Should You Get Married Because You Really Want to Have Sex?

by | Jan 15, 2024 | Parenting Teens, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 84 comments

Should you get married because you want to have sex?

Getting married to have sex is a really, really bad idea.

Unfortunately, though, there are many hard-line patriarchal teachers, as well as many young people, who are adamantly saying that this is God’s design.

When your sexual desires are too strong, you should just get married young!

What is the relationship between patriarchal teachers and young people both agreeing with this? I think the problem is that both groups tend to see marriage mainly in terms of sex, rather than in terms of a life-long partnership where you will care for one another and act as a team.

Young people may just not have the maturity to see what that means (many young people do; most do not), while patriarchal teachers think that marriage exists to serve the man, and teamwork isn’t necessary.

This discussion came up recently when I posted about a terrible X (formerly Twitter) take:

Now the guy who posted that claimed it was an experiment. He was merely posting what Scripture said to gauge people’s reactions. Here’s what I wrote about that:

When Paul wrote “it is better to marry than to burn” in 1 Corinthians 7:9, he was writing into a context where the Christian community was thinking that celibacy was holier than marriage. And Paul was saying: “Look, you don’t have to remain celibate. If you feel the pull to marriage, get married! If you have a sexual drive, it’s okay to marry.”

He was not saying, “Don’t worry about self-control! A wife can fix that for you!”

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that we don’t have to worry about sexual sin and self-control because we can just use our spouses as sin management tools.

No, Scripture calls for sex to be a deep “knowing” of each other, not a using.

Scripture tells us to put to death sexual immorality.

The fact that so many men like him think that the Bible teaches that men don’t need self-control because that’s what wives are for–well, they’re telling on themselves.

They’ve telling you what they think of women.

They’re telling you what they think of sex (and how shallow they are about it).

And you can likely make more conclusions.

Can we please make it that next time someone says something this offensive and anti-Christ, that the pushback is immense?

This can’t be okay in the church.

It just can’t.

I’ve also written about this before–what does Paul mean “it’s better to marry than to burn”? That’s what I would say to the patriarchal dudes who just see women as sex toys for men.

How do you tell younger people that sex alone isn’t a good reason to marry?

After the social media posts about this guy’s really bad take, I started getting messages like this one:

My just-turned 19yo daughter is engaged to her just-turned 20 yo boyfriend after dating for 3 months. This is the verse they are using to support why they should get married ASAP. There are so many things wrong with the situation, but they absolutely refuse to listen to anything I say.

Now, full disclosure: I married at 21; both of my girls married at 20. So we had really young marriages in our family. And we all married people who were mature, who cared about us, and who were ready to do life together. 

Here’s how I would phrase it:

If you find someone that you love, who loves you back and treats you well, that you feel that you could do life with, and who is mature and is acting like a good partner, and you decide you want to marry them, then it’s okay to consider having a shorter engagement if you really just want to get married.

Do you see the difference? You’re not getting married because you want to have sex. You’re getting married because you found someone that you want to be married to, without sex being the main factor. Sex may play a role in the timing (it’s okay to want to be married!), but not in the decision to marry or in the decision who to marry. 

We are doing a terrible job at sex education if we teach that interpretation of this verse.

Honestly, I don’t know how, as a parent, you can stop a marriage that looks like a really bad idea from happening other than saying,

If you’re going to get married, it means you see yourselves as adults, and we will treat you that way. We won’t financially support you. You won’t be able to rely on us anymore for finances or anything beyond light help. You will truly be on your own.

And then you also don’t have to pay for a wedding if you’re sure this is a bad idea. But those are big steps to make, because you may want to stay close to your child so that you can be there if and when things fall apart. There are no easy answers.

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If we care about marriage, then let’s not treat it merely as a sin management tool.

The Bible never did, and pulling out part of a verse and using that verse to justify immaturity and lack of self-control is pretty much the opposite of developing the heart of Christ.

And shame on pastors, or anyone else, who encourages that mindset.

Should you get married because you want to have sex?

What do you think? Have you heard people encourage young people to marry so they won’t have sex? How does this work out? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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84 Comments

  1. Andrea

    I’m going to be snarky here, but we should inform these young women rushing into marriage that their chances of being sexually satisfied by an evangelical man are less than 50%.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Certainly is sobering!

      Reply
    • Stefanie

      I wish I could like this comment! 🤣 Yes!

      Reply
      • Anna

        Oh my goodness, yes EOF.

        Dear Lord, I would have liked to have read this post before I married.

        Thank you, Shelia, for talking about this so clearly, publicly, and well. It’s such important understanding.

        Lord help us all who’ve been damaged by such horrible teaching (that has really disrespected women). Lord help us to heal. Help those of us who feel trapped in marriages and who have felt so sad, hurt and disappointed being used and objectified.

        Dear God help us.

        Thank You for Sheila and team.

