If a divorced person told you he or she was worried about the wisdom of you marrying your fiancé[e], would you listen?
Or would you disqualify her advice because of her failure to make her marriage work? Even if she did everything right according to the Christian system and listened to her parents, waited to have sex until her wedding night, prayed exhaustively about the decision, and sought lots of counsel from pastors and mentors?
I am not going to be getting any brownie points among Christians for this piece, but this been driving me nuts and what else is my blog for?
Here is my best advice for good Christian kids looking to get married: have sex already.
I’m watching too many couples play Russian roulette with their lives because they aren’t listening to their gut instincts about who they want or need to spend their lives with because they happened to have found one person somewhat enchanting and willing to play the Christian marriage game and the stakes are: your whole future on this decision, made in the worst possible state of mind, horny celibacy.
Hermeneutically speaking, St. Paul’s “it’s better to marry than to burn with passion” was probably not about what you think it’s about. All my books are in storage in boxes, so I’d love to have someone with an accessible library help me out with citations here, but it’s pretty widely accepted in schools of theology that he was talking about couples disturbing idealistic celibate communities by sneaking off to have sex and making everyone feel either jealous and upset. As in: don’t be Gnostic, early church! It’s okay to not require celibacy of all Christians. C.f., Reasons why no one should ever be forced into celibate living against their will. Not a lot of people have that gift, and that’s what Paul was acknowledging in that well-worn passage.
But what that passage doesn’t say (and honestly, what no passage in the Bible says) is “God’s best plan for your life is to be a virgin when you get married.” Seriously. Look for it. It’s not there. Two years ago a couple ex-fundy friends and I started hunting for it when we started to be troubled by why courtship was failing and why we were seeing so many unhappy marriages with good Christian kids like us who followed the rules. So we started searching the Bible ourselves and we haven’t found a much biblical basis for Christian purity culture and how it treats virginity and sexual experience.
There’s a whole lot about sex in the Bible, I learned. Most of it is dictated by the assumption that societies required clearly defined patriarchal lineage in order to operate (e.g., if your wife wasn’t a virgin when you married her, how would you know if her kids were yours and thus keep your family property and name in tact for the future?). Such things were very much a part of the historical period in which the Bible was written, but those things related to preservation of pure bloodlines are really irrelevant to our social order today. We can have healthy, happy communities without needing to be constantly in fear of the threat of a bastard child. Once that’s established, looking at the rest of the verses in the Bible about sex, it becomes evident that the sexual ethics laid out are essentially those of respecting each other and not abusing sex as a tool for power or domination or for revenge. It is, quite simply, an ethic of sexual behavior that values consent and human dignity and respect for social propriety within the context of an ancient patriarch-dominated culture.
If that was our culture today, it would be much more directly applicable, but that isn’t where and how we’re living. Today, we have a lot more freedom, a lot more ground gained in the realm of respecting diverse people groups and identities, and a lot less risk in terms of economic security and social honor riding on our sexual behavior.
Therefore I believe, based on my research, that it’s possible to have consensual, safe, and private sex* outside of marriage and not be transgressing any of the basic ethical guidelines for sexual behavior as laid out in the Bible.
But all that is just contextual framework for my primary point.
Christian culture over-values virginity at marriage so much that it heightens to an unreasonable degree the tension of an already momentous and risky decision. Marriage is, in a lot of ways, a jump off the cliff of adulthood that forces you to come face to face with yourself, and that’s when you find out just how much you can depend on yourself [to be mature and kind], without the parachute or training wheels of an easy exit. Most of us find as newlyweds that our selves aren’t really all that dependable, and we’re actually pretty selfish and immature.
Within Christian purity culture, sex, as an unknown and desirable thing (known to be powerful and good, but forbidden), necessarily becomes the bullet that we imagine blowing our brains out with if we pull the trigger at the wrong time, and we trick ourselves into believing that marriage will somehow protect us from spiritual suicide by pre-marital sex. We can’t know better if we’re still treating sex as a huge scary-and-wonderful unknown entity, but you’d think that our elders/wisers/more-experienced influencers would bother to let us in on the game before we sign on the dotted line.
But they don’t. Instead, pastors and parents and Bible study leaders and youth group mentors have bought into and perpetuated a false fundamental assumption that binds us to shame and ignorance as a necessary part of spiritual integrity: 1) we are required to take them at their word that sex is life-changing and terrible (in both senses of that word), and 2) we are required to make our trust in their definition of sex a fundamental assumption into how we weigh out relationships and how we decide who and when to marry. The bogey of sex thus becomes a looming question mark for us and the already-significant risks of choosing to get married to someone become exponentially more risky because there’s a huge piece of the marriage-choice puzzle that we are required to leave up to chance (which our good mentors have named God’s Will to keep us quiet).
