What's the best way to encourage people to save sex for the covenant of marriage? Mark Regnerus, author of Forbidden Fruit, Richard Ross, co-founder of True Love Waits, and Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul suggest the best way to help.
Premarital Abstinence: Focus on Calling
Human sexual development has not kept up with our preference to have more education, financial security, and life experience before marrying. On the contrary, the time gap between sexual maturity and marriage is the highest it's ever been.
In response, evangelicals muster popular perspectives on courtship and what clothes can and cannot come off and when. The lack of an authoritative message about sexuality is not lost on youth. Many don't mind that there is no shared story about sex. It makes the lowest common denominator easy to abide by.
Premarital sex will always be alluring. Sex, after all, does what it's supposed to do. It bonds. It makes us want more: more relationship, more security, more sex. That is the reality of its unchanging nature.
What we can change, however, is our widespread misunderstanding of how marriage happens. Christian scholar James Olthuis reminds us that entering into Christian marriage is not a light switch that's flipped on at the wedding, but rather a process in this intended order: a pledge of fidelity, reliability, integrity, and friendship between a man and a woman, a covenant between the two persons and God, a communal recognition of the marriage, and sexual consummation.
In one sense, there's no such thing as premarital sex. There is only non-marital sex and marital sex. When couples skip some of the steps, it's the job of the church to make sure the others occur, or to call non-marital sex the sacrilege it is.
Far too many Christians link sexual morality to the issuance of a legal document by a secular state. But the state does not permit marriages; it only recognizes them. The biblical writers never presumed that marriage was the domain of the state, nor did they presume that it belonged to the church. It was simply an institution among institutions.
Unfortunately, most young Christians move into their 20s without realizing that a vocational calling—to marriage or singleness—has already been given to them by a loving Creator. Instead, they imagine marriage as the capstone to the self and a wedding as its commencement, to take place when they wish it to.
What we have as a result is what we deserve: lots of unmarried Christians trying to discern what does and doesn't constitute sex, and attempting to retain some semblance of virginity by keeping non-marital partners to "just a few" as they live out the self-centered promises of emerging adulthood. The church is called out of that nonsense to be a peculiar people. In step with their peaking fertility and sexual interest, Christian young adults need to get about the business of their calling to marriage or singleness—whichever it is.
The rest of us ought to help them discern the process, encourage their maturation, empathize in their struggles, and support them better than we have up until now. Nobody else will.
Make a Promise to Jesus
True Love Waits is not a promise to a program, card, or ring. It is a sincere promise of purity made to the reigning Christ for the glory of the Father by the power of the Spirit.
The promise is kept most tenaciously by teenagers who have moved beyond moralistic therapeutic deism and who adore the King of Kings with awe and intimacy. They know their Lord and Savior said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Their walk in purity is a way to express deep love for him and to respond to his supremacy.