Why Christians Have a Moral Obligation Not to Have Sex Outside of Marriage

Bibledude.net has a series of posts on the issue of fatherlessness that you can check out by clicking this picture I cribbed from him.

Everyone has a theory to explain the breakdown of the family: culture, government policy, the sexual revolution, poverty, racism, global trade, etc, etc.  A few days back, I shared my theory: unresolved trauma from often horrific life experiences.  I said I was going to write about what I think Christians have a moral obligation to do in response and that is what this post is about. Now, before you snort and click away, allow me to explain myself . . .

A few years ago, the ex told me about a woman he knew who lived in a high poverty area and had put her 14 year old daughter on birth control pills.  The girl was an honor student, insisted that she wasn’t sexually active and didn’t intend to become sexually active, and didn’t really want to be on the pills but the mother insisted.  I told my husband that I thought it was probably a good idea.  Not necessarily because the pills themselves would keep her from getting pregnant, but because the discipline of having to remember to take one at the same time everyday would serve her well. 

Many of us grew up in homes with bedtimes, we sat down for meals with our families, got handed a vitamin with breakfast by mom and could always find a quiet spot to do homework.  Often we don’t appreciate the way these simple routines and disciplines shape and prepare us to manage our lives in the real world.  Including using birth control methods effectively.  

A fellow RA in college went to the local county health department and came back with a bag that looked like this. Flavored! Colored! Many sizes! The bounty overfloweth.

I was a poor single mom.  I have known a lot of much more stereotypical poor single moms (ie not just the black sheep of an intact, well-educated, upper-middle class family).  I can personally attest to the fact that is not hard to get condoms or birth control pills.  People practically throw them at you when you’re a college student or a single mom.  The problem is I have known more than one person who became a parent while a bag of condoms from the local clinic sat on a dresser across the room.  Access is certainly good, imo, but making birth control available doesn’t make it used. 

Yes, Depo-provera, IUDs and other long-term birth control methods can go a long way towards addressing this problem.  I know that Depo shots are very easy to get in most poor areas here in the Midwest.  But the questions still remains if we really want to live in a world where we need to administer injections of hormones into young teens en masse, on a regular basis to keep them from getting pregnant?  And those more effective birth control methods do not address STDs, but will make going without a condom feel more acceptable.  It’s an imperfect bandaid.  Bandaids certainly have their place, but they aren’t a solution.

When I talk with my boys about sex, one of the things I try to emphasize to them is that sex is something which carries a social responsibility that goes far beyond their own families.  Despite everything we’ve been going through, they are very priviledged.  Their parents are educated and involved, they were homeschooled and taught how to deal with their emotional experiences and know how to make themselves do things they don’t want to do.  So, yes, they could probably manage thier own sex lives without causing too much damage – just as many people do.  But they don’t represent the average American. 

Fred explains the mad skillz that let him take off-ramps at 60 mph

It’s a bit like driving, I tell them. Mario Andretti could probably navigate our expressways going 130 mph with no difficulty.  But most people aren’t professional race car drivers.  If those who were able to safely drive 130 mph on the expressway without consequence started doing so, many people who could not do it safely would start to drive that fast (or faster) as well.  So, even though a race car driver could drive that fast on our roads, it would be irresponsible to do so.  Sex is much the same way, imo.

I would say the same thing to you and your children as well: the decision to be sexually active isn’t just about you and your family and your partner(s).  It’s also about living in a world where stories about growing up fatherless under horrific conditions are practically common place.  Not all of us can re-arrange our entire lives to try and deal with the issue, but as Christians, I think that the least we have an obligation to do is choose to live by traditional Christian teachings (which have been considered radical, unappealing and unrealistic since Roman times).  And talk about it.  Let others know that you are making this choice and why. 

"Dads - just wrestle your teenaged daughter into one of these each morning for the next 10 years and you can wait until your hair turns grey to be called, 'Grandpa'!"

