A Moral Issue
In a stratified civilization, many cultures form—and all of them have their own norms and taboos. The issue of sexuality must therefore be addressed by any culture.
Human sexuality is always a topic guaranteed to generate interest. Christians recognize that sex is a gift from God to mankind; however, Christians have not always thought about sex rightly.
Of course, thinking about sex rightly implies that there is also a way to wrongly think about it. If there is a right and wrong, then sex must at least touch on a moral issue.
Sexual relations involve more than just a physical action—even though many non-Christians try to pretend otherwise. For instance, sex and relationships are a factor in a great deal of violent crime because high emotions are involved.
The criminal justice system in many parts of the world has a special class of crime called “domestic violence,” which exists partially because of the particular danger and harm inflicted by abuse from a sexual or romantic partner.
Hearts are broken over being sexually used and discarded, even after a consensual encounter. Virtually all humans know that sexual intercourse is a major step in a relationship; even some of the most libertine people, therefore, reserve the sexual relationship for only when a date is going “really well.”
Sex is a procreative act. Even with contraceptives, sex is known by all parties as an action that begets babies. There is potentially a very real, physical, and permanent consequence.
Though the soul is invisible to the eye, most people are willing to admit that they view sexual relations as a very serious matter and that they consider it a moral issue—regardless of what standard they apply to it.
What is premarital sex?
In order to understand what the moral implications are of premarital sex, the phrase must be defined.
Part of understanding this notion will be determining which sexual behaviors and sexual relationships are included within the definition of premarital sex. There is some dispute on this point, but most schools of thought will at least acknowledge that vaginal intercourse is sex.
Other forms of sexual contact are sometimes debated and will be addressed later.
There are a number of views on this—and a good amount of agreement on the definition of the term itself—but this article will explore the moral classifications applied to the term. The first view to be analyzed will be the “worldly view” of premarital sex.
The next view will be the “Pharisaical view,” which will be broken into two distinct camps united by a common thread. The final view will be the biblical view of premarital sex.
Some Relevant Data
In 2015, about one-third of high school students reported being sexually experienced. The percentage of students that are sexually active rises about eight percentage points for each progressive year.
Over this period, the use of contraceptives has risen; meanwhile, birth rates and abortion rates have also been declining. Race has an effect on sexual activity as well; black students appear to be more sexually active at younger ages than white and Hispanic students.
There were several associated risk factors that affected the likelihood of a young person engaging in premarital sexual behavior. Sexually active teens were more likely to use alcohol, engage in substance abuse, or view pornography.
In-school youths who have boyfriends or girlfriends are also more likely to engage in sexual intercourse. Initiating dating relationships younger also appears to have an impact on the age of sexual initiation.
Unwanted pregnancies, school dropout, disease transmission, and several other real societal problems result from premarital sex. Abortions, single motherhood, fatherless homes, poor sexual health, poor mental health, and poor adolescent health all lead to a generally negative effect on the overall public welfare. Even secular authorities are concerned about the effects on society.
The Worldly View
The term “worldly” here refers to the general secular ethos that opposes the biblical view of sexuality.
The worldly view depends on certain philosophical underpinnings—such as the notions that there is no God, that God is impersonal, that there is no such thing as sin, that human beings are entirely autonomous, that humans and the world are purely natural and have no spiritual or supernatural elements.
This view largely aligns with the philosophy of “hedonism”—which, in its classical sense, is the ethical theory claiming that the highest goal of human beings is to avoid pain and pursue the satisfaction of desires.
This theory depends greatly on the belief that human desires are not necessarily evil or reprobate; indeed, it assumes that human desires are largely neutral. Hedonists do not necessarily pursue sensual pleasure at any cost, they actually consider long-term effects as well.
A hedonist may decline sex, for example, if they suspect their partner is abusive or has a sexually transmitted disease.
The secular world sees sexuality as a bodily need on par with eating, drinking, sleeping, and breathing.
In the view of the materialist, there is no spiritual cost to sexual behavior between people that have no meaningful relationship. Sexually transmitted diseases are a risk, as is unwanted pregnancy. These risks can be mitigated with the use of condoms or by circumventing fluid exchange in other ways.
The worldly view does not haggle with definitions, because all sexual behaviors are acceptable between consenting adults. Generally speaking, the only sexual behaviors that American society still considers taboo are bestiality, pedophilia, or sexual crimes like rape and incest.
These are still crimes against autonomy—which is the highest good to strive for in the worldly system of philosophy.
The worldly view permits any arrangement or frequency of sex and explicitly permits premarital sexual activity. A majority of Americans now hold this viewpoint. Multiple partners in a short time may earn a person a poor reputation, but they are not considered villainous.
Those who take this view concern themselves with locating a “sexually compatible” partner. The idea of sexual compatibility is not well defined; presumably, it means that both partners are satisfied with the sexual parts of their relationship.
