Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rethinking sex before marriage

Responsible sex is more important than abstinence. That’s the conclusion I’m slowly reaching after rethinking my position on premarital sex. As a Christian, I once believed that sex outside the bounds of wedlock was pure sin. I remember, as a 13 year old, reading a book by Dr James Dobson that contained a whole chapter on all the terrible things – guilt, unwanted pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), low self esteem, broken relationships, and depression – that would suddenly befall me if I partook in premarital mischief. As a young teenager, sex was something to be afraid of, to be avoided at all costs. And this fear, I believe, has stunted the sexual growth and maturity of many individuals.

If I had teenagers of my own, I would consider handling the topic of sex in a different way. Instead of teaching them that premarital sex is wrong, I would instead ensure they are adequately informed about sex and contraception, and guide them in terms of learning what responsible behaviour, respect for oneself and one’s partner, negotiation, communication, and commitment are all about.

This holistic approach to teenage sex, which focuses on personal responsibility rather than on abstinence, seems to be quite effective. Switzerland, for example, has one of the lowest levels of abortion and teenage pregnancy rates in the world, and the key to its success seems counter intuitive to those of us who were brought up in a religious culture: the Swiss consider teenage sex as perfectly natural and healthy (see here). This acceptance of teenage sexual activity, combined with easy access to contraceptives, together with

. . . comprehensive and balanced information about sexuality and clear expectations about commitment and prevention [of] childbearing and STDs within teenage relationships, are hallmarks of countries with low levels of adolescent pregnancy, childbearing and STDs.

This approach seems to be far more progressive than a finger-wagging, ‘thou shall not’ abstinence-only message. And there is some weight to the argument that responsible sex before marriage can be beneficial: through premarital experimentation, a person can get a fair idea of what they can give their future spouse when they finally marry.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with abstinence per se, even though some might argue that it encourages teenagers to marry at a young age. If a teenager decides to abstain, that’s fantastic, and her or his decision should be respected. But, as a general solution to societal problems related to sexual activity, I think the goal of abstinence is unattainable: like it or not, there are many teenagers who are going to experiment sexually, even if you teach them to wait until marriage. It is more important, therefore, to teach them how to experiment responsibly.

23 comments:

Greg said...

My wife and I were determined to discuss sex with our children on a practical basis.

.between two people based on trust and respect for one another.

.contraception and care

.sex is not an end in itself..a means of expressing physical love

.talk about it first with his/her partner....does it really make sense for both of them?

.pray about it...sleep on it...think about it...see if he/she still wanted to go ahead with it

Greg
www.mywetplanet.com

Richard Catto said...

Apparently the Abstinence policy has failed in the US.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7368219.stm

CyberKitten said...

I have no issue with sex before marriage or sex without marriage as long as its between consenting adults and done responsibly.

Sex is a natural activity like eating and drinking and I feel that we've weighed it down with far too much baggage for our own good.

Roger Saner said...

Thanks Kevin - this is a huge area which is almost completely ignored by the Church. It's pretty clear what you're *not* supposed to do (i.e. have sex before marriage in any form) and if this gets discovered, you're in serious trouble (depending upon the specific church context) but not all that clear about what you *should* do.

Do you think it's possible for a Christian, who views sex as sacred, to embrace a view which sees sex before marriage (in a committed monogamous relationship) as ok before God?

Roger Saner said...

Also, I wonder if your kid turned out to be a Christian and involved in a church - a church which specifically rejected sex before marriage even though neither you kid nor you had a problem with it - how would you both think around that?

@greg: at what age would you discuss this with your teenager?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. However, I question the logic used in your conclusion. You stated, "I think the goal of abstinence is unattainable: like it or not, there are many teenagers who are going to experiment sexually, even if you teach them to wait until marriage. It is more important, therefore, to teach them how to experiment responsibly."

Using this logic, could we not also conclude that no matter how many times we tell society that murder is wrong, won't there always be people who commit murder anyway? Should we then accept any activity as okay simply because we are unable to prevent it?

