Most people have a viewpoint or opinion on premarital sex, abstinence or “waiting to have sex after marriage.” Christians are no different.
The generally accepted Christian viewpoint is that premarital sex is a sin. But why? As one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” drops from Moses’ lips in Exodus 20:14, the taboo of premarital sex is etched in stone. But it is confusing, as the term adultery today, does not mean what it meant in the Old Testament.
During the time of the Old testament, adultery meant “do not touch what you haven’t entered into a marriage relationship with” and was applicable to both men and women. The word “adultery” in this context was also used in the same way as to commit fornication. When God gave the commandment through Moses, he meant to abstain from any sexual relationship outside of marriage. This is an important distinction from cheating on a spouse within marriage, which is the familiar meaning for most of us today.
Religion often plays a role in determining one’s view on the subject of sex, whether it’s in agreement with God’s position on premarital sex or not. Some see religion as trying to dictate their lives, telling them sexuality is a bad thing, ruling over their sexual decision making. Others see it as a safe haven, shielding them future pain, helping them avoid intimacy or vulnerability, or adding a layer of protection over something sacred. As each person is so unique, it’s difficult to assume that an individual’s decision would even share a corporate moral standard, even a Christian one. We are bombarded by sex every single day, so much so, that most have become desensitized to it. Billboards, commercials, TV shows, movies, and magazines, the list is never ending. Our society depicts premarital sex as being normal and totally acceptable. But according to God in Exodus, it is not acceptable. But is that decision to punish or protect?
Many perceive that if you’re not a Christian, you view sex as something that’s loose or casual and not saved for a single monogamous partner. Others perceive that if you are a Christian, you’re strict and rigid when it comes to your sexuality, you avoid your sexual desires entirely and reserve sex for a marriage relationship. But in real life the lines are often blurry, as even others believe sexual intimacy should be saved for the context of commitment but not necessarily marriage. Also the very definition of “having sex” is changed to accommodate our human desires, maybe to keep a clear conscience, maybe to do what we feel incapable of stopping.
Does the Bible say more about sex before marriage?
Premarital sex is fine. Sex, sex all the time. Whenever and with whomever.
Everybody’s doing it. It’s a normal bodily need, like food or water.
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. –1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (NIV)
What exactly is sexual immorality? The original Greek word is porneia, meaning illicit sexual intercourse, including adultery, fornication, homosexual activity, intercourse with close relatives or intercourse with animals. Anything unlawful, unnatural or extramarital.
In his book Sex God, Rob Bell explores the connections between sexuality and spirituality. He explains our sexuality between the parallels of animals and angels. An animal, he explains, would be the person that simply chalks up our desire for sex through primal instinct, as if it is the base nature of our behavior we simply accept because it’s part of who we are. We have a desire, hence we fill it. Bell explains, “In the ancient Greek world, people used a phrase to describe the understanding of what it meant to be human. They would say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for the food.’ They understood a person to be a collection of physical needs – you’re hungry and there’s food to satisfy your hunger, you’re tired and there’s sleep. They concluded that sex is just like food, so when a man was ‘hungry,’ he would go to a prostitute saying, ‘food for the stomach…
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 implies that viewing sex as simply a need to fill is entirely superficial and not beneficial, because it does not include God, nor honor him. God created us, so it is for his glory that we should act. Sex outside of marriage is in a sense outside of God. And if we were to follow our earthly desires, we would not be
following his holy ones.
Not to say that marriage is perfect, but there are additional risks that come from this kind of position, such as sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy and added emotional turmoil from ended relationships.
Some people say sex is fine if you’re in love or in a committed relationship or once you’re engaged.
“Honestly, I think it is okay only with the mindset that you are serious about the person and vice versa. That it is understood that you and him are exclusive to each other and can possibly see a long future together.” –Kristin
Some say sex will draw you closer in love, or that it is not directly going against God, but rather he’d simply prefer it if you waited for marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:36-38 (NIV), “If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.”
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” –Genesis 2:24 (NIV)
Marriage is defined by God as two becoming one. When consummating a relationship, a man and woman are combined in mind, body and spirit. This powerful act is reserved for marriage, because in many ways it is marriage – the two become one. You could argue that having sex is what does in fact unite you in marriage, but it’s just not legally binding or socially recognized. The problem is that sex is not the only part of “two becoming one”. There is emotional and spiritual connection that lingers, as it should in a marriage relationship. But those who don’t stay together after sex are ripped apart spiritually, because the two were made one by God through sex and now no longer are involved. This is the damage that is done from considering love the only requirement for sex. Of course, some people’s promises of commitment without marriage are kept, but many more promises are broken or people fall out of love. At least with marriage, a legal binding of mutual commitment, there is additional support for a lasting union.