Thus, when we good [read: virgin] Christian kids decide to accept this system, trusting our parents and pastors’ terms and wisdom, and denying ourselves basic understanding of ourselves as sexual beings (which we are, but they help us overlook this by telling us that perpetual fear and denial of sexuality is a form of healthy [and therefore godly] sexuality), sex as an unknown other becomes a non-factor in our choices for who we date and who and when we marry, or it becomes the secret but driving factor for who and when we marry. It must remain secret as a motive, because everyone knows that marrying just to have sex is a bad idea, but there is no other alternative for healthy, safe, and consensual sexual experience when we have bought into this system.
And if we are unlucky enough to be just a little too horny to effectively deny the existence of our sexuality until the approved time and place (the wedding night), we are caught in an impossible place where in order to keep being Good Christian Kids, we have to not question what our parents and pastors have told us—which is, essentially, that everything I just laid out in layman’s hermeneutics about biblical sexual ethics is lies and that God’s best plan for sexuality is total ignorance and total commitment to one person and one form of sexual experience forever and ever, amen—and to jump through all the Christian social hoops to land in bed with someone and not get ostracized or shamed for wanting to have sex in the first place
Or you just keep your head down and have sex and keep that part of your life so very secret and separate from your public social life, for fear of being found out for what you know they will think you are: a Bad Kid** with wanton desires and a sense of judgment that cannot be trusted.
So, in the end, if you want to be labeled a Good Christian Kid, you play by the rules that your parents and pastors have laid out for you, and inevitably (if you find another Good Christian Kid you like well enough, who likes you well enough, and who also agrees to play by the rules of this game) you’ll find yourself sitting somewhere with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and you’ll have a choice.
You’ll be just turned on enough with this person for the first time to realize that sex is probably something powerful (which means your parents and pastors must have been right, after all), and you’ll both be feeling it, and you’ll both realize that this situation can end in two ways: one, you follow the feeling and have sex and ruin your standing as a GCK in your own mind forever, even if no one ever finds out. Or, two, you’ll indulge the feeling and fool around just enough to get scared of how good it feels and “put on the brakes” (a timeless analogy used by youth pastors everywhere, as if sex is a car rolling unobstructed toward a large and frightening cliff), which is to say: you stop and feel ashamed of yourself and look at your partner in crime and realize that no one can ever know except the two of you (because even a little sexual “sin” is enough to ruin your Good Christian Kid status), and that you are probably going to marry this person and you are probably going to be happy about it. Whether or not you really are happy doesn’t matter, because you’ve been practiced at denying parts of yourself (read: an accidental follower of Christian Gnosticism) for long enough that what’s one more thing? If you’re married, you’re going to be having sex, which means one less thing to ignore—and so your desire for real happiness can replace sexuality under the wraps of self-control and shame.
And then you’re trapped, because you let your pastors and parents think through your sexuality for you (which is such a bad idea, seeing as sexuality is such a unique and individual thing), and you got married because that was the only way to explore your sexuality and stay sane in the face of such overwhelming social pressure and potential shame, and if you’re really lucky you’ll both be moderately happy and mostly sexually compatible and have enough in common to make a pretty decent life out of a pretty bizarre and unbalanced decision.
But the chances of ending up with that ending to your story are pretty slim—and after my marriage ended, the stories of unhappy marriages launched on these terms started coming to me out of the woodwork. Our pastors and parents may adore Dannah Gresh, Josh Harris, and the Ludys, but those relationship and purity gurus are the lucky ones selling their stories through books and speaking events. They do not represent the vast majority of American Christians, and while they mean well, their idyllic solutions have shortchanged most people who bought into their system out of blind trust.
So, as a divorced woman who did everything right by the assumptions of that system and found that it was full of empty promises and bad hermeneutics, I dare you to think for yourself about your sexuality and your beliefs. Put down the gun—stop playing Russian roulette with your life on someone else’s word.
*Consent requires consent of all parties affected, so naturally, if you’re married and assuming that your marriage means exclusive sexual fidelity to your spouse, then you don’t cheat. Likewise if you’re in a relationship and the terms of the relationship mean that your girlfriend/spouse/partner/fiancé isn’t comfortable with you having close friendships with members of the gender that you’re attracted to sexually, then you honor those boundaries and act in a way that respects your partner’s comfort zone.
