“If you wait to have sex until marriage, God will bring you a wonderful Christian husband and you’ll get married and live happily ever after”
Variations of this theme are commonly preached in Christian youth circles. There has recently been circulation of writings by some who embraced such promises and spent years unpacking sexual guilt and dissatisfaction.
There is a fundamental problem with this line of thinking. It is Christians attempting to argue against the world’s view of sexual morals on the world’s terms of selfish morals.. They are so focused on stopping teenage sex as a goal in itself that they end up trampling other less visible but more basic Christian morals to do it. Instead of arguing that you should wait to have sex because it is a required example of forgoing self-satisfaction in a life of self-denial to Christ, they argue that you should wait to have sex because it will give you more self-satisfaction if you only do it in marriage, ultimately reinforcing rather than countering the world’s terms that self-satisfaction is the goal to pursue, and ultimately hindering the selfless character necessary for both a relationship with Christ and a healthy, sacrificial marriage (which may also include more satisfaction as a by-product).
I think I understand why well-intentioned leaders resort to these strategies. The potential negative consequences of such transgressions can be among the most visibly tragic, long-lasting, and irreversible. For every woman who must overcome a view of sex as dirty, there may be others who wish they hadn’t given their virginity as easily. And I firmly believe that lifelong monogamous relationships are generally more fulfilling and lead to fewer problems than their alternatives.
But like many forms of happiness, the benefits are a side effect of “things added” from “seeking first the kingdom,” not from pursuing them directly. By putting the cart before the horse, the save-sex-for-better-sex movement is likely successful neither at stopping more kids from having sex nor in creating a healthy understanding of sex for those that wait.
In addition to this ineffectiveness, I believe this attitude handicaps the church’s power to respond to homosexuality. Some Christians argue that homosexual urges should be managed by a life of celibacy. This sounds ludicrous to a self-satisfying world, and it also sounds ludicrous to suggest this if you are selling a Jesus of self-fulfillment to everyone else, including the implication that celibacy is not really an option for faithful young Christians. On the other hand, if you preach a “take up your cross” Jesus who lovingly requires a variety of extreme sacrifices that he gives the strength to bear, it fits neatly into a long tradition (and I’ve heard of celibate gay Christians who have embraced this). Some leaders may think it unrealistic to expect kids to refrain from sex if you don’t promise them greater sex later; I think it’s more unrealistic to expect them to apply the right decisions in the heat of moments if you haven’t been cultivating (and are even undermining!) the pure, fundamental fruits all along.
This selfish focus also handicaps the church’s ability to respond to the inherent contradictions of popular culture’s sexual values. The twin secular doctrines of “do whatever you want” but “don’t hurt anyone” lead to bemused outrage against shocking behavior when hormonal youth are unsurprisingly unable to perfectly navigate real situations that make the theoretically fine lines separating those doctrines disappear. The church has more power to speak against the fundamental flaws of pushing the self-satisfaction side of that coin, and its inevitable consequences, when she is not leveraging it herself against the more tangible manifestations of its bitter fruit.
Most of these ideas about sex and Christian culture have been running around my head for awhile. After a Facebook post triggered a well-received initial comment, I have finally organized and submitted my thoughts to digitized print for wider consideration and critique.