If you had to name which of the technological innovations of the 20th century changed our world the most, what would your answer be?
The automobile? Radio? Television? The green revolution? The atomic bomb? Younger people might say computers or the Internet.
All of these have had an immeasurable influence on our way of life, especially in the West. But one invention is often overlooked, even though it has had a profound effect. Now 40 years old, the full consequences of its introduction have not been realized as it takes us further and further into uncharted territory.
The birth-control pill was first given to women in Illinois in the summer of 1960. No one could have foreseen how it would revolutionize the world’s morals, change the marriage customs of thousands of years, alter the roles of the sexes and contribute to a major decline in many nations’ birth rates.
The pill didn’t start the ’60s revolution. Society is always changing, perhaps never more so than throughout the 20th century, and the pill has been a dramatic part of that change. It followed on the heels of other significant developments.
Two world wars had already had a profound effect. The role of women had changed considerably. Suddenly compelled by the thousands into jobs when the men mobilized for the military, women began to work more outside the home and to fill roles that had been reserved for men during peacetime. They had also been given the right to vote.
Moral standards were already changing. Other forms of birth control were already available. But the pill went much further. Now women could have sex, supposedly risk free, anytime, anywhere, anyplace and with anybody. Rather than cherishing their virginity, some now boasted to their friends about how many men they’d had. Women were free to aggressively pursue men.
The pill changed women’s attitudes, but it changed men’s as well-perhaps even more so.
Traditions turned upside down
For thousands of years, in most cultures men had always pursued women. Various cultures had developed their own rules of courtship, but marriage was a universal custom common to most religions. Before a father would allow his daughter to marry, the prospective husband had to prove he could provide for his new wife and any children they might have. Men drove themselves to work hard to prepare for marriage and family responsibilities.
The sex drive had always motivated men. But, before the pill, the risks meant that sexual relations were out of the question for most people until marriage. When people took that risk, an unwanted pregnancy and illegitimate child were often the result. With these went a social stigma that could last a lifetime. Girls were particularly afraid that the new father would run away from his responsibilities, jeopardizing future marital prospects. Thus couples observed elaborate courtship rules to handle the difficult transition into marriage.
The pill changed everything. Now men and women could have sex seemingly without responsibility. Fear of consequences began to fade.
The kind of hedonistic society the apostle Paul predicted would prevail “in the last days” became a reality. He warned that “people will be lovers of themselves,” no longer needing a stable, loving relationship. They would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4 2 Timothy 3:1-4  This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
 Without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
 Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
American King James Version×, New International Version).
Although the pill removed some of the most obvious unintended outcomes of premarital sex-unwanted pregnancies-many far-reaching consequences remain.
Although the birth-control pill prevented countless pregnancies, the number of unwanted teen pregnancies continues to climb. Both the number and proportion of illegitimate teen births are far higher than before the introduction of the pill. Teenagers are far more sexually active, and at far younger ages.
Many remain woefully ignorant of the dangers and spread of sexually transmissible diseases (STDs), which afflict an estimated 25 percent of American youths. Sex can even prove deadly; the human immunodeficiency virus, which leads to AIDS, is increasingly common among heterosexuals in the West and is devastating whole nations in Africa.
It takes time for people’s perceptions to change. After the pill, the ’60s revolution transformed Western societies. One after another, nations in the West liberalized their morality laws, the fear of negative consequences largely removed by the pill. The result is the destruction of the traditional family, with consequences that continue to mount.
The entertainment industry-television, movies and music-is enormously influential in breaking down values and taboos, in portraying illicit sexual bliss without consequences and promoting alternative lifestyles to replace the traditional family.
The media have not yet come to terms with the serious implications of the explosion of sexually transmissible diseases such as AIDS or the emotional consequences of the kind of wholesale immorality they advocate. Not surprisingly, nor have people who are inordinately influenced by the entertainment industry rather than by God’s Word, the Bible.
Biblical instruction about sexual relationships
The ancient Greek city of Corinth, a major port in apostolic times, was similar to many of our Western cities today. The people were cosmopolitan and sophisticated and showed little restraint in sexual matters. The apostle Paul, aware of that prevailing attitude, wrote in his first epistle to the church there: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18 1 Corinthians 6:18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
American King James Version×).