        Reply
    • EOF

      So much this. My experiences making out heavily as a teen were *FAR* more satisfying than sex as a married Christian woman. They were enjoyable times that I truly enjoyed, and I never felt like less of a human than the guys were. Nothing like the one-sided married sex where I was treated more like an object than a person.

      Reply
    • Angela

      Not only is Sheila right about the immediate context of that verse, but also there is the context of all scripture and wisdom –which she brings out in the other things she says in the article. Proverbs, for instance, talks about how terrible it is to be married to a cantankerous spouse, how to avoid fools and angry people, so obviously –like with everything else– CHARACTER MATTERS the most. And I’m thankful for articles like this since apparently we need to be reminded of common sense.

      Reply
    • Angela

      ROFL.

      Reply
  2. April

    Thanks for writing this post. I have heard this many times growing up just get married if you want to have sex. This is damaging to young adults and terrible advice that the church gives. I hope in 2024 people start waking up and rising up against toxic teachings. Thank you Sheila!!

    Reply
  3. CMT

    Yikes. “An experiment”? Is that a version of “well it’s not me saying this, it’s in the Bible?”

    Sometimes I wonder if Paul would have phrased his letters differently if he had known people would still be reading and arguing over them 2k years later.

    But maybe not. Maybe he would have said, “look, there’s no way I can predict what crazy interpretations people will come up with later, reading this translated into a language that doesn’t even exist yet. I’m going to say what I need to say in my context now, and make sure nobody can miss that the point is love. Then they can figure out for themselves what they need to do.”

    Reply
    • EOF

      The people he had carrying his letters to various cities were also in charge of answering any questions that the listeners had (as the letters would’ve been read out loud to the churches). So even in the original context, his letters needed some interpretation. And Peter (if I remember correctly) said that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand.

      Reply
  4. Cynthia Bretz

    I had a friend who was sexually active with her boyfriend before they got married. As they had grown up in conservative churches, they felt ashamed of what they were doing and got married very young—I think they were 19 and 20. Soon afterward, she got pregnant. Their son was born with a severe birth defect that necessitated years of surgeries and procedures. When he was a teenager, he told me of his childhood of listening to his parents scream at each other and say the only reason they were staying in their miserable marriage was him.

    Fast forward a few years…mom and dad are heavily into purity culture. Their son was not allowed to kiss, not allowed to be alone with a girl—they couldn’t even walk around the zoo without a chaperone, because there might be some place they could sneak off and get into trouble! Because he had been so controlled at home, he crashed and burned his first year at college. And then he met a girl that he was crazy about. His parents encouraged them to marry quickly, so he “wouldn’t make the same mistake” they had. Never mind that he had flunked out of college, lost his scholarship, had no job…they got married at 18 and 19…she got pregnant…their son has multiple health issues and is on the autism spectrum.

    I have no idea what the state of their marriage is, but the strain of mounting medical bills, a special needs child, and their own immaturity can’t be helping. In my opinion, they made EXACTLY the mistake his parents made. Not because they were young. But because they believed marriage was primarily about sex. It’s a terrible reason to get married, a flimsy foundation for a marriage, and a really bad method of keeping a man with no self-control in line. It just doesn’t work.

    Reply
    • Stefanie

      So, I’m assuming the parents thought their marital problems were a result of their sin. Punishment or consequences of having premarital sex. They thought their son could avoid a bad marriage if he avoided premarital sex. That’s too bad. They were probably just listening to what their church taught them.

      Kinda reminds me of my mom. She calls herself “a child of the sixties” meaning sex, drugs and rock n roll. She carries trauma from those years. She found Billy Graham and became evangelical. She pushed purity culture hard in my house, partly because she believed the church that her kids could avoid the trauma she went through if they followed the right rules. I followed all the purity culture rules, and it’s been absolutely terrible. I carry sexual trauma from my marriage. And trauma from spiritual abuse. I’m on antidepressants. I have cptsd, depression and suicidal ideation (hence the medication). So the promise to avoid trauma by following the rules turned out to be bogus hogwash.

      So how am I going to raise my kids? Thanks Sheila, for She Deserves Better for some research based direction!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I think you may be on to something–the parents thought the problem was that they had had premarital sex, as opposed to the problem being that they had married when they weren’t ready to someone without good character!

        Reply
        • Lisa Johns

          When I married a man who was covertly abusing me, and I could not figure out why I was so unhappy(!), I believed that my problems were because I’d had premarital sex with a boyfriend in college. (Never mind that I had childhood trauma and no clues about consent.) So I pushed purity culture hard on my children, because I didn’t want to see them suffer the way I had, and I thought that if we all got the rules down, we would all be OK. I’m sure you can guess how that has turned out……………
          I have made many apologies, and will probably be making many more!