Secondly, you advise that we should teach others how to sexually experiment "responsibly." What is your definition of "responsible"? What if my definition of "responsible" differs from yours; who is right? Without God's Word as a measurable standard, doesn't the term "responsible" become a matter of subjectivity that has no concrete meaning? I am curious about your thoughts on this. Thanks for your time.

Phil

CyberKitten said...

Phil said: Without God's Word as a measurable standard, doesn't the term "responsible" become a matter of subjectivity that has no concrete meaning?

Which particular God/religion are you talking about and how do you know that its an objective measurable standard?

If I was of a diferent religious persuasion than yourself - rather than an atheist - how could you objectively tell me that my belief in my God was wrong whilst your belief in your God was right? Belief itself is subjective. If I followed the teachings of my religion and you followed yours how is it objectively possible to tell which is right - from outside *both* belief systems? Now multiply that by a factor of 100.... You see my point I hope. You are putting forward the erroneous idea that *your* religion is objective whilst Secular morality is subjective. But you forget to factor in the many religions that humans have had and continue to have that disagree on issues of morality - because they too are subjective.

There are no objective moral standards to measure such things against.

Kevin Parry said...

Thank you all for raising excellent points!

Roger wrote:
Do you think it's possible for a Christian, who views sex as sacred, to embrace a view which sees sex before marriage (in a committed monogamous relationship) as ok before God?

I’m no longer a Christian, so I can’t really say. But I think it’s a tough decision to make for someone who has grown up believing that the wrongness of premarital sex is divinely ordained. I guess the Christian has to figure out for themselves if sex will be better outside or inside of marriage in terms of positively enhancing the relationship with their partner. Abstinence does have one advantage: the best thing about keeping sex until marriage is that it’s the most protective place in which to have sex.

Phil wrote:
Using this logic, could we not also conclude that no matter how many times we tell society that murder is wrong, won't there always be people who commit murder anyway?

I’m doubtful if sex and murder are really that comparable. Murder is something we should not accept, because the very act of murder causes incredible harm (not only for the victim, but also for his/her loved ones and society in general) and it infringes on the rights of an individual in the most destructive way. Destruction and harm are inherent in the very act of murder, but this not the case for sex.

Personally, I would compare sex, not to murder, but to alcohol use. Alcohol can be consumed responsible or irresponsibly. Should we totally ban alcohol because a few abuse it? Or should we rather focus on those few individuals and try and find out why they abuse alcohol? Maybe the problem doesn’t lie in alcohol itself, but in those individuals who abuse it (maybe their abuse of alcohol is the result of low-self esteem, family problems, etc). Instead of some overarching prohibition, we should instead teach individuals responsible drinking.

Secondly, you advise that we should teach others how to sexually experiment "responsibly." What is your definition of "responsible"? What if my definition of "responsible" differs from yours; who is right?

Well, I would think that having responsible sex would be to have sex that enhances, rather than harms, yourself as well as your relationship with your partner. Having respect for your own body, as well as respect for your partner is important, and being mature enough to make an informed choice about sex is probably key. And using condoms and contraception is a must, unless of course you are planning to have kids.

CyberKitten said...

Well put Kevin.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Thanks for thaking the time to respond to my comments. I feel I should point out that my intent was not to compare sex with murder (as you pointed out, they are obviously very different!), but to demonstrate that just because something is unpreventable, that should not automatically make it acceptable. I chose the example of murder b/c I felt its extreme nature would make the point all the more clear.

Cyberkitten, I will also try to respond to your question "Which particular God/religion are you talking about and how do you know that its an objective measurable standard?" My purpose was not to identify a particular God, but to convey the fact that without earnest belief in a surpreme being, there can be no real meaning to terms like "responsible," "ethical," and even "love." Any definition we come up with are man-made, and subject to be changed and disputed. If that is the case, then your comment is right: "There are no objective moral standards to measure such things against." Morality, then, is only whatever I define it as.

CyberKitten said...

Anon said: My purpose was not to identify a particular God, but to convey the fact that without earnest belief in a surpreme being, there can be no real meaning to terms like "responsible," "ethical," and even "love."

