It’s a question that comes up time and time again in my counseling practice: “We’re in love. We’re planning to get married. In fact, we’re already engaged. Why should we wait to have sex?”
I understand why this has become such a pressing issue for young couples in their twenties and thirties, and my heart goes out to those who are sincerely struggling, but you should know that there are many reasons to save sex for marriage.
God’s Design for Sex
Let’s face it: we live in a sex-saturated society. Sex for its own sake is the focal point of hook-up culture that permeates a majority of college campuses. To make matters worse, our society has combined this over-sexualization of culture with a trend toward delayed marriage. Financial concerns, an emphasis on advanced academic degrees, and vocational interests are persuading increasing numbers of young men and women to indefinitely postpone marriage. This is a new arrangement, and it gives rise to sexual frustration.
When done right, sex is like the superglue that holds a marriage together. Its purpose is to bond two individuals together so that they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and in this way reflect the image of God to the rest of creation (Genesis 1:27). Sexual intercourse is designed to promote selfless love as couples wholly participate in the process of sexual bonding, taking mutual ownership of their relationship and finding profound satisfaction in it. The goal is connection and closeness, fidelity, and an ability to empathize with your partner.
However, abstaining from sex until marriage does not guarantee a physically satisfying experience. Too often we save sex marriage under the assumption that our sex lives will be more fulfilling when we wait as God commands, but this may not always be the case. Physically satisfying sex can occur in and outside of marriage. But holy sex—sex that’s honoring to God and to your partner—that only comes within the bounds of a covenant.
When you understand how sex is supposed to work, you begin to see that God wants us to reserve it for marriage because it’s such a unique, exclusive, and wonderful thing. Stated simply, sex is a holy mystery that we’ll spend our lives trying to unravel.
The Progressive Nature of Sex
It’s hard to deny that sex feels good under any circumstances. God designed it that way. It activates the pleasure center of the brain, releasing dopamine into the system, a “feel-good” hormone so powerful that we can actually become addicted to it. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, the brain’s bonding mechanism.
Our experience of sexual attraction and pleasure is progressive in nature. It grows by stages. When a guy and a girl first start to sense a mutual attraction, they can get a thrill out of seeing each other across the room. From there they progress to talking, looking into one another’s eyes, touching, holding hands, and kissing. What titillated in the beginning eventually becomes familiar and routine, and they feel compelled to advance in order to renew the excitement.
I once counseled a young man who was actively involved in a sexual relationship with his girlfriend. My advice to him was simple: “It’s your life,” I said, “and I can’t tell you what to do. But I am going to make a simple request. As you go forward in this relationship, I want you to keep close tabs on your attitude toward your partner. Ask yourself how sex is impacting the way you see her. Is it generating more love between you? Or is it simply creating more demands?“
Stepping Over the Line
Some couples try to counter the arguments I’ve presented by saying, “But we’re going to get married anyway. We’ve already made a commitment. What difference does it make if we become ‘one flesh’ right now or wait until after the wedding?”
First, you haven’t actually made a commitment yet — not even if you’re engaged. In our culture, engagement doesn’t amount to that kind of promise. It’s not the sort of commitment that requires you to step over a line you can’t re-cross without some serious social and legal consequences. The real promise will be given when you stand before God in the assembly of witnesses and solemnly pledge yourselves to one another “‘til death do you part.” Until those vows are said, it’s still fairly easy to bail out.
That leads to my second point. It’s not uncommon for weddings to be canceled a week before the event. Such things do happen. When they do, couples who have already had sexual intercourse end up carrying more emotional and psychological baggage than those who have made the decision to wait.
So how does one lay a strong foundation for marriage? In some ways, this is the same question David poses and immediately answers when he asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:9).
“Living according to God’s Word” means taking His design for marriage and human sexuality seriously. You can do this by implementing four practical strategies: pause, reflect, understand, and decide.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Many young couples try to put this saying into practice by delaying marriage, but they fail to see how it applies to premarital sex. Before allowing yourself to be swept away by hormones and passion, take a deep breath, get your bearings, and figure out how you really feel about sex and marriage.
Dust off your Bible and find out what it has to say about purity and whole, satisfying relationships. Pay special attention to Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These nine words present a complete picture of the man or woman who walks with Christ. Patience and self-control are especially pertinent to the question here under consideration. There is no better way to prepare for marriage than by cultivating these Spirit-inspired qualities.
After reading the Bible, put some effort into understanding why it says what it says. Otherwise, your convictions will crumble when temptation comes knocking. Spend time meditating on Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:3-10, 1 Corinthians 7, and Ephesians 5:22-33.
Finally, take control. As I told the young man who came to me for counsel: it’s your life, and you have to make up your own mind. Find out exactly what you believe and put it into action.
God cares about sex, and He gave us very natural skills in this area for a reason. His purpose for sex is seen not only in His original design for the human race but in man’s identity as an image bearer of God. God loves sex—when it’s satisfying sexually, emotionally, and spiritually—and that only happens in the confines of marriage.
This article was written with the help of Jim Ware.
Copyright 2016 Daniel Huerta. All rights reserved.