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Reverent Sundays: Premarital Sex

Welcome to today’s installment of Reverent Sundays, where I write about an aspect of my faith. This can deal with recent books I have read on Christianity, my thoughts on religion and current issues, as well as particular messages I find touching and/or powerful. I am aware that most of my readers are not religious, and that is fine — you are more than welcome to not read these posts if they make you uncomfortable, enrage you, or bore you to tears. I am open to debates and discussions in the comments section as long as everyone remains respectful. Enjoy!

A few weeks ago, an article in RELEVANT Magazine titled “The Secret Sexual Revolution” ignited much talk among the Christian blogs and online magazines I read. The premise of the article is that more and more unmarried Christians are having sex — with the latest numbers citing about 80% of Christians who identify themselves as “evangelical” having had premarital sex.

Of those 80 percent of Christians in the 18-29 age range who have had sex before marriage, 64 percent have done so within the last year and 42 percent are in a current sexual relationship.

So why are the numbers so high? Why is there little to no difference in how Christ followers and non-Christ followers handle themselves when it comes to sex before marriage? Is this some sort of new sexual revolution or are we just more open about it in today’s culture?

The article goes on to theorize (emphases are my own):

The mediaʼs marketing of sex, the cultural endorsement of the “do what feels good” mentality, the prevalence of pornography and the widespread misunderstanding of sex that prompts people to chase after love and acceptance in unhealthy physical relationships are all factors that make it difficult to practice chastity. The reality is chastity is not the norm. And such a discipline is certainly not easy.

Godʼs picture of sex and marriage is certainly a beautiful one, but itʼs also … old. Biblical times were a lot different than current times. Is such a picture still relevant?

Scot McKnight, author of One.Life and professor in religious studies at North Park University in Chicago, is aware of the difficulties facing unmarried Christians and the shifts in the “reality” of living chastely.

“Sociologically speaking, the one big difference—and itʼs monstrous— between the biblical teaching and our culture is the arranged marriages of very young people. If you get married when youʼre 13, you donʼt have 15 years of temptation.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age for first marriages for both men and women has been increasing for the last 45 years. In 1965, the average man first married at age 22.8; the average woman, 20.6. In 2010, the average age was 28.1 for men and 26.1 for women.

Abstinence messages have often been geared toward teenagers, but as the average marrying age creeps closer to 30, the time period when Christians are called to be chaste can easily extend a decade beyond their high school graduation—or much longer. So what does abstinence look like as Christians “grow up” and enter the real world but are still single?

“Itʼs absolutely not realistic,” McKnight continues. “But itʼs also not realistic not to do a lot of things, and that doesnʼt mean the Bible doesnʼt tell us the ideal and design of God is to not have premarital sex.”

As young Christians mature into their 20s, itʼs natural for them to reevaluate their beliefs as they strive to figure out how faith fits into their expanding worldview. If they determine they can drink responsibly and watch movies and listen to music with a discerning spirit, is it possible the “donʼt do it because itʼs wrong” message gets tossed aside along with all those other “legalistic” messages of youth? That they start to believe they can also have sex “with discernment”?

“We have to recognize that people are not married during the years when their hormones are hardest to control,” McKnight says. “So weʼre dealing with a very serious issue that needs to be treated from a variety of angles and not simply the moral angle that itʼs wrong outside of marriage.”

McKnight also wonders if part of the problem is a devaluing of marriage. If young Christians no longer deem marriage a worthwhile endeavor—or see it as a temporary thing (proven to them by the brevity of their parentsʼ marriages and the prevalence of divorce in Western culture), then sex within marriage certainly loses some of its profundity—and sacredness.

Obviously, preaching abstinence, conducting chastity vows, and handing out promise rings among the Christian youth is simply not working.

Our first kiss as husband and wife

I do not want to be a hypocrite. Because the truth is that I have had premarital sex — I am among the 80%; I am in the majority.

But I wouldn’t be lying it I were to say that it is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

What are people like me to teach our children about premarital sex and God’s design for sex and marriage? Do I want my daughters to remain virgins until they are married? Of course I do! But looking at our culture and society, looking at the statistics above, and speaking as someone who has fallen into temptation myself, I know that realistically speaking, they will have sex before they get married. Heck, I also know that if current trends continue, they will most likely be having sex by the time they are in their early to mid-teens.

As a former youth group teacher, I have been asked this question on more than one occasion. And my answer has always been to discuss God’s design for marriage, to exalt married sex (because honestly, it really can’t seem to get any better but always does), and talk about the potential dangers of premarital sex…but at the same time, also acknowledge that it is very difficult to abstain, and that if you do decide to have sex before marriage, to please be wise about who, when, and how (and by this, I mean protection).

And if I could go back in time, I would also add that abstinence should be not taught just for the sake of it, but that it is an act of obedience — and a form of worship. I would also encourage “renewed abstinence,” that even if you have lost your virginity physically, you can still start afresh spiritually.

What are your thoughts on the high rates of premarital sex among Christians? What would you, as a Christian, tell our future generations about premarital sex?