Yes... But *which* supreme being? And what if different supreme beings have different ideas of what is good? Aren't the supreme beings then being subjective?

As to the meaning of things you mentioned being impossible without reference to 'supreme beings' I would have to disagree (of course!)

Anon said: Any definition we come up with are man-made, and subject to be changed and disputed.

Of course, as it has been for the last 2K+ years. I have no problem with that.

Anon said: Morality, then, is only whatever I define it as.

Not really. We may all have variations on a theme but the theme itself comes from our culture which normally changes quite slowly (at least socially). Our ethics derive from the culture we are born into, our upbringing, our peers, our life experiences and a bit from our genes - which means that everyones ethics will be different to a degree. Again I have no issue with this.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

First, I apologize for not identifying myself in my last comment (it's hard to know who you're addressing when one remains anonymous).

The "supreme beings" you referenced are indeed being subjective if there are multiple supreme beings... however, if there are multiple supreme beings, I suppose they wouldn't really be "supreme" anyway...

I personally believe in one true God, and I believe His identity and will are revealed in the Bible. I believe that any other "god" is merely a fabrication of mankind. Of course, many would disagree with my belief, and my purpose here is not to prove that my belief is the right one (although I believe the laws of science and facts of history will serve to confirm-- not prove-- my belief when analyzed accurately and in an unbiased manner.. but this is another discussion altogether). Without such a belief in one true God, I agree that the only way we can determine what is moral is by what the majority of people around us believe (as you said, this would be our "culture"). However, I find this is an inadequate way to define one's values. For example, in 6th century Arab culture, it was a common belief that females were detestable, and as a result, many female infants were murdered by their parents. This is still a practice in some cultures of the Orient. Since you said, "Our ethics derive from the culture we are born into, our upbringing, our peers, our life experiences and a bit from our genes," then one could argue that this practice of infanticide was morally okay within its culture. Of course, I disagree. Whenever mankind or a society or culture gets to determine right from wrong, there's no limit to the type of injustice that may ensue. Without a God to determine standards, standards become meaningless.

Phil

CyberKitten said...

Anon Phil said: First, I apologize for not identifying myself in my last comment (it's hard to know who you're addressing when one remains anonymous).

Indeed it is. Thanks for that.

Phil said: however, if there are multiple supreme beings, I suppose they wouldn't really be "supreme" anyway...

Well, it would mean that there wouldn't be a single supreme being. There could be a number of equally powerful beings, any one of which could be called 'God'.

Phil said: I personally believe in one true God, and I believe His identity and will are revealed in the Bible.

I had a feeling you would say that [grin].

Phil said: I believe that any other "god" is merely a fabrication of mankind.

But, as you said, other religions would say the same about *your* God and I would say that about *all* Gods. Simply saying that your God is the one true God means nothing. Other religions say exactly the same. How is it possible to diferentiate between these conflicting *subjective* claims?

Phil said: then one could argue that this practice of infanticide was morally okay within its culture. Of course, I disagree.

Yet it *was* moral within that culture - and if either of us had been born into that culture it is highly likely that we would agree with it. The reason we find such practices to be repugnant is because we were instead born into *our* culture which views such activites as wrong.

Phil said: Whenever mankind or a society or culture gets to determine right from wrong, there's no limit to the type of injustice that may ensue.

Pretty much. We are a very adaptable species. Though I would suggest that a truely unjust society wouldn't last very long - but thats my cultural bias speaking.

Phil said: Without a God to determine standards, standards become meaningless.

But without an agreed upon version of God you're going to get subjective standards. Also it doesn't mean that standards become 'meaningless' but they do become varied. But that's going to be pretty much inevitable considering the variation of human cultures.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Thanks for your thoughtful (and highly organized) responses. It seems that one of your comments/questions is at the root of this matter: "Simply saying that your God is the one true God means nothing." I agree; there must be more than a mere assertion.