          Reply
        • AC

          This reminded me of a couple in my former church who led a married couples small group (studying the book Love and Respect, ugh!) On the first night we arrived for the group, the couple leading it was obviously in the middle of a fight. I felt so bad for them and the irony of having a particularly bad marriage conflict in the day they start their marriage group. Fast forward several weeks, and I realized that what I took for one of their lowest marriage moments was actually their norm. Both their relationship and the book were extremely toxic. Eventually they opened up to the group and shared that they had serious marriage struggles, which they attributed to the fact that they had slept together before marriage. They thought God was punishing them for that breach. I think that made it impossible for them to recognize that their current behavior was the real problem.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            We honestly heard from so many couples like this! They think God is punishing them, and so they don’t realize that conflict can actually be handled.

      • Jen

        Agree – it seems insane that we act or teach that having sex is worse than getting married to the wrong person (lifelong ramifications!!).

        Reply
  5. Bernadette

    Using the Bible to justify getting married for sex would almost make sense …. if St. Paul had said, “Better to marry than to burn with passion *for sex*”

    But he just said “burn with passion.”

    Passion for what? For marriage, would be my guess.

    Reply
  6. Codec

    Using marriage as a sexual outlet devoid of the other things marriage is meant to be sounds like a recipe for child abuse and other abuses.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      You are so right!!

      Reply
  7. EOF

    I really feel like this line sums up this whole article: “patriarchal teachers think that marriage exists to serve the man, and teamwork isn’t necessary.”

    That there is the problem.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      And woman was made for marriage, not marriage for the woman.

      Reply
  8. Wild Honey

    The author of that tweet is either lying or communicating extremely poorly. If he REALLY just wanted to gauge people’s reactions, he could just as easily have prefaced his statement with “How would you respond to someone saying…”

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I’ve seen quite a bit from this particular author. He’s very passive-aggressive, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

      Reply
  9. Mina

    I no longer know what I believe on this topic – beyond “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees”, but wanted to mention how much I appreciate that even w your & and your daughters’ conservatism & success, you are approaching this subject with real compassion & curiosity. (It would be so easy to demand others to walk the same path as you, and blame them when it falls apart)

    Reply
    • Mina

      Also, the idea that selective, respectful, non-reproductive premarital sex is somehow worse than a lifetime of abuse-stopping-short-of-piv-adultury (because of sex/marriage & marriage permanence beliefs, which tend to go hand-in-hand) absolutely beggars belief now, as a much less credulous middle-age woman.

      And trying to pick through the beliefs I was raised w to find what’s true feels a bit like looking at the home I’ve lived in my whole life, having just learned that it’s riddled w toxic mold. It’s overwhelming & demoralizing. I appreciate you & this space.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m struck by the fact that in Scripture, Jesus overwhelmingly shows compassion by those who have done something not the best that may hurt them, but reserves his real anger for those who have hurt others.

        And yet we tend to reserve our biggest anger for those who have consensual sex before marriage, rather than those who use and abuse. It just doesn’t look like Jesus, no matter how you slice it.

        Reply
        • Mina

          So true!

          Reply
        • Lisa Johns

          “reserves His real anger for those who have hurt others.” So. Much. Yes.

          Reply
      • Greta

        Thank you Lisa Johns, Eliza, Perfect Number and Hannah for your responses. Very thoughtful, helpful answers.

        Reply
  10. Laura

    It is NOT a good idea to get married just to have sex. Both people need maturity, commitment, stability, and a desire to spend their lives together. I admit that I married my first husband so I could have sex without feeling guilty. Even though I was not raised in church, I always believed it was important to save sex for marriage. Then after I got saved at 17, being in church and hearing these teachings confirmed what I had already believed. Even though he was my first and so far only sexual partner, we gave in a few months before the wedding. I strongly regretted it, but it’s all in the past.

    Mark Gungor, the pastor who has the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage ministry and the one who says that men don’t want women to talk to them, has mentioned that people should marry young, like when they’re 18 so they don’t fall into sexual sin. I guess it never occurred to him that most 18-year-olds are still in high school, maybe even in college, and have not learned how to manage money. Most have not lived on their own. I used to think Gungor was funny, but there were some things he mentioned that just did not sit well with me, such as that everyone should get married while they’re very young.

    I am not against marrying young, because many people in my parents’ generation and earlier did. Now, it’s just not easy to make a living and support yourself financially, especially when you’re out of high school and don’t yet have the job/education skills. I’m 47 and plan to get married in a few months and I remind myself that sex is not the only reason to get married. I know I want to spend my life with this man. I sure do not have the same mindset I had when I married my ex at 23.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Laura, I’m so happy for you that your relationship is going well! As someone who has watched from a afar for a few years, that’s great to hear!

      Reply
    • Jo R

      Congrats, Laura! ❤️

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! I hope all goes well!

      Reply
  11. Greta

    Seems like this article, which I commend Sheila for writing and addresses a VERY important topic in the church, omits one very relevant question.

    If marrying for sex is wrong, Sheila what is your position on Christians having premarital sex?

