January 21, 2021

Increasing Marriage Age and Its Implications


Today’s guest post is from IM First Officer Michael Bell.

Moderator Note:

This is Chaplain Mike.  After a couple days of spirited discussion, allow me make a few comments here.

First, thank you to Michael Bell for a thoughtful and provocative topic and presentation.

Second, I’ve allowed this to go on without much moderation or comment because doing so has clearly shown how chaotic the situation is in society and the church with regard to this issue.

Third, I too thought there would be more conservative voices expressing strong views.

Fourth, at least one thing is clear. We are all sexual sinners, and we know it today perhaps better than at any time in history. And those of us who are Christians, who supposedly believe the Bible and are committed to its moral and ethical teachings, are in the unenviable position of trying to figure out what to do after we’ve already let the proverbial horse out of the barn in terms of capitulating to culture. The church needs some profoundly wise and winsome leaders to help us through this mess.

Fifth, another aspect of this whole discussion that has gone untouched is the role  technology plays in the sexualization of our lives and culture. I don’t believe the human heart has changed over the years, but folks, we have been literally inundated by tidal waves of social change simply because of what advances in technology have made possible over the last 30-40 years. Anyone else remember when the only published nudity or graphic sexuality available was hidden behind the counter or shown in some grungy theater in the vice district?

I mean, think about this for a few moments: If you were a kid growing up today, what would you think is “normal” with regard to this subject? And as for solutions, short of taking up Amish or monastic lifestyles, how in the world can we ever hope to fight what has become the very atmosphere in which we live?

Finally, I hope my light hand on this discussion hasn’t given anyone the idea that IM is a free-for-all. It’s not. There are rules, and you can read them here (see faq #10).

Thanks again for your participation. Continue to pray for Michael Spencer. And please pray for me that I will do an adequate job of helping out in his absence.


I have read a number of statistical studies over the last several months that all are somewhat related to the same topic, that is, that the increase in marriage age over the last sixty years has serious implications for the church. Primarily among these implications is the increased temptation facing the youth of American Evangelical churches. Let me show you what I have dug up, statistically speaking, about the extent of this temptation and the resulting effects.

Lets start by looking at the marriage age: The graph above was created from U.S. Census data and show the average marriage age in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s was under the age of 22, dropping close to 21 in the 1950s. In 2008, it was 26.5, an increase of over 5 years from its low point. For a young person in the church, that is additional five years of sexual temptation that did not exist 50 years ago.

But the temptation goes even beyond that. In the developed world over the last 50 years, the median age at which youth have had their first sexual experiences has dropped between three and five years. The graph above, derived primarily from the National Family Survey, shows the American experience, a drop of 3.5 years in the age in which youth first engage in sex. According to a study done by the U.S. Government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64.6 percent of American youth have engaged in sex at least once before the end of Grade 12. Overall 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex.

For a youth in the 1950s the median age of marriage was at a par with the median age of first sex, hence relatively little peer pressure and relatively little temptation (at least compared to today). Today, the median youth is getting married 8.5 years after their first sexual experience.

How do youth in the church look compared to society at large? Well there is some good news, but it is not overly good. For example, according to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), when we look at youth in society between the ages of 18 and 23 who are in a relationship but not married, 93% are sexually active. Among conservative protestant youth, that number is 80%. Look out over your congregations Pastor, according to the numbers, on average 80% of your college and career group who are currently dating are sexually active. The number is lower that society at large but not by much.

What about abstinence or chastity pledges? Studies have shown that they delay premarital sex by at best 18 months. Lest I get you too discouraged, I should note that the youth whose parents are regular church attenders are much more likely to be virgins at age 18 as shown by the graph below. (Note: This graph is from an older NLSY survey and is representative of the way things stood about 10 years ago. The percentages would be higher today.)

As we can see from the above data, 18 year old children of parents who attended church the most were far less likely to have have had premarital sex (36%) than those who did not attend church at all (53%). While those number are going to be higher today, the difference at about 17% would probably still hold true. The problem with the 17% is it represents about one and a half years of delaying sex. That is, youth where parents are very active in church attendance are having sex on average about one and half years after the general population and long before marriage. By the way, I should note that actual attendance is more important that religious belief when it comes to these matters. Baptists for example, as a category are not that different from the general population.

There is one further implication that we need to think about as well, though this is more anecdotal. A friend of mine a number of years ago was working in admitting for University Health Services at a large Canadian University, taking histories of those requesting services. One thing that he found very disturbing was that one of the largest segments of those seeking abortion services was ¨good christian girls¨ who had their first sexual experience, had not used birth control (largely because they believed in abstinence), and had gotten pregnant. They were seeking abortions, because they would rather have an abortion than face being shamed in their churches back home. While this story is anecdotal, I think it is something we have to keep in mind when discussing solutions.

So what is the church to do?

One positive item that I noted in researching this post is that 74% of youth in church today believe that you should wait for marriage before having sex. This is something that can be built upon. The belief however is not consistent with the practice. Most do not wait.

Some, like researcher Mark Regnerus, argue that the church should be looking at marriage at a younger age, with older married couples mentoring younger ones. You can read some of his thoughts in Christianity Today. Is this a possible solution?

What else can we do? I am a father of three children who are about to be entering these years. I have far more questions than answers. I would really like the wisdom of this blog’s audience as a contribution to the discussion.

Here are some questions you might want to consider:

1. Is sex outside of marriage a sin? If so, why? (I know someone is going to ask the question, so I might as well be the first. By the way, I do believe it is, but I am interested in hearing others reasoning.)

2. Assuming the answer to one is yes, what can we do to help our youth wait for marriage?

3. Is abstinence alone the right message? If it is abstinence plus something else, is this sending the right message?

4. Is early marriage a possible solution?

5. While not discussed above, along with the increase in premarital sex has come an increase in co-habitation. If we are truly evangelistic, we are going to see more and more people coming into our churches who are co-habitating. What do we say to, or do with, the co-habitating couple who starts attending our church?

6. Now this is a question that might seem to come out of left field, but I believe that it directly relates. If our older youth are so likely to have participated in premarital sex, how do we address the homosexual? If seems somewhat hypocritical of us to suggest that they can’t have sex outside of marriage when we are having sex outside of marriage.

I don’t have an agenda here, I am just a father and church member who has read some studies, and wants to know as a church how we can respond. Your replies are greatly appreciated.

If you want to read more on the subject, here are some of the related studies and articles:











  1. I wonder if maybe the causality is reversed. That is, instead of delayed marriage causing an increase in temptation, perhaps giving in to temptation is causing young people to delay marriage. If a person is not waiting for marriage, there is less motivation to get married at an early age.

    • I think you are right, although that isn’t the only cause. Why should people be in a hurry to marry if they can enjoy sex without shame outside of marriage. In the surrounding culture and the culture of most colleges and youth areas, there is no negative judgment from their peers. And of course contraceptives are easily available so what healthy fear of pregnancy they might have is easily pushed aside.

      Further reasons are the culture of achievement and materialism. Young people today (me included at the time) are encouraged to think they need to 1) finish college, 2) get started in a career, 3) get a nice car and 4) save enough money for a down payment on a house before they think about actually having kids and starting a family.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        What if you don’t want sex, but COMPANIONSHIP?

        • I’m not sure what exactly you are asking?

          I think you are on the right track that marriage isn’t just about sex and any couple that thinks that it is is in for big problems. Also, other than sex being required to consummate the marriage there is not actual requirement that the marriage include regular sexual relations.

          I think part of the problem is that Christians have absorbed the surrounding cultural ideal of “romantic Love” and “soul mates” and that Marriage is supposed to be fulfilling and happy in some “deep and romantic’ sense. And that is in most cases a pipe dream. Certainly hasn’t been true in my marriage most of the time.

          But I really hope you do find companionship and love.

          I’m putting you on my prayer list.

  2. I’m posting this anomomously.

    I’ve been married a decade, have been a minister for more than 15 years and a pastor for over five.

    I grew up in a very conservative, not isolated conservative, but a very conservative evangelical SBC home. So did my wife. She is by the way, the only woman I have ever had relations with. We had premarital relations. It’s not right but here was our situation. Again, no excuses on my part.

    Our parents wanted us to wait till after college to get married. If a person graduates after college that usually makes them 21ish or maybe 22. 20 if they are young. That is a lot of years of temptation.

    We dated for two, were engaged for two and were active for the vast majority of it.

    My parents married at 17/18, grandparents even earlier. I’m not sure how we as a society can ask our children to wait till a later age to marry and not realize that there is a lot of premarital sex going on. Maybe we know it and just ignore it.

    I will say, and make of this what you will, that in my group of friends, ones who are close enough to know my business, are impressed that I’ve only had one partner. Many of them, folks I would classify as active Christians, had many more. Especially the ones who went off to school.

    Is this the lesser of two evils, to be in a committed relationship and remain faithful vs. “hooking up” with several folks over a long period of time.

    Or is that whole statement me just trying to justify myself.

    • I do not think you are simply trying to justify yourself. It is important for parents to assist their children to get married when they are saying the temptation is too great. Do not make them wait. Do what is needed to help them “do it right.”

      Like you, I have been monogamous my whole life. I did engage in premarital relations and felt a terrible sense of guilt about it. In fact, I got married because I thought I needed “to make it right.” Twenty-nine years later, I am still married and so, I guess it worked. Glory be to God.

    • I suppose that in some way it IS a lesser of two evils, but let’s not kid ourselves here. We don’t want to make this out to be impossible. I’m living proof that what God calls us to, he enables. I met my wife my second year of college and we began dating 3 weeks later. It was her first year. We got married four years later after she graduated and our wedding night was our first. It doesn’t make me any more righteous than anybody else, and we are not really, really, really ridiculously conservative or anything, but we were fully committed to honoring God with our relationship. It wasn’t easy, but it IS possible if you want it badly enough. I’m getting the impression that the problem with many of our youth is simply that they do not want to honor God with their relationships: their own “needs” take priority. Show them, dear Lord, that your ways give more life than the ways of the world.

  3. I want to point out that there are differences in the data between girls and boys, with boys having sex earlier, as well as relationships to factors like family income and education.

    One thing that could or should factor into the answers is the type of relationship. You hate to pretend you know the mind of God and create a hierarchy of sin, but it seems there ought to be differences between:
    – Promiscuous sex
    – Sex in committed loving relationships, both teenagers and divorced older adults
    – Sex with the person you end up marrying
    – Getting pregnant before marriage
    – Getting pregnant before marriage and having an abortion out of shame

    I have a daughter going into high school. She’s had abstinence education but the numbers are the numbers. If I had to choose premeditated protected sex vs. forbidden unprotected sex…. A lady who works at our church sent her son off to college for a semester and got back a working dad, daughter-in-law and grandchild. That grandbaby is a blessing but it would have been just as blessed if the parents had college degrees and careers.

    To be honest, If I had to guess I know maybe a very few people who were virgins when they got married, but I doubt I’m the only person here who doesn’t fit into that category. In a sense we’re asking our kids to hold to higher standards than we did, but we turned out all right.

    • In a sense we’re asking our kids to hold to higher standards than we did, but we turned out all right.

      So because you got away with it, and managed to hold onto your faith, you are willing to let your children take the same chances?

      Do you think you behaved rightly and that you’d do the same things over again?

      • Got away with it? You mean in the sense I didn’t get caught? My high school girlfriend’s parents found out and they made her break up, which was sad but in the long run good for us both. I needed to be focused on college and not driving home every weekend.

        I had no faith then, but if having sex before marriage can make someone lose their faith, then that is a mighty weak faith.

        Like I said, the Bible saying something was wrong never entered my mind, but when I had sex in loving committed relationships, I’d do it again, sure. I lived together in love with one girlfriend and then again with my wife of now 18 years before we got married and sex was not an impure part of that. It was a beautiful thing that I won’t denounce.

        Alluding to something I think is mentioned down in the comments, in terms of sin I worry a lot more about facing God about being silent on awful, national sins like our health care system and worship of money than I do facing Him about just about anything else.

        • I say: If your Faith can’t keep you from having sex before marriage, then that is mighty weak faith!

        • How does one square that with 1 Corinthians 6:18-19, which says sexual sin (fornication is a sexual sin) is the only sin that defiles one’s own body, which is a temple of the Lord?

    • Yes there is a different between boys and girls. Boys do start slightly earlier, but by the end of high school girls are more sexually active. I used averages to simplify the post, as the differences are not that different.

  4. Is there not another factor in that sutdies have shown that people who get married younger are far more likely to divorce than couples who marry later? That seems to be another factor in this debate.

    • I have heard that, too, but I don’t think it (in itself) means anything without considerable elaboration and interpretation within it’s context. A long time ago people got married much younger, but did not divorce; it’s only within our society that practically expects divorce to happen now. I personally believe it has more to do with things like what I call “soulmate-ism”. That would be the belief that there is only one person out there that is compatible with you, and such a relationship will always work out– “christian” and non-christian versions included. Young people are more likely to be naive about the temporariness of love emotions, as well, and may be more susceptible to marry for the wrong reasons, or at least with incorrect assumptions about what it takes to make a marriage work.

      So whether the trend is to marry earlier or later, I think there should be a healthy emphasis from church leaders to actively address things that may be culturally (even christian-culturally) poplular ideas but could be dangerous to one’s marriage. In the church of my teenage years (Assembly of God) I heard lots of popular misconceptions from various individuals about future spouses that were definitely unhealthy, mostly along the lines of what I wrote above–about God sending your “the one”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I personally believe it has more to do with things like what I call “soulmate-ism”.

        My observations on the subject of “OOOOO! MY SOULMATE!”:

        1) Nothing triggers an “OOOOO! MY SOULMATE!” reaction in women like a User & Abuser.

        2) “Soulmate” is NEVER the one you’re married to. It’s always the one you’re screwing on the side.

        • Louis Winthrop says

          Ever heard of Richard Bach–the guy who wrote “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” back in the 1960’s? (And a descendent of Johann Sebastian, in case anyone’s curious.) He found his soul-mate in the 1970’s–she was the actress who played Daisy Mae from the movie version of L’il Abner–and wrote several books about their love.

          Then he divorced her and married a 20-year-old. Welcome to the New Age!

    • I don’t believe that age at marriage has that much of an impact on the divorce rate.

  5. Regarding early marriage:
    Secular culture promotes physical sexual expression, yet seems impotent to address issues of true intimacy. Christian culture restrains physical sexual expression, and tries – but often fails – to address intimacy and love (agape) in the context of the community.

    It’s interesting that Paul views marriage as a relatively minor issue in 1 Cor 7 (in which his opinion is, if you’re horny, then marry someone and have sex, otherwise why bother?); whereas love in the context of the church (1 Cor 13) seems of far greater importance to him. In contrast, current evangelical culture has a heavy focus on the family, and 1 Cor 13 is the most popular scripture quoted at weddings.

    Was Paul naïve about sexual activity? Was he wholly unromantic in his views toward marriage? Or was he focusing on something even bigger, something that could help address the longings for true intimacy and community both inside and outside of marriage?

    • What amuses me about using the I Cor. 13 quote at weddings: the odd and slightly inappropriate (I hope!) clash of ancient and modern contexts. No matter how beautiful the poetry of the chapter, it’s abundantly clear that Paul is writing about love to a bunch of Christians who can’t stand each other. That certainly runs counter to what the typical couple believes about themselves and their context at the day of the wedding. Although in some cases it’s exactly the context they become–and thus the message they need to take with them.

  6. Steve in Toronto says

    This is not just a problem among the youth. If you took a survey of “newly single” 30 and 40 year old Christians I think you would find very similar statistics. I don’t know what to suggest except for rapid marriage (or in the case of divorce or death of a spouse) rapid remarriage.

    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

    • 2. Assuming the answer to one is yes, what can we do to help our youth wait for marriage?

      Teach it and live it! Also teach prayer and protect them from “the world” until they have the tools to evaluate, but also know that we have to prepare them, and then they will ultimately be on their own because we can keep them prisoner.

      3. Is abstinence alone the right message? If it is abstinence plus something else, is this sending the right message?

      Yes, Abstinence alone is the right message. Education about health dangers and pregnancy are OK. Information about ‘safe sex’ should be heavily biased on the fact that they are not 100% effective.

      4. Is early marriage a possible solution?

      Sure, I think we are too slow to let our kids grow up and assume responsibility.

      5. What do we say to, or do with, the co-habitating couple who starts attending our church?

      Evangelize them and encourage them to rectify the situation.

      • How would you deal with a couple (woman a believer) who have begun cohabiting since she has begun attending the church and has been baptized?

        • Well, I’m glad I’m not a Pastor! I certainly wouldn’t tell her “That’s OK, you aren’t sinning.” As a Catholic, I really wish a lot more of our Priests would talk about sexual morality more, and that hey would also be able to be more involved with the parishioners to know about such things generally. Unfortunately most want to avoid the controversy and are too busy to know about personal details.

          On top of that in the past 40 years the idea that a Priest should get personally involved has gone “out of fashion” in Catholicism.

          I do know a few, new, young traditional Priests who are being more involved and who have told such people “you must abstain from the sacraments until you rectify this situation.”

  7. Number 6 is a great point—-the contemporary church has no business condemning homosexual behavior when it’s own house needs cleaning up (in my opinion). The church can’t speak with a credible voice on any sexual issues if these numbers really hold up.

    I’d be curious how the numbers might break down based on the type of church involved. Unfortunately, contemporary church doctrine, “worship” and lifestyles seem to me too often to emphasize self expression and self indulgence rather than self-control. If the church practiced and taught moderation and self-control in all of these areas (not just fixating on sexuality), I personally think the abstinence message would get through and take hold more deeply.

    • I’d bet that the credibility issue has less to do with the sin itself than the hypocrasy about trying to hide it rather than acknowledge and deal with it. I’d be curious to see if the numbers of Christians versus the rest of the society have ever been radically different. I’d assume not, but I may be wrong.

  8. Well I don’t expect too many are going to take up seriously the task of defending premarital sex as permissible. It does already look like a few might be willing to argue that premarital relations as long as they are monogamous, aren’t as bad as being really promiscuous.

    I haven’t commented here for a while, so if you don’t recognize my handle, I am Catholic and I don’t believe in contraception or divorce either.

    I think it is absolutely clear from scripture that fornication is sinful and fornication is harmful to self, to one’s partner and destructive to one’s relationship with Jesus. Starters: Mt 5:27-28, Rom 13:14, 1 Cor 6:9-20; 7:1-5; 1 Pet 2:11, 1 Tim 5:22

    I think it is abundantly clear from the NT that any form of sexual impurity is a cancer to the individual and the Church. So going down the road of: well monogamous sex outside of marriage in a committed relationship isn’t as bad a “hooking up” is like saying “well at least getting skin cancer isn’t as bad as getting leukemia.” Yes, leukemia is more serious and more likely to be fatal, but certainly no one wants skin cancer, and skin cancer can also become extremely deadly if not treated quickly. So yes, we may be relived that our daughter only got skin cancer (from tanning beds) and that it was caught and treated quickly, but we certainly didn’t want her to get skin cancer and we are relieved it wasn’t fatal.

    So it is with sexual immorality. Yes, I can see that we might be relieved that when our son or daughter gets married at 22 or 23 or 28 that they had only had sex with their husband before marriage; or maybe that they had only had sex with 2 men before their husband and that both of those relationships were long term and monogamous. Of course we are right to be relieved, but what we are grateful for is that the disease wasn’t worse!

    We need to look at things from the front end. Looking forward how is our 19 year old who decides to start having sex with their new ‘love’ possibly going to know if this is ‘long term.’ If the couple isn’t willing to make the commitment to real love, then it is very unlikely that both partners will actually make the acts of self sacrifice to make the relationship work.

    Yes, maybe our son or daughter will only have 1 or 2 partners before marriage. It is more likely to be a lot worse. Potentially it will be the complete abandonment of their faith.

    I don’t think Paul and Peter wrote so forcefully against all immorality out of ignorance. They knew very well that even a little sin has the potential to destroy totally.

    Craig Carter at Politics of the Resurrected Blog writes

    The real problem with the sexual revolution is not merely disobedience, but disordered desires and the unwillingness to control appetite. The best image for the sexual revolution is therefore the serpent – “a mobile digestive tract that swallows its prey whole.” Its funny how left-wing Christians like to attack capitalism, but not sexual chaos, even though both are manifestations of the same vice and closely related. Consumerism and the Sexual Revolution

    I like this analogy a lot. The beginning of impurity and immorality, whether it is pornography, masturbation, or committed premarital sex is to let the snake of Satan begin to devour. Hoping to be only a little harmed is crazy.

    • Louis Winthrop says

      Paul names a lot of sins, but overlooks his own judgementalism.

    • In Jewish culture and tradition, a bride and groom are not married before God until they have sex. It is the act of sex which makes them married. This is more of the perspective being explored by those looking at the difference between hooking up and monogamy outside of the official highly regulated legal act of getting married. There is a difference.

