Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There's Something Missing From This Article About Marriage And Sex

Bride and groom standing at the altar. Image source.
Here's a strange article from Relevant: Should Christians Get Married to Have Sex?

It's about the phenomenon of Christians of the "premarital sex is a sin" persuasion getting married just because they want to have sex. The writer, Debra K. Fileta, gives an example of a couple she knew in college who got married incredibly fast- "They just had to get married because they were burning with passion." After they got married, they "were having crazy, hot sex several times a day." A few years later, Fileta found out they had gotten divorced.

She says that, in evangelical culture, many people focus on sex far too much when making the decision to get married. "In fact, at Christian college, I often heard people talk of a couple’s marriage plans in terms of 'how long can they wait to have sex' as though that was the determining point of when to get married, rather than the bigger picture of creating a healthy, nourished, God-honoring relationship that would stand the test of a lifelong commitment."

Yes, I agree. This is definitely a problem in the purity culture I was part of. And yes, I agree, it's very unhealthy for sex to be such a huge factor in your decision to get married.

But. There's something missing.

If you say "Don't get married just to have sex, because marriage is a lifelong commitment and it's a big deal and needs to be based on way more than just your sexual desire," then yes, that's good advice. But we need to go farther than that. We need to ask where such an unhealthy idea- that sex would be the deciding factor in determining whether to get married- comes from in the first place. And if you're familar with purity culture or evangelical church culture at all, you know it's because they teach that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. And not just like a regular sin- no, it's a very dirty thing, it makes you dirty and impure for the rest of your life, it damages you so you are less valuable, it's a betrayal of your future marriage.

If people have a strong desire to have sex (and most people do), and you teach them that sex in any other context besides marriage is COMPLETELY OUT OF THE QUESTION, then OF COURSE people will rush into ill-advised marriages so they can have sex. And pointing out "hey, it's a pretty bad idea to get married just so you can have sex" is useless if you don't challenge the underlying line of reasoning which causes it in the first place.

But this is an article on Relevant. Of course they're not going to question "premarital sex is a sin." This is how Relevant articles on dating go- they think they're so healthy and reasonable and completely different from purity culture, they point out how the teachings of purity culture have really bad consequences, but they never ever ever dare to even suggest that we consider the possibility that premarital sex might not be a sin. And that refusal pretty much negates any good points they may have made.

Here, let me ask you a question. Which is worse: rushing into marriage just so you can have sex, or having sex outside of marriage? If you had to pick one or the other, which is less bad? Obviously, if you ask this question to purity-culture Christians, they will say no no, you should do neither. Right, sure, that's what purity culture teaches- you're supposed to just sit on your sexual and romantic desires and do absolutely nothing, and take enough time to pray and think about your decision, and follow what God wants you to do, with absolutely no pressure from your own body's needs and desires, which must be COMPLETELY IGNORED until God gives you the okay.

That's how it's supposed to work, according to purity culture. But how can someone make a good decision while under that kind of pressure? Isn't it obvious that it will drive people toward one of those two alternatives- having premarital sex or rushing into marriage too fast? And unless you can state outright that rushing into marriage IS WORSE than having premarital sex, you have no business telling people "oh you shouldn't get married just so you can have sex."

For those of us who aren't in purity culture, it's obvious which is worse. Getting married means you're legally tied to that person, and that will have legal consequences that last the rest of your life. And you have to spend a ton of money on the wedding. If you do all that and end up in a marriage that's unhealthy, that is SO MUCH WORSE than having sex a few times with someone you eventually break up with.

But purity culture- and more broadly, any Christianity that teaches "premarital sex is a sin" even if it doesn't teach all the "emotional purity"/"guard your heart" stuff- can't say that being in a bad marriage is worse than not being a virgin. They teach that sex outside of marriage is a horrible horrible sin, that it ruins your life, that it makes you "damaged goods," that you're no longer worthy of having a good marriage, that you'll live with shame and guilt forever. But are there any warnings about the dangers of marrying someone who's bad for you? Certainly there are scare tactics about how much it will ruin your life if you marry a non-Christian, but other than that, not really. They just say marriage is a lot of work, it's about serving the other person instead of caring about your own happiness, and if both parties put God first then they can definitely stay married, even though it might be really hard.

It all comes back to the fact that in purity land, sex is a bigger deal than marriage. They teach us to be terrified of unmarried sex- so much that the idea of two incredibly young people getting into a lifelong legal agreement they barely understand seems much less scary, much less dangerous.

If you can't actually say the words "premarital sex is LESS BAD than rushing into marriage just so you can have sex" then all of your advice on "getting married just to have sex" is meaningless.

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