Of all the gifts God has given mankind, one of the most beautiful and meaningful is the gift of sexuality. Yet it's also one of the most abused.
Sex plays a vital part in God's plan for human beings. The first command recorded in the Bible that God gave to Adam and Eve was to have sexual relations (Genesis 1:28). He essentially repeated the command in Genesis 2:24-25: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."
One aspect that should leap out at us from verse 24 is that God created sex for marriage. But the 20th century brought dramatic changes in attitudes toward what is considered to be proper sexual behavior.
The sexual revolution of the '60s resulted in a drastic relaxation of sexual mores and—aided by easy availability of birth-control pills—created the notion that freewheeling sex had practically no consequences. The idea of sex with no repercussions led to slogans such as "If it feels good, do it!"
Advocates of sexual freedom said that, since sex is enjoyable, we should shed our inhibitions and jump in. What they didn't say, however, is that sex is never consequence-free, and sex outside of marriage is heavily laden with negative repercussions, especially for girls and women.
The audible furor that accompanied the sexual experimentation of the '60s is no longer as loud, but the revolution was successful in that to a considerable extent the extreme behaviors of that time are now commonplace.
The results have been monumental—and devastating in many countries. As former Harvard University professor Pitirim Sorokin observed about changes in sexual standards: "Any considerable change in marriage behavior, any increase in sexual promiscuity, and illicit relations, is pregnant with momentous consequences. A sex revolution drastically affects the lives of millions, deeply disturbs the community, and decisively influences the future of society" (The American Sex Revolution, 1956, p. 7).
The sexual revolution was not just an American phenomenon. Europe experienced its own upheaval. In fact, much of the world joined in throwing off sexual restraint. Why are millions of Africans infected with the AIDS virus? "The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s in the West spread globally and penetrated Africa ... We know of many cases where young people, children really, are already sexually active" (Christianity Today, Feb. 7, 2000).
The shocking numbers
The level of premarital sexual activity in Western nations is extraordinary. Establishing exact data can be elusive, but one report states that the "median age of first intercourse for American boys [is] 15.5" and "for American girls [it is] 16" (S.I. McMillen, M.D., and David Stern, M.D., None of These Diseases, 2000, p. 141).
Circumstances are similar in Britain, where "the average age for both sexes to lose their virginity is 16" (The Observer, Dec. 2, 2001).
Premarital sexual activity among French girls is also extremely high. "Whereas it used to be the case that for 50 per cent of French women their first sexual partner would be the man they would marry, by the 1990s it was only true for 10 per cent" (Angus McLaren, Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History, 1999, p. 212).
Although these figures are bad enough, even more shocking is the rampant promiscuity among so many. For example, among Britain's 16- to 24-year-olds, "19.7 percent of men and 14.6 percent of women have already had 10 or more partners" (The Guardian, Nov. 30, 2001).
The telling consequences
The consequences of premarital sexual involvement are damaging on many levels. On an emotional level they often include a profound sense of guilt, shame and regret.
During the '60s and '70s many young people were "liberated" to believe that one-night stands were not only acceptable but desirable. This dogma was badly flawed. Wendy Shalit describes how such an encounter can affect many a young woman: "A young girl spends 'the rest of the night crying and bleeding' after she loses her virginity to a guy she barely knew" (A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, 1999, p. 57).
In recent years a new term, "hooking up," has sprouted on American college campuses for what used to be called "quickie" sexual interaction. A hookup may involve a range of intimate activities from kissing to forms of sex and usually involves alcohol. It is sex without commitment or emotional involvement, usually between people who know little if anything about each other and expect nothing more from each other than the gratification of that lone encounter.
According to a survey by the Institute for American Values, "40 percent of college women have hooked up at least once, and 10 percent more than six times" (Christian Century, Aug. 15, 2001). The empty ritual leaves many young women feeling used, disillusioned and burdened with emotional confusion.
Different motivations for sex
Whether the setting is a one-night stand or sex within a relationship, the pressure on young women to engage in illicit sex relations is intense. Premarital sexual involvement is perhaps most apt to occur when a couple begins dating steadily. Couples use various rationales to justify sex, such as "It's okay if you're in love," "Everybody's doing it" or "We need to sleep together before we get married so we can know if we are sexually compatible."
None of these rationalizations is realistic. It's important for young women to realize that their motives for having sex are often quite different from those of a man. Women often consider that intercourse will solidify a relationship with their partner, but to a young man it often represents something different—a coming of age or, in too many cases, simply another conquest. Males are constructed differently emotionally and psychologically and often pursue sex purely for pleasure's sake, with no thought to a relationship.
When a woman has a casual sexual relationship, later she will often regret it, especially when hopes for an enduring relationship are dashed. Her male partner may feel like a victor, but she often feels like a victim.