**In either scenario, young adults, who are pushed and urged to be mature and wise because that’s godly, are still socially seen and treated as children—and I think that, subconsciously, sexual experience functions as the only real coming of age signifier in this Christian subculture, which is an entirely different subject, but one that also ought to be scrutinized for bullshit.
33 thoughts on “IR: Sex, Divorce, and Good Christian Kids”
I can barely read articles about the ~true love waits~ culture without wanting to cry. I wonder how many people have to be broken by it before all these Christians get a clue.
Thanks for speaking out against it.
Hannah I appreciate this on so many levels. I wish I’d read this as a single, pregnant 24 year old who just started following Christ and was probably more moved by shame than anything else to accept purity. I mean I was already “damaged goods” according to the culture where these lies come from.
Also if you do totally 100% wait. Your parents, pastors and youth group leaders are lying to you. Your wedding night sex will not be this amazing thing because how do you cross from sex is bad to HELL YEAH in 24 hours.
I love you!
What’s the emoticon for a fist pump?
Thanks for being honest about this subject. And who cares if you are divorced? The idea that divorce disqualifies you from offering real insight into love and marriage is just another line of fundamentalist crap.
I love this post so much. Fear of human sexuality shaped so much of my childhood and young adult life. It has, undoubtedly, caused real damage in my relationships with the opposite sex and with my parents. And the guilt of some “mistakes” (because “transgression” and “sin” and “mistake” was the only vocabulary I had) kept me from growing up – in the good ways.
And what about birth control? How many of us learned that birth control was the ultimate sign of deviancy and irresponsibility? Or learned about it at all? I felt so guilty about sex, I wouldn’t have dreamed of employing something so premeditated. For some of us, our guilt played a direct role in realizing our (or our parents?) worst fears.
Now I’m married, and the fears present in my upbringing are a part of my story. And damn, I wish they weren’t. But we’re working together, and I think we’ll be ok.
One small nit: let’s not let Josh Harris et al. define “lucky ones.” They perpetuate a lie. And from my totally scientific study of Facebook and the news, the odds that his real life is anything akin to his presentation of marriage is completely dubious.
I liked several things about this post, but was a little bothered by this portion of the consent footnote: “Likewise if you’re in a relationship and the terms of the relationship mean that your girlfriend/spouse/partner/fiancé isn’t comfortable with you having close friendships with members of the gender that you’re attracted to sexually, then you honor those boundaries and act in a way that respects your partner’s comfort zone.” To be honest, if your partner acts like this, they probably have some major insecurities that need to be resolved, and not just by you silently capitulating to this unreasonable demand. It’s possible that they’re also a possessive asshole. Although boundary discussions are always important, this particular issue sounds like a problem with your partner, not a problem with you not honoring boundaries. Also, congratulations all bisexual people married to this sort of partner: you now can have no close friends.
While I respect your position and particularly empathize with your experience of divorce, I have to respectfully disagree with this article. I’m Christian, and one very good reason that my religion advocates no sex before marriage is because (gasp!) sex can lead to babies. My church focuses on families and believes strongly that the best possible environment for children to be raised in is the one where their mother and father have both still stuck around. The best chance of that happening is when the parents have committed to each other, such as through marriage.
Going around and freely having sex with a bunch of different boys pre-marriage may make me feel at one with my sexuality, but it could also leave me a single mum. Or having to face the gut-wrenching choices of abortion or adoption. Or simply just having to deal with being dumped the next day to a boy whom I was emotionally attached to, but that I mean nothing to. No, thank you.
You stated in your article that these Christian newlyweds “aren’t really all that dependable, and we’re actually pretty selfish and immature.” I’m assuming that we’re still like this outside of marriage, which would mean that the course of action you’re advocating is undependable, selfish, immature people going around having sex with other undependable, selfish, immature people, and that simply doesn’t make sense.
You also mentioned that the reason many of these marriages fail is because people enter them based on some sort of horny celibacy, but I bet that just as many fail because couples did nothing but have sex before marriage and then worked out later that they weren’t compatible.
Not having sex isn’t denying our sexuality. Being afraid of sex IS, and this is where I think the answer to the issue that you’ve identified above lies. There is definitely virtue in wanting to remain a virgin until marriage, but churches need to be a lot more clear and open in what they teach about sex. I personally hated the Sunday School lessons that taught that sex was this big, bad, terrible thing in order to encourage abstinence–because guess what? Sex ISN’T terrible. It’s a wonderful, meaningful thing to share with someone that you love. It’s a gift from God that allows us to procreate. It’s such a blessing if both parties are on the same page and are ready to enjoy sex–and all the consequences that may follow–together.