    Sheila—Do you think premarital sex is right or wrong based on the totality of scripture?

    Reply
    • Spock-ish

      (Resubmitting with email that does not include my picture – please use this one and delete other and this line)

      Greta,

      I believe based on the comments you read “We Need a New Christian Sexual Ethic” last week. You may not have seen in the comments that Sheila addresses questions like these in her comment that includes “problem with lines” at https://baremarriage.com/2024/01/we-need-a-new-christian-sexual-ethic/#comment-93387.

      In case you didn’t realize, it appears to me (and I’d guess others) that you are trying to get Sheila to draw a line with your question. This is the opposite of the purpose of this series. To me, the purpose of this series is define a new ethic, which is a set of moral principles, not come up with a new list of rules to define if someone is in sin (Spoiler Alert: We’re all sinners and listing every sin is impossible).

      If you’re curious for more, I think Nessie’s quoting and response to that comment of Sheila’s (at https://baremarriage.com/2024/01/we-need-a-new-christian-sexual-ethic/#comment-93408) brings up good points in that Jesus had a chance to define lines multiple times in Scripture, and He chose not to just list sins and answer questions, but taught compassion and about the heart of things like in the beatitudes.

      I think getting to the heart of things is the point of this series, not getting into the weeds on what is or isn’t a sin. You said this article “omits one very relevant question”, but I believe it is better because it omits that question, *because* this is not an article, series, or website meant to give us more rules.

      Reply
  12. Boone

    A lot of girls here are sexually active by 16. They tend to marry a guy a year or two older right out of HS. They’ll have a couple of kids and get their first divorce around 25. They’ll get married again before 30, have one or two more kids and get their second divorce around 35. From there on having three or four dependent children along with really bad health choices such as an abundance of Marlboro Lights, gallons of Miller High Life and fried food their desirability will take a nosedive. The guys in their world are all paying child support to at least two women and have the added difficulty of dropping dead of a heart attack due to also making the aforementioned bad health choices.
    In short people around here get married young because their friends are and it seems like the thing to do at the time.

    Reply
    • Bernadette

      Citations?

      Reply
      • Cheyenne

        Sounds like Boones citations are his life experiences and what he’s seen.

        I know it’s not a scientific poll but I can confirm that I’ve seen a lot of friends from our same rural area make the same choices that Boone describes.

        Reply
      • Boone

        Well, let’s see. Forty years of law practice in several counties doing mostly divorce cases. I also chase deadbeat punks for child support. I was also born and raised here. I’ve done divorces for three generations of the same family on multiple occasions.

        Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      Jaded much, Boone?
      I hear you, but I think you are dealing with a particular population, and I really hope it isn’t really a majority one!

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        …and I did just see where you said “a lot of girls *here*.” So I get it now.

        Reply
        • Boone

          I’m not sure if your ticked because I lead with girls or referred to the area where I live.
          I lead with girls because here they tend to become sexually active around 16 because they’re usually involved with boys that are18 or 19 years old. The boys tend to start a little later. This was from a continuing ed class I had to take a couple of weeks ago.

          Reply
          • Lisa Johns

            Not actually ticked, just kind of quasi-amused in my looking at it. I do understand what you meant, after rereading what you said. You’re in the Knoxville area? It tracks.

  13. Lisa Johns

    Thank you for this. Sex really is a TERRIBLE decision maker!
    That said, I have been pondering much on the question of premarital sex, and to be really honest, I no longer believe that the Bible absolutely forbids it. I also do not think I would tell young people to just sleep with someone just because they *think* they are in love, nor that it’s just not a big deal. It is!
    So here’s the quandary. What do we teach and how do we teach it? And how do we help young people with strong desire and raging hormones to learn how to handle themselves appropriately? Obviously the purity culture answers for that were a bust, but we need to come up with appropriate answers lest something worse rushes in to fill the vacuum. You mentioned in the sexual ethic blog last week that we need to begin teaching about respect and good boundaries. Let’s talk more about this!

    Reply
    • Greta

      Thanks Lisa, yes that’s my question for Sheila above.

      If she recommends strongly against getting married for sex, Sheila do you think premarital sex between Christians is right or wrong?

      Because the discussion is vastly incomplete without answering this question.

      Reply
      • Mina

        Greta, you repeating this question again & again is disrespectful & off-putting. Sheila, nor anyone, is required to answer you when you demand, or ever. It is more than enough to warn someone that they are sitting at a table of contaminated food- she isn’t also required to spoon-feed anyone an alternate dish of her own.

        Of course I think it’s ok to be inquisitive, but not demanding. Learn to sit w the discomfort of just – not knowing. That’s what faith is for.

        Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        In my personal deconstruction, I will honestly say that I believe that premarital sex between Christians is not necessarily wrong. But I would say that with caution, because sex outside of a committed and loving marital relationship *can* be a real minefield. It’s definitely something that we need to work our way through. The last 50-60 years have been a real nightmare!