      I do believe that being married is better than just being monogamous, for many reasons. However, it is not a legal document or a pastor or a priest who make a couple married before God. It is their covenant with him and with each other that makes them married. Nothing more, nothing less. Marriage did not have a civil OR church ceremony for quite a long time, and yet people still managed to marry quite happily without it. Are we being too legalistic by imposing our own societal ideas on how it should happen (officiated by pastor or priest, with appropriate documentation) vs. what it should look like (lifelong monogamy)?

      • In Jewish culture they had a ceremony of their commitment FIRST – then they consummated the marriage. The act consummated the marriage, but first came the covenant of love and commitment between them Just as it is now in Christianity. The act is the final sealing of the covenant. Just sex without the formal commitment is just sex.

        The marriage covenant is between the couple and God, but a covenant is a legal agreement and must be sworn to and witnessed. A wedding is the public declaration of a couple entering into the covenant. Refusing to make a public declaration with witnesses is refusal to enter a covenant. Only in the most extreme case of no possibility of finding a witness (stranded alone on a dessert island) for an extended period (years) would maybe an exception

        The difference is making a public covenant commitment. Without the public, witnesses, contract, ‘legally binding’ there is no reason for one party not to lie or deceive.

        When in Judeo / Christian history has there not been a formal ceremony for marriage? There may not have always been a legal framework, but there has always been a religious one, and often enough religion and law were one and the same.

        Are we being too legalistic by imposing our own societal ideas on how it should happen (officiated by pastor or priest, with appropriate documentation)vs. what it should look like (lifelong monogamy)?

        I’m not clear here. At first I thought you were arguing against lifelong monogamy? Now that I reread it looks more like you just think we could dispense with ceremonies…

        Well, I’m for lifelong monogamy and I’ve already covered the ceremony part… So I’ll not quote scripture on divorce just yet.

        • I am by no means an expert in the history of marriage, but I my understanding was that marriage including a religious ceremony is fairly recent in terms of the history of the church. A quick google search found this:

          “In the first Christian centuries marriage had been a strictly private arrangement. As late as the 10th century, the essential part of the wedding itself took place outside the church door. It was not until the 12th century that a priest became part of the wedding ceremony, and not until the 13th century that he actually took charge of the proceedings.”

          • Do you have a source?

            Even in contemporary Catholicism, the Priest is not strictly required for a sacramental (much less a valid) marriage. The Couple themselves administer the sacrament to each other.

            The fact that wedding may not have been actually held in churches and officiated by Priests would not prove that the ceremony did not occur publicly or that it wasn’t considered a religious affair. Certainly for Christians it was a promise before God, not just an excuse to hire a band and have an open bar.

          • Okay – I over stated my case originally:

            From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

            For a long time, undoubtedly, the espousals and the actual nuptials remained distinct ceremonies throughout the greater part of the Western world, and except for the subsequent bringing of the parties before the altar for the celebration of the Mass, the Church seems to have had little directly to do with either function. Nevertheless a negative approval of such ceremonies as containing nothing unbefitting the Christian character may be presumed. Indeed this seems to be required even at the beginning of the second century by the epistle of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp: “It becometh men and women, when they wed, to marry with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage may be after the Lord and not after concupiscence”. (Cf. Ephesians 5:32, and the Didache 11.) Moreover at Rome, Pope Siricius (A.D. 385), in a letter accepted as genuine by Jaffé-Wattenbach (Regesta, n. 255), speaks clearly of the blessing pronounced by the priest at the ceremony of the betrothal (illa benedictio quam nupturæ sacerdos imponit) where the context seems to make it evident that the actual marriage is not meant. We may believe, though the point is contested, that in some places the Church by degrees came to take a part both in the betrothal and in that “gifta” or handing over of the bride in which our Teutonic forefathers seem to have seen the essence of the nuptial contract. This eventually successful effort of the Church everywhere to bring the solemnization of matrimony more immediately under her influence, is well summed up in the following Anglo-Saxon ordinance: “At the nuptials there shall be a Mass-priest by law who shall with God’s blessing bind their union to all prosperity” (Liebermann, “Gesetze der Angel-Sachsen”, I, 422).

            I think this part is worth highlighting: epistle of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp: “It becometh men and women, when they wed, to marry with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage may be after the Lord and not after concupiscence”. (Cf. Ephesians 5:32, and the Didache 11.)

            My main point that is now obscured by my over reaching, is that marriage is not and has never in Jewish or Christian, and indeed in pre-Christian Greco-Roman culture, been a strictly “private” matter. And certainly early Christians had ceremonies. They actually had two ceremonies: the espousal and the nuptial. These were public ceremonies. And I believe they certainly had religious significance, whether or not they were held in a church or officiated my a Priest.

          • Here is what Wikipedia has to say on its topic of Marriage.

            “With few local exceptions, until 1545, Christian marriages in Europe were by mutual consent, declaration of intention to marry and upon the subsequent physical union of the parties.[34][35] The couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required.[36] This promise was known as the “verbum.” If freely given and made in the present tense (e.g., “I marry you”), it was unquestionably binding;[34] if made in the future tense (“I will marry you”), it would constitute a betrothal. One of the functions of churches from the Middle Ages was to register marriages, which was not obligatory. There was no state involvement in marriage and personal status, with these issues being adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts…

            As part of the Counter-Reformation, in 1563 the Council of Trent decreed that a Roman Catholic marriage would be recognized only if the marriage ceremony was officiated by a priest with two witnesses. The Council also authorized a Catechism, issued in 1566, which defined marriage as, “The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.”[39]

            In England, under the Anglican Church, marriage by consent and cohabitation was valid until the passage of Lord Hardwicke’s Act in 1753. This act instituted certain requirements for marriage, including the performance of a religious ceremony observed by witnesses.[40]”

            You could look further into the references the Wikipedia cites in this matter.

  9. Marrying early, in my opinion, probably won’t fix anything. I would actually submit that the data from the 50s is skewed since people are more honest about sex now than they were back then. It was a completely taboo subject in the 50s. Just my suspicion, but it’s there none-the-less. So, marrying younger won’t matter.

    I’m telling you what I think…mentoring from an early age will change things. It will. Let some older man grab a young punk by the shirt collar and teach him a thing or to about being a man and things will change.

  10. “For a young person in the church, that is additional five years of sexual temptation that did not exist 50 years ago.”

    I totally disagree. Look at all the married people who have affairs or who are addicted to porn etc. Obviously marriage doesn’t make any difference whatsoever.

  11. To the question “What can the church do?”

    The church needs to stop being so contradictory.

    First they tell people they are sinning if they marry an unbeliever, but they don’t do anything to help Christians find mates. In fact, they make it even MORE difficult. I’ve been in churches where they criticize people who are dating and say stuff like “You need to devote more time to God, if you put the relationship with your girlfriend first you are an idolater!”

    This disgusts me. I have come to despise the church for this kind of cult-like interference in people’s personal lives.

    • Amen, Tim W!!!!

      My husband and I have been married 10+ years, and we got married in our 40s.

      When did we first meet? When we were 16 and 17, were friends for a few years, then I moved on because he wasn’t a believer, and my youth leaders said not to be unequally yoked.

      As older adults, when we found each other again after 20+ years of no contact, I found out he was interested in Christ back then but needed someone else besides me … a guy… to talk to him, and he would have listened and probably received the Lord… and have avoided some years of error and sin.

      So, yea, Tim, I am now married to my “soul mate” (I know he is that!), and no… the church didn’t help him and me to be “mated” when we were young … they helped to break us apart. And, we strongly believe that God orchestrated us getting back together after all of this time.

      There are high schoolers who DO meet their life partner at an early age. We need to instruct them, mentor them, and support them in their early marriage.

      For some youth, going to college together as a married couple helps them focus, study harder, and be better at managing finances than those who don’t. (I’ve lost the article that had statistics on this.)

      To end my comment, honestly, I didn’t like many of the Christian men in my Bible studies. We weren’t compatible beyond just knowing the Lord. And, there are some great men (and women) outside the church.

      I just wish my church fellowship had been much more supportive and helpful over 20 years ago. I could be celebrating my silver wedding anniversary, or maybe our 30th.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      First they tell people they are sinning if they marry an unbeliever, but they don’t do anything to help Christians find mates.

      Don’t you know that God miraculously sends you your Christian Wife out of the blue? She just shows up on your doorstep one morning and God commands you to marry. Just ask any Christian Married Couple (TM) about how they got married.

      God’s little pets. Get everything handed to them on a golden platter where the rest of us have to grub for matches. And then twist the knife with “God Will Provide”.

      I’ve been in churches where they criticize people who are dating and say stuff like “You need to devote more time to God, if you put the relationship with your girlfriend first you are an idolater!”

      And the Christian girls are the same way. Jesus is their Edward Cullen (sparkle sparkle sparkle SQUEE!) so why would they want a mere mortal like you or me? As a live-in ATM while they gush about their REAL husband Jesus?

      Back when I was listening to Christian radio back in the early Eighties, there was this Christian love song, allegedly sung by a Christian girl to her boyfriend/husband. Here’s what I remember of the lyrics:

      “You’ll always be my Number Two,
      Because JEESUS is Number One in my life
      So Second Place will have to do…”

      Gushing on like Bella-to-Edward for three whole minutes.

      • Reminds me of my youth as well. But don’t forget the innumberable books for singles that promised one thing. As soon as you accept the fact that you are happy single, Mr. or Ms. Right will suddenly appear.

        As far as mentoring goes, I wish that I had had some too.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But don’t forget the innumberable books for singles that promised one thing. As soon as you accept the fact that you are happy single, Mr. or Ms. Right will suddenly appear.

          I heard that, too. Always from those who were already safely Married and Focusing on their Family.

          Just another brand of BS.

      • Sherman the Tank says

        Don’t forget the admonitions not to lust after anyone you want to ask out, and not to ask out anyone you lust after.

        • Ha! Good grief. The church is out of its mind. I can’t believe it expects people to swallow this kind of lunacy.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Don’t forget the admonitions not to lust after anyone you want to ask out, and not to ask out anyone you lust after.

          WTF is this? Then what’s the point?

          Other than “Our Duty to The Party (TM)”?

  12. I think Paul’s advice in 1 Cor “if they cannot control themselves it is better to marry than burn with passion” is aptly applied here. That was written either to struggling Christians are failing Christians in the sexual arena. The problem comes in when parents meddle with their kids and want what’s “best” for them, i.e. career, college, money, house, then family….

    In the Bible God doesn’t quite put the blessings in that order of importance. Yes you need money to get married, but I think God is very able to provide money to a poor, monogamous couple intending to obey him. The other option leads to frustration, temptation, and the almost invevitable failure in some form or another for Christians. Most of us are made for sex, and thus as made for marriage. Delaying marriage, delays sex, and our bodies don’t sit around and wait as patiently.

    Most Christians, however, are spiritually less prepared for marriage than our parents and grandparents were. That is probably going to lead to higher divorce rates for younger married couples. That is a symptom, however, of a greater problem. Part of the reason for the increase is not that Christians are frustrated and giving into temptation, part of it is that many ‘christians’ are not saved, and thus have no qualms about having sex before they are married. Thus the data might be skewed from the simple definitions.

    • “I think Paul’s advice in 1 Cor “if they cannot control themselves it is better to marry than burn with passion” is aptly applied here.”

      I have always found this verse to be utterly ludicrous. You don’t just go out and get married, like deciding to buy a car or enroll in a cooking class. Maybe in Paul’s day it was different, since people were still regarded as property back then.

      • Also, Paul is simply WRONG. Getting married doesn’t change ANYTHING!!! Look at all the married people that cheat and use porn and have affairs etc. Paul was wrong. PAUL WAS WRONG. Let me repeat one more time: PAUL WAS WRONG.

        • And how many of those people practiced chastity before marriage?

          Yes,you are correct that if someone has developed the habit (or addiction) of lust and pornography, masturbation, and thinks that getting married is going to fix it they are wrong. And it is also correct that anyone at any point in their life can fall into the temptation of sin and backslide.

          Where you are wrong is an assuming that as normative. Today, it may be at least almost normative for boys at least (and more and more often girls) to fall into habitual pornography and masturbation early in their teens. For Christians that should not be the way things are.

          For a couple of properly formed young Christians aged 16 or 17 who find themselves very passionate, it is probably better to encourage the engagement and schedule the wedding than to tell them then should wait until after college.

          Unfortunately, there may not be that many properly formed young Christian couples, and if that is the case our problems are enormous.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And how many of those people practiced chastity before marriage?

            I did. It’s why I’m 54 and still single.

          • Loman Totempole says

            “For a couple of properly formed young Christians aged 16 or 17 who find themselves very passionate, it is probably better to encourage the engagement and schedule the wedding than to tell them then should wait until after college.”

            Nah, I’ll just encourage them to wait another year or so and then make sure the birth control is flowing like a champagne fountain.

      • That Other Jean says

        In Paul’s day it was very different. Marriage was a matter of family alliances and the protection of property, not romantic love, or even particular affection. The partners involved might never have seen each other before the wedding, and were expected to get along as best they could together after. That romantic love should be the basis of marriage is a very recent idea.

        I can’t see that encouraging early marriage today would bring about anything but unhappy, under-educated, child-burdened couples in low-paying, dead-end jobs. That might not be true if the parents of the couple were able to subsidize their children’s education and living expenses, but few parents are in a position to do so. I don’t see a solution except for education, encouragement to abstinence, and good birth control for those who are unable to meet the challenge.

        • I’m going to challenge the popular notion that birth control is a good answer to anything. In fact, I submit to all that BC is part of the problem, and not part of the solution, as it just ENCOURAGES promiscuous behavior, since there is the perception that it’s safe to have sex, in or out of marriage. In fact, the availability of BC has made the “SEXUAL REVOLUTION” possible, and perpetuated it. It has actually INCREASED the number of abortions, instead of decreasing them.

          “Many believe that if we could convince men and women to use contraceptives responsibly we would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus the number of abortions. Thirty years ago this position might have had some plausibility, but not now. We have lived for about thirty years with a culture permeated with contraceptive use and abortion; no longer can we think that greater access to contraception will reduce the number of abortions. Rather, wherever contraception is more readily available the number of unwanted pregnancies and the number of abortions increases greatly.” ~ from http://www.goodmorals.org/smith4.htm

    • “Most Christians, however, are spiritually less prepared for marriage than our parents and grandparents were.”

      What do you base that on? I don’t believe that for one second. People in the old days had just as many issues as people nowadays.

      • Whereas people in the old days used to enlist in the army to fight Germans and Japs when they were 16, often lying about their age, today many 20-somethings are still playing video games on their mom’s couch. You can’t have a successful marriage without a successful work ethic as a man, and since less men have successful work ethics, less men are spiritually prepared to get married. Work is spiritual.

        And……Paul gave that advice to Christians….”marry rather than burn”……..maybe that is the key to his advice being useful. He didn’t tell pagans to go marry so they wouldn’t scratch their itch in other ways. Corinthians was advice to Christians…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Whereas people in the old days used to enlist in the army to fight Germans and Japs when they were 16, often lying about their age, today many 20-somethings are still playing video games on their mom’s couch.

          Only “20-somethings”? I’ve seen 30- and 40-somethings!

          And I belong by accident of birth (1955) to the biggest generation of Perpetual Adolescents with Delusions of Grandeur to come down the chute since before World War One. There are a LOT of perpetual six-year-olds out there in sexually-active adult bodies.

  13. Lastly, let me add that single are considered second class in the Christian world. So many sermons simply ASSUME that everyone listening is married. Like the last sermon i heard was on divorce. Such a sermon is utterly irrelevant to me, and insulting as well since it is obvious the pastor is catering to married people in the congregation FIRST, and to non married people last.

    • i agree i see the church completely leaving singles behind. (though i’m married) The church completely ignores Paul’s call to virtues of singleness. thanks for your post. peace

      • The church makes people feel guilty for being single, but they also make people feel guilty for trying to find a mate! Guilt guilt guilt. I say the church should just shut up. I don’t want to hear what it has to say, I don’t care, its the blind leading the blind. The church doesn’t give a damn about anyone.

        • The answer to question 2 is the church needs to become more active in match making.

          I’ve been to singles meetings and they were nothing more than bible studies, mini church services. Its ridiculous. THe result is a room full of lonely singles all trying to pretend like they are interested in some stupid bible verse when in reality they are wishing there’d be an ice breaker or a fun activity that would facilitate opposite sex interaction, but there isn’t anything of the kind, just a boring bible study followed by prayer. YAWN. THIS IS NOTHING BUT A TIME WASTER.

          • Louis Winthrop says

            Since most churches skew female and elderly, match-making is going to pose problems.

          • Excellent point Lois,

            While I did not include it in the article, I asked a Pastor friend if he had preached on this topic recently. He said, “Why would I, most of my congregation is over 60, and it is not really that relevant to them.”

          • Tim,

            My impressions were quite the opposite, many of them were for getting people paired up. When you are the smart, not very attractive shy woman, it was painful. (For one example, in one group, this man dated every woman except me.)

          • I too am single, mid-forties and not married. Never have been. I enjoy my life and have not sought out marriage. In my opinion if I am to marry, it will happen in the right time.

            This mindset lead one man to inform me I was sinning. I was told God clearly instructs people to mary and have children. Because I was not seeking a mate and looking to have children, I was a sinner.

            He was serious.

            I sighed.

        • This reminds me of a single man who was asking a group of other Christians if it was okay to be single or not. He was basically told that a) it’s incredibly selfish to remain single and so goes against the commands of God b) if he insisted on remaining single then biblically the only way he could redeem himself was to travel to the deepest, darkest parts of Africa in order to spread the Gospel, hopefully being martyred along the way. They didn’t quite use those very words but that was the gist of it.

          • Now, if someone said that to me, I hope that I would quote Jesus to them. You remember the passage about some being born eunchs, etc.

            But, when it happened to me, I just sighed and bit my tongue.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Only Martyrs and Missionaries count. NO ONE ELSE.

            What about SF writers, D&D gamers, furries, and all the rest of us subhumans other than God’s Anointed Pets?

            My writing partner suggested I try sites like “Soul Geek”. I know from experience that CHRISTIAN (TM) dating sites are a Complete Waste.

  14. I was raised in a conservative home, and managed to stay a virgin until the ripe old age of 25–a “technical virgin” that is. I ended up having relations with the man who I would marry. I got pregnant, and felt it was the right thing to do to get married. That’s what I was taught–marriage fixes things like unwanted pregnancies. Honestly, I didn’t love him. I tried to, desperately, he did have a wonderful side to him. But he was an abuser, and years of therapy and Christian programs didn’t change that. The bad side won out, and now I’m almost divorced. He was put in jail recently for leaving huge bruises on our 7-year-old son.

    Here’s a few lies that I credit the church (okay, and Disney) with: love and marriage fix problems, a pregnancy is a basis for marriage, and waiting until marriage for sex guarantees you’ll have a good marriage. I really thought that following these “rules” would guarantee that God would honor my marriage, which meant that my ex would change, because of course God hates divorce. Turns out that doesn’t work. Why? Because those rules are legalistic. They are about controlling people’s behavior, not changing their hearts.

    What is a good foundation for marriage? Living the way Jesus taught us to live is an excellent start.

    How do we handle premarital sex in the church? First we need to decide where the Bible preaches against it. I see where it preaches against promiscuity, which to me means multiple partners, but where does it specifically forbid sex in a committed monogamous relationship? Even though traditionally the church is against it, and it’s emotionally and physically wise to wait, where is it forbidden?

    • I think common sense is a better rule than the bible. All you need is common sense really.

      Common sense says getting married just so you can have sex is obviously a stupid thing to do, and you will suffer the consequences of stupidly marrying just as you will suffer the consequences of stupidly having promiscuous sex.

    • You are absolutely right about living the way Jesus taught us to live before and after marriage. Just where did Jesus say to fornicate? What did Jesus say to Mary Magdalene? (It wasn’t go practice “serial monogamy” until you find the right husband.)

    • Michelle –
      Pre-marital sex is not specifically addressed anywhere in the Bible. This is because it didn’t exist culturally back then in the way it does now. Girls lived in their parent’s house until they got married, and “dating” did not exist. Arranged marriages were the norm. This didn’t leave much room for pre-marital sex.

      So, we have to make inferences based on principles in the Bible to figure out what we should do. The Bible is very clear that adultery (having sex with someone other than your spouse) is a sin. In the Old Testament law it also stated that if a man has sex with a virgin (aka unmarried woman), her father may force him to marry her OR make him pay the bride price even if he is not allowed to marry her. AKA if you have sex, you’re supposed to get married. (This sounds harsh, but was actually a law to protect a woman from being raped and then abandoned by a man. After such an encounter she would probably not be taken in marriage by anyone else, and would be left without a family to care for her.)

      From those principles, the church has developed it’s stance on pre-marital sex. You’re supposed to have sex only with your spouse. If that is the case, then you should make sure they are your spouse before having sex with them (aka marry them first). Paul’s directions saying “if you can’t keep from having sex, then get married so you don’t sin” in 1 Corinthians are consistent with that idea.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

      • “a law to protect a woman from being raped and then abandoned by a man”.

        One might also point out that a ‘used’ daughter was pretty unmarriable, so it kind of protected the father’s investment too.

