by recording your thoughts to your community. There’s really no need to take your sex life to the community either. The church shouldn’t be about making new laws. It’s a voluntary thing. You don’t have to get married in front of people. But I think its a good thing.

                What I am saying, is that a community is affected by the actions of its members, and so the community is interested in the actions of individuals. This is why Paul cares about the guy sleeping with his mother in law, people sleeping with prostitutes, taking eachother to court, and eating meat sacrificed to idols. Their activities have effects on the whole community.

                And isn’t that more realistic view of the world anyway? Isn’t it a farce that your individual actions only affect you?

                But about thoughts: If you have disturbing thoughts that might cause violence or trouble in your life, isn’t it a good thing to have people that you can confide in and trust with some of your tougher thoughts? That’s what the church should be there for. And I know that you have experienced abuse of power in situations like that, but I think there are a lot of great communities and great Christians that are there for people and will listen to each others’ thoughts and just be there.

                • Rob Davis

                  So, “community” good, “individualism” bad? Though neither of those words actually have specific meaning? They’re just vague concepts that are hinted at by the Bible but once it actually gets practical, then it becomes “Law”?

                  • Ric Shewell

                    Community is the reality of life lived together. What you do affects others. You live in community with people. But I think there is a Hobbesian temptation to see the world as dog-eat-dog, you’re on your own kind of thing. So that plays out an ethic of power and oppression, and loneliness. So community is reality that the church attempts to proclaim by openly sharing their lives together. So living life together and avoiding making a new law is the tension of the church, that’s the tension of 1Corinthians. So, Paul ends up saying, for the good of the community, don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, but it’s hardly a law that would damn anyone. Paul even says that he’d rather not eat meat at all for the sake of the community. Is he making a new law for himself? I don’t think so.

    • Patric Hayes

      the voice of reason….Brianna I agreed with all you said…..

  • Thursday1

    The problem is that she’s leading with a lot of purely utilitarian arguments against having sex. It’s not that shes wrong about pregnancy, emotional attachment issues and STIs, it’s that on the other side of the coin you, you know, get to have sex. There are also steps you can take to mitigate the risks, like using condoms and showing at least some discrimination in your choice of partner. Trying to frighten people off sex will not work at all.

    • Jakeithus

      I read the article totally differently than you. While she started with the purely utilitarian arguments, I don’t think she stopped there because she knows that those utilitarian arguments in and of themselves won’t be enough to overcome a person’s sexual urges.

      I didn’t get a sense of her trying to scare people away from sex, since she spent far more time talking about the positive sexual identity that she thinks we should be trying to develop.

      • Thursday1

        Well, she does go into how denying yourself sex is good practice for denying yourself other things. That seems pretty utilitarian too.

        One could also argue that sexual purity is an ideal or essence, which like other beautiful things, is worth pursuing for its own sake. She kinda hints at that way of looking at things, but doesn’t much explore it. Like a lot of people here, I suspect she’s a bit ambivalent about that way of thinking.

        • Jakeithus

          True. I suppose even the ideal of self control she emphasizes has an element of utilitarianism to it as well. I think that is somewhat unavoidable, because we as human beings typically strive look for a reason and purpose behind things. As soon as we ask “why?” to the answers “Because God said so” or “So we can be holy”, we’re getting into utilitarian arguments.

          • Thursday1

            In utilitarianism the standard for morality is happiness and suffering.

            Holiness, beauty, purity and the like are non-utilitarian moral standards. That is they have value in themselves, regardless of their effect on happiness or suffering, at least if you accept that line of thinking. Of course, they may indeed bring us happiness and reduce our suffering, but that isn’t why we should value them. Again, at least according to that way of thinking.

  • livingtxlife

    I think about the many couples at my Christian university who were getting married before they even graduated because they truly loved their partner and were ready to have sex. However they felt that as Christians, they couldn’t have pre-marital sex. Maybe the kind of conviction it takes to follow through and get married before having sex means it will help their marriage stay strong, but I know at least one of those marriages ended in divorce.

    • curtismpls

      “ready to have sex”

      I have never figured out what that means. I was physically ready to have sex when I had my first boner, probably around age 6. Emotionally ready? I’m 48 and still working on the emotional part. Financially ready? In our economy, one is never really financially ready for anything.