        Reply
      • Shona

        My go-to in gray areas is Jesus’ reminder that the second greatest commandment (the one that addresses how we treat our fellow humans) is this: love your neighbor as yourself. Where premarital sex is concerned—or even married sex, for that matter—if someone really viewed the choice through that lens, they may find it’s less about looking for a hard rule or looking for a justification than it is … “am I wanting this to edify the person I love? Or am I using them to satisfy myself?”

        At the very least I believe people would treat sex both a lot less casually AND a lot less like an idol. How easy would it be to engage in premarital sex (or non-consensual married sex) if we truly wanted to honor God and the other person in how we treated them?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, I completely agree!

          Reply
  14. Angharad

    I spent my early 20s in a church which used ‘better to marry than to burn’ to push youngsters into early marriages so that they wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. Once you got to your late teens, addressing more than two sentences in a row to a single person of the opposite sex would result in the pastor or pastor’s wife taking you aside and asking “are your intentions matrimonial?” There was tremendous pressure to get married and settle down as soon as possible, regardless of the maturity/suitability of the couple. Getting married at 24 or 25 was regarded as ‘really old’.

    Result? The majority of those young couples who got pushed into hasty marriages at 19 or 20 split up after a few years. Raging hormones and fear of losing self-control are NOT good reasons for getting married.

    The ones who refused to be rushed are still together And as far as I’m aware, they all managed to make it to the wedding day without having sex. Which shouldn’t be that surprising bearing in mind that ‘self control’ is listed as fruit of the Spirit…it’s weird how many churches seem to think that doesn’t apply to singles under 25.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      “Which shouldn’t be that surprising”

      Except, of course, that men gotta have it and women gotta give it, and he just can’t wait. Seventy-two hours and all… 🙄

      Reply
  15. Eliza

    This is my thoughts on premarital sex as someone who grew up exposed to but not strongly affected by purity culture and who now is the parent of older teen children:

    It’s certainly possible to have a high sex drive, to wait for marriage, and to get married without sexual hangups, because I did. Fortunately my immediate family’s/church culture’s approach to sex was very positive within marriage, and I always felt like waiting for marriage was like waiting for Christmas morning to open presents–just something that added to the specialness. Sex is fun and sometimes we want it really badly, but it’s always an option to *not* have it–and that self-control continues to be important in marriage to, because circumstances will happen and things will change and another person is involved and you have to pay the bills and you are *not* going to get sex whenever and however you want it. In many ways I’ve found sexual restraint within marriage is a lot harder because there is a hot person in bed right next to me every night so it’s much harder to just set it aside and focus on other things. Sexual restraint before marriage can be great practice for this, if it’s approached with that understanding.

    Quite apart from moral considerations, it’s important to remember that sex is an adult activity. You shouldn’t undertake it until you are ready to accept adult responsibilities. Realistically, all birth control (especially temporary forms) have a failure rate, which is higher with imperfect use, and the odds of a healthy but inexperienced heterosexual couple from 18-24 having birth control failure are far from negligible. So having sex with someone you are not ready to raise a baby with is a very risky idea and not really an expression of love.

    So I’m not going to endorse premarital sex. In the more secular young people I know, I see a casual attitude to premarital sex leading to a lot of unnecessary stress, heartache, and conflict. Instead of building maturity and tools to have a healthy relationship, they wind up hurting themselves and each other over and over. But I don’t minimize the harm that can be caused by obsessing over *not* having premarital sex as if it were the worst possible sin, which it certainly isn’t. So I don’t scrutinize or chaperone grown people. It’s between them and God.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally support this!

      Reply
    • Christine

      I needed to read this today…I have two teens, each dating amazing other teens with a lot of maturity – they all show lots of maturity for their age and kindness and planning for the future. I know I am borrowing trouble because they could break up…statistically that is the case with high school relationships. But what if they don’t?! What is they remain committed to their faith and each other and want to marry young? Before finishing university? I am panicking a little at the thought! I will just chill and leave it in the Lord’s hands! 🙂 There is thankfully no pressure in our home or church to marry young and it is very uncommon.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Marrying young is not necessarily a bad thing (I married at 21; both my girls married at 20). The difference was that we were all able to live independently; we’d all had a lot of different experiences taking us to different groups of people so we had met a wide breadth of people and we knew we were making a good choice. I think that’s key. But young isn’t necessarily bad, if they’re mature and they’ve seen more of the world. It’s just more risky statistically.

        Reply
  16. JoB

    It’s a question with a lot of aspects to consider.

    On one hand, yes- when you think about it, shouldn’t the teaching for a Christian always be, “If you can’t exercise self control in xyz, then seek to learn self control.”

