David’s hot. I love running into him at the pool and thinking “that guy’s gonna be mine.” I also get an urge to cover him up. I’m the jealous kind. The point is, I find him sexy. He turns me on. And I know I turn him on. We’re a couple of red-blooded males with a healthy sex drive and a passion for each other. In the words of the great 20th century balladeers Salt-N-Pepa, we “wanna shoop.”
We haven’t. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we’ve chosen to save sex for marriage. Not because we think ourselves purer-than-thou, and not because we think sex is dirty or bad. We don’t care for legalism. I suspect God is less obsessed with people’s sex lives than their neighbors are. We’re waiting because we believe sex plays an important part in establishing a bond of kinship between two people, and we believe that bond is sealed with the covenant of marriage.
I think sex is a form of communication. We use it to say things like "I love you” and "you're hot." Sometimes it’s to say "I'm sorry," or even "I'm lonely." Sexual abusers use it to say "I have power over you." There's many things—good and bad—that we can express through sex. One of those things is "I am yours and you are mine." In other words, we can use sex to physically express the promise of the marriage covenant.
Marriage creates a sacred bond between the spouses. This is the "one flesh" bond captured by the phrase Adam uses when he meets Eve: "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Laban uses this metaphorical expression of kinship when he greets Jacob. The Israelites use it upon crowning David. Your kin are those to whom you belong and who belong to you.
You attain kinship through birth, upbringing, or marriage. Your father is your kin by birth; the daughter you adopt and raise is your kin by upbringing; your spouse is your kin by marriage. From Christ's teachings about divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 we learn that the bond of marriage is meant to be even stronger than the bonds of birth and upbringing—a man will leave his parents for his spouse, but Jesus set strict parameters for leaving a spouse.
Adam had no kin prior to Eve, and God observed that this was “not good.” My broken relationship with my parents helps me empathize with Adam's loneliness in the Garden. For years I’ve longed to have kin again. In David I’ve found the “suitable helper" Eve was for Adam, and I look forward to creating that “one-flesh” bond with him. I look forward to saying "I am yours and you are mine."
I can think of many ways to tell David that I love him. I can think of many ways to tell him I find him attractive. I can think of many ways to say "I'm sorry" when I need to. But I cannot think of any way other than sex in which to physically express the promise of marriage. And that promise is so important to me that although I’m not a virgin, I don’t want to use sex now to say anything else.
So what’s going to shock more people, a Christian couple admitting that they turn each other on, or a gay couple admitting that they’re waiting until marriage? Are David and I shameless or are we a pair of prudes? There’s many who think the latter. I’ve had people tell me that just as you try clothes on before you buy them, you should have sex with your boyfriend before you marry him to see if you’re compatible.
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, they say, so why would a guy marry a girl without first seeing if she’s good in bed? This rings of selfishness. Sex and marriage are not about what you get out of it. The best sex happens when you get two people competing to give each other the best orgasm—not trying to get the best one themselves. And you can tell whether someone’s selfish or selfless without jumping into bed.
The idea of “sampling the goods” to know what you’re getting for the rest of your life is also naive. Sex and attraction are not static. The things that excite you change with time. The marital bed is not a lake whose waters you can test before you dive. It's more like a river—the waters you step into on your wedding night (or on your first date) are not the same waters you'll be stepping into 20 years later. It's wishful thinking to believe that by having sex before marriage you're getting a taste of your married sex life. Whether you do it before the wedding or not, your sex life is going to ebb and flow; the things you do to please each other will change. The decision of when to have sex should therefore be based on ethics, not utility.
Christian sexual ethics have long been wrapped in layers of sexism and shame that have borne bad fruit in the lives of gay and straight people alike. A misguided emphasis on purity and virginity has prevented conversations about more pertinent topics like consent, health, and even pleasure. I’m convinced that abstinence outside marriage is preferable, but the Church must do a better job at discerning and explaining why.
David and I weren’t persuaded to wait by silly promises that it would make sex better—it will be good because our chemistry is strong and our desire to please each other is genuine. We also weren’t scared into it by threats of hell or accusations of sin. We have chosen to wait because we don’t want to say with our bodies something we haven’t yet said with our lives. And I believe this is the sentiment that lies at the heart of the New Testament’s hints that sex be reserved for marriage.