Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Our culture being what it is these days, it really is no surprise that the majority of couples coming to the Church for pre-marital counseling are already living together. What is surprising is how many couples don’t think of cohabitation as being contrary to God’s will. It’s almost as if they have never been told what the Christian vision is for marriage. When we counsel such couples and ask that they cease all pre-marital conjugal activity until they are married, many couples are thankful that we actually took the time to explain to them why it matters. My hunch is that others could benefit from a similar explanation. So—here goes.
First and primarily, sex before marriage is a problem because God has declared such activity to be out of bounds. It is sinful; that is, it misses the mark of his goodness and wisdom and beauty for intimate relationships. The reasons for this restriction on sexual activity should also be considered, but the initial disposition of faith is to realize that God has set this boundary for our good – not to limit pleasure but to increase it, not to hinder relationships but to protect them.
On the relational side of things, getting involved physically before marriage shortchanges the relationship-building process. If you open up the sexual Pandora’s Box early, then much of the energy of the relationship is spent on physical logistics—where, when, how often, etc. Time that could be spent developing other areas of the relationship is spent here instead. Rather than learning how to be better in bed, the couple should be focusing on how to be better friends, how to communicate more openly, how to resolve conflict more effectively, how to pray together, how to support one another in difficult times, and so forth. They can even spend more time doing some good old-fashioned talking, learning about each other’s hopes and dreams.
The idea behind working on the other aspects of the relationship is that when the marriage day actually arrives, you have invested in each other heavily. You are best friends. You know each other very well. When the vows are taken and then the couple comes together to consummate the marriage, the physical act becomes an outward expression of the inward union that has already been developed. The act becomes one of love, an expression of a commitment that is shielded by the high and strong wall of the marriage vow. “You are mine and I am yours—until death only separates us.”
And it should be noted that those who think living together is a good way to test their suitability for marriage are gravely mistaken. It’s like thinking you are test-driving a Lamborghini when, in reality, you are only driving a mini-van. There is no comparison, because you cannot test-drive a committed, monogamous, lifelong relationship (part of the definition of marriage) without making the commitment to be true to each other through thick and thin for the duration of life.
But the Church has also traditionally voiced another reason for waiting until marriage. That other reason has to do with the well-being of any children that may be conceived from the physical union. One of premarital sex’s tragic legacies is that of aborted children and children born out of wedlock that never know the security and blessing of having both a mother and a father that are committed to each other as well as to their children.
I’ll throw in one more for all you dating couples out there (is dating even still a thing?): The physical union is designed by God to be an expression of committed love. The emotional stakes are very high. Emotions are what they are, and they do what they do, regardless of our wills. Whenever we become physically involved with another person, our emotions assume that there is a loving relationship that is in place. Moreover, our emotions assume that the relationship will always be in place.
So, if after becoming involved in this way, the couple should find out that they really don’t like each other and they probably can’t live together for long, the emotional bonds that have been forged make it very difficult to say goodbye. There’s going to be an emotional train-wreck. Too many couples go on to get married when the writing is on the wall that they should not; but, they do so because of these emotional attachments that have been heavily multiplied by the conjugal act. The short of this is that saving sex for marriage allows you to back out of relationships that should never be brought to the wedding altar. If you don’t understand this one, you’ll just have to take my word for it. But many readers know exactly what I’m talking about.
Finally, please remember that God made the parts to fit together. You don’t need to confirm this before marriage. Save it. Then you will have the most wondrous, mystically magical, delightful, and beautiful gift to open on your wedding day – your spouse.