This week's question comes from Charlie in Sweden. Charlie sent me an e-mail question about love and sex. He writes, "I'm trying to find the answer to why one shouldn't have sex before marriage. Is there any good reason for two people who are in love to stay away from sex?"
This question deals with the changing mores of society -- and for a change, the moral standards of today are significantly higher than they were in biblical days. The values of the New Testament were higher than the Old Testament, when it comes to marriage and sexual encounters, and they are even higher today than in the New Testament where polygamy was tolerated.
Back in the Old Testament, women were viewed as property of the father. Until they were married their father was in complete control of his daughters. For example, a daughter could not make a vow without his permission (Number 30.3-5). And once she was married her vows were valid only when approved by her husband (Num. 30.6-8).
Marriages in the Old Testament came about when a suitor could produce the bride price known as the mahar or dowery. The bride price was agreed upon between the father of the bride-to-be and the groom or his family and when it was paid then the woman became the property of the husband.
Note that the legality of a marriage did not entail a wedding ceremony, instead a marriage was a legal transaction of transferring the property of a father to a groom and could be accomplished without fanfare (Genesis 29.28).
Aside from marriage, when it came to sexual intimacy, compensation had to be made if intercourse took place. Indeed, all pre-marital sexual relations implied a promise of remuneration in some way. This occurred in one of three ways: (1) If the woman was a virgin and intercourse took place, the bride price was paid and the man must offer to make the woman his wife (Exodus 22.16-17); (2) a slave woman could be taken as concubine (Deuteronomy 27.20-23) -- a woman who received support, but without rights of inheritance; or (3) a harlot was paid an appropriate price (Genesis 38.1519).
In the New Testament sexual intimacy was not such a hot topic and there seems to be an assumption that sex was an institution celebrated within the bounds of marriage. Indeed, Paul writes: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband" (1 Corinthians 7.1-3). And as for remaining single he writes, "For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" 1 Cor. 7.9b). In this passage Paul insinuates that sex is a privilege of the married, not of the single, and that intimacy implies a commitment to marriage.
Today it is still not a "socially acceptable" policy to have sexual intimacy outside of wedlock, regardless of the millions who do so each day. Society still imposes a modicum of shame upon these relationships. But aside from society's moral values, there are three good and psychologically, if not spiritually, valid reasons for maintaining sexual purity before marriage.
First, intimacy suggests a merging of one plus another into a single union ("A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Matthew 19.5)). Thus sex without marriage and the lifetime promise of physical, spiritual, and emotional support violates this united relationship.
Second, intimacy suggests a level of personal, physical, spiritual, and psychological commitment that only a marriage can provide.
And third, intimacy suggests an agape type of love, the kind of good and self-giving love Christ demonstrated, not an eros type of love that wells up from our inner lusts and biological desires.
In the end, there is nothing wrong with the desires we feel -- indeed, we couldn't stop them if we wanted to. But sex wasn't created to be a recreational outlet for the uninitiated, but the fruit of the promise of a lifetime's commitment of one to another. And with all the baggage of shame society can load on us, it really is worth the wait.