I think that sort of thinking needs to be taught a lot more in churches, rather than just “no sex.” It also needs to be supplemented with teachings that help Christians grow as people, so that they make decisions such as marriage from a mature, more realistic perspective (not the Disney perspective). And then… then they need to learn that sometimes mistakes happen–you might marry someone who turns out to be abusive, or controlling, or just a bad person. You might have to get a divorce, but THAT’S OKAY. It doesn’t mean God loves you any less or that you did anything wrong; it just means you have another experience in your life to learn from. I think all of these things are so important to learn, but they ALL need to be focused on, rather than just putting a “go have sex” label on the situation.
I see you and this chap having a debate: http://mattsvo.com/2014/01/07/get-married-before-you-turn-23/
Now I know hope people were getting to my site from here. 🙂
I would be happy to have some type of cordial dialogue with Hannah if she would be up for it. We have very different views and come from very different perspectives, but a lot of times that is the type of conversation that needs to happen… rather than talking past each other.
And I am enjoying both sites. Sometimes it is precisely reading multiple sides of the story that allows one to come to an understanding of what they believe as an individual instead of regurgitating what they were taught.
Okay. So? Babies are loved and well taken care of when their parents aren’t married. Some of their parents cohabitate. Some of them have single moms. Both options work. Also, BIRTH CONTROL.
This is kind of a straw man, particularly in the context of this article. Hännah never says “freely have sex with a bunch of different boys before you get married!” Also, this is assuming that freely having sex with a bunch of different boys necessarily means horrible things will happen which would of course mean that choice of action was bad. Horrible things happen in life. That’s unavoidable. Even when doing things the “right” way, you lose friends, maybe you lose children, maybe you go through a divorce, maybe you have to have an abortion in order to not die yourself, maybe a parent dies. This is a big part of why I don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to go about things (unless we’re talking about being manipulative and abusive, in which case, yeah, definitely a wrong way to go about things). The Golden Rule can still apply when one has had multiple sexual partners, or multiple romantic interests, or multiple friends, or multiple parents, or multiple children. Do you see what I’m getting at here? Life is messy by default. If you choose to only have one sexual partner with whom you don’t copulate until marriage and that works for you, fantastic — but that doesn’t make it The Right Decision For Everyone Ever.
This confuses me greatly. Of course, there’s always a honeymoon period when first having sex with a new partner. I don’t think having sex is going to rush people to matrimony blinded by the lust their sex has created somehow, then discovered they’re not compatible — UNLESS they’ve been brought up with the idea that sex is binding and thus they must marry no matter what. Sex outside of marriage isn’t a holy grail or a horrible thing. When in a relationship with someone, it becomes another part of the relationship, not the whole. If sex is The Defining Part of the relationship, married or not, of course it’s going to be unbalanced and not okay. But I often wish my now-husband and I weren’t so burdened by our “sin” of premarital sex so we could have gotten that part of our relationship figured out before we got married rather than having sex once and feeling like the fires of hell were going to engulf us at any moment. The first couple years of our marriage were ROUGH with relationship things that we might have figured out if we hadn’t been so focused on not-having-sex-anymore-before-marriage as the sole indicator of the health of our relationship in God’s eyes and the eyes of our parents and mentors and peers.
This paragraph is a conglomerate of feelings for me. I agree that not having sex isn’t denying our sexuality. I don’t think anyone is saying it necessarily is (though it certainly CAN be). Being afraid of sex is absolutely a huge problem, and that’s what abstinence teaching almost always creates in its students. Churches do need to be a lot more open and clear about what they teach about sex. Namely, CONSENT, which is a concept I didn’t understand until my mid-twenties (thanks, Christianity!). I don’t know about sex being a gift from God, since I don’t really believe in God anymore, though I do like to think that if there is a God of course He made sex awesome. And yes, procreating is great and often a blessing. But it’s not always a blessing. And it’s also not always possible. Not all couples are heterosexual fertile couples. I, for one, am likely unable to have children.
See? I LOVE this! Why can’t this sort of thinking be applied to sex outside of marriage? Especially since, as Hännah said, the way the church currently treats sex makes sex the biggest indicator of whether or not a person is trustworthy, rather than them being ACTUALLY trustworthy. That one trait is elevated above almost all others (with the exception of being unequally yoked which is another discussion for another time) to the point that you really might marry an abusive controlling or bad person — which you might have known if you hadn’t been socialized to focus on “no sex before marriage!” as the best possible common denominator you could have with a potential marriage partner.
Birth control is a thing.
It seems like you’re making the following points in your argument:
1) Good Christian Kids are running into marriages that are often wrong for them based on an overwhelming focus on The Need To Not Have Sex put forth by the church.