You asked, "How is it possible to differentiate between these conflicting *subjective* claims?" Each claim must be evaluated on its own measurable merit. Factors to be considered should include how a particular belief system started and whether or not the accurate laws of science and facts of history confirm or deny a particular belief system. Of course, this will not "prove" a religion since it is a matter of faith and is spiritually discerned, but it will weed out the many false beliefs that have been created by mankind. Any faith that can withstand such scrutinty should be noted. There aren't many faiths out there that meet that standard. However, as I said, I probably could not "prove" my belief to anyone, because one of the tenets of Christianity is that the Spirit of God opens the eyes of men as He wills-- not as I will. For this reason, I would not set out to force my beliefs on anyone else, but I do believe that any attack against my beliefs could be intellectually refuted.

Therefore, that leaves me with a strong conviction that the God I believe in is the one true God, as well as the means to refute any intelligent claims against this truth. What it also gives me is a set of unchanging standards by which I can determine whether my actions are right or wrong. I believe that failure to adhere to these standards will result in an unjust society, which, as you said, probably "wouldn't last very long." I agree with you on that point, although it appears are standards on morality are, as you said "varied." I liked that term, by the way :)

CyberKitten said...

Anon (Phil?) said: Thanks for your thoughtful (and highly organized) responses.

Pleasure. I'm always willing to debate these issues with people actually open to the debate. It's always nice to be part of a polite exchange of views.

Anon said: I agree; there must be more than a mere assertion.

Indeed. Unfortunately all that I have heard from various people *are* assertions and questionable evidence - hence my non-faith position.

Anon said: Factors to be considered should include how a particular belief system started and whether or not the accurate laws of science and facts of history confirm or deny a particular belief system.

I don't know how the origins of a particular faith say much of anything about its veracity.

As to the facts of science.... I am unaware of any scientific foundation to religion in general or christianity in particular.

As to historical verification... you're going to have to be a bit more specific.

Anon said: Any faith that can withstand such scrutinty should be noted.

I know of none....

Anon said: There aren't many faiths out there that meet that standard.

I know of none.....

Anon said: I do believe that any attack against my beliefs could be intellectually refuted.

Really.....? That sounds impressive.

Anon said: Therefore, that leaves me with a strong conviction that the God I believe in is the one true God, as well as the means to refute any intelligent claims against this truth.

But don't others also have strong convictions & believe they have the means to refute claims against them?

Anon said: What it also gives me is a set of unchanging standards by which I can determine whether my actions are right or wrong.

But surely the moral stance of the Church/Christianity has changed over time? How then can you have unchanging standards?

The moral teachings of the OT and NT are diferent are they not? The teachings of the Early church, the Medieval church, the post Reformation churches (plural) & the modern numerous Protestant denominations all have at least variations on a central theme. So where are the unchanging standards? More to the point *whose* unchanging standards are we talikng about?

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Thanks for your questions. To answer as succinctly as possible, I believe the moral teachings of the OT and NT are in perfect harmony when studied in context. If there is a particular discrepancy you feel you've observed, I'd be glad to give a shot at addressing it. As far as the contradictory teachings of "early church, the Medieval church, the post Reformation churches (plural) & the modern numerous Protestant denominations," I absolutely agree that they are not in harmony, and that is because these groups were not always adhereing to biblical standards as they should have. I believe the majority of the established Medieval church was not even truly Christian (though they called themselves such). God has never changed, but people do change.

phil

CyberKitten said...

Phil said: To answer as succinctly as possible, I believe the moral teachings of the OT and NT are in perfect harmony when studied in context. If there is a particular discrepancy you feel you've observed, I'd be glad to give a shot at addressing it.

Well, my knowledge of The Bible is.... scant to say the least... but wasn't the OT all fire & brimstone whilst the NT was all love & turning the other cheek?

Phil said: I absolutely agree that they are not in harmony, and that is because these groups were not always adhereing to biblical standards as they should have.

But they are *interpreting* the Bible - as people & the various flavours of Christianity always have - subjectively. If people actually could agree on what the Bible actually means there would never have been any Reformation & no heretical sects. If Christianity as a whole cannot agree on objective standards how can you say that they actually exist? You can *assert* that objective standards exist via the Word of God but when people equally as religious disagree with you, even on the detail, then objectivity no longer exists (because it never did in the first place). You might very well *assert* that your particular sect of your particular religion is the 'true faith' but if other sects - even within the same religion - do likewise how is it possible to differentiate between them? The answer is that you can't - which is why religions and breakaway sects exist in the first place.