      • Loman Totempole says

        “a law to protect a woman from being raped and then abandoned by a man”.

        such a kind and thoughtful thing, to make sure the woman was forced to marry her rapist.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Better than slitting her throat (or both of theirs) in an Honor Killing.

          This was originally written for a Semitic tribal culture.

    • What’s the difference between a committed, monogamous relationship and a marriage, again?

      • Sherman the Tank says

        A piece of paper and a $10,000 wedding bill.

        Actually, I think the benefits of marriage are getting the public, ritual support of your friends and family for your relationship. I don’t think a relationship has to have that to succeed, but I think a lot of unmarried couples are missing out on the benefits that ritual provides.

        • Yeah, the $10,000 wedding bill is somewhat silly IMO. I’m still single, so who knows how mine will go, but I’d say that many of my friends prepared more for a wedding than a marriage. And that’s problematic to me.

      • A committed, monogamous relationship is the definition of marriage civilly. Mere living together lacks the legal, finacial, familial, and permanence burdens (and benfits) of marriage, so it is by definition not a committed relationship. Marriage also has the benefits of having God’s word, force, and will behind it. So, basically, your question asked, what’s the difference between marriage and marriage.

        • It’s a tautology.

          A committed, monogamous relationship is a marriage, in the civic (social) and religious contexts. And as far as your neighbor (aka, the guy who would covet your wife) and your God (aka, the Guy who told you not to do the same) goes, what other contexts matter?

          But a committed*, ‘monogamous’ relationship is not a marriage. It’s just two people living together.

          The pretense of deconstructing marriage so as to sidestep the obligations of chastity has gotten old, guys. We should learn to obey and in our obedience, grow in faith and wisdom, instead of dabbling in speculations we have neither the intellect or subtlety to test.

          Pretending that Christian teachings “don’t make sense” as soon as you have to be responsible for them reminds me of the kids in math class who would turn in their homework assignments blank day after day and when asked why they didn’t do their assignments, turned to the teacher with recriminating eyes and said, “you didn’t TEACH ME HOW”.


  15. it comes down to do you believe in chasity or not. This whole “just hold off till marriage” thing, is bad marketing. What if you never meet anybody?? What if don’t meet anybody till later in life?? They show no virtue in singleness & they make marriage seem like only a sex party, No wonder people are divored in their early twenties. I have heard preacher’s telling congregations that unless you have this ring around your finger your not man enough to have sex. WHat does that tell the bachlor’s in the congregation????With out the Church promoting singleness as a virtue to living out the Christian faith, they cannot talk seriously about Abstinence. The church must promote chasity with an understanding that forgiveness can be found in Jesus for mistakes,(sexual relations, porn, masturbation,etc…). sexual sin IS NOT the one unforgiveable sin. peace

    • Very good point. Especially in today’s evangelicalism, there seems to be somewhat of an idolatry of the family in today’s church. When I was a deacon at a previous church, I was the only single guy on the deacon board. Every deacon’s meeting someone would pray for me to find a wife during our prayer time. Used to really annoy me. I think a lot of the church doesn’t know what to do with single folk in their late 20’s and 30’s.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Try being 54 and never married. Though in my church (RCC) there’s a lot less flak for being single (all our clergy are). The only thing you have to beware of on this side of the Tiber is instead of the local Church Ladies trying to matchmake or denounce you, they try to steer you into the Priesthood or a monastery.

  16. Louis Winthrop says

    I’m one of those people who answers “no” to # 1. Anti-fornicationism is more of a theological identity marker than a well-thought-out lifestyle choice that can be realistically generalized.

    From an anthropological perspective, courtship and marriage customs vary a lot, and they’re in transition right now in the U.S.. (Most recently, the school-age “dating” model has come to co-exist alongside an alternative paradigm of “hooking up,” i.e., a series of commitment-free sexual relationships.) It is by no means clear what sort of lifestyle will become normal for us when the dust settles, but as a practical matter, you’re more likely to ruin your life through hasty marriage than early sexual experience. (Cue calls for safe-sex education.)

    In his latest column, the advice columnist Dan Savage (he’s gay-married) thinks Christians are hypocrites for treating sex before marriage as no big deal–no politician gets hounded from office for it anymore–but homosexuality as an intolerable violation of family values, etc.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That’s because Homosexuality (TM) is part of the New Trinity, along with Evolution and Abortion.

    • “, but as a practical matter, you’re more likely to ruin your life through hasty marriage than early sexual experience. (Cue calls for safe-sex education.)”

      Depends on what you mean by ‘ruin’.

      You can gain the whole world by spending your life at sin, bro. It’s never going to ‘hurt’ you to do whatever your peers are doing – and if you strive, you’ll always reap great rewards for being the best at whatever everyone else is doing. None of my promiscuous friends or family ‘ruined’ their lives – but then again, they aren’t practicing Christians, they don’t care particularly about Jesus, and don’t know a God they would feel obligated to obey. Decent folks – no earthly ruin seems imminent.

      And why should it? Christianity isn’t a luck scheme for this life. We keep the commandments and spread the Gospel out of love for God and one another – there’s no other reason, and certainly no benefit to honoring God otherwise. Christianity is trivial without obedience. Jesus said of the Kingdom that God will shut us out and make war against us if we neglect to show up to the wedding feast he’s thrown for his Son; he says he’ll shut us out if we show up for the feast and we didn’t dignify Him enough to dress for His occasion. Everybody is called to show up and enjoy themselves, and everybody’s free to do what they want – but you’re not going to stay if you don’t come correctly.

  17. The 1950s were the low point for median age of marriage in the US so the chart is a bit deceptive. In the decades before that people got married later (e.g., in 1890 in the US median was 26 for men and 22 for women, numbers not reached again until 1990). People could legally get married much younger (my elderly neighbors when I was growing up had been married when she was 13 and he 14) but most didn’t.

    • Agreed the the chart is a bit deceptive, but it was low several decades before the 50s as well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      In their study of Generational Dynamics, Strauss & Howe observed that in American culture, most attitudes and mores tend to follow a cycle of between 80 & 90 years, as each generation raises the one after it and they settle into a pattern.

      If median age of marriage also follows the Strauss-Howe Cycle, we could expect to see the greatest difference at a 40-50 year difference and the least if we went back 80-90. Is there any data on this that goes back a century or more?

      • H.U.G.,

        Your theory may be of some validity.

        Reliable U.S. data goes back to the 1890s. When men married slightly younger that they do today, and women married quite a bit younger than they do today.

        In this specific case, economics and birth control are probably two of the largest factors.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          There was also a custom that had been completely abandoned by the time I hit puberty in the First 1960s — Older husband and younger wife.

          When a woman’s status was determined by her husband’s station, women tended to go for men who had established themselves; this usually took some time. The result was that it was common for a husband to be 10-20 years older than his wife.

          I have also heard that women reach psychological adulthood at a slightly younger age than men; if so, this age difference would tend to create matches of similar psychological age. (Being a late bloomer — part of the curse of being a kid genius — my psychological age lagged way behind.)

          By the time I hit puberty (around 1968, just when Sauron got The Ring), the custom was to marry somebody your exact age. There might be up to a three-year difference (with the guy older than than the girl), but that was the max. Mixed with young marriage (also common at the time), this could easily result in a setup where the wife is older psychologically than the husband, with the danger of easily slipping into a perpetual Mommy-and-Adolescent-Boy dynamic.

          If we still had this custom where husbands marry younger wives, I’d have a much better chance — I’m now a man of some means in my Fifties, but still looking for that One and Only to take as wife in a High Nuptial Mass and then consummate virgin groom to virgin bride. Which has about as much chance of happening as me waking up tomorrow morning to find I’d morphed into an anthropomorphic skunk or two-legged My Little Pony stallion.

          • Yes, in studying my genealogy I find many cases of what you describe. 3 Great Grandfathers that had gone to CA, been a cowboy, fought in the Civil War, and Homesteaded in Nebraska before going home at 40 and marrying a 20 year old. Seems to have been relatively common.

          • I was reading your posts and just thinking of this myself.

            You’d have cleaned up on ’em back in the day.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            What do you mean by that, Pat?

            (Not snarky, just curious. In context “cleaned up on ’em” is ambiguous without specifics.)

          • “Mommy-and-Adolescent Boy dynamic” sounds like my sister and her husband.

          • I just meant that in a more serious time, when May-December romances weren’t considered faux-pas, I think you’d certainly have had no trouble landing a good wife. I know that’s a little like saying, “if you’d lived a totally different life, you could’ve be a completely different person!” but I just mean that in all events, you read like a rare and decent and good person who’s unusually true to himself and I believe those things are desirable and believe that sometimes the world agrees with me!

          • I just meant that in a more serious time, when May-December romances weren’t considered faux-pas, I think you’d certainly have had no trouble landing a good wife. I know that’s a little like saying, “if you’d lived a totally different life, you could’ve be a completely different person!” but I just mean that in all events, you read like a rare and decent and good person who’s unusually true to himself and I believe those things are desirable and believe that sometimes the world agrees with me!

            Um, ew. As a 20-something, I’m really glad that who I married was ALSO a 20-something, not an old guy. And I really resent the idea that “a good wife” means someone “much younger than I am”. Additionally, you can’t possibly think that by severely constricting women’s choices (forcing them to marry older to be secure) is the only way for you to get married to a “good woman”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says


            Today, “rare and decent and good” dont’ cut it.

            Dangerous and Exciting (TM) and Dynamite in the Sack do. Ann proved that to me.


            I was a kid genius. A fast-tracked kid genius in the years just after Sputnik. When you’re a kid genius, the rest of your development lags behind your calendar age at least as far as your IQ runs ahead of it. Especially if you’re treated as nothing more than a super-brain in a jar. (There may have also been some sort of conservation of neurological energy involved; I was not able to swallow a pill or run like a boy instead of a girl until I was well into my twenties.) As a result, it wasn’t until my Forties that my personality grew together to the point where most people are at 20, and by then I was Too Old.

  18. I’ll only address question #3. We have taught our sons that abstinence is best, and the many reasons that we (their father and I) believe that is so. They also know that we were both virgins when we married, and that we have a happy marriage that has lasted almost three decades so far and I expect we’ll be together until one of us dies. I honestly have no idea if our states of virginity had/have anything to do with our overall bliss. I consider it God’s grace alone.

    However, we have also provided comprehensive sex education, including birth control education. to our sons. We don’t believe for one second that simply being taught sex ed makes young people want to have sex. We believe that being young people is what makes young people want to have sex. That seems to be the biggest argument and/or fear that many Christian parents seem to have about sex ed.

    Of course, we have discussed on many occasions that no single method of birth control is 100% effective, save for abstinence, because that is the truth. But we also recognize that chastity is God’s ideal and that every one of us falls short of God’s ideals every single day. We would be neither terribly surprised or “crushed” if one of our sons fell short of this ideal. We would encourage that son to view this failing as any other failing – one of countless ones they will deal with in their lives, and our advice would be to repent, believe in God’s forgiveness, and move on.

    So far, all of our boys are virgins (as far as we can possibly know, and obviously we are a pretty open, communicative family). One is an adult and the other two are on the cusp of adulthood, and, so far, so good. We continue to pray for them.

  19. Well, I’m an 18 year old senior in high school. Maybe I can shed a little light on the situation with grace and humility.

    We know that it’s wrong. We get it shoved in our faces ALL the time. (Me even more. I attend a Christian school.) What we often hear is that we just shouldn’t have sex or tempt ourselves. However, at least in my life (but I could have a very narrow view, though, I tend to think that I don’t since we have speakers of all denominations at my school. I also attend a Christian summer camp in the summer that is not affiliated with any church; it’s non-denominational), I’ve noticed that the bigger problem may be that we don’t understand the implications of the Gospel on our behavior. Most of my friends seem to not understand that there is a connection there (like I said, I could be misjudging them).

    To sum it up, maybe it’s that the youth of today don’t either fully understand the Gospel. It could also be that they don’t understand the Gospel in relation to our behavior.

    Now, I am in a Christian school (which has done wonders for me. I love it there). But I have another theory. For the most part, I see my Sunday school teachers and youth pastors twice, maybe 3 times, a week. Even being in a Christian school, I still struggle to find good accountability (but thankfully I’ve found it). In a public school, I would assume that it would be even harder to find that good accountability. With the lack of a Christian influence, do you think that it somewhat has to do with the lack of good, solid Christians around us? I could be wrong.

    These are just a teenagers thoughts. They could be wrong. Let me know what y’all think.

    • Hunter,

      I think you are dead on. I have been a teacher at both public and Christian schools. What you describe is pretty much what I see. Many of my students who are Christian don’t really appear to really connect the Gospel to how they behave in real life. And what I’ve seen from my own friends from youth and in following some of my students into college and adulthood bears that observation out. I am happy to say that I have seen some who are doing very well as Christians and I praise God for their virtue. It appears to be a little more common in the Christian schools for students to actually develop virtue, but not all that much.

    • Hunter,

      I appreciate the thoughts..

      If you could clarify for me, what do see as the Gospel’s implications on your sexual behavior?

      I think your observations about accountability might be right on target. Maybe we do quite a lot of talking about morality in teaching and preaching, but have too few honest personal discussions about it? Having someone with whom you can have an honest conversation can be strengthening and encouraging. Maybe if we could all put aside our sense of shame and fear of judgment we could draw strength from one another. That sounds kind of Christian, don’t you think?

      Of course, Brian K is right. If someone doesn’t care about chastity, then there isn’t much humanly to be done for them.

      • The Gospel’s implications on behavior in general is best seen in chapters 6-8 of Romans. Because of His saving grace, we are called to live lives of holiness. Like Paul says, grace does not give us the right to sin all the more. We are no longer slaves to sin; we are slaves to righteousness. I’m pretty much quoting Romans 6 directly. Paul is much better at explaining it than I am.

        And I fully agree on the accountability thing. I’m actually quite blessed having a Sunday school teacher who I relate too, is my recreational basketball coach, and basically talks to me everyday. Something I’ve learned from him is that while preaching and teaching is great, the better way to penetrate the heart of a teenager is to relate to him/her. Look at all these mediums of Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’re a very relational generation. My teacher says he doesn’t really like to teach or preach AT us because we sit in school all day everyday; we have no motivation to listen to ANOTHER lecture. Our class is discussion based, and I can honestly say that I’ve learned more about Christ and his love/grace/mercy from relating with people more than sitting in a pew or a class and listening to a lecture (I must note that I have ADD, which I am on medication for. That might have something to do with it.)

        I could completely be missing the point on my accountability thing. Let me know.

  20. Christiane says

    Aside from the emphasis on not having sex before marriage,
    how does the Protestant world prepare its young for a committed Christian marriage?
    Are there any pre-Cana classes?
    Also, with divorce and re-marriage now being so rampant and so accepted within the wider Christian community, what are the young being told by their teachers regarding the sanctity of the marriage union?

    Sex is important, but the really critical moral issue in marriage is the willingness of the couple to care for one another over a life-time of difficulties.

    • Most pastors I know, myself included, require 6-8 weekly sessions of pre-marriage counseling. I use the time to discuss the theology of marriage, sex, children, the Christian home, and I try to give advice about finances, relating to in-laws, and communication, etc. There are several good programs out there to help the minister in this activity. Most of ministers I know will not officiate the ceremony unless there is counseling first. I’m sure this is not true for all, but IMHO any minister worth the title is doing this sort of work.

      • And virtually all of my friends viewed these classes merely as a means to an end in getting the wedding held in the church. They don’t view them as beneficial (though they may well be), just a hoop to jump through.

        • This is one big reason why I wonder whether a ‘church wedding’ is worth the effort to begin with – oftentimes even the people who TEACH these classes view them as just a formality and a hoop to put couples through.

          It’s abstract; the comments on this thread seem to prove it, too. Most Christians who’ve had premarital sex have found a way to rationalize their experience apart from the classic and orthodox line of repentance-logic (‘I committed a sin, sin is truly death, and having learned the truth I don’t equivocate about it’), and a marriage class or a billion church services isn’t going to change how they integrate their past into their future. I’m sick of our empty ceremonies.

          • I’ve often wondered why some couples don’t just go to a judge for their wedding. If they have no interest in honoring God through their relationship, why waste time with the performance of the “church wedding?”

      • It’s too late.

        Once a couple are ‘in love’, you can talk till you’re blue in the face. They’re on cloud nine. They have no problems, or at least any problems are because of external factors, nothing to do with them. You talk about future tensions, they just smile benignly, because you just don’t understand the power of their love.

        I believe that premarital preparation should start MUCH earlier, instead of telling youth groups how naughty sex is, we should be telling them what marriage is about, and what it is really like, once the honeymoon period has finished.

        (Start by killing Walt Disney)

        • I realize I’m coming in late with this response, but I wanted to agree with you, Ben. You’re right. Once a couple is “in love” they will listen to very little. I agree with you about starting much earlier. The problem from a pastoral point of view is that we get people from all kinds of backgrounds, and you must work with what you have. Doing counseling 8-10 weeks before a schedule wedding date is actually ineffective for the most part. They’ve bought the invitations, its too late to back out now. Years in advance would be much better, but how would you convince people to actually do it.

        • AMEN – and that is precisely what I do with my daughters.

    • One more thought, and it goes to Hunter’s point above as well.

      We typically do OK at telling our youth what to do and not do, but are much effective at telling them the “why” of Christian morality.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Also, with divorce and re-marriage now being so rampant and so accepted within the wider Christian community…

      To the point that once you hit 30 and haven’t married, the only choices you have are “Divorced, with Children”. Isn’t there something about “He who marries she who is divorced committeth adultery”?

      …what are the young being told by their teachers regarding the sanctity of the marriage union?

      When you find out, tell me.

      • Christiane says

        Hello Headless,

        I’m not judging anyone out there who is seeking to marry someone that they love and make a home.
        The problem is that sometimes the very people who are involved in this: ““He who marries she who is divorced committeth adultery”?”
        are the first to sit in judgment on those whom they consider to be committing other sins.

        I don’t know how to say it, but if we are in the midst of our own inability ‘to be perfect’, how then can we point the finger to another ?
        Honestly, I think we are ‘in denial’ about our own brokeness when we are strident in judging the sins of others. And yes, that includes those sins that are so easily attacked because they are so widely identified as the popular sins to hate.
        We lose perspective. In pointing to the ‘others’, we condemn ourselves more than them.

        Is there some kind of ‘Sin of the Month Club’ that judmental people join?
        And then open-season is declared on their targets?
        We are missing something important in the Gospels, I think. Maybe we don’t want to see that it is there, because the truth of it hurts our pride-filled self-image. ?

        • I think our understanding of divorce in most Christian circiles is actually a bit unbiblical. We hang everything on a single statement by Jesus that is usually taken out of context and is of suspect translation rather than seeking the whole biblical picture on the issue.

          HUG is right for us over-30 folks. The never-married-and-over-30 is rare these days. The virgin-and-over-30 is even rarer. Throw “Christian” into the mix, and the pickings get real slim.

          It basically comes down to how you’re going to deal with that. Me, I’ve realized that I don’t have problem with the idea of marrying a woman who’s divorced with kids. I know that there are potential issues that come with it and that it would require working some stuff out, but that’s OK. The Gospel seems to be for those of us with “issues.” In fact, the last woman I dated was divorced with kids, and though it didn’t work out, I still love her, the kids, and her whole family for that matter. And from what I understand, that love goes both ways (in fact, her family wants us to give it a second try).

  21. “if they cannot control themselves it is better to marry than burn with passion”

    I’d be curious how this verse could be applied to gay individuals? If you do not believe it can be applied, what are they supposed to do?? They must be expected to resist greater tempation than straight individuals?? This would relate to question six in the original post.

  22. Love this post.

    Is “abstinence only” the right message? No.

    From growing up in an evangelical church, I can definitely say that we all knew having sex before marriage was harmful and wrong. Let me paraphrase the message I received from the Christian community during high school:

    “Sex outside of marriage is wrong. Don’t have sex. Don’t dress sexily. Don’t cause your brother to stumble. Your body is dangerous. Your sexuality is dangerous. Don’t have sex. Marriage is wonderful. Don’t have sex.”

    The focus on abstinence was good, as it is useful and true. HOWEVER! Without any elaboration on what ELSE you are supposed to be doing with yourself, abstinence-only LEAVES A HUGE VACUUM. Teenagers are sexual. They have hormones running wild, they have horrid role models everywhere, MTV and other media is streaming distorted and exploitive (and explicit!) images of sexuality into their brains all the time. If we don’t have a better answer, we leave our kids WIDE OPEN for anything else to step in to fill the void.

    Questions we need to be answering:
    * How do you date in a godly way?
    * How can you handle sexual urges in a healthy, chaste manner? (telling them to “just stuff it” is not an answer)
    * How do you deal with masturbation?
    * Let’s talk about pornography. No one in the church does, even though the women (and CHILDREN) depicted in those pictures are often victims of extortion and violence (aka “the least of these”). Say more than “just don’t look”.
    * What does a good marriage look like? How do you judge character and compatibility with another person? I was lucky to have parents who showed me what that looks like. My church growing up said exactly nothing about that.