2) The answer to this problem (e.g., to help Good Christian Kids avoid unnecessary and painful divorces caused primarily by the Christian myth that waiting until marriage will lead to a divine marriage) is for them to “have sex already.”
3) The Bible doesn’t actually say to abstain until marriage/Christian culture over-values virginity at marriage.
4) If you give in and have sex while still trying to be a Good Christian Kid, you’ll be overwhelmed with guilt and shame as a result of buying into the whole myth.
Okay, let’s take these one by one:
1) I agree with you that many people run into marriage too quickly—Christians and non-Christians alike. In many cases, for the Christians, it can be because they want to eliminate temptation (in the form of sex). So yes, this is a fair point.
2) I don’t agree with you that “have sex already” is the answer. Have a look around at the marriage culture today. I would wager that the great majority of people today are having sex before marriage, and probably the great majority of them are NOT Christian, so they’re probably not feeling guilty over it, either. But guess what? The divorce rate is through the roof. Having guilt-free premarital sex may sound nice and cheery, with the added bonus of being true to one’s own feelings, but on its own IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE to whether or not a marriage will succeed or not.
Do I know what the answer should be? Not really, but I have a few ideas. Primarily they revolve around helping people mature from experience and being honest about the consequences of either course of action. Because the consequences can be as follows:
If you choose to abstain until marriage:
– You might rush into a bad marriage based on “horny celibacy.” Yep, that’s an option.
– You might rush into marriage and have it be FANTASTIC.
– You might not rush into marriage (be that odd Christian Kid who actually dates for a year or two before marriage… novel thought! :D), and eventually have a fantastic marriage.
– You might not rush into marriage, but your spouse might still turn out to be a jerk.
– Your kids will be born into a marriage covenant. Doesn’t mean your husband won’t be a jerk and leave you one day, but it does mean the kids will initially be born into an environment where their parents are both committed to each other and to the kids.
If you choose to have sex before marriage:
– You probably won’t rush into marriage, and you will probably have a better idea of who your spouse is before you get married.
– You might not rush into marriage, but eventually get married and only THEN find out your spouse is a jerk.
– Birth control could fail. You might fall pregnant and have either your partner leave you or have to face the choices of abortion or adoption.
– You run the risk of STDs due to having multiple partners.
– You run the risk of having your ex-partners gossip about you (this goes for both genders)
– Heck, you might just choose to have sex and then have it be an incredibly awkward experience with that person afterward. Because sex is messy and bizarre and new, and if you and your partner aren’t committed to each other, that could definitely lead to awkwardness and tension.
I think it’s important to have a FULL conversation about sex with today’s youth. They could make the decision to go either way, but they should be fully informed and prepared to deal with the consequences whichever way it goes. I do agree that sex within marriage gets the whole “Disneyland” treatment from churches, but I think the argument that you’re making in the above post kind of gives the “Disneyland” treatment to sex before marriage, because you haven’t mentioned any of the possible UNFAVORABLE consequences to this action. Basically, I think both courses of action have good or bad sides to them, and I think the most productive discussion involves a full consideration of all of these points.
But back to the original point—like I’ve said, I don’t think focusing on abstaining/having sex is the solution to this problem. I think it needs to be a combination of a lot of different factors, like realizing that marriage is hard work, primarily selfless, and NOT there just for your own personal satisfaction, to be discarded when you’re not getting something out of it. I think if more emphasis was placed on teaching these things and on learning about different personalities and what we’re compatible with in another person—AND the warning signs of abuse/control, to just run away from regardless—that would do a lot more to decrease the risk of potential divorce.
3) Well, to start with, one of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” What constitutes adultery isn’t defined in this passage, though, and has been the subject of debate. Hebrews 13:4 says “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral,” which gives a bit more perspective—if we’re having premarital sex, is our marriage bed pure? Exodus 22:4 says “If a man seduced a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife,” which to me is a pretty good indication that sex is something that is intended to be kept within the bonds of marriage.
But mostly I think the Bible is in favor of abstinence before marriage because much of its emphasis is on overriding the temptations of our fallen or carnal state and coming closer to God through developing control over our bodily temptations. It’s not an impossible or even a bad thing to control sexual urges, particularly if you see sex as more than just a selfish bodily satisfaction for you, but rather an expression of highest love to the person that you have chosen to dedicate yourself to 100%. This blogger says it really well: http://lifewithyoublog.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/question-does-the-bible-really-say-no-sex-before-marriage/. In this situation, your decision for who you marry is based on factors totally other than sex (note: I’m not saying here that you shouldn’t be sexually attracted to your parter. You should. I’m just saying that the decision to marry should be based on other factors, as well). It removes sex from being a selfish thing, fueled by our carnal nature, and places it in a higher position, a chance for you to truly display your commitment to and love for your chosen partner… which is, I believe, where God intended it to be.
