Old Joke: Why does your church ban sex standing up? Because it might lead to dancing.
For those too young to get that joke: Many churches considered dancing a sin that would lead to promiscuous sex.
A recent NYT article outlines the dilemma that evangelicals face around premarital sex: Do we move with the times, or does celibacy outside of marriage promote healthy sex in marriage, and better mental health over all?
The theory goes like this:
- God instituted marriage as the healthy way to express sexuality, to join a man and woman together sexually. The most quoted passage in the Bible by Jesus and NT writers is “In the beginning God created them male and female. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh‘?”
- This promotes physical health (less STDs), mental health (less trauma), and more intimacy between husband and wife.
- There is less abortion when sex is reserved for marriage.
- Sex before marriage promotes disease, mental disorders (especially among women), and dilutes the intimacy later in marriage. It also promotes infidelity later in marriage.
- Pornography does the same thing sex before marriage does.
- Half of evangelical churches include masturbation as sinful as well.
- Conservative Catholics elevate the virginity of Mary, and view celibacy as especially holy, and sex as carnal, causing infants to be born in sin. The latter is not Catholic doctrine, but is definitely a Catholic myth.
What is the truth about these claims?
- It is true that sex promotes a healthy marriage, and the fewer previous partners one has had before marriage, the better the sex is in marriage. A Redbook survewy in the 1980s reported that women who were having the most orgasms per week were in their 50s, in a long marriage and had had few sex partners.
- It is true that there is less abortion among married women. Though older married women are the second highest group that have abortions.
- Sexual promiscuity does promote STDs, affects women to have similar symptoms as rape victims, and sometimes dillutes the intimacy of sex in marriage.
- Research on porn indicates it promotes less intimacy. However 70% of evangelical men use porn and perhaps 40% of women.
- Almost everyone masturbates whether they believe it is sinful or not.
- Have about the same level of premarital sex as non-evangelicals, though they tend to wait about 6 months longer to start having sex (average age 16).
- Evangelicals who wait until marriage are not more mentally healthy than their counterparts, and they do not have better sex in marriage than their counterparts who did not wait. The Christians that are successful in waiting until marriage often have homosexual orientations, and thus it was easy for them to shun heterosexual sex before becoming heterosexually married.
Evangelical writers sometimes point to the past or to the Amish as examples of healthy marriages where there is no premarital sex.
- Those writers are not really familiar with the Amish, and don’t know how much premarital sex the Amish are having, or how healthy their marriages are. They are relying on a romanticized view of religious people working on farms in old fashioned clothing, driving buggies.
- We do not live in closed communities. Evangelicals, in an effort to protect our children from sexual immorality, have established private Christian schools and colleges, have established church youth groups, and invite speakers to come and convince our teens to save themselves for marriage. One of the most famous speakers has repented for discouraging teens with his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodby”, is separated from his wife, and no longer calls himself a Christian.
Evangelicals who have been successful in getting teens to wait until marriage:
- Have strong support groups for their teens, especially the young men.
- Encourage their teens to get married much younger than the general public: at age 18-21yo.
- Have high divorce rates.
Another argument that evangelicals and fundamentalists make is that it doesn’t matter whether saving oneself for marriage helps or hinders, it just is a rule that God made and we have to keep it. This argument doesn’t make much sense. Under the Law of Moses rules were laid down with not much justification, but in the New Testament every rule is given a justification, the writer attempting to persuade the reader. (Interestingly the rules about rape and adultery in the Law of Moses were the most progressive for women of that time.)
The rules about sex were given:
- In an era when women had very little power.
- When pregnant women and women with children needed a lot of support (they still do today).
- When there was very little birth control that was reliable. Every era has had access to birth control, with varying degrees of reliability.
- When the most successful child rearing happened in intact mother-father families (still the case today).
Concerns that everyone has are:
- Women still tend to get hurt more than men in dating relationships and in hook-up culture.
- Women still have more to lose in a promiscuous culture that leaves her to raise her children alone.