    Would Christians approve of saying:
    If you can’t exercise self control financially, then make sure you marry an heiress, or at least somebody with a really high credit limit.
    If you can’t exercise self control with your eating, make sure you marry somebody who’s willing to drop everything and make you a snack day or night, and who doesn’t mind 3 am Taco Bell runs every night.

    It’s a mistake to elevate a potential benefit of marriage over the character and maturity of both people involved. I mean, what would you think if someone’s primary reason for getting married was to have children. That’s a *great* aspect of marriage, but it shouldn’t be the *reason* to marry at a particular time (well, my plan is to have 3 kids before I’m 30, so I’d better marry my current boyfriend now if I want to stay on schedule). If you marry for sex, or fertility or financial stability- you also face the prospect of being let down at some point.

    Makes me think about the final scenes of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, which does a nice job with just a few images and words of showing the contrast: a suitable match between two people of maturity and good character (Elizabeth and Darcy) vs an impetuous marriage founded on lust between an unprincipled man and a superficial, immature woman (Wickham and Lydia)

    Reply
    • Angharad

      Jane Austen has a brilliant line about there being little long term happiness in store for a the Wickhams, who married “because their passions were stronger than their virtue”.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very much agree! (And also I’m here for any Jane Austen references, always!)

      Reply
  17. JoB

    Another thing I thought through in response to the tweet mentioned in the post: my first thought was, if you *really* can’t exercise self control sexually, then you are going to end up in jail pretty quickly. Like, if you can’t stop yourself from groping an attractive person, or you have sexual compulsion like exposing yourself or something.

    But then I was thinking more and I realized: it’s more likely he’s talking about looking at pornography and masturbation, and he thinks both are sinful and that marriage is the cure. Or he thinks that having strong sexual feelings is automatically equated with lacking self control.

    I would disagree with that conclusion, but his statement is doubly unhelpful, because the ambiguity of “lacking sexual self control” could be interpreted a lot of different ways.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very much so!

      Reply
  18. JoB

    On the other hand, secular western thinks it is 100% unrealistic to expect people to control themselves sexually, including children once they hit puberty. Which I think is sad and sick, and I know that other cultures have much higher expectations of sexual self control than we do in the west. Sex is very much an idol in our culture, presented as a highest good to be pursued.

    Reply
  19. Perfect Number

    On the one hand, I agree with the point of this post- it’s a bad idea to rush into marriage just so you can have sex! But also, I’m not really sure what to make of it when I hear this from Christians who still believe premarital sex is a sin. I feel like, if you say “it’s a bad idea to get married just so you can have sex” but you don’t also say “premarital sex is NOT AS BAD AS rushing into marriage with someone who’s not right for you” then you’re not actually saying anything meaningful.

    In my experience, when I see Christians saying “don’t get married just so you can have sex!” and then I ask them if it’s worse to have premarital sex, or to rush into marriage with the wrong person, they refuse to answer. They say you shouldn’t do either of those things. But IN REALITY the answer should be obvious, it’s SO MUCH worse to get married to the wrong person- spending a whole bunch of money on the wedding, being legally tied to someone who’s not right for you, etc. That’s SO MUCH WORSE than having premarital sex (even if you still believe premarital sex is a sin, rushing into marriage is still worse!).

    Young people coming from a purity-culture background have been told all kinds of fear-mongering things about how premarital sex will RUIN YOUR LIFE, etc. It’s presented like a very absolute, horrifying thing. And then if some reasonable adult comes along and says “rushing into marriage just so you can have sex is a bad idea,” yeah sure it’s a bad idea, but it sounds more like a “use your own common sense, this is a judgment call, what exactly counts as ‘too young’ to get married, how do you know if the person is right for you or not, etc”. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as ABSOLUTELY, LIFE-RUININGLY BAD as everything they’ve been taught about premarital sex. So if you don’t directly say the words “premarital sex is NOT AS BAD AS rushing into marriage with the wrong person” it doesn’t mean anything.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      Why would we need to say this?

      Would you tell someone that stealing is bad but not as bad as murdering? Or that lying is not as bad as stealing? Or…

      I can see the point of saying that if you have made one wrong choice (premarital sex) then adding another wrong choice on top of that (rushing into marriage) just makes things worse, not better, just as if you had stolen something, then lying to cover it up would also make things worse. But to start ‘grading’ behaviour sends the message that ‘if you HAVE to do wrong, then it’s better to pick this wrong than that one’. Which is totally at odds with the call to turn from ALL sin.

      What I think would be far more helpful would be to stop putting some sins in a separate category as so many churches do – “If you do a, b or c, then you just have to repent and carry on as normal. If you do d, e or f, then you are tainted forever and will always be a second-class citizen.’ Yes, some sins may impact our lives and the lives of those around us more than others, but Jesus’ blood is sufficient for all sins, not just the ones we view as being ‘less serious’.

