I have a friend who thinks sex before marriage is OK

Working late one night my concentration was broken by the insistent ring of the telephone. ‘Mr McDowell?’ An obviously depressed young woman hardly waited for me to respond. ‘Mr McDowell, during the last five nights I have been to bed with five different men. Tonight I just sat alone on the bed after it was over and said to myself, “Is that all there is to it?”’ Her voice breaking with tears, she concluded, ‘Please tell me there is something more.’ ‘There is,’ I replied. ‘It’s called intimacy.’

Maybe like that young woman who called Josh McDowell in desperation, you are asking yourself right now, ‘Is that all there is?’  Our society is starving for intimacy. We all hunger for acceptance, to be loved, touched and understood with deep intimacy, and yet the world around us feeds us the lie that sex outside a life long marriage will satisfy our hunger. The accumulated impact of irresponsible messages repeated hour after hour through TV, videos and films is immense. Sex is portrayed as simply a recreational activity without personal consequences. It has become a personal right, a need to be met and a norm to be accepted. The tragedy of all this is that people are dying of emotional starvation, and they are looking for food in the wrong places. Rarely is it suggested that truly satisfying love between a man and a woman might need some measure of consideration, self-discipline and even sacrifice. The choices we make are encouraged by or reinforced by the culture of the society we live in. So lets consider an alternative society tonight. A radical, subversive, alternative counter-culture that’s over 5000 years old and based on the maker’s instructions. I want us to unpack this issue by exposing seven myths, seven lies about extra-marital sex that will help us find meaning and fulfilment in our relationships the way God intended.

Lie #1: Sex creates intimacy
Sex is an expression of intimacy, not the means to intimacy. True intimacy springs from verbal and emotional communion. True intimacy is built on a commitment to honesty, love and freedom. True intimacy is not primarily a sexual encounter. Intimacy, in fact, has almost nothing to do with our sex organs. A prostitute may expose her body, but her relationships are hardly intimate. In fact premarital sexual intercourse may actually hinder intimacy.
Donald Joy writes that indulging in sexual intercourse prematurely short-circuits the emotional bonding process. He cites one study of 100,000 women that found a correlation between early sexual experience and dissatisfaction in their present marriages, unhappiness with the level of sexual intimacy and a prevalence of low self-esteem (Christianity Today, October 3, 1986).

Lie #2: Sex before marriage is the only way to find out if you are compatible

Sex is an art that is learned best in a safe environment. This is, in marriage where a couple have committed themselves to each other in love completely and unconditionally.  In healthy marriages, sex takes its natural place beside the intellectual, emotional and practical aspects of life. Married couples spend less time in bed than they do in conversation, in problem solving, and in emotional communion. The lie that premarital sex prepares you for marriage denies the fact that sexual happiness grows only through years of intimate relationship. People who think that cohabitation is a good idea before marriage have been misled.

The average duration of cohabitation among single women is around 19 months. Couples who have cohabited before they marry are 60% more likely to divorce than couples who did not cohabit.[1]

The height of sexual pleasure, psychologists tell us, usually comes after ten to twenty years of marriage. Good sex begins in the head. It depends on intimate knowledge of your partner. The Bible uses the words "to know" to describe sexual intercourse: "
Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived . . ." (Genesis 4:1, NRSV).

This choice of words elevates human sexuality from mere animal sex where availability is the main requirement to a full, intimate expression of love and commitment.

Lie #3: Casual sex is fun with no personal consequences
Those who settle for short-term sexual relationships are settling for second-best sex. Journalist George Leonard observes that "casual recreational sex is hardly a feast - not even a good hearty sandwich. It is a diet of fast food served in plastic containers. At risk are self-respect and emotional and physical well-being. Sex without deep emotional commitment damages a persons ability to be faithful in adulthood.”[2]

Life's feast is available only to those who are willing and able to engage on a deeply personal level, giving all, holding back nothing." (Quoted by Joyce Huggett in Dating, Sex & Friendship, InterVarsity Press, p. 82.) For a woman, particularly, sex can reveal hidden fears and lack of trust.  Debora
Phillips, author of Sexual Confidence and the director of the Princeton Center for Behaviour Therapy wrote:  "Due to the instant sex of the sexual revolution, people perform rather than make love. Many women can't achieve a sense of intimacy, and their anxiety about how well they perform blocks their chances for honest arousal. Without genuine involvement, they haven't much chance of courtship, romance or love. They're left feeling cheated and burned out" (in McDowell, 1987, p. 129).

