Why God Created Sex for Marriage
Imagine the world of the future: All unwanted consequences of consensual sexual actions have been removed. Women and men have total and equal freedom in their sexual behaviors. Both can have sex as much as and however they want. No one has to make any commitments; each partner can end any relationship when their sexual needs are no longer fulfilled. “Sex is cheap” (Regnerus). For countries like the US, this future could be realized as soon as a decade from now. And yet, perhaps paradoxically, people aren’t having as much sex today as they did in the past. Pornography appears to be destroying men’s’ abilities to form healthy relationships, and half of all marriages end in divorce. People are not happier. Why?
“Sex is cheap.”– Mark Regnerus
Most teens will have at least one premarital sexual encounter. In conversation with my classmates and others of my age, I noticed that the vast majority of teens, even teens with Christian backgrounds, cannot explain why any form of extramarital sex is forbidden by the Bible. Instead, they know that God said not to do it. But there are statistical, relational, and deeply theological reasons for why the Church teaches that God created sexuality for marriage.
Truth about premarital sex has to be found not by hearing individual stories, but by examining statistics taken from thousands of individuals. These statistics aren’t defining of a single person’s life—I know many couples and individuals who had premarital sexual encounters and have gone on to experience satisfying, healthy marriages, and I also know couples and individuals who saved sex for marriage and have gone on to have broken marriages and divorce—but rather provide insight to the best course of action to achieve personal happiness.
This best course of action is to follow the Church’s teaching and save sex for marriage, for these reasons: first, saving sex for marriage leads to greater emotional satisfaction because statistically speaking, saving sex for marriage decreases one’s chances of divorce, and married people are on average happier and more sexually satisfied; second, saving sex for marriage also builds trust in-between partners, deepening satisfaction and stability in their relationship; third, and finally, as Christians, our sexuality is a form of worship perfected in God’s vision of marriage, a goal we should strive for and that will lead to our flourishing.
Statistically speaking, a healthy marriage is the context in which people experience the most reported happiness. Linda Waite, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, found that:
The married really are emotionally healthier than their single counterparts because they’ve chosen to live in this particular type of committed relationship. The commitment married people make to each other is reinforced and supported not only by their own private efforts and emotions, but by the wider community—by the expectations and support of friends, families, bosses, and colleagues who share basic notions about how married people behave (77).
Waite is not the only researcher who found evidence for the benefit of marriage on a person’s mental health. Gayle Kaufman, professor of sociology and sexuality studies, and Hiromi Taniguchi, also a professor of sociology, partnered to examine the effect of marriage on personal well-being in Japan and the United States. The two noted that marital status continues to benefit a person’s emotional health, despite a rapidly shifting cultural worldview. Their conclusion was affirmed by four different studies, all of which found that “those in a stable relationship are happier than those who are in unstable relationships or no relationships.” In other words, the majority of those who become and remain married are happier than those who don’t.
“Those in a stable relationship are happier than those who are in unstable relationships or no relationships.”– Taniguchi, Kaufman
Thus, if it is proven that saving sex for marriage is a reliable method of decreasing one’s chances of divorce, then those who choose to do so will simultaneously be protecting their own happiness. Data indeed suggests this. In his research on the National Survey of Family Growth, sociologist Jay Teachman found that, “having at least one other intimate relationship prior to marriage is linked to an increased risk of divorce” (Teachman). Psychologist Visvaldas Legkauskas found similar data for this conclusion, saying: “Results of the present study indicate a negative correlation between marital satisfaction and number of premarital sexual partners. This correlation was significant for both men and women” (27).
“If it is proven that saving sex for marriage is a reliable method of decreasing one’s chances of divorce, then those who choose to do so will simultaneously be protecting their own happiness.”A. Curlin
Legkauskas and other researchers theorized various reasons for why these sexual encounters had such a large effect on one’s chances of divorce, but all arrived at the same conclusion in regards to premarital sex: if one desires a healthy, satisfying marriage, one should save sex for marriage. This being the case, it shouldn’t surprise one that the cultural shift toward tolerance of premarital sex has occurred in tandem with higher rates of marital dissolution. The traditional understanding of marriage as permanent has been lost as society has moved to an individualistic view of sexuality, but those who live out the traditional importance of sex in marriage are more likely to experience happiness and life satisfaction then those who do not. Saving sexual relations for marriage is a practical way of elevating the importance of marriage, and therefore decreasing one’s chances of divorce. If someone is seeking simply to satisfy themselves in sexual relationships, they will lack commitment and be less willing to make sacrifices for the other person, thereby undermining that relationship and the happiness it may bring.
