bible ethics

pre-marital what?

It has been said before that “______”s (insert whatever Christian denomination you wish to pick on) are against pre-marital sex because it might lead to dancing… :)

But on a more serious note, the topic of ‘pre-marital sex’ (a.k.a. ‘sex before marriage’) is an interesting one.  Many Christians can assume that there is a specific verse in the Bible forbidding it…

There is no such verse.

But really, there is no such thing (as we shall see) as pre-marital sex, either…

As always, how one defines something is always important.  As far as the Bible is concerned, ‘marriage’ has absolutely nothing to do with ceremonies and signing papers (let alone expensive receptions, etc.), and everything to do with two becoming one (see Genesis 2:24).

This ‘one-ness’ shows up in all areas of a marriage relationship – financial one-ness, emotional one-ness and –the one relating to our topic here– physical one-ness.

Sex is the most intimate form of physical interaction that two people can share.  When two people share their physical bodies with one another – they spiritually become one.   (If you want biological correlates for the reality of this spiritual bonding that takes place – you can look up how the brain releases oxytocin during intercourse.)

People who sexually share their bodies are ‘married’ – whether or not they’ve been through a ceremony or put ink to paper.  The ceremony of putting person to person is the ceremony that binds them together.

The point –if it’s not already obvious– is that because the very act of sex binds people together, then ‘sex before marriage’ is a practical (not to mention logical) contradiction.

27 replies on “pre-marital what?”

Hmmmm, am I missing a joke here or something? I thought that you were being serious and saying that sex is effectively marriage. Were you taking the mickey out of Biblical literalists?

(Initially I was going to object on the basis that I don’t feel at all married to anyone I had sex with prior to my wife)

Cheers. I was saying that “sex is effectively marriage”, but not literally so in the sense that a marriage is universally/automatically invalidated if they cannot have sex. Another way of saying this is that the statement ‘sex is effectively marriage’ should not be absolutized into a marriage-defining principle.
Sex cements a bond between two people (‘consummation’), but yes, a married couple (who are unable to have sex) can enjoy a rich and meaningful relationship apart from sex.

To me, the term ‘casual sex’ reflects a (reductionist) mindset about sex, rather than what actually happens when humans choose to share their bodies with one another. Sex can be seen as the deeply powerful thing it truly is, or it can be seen as a cheap thrill.
When both value it deeply, sex is two people sharing each other (i.e. lovers, etc.).
When both value it cheaply, sex is two people using each other (i.e. prostitution, one-night-stand, etc.).
When one values it deeply and the other cheaply, sex is one stealing from the other (rape, manipulation, etc.)

Thanks, Madeleine!
I’m told that from a Jewish point of view, the couple is not ‘married’ until they ‘consummate’ the marriage. But then, at the same time, I would want to affirm Damian’s point that two people can indeed be ‘married’ even if they are unable to have sex.

Ah, so the ‘cheap thrill’ kind of sex wouldn’t be classified as marriage in your view? And neither would rape?

And you didn’t answer my previous question: are you saying that this is just how you personally feel about sex or that it’s a brute fact for all humans? (Or for humans of a certain belief-set: i.e. Christians)

The point isn’t about ‘classifying’ various kinds of sexual occurances into two groups – those that constitute ‘marriage’ and those that don’t… The point is that sex is a powerful thing that bonds people together in a unique way when people share their bodies with each other. With great power comes great… you know the rest. :)
Of course, humans all-too-often don’t like being responsible, so we have ways of trying to make sex less big of a deal. But that doesn’t change sex – that’s only our attempt at fooling ourselves. We love the idea of ‘sex with no strings’, but in order to get there, we’ve got to pretend that sex isn’t powerful or doesn’t matter, etc.
(and yes, I think this is true of all humans)

The point isn’t about ‘classifying’ various kinds of sexual occurances into two groups

If you make the novel assertion that “sex is effectively marriage” you should expect to have to clarify what it is you mean by ‘sex’.

I think the conventional definition of marriage as being a public commitment of love between two people does the job much better. It seems you are introducing the sex angle as an excuse to moralise. Or to make some statement about how important you perceive sex as being. But you can make that statement without having to redefine marriage in the process.

If, by your new definition of marriage, you see casual sex or rape as not the kind of sex that qualifies a marriage then the conclusion of this post is incorrect; there actually can be such a thing as premarital sex.

Well, as I said in the original post:

…how one defines something is always important.