      So what does “ready to have sex” really mean? I think it is short-hand for some rationalization to get married when what is really on the mind is trying to get in her pants as soon as possible.

  • NateW

    Sex without a heart level covenantal promise of lifelong fidelity is exploitative and unloving. It is asking my beloved for everything while being unwilling to give everything. It is a cheap version of true love for when I am unwilling to pay the price for the real thing. Yeah, harsh, I know, but bear with me.

    “Love” is our society’s great MacGuffin. In the desperate pursuit of this elusive sensation/person/thing we will give almost anything, but, like the proverbial “Pearl of Great Price”, in the end it is ONLY in giving wholly EVERYTHING (and thus having nothing except Love to call our own) that love is to be found. The price to find Love is to give all of myself to another person—soul, mind, and body. Of course this sounds ridiculous. It is only natural to fear what will happen to me, what I stand to lose, by giving all away. Hopes. Dreams. Freedom. Autonomy. How can I be sure that my beloved will do likewise? If I give everything to my beloved, and she reserves a portion of herself from me, I will be left short. I will be incomplete. Love will have evaded me. And I will have nothing.

    To fear this state, to deny that it has to be this way, that everything must be risked for Love, is only natural. It makes sense. I’m an American, an individual with rights and value that nobody can take away. It seems incredibly old fashioned and even hateful to expect me to place all of my being into the hands of another person. So I don’t. I pursue love, pursue my beloved, as one pursues any other object of desire: how much can I get for what I am willing to give? How much should I give based on what I am being offered? Of course we don’t think about it in such crass terms—we don’t think about our beloved like a new car—but its beyond obvious that this consumer mentality pervades the American concept of romantic love. Sex without promise is a sublime shortcut, an approximation of Love that gives many of its benefits but does not require such a high cost—everything— to be paid. Part of myself is witheld, protected, sheltered from the disaster of possible rejection. Of course my beloved knows this, senses this, and, bearing the same fears, witholds part of herself. And so a physical and emotional bond is made, feelings of Intimacy are aroused, true love is brushed against and hinted at, but the greatest depths of Christ-like love that exist between two who have mutually given every bit of themselves — every hope, dream, and year of life, to each other — are never plumbed.

    True love is on display in Christ, who literally gave everything a person has to give while asking nothing in return. He gave it all even to those who had shown absolutely no interest in returning an ounce of it. God has risked His very being on the gamble that his act of pure love will birth the same kind of Love in each of his children for each other.

    This dynamic—that Love (aka, happiness, contentment, freedom, and joy in intimate union with another soul) is only found when one promises to (and does) give everything, risk everything for the other— is the tuning fork to which all of reality hums; I don’t see any reason why sex should be governed by another note.

    • Craig

      Sex without a heart level covenantal promise of lifelong fidelity is exploitative and unloving. It is asking my beloved for everything while being unwilling to give everything.

      The roots of the pathology made visible.

      Does having sex with someone really amount to asking that person to give everything? Many of our sex-related problems arise because of this over-inflated conception of sex. How many of our problems would go away if everyone just had a level-headed view of the matter. The religious element makes this unnecessarily difficult.

      • http://robertanthonydavis.com/ Rob Davis

        Yep. Sex CAN just be sex. For some people. Not everyone is emotionally capable of this. But, some are.

        • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

          When sex is just sex, I don’t think it’s a sign that the participant is emotionally capable. I think it’s a sign they are emotionally deficient. Sad.

          • http://robertanthonydavis.com/ Rob Davis

            Don’t be sad. It will all be okay. :)

            • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

              Not quite what I meant, Rob. But I bet you knew that. ;-)

        • Rebekah

          Sex can also be something more than just sex and less than a lifelong commitment. Most 18 year olds are physiologically ready for sex without being anywhere close to being ready for marriage. I think people can be taught to respectful, honest, and loving in their sexuality while understanding that the ultimate commitment/love will probably come later.

    • Christy

      I don’t view sex as “giving everything”, nor is it a capitalistic transaction or a commodity. Sometimes people have sex because they want to have sex, not because they are trading it for love. (Sometimes people do have sex in the hopes that it will make the other person love them – and this is generally speaking a very bad idea.)

      And I just don’t frame my relationship with my husband as “giving every bit of ourselves.” and I don’t believe in Love with a capital L or some switch that gets flipped when you say “I do.” Every day, bit by bit, we build a life together, and sometimes it feels a bit transcendent, but mostly it’s the mundane, day in day out showing up and figuring it out together that strengthens love over time.