As one young woman put it, "I feel physically used and therefore undesirable. My past mistakes are evident on my body. Who would ever want to marry me? Can I ever freely give my body to a man? Would another man even want my body? Can I have children? Do I have some undetected STD? The past never goes away." (McDowell, 1987, p. 134)  Good sex, on the other hand, can be a healing agent over time  but it requires trust, trust which grows best in the context of the life-long commitment to one person in marriage.

Lie #4: If you don't express your sexuality freely, you must be repressed, sick or prudish
This can be a very intimidating lie, but the facts are that premature sex is bad for your emotional, physical and cultural health. The February 1991 issue of the journal Pediatrics reported that researchers at Indiana University found that sexually active teenagers are more likely to be prone to alcohol abuse and illegal drugs, and are more likely to have trouble in school. They reported that sexually active girls were more likely to be depressed, have low self esteem, feel lonely or attempt suicide. An American poll of teenagers showed that the main reason for teenagers having sex was perceived by them to be pressure.[3]

When you have sexual intercourse with someone and move on, you leave a bit of yourself behind. Some people end up with nothing much left of themselves to give. Premarital sex may also be bad for the emotional health of your future marriage. It lays the groundwork for comparisons, suspicions, and mistrust. "Am I as attractive (or as sexually stimulating) as his last partner?" "If she didn't wait for me before we were married, why do I think she will settle for only me now?" "If someone better comes along, will I be left in the dust?" On the other hand, young people who are emotionally secure and confident don’t need to bolster their feelings of popularity with superficial relationships. If someone ever says to you, “If you love me you’ll let me” reply “If you love me you wouldn’t ask.”

Lie #5 Modern contraceptives ensure sex is safe anyway
In one sexual encounter it is possible to pick up as many as five separate diseases. If you have sex outside marriage you are at risk. As one researcher put it: "Unless you're monogamous (married to one person) for a lifetime, with a monogamous partner, you're at risk. And the more partners you have, the greater the risk" (McDowell, 1987, p. 129). Condoms have between a 13-15% failure rate. Among teenagers this rises to nearly 20%.[4] Whereas pregnancy can only occur as a result of intercourse during a relatively short phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted 365 days a year. Research shows that latex rubber contains inherent flaws that are at least 50 times larger than the AIDS virus. Condoms are therefore no protection against AIDS.[5]

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. There is no cure for Herpes or Genital Warts. The commonest STD in the
West is Chlamydia which is often undetected until it is too late.. “it acts like an infertility time bomb, infecting thousands of women… it is estimated that about 10% of sexually active teenagers and four percent of the wider population are infected.[6] A BBC Panorama documentary revealed recently that among 16-19 year olds reports of gonorrhoea rose 46% between 1995-1997. During the same period cases of Chlamydia which causes infertility rose 56%.[7] Sexually transmitted diseases have received abundant attention from the press in recent years. Equal time has not been given to the opinion held by many medical experts that extra-marital abstinence is without a doubt the best way to avoid these diseases.

Lie #6: Moral values have changed. The Bible is outdated. How can modern society be wrong?
Because scripture is clear - sexual intercourse outside the bonds of marriage is sin. Even if we had no other evidence, God's word makes it clear that intercourse outside of marriage is not only outside our best interests, but it is always wrong.

In the seventh commandment God says "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus
20:14). Jesus was even more inclusive when he described the evil within men's hearts, including "sexual immorality" (Mark 7:21). Paul exhorted the Corinthians to "flee from sexual immorality" (see 1 Corinthians 6:18-19), and to the Ephesians he said that there must not be among them even a "hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:3).

