A 2002 study by the National Institute of Health reveals that by the age of 44, 95% of Americans have had sex before marriage. My guess is that if we had more recent statistics available, the number would be even higher. Saving sex for marriage is so rare that it becomes newsworthy when a couple publicly declares that this is their intention.
Americans have increasingly untethered having sex from the promise of marriage and in many cases, even from any form of committed relationship. Single Christians of all ages wonder, “Why shouldn’t I have sex outside of marriage?” It seems as if old married people (like me) are the only ones repeating a sexual ethic that appears to be out of step for today’s modern culture.
I want to suggest to you four compelling reasons to defy the statistics in keeping sex within marriage, regardless of whether you have been sexually active in the past.
God says “no” to sex outside of marriage.
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible warns us to avoid sexual immorality. The Hebrew and Greek words for sexual immorality can be interpreted broadly to include any kind of wrong sexual behavior like prostitution, adultery, and “whoring.” When we look at the context of what Paul wrote to the early churches, he clarifies that sexual expression is intended for the covenant relationship of marriage and that sex outside of marriage is a form of sexual immorality. (See I Corinthians 6 and 7.)
While there are many places in the Bible that confirm the beauty of sex within marriage (Song of Solomon, Genesis 2, Proverbs 5, and Ephesians 5), there is no passage in the Bible that celebrates or affirms sexual intimacy outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
You might wonder, why does it matter if God says “no”? We live in a church age that emphasizes God’s grace and forgiveness. Because of this, some Christians who acknowledge that sex outside of marriage is wrong do so lightly with the assurance that God will forgive them. Paul warned the Roman Church against this type of rationalization. “Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?” (Romans 6:1-3 NLT).
While God has given us sexual desires as part of the human experience, our sexual desires become sinful when they take on the form of lust or nurturing sexual thoughts apart from the marriage covenant. To be a Christian means that we have crucified our sinful desires and now live with the one purpose of bringing God glory. That doesn’t mean that we won’t still experience temptation and wrong desires, but we fight against those desires instead of giving into them.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” When we engage in sin of any kind, we take ourselves away from intimate fellowship with God and essentially say with our actions, “I love what I want more than I love you, God.”
We say “no” to sex outside of marriage not because we want to “keep the rules” but because our love for God is greater than our immediate desires for pleasure or human approval.
Sex outside of marriage lacks integrity.
My birthday is in September. What if I decided in the doldrums of winter that I wanted to spice things up a bit by celebrating my birthday? I told my friends and co-workers that my birthday is in February, so they took me to lunch, bought me gifts, sang to me, and gave me a fancy birthday cake.
While there is nothing wrong with celebrating your birthday, the celebration I orchestrated lacked integrity. We celebrated something that wasn’t true.
Here is the connection… Having sex is the bodily celebration of two people who have committed their lives to each other in the vow of marriage. When you have sex with someone you are not married to, you are having the celebration without the reality of the covenant commitment. You are doing with your body that which you have not done with your lives.
Having sex apart from marriage is not just a social faux pas (like falsely celebrating my birthday). God has embedded sexuality and marriage with intrinsic spiritual and relational weight, making the lack of sexual integrity a big deal.
Sexual intimacy is a sacred symbol.
You might wonder, “Why does God care so much about my sex life? Having sex with someone I care about isn’t hurting anyone.”
I believe that having sex with someone outside of marriage is harmful (as we will cover in a minute), but for argument’s sake, let’s assume it isn’t. While many of the rules for living that God gives us are for the welfare of others, not all of them are. The most important commandment is that we love God with all of our heart, all of our minds, and all of our strength.
There are other examples of holy living that don’t necessarily have a direct impact on others. God tells us not to covet, use His name in vain, worship other gods, or store up excessive wealth, all of which have more to do with our hearts than our care for other people.
God created sex to be a uniquely sacred act. We see this in I Corinthians 6 where Paul says that what we eat doesn’t really matter, but what we do sexually with our bodies has eternal and spiritual significance. He also says that when we sin sexually, we sin against our own bodies. I find it interesting that Paul says a very similar thing later in I Corinthians about misusing the sacred symbol of communion. “After supper, (Jesus) took the cup saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant of my blood; do this in remembrance of me.’… So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:25,27).
Both communion and sexual intimacy are outward symbols of a sacred covenant. Sexual intimacy is a sacred bodily symbol of the covenant of marriage; communion is a sacred bodily symbol of our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. Engaging in either of these symbols without linking them to the weight of the covenants they represent dishonors God.
Sex outside of marriage has consequences.
Praise God that through the sacrifice of Jesus, the eternal consequences of our sin (sexual or otherwise) have been paid for! If you have a history of sexual sin, no matter how horrible, God promises to forgive and cleanse you completely from that sin when you confess it to Him. (See I John 1:9-10.) However, God’s forgiveness doesn’t erase the earthly consequences you and others might experience because of sexual sin.
In Galatians Paul quotes this Old Testament Proverb specifically related to sexual sin: “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he reaps.”
Sexual sin has personal and cultural consequences. Consider these facts:
- Half of American adults will have a sexually transmitted disease in their lifetime.¹
- 40% of all live births in America are born to single mothers.²
- 86% of abortions are unwed pregnancies. That is approximately 750,000 American babies aborted who were conceived outside of marriage.³
- Those with premarital sexual partners are more than twice as likely to divorce as those who save sex for marriage.ˆ
- Having multiple sexual partners is linked to mental health challenges and substance abuse.˜
Are there people having sex while dating who experience none of these consequences? Yes, particularly in the short term. However, the way God created sex impacts our bodies, our emotions, and our relationships. He could have created sex to be “no strings attached” and without the risk of the things mentioned above, but He didn’t. The truth is that every time you enter into a sexual relationship, you are risking an STD, pregnancy, destructive relationship patterns, and contributing to poor mental health for both you and your partner.
God’s design for sex may sound very old fashioned and even unfair to our modern sensibilities. However, when God created sex, He did so intentionally to display the power of covenant love. While technologies and innovations can mute the consequences of sex, nothing can erase the spiritual significance that is written within the act of sexual intimacy.
What a cool thing that God has set us apart as His people to not live as the world lives. There is perhaps no greater testimony to the world of our love for God and His for us than to steward our sexuality in a way that honors Him. So go ahead and defy the statistics!