Sex before marriage
I was brought up in a religious tradition that strongly taught no sex before marriage. From what I remember it really was that simple. There was little discussion of what happened if you fell in love at an early age – ie before marriage was acceptable, or perhaps didn’t get married until you were in your mid 30s or even later – or any of the other scenarios that might conceivably make the ‘rule’ not quite as simple as it appeared at first glance.
In the past week two things have happened which have really made me think harder about the subject – not so much as to what is the right teaching, but more to how the principle is taught – a principle I guess I agree with although definitely not the way I was taught it. I wish what I experienced over the past week had been something I could have experienced or learnt some 20 odd years ago.
Firstly I was reading the book ‘On The Third Day’ by Piers Paul Read (which I’d highly recommend and can be found in our online bookstore). In it a young Catholic monk just months away from his final vows experiences something that changes the course of his life and leads him into the arms and bed of a very close female friend. In the morning he orders breakfast in bed saying that he’d always dreamed of that – ie breakfast in bed on the first morning of one’s honeymoon. The girl is surprised, and asks if this then is their honeymoon, to which he replies that they are surely married having slept together the night before. They confirm their mutual desire to be married and with a kiss he says “Then I pronounce us man and wife.” Later on she challenges his seriousness about getting married to which he replies – “We can’t get married. We are married” and continues to explain, seeing her confusion: “It’s theologically sound. The church only blesses a marriage. The state only registers it. A marriage itself is made between two people who commit themselves to one another forever.”
This view of marriage – and how it affects the seriousness of sex before marriage in the statement of a reality, is totally consistent with the view of marriage described in Rev David Robertson’s book – ‘Marriage – Restoring our Vision’ (also available in our bookstore) – ie that marriage is what two people commit to by their words or deads – and not what any institution pronounces. I wish I had been taught that as a teenager/young adult – it would have made quite a big difference to how I viewed my boyfriends of the time.
And then last Sunday I met this lovely lady who told me her story of her forthcoming second marriage (her first having failed and ended in amicable divorce). She was going to be marrying her childhood sweetheart – her first love (mutually reciprocated) when she was 15 (and the boy 16). For whatever reasons they hadn’t got married but had remained incredibly close (she being God mother to his 2 children). His marriage too had failed (not with any connection to their friendship) and months afterwards it was suggested they move closer together, and in the process the idea of marriage came up – and suddenly the friendship was transformed into the deep love that had always been there. In many ways such a sad story because it’s so obvious now that they should have got married in the first place – and sad for all the loss and breakup that two divorces cause – but amazingly heart warming as well in the sense that perhaps having pledged true love to each other at such an early age – perhaps they were married then (not that they slept together at that point!)
It seems a shame to me that the church (at least in my experience) is so obsessed with sex – and perhaps frightened of it mainly- that it preaches a ‘no sex before marriage’ message with all the focus on the sex and so little focus on the reality of two people’s commitment to each other. Perhaps if there was more focus on the commitment and true meaning of this commitment – ie it being a marriage, then the sex would look after itself.