Saving sex not only preserves the importance and benefits of marriage, it leads to greater emotional satisfactionbecause inside a good marriage, one is fully trusting and trusted. Most feel the longing for a romantic relationship in which the other person is completely committed to oneself and one’s good. Well, sex is a meaningful part of a relationship, and as Waite explains, “People want powerful sexual feelings to have a meaning. And the meaning that is most satisfying appears to be: ‘I love you. Our lives are as joined as our bodies’” (90). Sex should be just that, a joining of lives as much as bodies.
Unfortunately, it rarely is. C.S. Lewis mentioned this years ago when he described a man out on the streets, or in today’s day and age, at the club. Lewis said we are wrong in saying about that man, “that he ‘wants a woman.’ Strictly speaking,” he states, “a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus” (94). This is not a meaningful or satisfying form of sex for either partner, for after all, the man will likely be out at the club looking for a different “apparatus for his pleasure” within a week, and the woman has given the most intimate access to her body for nothing but a few moments of pleasure. To give less than all of one’s self leaves the sexual act seeming empty. Even in a comedic movie such as “Groundhog Day,” the importance of trust is felt. Early in the story the main character is manipulative and pushy to try to get a woman in bed with him, but his actions at that time are held in contempt when compared to his actions at the end of the story, when he steadily proves his love and dedication for her, only reaching sexual intimacy when it is clear he has devoted his life to her and her good. Deep trust makes a sexual relationship beautiful, changing it from simply pleasurable experience to a deeply relational gift as well.
“A woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus”– C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves”
Marriage then provides the context that best promotes trust in a sexual relationship, as the trust fostered by the marriage commitment brings benefits that cannot be achieved through premarital sex. Waite elaborates:
Spouses can help in [these] times of crisis in a way that a friend or lover cannot precisely because of what marriage means: someone who will be there for you, in sickness or in health. Living with someone ‘until death do us part’ provides a particular kind of intimacy—a spouse comforts partly because he or she has the knowledge that comes from long, emotional acquaintance but also because only a spouse can offer the peculiar reassurance that whatever life tosses at you, at least you won’t face it alone (69).
Marriage involves a clear commitment to relationship keeping, social responsibility, and investment in one’s partner’s life. In remarking on Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” Christopher West, Doctor of Theology emphasizes, “This is the power and meaning of sexual union as God designed it. Sexual intercourse has a ‘language’ that proclaims: ‘I am totally yours unto death. I belong to you and you to me until death do us part” (100). If someone entrusts their body but not their time, money, struggles and dreams—in other words, their life—then they are not fully trusting the other. Marriage involves a public declaration that a person embraces all aspects of the other person, not just the pleasure they derive from the other’s body. A partner in a healthy marriage can be confident that the other wants the best for them because their lives are so tightly bound, increasing that person’s chances of experiencing emotional satisfaction. To build trust in one’s future marriage, one should begin to save the gift of one’s sexuality for one’s future spouse, as doing so is a way of practicing and showing devotion rather than seeking personal gain.
For Christians, saving sex for marriage is more than just a prudential choice because marriage is meant to deeply reflect the image of God. The practice does this by protecting marriage, which then protects a person from falling into lust and the destruction of their own and their partner’s selfhood. In Pope John Paul II’s writings on the book of Matthew, he states:
“Whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “Adultery committed in the heart” can and should be understood as a “devaluation” or impoverishment of an authentic value, as an intentional privation of that dignity to which the integral value of her femininity corresponds in the person in question (46.1).
Christians have often misunderstood lust. Sometimes it is thought to mean having sexual desires or even thinking a woman/man is beautiful/handsome. But Pope John Paul II says lust is something more, a devaluation of human sexuality as God designed it.
Christopher West notes that by having so much sex our society does not overvalue it, but actually undervalues it (4). After all, who understands the value of money more: someone who spends it at every opportunity, or someone who carefully saves and invests it? In the past a person’s sexuality had a relatively high value, but this is no longer the case. Men and women can have sex without personal commitment, thereby making sex seem a value-less part of being a human. Regnerus argues that under the banner of women’s freedom, today’s culture has removed the consequences of sex and made it easier to attain than ever before, rendering valuing it correctly all the more difficult. On the other hand, committing to saving oneself for marriage helps fight lust by choosing to value the sexuality of one’s future partner over personal pleasure. West muses, “Is he motivated by love or by lust, by the sincere gift of self or merely by a desire to gratify himself? The normal man recoils at the idea of lusting after his sister—and so should a man recoil at the thought of lusting after his bride!” (West 46). As fully embodied souls, humans are damaging their own value by having sex outside of marriage, but through saving sex, they preserve the holiness and worth of their body and soul.