The worldly view tolerates prostitution but looks down on those that patronize prostitutes. The use of pornography is considered normal and healthy—as is sexual entertainment, such as strip clubs and topless bars. Women are encouraged to be sexually liberal and assertive.
Men are assumed to be expecting sex when dating, though they must earn it by sufficiently impressing their dates.
Sexual activity is assumed to begin early in young people. Popular entertainment—which reinforces this view—assumes that adolescents are already starting to experiment with sexual activity. This may include oral sex, mutual masturbation, or even intercourse.
The worldly view of sexuality is permissive, unrestrained, and subjective. A person may decide they wish to abstain from sex—or to at least be highly selective in their choice of partners—and that decision may be lauded by the world because it is still a version of autonomy.
But if that decision comes from religious conviction, then that person may be shamed as a repressed, puritanical prude.
The Pharisaical View
Pharisees are remembered on the pages of history as the legalistic adversaries of Christ during His public ministry, as well as the persecutors of the early Christians. They are famous for their extreme minutiae of rules and regulations that border on the insane. Pharisees are defined by believing that adherence to the law saves a man.
The Pharisees constituted a political party in first-century Israel and were effectively annihilated after Christ departed. However, legalism and pharisaism will always exist because people pridefully expect to be saved by keeping a checklist of rules.
Two kinds of Pharisees exist in the realm of sexual ethics: the libertine and the legalist.
In order for the pharisaical system to work, there must be some groundwork laid. First of all, there must be a version of salvation. Then there must be a list of laws to keep in order to obtain salvation. Lastly, there must be a way to compare individuals on a scale to see who is the holiest by the standard of these laws.
In the eyes of the sexual libertine, human beings are repressed by old taboos and superstitions. They are suffering from the unnecessary and unhealthy withholding of sexual activity from one another.
Salvation, then, is the ability to have sexual pleasure and release at any time with whoever is agreeable. Sexual partners should be many, risky sexual behaviors are virtuous acts of courage, and human sexuality is venerated as a holy pursuit in the eyes of the sexual libertine.
Early sexual initiation is encouraged. Frequent sexual interactions are considered optimal. A leading philosopher of this group was Hugh Hefner—the founder of Playboy Magazine. Hefner believed that monogamous marriage was an artificial line created by religion that should be transgressed.
The repression of the American religious establishment was the status quo from which men and women needed salvation. They could achieve this salvation through sexual liberation, from which Hefner profited.
The libertine goes beyond premarital sex and proceeds into extra-marital sex as well. They permit marriage, but even encourage bringing outsiders into the sexual relationship. Couples can and should watch pornography together.
They should patronize prostitutes as a couple. They should go to strip clubs together. They should temporarily swap spouses with other sexually free couples.
A person not engaged in free sexual activity is considered to be unhealthy or prudish. Such people are an obstacle to the liberation of the world. In recent years, this same philosophy has grown to frightening new extremes.
In particular, there are increasingly fervent calls for the sexual initiation of children, including the horror stories of children receiving so-called gender transition procedures performed without parental consent. Many believe that withholding sex from a so-called transgender person due to their identity is hateful and that there should even be legal consequences.
When a person’s desire for sexual autonomy is essentially their religion, it is very difficult to establish any meaningful boundaries. More and more sexual liberality should mean more and more holiness in this worldview. Premarital sex is an obvious and required part of such sexual sanctification.
Another form of sexual pharisaism is sexual legalism. This group is usually composed of those who are explicitly religious or hold to a traditional religious value system. Like the sexual libertines, these people believe that salvation is obtained through adherence to a set of laws.
The sexual attitudes of this group, however, are geared toward justifying as much sexual activity as possible without crossing an arbitrary line that they define as premarital sex.
Many in this group consider sexuality a necessary evil for procreative purposes. Intercourse should be restricted to marriage, and only when necessary. Sexuality is always shameful and secretive even when pursued in marriage relationships that render it within the law. However, other sexual activities may not be considered “premarital sex” by this group.
Pornography use is not uncommon, though secretive. Risky sexual behavior such as oral sex and even anal sex is often justified by the fact that a young woman practicing this behavior is still “technically” a virgin in the purely anatomical sense.
These behaviors are just as risky and detrimental to reproductive health, regardless of whether they are performed by a hardened sex addict or school adolescents. Though these behaviors are obviously premarital sex, young people engaged in them try to salve their consciences with technicality. These behaviors are nevertheless damaging to the soul.
While adhering to the strict letter of the law, the heart of the people is far from the spirit of the law.
Legalists are correct in that they believe mankind needs salvation from sin. They are wrong about the method of that salvation—namely, strict adherence to the letter of the law. The obsession with the legality of a particular act always paves the way for the creative sinner to make an excuse and evade the conviction under that law.
