Sex in a Committed Relationship?

5:27 PM

Adele made an excellent point on my post, "Dating: Wonderful + Awful + Everything in Between."
I think the biggest difference, the one that made dating for me 95% rainbows and butterflies, is regarding awful thing #4 [feeling emotionally married but unable to physically express that in sex, time, or living situations]. I know what I say will not have any impact on your decisions, nor should it, but I really think you are setting up an obstacle for yourself that does not need to be there. You say God created friendship and marriage, not "going steady" and you say you live emotionally as a married couple. If you are truly committed to your boy, if you know in your heart that you will marry him in the eyes of the church and the government eventually, if all these things are true, then, in essence, you are married. You even say your relationship functions the same as marriage as a sanctification tool. Given all that, I don't understand how sex can still be such a big sin. Why would a ceremony created by man make any difference to God? I don't believe in casual sex outside a committed relationship. And if you are not ready to have sex then definitely don't do it, but it sounds to me like you are letting the technicality of a fancy dress and a signed piece of paper cause you unhappiness and put added strain on your relationship. I know it is not that simple. I think reading this just made me very, very grateful I didn't have to worry about considering premarital sex a sin on top of all the other complexities of navigating a serious relationship!
To be honest, this argument resonates with me: if sex is supposed to unite a couple and deepen their relationship, then how could premarital sex harm a relationship leading to eventual marriage? Wouldn’t abstaining from sex create an unnecessary barrier between a committed boyfriend and girlfriend, a barrier as frustrating and profound as if a husband and wife refrained from sex? This makes sense. It makes sense logically. It makes sense emotionally. It definitely makes sense physically.

This argument grasps the natural flow of a relationship: you fall in love, you decide to be with each other forever, you consummate that soon after making that decision. Actually, I think this flow is right. I think that’s how God created it to be—don’t leave a big ginormous gap between realizing, “Hey, this is the person to whom I want to commit myself” and consummating that relationship. I really do think leaving that gap does much harm to relationships, because long-term, committed relationships outside of marriage fall outside of the typical plan. It just doesn’t jive with one’s humanity, one’s sexuality. This is why so many Christian couples give in to the temptation of premarital sex—it doesn’t naturally feel wrong at all. 

The problem is, premarital sex is wrong. It’s not as bad as adultery, the breaking of a commitment, but the consequences of premarital sex need to involve lifelong marriage ASAP. God never approves of sex outside of commitment—not because He frowns upon love but because He values it so much.

If it’s a big problem to delay sex in a committed relationship—if it does in some ways harm and halt the proper, human development of an intimate relationship—then how can it be wrong to just have sex and get married later? I mean, it seems logical to say, “I’m committed to you already in spirit, if not in the letter of the law, so let’s have sex.” In actuality, it’s more logical to say, “I’m committed to you already in spirit, if not in the letter of the law, so let’s just get married.” 

If we recognize that a marriage-level commitment is required for sex, then we need to be married to have sex. Any other sort of commitment outside of a marriage commitment is not a marriage commitment even though it’s a commitment. I don’t think that a marriage relationship is fluid like other stages of the relationship—you know, when you’re “friends” but really you like each other, or you both know you’re getting married but there’s not yet a ring on it. A marriage relationship is defined by a covenant to God and to your spouse that leads to oneness in all aspects of life. A marriage relationship is not defined merely by emotions or interactions. No matter how many times an unmarried couple engages in sexual activity, they’re not married—even if they’re exclusively having sex with each other. You’re either married or you’re not.

The reason we even debate whether or not sex within a committed but premarital relationship is wrong is not a fault with God’s design but with our culture’s understanding of marriage. God did not invent the expensive dresses, June ceremonies, and the marriage documents that delay marriage and thus sex. There’s nothing inherently unbearable about falling in love, deciding you want to be with this person forever, and then getting married soon after. In other cultures and previous forms of Western culture, nobody “went steady” for long periods of time. Nobody spent two years and thousands of dollars on weddings. Nobody held expectations that prevented couples from marrying young. It’s really not hard to get married: make sure it’s a wise decision to get married, exchange vows, and be married. Dresses and slips of paper should not delay marriage. But they do. The culture’s expectations forbid creative thinking regarding marriage (which is why nobody just decides to get married, calls a pastor, and marries that weekend). The culture’s expectations blind young people from even suspecting long-term committed relationships as a problem—we’re expected to get through college, establish ourselves financially, and then start a family. It’s within those expectations that people want to start questioning whether premarital sex is wrong because delaying sex feels so unnatural. Instead they should question why young marriage is wrong. They should feel that delaying marriage feels unnatural. Basically, if you’re at the point in your relationship where consummating the relationship becomes natural, you should be getting married soon. 

If you’re not married or planning to be married, it’s good to ask why. The biggest reason you may not be married is because one or both parties may not be willing to commit to a marriage commitment even though they’re committed to a dating or engagement commitment. Because my boyfriend is not my husband, I cannot expect him to behave like one—to do all the duties of a husband. He’s still single. He’s still in school. He has still chosen to prioritize his education and aspects of his single life over married life. Despite this, I have no fear he will dump me. I’m pretty confident someday he’ll be down on one knee with a ring. At this moment in time, though, he has only committed to be my boyfriend—not my husband. We are a committed dating couple. We aren’t a committed married couple, and we will not be until we exchange vows and define our commitment as a marriage. Until then, we must refrain from sexual activity because sex belongs to the marriage commitment. I mean to say that length of commitment (i.e. not breaking up) does not justify premarital sex. The type of commitment justifies it. And the type of commitment that justifies sex is a marriage commitment—the promise to love each other forever, yes, but also to become one in all aspects of life, not just sexual and emotional. 