Your ‘conventional’ definition of marriage (“a public commitment of love between two people”) actually seems better suited for what we call a ‘wedding’. As we all know, no matter how ‘public’ the declaration of commitment (‘wedding’), it’s really the day-to-day commitment within the committed, bonded relationship (‘marriage’) that really matters.
Now, as for defining ‘sex’, I think we all know that the way it’s done changes things. Rape, incest, prostitution and one-night stands (or any combination of any of these) represent ‘having sex’ in an immensely different way than within a committed relationship.
I never at all intended to suggest that sex cannot be cheapened (we do so all the time); instead, the simple point is to recognise the logical inconsistency between the notion of what is called ‘pre-marital sex’, and the reality that sex binds people together.
We all know that sex binds people in this way; which is precisely why those who want ‘sex with no strings’ (be it rape, prostitution, or shallow promiscuity in general) have to try to convince themselves that it doesn’t…
So I’m happy to concede that there can be such a thing as sex apart from (or ‘before’) a committed relationship (i.e. rape, prostitution, or casual sex/promiscuity); but we still would never advise anyone to do such a thing. In fact, I’d even go so far (and taking opportunity to parody Dawkins a bit here) as to say that for a parent to not teach their children about the bonding power of sex would be a form of ‘child abuse’.

Quite right; I was mistakenly defining ‘wedding’. But the conventional definition of marriage remains the same minus the “public declaration” bit. It’s an ongoing commitment of love between two people. I know couples who have never done the wedding bit but whom I consider married because their commitment to each other is obvious. This has very little to do with sex however.

I think that I read between the lines correctly when I made the observation that this post is really not about marriage at all but more an opportunity for you to assert how important you feel sex can be. Perhaps the introduction of sex=marriage was to lend some weight to the concept.

I agree that sex can be deep and full of potential consequences. But I acknowledge that it is possible to have casual sex without consequence and that much of the psychological side of sex is dependent on our own initial attitudes. Some people claim to be capable of prostitution at the same time as a loving marriage (not my cup of tea but I’ll take their word for it). Some (like me) have had meaningful as well as meaningless sex before marriage and can attest to feeling no residual ‘bond’ that affects a deep love and commitment for their spouse.

So, if I claim to feel no residual bond and have experienced both meaningful and meaningless premarital sex but you claim that I should feel otherwise (based on personal experience or just theoretically?) how are we to judge? Is it true that I’m really having to “convince [myself] that it doesn’t”? In which case how do I end this very clever self-deception (and will it ruin my marriage if I do so)? Or are you just making yourself feel better at the expense of others by applying what you feel to be true in your own life to everyone around you? If so, I forgive you but isn’t this a bit childish?

To be clear, the original post had what you’re calling ‘meaningful premarital sex’ in view (whether or not meaningless sex is advisable or not is a subsequent topic).
An immediately relevant (and key) aspect to the topic of ‘sex’ is that of intimacy. Sex is the most (physically) intimate of experiences that two people can share. Also, one of the implicit things following from my original thoughts would be that the physical intimacy of sex is a kind of ‘consummating capstone’ to a relationship in which various other kind of intimacies are shared (personal, emotional, financial, shared experiences, etc.). Sex in this context ‘seals the deal’.
My post was not focussed on the kinds of sexual encounters we know of as rape, incest, prostitution, or ‘casual sex’, but was rather focused on sex between people with at least some degree of committment to one another – and with at least some degree of (various kinds of) intimacy shared between them; people ‘on their way’ to marriage. To speak (in the popular sense) of ‘pre-marital sex’ or ‘sex before (prior to) marriage’ is to assume that ‘marriage’ is to be anticpated/desired/expected/etc (‘on the cards’). Whilst a 9-year old girl being raped would technically be ‘sex before marriage’, that’s clearly not what people have in mind when they use the phrase.
My point was simply to challenge the idea of a significant distinction between an intimate, sexual, bonded relationship between un-(legally, etc.)’married’ people, and an intimate, sexual, bonded relationship between (legally) ‘married’ people. Like you, I know un-‘married’ couples who are married. But I disagree that sex has ‘very little’ to do with it. To add even more detail about physical intimacy, it is a key observation to note that even far less intimate actions such as kissing or holding hands are still intimate (and thus bonding) actions. The bond doesn’t just magically ‘appear’ out of nowhere – just as people don’t (usually) have sex at the very moment they meet. People generally share quite a few kinds of intimacy before having sex. Sex, then is a kind of ‘capstone’ which brings the relationship to it’s fullest level of physical intimacy; and this is physical intimacy is accompanied by varying levels of other kinds of intimacy.
There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t feel any ‘residual’ bonds from previous (meaningful) sexual relationships. One being simply that bonds can be broken, and (after time) more-or-less ‘forgotten’ (but never fully). But this doesn’t mean that the cementing of the bond (the ‘marriage’) and the breaking of the bond (the ‘divorce’) never took place.