The hope of being saved by the law is never good news—because it is impossible. Even if we design our own laws, we fail to adhere to them with perfect consistency.
The Bible and Sex
Many believe that Christians who subscribe to the biblical view of sexuality see sex as taboo. The term “Puritan” is often thrown at Christians who maintain stalwart opposition to liberal sexual attitudes. Puritans are some of the beloved ancestors of Christians and to be associated with them is a high honor.
Most people, unfortunately, derive their view of the Puritans from cultural artifacts such as Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Miller’s Crucible.
In order to understand the Christian sexual ethic, one must first dispense with the idea of autonomy. Autonomy is a concept that is foreign to Christianity. The word itself means “self-rule”—in other words, an autonomous person is the higher lawgiver or authority in his or her own life.
Practically all people are subject to external laws of some kind, but philosophically a person may claim they are in absolute control over their own lives.
The Bible teaches from the very beginning that people are created by a Creator to whom they are accountable for their moral choices. The same Creator gives moral directives through commandments, and He issues judgment for violation of those commandments.
The Creator furthermore claims all of creation as His own possession, as all things in it exist for His glory. This includes sex and sexuality.
Embracing God’s Rule
Because God is the Creator and because He created with purpose, people must consider sex in the context for which God made it. God made Adam and Eve—the first humans—male and female, sexually compatible with one another.
Embracing God’s Picture for Sex
Sex and marriage exist because God created them—and He did so for a purpose.
The Bible refers to man and wife as “one flesh.” This is metaphorically true and is consistent with the physical act of sexual intercourse in figurative terms. It is also true since sexual intercourse results in the creation of a new life that contains genetic information drawn from both parents.
The child is literally one flesh of the mother and father. Even more so, marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. The fact that some people recoil at this notion is evidence of the brokenness of humanity and the miscategorization of sexual relationships.
Often at Christian weddings, Ephesians 5 will be read because it explicitly states the responsibilities of husbands and wives in marriage. Paul explicitly writes to tell husbands and wives how to act toward one another because, in a marriage, husbands are to imitate Christ and wives are to imitate the Church.
Purity is so important because Christ and the Church are faithful to one another through a covenant relationship. That is why premarital sex is wrong. It is for this reason that polygamy, bigamy, homosexuality, adultery, and all sexual behaviors outside of the heterosexual marriage context are wrong.
Beware God’s Warning
Sexual sin is often used by God as a metaphor for idol worship. In some cases, the two were deeply intertwined, if not synonymous.
Many pagan cultures in the biblical record used temple prostitution as a means to attain holiness. Sexual immorality has always been a part of paganism.
Anecdotally, experience has shown that when young men and young women who have been raised in Christianity suddenly begin to question the existence of God or of the Christian faith, they almost always have initiated a premarital sexual relationship and need God to go away so that they can ease their consciences.
In God’s picture of a healthy marriage, the husband represents Christ and must therefore give himself up for her. Women are called to serve and submit to the husband. The very sexual act itself is a clear picture of this.
At the culmination of the sexual act, a man gives a small part of himself to his wife and is temporarily spent in her service. The wife, on the other hand, must trust and open herself up to her husband and nurture what she is given by him to bring forth new life as God intended.
It is difficult to overstate the beauty of God’s picture in sex. To engage in casual sexual behavior with a partner to whom one is not committed for life only because it feels good is to totally miss the entire point of sexuality and to miss, as hard as it is to believe, the best part of sexual intercourse. Premarital sex will never be as good as sex in a marriage context.
Embracing God’s Blessing
Youth are drawn to sex not merely out of sexual curiosity. Young people should seek to get married partially for the reason that they get to enjoy licit sex. Studies have repeatedly shown that married people have more sex than unmarried people—in spite of slanderous lies from the entertainment industry about sexless and joyless marriages.
Premarital abstinence is better for reproductive health, as true abstinence prevents any sexually transmitted infection. Individuals who have fewer premarital sexual partners are less likely to divorce later.
Sex is a Covenant
Marriages are covenants. They are not primarily between two people, but between the couple and God. When a man and woman marry, they are promising to their spouse many good things. More importantly, they are making a covenant with the Lord.
A man or woman who enters marriage after having a multitude of sexual partners has missed out on the blessing God has in store for those who have their first intercourse with their spouse. God’s intended design is for a man and a woman who engage in any sexual behavior to be united in marriage—for they are now one flesh.
Addressing the issue of premarital sex is important to End Abortion Now because this sin is what leads to the vast majority of abortions. In order to be a true abortion abolitionist, a person should also be opposed to premarital sex or extramarital sex.
When a man and woman marry, they are in a position to welcome a baby as father and mother. Pregnancy is the joyous result of God’s blessed union of flesh and not a fearful unwanted circumstance.