Sexual sins, said Paul, were different from other sins such as lying and stealing or even murder. Sexual sin, in particular, harms oneself. He did not refer simply to venereal disease, which is a serious danger when sexual relations take place outside of a faithful marital relationship. Paul was also warning of the damage to the mind.
God intended that men and women should marry. He said: “It is not good that man should be alone … Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
American King James Version×, 24). God intended that marriage be for life, a lifelong and loving relationship. Jesus said plainly that changing partners was never part of God’s plan (Matthew 19:8 Matthew 19:8He said to them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
American King James Version×).
Traditionally a man had to work for his wife. Even today in some cultures men must pay a dowry to the family of the intended bride. In other cultures it is sometimes the other way around; a woman’s family must provide a dowry to the husband-to-be. Either practice illustrates that in marriage two people come together to form one economic unit. Both should contribute to the financial stability of the marriage.
Waiting and planning were historically much a part of marriage customs. In designing human beings God in His wisdom ensured that a child did not follow until nine months after the marriage, giving parents time to prepare and adjust to each other before children came along.
Sound reasons for cultural taboos
In many cultures members of the opposite sex cannot be alone together until their wedding night. Even in the West chaperons were common until fairly recently. Their responsibility was to watch over the young couple and ensure there was no sexual contact. People understood the value of keeping young men and women pure until marriage.
Why was this so important? Many factors were involved. It was partly to protect reputations. It also ensured that the parentage of any offspring could not be in doubt, which in turn could affect inheritances of property in later years. Sex outside of marriage could also limit marital prospects later.
But, most important, many people recognized that extramarital sex was sinful and against the will of God. They also understood that avoiding sexual contact until marriage was one of the best ways in which parents could contribute to the future happiness and well-being of their children.
Sex is powerful. The first sexual experience is intended, in marriage, to bond two people together. Yet all too often the pill has ensured that it drives them apart. In the age of the pill often the first sexual experience is with a casual acquaintance-as are many subsequent sexual relationships. Sometimes feelings are damaged, sometimes no feeling is evident at all. Either way the prospect of a long-lasting, loving relationship, which God intended as a gift to men and women, is made much more difficult.
Sexual relationships devoid of love can lead to an obsession with searching for pleasurable sex. But unrealistic expectations guarantee frustration and disappointment, and no illicit relationship is ever truly satisfying.
A promiscuous life of multiple sex partners is much the same as smoking cigarettes or using illegal drugs. Such habits can easily become addictive. Should such a person later marry, he or she will likely find the marriage wanting, lacking the excitement of the chase, leading eventually to a return to immorality and a failed marriage.
What does God say?
Many people have bought into the notion that the pill has changed the old laws and customs relating to marriage, sex and the family. But this is not the case. God gave His laws for a purpose. He intended them for all people for all time.
No matter what inventions come along, God instructs all people everywhere-especially Christians-to conduct themselves in a chaste, respectful and respectable manner. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:3 Ephesians 5:3But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints;
American King James Version×that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (NIV).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 1 Thessalonians 4:3For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication:
American King James Version×he adds, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (NIV).
In Proverbs 6:27 Proverbs 6:27Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
American King James Version×God inspired King Solomon of Israel to write: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” (NIV). He recognized negative consequences for wrong actions.
In Proverbs 5 he urges others not to make the same mistakes, not to succumb to the temptation of immorality: “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave” (verses 3-5, NIV).
The pill has altered the age in which we live. Immorality has always been with us, but this is the first time in history in which people have been so able to rampantly indulge in sexual liaisons without fear of consequences and with no sense of responsibility.
Within a loving marriage birth-control methods can help a husband and wife plan their family in a responsible manner. But used outside of marriage the pill opens up a world of immoral sexual opportunities that are ungodly, harmful to others and ultimately self-destructive.
We should heed the instruction given in the Bible by a loving God who wants those who follow Him to have loving, faithful and committed marriages. GN