Would it be fair to say that this post was originally aimed at fellow Christians who frown upon couples who “live in sin” when they are, in effect, abiding in the spirit of a healthy marriage in all but ceremony?

If so, I can understand where you are coming from and agree with the sentiment. If so, I back you 100% and suggest that those who measure life by rituals and laws should take a moment to reflect on what it really means to be ‘married’. (Also if so, the introduction of the concept “sex=marriage” was clumsy, confusing and inflammatory to those of us outside of the Christian faith).

I’m away for a couple of weeks so take care and have a very merry Christmas! Be sure to over-indulge in family and friends!

Cheers Damian,
I think the post applies not so much to Christian judgentalism, but to the (false) notion that people (Christian or non-Christian) often have that ‘trying the goods’ before ‘committing to marriage’ somehow protects them from being hurt ‘if things don’t work out’. The point being that (unless you’re intentionally having ‘cheap sex’ [not to mention rape, prostitution or incest], which is a ‘cheap’-ening of sex) meaningful sex between a couple cements a bond (‘marriage’/’joining’); and it will ‘hurt’ if this bond is broken (‘divorce’/’separation’).
So, when I say “sex=marriage”, I mean (directed at people thinking they’re ‘just having sex’ without being ‘married’) to say (to them) in a very important and real way, you already are married… And because that is something that applies to all people with emotions, and ‘makes sense’, (in my defense) I don’t think it’s “clumsy, confusing and inflammatory”.
Thanks for the Christmas wishes, same to you!
(as always, do continue clarifying/challenging if you wish – it only sharpens us – cheers)

Interesting to follow your comments. My husband and I had our first child before marriage and there were plenty of folk keen to judge that one – some of my family were seriously ashamed. I could never see the big deal as we had been together several years and were committed to one another. I’m assuming ‘pre-marital children’ is a contradiction too :-)
There seemed to some confusion in the comments about the idea that sex = marriage which I would disagree with. I do however agree with the togetherness or oneness idea of which physical intimacy is just one part. Is there an order of importance or vitalness in the different aspects of intimacy? Interestingly I once read somewhere (crap reference I know) that women rate emotional intimacy as number 1 in a marriage and men put more emphasis on physical intimacy. I guess its not as clear cut when one overlaps another…now I’m rambling! Cheers, Jack

Thanks for the comment ‘Jack’ :)

I’m assuming ‘pre-marital children’ is a contradiction too :-)

You guessed it. :) But yeah, if you guys were committed and sharing all kinds of intimacies (including the highest form of physical intimacy), then I reckon it’s quite a simple observation to say that you were ‘married’ before you were married. :)

There seemed to some confusion in the comments about the idea that sex = marriage which I would disagree with.

Yeah, whilst I stand by what I said, I would say that ‘sex = marriage’ is the simplest expression of what I was saying, which was that within ‘romantic’ relationships of any lasting value to both partners (thus ruling out prostitution, rape and [hopefully!] incest), sexual intercourse (the mutual giving of one’s body to the other) ‘cements’ the relationship, creating a unique and powerful bond. So, it’s not my point that marriage is ‘all about sex’, but rather that sex is the physical ‘capstone’ which brings a couple to a unique and new ‘bonded’, ‘joined’ or ‘married’ state.

Is there an order of importance or vitalness in the different aspects of intimacy?

Good question. I like to think of ‘intimacy’ and ‘commitment’ as two things which (if I can say it like this) simultaneously grow in a relationship. More and more shared intimacy (emotional, financial, physical, etc.) kind of ‘assumes’ more and more commitment. I think commitment protects intimacy; or to say it another way, I think intimacy with no commitment is emotionally risky… Now I’m rambling too! Have a good Christmas with the family!

[note from Dale: the last 4 comments –1 from ‘Omni’ and 3 from ‘Peddler’– all used the same email address, and were from the same I.P address. And I’m 99.6% sure I know who it is. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share their identity, but apologies to anyone who may have thought those comments (which I’m going to delete) were genuine.]

