Why Shouldn't You Have Sex If You Aren't Married?
--M. Joseph Young

  Why shouldn't you have sex?  Of course, you're young; but in your own estimation you're old enough--and who should say different?  You aren't married, but in your opinion that doesn't matter--so why should any other opinion matter?  If you want to have sex, what's to stop you?  Why should you wait, why should you refrain, why should you abstain?  In short, why should you not do something which you believe is good, unlike anything else you could do?

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  Yet the world is filled with those who claim that sex should be reserved for those who are older, or even for those who are married.  Some even will use words like "sinful", or "wrong".  Such an attitude may appear arbitrary, unwarranted, even judgmental--and the reasons given often seem foolish or insignificant.

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  But they aren't foolish, and they aren't insignificant.  There are good reasons to wait to have sex, and there are good reasons to have sex only within the legal bonds of marriage.  And the reasons which are most often given are not entirely inadequate, even if they are not always entirely sufficient.

  Since before any of us were alive, people have been warning of the dangers of disease.  When I was young, VD--venereal disease--was the common term.  That term gave way to STD--sexually transmitted disease.  Today HIV is so serious a hazard that it has become the nearly exclusive threat in this regard.  But the human immunodeficiency virus is a very real danger, and syphilis has not been eliminated as a hazard; nor have any of the other diseases which can blind, cripple, sterilize, or incapacitate the infected individual.  Having sex only one time can infect you with any of these diseases; and having sex more than once increases the probability--more if you have sex with different partners.  But even if you have sex repeatedly with the same partner, you increase your chance of infection.  You might have been lucky once, twice, several times--not everyone who has sex with an infected partner becomes infected, but, like playing Russian roulette, eventually you will hit the chamber containing the bullet.  Using a condom will reduce your chance of becoming infected; but there is still a bullet in one of the chambers, and eventually it will get you.  And you can't be so naive as to believe that your partner would never secretly contract a disease by having sex with someone else, or that your partner would tell you if that happened!  Even between those who are married, that happens far too often.  If you and your partner have agreed that the commitments represented by a legal marriage are not necessary for you to have sex with each other, neither of you can expect that the other would respect those same commitments by not having sex with someone else.  And almost every person who discovers that their partner was having sex with someone else was surprised, believed that that it would never happen that way--but you know people who discovered that their partner was cheating; you may even know some who have not discovered or do not believe that their partner is cheating, although you and everyone else know what's going on.  (And if you are the "other person"--the lover whose partner is seeing you secretly while maintaining an open relationship with a first partner--do you really expect that such a cheat would not have other lovers unknown to you?)  Marriage is certainly not a perfect protection against disease; but it is safer than having sex without marriage.  And, incidentally, if your spouse infects you with a sexually transmitted disease contracted from another lover, you can sue; but if you catch the same disease from a lover not married to you, the law assumes that it was a risk you accepted when you agreed to have sex outside marriage.

  HIV has been such a dread that the other danger of premarital sex has diminished in the amount of attention it has been given.  Yet it still remains as a hazard.  Every year, thousands of girls unexpectedly become pregnant.  Many of them are abandoned by boyfriends, even men-friends, to face the problem alone.  And it is not an easy choice to make.  There are only three options.  You can have the baby and try to raise it yourself.  You can give the baby to someone else to raise.  Or you can kill the baby, so that no one will have to raise it.

  Raising a child is a difficult task even under the best conditions.  If you aren't married, there's probably a reason why not.  Having a baby is not a very good reason to marry if you weren't ready to be married otherwise.  If either of you weren't certain you wanted that kind of commitment, you still won't be certain.  If either of you doesn't love the other enough to talk about the rest of your life, you won't love each other more.  If you don't have the money, or haven't finished your education, or have some other reason why you wanted to wait before you got married, none of that has changed, and most of it will be more difficult if you are married, and all of it will be more difficult if you are also parents.  So even if you are both willing to get married once the baby is on the way, you have given yourself a rough start.  And if one of you doesn't want to get married, then one of you will be a single parent--a rough road under the best conditions.  Keeping the baby is not an easy option.

  Yet many girls find that giving the baby to someone else is even harder.  Working with a pregnancy counseling clinic, I encountered girls who would not even consider giving a baby away--they would either kill it before it was born, or keep it.  Very few girls give birth without strong feelings for the child.  Giving away a baby, never to see it again, is one of the hardest decisions any person ever makes.  Even when it is probably the right decision, it will remain a regret forever.