4) Okay, this part really bothered me because honestly I don’t believe shame should have ANY part in any of this. Christianity isn’t saying “come be a Christian so you can feel guilty about your sins!” when we know that EVERY ONE of us is going to sin. Christianity is a GOOD news gospel—and why? Because one of the key tenets is the fact that repentance and subsequent cleanliness from sins is possible because Christ took His sins upon us and suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross for us. The whole point is that we DON’T have to live in shame, but that we have a way to repent of the mistakes that we will inevitably make, learn from life which will inevitably be messy, and ultimately, after all our experience, hopefully end up better people and closer to God. Any Christian religion that is more focused on rules and regulations and guilt than actually teaching the point of what Christ did for us is missing the point, and I would run from that immediately.
I think a lot of the issues that may arise from Good Christian Kids making marital mistakes because of “the rules” is if church teachings such as these are being ignored. It sounds like, from your post, the emphasis is totally on the rules and not the principles behind the rules. If churches are teaching abstinence before marriage, WHY are they teaching that? What’s the point? This is another discussion that needs to be had before kids can make up their mind one way or the other whether or not to have sex. If there’s a greater purpose behind sex, behind marriage, they might look at things differently—particularly their choice of a marital partner—and avoid the mistakes you’ve described above.
Wow, long post! Ultimately I think there’s more to this than just saying “have sex.” I think an open, honest discussion about ALL the different factors needs to take place in order to give anyone the best chance at avoiding messy marital mistakes. What are your thoughts? I’d be very open to a frank and respectful discussion about all this! It’s always interesting to learn other people’s opinions 🙂
Excellent rebuttal. I think the problem is not whether a couple does or does not have sex prior to marriage. The problem is that marriage is defined as being 90% about sex. Throw in stifling gender roles that very few people fit into and the tension that trying to fit in them can produce and add a heaping dose of the bizarre notion that men and women can’t be friends in any way…young Christian couples are set up to see each other as sex partners that must fit into a box of roles in all other areas of life. Marriage is much more complex than that and requires companionship and teamwork above all else. My husband and I did not have sex prior to marriage–even having married comparatively late in terms of age–five years into marriage and seven years together, we have an excellent relationship based on a deep friendship. And our sex life is just fine, too.
I totally agree that “have sex already” isn’t a universal answer. I can’t think of many universal answers, actually. But when “don’t have sex” becomes the centerpiece of your entire life – your happiness, sadness, pride, and shame are all measured with respect to the “don’t have sex” directive, maybe “have sex already” is the answer.
You don’t have to subscribe to moral relativism in order to believe in relative culpability. In some cases, and with regard to some “sins,” it would be better to commit the “sin” than to continue to destroy your life by wrongly idolizing a false ideal.
“I don’t agree with you that “have sex already” is the answer. Have a
look around at the marriage culture today. I would wager that the great
majority of people today are having sex before marriage, and probably
the great majority of them are NOT Christian, so they’re probably not
feeling guilty over it, either. But guess what? The divorce rate is
through the roof.”
Just wanted to point out that about 80% of Americans identify as Christian, and over 90% of people have sex before marriage. Not sure how many feel guilty about it. Atheists do tend to have one of the lowest rates of divorce, though, for what it’s worth.
I liked a lot of what you said and don’t have a whole lot of input on this discussion yet, since I’m still trying to figure relationships out. For me, I want to avoid financial dependence on my future spouse, I want to make sure there is a great deal of respect both ways in our relationship, and I want us to consider ourselves partners rather than examples of gender roles. Besides that, we shall see.
“Divorce rates are through the roof”
Not so fast: Bindley, Katherine (December 22, 2011). “Marriage Rates: Divorce Fears To Blame For Low Rates?”.
In addition to what some others have said here; I would add the following caveat to your answer to point #2. The divorce rate in the church is now higher than outside of it, so I think that speaks volumes against the “Let’s keep premarital abstinence” argument here. Theological perspectives on what scripture actually says and doesn’t say varies from person to person, but the evidence suggests that our Christian purity culture isn’t working. Having said that, I do think you’re right that there is more to it than just the sex, but I also think the taboo in Christian culture is a big part of (and perhaps the majority of) the problem.
The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result.
