“Just say no to premarital sex. I promise you, it’s not worth it.”-Pastor at my church in a recent sermon.
“Two thirds [of young unmarried Christians] have been sexually active within the last year.”-Relevant Magazine
When I heard my pastor say the “just say no” appeal, I thought it would be about as successful as it was for Nancy Reagan in the War on Drugs. Well, to be fair, the Church has certainly done a decent job of persuading Christian unmarried 20somethings that premarital sex is a sin-according to the RELEVANT article, 76% of them agree with that.* (Don’t worry, this blog post isn’t going to be all “OH HAI, HYPOCRITES!” I am a hypocrite on this and many other subjects, both large and small, as I imagine are the majority of my readers.)
As of today, the average marriage age for men is 28.7, and for women it’s 26.5. To put this age in perspective, 50 years ago it was 22.8 for men, and 20.3 for women. Along with this change in age, advances in contraception have made it much easier to avoid pregnancy as a result of sexual intercourse, premarital or otherwise.
As an unmarried 28 year old, I can say that the mid-20s is quite a difficult time to remain celibate-perhaps not more difficult than college, but adding 6 years onto the average marital age makes things more difficult nonetheless. There are any number of individual responses to deal with this issue-prayer, etc. But I think the most important thing that the Church can do is recognize the scope of the problem, and that it’s something that requires an empathetic communal response. “Just say no” doesn’t seem to me to be sufficient when you’re dealing with such a basic biological urge.
Instead, I think the Church should recognize that it’s a serious issue that everyone struggles with, to some extent (yes, including the pastors); that people will slip up and make mistakes in this area, and there will be forgiveness (when 76% of all Christians have done so, I think it’s safe to assume there’s at least a substantial minority of people who have had premarital sex in each congregation); and that “looking lustfully” is on the same level of sin as actual premarital sex.
Finally, the Church should recognize that it plays an important role as a social club (in addition to its primary role as a religious institution), and should design its ministries to create a community that draws both couples and singles in, while encouraging them in a non-judgmental manner to avoid premarital sex. (I think my particular Church does a good job on this last bit).
*I am one of the 76%, so the rest of this blog post will be written with the assumption that premarital sex is wrong. If you disagree, well, I write on a lot of other topics elsewhere on the blog.