Though rare, there are Christians who believe that the definition of marriage has changed since Biblical times. According to research displayed in sources such as Marilyn B. Skinner’s Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture, and F.R. Cowell’s Life in Ancient Rome: Absorbing Social History—A Vivid Portrait of a Magnificent Age, marriage in its earliest form wasn’t an issue that democracy or organized government dictated the difference between. Rather, it was the definition of marriage at its roots that simply stood for an unconditional love between two people: A love so strong and binding, it was the love that made the two people committed to one another for life. There was no legally binding document setting them apart from others in the community, formally dividing their married or unmarried, it was simply “Love”. Marriage was determined by the act of sex itself—not a legal document stating that now the two could “have each other”. The only issue with this argument is that there seems to be some form of a marriage ceremony found in almost every culture around the world, formally separating the “married” from the “unmarried”–there was some public recognition and endorsement of the community. Even this idea of “love” binding two people together still recognizes that having a sexual partner was meant to connect two individuals in marriage. The commitment through sexual intimacy that one would make in the past takes us to the ceremonious idea of marriage the happens in the present.
It’s difficult to base our view of sex-before-marriage singularly on our interpretation of marriage over the centuries. All we can do is simply look at God’s written word in the Bible and rely on His perspective of marriage and sexual intimacy. From the Scriptures it seems clear that there is a difference between “making love” and being “united in marriage” in the eyes of God. No matter the differences in opinion of the definition of marriage, it still requires a “union of love” under God and a public recognition and endorsement from the community.
Fooling around is okay, as long as you don’t have full-on sex.
The majority agree that sex is intercourse and intercourse is penetration. But there are also some gray areas for many people. What about other forms of sex? What really constitutes sex before marriage? Is dry sex breaking God’s commandment? How about fondling or other forms of intentional sexual arousal? How about oral sex? Is that too what God considered adultery of the mind and body? Are these also improper?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” –Matthew 5:27-28
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3
Seeing dry sex or oral sex as not really sex brings in a whole slew of confusion. In some ways viewing premarital sex in this way is simply risky, staring natural sexual desire in the face and taunting it. It is a dangerous temptation that many are unable to resist, throwing out the “it just happened” card. Lust is a very real and powerful tool used by Satan to create chaos among our God-centered ideals and fooling around is in many ways an accident waiting to happen.
Sex is reserved for marriage only.
“I believe that it’s important to save sex for marriage in order to prevent, unnecessary grief, heart ache, guilt, regret, unwanted pregnancies, and STD’s. Sex was meant to be something that united two people, for
enjoyment and procreation. Why unite yourself, procreate or enjoy something with someone you may not spend the rest of your life with?” –Brittany
If you wait to have sex in marriage, you’ll be missing out. You won’t know if you’re compatible sexually with your future partner. Married couples don’t have great sex lives.
But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. –1 Corinthians 7:2-7
God’s design, plan, and desire for us is to be united to him and for us (except for those who are called to be celibate) to also be united, man-and-woman through marriage. God knows our desire for a sexual relationship–and more importantly, for a meaningful relationship–and designed us that way. To give us both, God desires for us to put Him first as our meaningful relationship and to do that, He call us to remain faithful, to put ourselves and our human desires aside to follow His commandments. At some point it will also be time to unite wholly with another human being “and the two shall become one.”
Believe It Or Not: There’s More To Life Than Sex
For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. -1 John 2:16-17 (NIV)
People seek sex for connection, pleasure and fulfillment. The problem is as Christians, our fulfillment is supposed to come from God. On a basic level, sex connects you emotionally and physically with a person. On a spiritual level, sex connects you emotionally and physically with another person, but also with God. The vulnerability and self-sacrifice and giving that is needed to really love a partner is the same offering that is given by God to every individual, a true surrender of love. It could be argued that the act of sex and the pleasure that stems from it was created by God to represent his abounding love for his creation, in addition of course to fulfilling His “go forth and multiply” command through procreation.
With God’s explicit instructions to withstand sexual immorality, lust, and meanwhile keep the marriage bed pure, it is more than about simply obeying a command. One obeys because they love God and feel that is the standard to which we are called to.
Many people think that the Christian faith is all about self-control, not living for the moment, not indulging in a season, but it is really more about love. With a desire to rather glorify God through our actions because we want to make Him proud, rather than ourselves, and we want to be able to have made the right decisions for our lives. No one wants to have a conversation with their future husband or wife about how many people they mistreated or stepped on to finally wind up where they are now. On the flip-side of things, many of us have been in the trenches; maybe you’ve been brought down by something sexually. Many Christians can speak from first hand experiences how sex outside of marriage can be a very slippery slope, only growing faster until you hit rock bottom, not to mention the sexual baggage you carry after the fact.
But for those who have lost love or were promised commitment, have had a sexual experience that wasn’t in the marriage bed, God offers insurmountable forgiveness. God loves you and would want nothing more than for you to come be loved by him. For those who want to follow God’s commandment now, regardless of your past–you can.
As Christians, we are called to conduct ourselves differently, even if that means refraining from a strong desire until God’s proper timing, in a world full of sex. Our given mission is to have the highest standard of morals for our lives and in how we treat others.
Whether or not sex before marriage is seen as acceptable by society or as a travesty by the church, as Christians our faith is that God comes first and that he ultimately knows what ‘s best for us when commanding us to stay away from sex until we are fully committed in law and in Christ to be with someone forever. Sex before marriage, they’d say, is not about denying ourselves, but rather lifting up Christ to reward us in this act, when and only when he deems it acceptable.