“The normal man recoils at the idea of lusting after his sister—and so should a man recoil at the thought of lusting after his bride!”– Christopher West
Once one recognizes the deep meaning of human sexuality, practicing one’s sexuality in marriage becomes an act of reflecting and worshiping God. To live like Christ means to love selflessly and self-sacrificially. God created marriage as the place where that happens most fully through sex. As Lewis says, “One of the first things Eros does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving” (96). By saying this Lewis is emphasizing how true romantic love should function—like Christ’s love for the church. To love like Christ in marriage is to love self-sacrificially, and denying oneself till marriage is a selfless act of love. To be in such a relationship is to care specifically for the pleasure and joy of the other. West states:
Christ’s love seems distinguishable by four particular qualities. First, Christ gives his body freely (“No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord,” John 10:18). Second, he gives his body totally—without reservation, condition, or selfish calculation (“He loved them to the last,” John 13:1). Third, he gives his body faithfully (“I am with you always,” Matthew 28:20). If men and women are to avoid the pitfalls of counterfeit love, and live their vocation to its full, their union must express the same free, total, faithful love that Christ’s body expresses” (West 93).
The Church ordains marriage as the place for sexual relationships because it helps us practice giving ourselves selflessly for our spouse, like Christ for the Church. As Christians, we are called to live like Christ, to give ourselves for those around us. Saving sex for marriage denies one’s own physical pleasure for the good of one’s future spouse, an action of loving like Christ.
But not everyone agrees about the detriments of premarital sex on emotional well-being. Some argue that premarital sex does not negatively affect one’s chances of a successful marriage, so long as that sex is with one’s future marriage partner. Teachman, for instance, found that having cohabitated solely with one’s future partner had no direct effect on one’s chances of divorce. He concluded that if one enters into cohabitation with one’s future partner having no past sexual experience, and one be sure that they will marry that partner, then one’s chances of future divorce are affected so little as to be insignificant. But even if Teachman’s data are rightly interpreted, one still has to wonder, why attempt to thread the needle? The whole point of cohabitating is to “see if partners are compatible.” If the partners discover that they are not compatible, the two face an emotional process similar to that of divorce and have increased their chances of future marital dissolution by accruing past sexual experiences (Waite 74). If partners discover they are compatible, what was the point of cohabitation? It is true not every marriage is happy, but according to Teachman’s interpretation of these statistics, the only cohabitation experiences that are helpful in determining partner compatibility without subsequently decreasing one’s chances of a happy marriage are the ones most similar to marriage.
The most common argument against saving sex for marriage is less of a rational or statistical argument, and more of a self-interested attempt to show that sex does not have great value, while at the same time claiming that one needs more of it to be happy. An article featured in WebMD by Gina Shaw, a journalist on medical and health life topics, takes this approach. The article begins with a compelling story of two “friends with benefits” who had a long-term friendly relationship in which whenever the two were single, they would regularly have intercourse. The article goes on, however, to describe the many potential issues of trying to have casual sex, even stating that the woman in the “friends with benefits” story has never told her husband about her prior “friendship.” Even her relatively uncomplicated sexual friendship, championed as an ideal example of the benefits of casual sex, is causing her to withhold an aspect of her past, damaging trust and putting her marriage at risk. The article inadvertently describes the deep value and importance of sex while simultaneously encouraging people to treat it casually, a contradiction that only affirms the benefits of saving sex for marriage.
In summary, saving sexual relations for marriage is the wisest course of action if you desire emotional satisfaction because it protects marriage, an age-old practice statistically proven to improve one’s chances of emotional and sexual satisfaction. It does this by building trust, the foundation of a relationship. Not only that, saving sex also fulfills biblical sexuality. Through saving sex for marriage, one learns the value of one’s own and one’s future partner’s sexuality as God designed it, meanwhile practicing the life-giving, self-sacrificial love of Christ and the Trinity.
Nearly sixty years ago, C.S. Lewis foretold exactly how Western society would reach the ideological place it is in. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, “When all that says “it is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains. It cannot be exploded or “seen through” because it never had any pretentions” (65). One hears so often, “people should just do what makes them happy.” By doing so we enslave ourselves to our desires. It is our basic instinctual desire to have sex; to choose saving sex for marriage is a choice of “it is good” over “I want.” In the end however, this choice increases our chances of emotional satisfaction much more than having extramarital sex, contrary to what our society wishes us to believe. Luke 9:23 states, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (ESV). It is time to take up our cross in defense of our own, our friend’s, and our partner’s sexuality.