    If we truly expect our youth to be chaste, we need to do more than just tell them not to have sex. It is a woefully incomplete answer.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Growing up in Christian school, all we got was “Just DON’T”. End of story, no explanation, no questions. I especially agree with more open discussion. If we’re gonna open the topic, then we as leaders should be available for further discussion and questions from teens. In my situation, I would never have felt comfortable asking any clergy or teachers about how to deal with sexual urges or to ask for accountability.

    • Christiane says

      Melissa asks this: ‘* What does a good marriage look like? How do you judge character and compatibility with another person? ”
      What an excellent question for the Christian community to answer for the young, especially the ones from broken homes.
      Melissa continued with this comment:
      “I was lucky to have parents who showed me what that looks like. ”

      Yes. The ‘model’ teaches better than just words.
      And so few have that blessing. Can the Church make up for it?
      If so, how?
      Or ‘will the circle be unbroken?’
      God help our poor young people, if we cannot.

    • UnderTheRadar says

      Going anonymous on this one (telling on myself). I went into a confessional with a priest who was a stranger to me, that, when I admitted to fornication, asked me if I thought it was okay to treat one of God’s children as an object for my pleasure. He warned me quite sternly that if I continued to look at my “sisters” as objects for sexual gratification, I was dooming myself to failed relationships, both with women and God.

  23. I know others have said similar things, but I’ll just give my two-cents.
    I was going to write a nice little dittie bout how to deal with this. But, after reviewing what I was saying, I realized I could say it in so less words, so I will.

    You ask “What is the Church to do?”

    A: Repent, repent, repent. Repent for our hypocrisy. Repent for our neglecting what Our Lord says concerning these matters. Repent for all the times we let ourselves fall into temptation. Repent for all the time we, in our zeal and self-righteousness, do more damage to someone who has fallen into sexual sin. Weep for and with those who sin, realizing that we too could just as easily fall prey to the same trap they did. Weep in sackcloth and ashes, for the Church no longer seems to know what it means to be pure, to be disciplined and abstain. Weep for this World, who has perveted a beautiful gift that God gave unto mankind.
    Pray, that God would grant us the strength and grace to resist temptation. Pray, that God would teach us again what it means to be pure; what marriage is. Pray, that God would give us compassion towards those who have gone against His will concerning sex and marriage, and that we would do unto them as Christ would do unto us if we were in the same situation.
    Pray, that God would have mercy on us all.

    • Thank you Tim. That was beautifully put. Long story short…I needed to hear that today. Peace

  24. And what of those of us who are single well into our 20s, 30s, 40s, or beyond (the forgotten demographic in today’s “family-friendly” evangelicalism), but not by choice? This whole post presupposes that all of us have the OPTION of marrying and are simply choosing to delay it, yet marriage is not even a possible solution for all of us. Does that does that absolve us of our responsibility before God to obey the seventh commandment? And what of those who are fortunate enough to marry? Do the words “I pronounce you husband and wife” somehow remove all sexual temptation from the couple? If it did, God would not have given us a seventh commandment!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I am 54 and never married. It wasn’t by choice. With one exception (that turned out to be BS), no female has ever found me attractive. Ever. They want Exciting Abusive Adonises like Edward Cullen (sparkle sparkle sparkle), not a geek like me.

      And the Christians were no different. If they weren’t already “JEESUS Is My Boyfriend”, they had standards for their Perfect Christian Husband that were so high Christ himself would fall short. That’s why I have no sympathy for these Christian women who whine about “How I Can’t Find a Husband”. You rejected all us mortal men for your Cosmic Edward Cullen with the Shekinah Sparkles.

  25. Here is my perspective as a 29-year old virgin woman. I was brought up in a Christian home and church that emphasized abstinence before marriage. I was well taught about why it is important, and I still believe that it is important now. However, my church and parents did absolutely nothing to encourage me to pursue godly marriage, or even dating. I was encouraged to pursue career and education above all else. And I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. The only advice I ever received about marriage was that: 1. later is better- preferably 30 or later; 2. it will come along when it’s the right time. This came from my mom who married at 18 (my dad was 20) and didn’t go to college because she had me. So I can’t blame her too much for teaching me those things.

    This is where things get difficult. I have spent years in pain and loneliness because I believed that I shouldn’t be pursuing marriage until everything else was accomplished. The only reason I’m still a virgin is because I haven’t had an active dating life (less temptation) and I still firmly believe in abstinence before marriage. But now I believe that all this waiting has been for nothing. There is no reason why I couldn’t have been looking for godly young men who might be marriage material when I was in college. My understanding of the research, by the way, is that the higher divorce rates in younger marriages apply primarily to teen marriage, not marriage in the early twenties. I’ve spent years wasting my youth on advanced education (not that I wouldn’t have pursued it anyway) instead of looking to find a godly man to spend my life with. Now I am still single, less attractive that I was in my early 20’s, and sexually frustrated beyond belief. And believe me, if you haven’t experienced extended virginity, you can have no idea what it’s like. I’ve struggled so very much not to become bitter about it. Instead, I’ve been much more proactive in trying to meet single, Christian men. But they are hard to find at this age.

    So my point in telling you my story is that I firmly believe that encouraging young people in their twenties to pursue and expect to achieve marriage while they are still young will help prevent much pain and suffering, in addition to premarital sex. And they should not be expected to achieve this on their own- the involvement of the church and godly older couples is vital to helping younger people make wise decisions. They’re young- of course they don’t know everything there is to know yet. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to marry, as long as they have wise guidance. For those who point to the infidelities of married Christian people, I see that as a totally different problem, relating to their lack of control of their lusts, lack of a real relationship with God, and/or insecurity about their own self-worth. I don’t believe that it has a bearing on this discussion of whether to marry early or not, unless those traits are present in the unmarried person in question, in which case they should be addressed before considering marriage.

    • I think I understand your frustration, although I honestly couldn’t say I would advise a daughter differently (if I had one). And it is pretty much the advice we have given our sons, to delay marriage and fatherhood until they have a reasonable expectation of being able to provide for that family. In this country, that usually entails post-secondary education and getting a foothold in one’s chosen field of employment.

      So at 29, you seem to have accomplished quite a bit in that regard. It is hardly “too late” to pursue your desire to marry and have a family. Are you actively pursuing that goal?

      • Yes, she is, Savannah, and I really feel for her because I’ve been where she is at now.

        I can relate 100% to her life story, and I’m going to say something controversial.

        Anonymous, look outside the circle of Christian men. Make sure you are first supported and mentored by strong Xians who will hold you accountable, but based on my past experience, at your age, your not going to have a ton of luck with the men in your church’s singles group.


        Because men at your age tend to avoid church… not because they don’t want to know the Lord, but because the church has been feminized (read the book “Why Men Hate Going to Church”, by David Murrow. He points out a huge problem in the church: http://www.churchformen.com/ )

        Above all, continue to pray… I know you are, Anonymous, and my tears are mingling with your tears. I’ve been where you are and I know you needs hugs and support.

        Did I eventually get married? Yea, at age 40. See my comment above in reply to Tim W.

        If a young couple show maturity at an early age, let them marry, pursue their college degrees togehter (parents… still give them financial suppor!!), and begin their careers as a couple.

        • Maybe it is just my advancing age, but again, I hardly think 29 is anywhere in “game over” range. Not even close.

          I’m not going to take the bait on the “church being feminized” stuff.

          I will agree that she should look outside her current circles. Unless there are eligible men at church or at work, a real effort will have to be made to meet some. Perhaps consider your own interests and search for opportunities to meet up with people with like-minded interests. If you like to read, go to readings by various authors at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Look for cultural opportunities in your community, if you’re so minded. If you are athletic, join a co-ed volleyball or softball team.

          I realize that you may look around your sphere of influence and be very discouraged. I actually know very few married people who met their spouse at church.

          • Savannah,
            I hear the same sentiment quite often- You still have lots of time to get married! (My mom says this too 🙂 Technically, yes, since I’m probably going to live into my seventies or eighties. Do I care if the search takes that long? Absolutely! It has already stretched more than long enough to make me just a little insane. And to throw a monkey wrench into the mix, I would really love to have 3 or 4 children. In my early twenties, I was ambivalent about having children, but as I’ve gotten older, family has become more important to me. So hearing that I am still young, etc., really doesn’t make me feel any better.

            Still, I am doing my best with what I have. See my reply to anon for my adventures in dating from the last year or so.

        • Thank so very much for your support anon! I can see that you understand where I’m coming from. Some just can’t, which is why I don’t share my story all that often. Even my mom doesn’t understand, and she is a wonderful Christian role model.

          You will be happy to know that I have come to the same conclusions that you did and have been looking in other avenues to meet men for some time now. Mostly that includes online dating, and I have met a few Christian men that way, but nothing that worked out. Many men say they are Christian but act in very un-Christian ways. Many men my age just aren’t interested. They are looking for someone in her early twenties. And I can’t tell you how many men my parents’ age (and older) express interest in me- ugh! On the other hand, I met a man just recently who was actually genuine and interesting over email, but deathly boring in person. Sigh. I’ve also visited various other church “college and career” groups, but that tends not to be fruitful. I think the whole mixed message about how these groups should not be a “meat/meet market” makes men scared to ask women out. I agree wholeheartedly that Christian men my age seem to avoid church. They’re certainly not very present in my church! The few we have are much younger than me.

          And so I continue on, doing my best to make up for lost time.

          • Just one thing.

            Please resist the idea that if you find ‘the right one’, everything will work out ok and life will be all sweetness and light.

            If you make a right choice, things will be easier; if you make a bad choice, things will be harder, but any marriage ALWAYS has difficulties, hard points, moments when you wonder if you haven’t completely screwed up your life.

            When you are single, you tend to just want to ‘get married’, but the daydreaming doesn’t include much specifics beyond the wedding. Just like people who want babies don’t spend much time daydreaming about changing nappies and cleaning up sick at 3 in the morning.

            What am I trying to say? That viewed from your side, marriage can end up seeming like some magical ‘rightmaking’ event that will transform your existence (if you find Mr Right). It WILL transform your existence. It will make it richer. And harder.

            Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go back to being single for anything, and I had recurrent nightmares that I was still single for several years after getting married, but marriage isn’t some state of ‘nirvana’. In many ways it’s just “business as usual”.

            I would advocate being far more pragmatic and ‘hardnosed’ than our current ‘romantic’ culture teaches us:

            Bad: “I get warm fuzzies whenever I look at him”
            Good: “Am I going to be able to put up with this guy, his smelly socks and his stupid jokes,(and his mother!) for 40 years without going crazy?”

            Your idea of who is ideal might not be quite as ideal as you think. Don’t be too proud to ask people who know you well what they think of your ideas about who would be good for you.

          • Oh, sister Anon!

            It’s me, the other anon again. What you wrote, yup, I lived that too. I know almost exactly where your heart is coming from, and all I can do is extend hugs and prayers.

            Your experiences while looking… yep… been there, I hear ya. I experienced every single one of those.

            I hope it helps to know that you are understood 100%.

            The other Anonymous.

    • “There is no reason why I couldn’t have been looking for godly young men who might be marriage material when I was in college.”

      If you don’t mind me asking, what WERE you doing in college?

      • Working myself to death, of course! I’m not a partier by nature, and I tend to have a few close friends rather than many, so I just didn’t get very involved with social activities. I had no motivation to meet new people when I already had some friends and wasn’t looking to date anyone. If only I knew then what I knew now, I would have pushed myself outside my comfort zone, but I was young and naive and misinformed.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Working myself to death, of course! I’m not a partier by nature, and I tend to have a few close friends rather than many…

          Same here. Plus D&D every Saturday night at Cal State Fullerton over at the other end of Brea Canyon; back then, gamer fandom was my only social outlet. (After what I went through in high school, I didn’t poke my head out of my shell until the 1980s.)

        • Youth really is wasted on the young.

    • FollowerOfHim says


      My prayers are with you. I married at 30, to a woman 10 years my senior. We were both virgins –70 combined years of abstinence is, by my calculations, about 3.493 h***s of a long time to wait. It IS frustrating.

      I have no silver bullets solution for you, but don’t despair.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Here is my perspective as a 29-year old virgin woman…

      If you are in Southern California, I wish I could contact you. If nothing else, to actually see proof that I’m not the only one left.

      Where I am, Virginity is treated the same way (and with the same revulsion) as Leprosy. Even within my own family (when my parents were alive — the only time I ever had a girlfriend, I caught hell from them for NOT getting in her pants).

      • Needless to say, there are plenty of men who do not share this revulsion, and would welcome the chance to date a 29-year-old virgin. (Doesn’t apply in reverse, though–you’re still a hopeless geek, HUG!)

      • HUG,

        You are not the only one left. I’m about 2 years older than you and still a virgin. I don’t see that changing, but then I’ve come to the realization that my marital expiration date came pretty early. By that I mean, when men and women are so set in their ways that making room for someone to live with them is almost impossible.

        I’ve fallen for several men that were like that, and am now grateful that nothing happened.

  26. I posted a reply to this on my blog, but Michael requested I repost my answers to his questions here.

    1. Is sex outside of marriage a sin? If so, why?
    I don’t feel that sex outside of marriage is a ’sin’, at least in the commonly stated ways. However (as much as I dislike labelling any action ’sin’ that is not directly stated so in the Bible), from my stance on marriage it is possible to call it a ’sin’ to have sex with more than one person. This is because I believe that sex is the act by which God institutes marriage, based on the historical Christian and Jewish faiths. I’ve gone into plenty of detail in the past on the details of this – if you’re interested, it might be worth browsing through my ‘Sex, Sexuality and Marriage’ category. I certainly do not believe that either our religious or legal institutions have any bearing on God’s view of our relationships, sexual or not.

    2. Assuming the answer to one is yes, what can we do to help our youth wait for marriage?
    As the assumption to the first question is not yes, do we need to help our youth wait for marriage? No, but I certainly believe that we can help them wait for sex. I think one factor in youth’s increasing predilection for premarital sex is the fact that marriage is now an institution primarily for older, more stable, mature people. This makes sense, with lifespans increasing. However, youth don’t feel that marriage is something that is near (it’s a long time to wait), and we often make them wait through their most fertile and sexually active years for marriage because of this. Anecdotal evidence (that of my own friends and acquaintances, so I won’t go into details) suggests to me that this actually has negative effects on the sex lives of those who have waited for longer periods of time. If we are to make our youth wait for sex, then we have to instill in them a sense that sex is meant for one person, and one person only. Some suggestions: The approval of family and friends should be had before they sleep with someone. This means a stronger family unit. This means family support of both families through the relationship. This ensures that there is community obligation to maintain the relationship through rough patches, until and through marriage. There should also be clarity that sex, though not necessarily a sin prior to marriage, is nevertheless a stepping stone to marriage, and is something that should not be done without marriage being a goal (it is akin to engagement).

    3. Is abstinence alone the right message? If it is abstinence plus something else, is this sending the right message?
    I’m not sure exactly what Michael means by this question, but the end of the last segues into something I think fits here. Firstly, youth will make mistakes, so sex education (condoms, how-to, what not to do, etc.) is a must. Secondly, masturbation (Oh no! The M Word!) is not a sin. Without any sexual release at all, we either relegate our youth to extreme guilt or force them to premarital sex. It is best to deem it natural, and have an open (not guilt-ridden) relationship about it. Parents should have a discussion about it with their children at the onset of puberty. I’m not entering into any discussion about pornography – that is certainly a complex and blurry line.

    4. Is early marriage a possible solution?
    Yes, early marriage is a possible solution. However, I’m not convinced that in modern western society, it is the right one. In the past, when marriage occurred earlier, marriages were about obligation and survival (and sometimes politics). Now, with marriage being ‘mainly’ about the western concept of love, I fear that early marriage encourages youth to rush into marriages in the midst of a hormonal high, whether one induced by the suppressed lust between two people, or one induced by the adolescent/young adult desire for sex. And, with our increasing lifespans, neither of these are foundations that remain strong over the fifty or more years that marriage is likely to last. The solution are the principles I mention earlier. Community and family involvement, to keep relationships strong, supported, and community/family centered.

    5. While not discussed above, along with the increase in premarital sex has come an increase in co-habitation. If we are truly evangelistic, we are going to see more and more people coming into our churches who are co-habitating. What do we say to, or do with, the co-habitating couple who starts attending our church?
    Well, if they’re co-habiting and in a sexual relationship, then I think that they are married (or as good as) by divine standards. Why would we speak to or do anything with them differently?

    6. Now this is a question that might seem to come out of left field, but I believe that it directly relates. If our older youth are so likely to have participated in premarital sex, how do we address the homosexual? If seems somewhat hypocritical of us to suggest that they can’t have sex outside of marriage when we are having sex outside of marriage.
    Whilst I don’t really argue that homosexuality is a sin (I’m neutral in stance; I don’t think there’s enough evidence for it being a sin, and hence the commandment to love takes precedent, I think that if one’s argument with homosexuality is that it is outside of marriage, then you have a very weak argument with homosexuality. It is definitely hypocritical of you to argue that; so, as with co-habiting couples, you should not treat them any differently than anyone else.

    Thanks for asking the questions, Michael. I hope my answers cause some thought and discussion.

    • “If we are truly evangelistic, we are going to see more and more people coming into our churches who are co-habitating. What do we say to, or do with, the co-habitating couple who starts attending our church?”

      We as Christians can best avoid this dilemma by not evangelizing to such people. I’m joking of course.

      • Oh, Tim, sadly, I run into fellow believers who feel that way! They have fallen into the church-as-country/social-club mentality. And, heaven forbid that they have anything to do with evangelism.

        The other Anonymous

    • +1. Excellent answer.

    • I like answer #1, but don’t we still have the same problem? If sex is the sign/act that joins two people marriage before God (which I happen to believe), then we still have to convince that pair of the importance of that commitment in the eyes of God. Again, if they don’t care, or rationalize their actions apart of Christians belief, then what are we to do?

      • Further, what about those for whom sex is not possible are they not then married in the eyes of God? While I agree that God’s standard is somewhat different than the government/institution’s, but don’t you think there is still a social, and community function of the couple making a pledge before men in the eyes of God?

        • You’re right, Erin, we still have to convince or instill in those people that commitment is important in the eyes of God. However, I think it’s important to take the emphasis off sex and onto commitment as the problem: The problem is not our youth having sex, it’s the problem of our youth not being committed to their relationships. (There’s interesting conversation happening at my original post on this subject, if you’re interested.)

          There is certainly a social/community function to the pledge. In first-second century Judaism, and Christianity until around 1400, this pledge occurred after pregnancy (proof that the marriage had been consummated).

          About God’s standard: I certainly feel that God, as he instructs us to be, operates from love first in cases such as these. If a couple cannot have sex, then God would view them as marriage if they were so committed to it. In this case, perhaps a pledge would be a necessary symbol.

      • Wow. I hate that one. I have a friend who told me that her cohabitation meant that they were really married in God’s eyes. When she got divorced, she said it was OK because she was never married in God’s eyes. I suspect that this is a rationalization more than a theological insight. I suspect an actual permanent commitment is what God seeks, not a sex act as marriage ceremony.

        • Kozak,

          I think you’re right that commitment is what God seeks: It’s important to move away from sex as the focus. As I said to Eric R, the problem is not that our youth are having sex, it’s that they have no commitment to their relationships. You can read what I said to Eric R, and go to my blog for further conversation on the matter.

    • Once upon a time, people became enunchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s love. Better to make it to heaven without your bags than to miss the plane. That’s a love that is acceptable to God; Jesus says so.

      How does being too lazy to marry the girl you’re sleeping with indicate the kind of love that Jesus wants us to grow in?

      If a guy gives up his would-be husband for the kingdom, he may be giving God his last farthing. What kind of evil ‘mercy’ is it to say to gay Christians striving for the kingdom, “keep your dime. love is free!” Jesus said it’s better for us to wear swim with millstones than to cause the least of us who trust in Him to sin.

      “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” Matt 18:7

      Not addressing one anothers’ sins (and our own hate for chastity – and everybody who fails to love his God reviles the dry and desperate chastity that remains him) isn’t loving. Jesus addressed our sins directly. Why would unbelievers even WANT to be among us if they didn’t know that we have gathered together to encourage one another to give up our sins and take on a new life? We’re not the Kiwanis Club.

  27. Whew, after 5 1/2 years of graduate school I can actually do something practical with my degree– like commenting on a blog! Longtime lurker. First time commenter.

    First, I think the methodology in some of the studies that look at religion is somewhat flawed. However, I think that the above is a pretty representation of what is happening.

    Second, I don’t think a return to early marriage is possible. The age at first marriage stats provided follow the same pattern as other economic and cultural changes, most notably increasing economic independence for women and women becoming more educated. There is no longer an economic incentive to marry, which was why so many women married young in the past. Marriages are now primarily based on the desire for love and self-fulfillment, not economic needs/arrangements. I don’t see this trend reversing or how it can even be addressed.

    Third, in my opinion the Church has been crippled by the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” mentality. We now have many young, single people who have no idea how to relate to the opposite sex. Meeting a member of the opposite sex for coffee is seen as signing a marriage contract. It’s ridiculous. I feel like I’m still in jr. high when I get together with other young, single Evangelicals.