Christians have tried everything from rings to dances to tamper-proof locks to encourage their children to wait until marriage to have sex.  But research tells us that at best, such things delay the onset of sexual activity by a year or two.  Which is better than nothing.  If better than nothing is the standard you’re going for, that is.  (I did hear tell of one homeschooled mom who was trying to arrange her kid’s whole lives so that they would not know about the existence of sex until their wedding night when it would be a “wonderful surprise”.  I’m pretty sure such a thing could be a wonderful suprise only in her own imagination, but she really thought she had is all figured out.) The fact is we haven’t given our kids a reason to wait that can stand up to temptation and questioning. 

Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where sex in and out of marriage is omni-present and completely accepted.  (I once had a conversation w/a young Christian who laughingly told me that she is regularly informed that the only reason she remains a virgin is because she was giving in to social pressure.  Because refraining from doing something that 95% of people think is part of every normal life is just soooooo conformist.  LOL).  And no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, experience has made clear that “because God said so” just doesn’t cut it.  Yes, God said so.  But perhaps he has an actual reason?  Like not living in a world where the suffering associated with fatherlessness is widespread and normal? 

Ours is not the first era to experience the breakdown of societal constraints.  However, I don’t think that the fall-out has ever been allowed to become so enormous before.  Right now, the only answer the world has to the problems of fatherlessness are more birth control and trying to use social servies to fix people’s lives more quickly than they can tear them down.  As Christians, we do have an answer: God heals the brokenhearted and sex belongs in marriage where children can be provided for – emotionally if not financially.  But before we go banging on to everyone else about that, we need to actually be doing it ourselves. Which we haven’t been able to figure out how to do.  Or at least we haven’t been able to come up with reasons that stand up to scrutiny and hormones.  Sometimes you need a real cause.  I say that fighting back against a culture which is producing traumatized, overwhelmed people en masse is a cause worthy of great sacrifices.  Even the sacrifice of abstaining from sex outside of marriage. 

What would happen if it became commonplace for Christians to take the lead on this issue?  If more of us would stand up and say, “I’m going to voluntarily choose to abstain from extramaritial sex as a way to combat fatherlessness“?  Might our well-meaning kids be better able to resist temptation knowing that it’s for something that is both real and important?  Wouldn’t the world look at us differently if we were know for doing this rather than for having higher rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock children than our liberal, secular counter-parts?  This is a problem which is eating communities and children alive.  Don’t we have an obligation to try?  It is what we’ve been told to do, after all.

Will Christians openly abstaining from sex outside of marriage as a way to combat fatherlessness change anything? I don’t know, of course.  Bit if nothing else, combatting fatherlessness is a much more credible motivation for most people than “because God said so“.  Yes, it seems like a small stand to take against a torrent, but God has said he will take what we offer for his sake and add the increase.  It only takes a little yeast to make the bread rise, after all.

11 thoughts on “Why Christians Have a Moral Obligation Not to Have Sex Outside of Marriage

  1. I may be off beam here, but there are so many ways to keep from getting pregnant. I simply don’t think it is a “sin” for two people to co-habit and have sex with each other outside of marriage. My sons both live with their fiancés, and I do not feel that it is my right to tell them how to live their lives. Marriage is in the cards for both couples, but even had they chosen not to marry, I don’t think that makes them any less godly or spiritual. They do practice responsible birth control, and of course, for that I am grateful. That is the key to combatting fatherlessness, in my opinion. Yes, abstinence is one choice, but so is use of birth control.

    I’m a little confused about who those “liberal, secular counter-parts” are. I’m a Christian and consider myself a liberal. I think you might want to be a little clearer in who you are mentioning when you speak of “liberals”. Are you speaking politically, or from a religious standpoint? It sounds political, though I may be interpreting what you wrote incorrectly. I apologize if this is the case, but I would appreciate clarification of your definition of “liberal.”