I admit that the line of reasoning I laid out makes it ridiculously frustrating for long-term committed couples who cannot get married soon. Their circumstances prevent them from following God’s design of quick succession from “I know I want to marry you” to marriage and sex. Still, there are no exceptions to the no-sex-outside-of-marriage rule. Some “serious reasons” aren’t that serious. You can get married in college. You can live on less than you think. (I pay my own bills. I know.) Some reasons are legitimate (e.g. parents won’t support early marriage, not enough to live on, overseas job), and there’s really nothing you can do but wait. In hindsight, I don’t think it’s a great idea to enter a relationship that will go long-term with no marriage in sight for several years. There’s nothing I can do about that now. My lack of wisdom and knowledge does not change God’s law, regardless of how hard the consequences are. (I’m not saying I was wrong to date as early as I did. I’m just saying I had no idea what I was doing when I did it and never got a chance to rationally consider the struggles of a long-term committed relationship—I just learned as I went.) Plenty of times unjust circumstances or poor life decisions put people into situations that go against God’s best design, and they are still required to act justly and morally. I can attest to God’s faithfulness in providing strength to suffer bad circumstances and consequences while still obeying His law.

To be real, it’s a burden to not be married. (And trust me, guys—I’ve tried to practice what I’ve preached here. It’s not my idea to be unmarried right now. ;)) It’s a burden to face temptation. It’s a burden to want to be prioritized as a wife should be. I hate this season of life right now more than I disliked singleness, if only because I know singleness is a good and delaying marriage isn’t inherently a good. But it’s not burdensome. I can still enjoy life. I can still love my boy. I can still resist temptation. This whole discussion boils down to the question of Would God command something and not give me the strength to obey it? I choose to believe the answer is no.

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6 impressions

  1. Excellent response. Your reasoning is impeccable. Of course, my first reaction was to think, "Yeah, but" and vehemently disagree, but on a certain level, I don't actually.

    I said my "dating" was 95% rainbows and butterflies because I didn't consider premarital sex a sin in a committed relationship. That is true, but it is not the whole story.

    You pointed out the difference between a marriage commitment and a dating commitment. During the time I referred to as dating, I was actually in a completely different situation than you. I had graduated college and I was living with my future husband. We were each others priority. Our level of commitment was marriage level, secularly speaking. We did not get married because neither of us are Christian so we do not see the same unbreakable tie between sex and marriage. Because of this, what you say about marriage being a "yes or no, you are or you aren't" thing does not have the same implications for me, but even so, the fact remains that I myself, did not actually have sex when I was at the time in my life and the situation you are now.

    I was friends with my husband for years before we started dating and we only "dated" in the sense of defining our relationship as romantic rather than platonic for about 3 months before moving on to a different level of commitment. If we were Christian we would have gotten married at that point. So, I did not actually have a long period of time where I was dating and couldn't have gotten married if that had been what I wanted. To be clear: this is not because I had any special wisdom, it's just happenstance or luck.

    After reading this follow-up, I no longer think you "are setting up an obstacle for yourself that does not need to be there." I don't have to have the same ideas about sin to think that for you in your current situation, it makes sense to wait, frustrating though that is!

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post and give me some added insight into this very complex issue.


  2. "I mean, it seems logical to say, “I’m committed to you already in spirit, if not in the letter of the law, so let’s have sex.” In actuality, it’s more logical to say, “I’m committed to you already in spirit, if not in the letter of the law, so let’s just get married.”"

    A. MEN. And. A. MEN.

    Outstanding article. Spot-on in a million ways.

  3. AWESOME post!! This is one of those things that people like to's frustrating to me when they are like "but we're comitted, a piece of paper won't make it any different!"

    Anyways, thanks for this great post!! Keep it up sister!

  4. I absolutely loved this post. One word on this quote: "Plenty of times unjust circumstances or poor life decisions put people into situations that go against God’s best design, and they are still required to act justly and morally."

    I think that people end up in situations that go against God's best design not just because of poor life decisions and unjust circumstances, but also simply because of our culture. Our culture, in terms of housing and education and employment and family dynamics, doesn't lend itself to young marriage or to quick marriage.

  5. I entered into a relationship at the age of 23. We are both virgins and love our God. We both have our college degrees and should have stable careers, but barely scrape by on rent and have to borrow from our parents. It would not be right to be married and living off of our parents' money, but it also feels completely 100% wrong to be together 3.5yrs celebate, because we never saw this coming. We never thought the poor job market or lack of money would be keeping us from getting married this long. We're still virgins but I can attest to you that it has caused a lot of stress and frustration and problems that are NOT in God's design. We emotionally and spiritually fused together long ago, but a stupid legal document and lack of income is keeping us from uniting physically...and let me tell you it is freaking MESSING with me. Sex is now associated with anger, frustration, disappointment, rejection, envy of others. It's just not good guys. It may be a rare case that's out of the ordinary, but I'm seeing more and more that God never intended for my body to cause such emotional stress on my loving relationship. To view sex as only good after the "I do's" is something I now think is too much of a blanket interpretation- legalistic, not taking into account the purpose and meaning behind that "rule".
    -From the mind of a sexually deteriorating Christian.

    1. I totally understand where you're coming from. I felt the exact same thing, the exact same frustration. It's creepy -- I felt like I was reading my own comment.

      I have a more nuanced position on this now, having experienced your frustration firsthand. If you want a non-judgmental place to compare notes, please don't hesitate to email me. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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