      Reply
      • Hannah

        I think consent is a massive issue too, which the church doesn’t talk about enough. I remember being shocked at the level of coercion being experienced in sexual relationships by my friends as a teen. This was in a secular setting. I have since realised I was in a social group which was particularly bad. We need to recognise that sometimes premarital sex is a considered choice but sometimes it’s people being pushed into things they don’t want to do but they also don’t want to lose the relationship. Putting up with it was just seen as part of dating. Sometimes ‘I can choose to have sex’ is more about ‘my girlfriend/ boyfriend is required to have sex with me.’ I don’t know how that can be addressed. The ‘I guess isn’t yes’ campaign encapsulates this issue.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          Yes – although I’m not sure consent is only an issue within the church. For example, Jane Eyre is still supposed to be one of top most popular romance novels yet it’s basically about a coercive older man who physically assaults a young, vulnerable woman in his employ and tries to trap her into a bigamous marriage… And the number of times I read a novel or watch a film with a ‘romantic’ plot that totally ignores consent because the guy is ‘so much in love’. Bleurgh!

          Reply
      • Perfect Number

        I’m framing it this way because in purity-culture logic, the problem of “we want to have sex but we’re not allowed to because we’re not married” seems to have an obvious solution: get married. (And I have actually seen Christians saying that people should get married young, to avoid “sexual immorality.” I personally would argue that pressuring teenagers to get married when they’re too young IS SEXUAL IMMORALITY!) So I think this purity-culture logic needs to be addressed head-on. Getting married so that your sex doesn’t count as “premarital sex” is NOT a tidy solution to this problem- it’s actually worse!

        Reply
        • Hannah

          Absolutely agree that purity culture logic can be used to push people into marriage inappropriately. I also think there are cases where ‘we want to have sex’ masks a degree of subtle coercion, perhaps because purity culture assumes that people who aren’t married will desperately want sex. People shouldn’t be pushed into marriage young just because they’ve had sex, but in my view that becomes a bigger ‘shouldn’t’ if there is any level of coercion in the relationship. And I think purity culture often comes together with not being able to spot the more subtle forms of coercion. Or not seeing coercion because ‘that’s just how men are.’

          Reply
          • Perfect Number

            Yes, thanks for bringing up the coercion aspect (I wasn’t thinking about that because I haven’t experienced that aspect myself). Since purity culture is all about following the “rules”, it never lets people actually ask themselves the question “what do *I* want?” It basically says that your own desires and feelings don’t matter, all that matters is if the thing is a “sin” in some objective sense. And then people aren’t able to recognize coercion- because “my boyfriend is asking me to do xyz, which my pastor said isn’t a sin, so I need to do it because that’s what a submissive wife would do.”

            Sooooo we need to teach young people that their own feelings and desires matter, and they should stand up for themselves, and CONSENT is IMPORTANT, and if you don’t want to do something with your body, that is a GOOD ENOUGH REASON to say no, just by itself, you don’t need to cite bible verses and explain why it’s a sin or whatever.

    • JoB

      Perfect Number, in discussing your point, it might help to clarify if by “bad” we mean “going against moral convictions “ OR do we mean “bad/harmful for someone in a practical sense.”

      Often, people of strong convictions *do* choose their convictions over their wellbeing. For example, Daniel had the choice of praying to another god for 30 days (and it would have been fine if he just gave lip service and didn’t pray to the idol sincerely) or being thrown into a den of lions. Probably most people would say it was “worse” to be mauled by lions than to mumble an insincere prayer to a false god for a couple of weeks, which would not have hurt any other humans.

      In the case of premarital sex vs making an imprudent marriage, however, you don’t have to choose one or the other, it is possible to attempt to avoid both, if that is where your convictions lead you.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, it is possible to avoid both. I think what we found in our focus groups, though, was story after story of women who married a guy they had sex with because they now felt they had no choice. They were “married in God’s eyes.”

        I think we need to tell people–hey, if you didn’t live up to your own convictions, that’s too bad, but you can choose to live differently today. But whatever you do, don’t make things worse by now making an even worse decision. That’s what we kept seeing–women who got married because they felt they had to or felt pressured to (well, if you’re going to be having sex like that, you really should get married and make it legal and okay with God.”) That’s not a reason to get married. I think people should be challenged about whether the sex and relationship is a good idea in the first place, but telling people, “because you’re having sex you should get married” is just really, really a recipe for disaster.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Marrying the wrong person has such HUGE repercussions down the road, including to any children that come. It just can’t be glossed over. This is HUGE. Making an ill-advised marital decision is just not worth it. I think as a mom it clarifies things a lot better. If I’m asked, “would you rather your child have pre-marital sex with someone they love or marry an abuser?” I’d choose the premarital sex every time. As a mom, you just would. (And any mom who wouldn’t needs to go to therapy to figure out why they wouldn’t want their child protected).

      Reply
      • Angharad

        I’m not disagreeing about the repercussions of an unwise marriage. I just think the whole “Is it worse to have premarital sex or marry an abuser?” argument is a bit of a straw man. It’s not as if any kid is going to sit there deciding which of the two to pick. “Hmmm…now shall I have premarital sex, or shall I get married to an abuser?”