    Fourth, I agree with other posters who say we should not just focus on saying “don’t do it” but including abstinence as an overall focus on purity and honoring the Lord.

    • Brinn, I agree with the negative effect of the courtship mentality on young people. What ever happened to friendship? I had many male friends growing up, and my husband had many female friends. These were chaste relationships – true friendships. It is in these relationships where one learns how to interact with others, and experiences the give-and-take rhythm that is essential (in my view) for successful marriage.

      Sometimes it seems that the church is seriously obsessed with sex, assumes that all cross-gender relationships *must* be sexual, but on the other hand, we don’t really equip our young people to deal with sexuality in healthy ways that respect their God-given biology. We just say, “don’t”. And then we are appalled at the statistics on the matter.

  28. I’m going to argue the way to solve this is to change the preconceptions and stereotypes about marriage. Think of all the things kids pick up about marriage:
    1) Once you marry, your life is over. Fun time is over. Education is over, goofing around and sleeping in on weekends is over. Having sex is over. It’s called “settling down” for a reason.
    2) You have to be ready to sacrifice everything to support your family, make all the decisions, and buy a house (if you’re male) and ready to give up your independence and identity, have kids and be the mom (if you’re female).

    Geez, with that kind of message no wonder people are putting off getting married until they are 30, or not doing it at all. Who would sign up for that?

    Marriage is a partnership. Get married when you BOTH are ready to make a go of it together (poor guy shouldn’t have to wait until he can buy a house! what is she’s already bought one?); don’t wait until you’re ready to have kids to get married (and don’t freak out about not having kids). Have fun together; you don’t have to take on the matriarch/patriarch labels as soon as the honeymoon is over. Make that honeymoon last until you’re both ready to “settle down”, whether that’s 24, 29, 35, 62, or never.

    Get THAT message out, that sex IS fantastic and sex with a committed partner, whom you can trust and really let your hair down with, is absolutely mind-blowing, that marriage is not the end of your youth but joining with someone else to enjoy it together and build the foundation for the rest of your life; and you’ll have ’em cueing up to get married again at 20, 22, 23, etc.

    I’m somewhat-tongue-in-cheek here, because I know that won’t solve the problem–I’m just tired of popular culture on the one hand pointing out that once you get married and have kids you never have sex, and Christians on the other saying you must get married and have kids. Any 15 year-old with their hormones raging can do the math on THAT one.

    (Background: I was raised that sex outside of marriage is wrong. I married a year or two out of college, but I did not make it to the altar as a virgin–missed the high score on that one. But knowing you can get married and have legitimate sex before you have all the answers to life’s challenges worked out REALLY helps to keep a handle on things.)

    • Yes, that’s another thing that both secular and christian contemporary cultures have in common:
      They both treat marriage as the capstone of the construction of adulthood, the thing you do AFTER you’ve completed your education, toured the world, established your career, and set up your home, and otherwise proven you can be a success in our culture’s definition of the good life. The ceremony is an elaborate celebration of what you’ve already achieved.

      It seems a far cry from earlier days, when the marriage was more about family and friends committing to support the union of two people just starting to figure out life.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve wanted to marry and settle down for 30 years. Can you imagine the security of knowing she’ll be there, that you can finally settle down with cuddly companionship?

      In all those years, all I have gotten from females has been rejection after rejection. The only exception (in the early-to-mid 1980s) turned out to be a BS job from the word go; the only difference was the rejection came AFTER I had pair-bonded to her.

      You see, whatever genetic curse gave me my 160 IQ also introduced a lethal mutation — I pair-bonded to her as if mating for life, and even 25 years later the bond is still there and I can’t let go. Imagine forming that sort of mate-for-life pair-bond when you belong to a species that doesn’t pair-bond, but can only screw like bonobos. It’s like I’m not human, but one of the imaginary critters I write about who DO pair-bond for life.

      I’d like so much to belong to a species that DOES mate for life; it’s gotten to the point that the only way I can see a female as chaste or virtuous is if she is visibly NOT human.

      • “I’d like so much to belong to a species that DOES mate for life; it’s gotten to the point that the only way I can see a female as chaste or virtuous is if she is visibly NOT human.”

        I’ll say a prayer for you friend.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I am NOT talking about four-leggers!

          More like Maid Marian from the old Disney Robin Hood. Or her descendants in Fantastic Mr Fox.

          P.S. In my experience, “praying for you” is Christianese for doing nothing.

          • Quoted for the silliness.

            And Maid Marian was totally a fox! I’m with you on that one. That particular Robin Hood is weirdly close to my heart.

            Hey, if I could do more than pray for you, I would!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And Maid Marian was totally a fox!

            Vixen, actually. Yap Yap Yip Yark!

            I’m with you on that one. That particular Robin Hood is weirdly close to my heart.

            Maybe you’re secretly one of THEM, a Furry!

  29. Glad to see the analysis and responses, and I do think this is a problem worth discussing and addressing. We have two teenagers and as far as I know both are still virgins, not because of any overt church program or abstinence-only education, but I think because they live in a home where they see a committed marriage, common sense, openness; and they see around them the real drawbacks of teen sexual entanglements and pregnancies.

    On the other hand, it strikes me the degree to which sexual sins exclusively garner an inequitably great amount of analysis, study, attention and sometimes outright hand-wringing in evangelical circles. I’d love to see a similar analysis of trends of excessive consumerism, prejudice, greed, gossip, violence, needless war, or other equally prevalent but far more socially acceptable sins.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’d love to see a similar analysis of trends of excessive consumerism, prejudice, greed, gossip, violence, needless war…

      But those are CHRISTIAN (TM)!
      Without Excessive Consumerism, where would Joel Osteen be?
      And “Thou Shalt Gossip” IS the Eleventh Commandment! Ask any Church Lady!

      We hate only those sins that we have no chance of ever committing. Those that we do, we ignore or explain away. “I THANK THEE, LORD, THAT I AM NOTHING LIKE THIS FILTHY PUBLICAN…”

  30. A little late to the party, and if it’s unwelcome feel free to delete. But I just found this post particularly interesting because it gets discussed in the left-blogsphere, especially the feminist realm, a lot.

    1. Is sex outside of marriage a sin? If so, why? (I know someone is going to ask the question, so I might as well be the first. By the way, I do believe it is, but I am interested in hearing others reasoning.)

    As near as I can tell from the Bible’s definition of a sin, yes. It’s a sin because a bunch of passages in the Bible said that Jesus and Paul said it was. I’m just going to have to go with a wash on that one because, as a nice agnostic, what does sin mean to me?

    Now, if the question is “Is sex outside of marriage immoral” you’re going to get a far different answer (from me, at least). Is it immoral? Only if it’s done before either party is ready/wants it, or is based on a lie. (So, no pressuring anyone into sex, or any kind of sex they aren’t comfortable with, enthusiastic consent needs to be there, and no cheating). Otherwise, have fun. Sex is great fun, a terrific stress relief, and if you’re doing with someone who respects you and with proper protection, has less consequences than driving in rush hour traffic. Win-win all around.

    2. Assuming the answer to one is yes, what can we do to help our youth wait for marriage?

    Fundamentally rewire basic human biology. Alternately, stop dumping estrogen mimickers into the environment. There seems to be some preliminary science that suggests the earlier and earlier puberty in people is a result of these in our food, water, and air. Of course, it could just be greater access to calories, so *shrugs*. In addition to that/ alternately, make marriage more attractive some how. If you wanted to be evil about it, you could pressure people to be miserable for the sake of community, but I wouldn’t want to go that path.

    3. Is abstinence alone the right message? If it is abstinence plus something else, is this sending the right message?

    Well, you’re getting an 18th month delay with abstinent-only education + being seriously Christian. You’re also getting a more likely chance that they won’t use birth control, so increased pregnancy and STDs in teenagers. Abstinent-only education also teaches horribly reductive gender roles and requires women to be the gatekeepers, which puts more pressure on them and less space to figure out what they want. (flashback to being told I’m a flower with no petals, non-sticky tape, a licked lollipop, other consumables *shudders*). So, I’m going to throw my vote in for “comprehensive” sex education. Of course, I would think the right message should be something along the line of “Sex is a fun activity that requires tremendous responsibility. Always be sure that you really want to do it, always be sure the other person(s) want to do it, always use protection, and be aware there can still be consequences.” not “sex is evil, you should wait until you are in a supposedly life-long relationship to do it with someone you love”, so YMMV.

    4. Is early marriage a possible solution?

    As mentioned in # 2, sure, if you want miserable people. It is possible (though a hard sell) to go back to an environment where we had “bad girls” and people who marry and realize they aren’t the same people at 25 that they were at 18. Heck, my parents have been married for a miserable 27 years, through abuse (my dad to my mom), alcoholism (dad again), codependency, and increasingly more insane religions (mom on that one). So, if what you’re looking for is miserable people locked in a near inescapable marriage, but by George, no one will (admit to) doing naughty things with another person’s naughty things, you can do that.

    Otherwise, you have what you have now- people delaying until they’re sure that they know who they are, or think they know who they are, and can afford a long-term relationship together. And even then, people still change and are going to need to divorce.

    5. While not discussed above, along with the increase in premarital sex has come an increase in co-habitation. If we are truly evangelistic, we are going to see more and more people coming into our churches who are co-habitating. What do we say to, or do with, the co-habitating couple who starts attending our church?

    Why do you have to say anything? Cohabitation generally happens because people are broke so they’re sharing rent. It’s basically the same relationship as non-cohabitant long-term people, only it costs less. Again, are you worried about appearances, or are you worried about values? If it’s values, then you can have lots of sermons about how premarital sex is awful, and people will follow it or they won’t.

    6. Now this is a question that might seem to come out of left field, but I believe that it directly relates. If our older youth are so likely to have participated in premarital sex, how do we address the homosexual? If seems somewhat hypocritical of us to suggest that they can’t have sex outside of marriage when we are having sex outside of marriage.

    Yeah, it kinda does, doesn’t it? (no snark, swear). And, since they can’t get married, or anything that looks like marriage, in most states, you’re basically telling homosexuals to stay abstinent forever.

    From an outsiders perspective, it really looks like Christians don’t care about human happiness. It looks like it’s all about punishment, from about five million sermons about how Jesus was tortured for you (don’t you feel guilty), how there’s a hell that you’re going to if you don’t feel guilty to the situation like stated above about the person who had the abortion, though she didn’t think it was moral, because she was afraid of people’s censure. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of space for transgressions; and the transgressions all look like stuff that isn’t really hurting anyone.

    • “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of space for transgressions; and the transgressions all look like stuff that isn’t really hurting anyone.”

      Welcome to cultural Christianity as opposed to biblical Christianity; but that’s an entirely different discussion.

    • UnderTheRadar says

      “and the transgressions all look like stuff that isn’t really hurting anyone.”

      Sure, to a blind man.

      • I’ve got 20/10 vision, and I still don’t see what the big deal is about having sex if you want to. It surely hasn’t hurt me at all (in fact, I rather think it’s helped me quite a lot) and none of the people I’ve participated with seem harmed in any way. Sleeping in on Sundays also haven’t hurt me, nor anyone else. Supporting gay rights, being generally a liberal hippie hasn’t hurt anyone short of confusing the heck out of my family.

        Not seeing the hurt.

  31. Really appreciate this article and the discussion.

    As the mother of 3 sons ages 21, 17 & 15 it is especially pertinent.

    As typical here, I’ve really appreciated the comments.

    Several of the comments here have spoken to the fact that marriage is a good thing – not the end of something. I believe that too. But to be candid, that belief was tested when my 21yr old son called to tell me he was getting engaged and that he and his girlfriend want to get married the day following their graduation (they both attend USMA WestPoint and cadets are not allowed to be married while in school). At first I thought such thoughts as – Oh no, they’re so young. But then my husband said some things that made me look at it very differently. He talked how much God has blessed my son and his girlfriend by giving them to one another since they have both chosen such challenging vocations and that now they can be in it together.

    There are also several comments about the fact that this whole marriage ceremony thing is not what constitutes marriage; that the person with whom you are in sexual union with has indeed become your spouse from what I read in scripture. Therefor the young couple who waits on the actual ceremony due to economic situations but are faithful to only one another, in my mind, are already married. The reason I think this concept is significant is because it underscores what occurs in sexual intercourse; I don’t believe that as most of secular society would indicate – that it’s just a physical act. I believe that intercourse connects people. So for a young person to have numerous partners is to fracture his soul. God in His mercy and goodness can forgive, heal, and rebuild us. But I want my sons to avoid that; and that is the type of discussion we’ve had regarding why sex outside of marriage is not God’s best. The pressure on young people now days is high. My 17yr old stopped dating a girl not too long ago because she kept pressuring him for sex and he wants to wait. This particular son is a varsity football player and his team mates have teased him a LOT regarding the whole thing; but I’ve also seen a lot of them respect him (of course the fact that he’s 6’3″ & 225lbs also affects how he is treated) for choosing to do what he believes is right.

    I’ve also appreciate those comments here that show problems with the whole anti-dating Christian stance. I’ve never told my sons not to date because I’ve also thought they need to learn how to interact with girls in social contexts without everything having to be a huge commitment; sometimes you can just go do fun stuff with a person of the opposite gender.

  32. donald todd says

    Some observations…

    I think sex has always been one of the more pleasurable sins. The emotions associated with this act are often related to romance. It is enjoyable to be desirable and this act makes someone desirable, at least for the length of the sexual congress.

    The power of sex is recognized by the fact that temple prostitution was once practiced.

    In our generation, the adage “sex sells” is a mantra. We want to look at attractive people and should not be surprised if they appeal to a prurient part of our characters. One can even log into CNN/SI (sports illustrated on-line) and get pictures of very attractive women. Ergo, sex sells logging into an on-line sports magazine that includes advertisements. Perhaps subconsciously we believe that if we use that product (whatever that product is), we too can be attractive to people who are attractive to us.

    Even most of the news readers on television are attractive. Sex sells news.

    If different ages had different takes on this difficulty, it may be because many people had harder, meaner lives. The serf getting up early to care for the cattle and going to bed dead tired to sleep for the next day probably had a lot less time or energy to appreciate the charms of the maiden on the next farm who was getting up early to collect the eggs and bring in the buckets of water who had less time to appreciate the masculinity of the serf just down the road. (That may still be true for a lot of people outside of the west.)

    There were societies that separated the sexes at a specific and generally very young age. The boys were learning to become men and the girls women. There were times that those groups would be brought back into the larger society, but sex was a mystery and it took time to grow in appreciation for the opposite sex (which is still true if the little boys and girls I see are any indication).

    Perhaps segregated schools, permitting boys to be boys and girls to be girls, would be the beginning of an answer about preparing children for the teenage years and hormones and an appreciation of the other sex.

    I was very fortunate in my parents. They loved each other wonderfully, with a middle-class display of that affection (they weren’t Italians with the gregarious and profligate displays that those people are often associated with), and I now have a keep appreciation for their love for one another and for their children. No abuse. No harsh language. Sufficient discipline to remind us that we needed to behave ourselves. And, If there was ever a dispute between the two of them, I never heard it.

    Perhaps teaching our children reverence for human beings, in particular those of the opposite sex, as well as displaying it ourselves in our dealings with our spouse and children would be a means to transmit the idea of mystery, and indeed of awe. I am in awe of my wife who I find to be a genuine wonder, a grace in my life. In this I suspect I am much like my father was in his responses to his wife. He was a great role model for Christian marriage and love for one’s spouse.

    Children in even the best of households with the warmest and most holy of upbringings have free will. One might look at Jacob and Esau. Heaven knows how a child will respond.

    CS Lewis once noted (I believe in The Abolition of Man) that we are subject to our technology. The birth control pill was intended to make sex safe from the transmission of lfve. However one of the main reasons for sex is the transmission of life. If the gift of life is suspended for mere gratification, we are dehumanized. We view the other party as an object for our pleasure, but we aren’t seeing them as made in the image and likeness of God.

    We used to pray in front of an abortuary. We were accompanied by our little children to whom we explained the issue of abortion, and they understood what we were talking about. The value of human life was understood. The babies who would not be coming out of that building had done nothing wrong. I believe that this made an impression on our children who could not understand why a baby would be guilty of anything, let alone be killed for being conceived.

    Aquinas noted that love desires union and that union is intended to bear fruit. It is a commentary on God and His relationship with His creation, including us. It is intended to be a commentary on us in our dealings with one another (and in particular our spouses and bearing children). Perhaps we should be meditating on that fact, and then respond accordingly.

  33. “Sex sells” is incomplete. it’s “Women’s body shorthanded for sex” sells. I don’t see further mystifying men and women from each other as a way to teach respect for one another.

    • Donald Todd says

      The beginning of my repsonse noted that I was making some observations.

      Noting that if is still an observation, sex sells reduces the man or woman to an object rather than exalting the person made in God’s image and likeness. The wonder of the other person is thrown away in reducing him or her to a single purpose.

      So as a further observation, “sex sells is imcomplete” for you. Fortunately you have managed to figure out something that I have not, or perhaps you approached it in a manner beyond me.

  34. I believe the Christian religion has nothing constructive to say about marriage, dating, etc. Christianity has constructive things to say on may topics, like salvation, the nature of God, heaven, hell, forgiveness, meekness, gentleness, honesty, etc., but maybe we need to consider that Christianity doesn’t cover everything, it doesn’t have the answers to all questions.

    I just don’t see how Christianity has been anything other than a NEGATIVE influence on my life as far as dating, marriage, etc. Is that so much of a stretch? Bible was written in another time and culture and simply no longer applies to us in the present day per these topics.

    • While I think Christianity does have many things to say about those topics most churches aren’t saying them and are too busy being obsessed about the supposed evils of non-marital sex to really do so.

    • Tim W, I think that’s a huge stretch you’re making.

    • donald todd says

      Christianity has something to say about God and man. Christianity has a moral side which involves how one treats others, so dealing with another person when dating, in marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex inside of marriage, children or an aversion to them, are all included in the Christian message.

      The natural law is timeless. Its expression in scripture is also timeless. Somethings are wrong no matter when in history they occur. Somethings are right, whether it was Isaiah or Teresa of Calcutta who brought those things to expression. Time and culture are not the issues here.

      I often see the problem as an individual thing. The individual is being pulled in two directions and will justify a position based on whatever is really wanted. Adam was afraid to confront Satan and the human race fell. Jesus confronted Satan, and died on a cross, lifting the human race (and per Paul all of creation) out of the bondage bequethed us by Adam. Jesus really loved God the Father and wanted to please Him, no matter the cost. So Jesus offered Himself in obedience out of love to God the Father, and redeemed us in that act of love and obedience. That cannot be said of Adam.

      The question is before all of us: Who do we love? Once we know the answer to that, predicting what we will do is usually pretty easy. Best of all, the right things might need to be explained, but they never need to be justified.

  35. OK, I’m jumping in late in the game. . . but here goes anyway.

    I know some christian couples who got married young, largely I think, becasue the christian community puts too much pressure on young couples to marry. Some got divorced within a few years of miserableness, others have had model relationships that I would praise.

    If know plenty of couples who were dating long-term (some of who may or may not have been engaged in various forms of pre-marital sexusal behaviour) who did not marry. These couples wen the way of so many relationships at the age.. they didn’t work out long term.

    I know other folks who missed out on the dating experiences in their late teens/early 20’s becasue they fell into the “kissed dating goodbye” mentailty. As a general rule, they now think of this as a mistake.

    A couple of people have stated words to the effect that sexual sin (int he form of pre-marital consensual physically healthy sex) really doesn’t hurt anybody. This seems to be true. It’s pretty hard to swallow the idea that God would make something off-limits that is both harmless and fun. Countering this point is the usual evangelical response that sexual sin is a sin against God (in order to explain the apparent lack of negative consequences associated with it). So, it’s our relationships with God that suffers when we engage in this kind of sin. But does it really? For those people who are told that it does, they probably approach God with guilt (penetance), already under the presupposition that things “between them and God” are on the downsidse of the relationship-o-meter flux at the moment due to their unrepentant sexual sins. So they no doubt project this insecurity into their meditations/reflections/prayer etc… those who don’t see their sexual activity as sinful probably approach their spiritual lifes (aka ‘relartionship with God) in confidence and joy. So the fact that folks THINK something is a sin, reinforces the expectation that their relationship with God has suffered. Which lends valicity to the envangelical claim…

    I’ve gotta say I’m more with John [[@ January 10, 2010 at 4:38pm]] who said ” I’d love to see a similar analysis of trends of excessive consumerism, prejudice, greed, gossip, violence, needless war, or other equally prevalent but far more socially acceptable sins”. After all, these activities really do have negative consequences in our interactions with other people. In addition to that list, I would certainly add the kinds of sexual behaviours that have known negative impacts such as physically unhealthy/dangerous sex (ask your GP about this) & socially harmful sex (ask your lawyer about this).

    • You can believe the lie, but I don’t. Believing this lie has killed more innocent lives than all the dead from the Second World War (which estimates between 60-70 million, with all civilian war-related deaths included). In fact, since 73, the US accounts for nearly 50 million of that.