    I just wonder if we are in the weeds here. There are so many issues that to me seem far more important than whether or not people participate in pre-marital sex. Responsible sex–using precautions to keep from getting pregnant and/or contracting STDs–is what is most important, in my opinion. I don’t think any less of my sons or the young women with whom they live because they are not yet married. They are decent, loving, caring, spiritual people. Neither of my sons is gay, but if they were, I would feel the same way about their relationships with their mates. And I hope that gay couples have the right to marry in every state of the Union some day soon.

    I honestly don’t think God cares about our sexual activity, unless it is harmful to someone else or oneself, and unless there is no intimacy and love in that interaction. It seems to me that one’s sexual activity is between oneself and God. In fact, I think there are people who live together who may be purer of heart in their relationships than some people who are in marriage relationships filled with animosity and falseness. To me, it isn’t so much about marriage as it is about how two people treat each other. Yes, marriage is a sacrament, and my hope is that everyone will choose marriage, but I don’t think you have to be abstinent before marriage to make the union holy.

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I appreciate you expressing your thoughts and feelings about this matter. I may not agree with you, but I feel that you are clearly someone who cares enough about others to state your position unabashedly and honestly, and for that, I respect you.

    1. Ms Cassidy,
      I used “secular-liberal” to indicate a familiar stereotype.

      From your comments, it seems like you are responding to messages you have heard from the church before and not to what I am saying here. Here’s the thing: yes, you as an educated, literate, thoughtful, probably not currently suffering through a traumatizing, impoverished childhood, can probably navigate sex in a variety of circumstances just fine. But you’re flying at 10,000 feet. A lot of people can’t get off the ground. Sex outside the context of a loving, committed marriage is eating people up and spitting them out in shreds. Being one of those who can manage to be disciplined and wise and old enough to not become a statistic simply shows that you are more skilled and committed than many. Good for you. Not so good for them. This is a problem so much bigger than we are. And at some point, we do need to trust God enough to say, “if I go above and beyond for your sake and the sake of the culture that I live in, I trust you to provide the increase.”

      There are many very good, God-loving, Christian girls and boys who end up as unwed parents. Don’t you think adopting this as a normal Christian approach to the problem might be helpful to them as well?

      That’s the whole point: this isn’t just about you or me or even if God’s going to crush your skull in for fornicating on judgement day. It’s about fighting back against a culture where over 40% of our kids are born into a situation which puts them at high risk for all sorts of traumas and suffering.

  2. I found that growing up with a high value on chastity, even for all the reasons you have outlined above, to have had as many negative and unanticipated consequences as growing up in a more sexually permissive home might have had. I chose to raise my own children with a high level of communication around all things sexual, but with as little judgment around the choices that they would make as it is possible to convey. At the end of the day I choose to focus on Paul’s words: Everything is permissible, but not everything is advisable.

    1. I have two teen boys and I’ve also been very open and non-judgmental regarding sex with them. When I was growing up, my parents sent the very strong message that sex outside of marriage was something only bad, trashy people did. Once I got to college and it became clear that this simply wasn’t true, everything they had tried to impress on me about sex went right out the window. Besides, I don’t think you can play the “sex outside marriage is dirty and filthy, but sex inside marriage is beautiful and holy” game without really screwing someone up. So I don’t do the chastity/purity thing with my kids. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve even used those words with them. And I do start and end with the idea that this is something they will have to choose or reject freely on their own. No one else can ultimately decide for them what they do with their own bodies. So, I hope I didn’t come across as a chastity/purity rah-rah type. That’s not really my intention.

      It’s just that having spent time working with homeless single moms, boys in juvi and being married to a man who doesn’t even know the race of his father, I have come to believe that fatherlessness is a scourge like no other. As Christians, since the beginning one of our faith’s practices (ideally) and teachings has been that sex ought to be confined to marriage. But I’m afraid that in rightly rejecting the old, negative, controlling messages about sex which too often came from the church, we’re in danger of losing sight of a massive tragedy which damages so many people – that being fatherlessness. So my real intention is to call people to be committed to doing what we can to both serve those who are suffering and do what we can not to be part of the problem ourselves.