        What might (and often does) happen, is that a young person has premarital sex with a person who would not make a good life partner and then feels pressured/obliged/guilted into marrying that person because they’ve already ‘messed up’. But if you’ve had premarital sex, you can’t undo that by getting married to the person you had sex with. And if they are not a good person for you to marry, you are just doubling up on the bad decisions.

        I think if the church stopped treating premarital sex as unforgiveable, it would help. But while people know they are going to be treated as second-rate Christians for life if they don’t marry the person they had sex with, we are still going to see these unwise marriages taking place.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, very, very true.

          Reply
    • CMT

      I think I get your point. One decision, while not risk-free, is still just not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things (though many people will honestly feel it violates their conscience personally). The other decision, though, has a substantial risk of being life-alteringly bad. Purity culture wasn’t truthful about which was which, so even saying “getting married for sex is really unwise” is likely to fall on deaf ears. In that context, “really unwise” is always going to look like the lesser of two evils next to “the unpardonable sin that will stain me forever in the eyes of God.” So an honest reframe of the conversation needs to address that distortion head on.

      Reply
      • Perfect Number

        Yes, exactly this- if young people have heard for their whole life that premarital sex is The Worst Thing Ever, then even if you tell them “don’t get married just so you can have sex” they won’t be able to put it in perspective and realize how BAD it is to be married to someone who’s not right for you, and how the consequences of that are so much worse than having premarital sex.

        Reply
        • Cheyenne

          Yes, and it’s possible the Bible does not even prohibit premarital sex.

          We know the prohibitions against “sexual immorality” throughout scripture. But there are some concordances and Bible research Ive seen that say the language at the time defined “sexual immorality” as EXTRA marital sex, ie sex with someone else if you are already married. So the ban would NOT apply to premarital sex between two unmarried people. Since neither are married to anyone else, there’s no extramarital sex there.

          No way to know for sure I guess, but it would help explain how so many of Gods favored characters in scripture could maintain good standing with God and still have sex with multiple partners (they were all married to each other).

          Also lends support to this discussion that marrying the wrong person just for sex causes way more problems than premarital sex.

          Reply
          • Anon25

            @Cheyenne – I do understand your point. But I want to stress that in Leviticus there are very precise regulations / punishments spelled out at least for never married women who seemingly aren’t virgins on their eventual wedding nights. Also, in regard to rape there is at least one scenario described that can be interpreted as consensual pre-marital sex for which BOTH parties should be punished. (The problem I personally have with this is that female consent isn’t explicitly spelled out, but rather implied, which in the context of a highly patriarchal society is rather problematic- but that’s another discussion.)

            There are probably other parts of the OT that I‘m not thinking of right now which are related to this question, too. I just wanted to point out that in OT times / contexts a clear differentiation DOES exist between sex taking place inside of marriage and that outside of it, which is framed as encounters between people who aren’t married to each other (and probably not at all).

            Still, it’s important to note that firstly, we hardly know by which rites and traditions an „official“ marriage was constituted and separated from other relationships in biblical times. And if there weren’t different scenarios that have been considered „legal“ and allowed people to have sex with each other without negative consequences. Certainly there were different types of bi- and polygamous arrangements MEN could enter into. Therefore our definition of „pre-marital“ might be a different one than that of people living back than.

            And secondly, as Sheila and other commenters have pointed out, the NT does indeed propagate a different, more holistic view of sexual ethics. Therefore you are right in saying that sexual immorality probably shouldn’t be interpreted narrowly as ONLY referring to pre-marital (by modern standards) sex, but is rather a broader term focussing primarily on other forms of sexual misconduct.

        • CMT

          “they won’t be able to put it in perspective”

          Yes. I think it’s really tough in general to have a balanced perspective about any life decision when you’re trained into an intensely moralistic framework. The question becomes, “how do I stay on the correct side of this binary?” rather than “what is wise? What is fulfilling and healthy? What is respectful towards myself and others?”

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes! We don’t know how to choose wisdom. It’s like Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. We’re stuck in the conventional stage, and we never mature past that when we just rely on binaries, red-light,green-light talk.

  20. Willow

    As I’ve said elsewhere here, the Levitical rules about sex come from a context of clan survival, in an era before DNA tests and condoms and maternal health. Requiring that a woman only have sex with her husband ensured genetic/racial “purity” of the children and cut down on sexually transmitted diseases. Just like encouraging men to have multiple wives/concubines simultaneously, ensured a large number of offspring close in age, and other lactating women available to breast-feed, should one of the women die in childbirth (common).

    I think it is dangerous to proof-text Levitical rules for a modern Christian sexual ethics.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think you’re on to something here. And then when we move to the New Testament, we get Roman culture, which is not something to emulate either.

      Reply

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