  36. The fundamental problem is that human beings are capable of making babies at 13-14 years old, but because of societal changes in the last 100 years are getting married in their 20s and even 30s. So Christians expect them to refrain from sex for over a decade, even as the society bombards them with sexually infused media.

  37. Well I think many of the comments here, combined with the near total lack of defense by other evangelicals show at least two things.

    The first thing it shows is that although this is Michael Spencer’s blog, it is not the same place without Michael Spencer and this thread has been much poorer for the absence of some editorial guidance and possible moderation from Michel.

    Second it shows how ultimately hollow and weak Evangelical Christianity is proving to be. We’ve already seen the path taken by most of the mainline protestant denominations. It seems clear that the same fate is very likely to fall upon evangelicals as well.

    Many commenting here are perfectly willing to toss out what Christians have taught and believed about marriage for 2000 years. People don’t have to get married to be married apparently, all they have to do is ‘commit’ to moving in together have have intercourse and they are married. And of course the fact that they may split up in 2 or 3 months is no problem of course because Divorce and remarriage are fine anyway. And they don’t have to worry about having children or what happens to them when their “marriage” breaks up, because of course they are going to use “buckets of birth control.”

    Essentially what you are all advocated is serial monogamous polygamy, with no restrictions. And as question 6 brought up and others concluded: you will have no rational basis for rejecting homosexuality. In 10 years you can be sure you’re going to have gay and lesbian partnered pastors heading many of your congregations and have the same splits the Episcopalians have.

    We have plenty of problems over in the Catholic Church and we need to evangelize our people, but at least we still have true Christian teaching to evangelize them to.

    Evangelicals rejected long ago that marriage is a sacrament. Then evangelicals rejected life long marriage in favor of divorce and remarriage at will. Then evangelicals rejected the fecundity of marriage in favor of contraception. Now apparently no one here can make a good argument why people should get married at all, or why sex should wait for marriage.

    Very, Very sad. I wish Michael were here to contribute something.

    • Amen. I mainly read this blog to gain an understanding of evangelical Christianity…and oh boy, am I getting educated by this thread. So far, it seems that every aspect of this topc is up in the air – are there really no hard-and-fast principles to hold to?

    • C’mon… overgeneralize much? I have a LOT of Catholic friends and family. With those folks, I see the same problems with sexuality, divorce, etc. as in my Protestant and Evangelical friends and family. Despite the clear teachings of the RCC in these areas, I’d challenge anyone to produce any evidence that the results are significantly different. The reality is that Evangelical churches tend to also have clear teachings on these matters. Indeed, it could be argued that the teaching/preaching/etc. about them is more in the forefront and is louder than in Catholic circles. When the mainstream culture makes fun of prudish Christians, they’re typically lampooning Evangelicals with their hell houses, purity rings, and whatnot.

      All that is to day that what you’re reading in this discussion isn’t what you’d hear in Evangelical Sunday school. Rather what you have is folks being a lot more honest than they’d be in Sunday school.

      You are right in that many of us are questioning traditional Christian understandings of marriage, divorce and whatnot. That’s because most Protestants and Evangelicals do not consider the “Traditions of the Elders” to be totally binding and authoritative. Even folks like Anglicans who put a heavy weight on tradition ultimately say that the Bible is the only binding authority in an ultimate sense. So, yeah, we’re gonna talk this out. We’re going to question whether the complete biblical teaching on divorce matches the conclusions of the tradition. We’re going to question whether the complete biblical teaching on marriage matches the conclusions of the tradition. And we’re going to disagree with each other. You may dislike folks’ conclusions, but I’d caution you against drawing hasty conclusions about their motivations. Or taking anything said here as representative of Protestantism or Evangelicalism as a whole.

      Magisterium may be a simpler solution, but it’s not the Protestant one.

      • I think you make a really valid point that the discussion here is NOT the one you’d hear during a protestant Sunday school class; that it’s a lot more honest. I appreciate the honesty. I appreciate the ability to question if the traditional teaching is really what God had in mind. Not to mention the whole pragmatic aspect of this discussion – Michael has shown the data demonstrating that Christians who marry after their early 20s ARE having sex outside of marriage with almost as high a frequency as their non Christian peers. This leads us to look at what we’re doing and question why it is not effective.

      • Sorry it has taken me a while to recognize my bad manners in this comment. I wasn’t intended to start a “Catholicism is superior to Protestantism” skirmish here. It’s been done enough times and it is pointless.

        What I was trying to express is my shock and dismay that very few seem to be stepping up to the plate to put out a firm Evangelical Biblical defense of chastity and virginity unto marriage.

        Part of my dismay is as a long time Internetmonk follower – going on 2 years, that there is apparently no one around any longer is both able and willing to seriously engage in theological debate about sex.

        The other part of my dismay is as a citizen and a family values person I’ve come to think of Evangelicals as allies, and what I see here makes me fear greatly that it might be a very weak alliance.

        God Bless

        • GNW_Paul,

          We are allies. When you look at the fact that by age 45 that 95% of Americans will have had premarital sex means that the majority of Catholics and Protestants fall into this category. So we both have a problem, we both need to fix it. What you are reading here is a frustration/identification with the situation.

          It seems that “very few seem to be stepping up to the plate to put out a firm Evangelical Biblical defense of chastity and virginity unto marriage” because very few can without being hypocritical.

          • I have failed. I had sex with 4 women out of wedlock. I fathered a child out of wedlock. But there is a difference between having failed yourself and being a hypocrite! I believe in sin, and in reconciliation, in God’s justice and God’s Mercy.

            As it is said, “all are sinners.” and that includes me. The difference between being a sinner and a hypocrite is acknowledging the sin, confessing it, and reconciling with God vs. rationalizing my behavior while still criticizing others.

            Yes, I am a sinner and I can say that loud and clear precisely because I fully acknowledge that my actions were sinful, that they were harmful to me and to the women I perpetrated them with and to my son, that they were also harmful to the body of Christ and to the Church and my family and my eventual spouse and marriage. No excuses. I was wrong, I did wrong. I offended God. And on top of it, I objectively knew that I was sinning. I rationalized somewhat at the time, but I knew the truth. I committed mortal sins that I have no right to be forgiven of. But in Christ Jesus I am forgiven.

            Now, really why are people afraid to step up? Are they afraid of being accused of hypocrisy? Do they really believe they are hypocrites? If they believe they are hypocrites, why is that?

            Question 1 really isn’t a question about our personal character, or our pasts. It’s a question about a factual, objective truth. Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

    • GNW_Paul,

      I appreciate the fact that this blog is certainly missing Michael Spencer.

      I also share your concerns that “Many commenting here are perfectly willing to toss out what Christians have taught and believed about marriage for 2000 years.”

      Although I do not have editing privileges, I would be among the first to complain to Michael Spencer and now Chaplain Mike is a comment crossed the line, and their have been a few that have come close here. That being said, I think the majority of the posts have been informative, but not necessarily what might have been expected.

      What the comments have told me is that the past evangelical positions on premarital sex have been hurtful to some, and ignored by others.

      It would be interesting to have Michael Spencer’s input, or Chaplain Mike’s for that matter.

      Perhaps there are others out there who have been thinking about the matter, and who could offer a more conservative response.

      Here is a question for you, or for anyone else who might want to respond to it.

      I had asked in my first question if premarital sex was a sin. The typical conservative response is “Yes, because sexual immorality is condemned throughout scripture.” But this is rather circular. In essence I have asked if premarital sex is sexually immoral and the response has been yes because immorality is condemned. I agree that if premarital sex is sexually immoral it is a sin. But, what makes it sexually immoral. The best I can come up with is Paul saying that it is better to be married that burn with passion. Are there other scriptures that can be used that specifically equate premarital sex and sin?

      To be honest I was expecting more of a response from conservative commentators. Is it that because of their own histories they are afraid to “cast the first stone?”

      Finally, lets all remember to pray for Michael. He is greatly missed and we hope he can return soon.

      • Obed

        I had asked in my first question if premarital sex was a sin. The typical conservative response is “Yes, because sexual immorality is condemned throughout scripture.” But this is rather circular. In essence I have asked if premarital sex is sexually immoral and the response has been yes because immorality is condemned. I agree that if premarital sex is sexually immoral it is a sin. But, what makes it sexually immoral. The best I can come up with is Paul saying that it is better to be married that burn with passion. Are there other scriptures that can be used that specifically equate premarital sex and sin?

        You know, I’m not the one here who insists that the only possible proof is an argument from scripture alone, and that it has to be spelled out so explicitly to be beyond question. Jesus said to even lust in your heart was a sin. Paul condemned sexual immorality – separate from and included lists of perversions. Paul also calls his Christians to keep pure. Jesus say we must be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect!

        I can try, and if this thread stays alive, might attempt to construct a complete biblical argument, but observation and experience lead me to predict I’ll fail to convince anyone – just try arguing with a liberal Episcopalian!

        A concise argument: Are we as Christians correct to go through scripture and try to determine the minimum behavior standards that are not sinful AKA determine just how far we can go before we are positive that the Bible condemns that as sinful? I say NOT! I say that is at best a very disingenuous commitment as a disciple of Christ.

        I think we should be talking about what kind of behavior gives great glory and honor to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ! And remember, our very bodies are a temple, part of the body of Christ. How do we best use our bodies to honor Christ and his Church.

        What are the two greatest commandments? Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind the second is Love your neighbor as your self

        How am I loving the Lord by lusting, looking at porn, and fornicating! How am I loving the Lord by having relations with a woman, even if I love her, if I haven’t married her?

        And how am I loving my neighbor by using her for sex without a binding commitment? Or by using a mans daughter without promising him to love, honor, cherish and protect her?

        Even supposing I am really committed to a woman. How is having sex before marriage “Loving my wife as Christ loves the Chruch?” Indeed, that is worth a full quote, but seriously: How is having sex with a woman I love, even if I plan to marry her consistent with honoring her, and making her pure?

        Eph 5:25-33
        25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

        So someone please explain to me how fornication has anything to do with Christ or that we should argue as Christians that we shouldn’t teach the fornication is not part of God’s plan for marriage?

        and keep that in mind with the following two bible quotes.

        1 Thes 4:3-8
        It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

        Eph 5:3-7
        3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

        • Oh, I completely agree with all of the above. When I was contrasting tradition and bible, it wasn’t about lust, extramarital sex, etc. Mostly the two areas where I see there being contrast is in divorce and marriage itself. As far as marriage is concerned, I don’t see there being anything biblically wrong with “common-law” marriages in of themselves. I wouldn’t be in one myself due to the murkiness of them in the eyes of society, the law, and the church.

          Now divorce… there’s an area where I really thing the traditional understanding in most of Christianity falls far from the biblical model. While we can all agree that it’s not a good thing, and that God’s ideal for marriage did not include divorce, the OT permits it. I’d submit that even Jesus’ hardline ideal with divorce includes the concession that God permitted it because of the “hardness of your hearts.” I.e. in our imperfect, screwed-up state, divorce is sometimes the lesser of two evils. And the way I understand Paul’s teaching is that remarriage after divorce is permitted because it’s better than burning with lust.

          Don’t get me wrong, the ideals are the best way. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And that’s why we have the Gospel.

          • Oh, and looking above, the “I had asked my first question…” quote was someone else, not me. The dead giveaways is that I have a really bad habit of answering but not questioning! 🙂

          • True, but did not the Lord condemn adultery, and say that anyone who divorces and marries a second time commits adultery, and makes his ex an adulterer (knowing that the other would search for a new spouse)?

          • That’s a partial answer to the biblical take on divorce. It’s not the whole picture. So, we either have to play the game of “Text A trumps Text B” or try to figure out how these texts relate to one another. Not to mention there are serious translation issues. E.g. in NT Greek there are two words commonly translated as “divorce.” One refers to a legal process of ending a marriage. The other literally means “putting away.” The same is true for OT Hebrew words for divorce. So, do we treat these as the same thing? Or is there a difference? Even when Jesus equated divorce with adultery, his audience said “What about Moses’ command to write a bill of divorce.” To which Jesus made a rather vague statement about it being there due to the “hardness of your hearts.” What does that mean? Note that in Jesus statement, the “putting away” word is used, but in the “bill of divorce” the legal term is used.

            All that is to say that the biblical teaching not as cut-and-dry as our traditional teaching is. I submit that we need to engage this disparity, not to justify divorce, but rather to be truthful to the bible and to be serious in our study and application of it.

            I don’t know about your denomination, Maj Tony, but in Evangelicalism, divorcees are often treated like pariahs, especially if they’re remarried divorcees. If the only biblical take is “It’s adultery,” that is somewhat justified (legalistically, anyway). But if the bible’s teaching is less cut-and-dry, grace is much more apt to be applied.

    • GWW

      You’ve hit on the very problem that I tried to comment on early, but I believe I was unclear. While it is true that man’s standard and God’s are different, for the Christian, marriage is a commitment that is made in both the eyes of God and fellow Christians. Whether or not said marriage is recognized by state is a different question.

      However, even if we were to assume that one could be married in the eyes of God without actually being in a recognized by the Christian community (much less the government), then how exactly do we impress upon the couple the high value that God places on marriage? In the ideal situation, the wedding ceremony is solemn making of vows where there is an inherent understanding that the church body will keep the couple accountable to those vows. Like so many things, it seems that some of what we’re seeing is another way for people to get out from under any sort of authority in their lives.

      For Christians, there is an important role that the church plays in the establishment, and growth of their marriage. For me, what the state recognizes is of lesser importance than what God recognizes through the body of Christians.

      • I agree totally and their are other practical objections. Most making this point about ” ‘couple commitment’ + sex = marriage” are still acknowledging the covenant contract of Marriage and the exclusivity, rights and privileges and responsibilities that go with that.

        But this is problematic for the individual in the couple because how are they supposed to hold the other party accountable to that promise without any witnesses or document and without adhering the culturally relevant formula for binding such a contract?

        And this is problematic for the family and particularly parents because how are they supposed to protect their children from either false or spurious claims of a “marriage contract” or from manipulation by the unscrupulous who “promise commitment” but aren’t willing to document that promise and have no intention of living up to the responsibilities.

        To those who think marriage doesn’t require any ‘cultural baggage’ or documents an is entirely between the couple and God and consecrated by the sex act alone:

        What exactly then is required to contract a marriage? How do you know if you are married? If you are a 19 year old virgin in a dorm room with another 19 year old virgin, sober, and after a couple of hours of close physical contact you both promise that you love each other and you want to be together for ever, and then you have sex, are you now married? What is your recourse if the other party backs out the next morning?

        • I’m not sure how it is in other states, but in Texas (where I live) you have to be presenting yourselves as married for a common law marriage to actually be a common law marriage. At that point, getting out of it can be as litigious as divorce from a traditional marriage. I.e. in Texas, it’s relatively easy to get IN a common law marriage, but just as hard to get out of one.

          And while that’s just secular legality, I think that’s a decent model. Even though there may not be a marriage license or witnesses, the commitment to the relationship as a marriage makes it so, in my opinion. That seems to be the norm during times when church- or state-officiated marriages weren’t as common even among Christians (e.g. among the poor during the middle ages) Otherwise, it’s just long-term shacking up.

          • Obed,

            I lived in TX for 5 years, and new several couples that were in common-law relationships. I also worked with a man who had been living with the same woman for 13 years, called her his “wife”, and adopted a child with her. I think technically he adopted the child, but they considered him to be their son. While I’m about as conservative as they come on the issue of marriage, it is situations like these make me pause and consider. This man and this woman were fully committed to one another. They were, for all practical purposes, married. However, I still want to stop short of calling this “right”. My friend was not a Christian, and I would never condemn him for his relationship. He was a good man. As far as I could tell he was a committed husband and father. Still, if he were a Christian I would encourage him to seal that commitment before God and men.

            A few months ago I officiated a vow renewal for a couple in our church. When they were married, they were not Christians. They were married before a Judge, and a few friends and family. When I asked them why they wanted to renew their vows, the husband answers, “When we were married, I made a promise to my wife and to the witnesses. I even made a promise to the state, but I’ve never made a promise to God.” The couple understood the importance of their commitment as it relates to their mutual relationship with the Father through Christ. It was meaningful ceremony to all who participated.

          • Eric,

            But isn’t presenting themselves as husband and wife making that commitment before God and men? There may have been no witnesses to a ceremony (since there wasn’t one), but there are witnesses to the marriage. Or so the law says in Texas.

            While I wouldn’t want to have a common-law marriage, I just can’t see any biblical reason why it’d be wrong. The commitment is there. At least here, the legality is there. If they’re Christians and calling themselves married, then there’s a de facto promise to God as well as to each other. Like I said, I’d want the ceremony (a small one) for myself. But if there’s no biblical basis for requiring one, why push it on folks who in the eyes of themselves, the law, and witnesses to the marriage are already married?

          • Obed,

            I tried to respond to your comment below, but there was no “reply” button.

            In the specific case I mentioned, I don’t believe that the couple was legally in a common law relationship, but that’s beside the point.

            You make a valid point, and I’m not sure what the answer is. I can only speak anecdotally from my own observation, but is not possible that one reason that people are in common-law marriages is because it seems to be a lesser or less intimidating commitment? While they might be difficult contracts to legally break in Texas, the idea of marriage commitment is still viewed as a “bigger deal”. When the topic of marriage would come up, my friend would say something like, “Oh no, I’m not ready for that.” Even though he had been with the same woman for 13 years (about 20 at this point, if still together) he knew that marriage was a deeper commitment than he wanted to make. It seemed very much to me that while he was committed, there was a part of him which still wanted the easy out.

            It just seems to me that there is something about the formality of marriage which really cements the commitment in the minds of the couple. Is there a biblical reason why “common-law” is wrong? I can’t think of one, and yet my experience tells me participants in those relationships are still holding back just in case it doesn’t go the way they want it to go.

            Now, if we’re dealing with someone who is not technically/legally married but presents themselves as married, and makes it very clear that their commitment it to one another is until death parts them, then I could live with that. But this is just theory. I’ve never actually seen it work this way in reality. Have you?

          • Eric,

            Yeah, we’ve reached the end of nested replies 🙂

            To answer your question, I’ve only known one person who was in a common-law marriage. They’d been in that for about 20 years, had a few kids, etc. It seemed to be working, but I wasn’t close to the folks in question.

            For whatever its worth, in the eyes of Texas law, in order to be technically a common-law marriage they actually have to present themselves as married. Otherwise, it’s just long term shacking up. And I think there is a commitment difference. That said, I’d assume that the vast majority of common law marriage were long-term shacking up that morphed into something more. I.e. the less-commitment-intensive “living together” is what leads to it. And the “living together” bit has become VERY common these days, almost to the point of being expected.

            For the most part, I’m just speaking theoretically in all this. The concept of marriage has a lot of cultural baggage that goes beyond simple legal definitions. For example, according to Jewish religious law, a marriage between a Jew and Gentile isn’t a marriage. The State and the couple would definitely beg to differ.

  38. 27 & Single says

    I’m quite late to this game but wanted to comment. I’m a 27 year old female who’s never had sex. It’s not something I talk about, I don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business, and I’ve never really understood what all the fuss was about about being a virgin. But since this is anonomous, I’ll speak a little more openly. I’ve always felt strongly that sex was for marriage alone, but so did most people, and it didn’t usually play out like they planned. By the time you’re my age, if you’re still a virgin (and if you haven’t sworn off dating or something weird like that), it’s most likely due to chance.

    My biggest frustration in regards to Christian instruction on sex & singles is that all talk on purity is focused on abstinence, and all talk on abstinence is focused on “saving yourself” for marriage (not to mention, most of it sounds like advice geared toward 12 year olds!) As someone who feels that there is a strong possibility that I will never get married, these approaches fall terribly short in being of any help to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the years (sometimes in a constructive way, I promise) because I feel that a more wholistic approach is greatly needed in Christian approaches on this topic. What if I don’t feel like I’m “saving myself” for a husband? Not only does this not apply if I never marry, but the way many Christian Evangelicals handle abstinence (training themselves or others to be fearful strangers of sex and their own sexuality), I have to wonder how thankful your potential future spouse will be for this “gift”. We don’t magically become sexual creatures the instant we get married, there is no switch to turn on and off, we have got to figure out a better way to train people to understand their own sexuality, even if they can’t fully engage it yet.

    So much of our instruction is focused on the practical that I think we often completely miss the spiritual implications of sex (and I’m not talking about “you’ve been a bad girl and now Jesus won’t look at you” ridiculousness) Why do we need sex so much? Do we need sex? If we need sex, does that mean God owes it to us to provide us with an acceptable way to have it? Did Jesus ever/often feel like He needed sex? If marriage is not eternal, does that mean sex isn’t? Does sex forshadow something? If so, how can this apply to me as a single person right now?

    I often wonder why we don’t ask these questions more. Maybe it takes being 27 and not having sex to be driven to this point (to the woman who commented who’s 29 and not having sex…I hear you), but I feel like they’re important questions, especially if we hold to the view that having sex is not simply just a function of biology. The biological aspects are strong, yes, but aside from that, the longing for connection, intimacy, love and community are all a big part of our sexual needs and desires, and frankly are all needs that the church shamefully neglects when talking about singleness and sex.