      Sex is kind of the same way – sometimes it’s really fantastic, and sometimes it’s perfectly fine, and sometimes it’s “Oh well, we’re both really tired.” The sex is rarely the part that feels like it requires the most sacrifice and giving.

    • Dean

      Sometimes I think folks here are just talking past each other. This is a Christian blog right? I hear a lot of utilitarian arguments being thrown around here, which is fine and I think they apply, but only in the sense or undergirding the Biblical principle itself. Let’s not forget that the question that Tony is presenting is whether premarital sex for a Christian, given the revelation of the Bible, is good or bad. Our society has already made the judgment call that it’s no big deal, so I find it odd that so many folks here would get worked up about the fact that Christians might deviate from the general secular consensus on these types of issues. What then would differentiate us from everyone else? On Huffpost Religion, someone would undoubtedly reply “nothing, ditch the Bible!”, but again, this is a Christian blog discussing how Christians should uniquely respond to contemporary issues.

      Anyway, I think the answer is pretty clear that the Bible says ideally, sex should be in the context of marriage, and you are presented with the model of Christ and the Church as the ideal model for the marriage relationship. Now how does that work in practice? Well, the same way everything in the Bible gets applied to our real flesh and blood lives, extremely messy. But that doesn’t take away from the model. The Bible, particularly Jesus, says a lot of extreme and crazy things. Jesus said to gauge out your eye, to give everything you have to the poor, to lay down your life for your friends. Are any of us able to do any of these things in real life? Not most of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try or that the model itself is somehow flawed, we are the ones who are flawed. And that’s where grace comes in.

      Honestly, I think folks are just over complicating this. Ideally for a Christian, sex is in the context of a monogamous committed relationship that lasts a lifetime. Will your life be ruined if you have premarital sex? Probably not, but that’s rarely the case for anything that the Bible says isn’t good for you and that’s hardly the best way to think about how to live as someone who wants to follow Jesus.

      • Rob Davis

        Hey Dean, which Bible are you reading? Even from an inerrantist perspective, it’s pretty hard to make a “simple” or “pretty clear” case for what you describe.

        • Dean

          Rob, I would say the Bible is infallible when read correctly and with the help of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think everything the Bible says is clear, but I do think that some things it says are. I guess I haven’t seen a good argument made using the Bible that premarital sex is something that is ok for a Christian to partake in, although I’m certainly happy to entertain one. But you have heard of the analogy using Christ and the Church right? I understand you are not a Christian, but that is the traditional understanding of the marriage covenant from a Christian perspective.

          • Rob Davis

            if you take the entire Bible into account, and not just a couple of passages from “Paul,” you will not arrive at “sex before marriage is wrong” or “one man plus one woman equals marriage.” Those conclusions are “traditional” – informed by certain traditions – but it’s a stretch to say they are the whole “biblical position.”

            • Dean

              Well, I’m not saying that our understanding of how the Bible applies to our life doesn’t change over time, it certainly does, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the entire Bible for what it says, but I don’t think that all parts of the Bible have equal weight, that’s definitely not true, that’s how literalists read it. But when you say something like the Bible says something is “wrong” or “right”, I think you sound a little like the fundamentalists we both probably have problems with. The Bible is not a rule book that tells us specifically what is right and wrong, at least not the way I read it. It provides you with models that it exhorts your to emulate, starting with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that monogamy stems from that model, but like I said, if you have a different model, I would like to hear it and see if it causes me to rethink mine.

              • Rob Davis

                Thank you for saying “models,” rather than a single model. There are obviously a range of voices speaking in those texts. As with anything, we’re all picking and choosing which voices to listen to, emulate, ignore or disagree with. I used to advocate a “trajectory,” based on the overall impetus of Jesus’ life, as the ultimate ideal to emulate.

                As far as “monogamy” goes, I’m not even really sure exactly what that means. Like I wrote to Ric earlier, Jesus seems to equate the thought of sex with the act. If that is the case, no one is actually monogamous. And, if Jesus and Paul are the models that should have the most weight, as far as historical research can tell, they were not married. So, is being single – rather than monogamous – the true ideal?