Because I am a regular reader of your blog, I read this essay in light
of your other essays, in which you have rightly pointed out so much that
is wrong with patriarchal
and fundamentalist Christian culture. You are a wonderful communicator and I so enjoy and appreciate your gift.
recommendation that “Good Christian Kids” in essence, throw off the
shackles of dysfunctional religious teaching to enjoy private,
consensual sex is serious and problematic, however.
But let me first note the parts of your essay where I believe you have correctly nailed it:
Christian kids shouldn’t make a marriage decision based on sexual tension. Agreed.
Too many people don’t listen to their gut instincts about a potential marriage partner. Sadly true.
are also correct in pointing out that the Bible doesn’t say that “God’s
best plan for your life is to be a virgin when you get married.” God’s
best plan for my life is to wholeheartedly pursue Him, love Him, and
obey Him. Period. The elevation and worship of virginity is, I believe, a
fundamentalist carryover from Victorian thought. (But that doesn’t mean
that there is no value in purity.)
Our fulfillment – our “best
plan” – is realized in a life characterized by worship, adoration and
obedience to all that Christ commands. According to Jesus, it is in
“losing our life for His sake” that we find it.
There are many,
many Scriptures that directly and unequivocally urge Christians to
resist lust, flee fornication, keep themselves pure, and pursue holiness
in all areas. There is no need to debate the historical context of
Paul’s “burn with passion” advice when there are so many clear and
unambiguous calls to holiness in Scripture — 1 Cor. 6:18, Galatians
5:19, 1 Corinthians 6:13, and Colossians 3:5, to name a few.
5:5 states, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or
impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in
the kingdom of Christ and God.”
In the well-known parable of the
man who built his house on the rock versus the one who built his house
on the sand, it is worth pointing out that both were hearers of Christ’s
words. Jesus said that only the one who hears His words and does them,
will survive the storm. You and others have courageously pointed out
many areas of dysfunction in Christian patriarchal and fundamentalist
culture, but it would be a tragedy if, in all of your excellent
analysis, you missed the beauty of the narrow-road life with Christ, the
hard-but-simple way that leads to eternal life. (Matt. 7:13-14)
as Beth pointed out so well in her comment, a “Christianity” that
elevates rules but misses relationship with Christ is no “good news” at
all. Jesus is the source of life, joy, forgiveness, relationship and
Oh dear. Hännah, thank you for this post. It brought up a lot of emotions for me.
I’m really struggling with what to think of all this. I do still believe that God would like us to be celibate before marriage. But there are all these problems, like Christian people who’ve had sex (usually somewhat unintentionally) feeling that they have to get married, and other Christians getting married with no idea of sexual compatibility, or rushing into marriage to prevent themselves from ‘spiritual suicide by pre-marital sex’ (excellent and too-true description of how so many of us think, there).
Just yesterday I was thinking unhappily about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, and what I want future relationships to be like. We dated for several years, and were physically intimate in ways that both of us had wanted to wait for marriage for. And we, particularly I, went through a lot of guilt and shame over that. For a while, when I was considering breaking up with him, I was held back by the memory of that intimacy (even though we’d never had sex). I was scared that no other good Christian guy would want to be with me. That fear is an awful place to be in, and I am sad to think of how many other young Christians might stay with their significant other because of fear.
Fortunately I dealt with that (okay, it sort of went away as our relationship began to fail in other ways) and finally broke up with my ex.
I’ve been single for a couple months now, and I’ve been thinking about what I’d want in a future partner. I wanted someone who would be able to resist crossing our mutual sexual boundaries, because I tend to follow my partner’s lead: if they don’t want to kiss, I won’t kiss. If they want to go way farther than that, I’ll usually go along with that too. It sucks, but that’s how I am right now.
But as aforementioned, I was thinking about that, and what would happen if I were with someone who didn’t want to go any farther than kissing, or didn’t want to talk about sex. It made me sad, because I really appreciated being able to share desires with my ex, and talk about what we wanted. (And yet I felt guilty about that.) So–I’m asking myself, do I have to decide between knowing we’re sexually compatible, and being ‘pure’ and not feeling guilty?
I do think that just going ahead and having sex (within a serious relationship) MIGHT help–but I think for me, at this point, it would just lead to horrible shame and guilt. And I don’t think I can get rid of that guilt unless I really think God would be pleased with pre-marital sex–which I don’t, sadly. It is hard to figure this out 🙁 But thank you again for your post.
