Thursday, 10 November 2011

True Love Waits (or not)

In the 90's, when I was a teenager, abstinence pledges were all the rage.  It felt like nearly every youth conference I went to, at the time (and there were plenty), had essentially a "don't have sex until you're married" theme. There were even a few (burgeoning) Christian singers who, seemingly, turned the "purity" message into pretty much the core of their public image (hint, think back to when Rebecca St. James and Jaci Velasquez were just starting out).  

Long after my teenage years (but prior to the start of my de-conversion process) I remember reading about a follow up study on abstinence pledges.  Actually, as I was later to discover, there were numerous such studies to choose from.  The big question, of course, for all of them, was did the pledges work?   

Well, to put it plainly, "no".   At the very least, the results were mixed.  Wikipedia sums it up this way, "Studies have generally found virginity pledges to be ineffective...After five years, studies find that pledgers have similar proportions of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as non-pledgers and at least as many have engaged in anal and oral sex as those who have not made a virginity pledge. Pledgers are 10% less likely to use condoms and 6% less likely to use birth control than similar non-pledgers."

Fast forward to 2009 (while I was in the throes of my de-conversion) and I stumbled into an article, in Christianity Today, called "The Case for Early Marriage".  The whole article is worth a read, but allow me to sum it up thus...since it's a fact that Christian teenagers are having sex, at nearly the rate of secular teenagers, perhaps they should just get married earlier.  After all, the apostle Paul did say it is "better to marry", than to burn in lust, right?

Well, yeah, but does anyone else notice this reveals a really big problem; one inherent to the Christian worldview?

Let me explain what I modern society marriage is being delayed, later and later, which results in Christian teens/young adults having to wait longer and longer to have their first (guilt free) sexual encounter.  (There are several reasons for this delay, of course, not the least of which is an increased focus on the importance of higher education.)  The median age of marriage varies quite a bit, by country, but in many places it's now over 30 (for men, in particular).  So, is it realistic to ask people to wait this long for sex?  I don't think it is, and that's why I totally get where this Christianity Today article is coming from...the logic goes something like this: a) Christians aren't supposed to have sex until they're married, b) abstinence pledges have been proven not to work, c) a heightened focus on abstinence is also unlikely to work (if such a thing is even possible), so therefore, d) to avoid this sticky problem we should revert back to a time when people got married younger.  

And, voila, problem solved!  Right??  

Well, here's the (new) problem...age of marriage is one of the top predictors of divorce (as the article itself admits).  In other words, people who get married young get divorced at a much higher rate later on.  This means that even if Christians were to solve one problem (requiring the faithful to wait ridiculous amounts of time for sex), via earlier marriages, they might well create another (potentially even bigger) problem down the line (namely more divorce or, at the very least, a lot of unhappy and/or mismatched marriages).  

Now, I'm not saying that I'm against early marriages.  I'm not, and I think they need to be examined on a case by case basis.  But, generally speaking, I don't think (apostle Paul notwithstanding) sexual lust is a good reason to get married.  Actually, I think it's a pretty awful reason. 

Interestingly, this problem is exclusive to those who hold unswervingly to the view that it's absolutely wrong to have sex before marriage.  For the rest of us, the concerns about pre-marital sex are much more pragmatic in nature.  Are you emotionally ready for sex?  Have you been sufficiently educated, about things like STD's and pregnancy?  And so on and so on.

This is what I mean when I say, as I did in my last post, that there are some elements of sex that just don't "jive perfectly with (the) Christian worldview."  Why would God cause human beings to develop, sexually, so long before they're ready to marry?  Evolution doesn't care about such matters, so it's up to us to figure them out.


  1. Btw, thanks for hanging in with me over these past few weeks. I hope to get back to blogging a little more frequently again.

  2. Great post. I know several devout Christians who got married young for precisely that reason. Most of them are divorced.

    Here's a radical idea: have sex whenever you're ready, but pursue it responsibly. Hallelujah!

  3. May I also say great post. These are fair questions that the evangelical church needs to appropriately answer. Frankly, evangelicals need a massive re-thinking on their approach.

  4. Thanks so much guys. I agree, that a "massive re-think" is needed...but I also believe that such a thing is unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future, given the way that evangelicals tend to ostracize (and punish) insiders who express unorthodox opinions (think Rob Bell, or even the recent controversies surrounding Mike Licona). I disagree with both Bell & Licona, obviously, but I feel badly for the way that they've been treated by the Christian community.

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