  3. I was a single mom aged 30 when I became a Christian. I decide that I wanted to honor God by abstaining for sex until I was married. I then prayed frantically for a husband!
    I agree with what you are saying Rebecca, the family unit is the environment God gave us for growing up in, it does work, but how do we get it to work, especially these days. Also there’s a bit more to sex, I think, than we realise, spiritual bonds take place that can be detrimental. All I know is I made the change you are talking about, and decided not to have sex before marriage, to make that stand you are talking about.
    I have explained my previous sexual relationships to my teen sons, explained how and why they were unhealthy and the consequences of that. However I cannot impose my beliefs on them only advise, and leave them to make their own decisions.
    I did find out that when I decided not to have sex, I suddenly realized I did not want to have petty relationships with men. No more year long romances that were going nowhere, cause let’s face it neither of us were willing to actually get married so what were we doing? Having fun? Also noticed that men got angry with me when I told them my decision not to have sex before marriage, they behaved like I’d let them down. In my previous state I would have succumb to the pressuring but now this was a red warning flag that said stay away from this guy.
    I realised I had 2 children who needed a better mother and a decent father. I made it clear that I would only go on one or two dates with a guy to see if things were gonna work out. I was bold about saying I was looking for a husband and not a long term boyfriend. Hey presto that worked rather well, talk about sorting the wheat from the chaff!
    Got married, yay, now have a wonderful husband, a wonderfully happy marriage, and a wonderful new baby. what a difference it is to bring this child up in a loving family.I just feel God fixed me, and fixed my relationship ideas, fixed my family and put everything right. I was doing it all wrong before. Upside down world for sure, we are so scared to say what we really want, we think we are gonna scare a guy away by saying we want love and security and marriage, maybe we (girls) should stick to our guns, and not accept anything less than what is right. The world made me feel feeble for wanting these things, but God empowered me and I got the deepest desire of my heart.

    1. What a great story, Joy! Thanks for sharing. I wish I would have made the choice to insist on waiting. My husband and I probably would have still wound up together, but it would have happened MUCH quicker and saved us a good deal of heartache vs the nonsense we ended up going through.

      I think that the angry reaction you encountered is interesting and telling. It’s part of what is so objectionable about many church’s fixation of female purity. It takes a lot for a young woman to stand on her own in the face of male hostility like that. Really, this is something we need to be dealing with our boys over. I have two teen boys myself and I’ve always emphasized that their behavior and choices are their own responsibility. And tried to teach them to be the sort of young men who wouldn’t dream of pressuring or demanding another person to meet their own desires.

  4. We worship God with our entire life—with every decision we make and everything we do.
    Ms Cassidy posted,“I honestly don’t think God cares about our sexual activity…”
    I think that God is absolutely concerned with our sexual relationships because he cares for our well being. There are so many things that can go wrong when we indulge in this experience with someone we are not committed to, then possibly kids are brought into that and other family, then it gets more complicated especially when new partners come along and maybe other kids, and decisions about money, who gets what …… etc etc. It affects a lot of people.
    Even when it may seem to us that we are in a healthy sexual relationship outside marriage, I believe there are damages being done on a deep emotional level. I think God wants to shield us from that. He wants to create an environment where we are secure and loved and respected, and a safe place for children to grow.
    Remember our relationship with God is like a marriage to. Jesus being the bridegroom the church the bride. Our relationship with him needs to be right first so then our marriages can be right, and our relationship with our spouse is right then that’s a good environment for children to come into.
    My simple decision to get married before sexual relations (after I got saved that is) changed not just my life but my husband‘s life (he never even knew he was ready to get married till he met me). He was a mess, I was a mess. It changed the lives of my children in a positive way and my parents also, and his parents and other family members. The way we both lived before was causing heartache and tension everywhere throughout both the families. Being married fixed a lot of stuff. Especially the emotional stuff going on with us all. I wanted to put things right and do it God’s way cause I know that works; my way didn’t.
    Gosh, must be feeling a bit chatty today, blah blah blah, housework to be done;)

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