    At this point in my life (ask me later, I may have changed my mind), I have come to the conclusion that we are made with the valid need for sex and marriage, but we are not promised this will be met. We are all made with the valid need for sufficient food too but many people starve every day. It is not right, it shouldn’t be this way, and if sin did not exist in the world, this would not be the case. But there it is. I wish single people would spend more time (and those guiding single people would spend more time focusing on) building a rich and full life surrounded by a rich and full community. Marriage is good, but it’s not everything, and it does infinately more good to direct my longings for love and sex toward seeking out new ways to connect with people around me and with Jesus. Our church and social structures are not really set up for this unfortunately, but I have hope that that can change.

    I think we do a great disservice to the body of Christ when we, like others before me have noted, maintain our cult-like focus on the family unit and neglect the community-obsessed message of Jesus and early church. We all need each other and we will all fail to meet those needs over and over again, but I can’t help but think that this process of trying has more to do with the Christian faith than most of us give it credit for.

    • I was 28 before I had sex for the first time. Both the abstinence and breaking it were choices on my part. My girlfriend at the time (who was not a virgin) knew this and was a bit afraid that she had “corrupted” me. But the fact was, it was my choice. I do believe it was an act of willful sin on my part. And believe me when I say that Jesus and I had some long talks about that. The fact is, I chose to channel my need for intimacy into sex with my girlfriend rather than toward God. I suspect that it ultimately led to our breakup, as we didn’t grow so much as people or spiritually after that as we did in our physical relationship. FWIW, she’s the only woman I’ve had sex with since.

      But, yeah, like I said, I think this was a matter of misdirected intimacy needs on both of our parts. Ultimately, it didn’t provide the intimacy either of us wanted from each other; it just provided sex.

    • 27 & single

      Wonderful post. Thank you so much and I for one think you are on the right track!

      you say: “So much of our instruction is focused on the practical that I think we often completely miss the spiritual implications of sex”

      And I think you are dead on with that. And that goes by and large for the actual formation of young people in the Catholic Church although the proper understanding is preserved overall in doctrine.

    • A single male says

      @ 27 & Single:
      I am a 30 (soon to be 31) year old single male who has never had sex and the views you expressed are very close to mine. I didn’t always think like that, but over the years my thinking has changed somewhat. The modern “abstinence” movement is only half the answer because it only addresses half the question.

    • I appreciate what you’re saying here.

      I especially appreciate the questions you’ve raised in your 3rd paragraph above as well as the comments you’ve made about the fact that as humans there’s no “on” or “off” switch for our sexuality. As a parent I want to help my sons understand their own sexuality and was always at a loss on how to do so. The best I could come up with were a few decent books on the topic that I gave them in their pre teen, early and mid teen years. Sexual curriculum of any sort is rather minimal in the Christian community, and I know I’ve had to go to secular sources and then just have the discussion of – in what ways does this veer away from what we see the Bible teaching type of discussion.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Maybe this shows what a Mutant I am (if not non-human), but I DO have an “off” switch.

        For me, it’s being exposed to porn; that can turn me off completely for up to six months at a stretch. I’m told this is completely abnormal, that exposure to porn normally turns someone on uncontrollably instead of vaccinating them against it.

        And anyway, I’ll take Companionship over Sex any day, and these days you can’t have both together.

    • “the longing for connection, intimacy, love and community are all a big part of our sexual needs and desires, and frankly are all needs that the church shamefully neglects when talking about singleness and sex.”

      Exactly the way I think about the matter as well! We, as human beings, have both physical and emotional needs related to our sexuality, and when the church has nothing to tell us but “wait,” it does absolutely nothing to help us deal with it. I have felt very much abandoned by the church and my family in this matter. We need to know how we should deal with these needs and desires in a Godly way. I have come to my own conclusions on the matter through years of pondering. I won’t go into all of them, but here are some:
      Cultivate relationships with your family, friends, and other Christians. It will help you not to feel so alone, and maybe you’ll find a friend that you can confide your frustrations to. Make it known (subtly) to these people that you are actively looking to find a marriage partner. Sometimes people can provide useful introductions to other singles. Pray without ceasing and trust that, despite the fallen state of the world we live in, it is possible for you to endure and live a fulfilling life, whether or not you ever get married and are able to have your sexual and emotional needs met. You don’t have to like that this is a possibility, and I express to God quite often that I strongly desire to have a husband. At the same time, I am committed to living my life in obedience to God, and regardless of how my life develops, I will not waver. I would have liked to have heard this sort of advice when I first began to realize that things weren’t working out like I was always told they would.

  39. Here’s an angle I haven’t seen in your discussion. If you are to be married and faithful, that faithfulness is disrupted by memories of others. Those of us who were too selfish to wait bring the burden of our past sexual history into the marriage, add to that the images of porn most have been exposed to, the decrease in female libido brought about by chemical hormones, and you get a pretty crowded and complicated marriage bed. Those images, issues, and memories of others have a place in the marriage–as an alien presence–in a sacrament that is meant for two, who become one flesh, and produce the stability of the family. We, as a society, need to face that we have not managed to sustain marriage and the family structure with our “modern” ideas of sex outside of marriage and easy divorce.

  40. I for one have really enjoyed this discussion. I find myself agreeing somewhat with the “conservatives” and somewhat with the “liberals”. I’m encouraged by the posters who are brave enough to be honest about such a sore subject in the church.

    That said, I think one overarching idea we should be learning from this discussion is how desperately this discussion is needed in the church. As a poster said, there is a lot more honesty in this thread than you will find in Sunday School. I’m discouraged by people who just want to sweep this conversation under the rug by insisting that every Christian should just automatically believe like they do. The cookie-cutter approach has never worked. This conversation needs to happen, and Christians need to agree to disagree without casting stones. The church isn’t doing much better than the world when it comes to dating, sex, and marriage, right? So something needs to be done differently, and the way to start that is to talk about it.

    Thanks to all who have or will contribute.

  41. Wow….. tons of discusssion and hardly any interaction with what the Scriptures actually say…..

    Both Jesus and Paul state that sex creates a one flesh union (Paul says that’s why we shouldn’t have sex w/prostitutes.) Jesus says what God has joined together, let not man separate. ‘Serial monogamy’ is really one flesh polygamy when it comes to sex while dating. Then we ‘break up’and wonder why it hurts so badly, as though you could sunder the one flesh union by never seeing or talking to the person again.

    I have been there… lots of unmarried sex. (Before I was a Christian, and during the ‘dark years’ after a divorce.) I still carry a part of every one of those women with me and no matter how much I wish they would go away, they don’t. No one likes to talk about this part, we pretend it never happened, keep the dreams and remembrances to ourselves, trying to limit the damage it does in our marriages or present ‘relationships.’ I know lots of Christians who have entered into marriage carrying herpes or HPV they caught while ‘dating.’ I know others with children from previous relationships(marriages and/or dating) complicating their marriages. Many are unable to carry on healthy relationships because of the hurt sustained while ‘playing the field.’ Women who live with the shame of having debased themselves at a party. What about the men inflicting their wives with unrealistic sexual expectations carried over from their dating life or their flirtations with porn?

    Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Scripture says it is. I vote ‘yes.’

    God knits us together through the act of sex and we lie to ourselves and each other, pretending that we are not joined in one flesh.

    • A single male says

      @Patrick Kyle:
      “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:60, 66)

      Obviously those words were not spoken in the context of sex but I think they can also be applied here as well. When it comes to sex, what obedience to God requires is not really controversial — the scriptures are quite clear for those who are willing to hear. “A hard teaching” indeed, perhaps made harder by the fact that we are living in a culture which increasingly shuns the Christian sexual ethic as outmoded and repressive, a culture where we people are marrying later, where many never will marry, where the opportunities for relatively stigma-free pre-marital and/or extra-marital sex are abundant, and where pornography is seemingly ubiquitous, cheap (free even — something that is causing major problems for pornographers) and whose use is relatively anonymous. But it is a “hard teaching” that followers of Jesus are nevertheless called to live up to.

      The difficulty lies not with discerning the will of God for us when it comes to sex (what part of “flee from sexual immorality”do we not understand?) but the herculean task of living up to it. Some simply don’t want to live an obedient life in this area and are quite happy to ignore what God says. I personally know some people who have “turned back and no longer follow” Jesus as a result of their unwillingness to live a chaste life. Many, on the other hand, do want to live a life of obedience but find it very difficult. And difficult it is. I find it difficult and I’m sure that most people do — whether single or married. I have stumbled before (with pornography use) and I cannot rule out the possibility of stumbling again.

      On the matter of past sexual encounters negatively affecting any future one-flesh union I agree with what you say as much as is possible for a man in my position (single, never had sex — although as I have said I have still sinned sexually). Given that I’ve never had sex and am not married I can’t actually confirm from my own experience that previous sexual encounters have a negative impact on a future marriage relationship. But to me it seems the right conclusion to be drawn from the various things the Scriptures teach. Being sexually “united” to a person who is not your spouse (and therefore someone to whom you ought not to be “united” in this way) cannot but have an adverse effect on any future union.

      As you point out, Paul says that the members of the body of Christ are not to unite themselves with a prostitute. And the reasoning behind that surely applies to *all* sexual encounters outside of marriage. Whether or not a woman actually charges money for her services (and may therefore technically be considered a “prostitute” according to our definition) is beside the point really. I’m not to sexually unite myself with a woman who is willing to have sex with me in exchange for payment (a prostitute). I am not to unite myself with woman who is willing to to do the same but for free (casual sex or a “hook-up”). I am not to unite myself with a woman I am dating (a “committed relationship”). I am not to unite myself with a woman I am living with but to whom I have not covenantally committed myself for life (sex with a “co-habiting partner”). And I am not to unite myself with a woman whom I have asked to marry me but whom I have not yet married (sex with my fiancée). I am, rather, to unite myself with a woman to whom I have covenantally committed myself for life (marriage). “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

  42. Christopher Lake says

    Some here have read my story, but it is pertinent to this discussion, so I will share it again. I am a physically disabled 36-year-old man who cannot drive. I have a college degree but have struggled in my career life (due to the aforementioned factors and perhaps one or two other ones). I am currently unemployed and have been so (not by choice) for some time.

    My dilemma is this– the theological tradition which I have been in for years (Reformed Baptist or non-denominational “Bible church) is strongly complementarian– men are the sole, or at least primary, breadwinners in the family. (This is the theology on paper, and it is taught from the pulpit.) Women are strongly encouraged to either homeschool their children or to send them to Christian schools. As a Christian man, I would LOVE to be able to support a wife and family with my income alone. I would LOVE for any potential future children that I father to be homeschooled or sent to a strong, “classical education” Christian school. However, the income just isn’t there for me, and I don’t know when it will be (Lord, let it be soon, according to Your will!).

    I strongly sense that I am NOT CUT OUT for life-long singlehood and celibacy. I struggle every day, both emotionally and physically, with my single state. This is where the Lord has me, and I don’t want it to rob me of my joy in Him.

    However, when one has my physical condition (decent mind, good voice– so I’ve been told– but a Cerebral Palsy body and a need to use a wheelchair), and is quite possibly not the Paradigmatic Reformed Man who can fulfill the complementarian “breadwinner” role, YET still deeply longs for marriage, WHAT do I do??? Offer the loneliness and suffering up, and resign myself to life-long singlehood? Maybe so. Sigh…. Help me, Lord.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Chris, there are a LOT of Christian women to whom even Christ Himself would fall short of their “Paradigmatic Reformed Man” expectations/standards.

      And we both are losers due to our conditions. You’ve got CP and a wheelchair to make you unmarriageable, I’ve got a 160 IQ, probable ADD, and extreme nerdiness. And both of us have a lifetime of scar tissue if not open wounds from it — 36 years’ worth for you, over 50 for me.

      Who will restore those years — no, those decades — the locusts have eaten?

  43. I think the spirit of the original question was whether the Church should not be so afraid of early marriage…so I think this is not shifting gears too much…but those of you who had premarital sex and thought it was wrong, why DIDN’T you get married to the person? Is the reason solely, “I was financially dependent on parents and thought their support would go away if I married?”

    I fear the real problem in all this is that we have an unrealistic view of marriage. There’s no marriage in heaven and Jesus didn’t marry and the rest of us are sinners, ergo, there’s no perfect marriage. We seem to want to find our “1 in a million” when the reality/history of human existence and culture is that people can be happy (enough?) finding their one in a dozen.

    One often hears, “I wasn’t ready for marriage”, but sheez, I’m not ready for marriage and I’ve been married 30 years. Instead of, “first we grow up, then we marry” why not “let’s grow up together in marriage”?

    • I’m speaking from my own experience watching friends, family and folks who’ve grown up in the same church as I. For what it’s worth, I’m in a pretty conservative big city in Texas where the Church culture is mostly either Catholic or Evangelical mega-church.

      Most of my close friends from church did indeed get married in their early 20’s. And I’m pretty sure that the reason for the early marriage was that most of those folks were waiting till marriage to have sex. In my extended family, by contrast, most of the folks that got married early did so because they got pregnant or got someone pregnant! Among my non-Christian friends, many of them got married early, but the marriage typically didn’t last more than 18 months. I’ve read that this “practice marriage” in the early 20’s is pretty typical among my generation (I’m 31). According to that same article (and the anecdotal evidence from friends and family), the second marriage tends to last. That begs the question: should they have just waited until their late 20’s or 30’s to get married in the first place?

      As I mentioned above, I was 28 when I first had sex. We intended to get married, but ended up breaking up. I’m still single now and haven’t been with anyone else.

    • I come from a family with a long line of divorce. Heck my grandmother divorced her first husband–in the1920’s!!! I never asked her about that, didn’t feel it was any of my business, but that must’ve been something back in that time! She married my grandfather a year later and they stayed married for the rest of their lives. My parents were divorced after 19 years of marriage. In fact, there was a time in the 70s when just about all my uncles and aunts marriages broke up. Many of my cousins have married multiple times and my sisters have both been through several marriages. I’ve been married for 12 years and have the record for longest continuous marriage among my sisters. Why? I got married older. I was 30. I also lived with my partner for 5 years prior. They were 19 and 17 at first marriage and went from home to husband.

      The problem with getting married early and growing in marriage is that you are both growing. Possibly in different directions. If one part of the couple notices the other growing apart, they may try to rein that in which then causes friction between the couple as well. I think it’s better to know who you are as a person and know what your goals and aspirations are first, because then you can seek someone with non-conflicting goals and aspirations and because you are both older, you may be less likely to change.

  44. Preface this by saying I haven’t read any comments. I just wanted to share the experience of my daughter (with her permission).

    Her father and I allowed her to date at 16. She chose not to in order to focus on other things. At 17 she began to spend a lot of time w/ a young man she’d known since they were Littles in church and (this young man had asked her to date when she was going through her “I’m too young to date, I have other things to do” stage and she turned him down, though they had always been good friends) it began to grow into something more.

    At any rate, within a year they were married. The reason was they both believed strongly in marriage before sex. She had turned 18 six months previous. He was 19. Yes they were mature for their ages, but a mother worries. They both had yet to complete college (she hadn’t even begun). They both went to school (and are still going) part time to take on two part time jobs. It has been very hard on them.

    Their choice will limit their future in many ways, mostly material. They will get their degrees later (If they don’t give up and leave school) and will likely be behind their counterparts who put marriage off until after college.

    I was and still am very proud of them for their choice. However, as a mom watching her little girl struggle, I often question the wisdom of not discouraging them from marrying so early. But whenever I do, a little voice in my head reminds me of all the beauty their relationship has because it is pure. I also think of the strength their bond is gaining because of growing up together and choosing to struggle through together.

    Personally, I agree with those that think early marriage is a good thing, but these young couples need the support of family, including their church family, lest these fragile bonds be too easily broken. (wasn’t there a recent statistic that said 50% of all marriages, even Christian ones, end in divorce, and most w/in 5 years? …still looking for a source for this.) The very culture the author refers to as causing the increase in marriage age, is also very antagonistic towards monogamy. Men and women are expected to stray from the marriage bond, just as they are expected to have premarital sex.

    This means time and effort mentoring and loving and teaching these young couples to love their spouses through difficulty. It’s yet another area in which those who support this point of view will have to put y/our money where y/our mouth is.

  45. (I have a couple of posts– to keep my thoughts from being too long I’ve split them up by similar topics.)

    1. Is sex outside of marriage a sin? If so, why?

    So I’ll bite the bullet and say “no”. Or, allow me to qualify my statement and say “tentatively, no”. By this I mean a few things– that I respect those Christian couples who are unmarried and having sex, but have a valid reason to believe that their actions are not sinful (whether I agree with their logic or not) and that I don’t respect the actions of those Christians who do believe their actions to be sinful but do it anyway. (Although, I must remind myself that I, too, am fallen and imperfect even if that imperfection may manifest itself in different ways– and only by the Grace of God are any of us saved.)

    This is a topic that has interested me as of late and I will say that, for me, I don’t have any definite answer. I am of the opinion that it is possible that sexual activity outside of marriage may not be sinful, within the right contexts, but I am also still unconvinced of that argument to the point that I would not feel okay about having sex myself, unmarried (if I actually had a boyfriend, which I don’t so the point is moot).

    I would like to point out that Christian sexual ethics are not cut and dry. Issues surrounding masturbation and the use of contraceptives make this clear.

    2. Assuming the answer to one is yes, what can we do to help our youth wait for marriage?

    Despite not answering a full “yes”, I suppose I may have a bit of advice. First of all, simply teaching “not married = sin” and “married = good to go” is too simplistic. Simply because two people are married does not mean that there is no sexual immorality going on. And by that I mean that either couple could still be using their sexuality to manipulate the other, either by withholding sex unless given a favor or only offering to do something if sex is given. Both examples are what I believe to be misuse of our sexuality. Don’t just tell people to “wait”; teach them what a healthy sexual relationship will be so they know what they are waiting for and don’t have unhealthy sexual expectations for their marriage. (potential for helping reduce divorce rates)

    Help individuals with a healthy respect for their body and embracing the physical nature of our existence. I know too many of my friends who seem to have a perpetual fear of any physical contact with the opposite sex. (Sort of) recent video-phenomena such as the “Christian side-hug” are also examples of this extreme fear of our physical side. Emphasize what a holistic friendship looks like, including not only emotional connections with another person, but physical connections. I believe we need physical contact in our lives, but when we say “don’t give front hugs, its sexually immoral!” people are more likely to associate real hugs with immorality, while those who see them as normal and devoid of overt sexual connotations would simply enjoy giving a good friend a real hug.

    Further, when dating couples ask the question “how far is too far” don’t roll your eyes and try to guilt them because they even asked the question. Two things are pretty clear from the question being asked: the couple wants to be able to show their affection for each other on a physical level (not at all unreasonable) AND they want to do so that is consistent with Christian ethics. Rather than berating the couple for the question, it should be encouraged! And that they care enough about the morality of their sexual and/or physical relationship should also be praised!! Questioning where the lines should be drawn in murkey areas is important. I tend to feel that too many people are uncomfortable by such questions because there are no cut and dry answers– the Bible doesn’t list out exact definitions so there is a bit of personal opinion allowed. And this is scary, because some people might fall more “liberal” and others more “conservative” and neither can ever truly claim to be ‘right’. Instead of running away from such questions, embrace them and the fact that opinions are varied.

    Lose the absolute insane obsession with virginity. It seems counter-productive, but I think it skews our perception of sexual morality. If someone were married and their spouse died and they were remarried, would they regret having sex with their first spouse? Would they feel ashamed that they couldn’t “give their virginity” to their new spouse? Of course not! Why then do we send newly married couples away feeling ashamed of having had sex before? The problem isn’t a lack of virginity, it is the context of where the sex took place. The church should be about alleviating guilt and freeing the soul. I only bring this up because of the number of times I’ve heard someone blame their failed marriage on not being virgins when they first married… if we also teach that remarriage after the death of a spouse is legitimate, then this should reasoning for a failed marriage is obviously false.

    I’m no expert on marriages or human sexuality, but these were just the things floating around my head lately (I’ve been building quite a few pet peeves over the last year or so, so I thank you all for the opportunity to vent about this. :P)

    • Christopher Lake says


      Respectfully, I would be very careful of assuming that issues such as masturbation and contraception are “grey areas” in the Christian life. Until quite recently (1930, at the Anglican Church Conference at Lambeth), *all* Christian churches condemned artificial contraception as sinful. All Christian churches, from the first century until 1930. That is quite a long time for a practice to be universally condemned as sinful within Christendom.

      Of course, in the last eighty years, the floodgates have opened, and a whole host of sexual practices that Christians once understood to be perversions are not only being accepted within the wider society, but even within some branches of Christianity itself. Historically, however, if one does the research, it seemed to begin with the acceptance of artificial contraception. I’m not banging a “Catholic drum” here either– I’m not even Catholic. 🙂 Until 1930 though, Catholics *and* Protestants were united on this issue. I’m just asking you to consider that fact, and to think very carefully and seriously about whether changing the way that the sexual act *naturally functions,* as designed by God, is actually a “grey area” issue.

