THE ERODING EFFECT OF PREMARITAL SEX
by Elmer F. Magnussen
A young Christian woman sat in my office and told me a story I have heard
all too frequently.
"I don't know what happened to our relationship," she began. "When Tom and
I were dating, we felt so good about each other. We had everything going
for us, and we seemed to communicate so well. We did go a bit farther
physically than we had planned, but it all seemed so right.
"Now we haven't even reached our first anniversary, and we feel like
strangers. We don't understand each other emotionally -- and sexually,
there's nothing there. It's become a duty that I perform for him, and he
doesn't seem to think that it's very special either. How on earth could two
people change so much so quickly?"
This is a sad and frustrating story that unfortunately is too familiar to
pastors and counselors who do marital and premarital counseling. The most
frustrating part for me is to realize that many such experiences could have
been prevented if the counselors in premarital sessions had better
comprehended the problem.
A MISUNDERSTOOD RELATIONSHIP
One of the very important topics I discuss in my first session with young
couples preparing for marriage is the issue of their sexual relationship.
In a society so permeated with sexual stimuli, this topic is pathetically
Premarital sexual restraint is clearly taught in Scripture. In passages
such as 1 Corinthians 10:8-12 and Colossians 3:5-6 the warnings against
fornication and promiscuity shout their message. Although the passages do
not elaborate on the reasoning behind the commands, it takes some fancy
text-twisting (or just plain blindness) to sidestep he admonition of
biblical writers. That our society is so receptive to a message different
from the Bible's only adds to the confusion.
There seems to be an assumption among many Christians of all ages that
premarital sex should be permitted. Or at least it is not as sinful or
damaging as it used to be. Sincere Christian young people, encouraged by
the lax standards of the times, ask questions that demand answers:
"Isn't God more interested in love and relationship than a marriage
license? Since we're committed to each other, why wait for a piece of
paper? ... Why not 'practice' our sexual response to each other just
like we 'practice' other things before marriage, like communication and
decision-making? ... Isn't it rigid and legalistic to adhere to a set
of ethics from a totally different culture and context? ... We love
each other and we will get married. Isn't that what's important?"
To young people asking these questions, the response most often given is
warnings about venereal disease and unwanted pregnancy. If these answers
are the only support for premarital chastity, then young people will
conclude Scripture is outdated and has nothing to say about today's morality
Every couple coming to me for counseling who have had premarital sexual
relations have had post marital sexual adjustment problems. Because of
this, whenever I see a couple (whether Christian or non-Christian) for
premarital counseling, I require one major commitment from them in order for
us to be effective in accomplishing some goals. I ask them to agree to
refrain from sexual intercourse until their wedding night.
If they do not consent to my request, I inform them there is no way we can
prepare them realistically for marriage.
I've never had a couple refuse to make this commitment after hearing my
reasons for it.
THREE REASONS FOR MAINTAINING PURITY
The first reason for refraining from sex before marriage is a general one,
and may sound simplistic to some. It is impossible to read 1 Corinthians
6:12-20 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and then contend that God will condone
sexual indulgence. Christians need to establish a pattern of obedience to
God and His Word.
It is easy for some to say that God is understanding and forgiving, and He
will let us bypass His rules on sexual purity. After all, we can learn
obedience in other areas of life. Of course, we know that God is
understanding and forgiving, but that is not the point here. Why does He
warn us so clearly in these passages if there is not a good reason for
premarital sexual abstinence?
The second reason for this commitment is that there is a difference between
the "artificial intimacy" accompanying sexual intercourse and true
Presumably, a couple comes for premarital counseling in order to get to know
one another more fully, to deepen their intimacy.
In our society we have learned to call sex "intimate," but this is a
deceptively false notion. True intimacy is familiarity characterizing one's
deepest nature, a close association marked by warm friendship developing
through long association.
A couple's sexual relationship is what I call "artificial intimacy," because
it feels intimate but is not. To be intimate with a person is to be open,
vulnerable, emotionally exposed and trusting. Sexual intercourse can occur
without any of that! It is physically possible for a person to have sex
with a complete stranger, and to have a mistaken sense of intimacy that is
only very remotely related to true, interpersonal intimacy.
Because this is true, sex can be used to a#o## true intimacy. If there is
tension or conflict in the relationship, a couple can often go to bed, feel
great about each other, and never resolve the real issue. This pattern will
not become evident until resentment has built to a point where sex no longer
feels intimate because the emotional barriers are so high.