                • Dean

                  Well, I would say that Jesus said a lot of things that were meant to shock you into paying attention to his underlying message, and in that sense, for anyone to say just because they haven’t physically slept around doesn’t mean they are “pure”. And as for Jesus and Paul being single, well some people do take that model as the way to go, but I just happen not to. But again, I think you might be overcomplicating things, if monogamy isn’t something that Christians should strive for, then what is the alternate model? The model is important for us from a practical standpoint because it’s going to have real world consequences, for example some people will quit their job, leave their family and go live in monastic community if that’s what they think is the right thing to do. And for Christians, of course, this model needs to be Biblically based. I came around recently on the homosexuality issue because I was presented with a coherent model that I thought makes sense, so I’m not just being coy here.

                  • Rob Davis
                    • Dean

                      Rob, I know about these texts. But citing counterexamples of monogamy in the Bible wasn’t really what I was looking for, that’s not really an alternate model. I think what is required is something more robust. Like I said, the traditional model for marriage is Christ and the Church, there is a lot there to unpack there but I think most Christians would agree that is at least where we begin. That is not to discount the rest of the Bible, but just to say that I believe there is progressive revelation in the text and the best hermeneutic is to read passages that are less clear in light of passages that are more clear, and always to give precedence to what Jesus taught and how he lived. That’s how I happen to read the Bible, I’m not saying that’s the only way, but I tend to think it results in conclusions that are more coherent and make more sense. What that article is doing is probably more consistent with how fundamentalists read the Bible. They will of course ignore those passages, but then relish the ones where God is ordering genocide and stoning gays and disobedient children. I don’t give those passages any more weight than I do the ones talking about polygamy because my hermeneutic allows me to reinterpret those passages in light of the gospel. I really think this is key in terms of how Christians need to approach the Bible, like I said in a previous post, to assume that every passage in the Bible has equal weight or value is to really do violence to it, there is no reason to believe that the Bible can be systematized or flattened out in that fashion and you will quickly find yourself in the same camp as the Westborough Baptist folks because that’s exactly what they do.

                      The other challenge I think for those looking for reasons to get rid of monogamy (setting aside what the Bible has to say), is that I think you really do get better results. Children in stable families generally do better, people in stable relationships are generally happier and live longer, are probably healthier, and I think it is also better overall for society, particularly for women. Again, we’re going back to the “utilitarian” arguments as some here like to call it, but I would say the Bible, when read correctly, should generally line up with that (not always of course).

          • Rob Davis

            And, depending on which tradition you prefer, you might say that I either don’t (or can’t) have “the help of the Holy Spirit” or that I can and do (via “common grace”) – just not to the same degree that a Christian does. So, talking to me about interpretations of the Bible may or may not be beneficial to you…

            • Dean

              Beneficial to me in what sense? What exactly are we doing here except sharing our ideas? :)

      • Rob Davis

        Also, you said:

        I find it odd that so many folks here would get worked up about the fact that Christians might deviate from the general secular consensus on these types of issues. What then would differentiate us from everyone else?

        Does this argument work with everything? Christians should be “different” from “the general secular consensus” on everything?

        • Dean

          Of course not, and I wasn’t making an argument, just an observation that there should be some things that set Christians apart from non-Christians, for Paul it’s to love others as Christ loved us. I think the self-sacrificial love that Christ calls us to have for one another should in some practical sense make us different from the rest of the world. What do you think sets us apart from non-Christians (assuming you self-describe as such of course), if anything?

          • Rob Davis

            I do not self-describe as such.

      • Thursday1

        Yes, in premodern thought ideals have reality, essences have reality, symbols have reality.

        • Thursday1

          Again, you don’t have to agree with premodern thought, but that kind of thinking pervades the Bible, as well as most other premodern religious texts.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

    Please allow me to be off topic for a moment: It’s days like this — and comment threads like these — that make me appreciate an love those of you who read and comment on this blog. I am humbled and grateful. Seriously.

    • http://jpserrano.com/ jpserrano

      Did you link it correctly? I can’t read the full article.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

        Looks like it had broken. I fixed it.

    • Craig

      I cherish these all-too-rare insights into your soul Tony. And I entirely sympathize. What’s there not to love in talk about burning puppies, falling off penises, and necrophilia?

    • Ric Shewell

      Can I say that the vote up or down thing pisses me off? Not that they are there, but that you can hover over the “vote up” link and see the people that like a comment, but it’s not the same with the “vote down.” I’m just saying this cause I got a couple of vote downs, but it seems to be troll-bait, you can anonymously vote down people’s thoughts without adding to the conversation. That’s lame.