      About whether or not premarital sex is sinful, have you done any research on the Greek word, “pornea”? It is widely used in Scripture to encompass different forms of sexual sin, and a strong case can be made that in at least some of those Scriptural contexts, premarital sex is to be understood by the reader.

      I write all of this as a 36-year-old single man who desires to be married, has no “prospects,” but wants to stay very much within the bounds of Biblical teaching, and *Biblical reasoning,* insofar as my sexuality. Biblical reasoning is not always simply a matter of appealing to verses; it is also (as with contraception) a matter of thinking about the *implications* of God’s ways with us, as His people (such as how He created our sexuality to naturally function).

      • Respectfully, I would be very careful of assuming that issues such as masturbation and contraception are “grey areas” in the Christian life. Until quite recently (1930, at the Anglican Church Conference at Lambeth), *all* Christian churches condemned artificial contraception as sinful. All Christian churches, from the first century until 1930. That is quite a long time for a practice to be universally condemned as sinful within Christendom.

        One wonders how much of that is due to the historic, yet unbiblical, Christian view that sex is a necessary evil at best. I.e. the only reason for it is to have children and that any other use is probably sinful and dirty.

        Pornea is one of those words that makes me wish I had a reverse-concordance. In the KJV it’s translated in numerous different ways (all having to do with sexual immorality), that it’s frustrating for me to study the numerous usages, lest I miss one. The little Greek I’ve learned has helped some… but not much.

        • Further, as one who believes that women can be ordained ministers, I don’t automatically give “longstanding tradition” that much sway over how I view something. Yes, I do take it into account but I don’t give it priority (especially on social issues such as womans ordination or human sexuality).

          And before the question is asked, I did spend quite a few months reading the various viewpoints surrounding the issues of women’s ordination before I came to my conclusion. I have not spent as much time on the issues of human sexuality– but I’ve also never claimed to support any position over another. My opinions and beliefs on this matter are constantly changing as I explore this topic in more detail.

  46. 4. Is early marriage a possible solution?

    I’m conflicted. Part of me says yes– if two people want to get married but feel pressure to wait to “earn enough money for a family” then I think that is wrong and they should feel free to marry and have support from the community (if the relationship is a healthy one). HOWEVER, I also fear that pushing for early married– or pushing for marriage in general– as a solution for getting rid of sexual immorality is a flawed one.

    One of the arguments against pre-marital sex that I hear very often is that one is “using” their sexual partner for personal gratification. (but this isn’t really explained, and I’m not sure I agree) Yet, the same people who would argue this would also urge a couple to be married to “legitimize” sexual activity. But wouldn’t that simply be another form of using someone for their body? (In fact, I would think it’s worse.) You want to have sex with someone, so you marry them to get it rather than marrying them because you plan on caring for them for the rest of their life?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always read Paul’s advice to “marry rather than burn” to be in direct response to his opinions on singleness. That is, Paul has been saying that to be single is a legitimate calling (and one that he praises highly) but if someone doesn’t think they can handle it and really does want companionship of a sexual nature, there is still nothing wrong with being married if you find someone to marry. But argued here, it sounds as if some interpret it as “get married as soon as possible to first available person”. I really can’t agree with that. I don’t buy the idea of a “soul mate”. I think I could marry any number of people and have a decent marriage. But I still don’t think that picking the first person who comes along is the best option either.

    “I had asked in my first question if premarital sex was a sin. The typical conservative response is “Yes, because sexual immorality is condemned throughout scripture.” But this is rather circular. In essence I have asked if premarital sex is sexually immoral and the response has been yes because immorality is condemned. I agree that if premarital sex is sexually immoral it is a sin. But, what makes it sexually immoral. The best I can come up with is Paul saying that it is better to be married that burn with passion. Are there other scriptures that can be used that specifically equate premarital sex and sin?” –Michael Bell

    hahaha! I laugh only because I don’t know how many times I’ve put forth the idea that maybe– *maybe*– premarital sex isn’t sin– and have gotten lists of scripture condemning sexual immorality as the reason that it really is! 😛 My response to that– yes, I agree with you that God is against sexual immorality. I’ll even do you one better and say that I believe God hates all forms of immorality, sexual or otherwise. But as you say, the real question is what exactly fits under the broad term of sexual immorality.

    I believe the passage you quoted could be interpreted other ways. That is, he is still writing in a different culture. I believe there are passages written by Paul that deal with father’s decisions to arrange marriages for their daughters (or not arrange them, depending on how they feel about it at the time). This is something that is definetly not practiced in our culture– and there are very few who would argue that it is a moral necessity to have father’s arrange marriages for their children.

    And, in a comment written for Michael’s article on co-habitating couples I brought up Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath day. Essentially saying that God created the Sabbath day for people to use for rest, not that people were created to rest on the Sabbath. And I would argue that the same could (potentially) be applied to other “laws”. That is, the idea that sexual ethics were created to protect people and human relationships, rather than humans created to pratice proper sexual ethics. (As so many answers of “God is the inventor of sex, so follow his rules” would imply).

    • and I want to clarify my meaning of “rather than humans created to pratice proper sexual ethics.”

      By this I don’t mean to imply that there is a “free-for-all” have sex with anyone at anytime for any reason if it makes you happy. Rather, I mean to say that sexual ethics should always be about protecting individuals and human relationships, not about setting up an arbitrary standard.

      • “Rather, I mean to say that sexual ethics should always be about protecting individuals and human relationships”

        I don’t see much support for that in the Bible. The Bible IS, however, full of encouragement to chastity and admonition ( to say the least) for people who violate chastity. You say a couple of times that the Bible doesn’t say “how far” a couple can go – if your Bible has Matthew 5 in it, you should know better. If your Bible has Deuteronomy in it, you should know better. You may not believe what you read, but that’s a different problem.

        Sexuality hasn’t changed in a million years. The (we think) largely Hellenic Jewish audience Paul was writing to in Corinth would’ve been familiar with his advice to “flee from sexual immorality” – from their childhood, from the Prophets, from their teachers, from the various famous Jewish instructors in the Law, and from their local synagogues. People have ALWAYS tried to weasel out of chastity, and an orthodox receipt of Jewish and Christian teachings require it. As Jesus said, him that is able to hear it, let him hear it.

        • What does Matthew 5 have to do with the topic at hand? Lusting after a married woman?

        • If you have truly found clear cut teaching in the bible on sexuality, I applaud you! Because everytime I look, I see confusion. Purity and lack of immorality is praised, but exact definitions are rarely given and have to be pieced together out of text.

          Some people save their first kiss for the alter. Have they been more “pure”? Is the couple down the road who have touched lips back when they were dating (and in previous relationships) going to the alter somehow defiled (even slightly)?

          And I am wary of taking the cultural context that Paul was writing in and saying “this is how it should be, this is good!” Sin didn’t come into the world in the last hundred years– it’s been around a lot longer than that. Simply because views on sexuality have changed doesn’t mean it is automatically for the worse. Yes, some things in society have gotten worse. Other have gotten better. (Still others haven’t changed at all) Rather than assuming that because societies view on sexual mores have changed in recent years it must be for the worse, I would argue that we must rather “test all things”.

          • Emily
            You say:

            Purity and lack of immorality is praised, but exact definitions are rarely given and have to be pieced together out of text.

            But we do know very well the basic meaning of purity and immorality – even in English and based on the meaning of those words to us. And we also know quite well what they meant to the early Christian community.

            The argument that you make is that since YOU don’t know precisely what they mean, YOU would prefer just to ignore the whole passage.

            Pure means pure – without contaminant. Does that mean that a premarital kiss is a Sin or that a fully clothed few minutes of passionate embracing is a serious and mortal sin? We can disagree and consider and study on that. But does that mean that masturbation, oral sex, fornication and pornography are OK – because there is a gray area? Not even.

          • Oh, and BTW, when Paul said “test all things” he was talking about prophecy in the Christian community. He meant as a Community of Christians – a Church – to prayerfully discern in the Holy Spirit the truth. He absolutely did not mean – “go out a try illicit sex to see if it feels like sin.”

            And the early Christians did discern in the Spirit and Christianity has always taught chastity and virginity until marriage.

      • Christopher Lake says


        I probably should have just posted my response under this second comment of yours, to avoid confusion, but in case you miss it, I posted a response to your first comment (specifically about the issues of sexuality and sin that you raised). I hope that you find it to be helpful, or at the very least, perhaps some interesting food for thought.

    • Emily, the problem I have with your line of thinking is that it doesn’t sound to me like what Jesus and the Apostles and the Bible taught Christians. Jesus asks us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is Perfect. Paul asks us to conduct ourselves without blame in every way. The Bible talks about a Faith that is transforming; that we will be made new. Paul talks about his preaching being “foolish to the wise” but “wisdom to the Foolish” who are “fools for Christ” and that Christ’s crucifixion is “folly” “a stumbling block to the wise and learned.” If we believe we have been SAVED by FAITH in CHRIST JESUS I don’t understand why we should then follow that by reducing Christianity to what I think you are advocating. Your argument sounds like legalism reduced to the most basic prohibitions.

      I’m quoting here from a comment I made above – I’ve provided the link here, am copying just the most direct portion.
      my comment above
      A concise argument: Are we as Christians correct to go through scripture and try to determine the minimum behavior standards that are not sinful AKA determine just how far we can go before we are positive that the Bible condemns that as sinful? I say NOT! I say that is at best a very disingenuous commitment as a disciple of Christ.

      I think we should be talking about what kind of behavior gives great glory and honor to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ! And remember, our very bodies are a temple, part of the body of Christ. How do we best use our bodies to honor Christ and his Church.

      What are the two greatest commandments? Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind the second is Love your neighbor as your self

      How am I loving the Lord by lusting, looking at porn, and fornicating! How am I loving the Lord by having relations with a woman, even if I love her, if I haven’t married her?

      And how am I loving my neighbor by using her for sex without a binding commitment? Or by using a mans daughter without promising him to love, honor, cherish and protect her?

      Even supposing I am really committed to a woman. How is having sex before marriage “Loving my wife as Christ loves the Chruch?” Indeed, that is worth a full quote, but seriously: How is having sex with a woman I love, even if I plan to marry her consistent with honoring her, and making her pure?

      Eph 5:25-33
      25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

      So someone please explain to me how fornication has anything to do with Christ or that we should argue as Christians that we shouldn’t teach the fornication is not part of God’s plan for marriage?

  47. I’m going to throw out another point of view here. This came up tonight in the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets class I’m taking as part of my grad studies.

    The OT picture of marriage and family is ridiculously pragmatic. Adultery and certain incestuous relations are strictly forbidden, as is marrying certain pagans (though this is often relaxed in parts of the OT), male homosexual relations, and bestiality. Polygamy is common and not forbidden (though some restrictions are placed). Concubines are common and not condemned. Divorce is permitted if done legally. And while a high premium is put on virginity, it’s not absolute.

    The NT picture of marriage seems to be that it’s not the ideal at all. Both Jesus and Paul make the claims that it’s better to be single and celibate. But marriage is preferable to burning with lust. Indeed, marriage, divorce, etc. all seem to be concessions to human weakness rather than the NT ideal.

    So, with all that said, what’s with modern Christianity’s elevation of the family? If the OT treats it as an issue of pragmatism, and the NT sees it as a concession to weakness that should be governed by the same guidelines for interpersonal relationships as the rest of life, is this as huge as we’re making it? I.e. how much of this is cultural rather than biblical?

    • Going off the cuff for a starter, and I am not an expert. So think of this as throwing out some ideas culled from things I have read and heard but haven’t really studied, or freshed up on for this little comment.

      #1) As always Paul is very complicated, and his letters are directed at specific Churches in specific circumstances. Paul himself often makes the effort to distinguish between what he believes to be “from the Lord” and from his own judgment. And even with instructions that are “from the Lord” it is worth considering whether it applies to the specific circumstance or is a general rule. Also, Paul generally believe the second coming is very close at hand. Also, many of these Churches were living through serious persecution.

      #2) I’m no biblical historian, but weren’t family and marriage already pretty important institutions / social structures in Jewish culture? I believe the Pharisees had a lot of “guidance” on marriage.

      #3) The Trinity. A full theology of the Trinity doesn’t begin to emerge until what, at lest the late second century? The Trinity is part of the model for Christian family.

      #4) This is more controversial for most Protestants, but the Holy Family and related devotion and theology was clarified later – I’m guessing a little but roughly mid-5th to mid-7th centuries – aiming pretty widely there.

      #5) Model of the Church as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ, as in Eph 5:26

      #6) Genesis 2:23-24 so God’s plan for marriage began way back in the Garden of Eden – just might be something important not an afterthought.

      Now, all that said, I’m not sure I agree with you that the NT “sees it (marriage) as a concession to weakness.” This topic has been debated on IM before, starting if I recall from the opposite perspective: “Why do Catholic’s think virginity is “better” than marriage?” So you might want to go hunt for that comment thread.

      Okay, I’ll pose a possible solution to dilemma. Could it be simply a matter of Vocation? Marriage, sex, procreation and family are good thing, given by God at the creation. Also, total devotion to God without the distraction of marriage is a good thing whether that be consecrated celibacy and a life of religious seclusion, or just secular life as a single person.

      Now it does sound in places like celibacy is a “higher calling” but I wouldn’t interpret that to mean that marriage is a concession. Most people have a vocation to marriage. They give glory and honor to God through that vocation. Some people God invites to give glorify and honor him through a path of celibacy and focus on God. For Priests and religious we use the analogy of a “spiritual marriage” they are married to Christ and the Church.

      Sketching out a case:
      A – Marriage was already an established institution, if imperfect in Jesus’ contemporary Judaism and also in much of the gentile world. To the pharisees marriage was an important area of the Law and they had “pile” of regulations and prescriptions for marriage. It was important enough that Jesus clearly corrects the Pharisees and insists that Marriage deserves even more respect and more significance than they regarded it with. And says that Marriage is one flesh for life: Mark 10:1-12 , Mathew 19:1-9

      B- On the other hand Jesus also was revolutionary in that he remained SINGLE. From what I understand at that time, it was actually pretty scandalous for a man to remain single.

      C – Mathew 19:10-12 After hearing Jesus teaching on divorce the Apostles say: “If such is the case with a man and his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” and Jesus endorses celibacy as a valid way of life in vs. 12 ending with ” There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive it, let him receive it.

      Three things are clear here: The disciples don’t think marriage is the easy way out! That lifelong celibacy is a legitimate option for the building up of the kingdom. And that some are called to celibacy, but not all.

      D – In 1 Cor 7:1-7 Paul is answering a specific question, a question that we are not privy to. 1 Cor 7:1 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” Paul

      Of course 1 Cor 7:8-9 is the big verse “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

      and 1 Cor 7:6-7 I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish all were as I myself am.

      Also: 1 Cor 7:25-39 – **I’ll just quote selectively rather than the entirety***
      25 I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion….26 I think that in view of the impending distress … 27… Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. 28 But if you do marry you do not sin … 29 I mean bretheren the appointed time has grown very short. … 31 … For the time of the world is passing away.
      38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage does better.

      Summarizing 1 Corinthians, it is clear Paul sees a great gift in celibacy in service of the Church, but it is also true he doesn’t in anyway diminish marriage. Remember, marriage is already an honored and established institution, an is already the expected path. Celibacy is the revolutionary and exotic option. I don’t think Paul in anyway means to diminish marriage.

      Outside of 1 Corinthians 7, where else does Paul write about marriage and what does he say? I think 1 Cor:7 is the only place Paul encourages celibacy. In 3 other letters he talks about marriage. And the passage from Ephesians 5: is very moving and positive towards marriage.

      Eph 5:1-33 which begins with “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. ”

      Which I think indicates that Paul instructions for married life are a fundamental basis for being “imitators of God” and living a “life of love”

      Later on v. 25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy…”

      Col 3:18-21
      1 Tim 5:11-14

      Other NT
      Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

      1 Peter 3:1-7

      • Maybe I’m looking at this differently, but it seems to me that the NT passages above illustrate my point. The disciples clearly got from Jesus’ teaching that marriage is less preferable for kingdom work. The implication is that marriage is a concession to our fleshly weakness, as it will make kingdom work much harder. As far as Paul is concerned, he also wishes everyone could have the strength to remain single and celibate. But since most won’t be able to do that, he gives practical advice (which is very OT of him). Never does he or Jesus make any statements to the effect of “The best day of your life next to the day you get saved is the day you get married! ‘Cuz there’s nothing God likes more than a good, solid Christian family!” But that’s the message we get from so much of the Church. At least that’s the case in the circles I’ve traveled in.

        Instead, the only qualitative statements made by Jesus or Paul about family life is that it’s better to not marry! That and the oft-explained-away statements by Jesus that he came to bring conflict between family members. But, since marriage is the norm, immorality is condemned and advice is given for those who will be married so that their marriage and family lives will be honoring to God.

        The only passages I can think of that come anywhere near the quasi-idolatry of the family in American Christianity is the Genesis “It’s not good for man to be alone” and the Proverbs “He who finds a wife finds what is good.” But Proverbs also says that a “quarrelsome wife” is one of the worst things in life. And the vast majority of family relationships in Genesis fall far from the ideal (fratricide, incest, parents cursing children, destructive favoritism, not to mention general nasty squabbling).

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Bible teaches marriage is a bad thing. It doesn’t. But it doesn’t teach it to be the pinnacle of Christian spiritual life that’s being pushed on us by today’s Christianity.

        • Sorry… bad use of HTML tags…

          • Okay, we come from two different traditions, so I think that I need to try to listen carefully and see if I really understand what you are trying to articulate.

            So of course I’ll start by talking about myself! But only so we can try to bridge the gap together.

            Coming from the Catholic side I’m used to thinking of marriage, celibate as priest or religious, and chaste singe secular as all legitimate vocations. In real life among ones friends and families experiences are varied, and I have many friends who are currently discerning religious vocations who feel that their immediate families and close friends are not supportive of a vocation to celibacy. However in all of my religious education as a youth and adult we were always clearly instructed that all three are valid vocations that give honor to God and that what was important was to discern one’s own vocation.

            So It looks like I need to understand better what you (and perhaps other young Evangelicals) have experienced and been taught in this area. Looking at your last line “But it doesn’t teach it to be the pinnacle of Christian spiritual life that’s being pushed on us by today’s Christianity.” I’d like to hear more about this, because I’m not sure I understand what is behind it. Also you say “Cuz there’s nothing God likes more than a good, solid Christian family!” This sounds like an area where Evangelicals may have a very different experience than most Catholics have had.

            More about my way of thinking:
            Again, Paul’s advice on remaining unmarried is primarily in 1 Cor:7 (I thought there was one other passage, but I haven’t located it) and that passage is clearly directed to a specific question for a group (we don’t know who or how large) within the Corinthian Church who has asked a question (that we don’t have) and Paul prefaces much of what is said by “I say, and not he Lord.” Elsewhere Paul gives instructions to husband and wives with out giving opinions on celibacy. These are the very same arguments that I usually see from protestants when Catholic apologists are defending celibacy.

            The part of you statement that makes me want to argue is the word “concession.” As I said above, it is natural and normal to me to not see this as pitting celibacy and marriage against each other. I don’t see marriage as a “concession” and I don’t get that from the scriptures. I will probably try to look up the Greek for 1 Cor:7:6 ‘concession,’ but I’m not very susceptible to making much of an argument on something that hangs on one word. I think that at the very least ‘concession’ doesn’t have to have such a negative connotation, even in English.

            The main Points I tried to make above are that: a) Marriage was instituted by God at the time of creation before the fall, b) marriage (although imperfect) was maintained as a central cultural institution by the Jews, c) Jesus clearly intended to correct the Jewish ‘concept’ of marriage and restore it to God’s intended design, d) In the epistles, only Paul encourages celibacy as ‘preferable’ to marriage e) Paul also in Eph 5:1-33 writes a very beautiful and moving design for Christian marriage, f) that Jesus also brought the new and revolutionary idea of religious celibacy and g) Paul also spoke very highly of celibacy and finally h) that both Jesus and Paul make it clear that not all have a calling (vocation) to the celibate life.

            So in my mind, those who have a vocation to marriage will if they seek to live a holy life in their marriage receive graces and strength from God to help them and will be rewarded in heaven. Those who have a vocation to celibacy and service dedicated to the Church have a “higher calling” but that doesn’t make marriage a concession prize.

            Either way, it is about seeking God, discerning God’s will for us (as a Church and as an individual) doing our best to live out God’s will relying on Him for our strength.

            The reason I read this blog, and occasionally get involved in comment threads it understand more how the different experiences we have in our various churches has shaped our views. I find much to learn from and about my brother Christians. Thanks for helping me! And don’t worry about the HTML error – I’ve posted many very mangled responses on here in the past, and probably will do it again.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says


            A lot of Evangelicals are so tunnel-visioned in their Focus on the Family (TM) that they literally see singleness as a sin. It’s another appearance of the Fanboy Tunnel Vision I’m all too familiar with from other contexts, elevated to Divine Fiat.

            For an example from IMonk around five years ago, check out this IMonk post re this doctrine of “Salvation By Marriage” and corrolary of Damnation to the Sinful Singles. (I remember it because I’m in the comment threads under my old handle “Ken”.)