Sex and Christianity

Sex is a big deal. As a society we are proud of our liberated attitude, and regard the unfettered expression of it as healthy and honest. What does Christianity teach about this?

In the Bible, sex outside marriage is considered as wrong as greed, theft, lying, etc. and Christians are told to avoid it at all costs, that there “must not even be a hint of it” in our lives. Yet modern society does not frown on it, and the biblical admonitions to chastity are regarded as hopelessly out of date. Even many who consider themselves Christians wonder what the big deal is.

But it is a big deal, and the Bible (which wholeheartedly endorses sex, by the way) tells us the only proper place for it is within marriage. If I’m to be honest with what I read, I have to take this at face value and not let my own feelings or the values of a particular time or society condition that doctrine.

Why does it matter? Here’s a few thoughts.

By engaging intimately right away, sex becomes a (the?) defining dynamic of the relationship – pretty shaky ground, especially as we age. It creates a consumer relationship rather than a covenant with which a person legally binds themselves to the other as a true token of love and faithful intent. As long as you continue to meet the expectations I had when we got together, it’s fine; but when you won’t or can’t – then I’m free to go. And things change: even with the best of intentions, beauty and vigour fade. If my partner is no longer attractive to me should I be able to just walk out? A public marriage vow to remain faithful for a lifetime – assuming we are people who keep our promises – puts things in firmer ground. It protects the other person.

Many will object, pointing out the present divorce rate. But the reason so many marriages fail these days does not mean there’s anything wrong with marriage – it just means people are less honest. They break their promises. And surely part of courtship is simply due diligence to discern the character of the prospective spouse before committing body and soul. The most important things to know about a prospective mate can be known without sleeping with them: humility, faithfulness, honesty, kindness, respect, love and service to others and especially to God.

Physical intimacy clouds our judgement if entered into before these things are known. Is it wise by any sensible standard to give yourself away so easily? How can a person really know someone after just a few dates?

Modern dating further skews things in this direction, because throughout the process everyone’s on their best behaviour. Talk is cheap, and people can keep it up as long as they’re getting getting what they want. In particular a person’s sexual performance is blown out of proportion relative to other vital factors.

And that this is so prevalent these days just shows what a small premium modern thought puts on the value of anyone besides our own experiencing selves. We devalue each other in the name of personal gratification; we use people and can easily discard the relation when it no longer serves us. Further, we consensually submit to the cheapening of our own persons for the feelings of affirmation we crave. That lifelong marriages are becoming exceptional hardly surprises me.

Christianity affirms the real value of the person by relationships freely entered into and therefore demands lifelong commitment – in a word, marriage. Not because God wants to keep us from having fun, but because people matter. Their hearts are too important to risk all by rushing into intimacy before its time; too precious to be put at risk when they no longer serve the partner’s purposes.