While I appreciate the honesty in your post. The answer to GCK ‘s is certainly not: “hey, let live and have sex as long as you’re in a committed relationship intending to marry each other. I understand how it feels to be a minister’s daughter, raised in church and have life kick you in the gut and fall apart, crashing all around you and leaving you questioning the fabric of your existence. This doesn’t mean everything is a lie. The emotional damage that so many have endured because of bringing sex into a pre-marital situation cannot be overlooked. Sex isn’t the answer. Rather an honest evaluation of your relationship and what’s going on.
If people would be honest a little more than once in a while, perhaps we wouldn’t have to marry jerks (we’d be provided the opportunity to make an informed decision) and feel obligated to “make it work” when we can only ever be responsible for changing ourselves
In conclusion: blogs are out there. They are not journals in which we write and wrestle with our thoughts. They are not discussions and debates with friends and family who love us regardless of what we think. They are public; and sometimes we need to care about protecting others’ hearts and thoughts when we put it our opinions out there. In a few years or months our opinions could very well change.
You said it, Hannah. I’ve spent years watching relationships form in the extreme-purity culture, both in the homeschooling/courtship movement and in a mainstream church where the young adults were obsessed with sexual rules and gender roles. Sexuality is viewed as a dangerous, separate part of oneself that must be kept somewhere in a box and is defined purely by physical acts. The quality of a relationship is determined by whether or not sexual intercourse is involved. As a result, all relationships–both romantic and non-romantic–become limited, selfish, and immature. I’m sad that you were hurt by this culture. I was too, though in different ways. It’s so exciting to see discussions like this one taking place–I hope it leads to healthier, more mature and satisfying relationships for all of us. Thanks for speaking out courageously!
Would it be weird if I sent this article to my mom? I came out to her about a year ago, and she wants to know why I want to be in a homosexual relationship…all this applies. ESPECIALLY because I CAN’T GET MARRIED. Gah.
I think overall evangelical culture has gotten the idea that they have life figured out, and if you just play by the rules, you will avoid problems like divorce. The corolary is that if something bad happens, you must have done something wrong. I think a big part of this is priviledge, and evangelicals don’t realize it. Evangelicalism is overwhelmingly middle class, white, ect. Christianity began among the poor and marginalized, and something is lost when it becomes wedded to priviledge.
“Likewise if you’re in a relationship and the terms of the relationship
mean that your girlfriend/spouse/partner/fiancé isn’t comfortable with
you having close friendships with members of the gender that you’re
attracted to sexually, then you honor those boundaries and act in a way
that respects your partner’s comfort zone.”
No. A thousand, million times no. That is a gigantic red flag that there is a major problem with your relationship. Attempting to cut you off from your different gender friends is one of the most common early-relationship tactics of abusive partners. If your partner is so insecure and/or possessive that they see friendships as a problem simply because of the genders of the people involved, that relationship is a trainwreck that you need to bail out of as soon as possible.
If your partner tries to get you to cut ties with your friends and not make ones, run. Do not pause, do not pass go, pull on your running shoes and go.
Oh, HI. I’ve been AWOL on comments, sorry, my dear readers.
So: yes, you and otherechoes (below) caught this, and you’re both right. There’s a red flag re: abuse/codependency here, and I meant this a lot more tamely than you both took it, but I’m glad you mentioned it.
Yes: if your partner is doing this, something is WRONG and you are not to blame. Counseling is good, leaving is probably appropriate, etc. But, what I meant by all that is: you compromise and respect your partner in a healthy relationship, full stop.
If your partner is controlling and irrationally demanding regarding your other relationships, something is wrong and you should get help and set up healthy boundaries.
Well said. Purity culture treats sex as a bigger deal than marriage.
You know, “good Christians” always say that people who have premarital sex don’t value marriage, but maybe they actually value marriage enough to know it’s a big decision and it shouldn’t be rushed by “horny celibacy.”
Wow. I so appreciate this. Wish I had read it about 10 years ago, haha.
Preach! Damn well said.
Here’s Matthew Henry on the subject:
“But, if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than
to burn. This is God’s remedy for lust. The fire may be quenched by the
means he has appointed. And marriage, with all its inconveniences, is much
better than to burn with impure and lustful desires. Marriage is honourable
in all; but it is a duty in those who cannot contain nor conquer those
I tend to agree with Henry; Paul is not necessarily saying “fornication” because there is a word for that. He’s rather, per Matthew 5:27-28, saying that when you start to lust after another, might as well get married so that sex drive is Biblical.
Part of what you’re getting at, I think is that many Christians approach this issue legalistically, instead of (per Ephesians 5) as a picture of God’s grace to us. So we take it all too seriously but not seriously enough, and veering into legalism is just as harmful as license. That doesn’t make one the remedy for the other, though.