Sex. So often it’s a taboo subject for Christians. I know I’ve never really written on the subject before. As a 30-something single Christian, who has been a Christian and believed in abstinence before marriage my entire life, I don’t exactly have practical experience.
However, recently I read a Gallup survey, done for the prominent Christian magazine ‘Relevant’. It’s results showed 80 per cent – yes, you read it right – of unmarried Christians in the US between the ages of 19-29 are having sex. That despite over 70 per cent saying they thought sex before marriage was wrong.
I have to confess, reading that stat did sadden me. I’ve been a Christian pretty much my entire life and I’ve never seen stats which showed such a large proportion of Christians having pre-marital sex. The statistic alone, for me, demanded a response and a re-examination of the topic.
We do live in a sex-obsessed culture.
The amount of free pornography now available online is staggering, and the stats show that teenage boys and girls alike are looking at it at a younger and younger age. I have more Christian friends who’ve struggled with that kind of addiction than probably even I know, and even I have struggled with it at times – it’s one of the biggest struggles a single person has to face, both men and women.
Magazines like Nuts and Zoo – which are on the lower racks in the UK but given their content should be on the top rack pretty much (if anywhere) – sell bucket-loads every week and one of the defining statistics for anybody in secular culture seems to be how many people you’ve slept with.
Temptation is all around us all the time, and if you’re single, in my experience there’s constant pressure from church and culture to be married. It seems that the stats show that more and more unmarried Christians – both single and in relationships – simply can’t wait.
You see, people often link abstinence and singleness, as if it’s one subject.
They aren’t, they are separate – though they are linked.
Abstinence is something that applies to people in relationships too, if they are unmarried. People confuse ‘unmarried’ with single – and there’s a big distinction. When I say single, I mean not in a relationship, as well as not married. If you’re in a relationship, for the sake of this discussion, you’re not single.
So why are so many unmarried Christians – both single and in relationships – choosing to have sex pre-marriage?
There’s a few arguments here – some actually believe the Bible doesn’t actually say we don’t have to, others think the teachings of scripture merely a cultural thing, and others simply find it too difficult to resist temptation – and it’s no surprise, given the sex-obsessed culture we live in.
I myself chose the pre-marital abstinence path a long time ago, and it’s one of my ‘non-negotiables’ when considering a relationship. For me, not only does God need to be at the heart of any relationship, but I won’t be sexually active with anyone I’m not married to, in any way.
Oh and just to be clear, by ‘sexually active’, I mean essentially engage in sexual intercourse or a sex act of any kind involving those parts of the body.
So why have I chosen abstinence pre-marriage? Well, call me boring, but I think it’s pretty clear in the Bible the rules God sets out for this, and it’s in the Genesis story and spoken by Jesus, so it’s pretty clear. You’re free to disagree, but I think scripture sets it out very clearly:
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to His wife, and they will become one flesh” - (Genesis 2 v24, Mark 10 v7-8).
Jesus in fact goes on, and says something I feel is very important:
“So they are no longer two, but one” (Mark 10 v9)
Oneness. This is a key here.
When a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, Jesus is saying, there is something spiritual that goes on, a connection is made between them. I may not have experience of this, but in the experience of having friends who have had extra-marital sex, there tends to be some kind of bond that is established between a couple – even if they only have sex once. This is what Jesus was talking about.
When two people have intercourse, something spiritual happens between them, a bond is created that goes beyond the normal, physical or even emotional. Something supernatural is birthed between them – and Jesus explains this as becoming ‘one’.
The model of course is of Christ and the church – which are separate but one. There are many similarities between the marriage relationship and the one between Christ and the church – they are even compared Biblically.
To Jesus, sex is about oneness, and you find that oneness only within the context of a marriage relationship.
Jesus makes clear – as does the Genesis story – that the sex act is to come after marriage, not before. Not because God wants to stop us enjoying ourselves (and I am reliably informed by close friends who are married that sex can be fun) or set rules to stop us doing what we want to do.
Jesus wants us to save sex for marriage, because that’s what it was designed for and because that context is going to be the best, most enjoyable, intimate, safe, trusted place for it.
In fact, Jesus is so strong on this subject that he advocates that even looking at a person of the opposite sex in a lustful way is adultery of the heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5 v 27-28)
Jesus Himself makes clear adultery, lust, sex, is something that goes on in the heart, not just physically, and sets high standards for it – standards, again, not to limit us or stop us having fun – but again, so that we’ll have the best.
What a feeling it would be to go to your wedding night knowing that you have saved yourself completely for the person you trust, love, respect and care for more than anyone else, your best friend, and will be able to give them a gift that no one else will be allowed to share in.
C. S. Lewis, the famous theologian and author, married very late in life, but the love he had for his wife Joy Gresham was something deeply felt, something way beyond the physical. So when they married, the sex mattered less than the deeply felt love between them. We see this in the story of this part of his life, dramatised in the film ‘Shadowlands’.
Indeed, given how seriously ill his wife was (she was suffering from and eventually died from cancer), it’s questionable whether they even had sex when they were married – but it didn’t matter.
The love, the oneness between them was more powerful than any physical connection. Whether or not they had sex wasn’t even an issue – they were one and they loved each other. If you haven’t seen this film, do watch it. I find it the most truthful film about what true love between a man and a woman is, than any other.
No cheesy romance, no happy ending, no fiction. It’s a true story of real love, and shows the sacrifice, the responsibility, and the pain of love, as well as the joy.
It proved to me how oneness is more than just to do with sex, and that sex isn’t a substitute for love. Although I have no experience of sex, I am convinced something that intimate is unquestionably better when you have that oneness, that intimacy, love and friendship between two people, and it’s a precious gift which should only be shared with one person in the context set apart for it, which is marriage.
For me, that concept makes alone makes the value of keeping sex for marriage one worth keeping. Knowing the woman I marry will be the only one I share the gift of my sexuality with, and that we will be truly one – on a level that’s far deeper than anything physical.
That actually excites me, and makes me more thankful to God for this special gift He’s given us.
One that’s worth keeping for someone special.
In part 2 of this series next week, I’ll be looking at how we can over-romanticise the idea of our future husband or wife being perfect or the other’s saviour, and the issue of how people compare sexual partners. Join me again then!
Now, time for you to join the discussion!
What’s your view of Jesus value of keeping sex for marriage?
What’s your view – or experience – of the value of oneness? Do you like the idea of keeping yourself sexually for one person?
Have you struggled in this area, with a sexual addiction of some kind or with temptation within a relationship? How have you dealt with those temptations and issues?