Phil said: I believe the majority of the established Medieval church was not even truly Christian (though they called themselves such).

..and yet if you (or even I) had lived in that time & had been part of the Catholic faith we would have called ourselves Christians & actually would have *been* Christians according to the culture of that time. It is only with the glory of hindsight that we can call them less than Christian because our ethical standpoint has changed (thankfully) between then & now.

Phil said: God has never changed, but people do change.

So you say. But the *interpretation* of God has changed. What criteria are you using to know what the truth of the matter is? If you recognise the truth - how is it that other fellow Christians (today & throughout history) do not? How is it that other religions do not (and have not) recognised the same truth as yourself? How is it that non-religious people such as myself do not recognise what you see as true?

Simply because what you hold as truth is subjective & not objective as you *assert*.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Good questions and comments; I'll do my best to answer a few of 'em.

"Wasn't the OT all fire & brimstone whilst the NT was all love & turning the other cheek?" Actually no, though you're not alone in thinking that. Both the OT and NT give a balanced picture of God, equally revealing His attributes of holiness (justice and wrath) and love (mercy and grace). The love of God can been seen in the OT in the Mosiac law, a purpose of which was to ensure social justice for both Israelites and non-Israelites. The book of Hosea is a beautiful picture of God's forgiving love toward His people, even when they turned from Him. In the NT, Jesus said more about hell than he did about heaven. In the NT book of Acts, Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod all suffered God's wrath for their sins. So, there is a consistent picture of God throughout all the scriptures, because holiness and love are both eternal attributes of God.

"If Christianity as a whole cannot agree on objective standards how can you say that they actually exist?" Because God's word hasn't changed. Anyone might misinterpret the Bible (certainly including myself), but that doesn't change its actual meaning. Similarly, I might misunderstand the laws of my country, but that doesn't change the law or make me unaccountable to it.

"It is only with the glory of hindsight that we can call them [the Medieval church] less than Christian because our ethical standpoint has changed (thankfully) between then & now." Actually, it did not require hindsight for inidividuals to point out the fallacy of the Medieval Catholic Church. There has been significant biblical opposition to it since its inception, and all throughout history. All one had to do was to compare the church's erroneous practices to the clear teaching of the Bible.

"How is it that other religions do not (and have not) recognised the same truth as yourself? How is it that non-religious people such as myself do not recognise what you see as true?" I believe there are many reasons for this. Some simply haven't heard the truth. Some have heard it, but reject it due to an unwillingness to be accountable to God. Some have been deceived by the teachings of false religion or secular humanism. There are many more reasons, I'm sure, and I don't mean to suggest that one of the above applies to you personally; these are just a few examples.

phil

CyberKitten said...

Phil said: Actually no, though you're not alone in thinking that. Both the OT and NT give a balanced picture of God, equally revealing His attributes of holiness (justice and wrath) and love (mercy and grace).

Thanks for that. As someone who has never read the Bible, nor ever will (probably), I'm grateful for the clarification.

Phil said: There has been significant biblical opposition to it since its inception, and all throughout history.

You mean Heresy? The Catholic Church in particular *really* didn't like any kind of opposition or interpretation of Biblical teachings. Those who made such ideas public often ended up dead (or created whole new religions).

Phil said: All one had to do was to compare the church's erroneous practices to the clear teaching of the Bible.

But the point I've been trying to make is that the teachings of the Bible are obviously *not* clear or there wouldn't have been so many inpterpretations, schisms, reformations and much else besides. If the Bible was the *unambiguous* word of God we would have a single religion which most people would adhere to. It is because it is *so* open to interpration that we have so much variation in religious practice.

Phil said: There are many more reasons, I'm sure, and I don't mean to suggest that one of the above applies to you personally; these are just a few examples.