  We live in an age in which we are bombarded with propaganda driving home the notion that killing a baby is an easy thing to do.  It isn't; most girls never get over it--and those who say they do often seem very cold and different to those who knew them before.  Those who have had abortions remember them.  They remember the baby who was never born, the birthdays that are never celebrated.  Killing your unborn child is not the easy solution to pregnancy, and certainly not the panacea which makes sex safe.

  Marriage is not a perfect institution; but it's a head start on a better life for children.

  So the risk of disease and the risk of pregnancy are both good reasons to wait, to have sex after you are married, and not before.

  But there is a problem with this reasoning which seems to escape the notice of those who present these arguments.  If you listen to what they say, you are led to believe that you shouldn't have sex because of these risks.  Were that so, then having premarital or extra-marital sex wouldn't be wrong, just inconvenient.  The impression is given that if you could be absolutely certain that there was no risk of disease and no risk of pregnancy, there would be no reason why you shouldn't have sex as much as you want.  I could tell you that the Bible says that it's wrong; but you probably already know that, and if you have decided to have sex outside of marriage, you probably don't care.  I believe that the Bible is right.  But I also believe that God is not arbitrary about what He says is wrong; nor does He announce that something is sin because He wants to take away any chance you have of having fun or enjoying good things.  If God says that something is wrong, it's because something about it is bad, or harmful, or dangerous.

  Someone once suggested to me that sex was neither good nor evil; he tried to demonstrate this by taking it fully out of context.  If you have two people in a room having sex, it's just a biological act, he argued, with nothing special or terrible about it--no different, in his mind, from two dogs in the same situation.  My response to this is that morality is usually about context.  Let us imagine a different room, in which a man reaches into a drawer, removes a large quantity of money, puts it in his pocket, and leaves.  Is that a right act or a wrong one?  This certainly depends on whether it was his money, or whether he had some right to take it.  And whether two people having sex is a right act or a wrong act similarly depends on who they are, and what they are to each other.

  There is an attitude abroad today--it became prominent when I was a boy--that any sexual activity engaged in by "consenting adults" is alright.  Part of that idea is that nobody gets hurt if two people agree to have sex.  But this isn't true.  The number of people who can be hurt by it is significant.  Let's just take a look at the short list.

  Some years ago, there was a letter to an advice column.  A girl complained that her husband didn't trust her.  Before they were married, when she was in college, she slept with lots of different guys, and thought nothing of it; today, her husband always wonders whether his wife ever slept with any guy he meets, and whether she's sleeping with someone else now.  The advice columnist sided with the girl, saying the husband was being childish and unreasonable.  But the reaction of the husband is quite natural.  Suspicion and jealousy are normal emotions, and easily stimulated by any suggestion that someone we trust might be lying to us, or that our lover is unfaithful.  To have a reputation for promiscuity is to invite such a reaction.  The many meaningless affairs this girl had hurt her years later, and hurt the husband she hadn't met then.  These sexual contacts hurt the present or future spouses of those involved.  They can also hurt the children, whether those children are among those who know of the affair, or those from whom the affair is hidden, or those yet unborn whose lives will be affected in the future.

  But more importantly, those consenting adults have hurt themselves, and they have hurt each other.  Whoever else they may have hurt, it starts with them.  This is the true reason why you shouldn't engage in sex before marriage:  it will hurt you.  I'm sure you don't believe me; you probably don't even understand.  The damage is subtle, deep, often unnoticed--but very real.

  There are a number of things in our lives which are connected to bonding.  The connection between parents--especially mothers--and their children is formed in part through the biological and emotional situation of childbirth and infancy.  Babies memorize their mothers' faces while nursing, from the first hours after birth.  Mothers look at the face of the infant moments after the pain of childbirth, and form a link.  Sex also is connected to bonding.  No one ever forgets their first time.  It is an emotional and biological event which leaves permanent impressions on you.  It was made to be that way; it was made to be part of the bond which holds lovers together, so that families would be built.  Even for guys, but even moreso for girls, sex is a way of giving yourself to someone else totally, of expressing a deep and meaningful love.  If you have sex with someone in that context, with the view that this is the person with whom you will spend your life, with whom you will raise a family, the bonding aspect of sex can strengthen that union.

  But it can't create that union where none exists; it can't cause a commitment between two individuals that isn't already there.  It is a way of saying, I love you, and I want to give myself to you in the most special way I can.  It says all of this; but it can no more create that kind of love or commitment than it can guarantee it.  It's just a part of the total package that binds two people together.