Then a person's response is usually one of hopelessness. All the "love" has
gone out of the marriage and there is nothing left.
This pattern can also develop after the wedding of course, but by pursuing
sexual intercourse before the marriage commitment, a couple set a trap for
their relationship by breaking down the process of intimate communication
before it has a chance to develop and be tested.
A couple's relationship can be compared to a steam pipe for which pressure
is released by a valve. The pipe has several weak spots which would burst
were it not for the safety valve. But the weak spots are invisible, they
are not repaired, and they eventually corrode and destroy the pipe.
A couple can have several weak points in their communication pattern (which
is the area of real intimacy)# but will find release in the safety valve of
sexual relations. If a couple is to prepare realistically for marriage,
they need to find the weak areas in their communication process without
resorting to the safety valve of sex. By not shutting off the valve they
set themselves up for potentially serious marital problems later on, and
thus thwart the purpose of premarital counseling.
THE FETISH OF SEXUAL AROUSAL
The third reason for premarital sexual abstinence may be the most
significant. It happens that the sexual arousal of most of us can be
conditioned very quickly (perhaps more readily than any other physiological
response) by continual exposure to sexually stimulating pictures, books,
movies and other objects. We then make a "fetish" of those objects in that
they become necessary for our sexual arousal.
When a couple are sexually involved prior to the marriage commitment, they
are conditioning themselves to respond to a fetish. The process is subtle
and often devastating to sexual enjoyment after marriage.
Here's why. There is in nearly everyone, especially those raised in a
JudaeoChristian culture, an awareness that premarital sex is wrong. It may
be deeply buried, repressed, ignored or openly justified, but it's there.
Something deep inside each person engaged in illicit, premarital sex says,
"We shouldn't be doing this." And that's what makes it exciting.
There is something definitely stimulating in the wrongness and illicitness
of the act.
That illicitness can be translated into other terms: "What if someone finds
out? ... I'll show my folks I can do what I want. ... See how much we love
each other. ... No outdated church is going to control me." Whatever is
said, that illicitness is part of the sexual arousal prior to marriage, and
the couple is conditioning themselves to respond to it.
"SOMETHING DIED ON OUR WEDDING NIGHT"
I have talked with many married couples who have said, "Before we were
married we had a great sex life! Exciting, fulfilling and enjoyable. But
on our wedding night, for some reason, it died. It has never been very good
What happened on their wedding night? That illicitness which had become a
conditioned sexual stimulation was taken away. After the formal wedding
vows, no one would be offended by their living together; they were no longer
proving anything to an authority figure. In fact, sex was now mandatory.
When the illicitness was taken away, there was only a big, black, gaping
hole in their relationship. Intimacy had broken down.
So how does a person recapture that illicitness which makes sex so exciting?
One simple method is to have an affair. Bingo! Great sex again! (There is
also something in each of us that says extramarital sex is wrong.) This
seems to be a common solution today. So the marriage bonds crumble, and the
divorce rate climbs.
There are other ways to solve the problem and untangle the confusion, but
they aren't easy, they aren't fast, and they generally require professional
help. The roots of the problem reach back into the premarital relationship
pattern. The couple have unintentionally set themselves up for failure by
disobeying the warnings of Scripture.
A PRICE TO PAY
"But it feels so right!" We hear that statement so often without thoughtful
evaluation that it seems to ring true. But God has said that premarital sex
is wrong. There is a price to pay for sin, and often it is very high:
unwanted pregnancy, broken relationships, lost trust, distorted intimacy --
the list goes on and on.
God does not always explain the reasoning behind His commands. God simply
gives His Word that we might have abundant life. Satan loves to confuse and
distort those commands, and then justify their violation. God will forgive
Christians for their sin, but often eternal forgiveness does not eliminate
their natural human consequences.
Those who work with young people need to understand the deception of
premarital sex. Young people need to be taught how to communicate in a
wholesome way with others, and then how to establish a reasonable,
understandable, biblical standard in their sexual expression. In light of
the sexual distortions we face every day, this is no small task!
Sexual relationship between man and woman is God's gift to ultimately
express total oneness. But it is God's plan that sexual intercourse be
preceded by intimate emotional commitment and the exchange of lifetime vows.
Premarital sexual intercourse begins that subtle process that deteriorates
relationships, and all too often this effect is not evident until that
commitment is tested under stress. Unfortunately, then it is usually too
Rev. Elmer Magnussen is the Pastor of Evangelism and Discipleship at the
McLean Bible Church, McLean, VA.
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