  • jrieves

    Waiting can be a good thing, depending on what you’re waiting for. Waiting until you are mentally, psychologically and emotionally equipped to have sex is good. Waiting to have sex until you’re married…, well, that can go both ways. There is nothing in the marriage rite, legally or religiously, that prepares you for all the stuff that comes with it and that includes sex. Think about this: in 30 U. S. states, the age of consent is 16. Most 16 year olds can barely wipe the behind their behind on their own and they certainly aren’t ready for sex and marriage. But, this whole “wait till you’re married” idea says otherwise.
    You should absolutely wait to have sex. Wait until you can handle the emotional baggage that comes with. Wait until you can support the child that could result from it. Wait until you’re mature enough to understand all the ramifications that comes with such an intimate act. Wait until you’re married? Fine, if that’s what you want to do. But, don’t make that the only criteria. And, don’t tell me I’m a sinner because I don’t agree with you.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Any young man now who is persuaded by any of those arguments has probably got some serious problems.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    On a related note, this academic thinks it’s possible for a man to “accidentally” conceive a child with a woman during consensual sex http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/is-forced-fatherhood-fair/

    Accidental? Which part of the act of intentionally placing his penis in her vagina was an accident? And please don’t tell me he can reasonably believe that the failure of a birth control method, getting too drunk to make smart choices, etc., constitute accidents.
    Sex can lead to kids. That’s how we’re made. Nothing accidental about it.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Johnathan James

      Failure of birth control methods seems to fit the definitions of ‘occuring unexpectedly’, or ‘without intent, often with undesirable results’. Unless you’re looking to redefine the normal use of ‘accidental’.

      Analogy: Driving your car can lead to death. That’s the nature of using devices to go faster than you could run. You make sure that you have brakes fitted to your car and see that they are maintained. One day, the brakes fail at a set of lights and you die. Is your death accidental, or, given that moving faster than you can run ‘can lead to’ death do you consider there is ‘nothing accidental about it’?

      Good article by the way. Thanks for pointing it out. Worth having a conversation about (regardless of the outcome of the discussion).

  • http://www.countonamerica.info/ Ellery

    Interesting that the topic is “premarital sex” but her blog post seems to be mostly about teenagers having sex. Aren’t these kind of two different issues? I would think most Christians would agree that a 22 or 27 year old
    having “premarital sex” is a very different thing than teenage sex, or am I wrong?

    Most of the most liberal parents I know would also prefer their kids to wait at least until their very late teens (aka 19 years old or more!) to engage in an activity that takes maturity and responsibility(…and preferably, love.) They can often do so by talking to their kids about it in a way that respects their intelligence, and makes sure what “maturity and responsibility” entails.

    A lot of kids wait to have sex when they know what it all involves, without having to feed them a blatantly untrue horror story scenario involving their penis falling off (and what happens to girls in this scenario? gack)

    All they have to do is spend 2 seconds on Yahoo answers to realize no one’s penis, ever, fell off from sex. Once you’ve lied to them you’ve lost the game. You made it clear you don’t respect them or their intelligence- and the feeling will be mutual from then on.

  • Thursday1

    RE: conservative Christians and “God said so” arguments against pre-marital sex.

    While conservative Christians will sometimes use this kind of argument, I don’t think many of them are actually against pre-marital sex primarily because of authority. In fact, for conservative Christians sexual purity is a kind of essence or ideal that they can “see.” It’s just “there.” So is lifelong exclusive committed marriage. Now, you may think that’s vague or non-existent, and it is often difficult to articulate, which is another reason people will use those appeal-to-authority arguments, but for them it is as real as the breakfast table you ate from this morning.

    Another confusing thing, is that conservative Christians will often make utilitarian arguments against pre-marital sex, especially in a utilitarian culture like ours. The problem with that is, at least for upper middle class people, those arguments tend not to be valid. Among lower and working class people there probably is a case for a bright line rule (see Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart), but most educated, well off people are, if not rational, rational enough when it comes to sex that they tend to get more out of premarital sex than they lose according to a utilitarian calculus. Conservative Christian’s are also being a bit disingenuous when using those arguments, as they aren’t the real reason they oppose pre-marital sex.


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