And indeed she is. If a girl dates someone whom she thinks is "the one," she usually does not enhance her chances of maintaining a relationship by giving in sexually.
Often, after he has had his way, he will simply discard her. Such an action demonstrates that he was not the one after all. If a man jilts a woman because she will not surrender sexually, she is not losing much. Such men are interested in using a woman's body for their own gratification rather than being interested in her as a person or pursuing a lifelong relationship.
Girls who take a stand and refuse to consent to sexual relations before marriage are wise. When they surrender their bodies in premarital sex, they lose a precious part of themselves that they can never regain.
By holding fast to her virginity, a girl will, in the long run, win the respect of many males. As a university student explained, "... In the real world, the more casual that women allow their physical relationships with men to become, the less respect they earn" (Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us, 2000, p. 33).
Though in some respects a girl who experiments with premarital or extramarital sex may suffer more severely than a male who does so, men are also damaged by illicit sex. In addition to their own later feelings of guilt for having used young women, they often find it hard to build and maintain a long-term relationship with one other person.
Any sexual experimentation outside of marriage is a mistake. A man will never be the same in the sense that he has surrendered a part of himself that he should have reserved for his bride. Premarital sex may provide momentary gratification, but the result is a loss of the purity that God intended. Each conquest robs him of some of the care and tenderness he should be cultivating for just the right girl.
Much of the attraction of sex outside of marriage is based on its illicit nature. The attitude that "stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" (Proverbs 9:17) has been around for a long time.
Sometimes couples find sex to be intense and gratifying before they marry but after marriage discover it is not as exciting to them. Once they have devalued their respect for each other through premarital sex before marriage, rarely can they find the same attraction and respect shared by couples who marry without premarital sex.
Many couples who have sex before marriage find that it actually dampens the feelings they have for each other and, as a result, dampens their long-term sexual enjoyment. Their violation of God's law in succumbing to premarital sexual activity removes some of the beauty and splendor their married sexual relations could have had.
There is another danger in succumbing to sexual temptation, even if getting married is your intent. The possibility always exists that you may for some reason decide against marrying this person. When this happens you have, through sexual involvement, given a part of yourself to someone other than your spouse, a part you should have saved for your future wife or husband.
When two people become "one flesh" in a sexual relationship (see 1 Corinthians 6:16), a bonding occurs between them. If, after they become sexually involved, one partner severs the relationship against the wishes of the other, the separation has a wrenching effect, especially for the jilted person, who is left feeling mentally and emotionally burned.
Sex counselors and schools push contraceptive devices as a means of assuring "safe sex," but no device can protect a person's heart. When the heart is assaulted, defensive patterns develop that will affect any future relationship.
The hazards and negative consequences of adultery are numerous. Extramarital affairs also generally bring intense feelings of guilt and shame. When discovered—as affairs often are—the result is often permanent injury or destruction of the marriage, with severe damage to relationships between other family members and friends.
Some couples can put their marriages back together when one mate has had an affair, yet the infidelity inflicts a wound that is difficult if not impossible to heal. The betrayed wife or husband will likely never feel completely secure again. The quality of the marriage will suffer because trust has been violated. Even if the wound can heal, the scars remain.
Divorce proceedings are rarely cordial, but those that occur because of marital infidelity are among the most hostile. When sexual betrayal from one whose love was expected to last for life occurs, it creates bitterness and resentment that may never heal.
When children are involved, the two parties' lives generally remain interlocked because of visitation rights. In such cases there is no escaping the continuing hard feelings. When children sense the tensions and animosities, they are often emotionally scarred as a result (see "Divorce's Devastating Impact on Children," page 10).
The Bible states that premarital and extramarital sex are sin and therefore to be avoided completely. Why is God so adamant on this point? To protect us from the inevitable harmful consequences. Notice Paul's warning to Christians in the sex-saturated city of Corinth: "Run away from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18, New Living Translation).
God created sex to be a blessing and benefit of a committed marriage. When you cheapen your body by giving it freely outside of marriage, you treat your body with disrespect.
In the King James and New King James versions of the Bible, sexual intercourse in the Old Testament is referred to as "knowing." Sexual relations within the context of a loving, committed marriage enable two people to know each other in the most intimate and personal way.
Loving sex in this context is deeply satisfying and creates a unifying of two lives. It is much more than simply the coupling of two bodies. The couple becomes one flesh as God intended (Genesis 2:24). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes this kind of knowledge as "not just cognitive, but always experiential and deeply personal; and sexual intercourse is never just physiological, but always involves mystery and touches the whole person" (1988, Vol. 4, "Sex," p. 433).
It is partially the mystery about the opposite sex that makes relating to one another so special. That mystery is destroyed and lost forever when human beings hook up as casually as many species of animals do. Our sexuality is a gift God gave us. It is so special that it should be protected and saved for marriage as God intended. GN