I don't believe in God for the simple reason that I am unaware of any evidence for His existence & am equally unaware of any credible argument for His existence.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You are right about the extreme reaction of the Medieval Catholic Church against declared "heretics." There were some obvious heretical groups that emerged (such as the
Montanists), but the greatest heresy was actually propagated by the church itself, in declaring that salvation can only be found through obedience to the Roman bishop. This is not a matter of biblical misinterpretation, but a complete turning away from everything the scripture clearly states. Your comment that "teachings of the Bible are obviously *not* clear" is true to a limited degree. There certainly are some confusing passages, but the central truths of the Bible (how one has a relaitonship with God, and how one should live to please Him) are very clear to anyone who takes the time to thoughtfully and contextually read the Bible. The many schisms that appear among churches today are primarily due not to misinterpretation of the Bible, but to inappropriate neglect of the Bible altogether, as well as too much reliance on unstable human sentiments and man-made tradition.

Thank you also for clarifying your reasons for disbelief. I have other friends in your position, so I know you are not alone in your sentiments.

phil

Amy said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your 'revelation.' I was raised in an extremely strict ex-fundamentalist home, influenced by Independent Baptist theology and Bill Gothard. I believing that adhering to rules of sexual abstinence fails to properly prepare adults for safe, emotionally healthy sexual experiences. I believe that I read the same book you did by Dr. Dobson and guilt and fear concerning sex overwhelmed me as a teenager and young adult.

I have since ascertained that, although abstinence until marriage is ideal (if we all married at 18), safe sex should be heralded louder than any other aspect. Although formal sex education normally targets teens, safe and responsible sex must be given a platform so that those who were raised in 'The Village', like myself, are exposed to all options, for their own benefit and also the benefit of others (especially their partners).

wgreen said...

What is "natural" and "healthy" about premarital and extramarital sex? Since when is sex "natural" apart from procreation? I am not saying the two should not be separated, but there is no basis for the "natural" claim.

I think that the traditional family model, with sex only within committed marriage relationships has been proven (over thousands of years) to be the successful model for humans. If it were not the case that traditional families and sexual morals made successful societies, then wouldn't these societal attributes have given way to other, more successful ones over time?

Why haven't societies that do not value faithfulness and marriage flourished and dominated the world?

Instead, we have societies around the world, from all religions, that value marriage and faithfulness, and punish transgression.

We are foolish to think that we can ignore the traditionas of millenia, waving them off as artifacts of manmade religion.

When Sweden has 100 years under its belt (or better yet, 1,000) as a sexual free-for-all, then maybe we can use it as an example.

I think we are already seeing the effects of such liberality in our society (US). My high school students, mostly from broken homes, inheriting insecurities and deep emotional wounds from their parents selfishness.

Evolution has designed us to find fulfillment in marriage and faithfulness, both of our parents and in our own relationships. We tinker with this and suffer for it.

Premarital sex harms future marriage. This has been studied(e.g. http://www.thecoolchurch.com/premarital.html), but we don't need studies. All we need is our experience of five millenia.

It also harms us, robbing us of the fulfillment that we have been genetically conditioned to require.

As humans, we have the freedom to change. I wonder what would happen to the eagles and ospreys if they decided to throw out their millions of years of successful monogamy and faithfulness.

David said...

wgreen said: I wonder what would happen to the eagles and ospreys if they decided to throw out their millions of years of successful monogamy and faithfulness.

There are animals and birds that are monogamous and ones that aren't. I'm afraid nature isn't a place to turn to for proof of the validity of a particular lifestyle.

Phil, it was interesting to read your discussion with Cyberkitten. It appears to me though that you have a bit of a blindspot regarding one particular point she/he kept making. When you speak of who has the wrong and right interpretations of scripture you demonstrate the point s/he is trying to make. Your opinion on the matter is subjective. Saying it is God's opinion too (because your interpretation of the bible is the right one) doesn't make it any less subjective.

You have every right to hold that opinion, but repeating it, saying that other interpretations (other than the correct one which you happen to have) are false, or saying that God shares your version of events, are not enough to make it true I'm afraid.