Sex. The very word fires up strong emotions. The world constantly popularizes and perverts sex in books, magazines, movies and "entertainment" in general.
Our culture is prideful of its sexual openness. Premarital and extramarital affairs of every variety are no longer "shameful" but are now celebrated.
Religious or not, 86 percent of unmarried young adults (ages 18-29) in the United States have had sex, 78 percent have had sex in the last year, and 55 percent are in a current sexual relationship. Almost 7 percent of teen girls (ages 15-19) become pregnant each year, amounting to more than 400,000 live births annually just in America. The most recent study (2002) shows that three quarters of all unplanned pregnancies are to single women age 29 and younger (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, "The Fog Zone," 2009). And statistics are similar in other Western nations.
Of course, unplanned pregnancies are only one of the consequences of wrong sexual thinking by young men and women in society today. It should be obvious that the prevalent attitude about premarital and extramarital sex in the culture around us leads to many problems.
The sad news is that Christians may pretend to hold the moral high ground on sex, but even young Christians are buying into the message that sex outside of marriage is okay. Many still do see sex outside of marriage as wrong, but they are viewed by many others as archaic and out of touch.
Is the belief that sex should be reserved for marriage too rigid? The right question to ask is: What is God's view about sex, and what should our response be?
Is sex sin?
God's Word, the Bible, is very frank about sex. God inspired the recording of certain wrong examples of sexual behavior: King David committed adultery with Bathsheba; Lot had a wrong relationship with his daughters; Samson had a wanton eye and lustful attitude toward women, which cost him his eyes and his life. These illustrate the severe consequences that can come with sex outside of marriage.
Sex itself, which God designed, is not a sin. It's the misuse of sex that's sinful.
Here's what God intended for marriage and sex—which must be in that order:
In the beginning He made humankind male and female—for a reason (Genesis 1:27).
He made the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, husband and wife—that is, "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
He blessed them and told them to fill the earth with their family—which implied and required sex in marriage (Genesis 1:28).
The sexual union in marriage is meant to be "honorable" (Hebrews 13:4).
We know that God was talking about a sexual union because he inspired Paul the apostle to write that a sexual relationship outside of marriage brings about a similar—but immoral—one-flesh union (1 Corinthians 6:16).
Again, sex itself is not the problem. God in His divine love gave mankind this powerful, wonderful relationship. The problem is when something designed for our good is used selfishly and wrongly. God tells us to wait for our sexual relationship until the right time in our own marriage: "Do not let love be moved till it is ready" (Song of Solomon 2:7, Bible in Basic English). It isn't ready, and it isn't righteous, until the wedding vows are exchanged!
Sexual hormones and divorce
Very powerful hormones are released during the sexual bonding God built into marriage. If an individual engages in sex outside of marriage, those hormones are still triggered, but the bonding effect divinely intended for just one mate of the opposite sex is tragically minimized and weakened.
The longer this behavior continues the harder it becomes for a person to commit to a marriage partner for life. And so, sexual immorality contributes to the high divorce rate as evidenced in Western nations. Even those who profess to follow the Bible divorce at roughly the same rate (about 32 percent of first-time marriages) as those who have no Christian connection ("New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released," Barna.org).
Sex and abortion
Another downside to the wrong use of sex is that almost half of women in the United States will abort at least one baby at some point in their lifetimes. Those who profess Christianity in America are also involved, since 28 percent of women getting an abortion identify themselves as Catholic, and 37 percent identify themselves as Protestant.
This means that in America alone women who identify themselves as Christian contribute heavily to the approximately 1.2 million abortions per year ("Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients," Guttmacher.org, May 2010).
Keeping sex sacred
From the statistics we can see that too many "Christians" also engage in wrong sexual behavior. What can we do to find sexual purity in our lives and families?
God gave sex to mankind not only to procreate, but to build a strong marriage relationship as a sacred union—a special and unique physical relationship illustrating for us the mystery of the relationship between Christ and those in His Church (Ephesians 5:30-32). Why profane something so beautiful and holy?
Calling wrong behavior sin may seem uncomfortable, but it gets the point across to yourself and others. Practice and expect behavior that follows God's standards. Of those teens and young adults not having sex before marriage, 41 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys gave as a reason for their abstinence that sex outside of marriage was "against my religion or morals" (Pregnant Pause Blog, TheNationalCampaign.org, October 2011).
If you are engaged in wrong sexual behavior—stop. This is the first step to repentance—meaning to think differently, to change your mind and actions. Jesus told a woman who was caught in adultery to "go and sin no more" (John 8:2-11). He says the same thing to us now. Remember that God will forgive us when we repent and sincerely desire to change.
Rule your sexual desires and express that desire only when the time comes in the holy setting of your own marriage—as God intended. Although sex can drive powerful emotions and desires, there is no record of anyone dying because they didn't have sex! As with any sin, we must rule our desires so we don't suffer the consequences of that sinful behavior. God told this to Cain, but Cain had filled himself with so much misdirected anger that he ignored God, murdered his brother Abel and suffered the severe consequences (Genesis 4:3-12).
The world sells a message of unrestricted sex and that it is not sin. Don't buy it! Reject films, shows, comedy or other entertainments that glorify illicit sex or that ridicule marriage and family. Reject any involvement in pornography. Get counseling help if you need it. Jesus Christ loves you and wants you in His family in the Kingdom of God.
For deeper understanding of sex and the marriage relationship, request and read our free Bible study aid booklet Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension. You will find a more comprehensive discussion of what God designed and intended within our marriages and families.