Best wishes for a great Christmas for you and yours too Dale :-)

One more question on this topic. Do you think the togetherness that
results from physical intimacy is simply a biological trait that has evolved to help make sure the male sticks around to protect and provide for the offspring & mother? Take insects,for example, sex would not need to result in bonding as they have far less dependant offspring.
Or, do you think there is something spiritual about it?
Cheers, Jack

Sorry for the delay, Jack – a few things have happened over the last few weeks ;)
I happily acknowledge (and even celebrate) whatever biological/evolutionary aspects to the ‘togetherness’ (‘bonding’); but I (and the overwhelming majority of humanity throughout history) go beyond saying that it is ‘simply’ this. We say that the bonding is ‘good’, meaning we place a value on (or give worth to) it. This is not a biological observation. :) In this way, I think biological and spiritual understandings –far from being in conflict– are complimentary (reinforce one another).

Another (general) thought:
I’ve now realised that in my original post, I really should have focused more on the word ‘marital/marriage’. The term ‘marry/married’ refers to things being ‘joined’, whether people or pieces of wood, etc. Sex then, is the physical ‘marry-ing’ or ‘joining’ of two people, which (apart from ‘cheapened’ versions – rape, un-caring/casual sex, prostitution, etc.) is also a spiritual ‘marry-ing’ or ‘joining’.

…and another (general) clarification…
The post was inspired by a question I was asked about what the Bible said about “sex before marriage”. It was not inspired by any attempt to a) showcase how perfect my marriage is (it isn’t – though I’m very pleased with it!), or to b) imply anything about my sexual history. It merely intends to argue that the phrase(s) “pre-marital sex (sex-before-marriage)” might be very misleading. :)

Thanks Dale …this question seems like a distant memory now, must do even more so to you! I hear what you are saying, although in turn it would mean that those who do have several meaningful sexual relationships or ‘marriages’ essentially have to go through the pain of divorce each time they move on…is it that hurtful each time, – it often doesnt appear so – or perhaps do they harden to the process…I’m not ‘experienced’ enough to comment!

in turn it would mean that those who do have several meaningful sexual relationships or ‘marriages’ essentially have to go through the pain of divorce each time they move on…is it that hurtful each time

Indeed, that implication stands, I think. One might say it like this: The degree of pain experienced from the ‘divorce’ will be directly proportional to the meaningfulness of the ‘joining’/’bond’/’marriage’/etc.
Of course, the pain of separation happens with other kinds of bonds as well; friends move away, favourite cafe’s close, family members die, pets get run-over, etc. What makes a sexual relationship unique is the mountaintop (no higher level, etc.) ‘seal’ of physical intimacy which is not involved in a non-sexual relationship.

Ha – only a coffee lover would include the favourite cafe closing in that list :-) So you see sex as the mountain-top? What of relationships where sex comes first then the couple get to know each others minds and intimacy grows?

– Great to meet you guys the other night. Hope you are enjoying being a family of three!

So you see sex as the mountain-top? What of relationships where sex comes first then the couple get to know each others minds and intimacy grows?

Yeah, I don’t know of any higher level of physical intimacy than two people sharing their entire bodies with one another. As for your example of ‘sex first’ followed by increase of shared minds/intimacy, I’d first want to get annoyingly technical and say that there would (unless it was rape, or some kind of sex party, etc.) be at least some kind of a relationship there before the sex – even so-called ‘one night stands’ would often involve some kind of chatting-up, flirting, etc.
But after making that annoyingly technical point, I think it’s fair to say that having sex without any kind of meaningful relationship would be viewed by most as a cheapening (a lowering of value) of sex. When sex is valued as the powerful joining/bonding/marry-ing thing that it is, it won’t be done with just anyone randomly met. To say the opposite, when sex is not valued as the powerful joining/bonding/marry-ing thing that it is, it will (more likely) be done with someone barely known, etc.

…and yes, we’re very much enjoying the family-of-three-ness! Good to mee you and Aaron too. I’ve already polished off the Gee-Whiz as well… Did you think you’ll ever get it stocked anywhere here in Aucks? :)

Have spent today packaging up wine for Aucks – it’ll take a few days to get there and a couple more to reach the shelves – but very soon it will be available at The Barrow, Browns Bay New World and Wines & More. We have some other New Worlds interested but their wine person was away on holiday when Aaron called so have left samples. Quite exciting as a distributor in Sydney is keen to take quite a bit also which is much easier than sending small amounts to multiple NZ outlets. Will get that contract in a couple of weeks, all going to plan! However, it’s still back to the day job teaching for me at the end of next week …will be quite an adjustment after such a great holiday break. Glad the Gee Whiz whizzed down a treat :-)

Comments are closed.