  But once you've told someone that you'll love only them forever, and that changes, you hesitate to say it to the next person.  And once you've decided to give yourself totally to one person, to take that step, and you lose that person, it will never be quite the same the next time.  Think of it this way:  if you have told one person that they will be the only person you will ever love, and then you tell another the same thing, and then another--to how many people can you say this before it loses all meaning, and becomes hollow and empty, even to you?  In the same way, if you choose to give all of yourself to one person, and then another, and then another, gradually it loses all that it means, and is reduced to the physical pleasure without the emotional content--it becomes selfish, a taking rather than a giving.  You become less loving, less open, less human.  You have damaged yourself.  Eventually you may find yourself sitting in a bar, meeting a total stranger, and going somewhere to have sex, meaningless physical sex.  In that context, neither of you cares who the other is, neither of you has any love or affection or bond to the other.  Each uses the other as an object useful in stimulating masturbation.  The lover becomes a wonderfully animated inflatable toy, a full-sensory smut magazine, a holodeck stag film, a thing which excites and stimulates the user; it no longer has any relationship to a relationship.

  Very few of us will have sex for the first time with a stranger.  The majority of us--and the vast majority of girls--will believe that they are having sex with someone with whom they are in love, with whom they will spend their lives.  Unfortunately, at least among teenagers, the majority of us are wrong.  Often one of the lovers is insincere, manipulating the other in a desire to have sex.  But even when both partners truly believe that they are in love forever, relationships often fall apart.  Adult relationships don't always last.  Teenagers go through tremendous stress and change, and it is rare in the extreme for any couple who gets together in high school to stay together afterwards--and that is without the added stresses brought into the relationship in which the couple is having sex and is worried about whether the girl might get pregnant, even when that doesn't happen.  If you want some semblance of certainty that your partner isn't leaving, wait until you are married--not until you agree to get married, because many people who agree to get married never do so.

  We all would agree that it is usually wrong to kill another person; there are times when the context makes it so that it is right.  The sharpshooter who puts a bullet in the base of the skull of the terrorist and so prevents him from blowing up the building and killing all the hostages has done a good thing.  But he has suffered for it.  He has killed someone, and that will be with him for the rest of his life.  But the marksman, like the soldier, may kill many people in his life.  Each death stays with him; but each has less meaning, each is easier, and with each, something inside him dies.  Thou shalt not kill, not merely because it's wrong to take the life of another, but also because it will destroy your own humanity, tearing away the soul within you.  It damages you.  Thou shalt not commit adultery, and for the same reason.  Your ability to make and keep that commitment to another deteriorates, and your ability to be the kind of person to whom another would comfortably commit themselves is also destroyed.

  Why shouldn't you have sex?  If you wait until you have found the person with whom you will spend the rest of your life, the only person with whom you will ever have sex; if you wait until you know that you are the only person with whom that person will ever have sex; if you wait until you are married, sex will be better, love will be better, and it will draw you closer together.  If you choose to have sex with the next person to whom you are attracted, sex will mean less, love will be more difficult, and you will create obstacles to your relationships in the future.

  On one occasion, I shared some of this with a thirty-year-old friend who had lost track of the number of women with whom he had had sex, but was now getting married and changing his life.  As I told him that it seemed to me that the meaning would disappear from sex as the number of partners increased, I realized that he would know far more about that than I; but he affirmed my opinion--sex had been reduced from a wonderful emotional (perhaps even spiritual) experience to a mere physical pleasure.  More than that, he observed that once sex had become so meaningless, it was very difficult to restore any meaning to it, to bring back the bonding into a new relationship.

  Barry McGuire, 1960's popular musician famous for starring on Broadway in the musical Hair, years later said that in the sixties he and his friends were told that certain things were wrong.  But when they asked why, their elders didn't know.  He and his friends did them all, or at least all of those which they didn't understand.  He said that they found out why those things were wrong:  because they lead to death.  Sometimes that death is physical; but it is no less death when it is the dying of the person within, of the ability to love and be loved and trust and be trusted.  So when I tell you that you should wait to have sex--or that you should stop having sex until the right time--it's because I want you to truly enjoy sex, and more, to enjoy being human and having a meaningful relationship in which you can find happiness.  That's why you shouldn't have sex if you aren't married.

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M. Joseph Young has written and published several books, including What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and the rule and world books for the Multiverser role playing game.