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, "Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Hebrews 13:4). God did not give these laws because he is a spoil-sport. Quite the contrary. God’s laws have two purposes. To protect us and provide for us.

10:13 says, "Observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good." Those last four words are critical: “for your own good”. How come? Because God created us and because he loves us more than we can ever know, he has told us how to have the best, most satisfying sexual experiences: in marriage. That's where sex is fun! Premarital abstinence and marital faithfulness is not a denial of my rights or my pleasures. It is choosing to experience sex in the healthiest, happiest context. The place God intended. Psalm 84:11 is worth memorising, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

Remember God invented sex. He's the designer and creator of it. A whole book of the Bible is devoted to the intimate passions and exploits of a man and woman (Song of Solomon). The church is described in the New Testament as a bride awaiting her groom.
Paul reminds couples that their "bodies belong to each other" and that "the marriage bed is not defiled." No.

God is not against sex, but merely against its abuse, not to stifle or suppress our sexuality but rather to place it in high esteem. As we have seen there are spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological reasons why God has limited sexual intercourse to the marriage bed. Some of those reasons are obvious and some may be beyond our understanding. If you decide to wait, it will take courage and strength. If you decide not to wait, you will never know what you missed. You cannot have it both ways. No one can prove to you that premarital abstinence works. I believe the scientific evidence corroborates the biblical position that sex outside of marriage is not good for us. Do we dare to be different? Do we dare to trust God?


Lie #7 If you’ve had pre-marital or extra-marital sex you can’t be forgiven
This is a Christian myth that sexual sin is somehow worse than any other, that God cannot forgive those who make sexual mistakes. People often struggle with guilt because of their sexual past but remember there is nothing that God cannot forgive or restore. As Jesus said to the woman in John 8, "Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more." (John 8:11)

The apostle John promises,  “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-10). Unwanted sex can leave you feeling used or ill-treated. If you feel that sex or any sexual act is being forced on you, especially if you are under 18 or by someone older, then you have the right to say no.

If you are single, believe me, sex is something you can wait for. The feelings inside will develop maturity if you control them and not them you. You can learn how to stand where others stumble and if you have stumbled in the past, the Lord will pick you up. When we are sincere in our repentance, forgiveness is a well that never runs dry. We have only to ask and it is freely given. God invented sex, but the last thing he wanted was for people to sleep around and experiment with it, He meant it to be a most precious thing in the world, a spiritual, physical and emotional bond between a married heterosexual couple. With God therefore its not a question of safe sex but saved sex.

Seven lies, seven myths about sex before marriage. Let me finish by answering one more question some of you may be thinking. How far is too far? Some people have a list which they want to be able to tick off as to what is and isn’t acceptable.

Holding hands



Fondling over clothes

Fondling under clothes

Mutual masturbation

Oral sex

Sexual intercourse

For those who follow |Jesus Christ there is a bigger issue at state here than ticking off a list or drawing a line somewhere on it. When you trust in Christ he comes to live inside you. He is your constant companion. Where ever you go he is with you because he has made his home inside you. This means, when you are going out with someone, there are more than two of you on the date. When you go out with someone God is with you. Remember also that whether your friend is a Christian or not, God created them with dignity and worth and Christ died for them. This has consequences for the way you treat them.

It must cause God pain when we think or act in a way that hurts or dirties or mars his image in ourselves or someone we claim to love. So how far should you go? Basically you need to set yourself boundaries which will act as warnings. In a rugby or football match the touch lines are the boundaries. If you go over them it means you are out of play and the game stops. It’s the same in relationships. Give yourself boundaries, safe areas to work and play within. If you cross these boundaries warning bells should start to ring. As in a football match the players should stop the game until they are back within the touchlines.

Steve Chalke has produced an excellent video called Lessons in Love. He suggests couples should use these four points as boundaries.

Do not lie down together

Do not take off each others’ clothes

Do not spend long periods of time alone together

Do not touch those parts of the other person’s body that you do not have.

These are conservative but that is deliberate. Human nature is such that we always try to see how far we can push the boundaries. Remember the law of diminishing returns. To begin with holding hands is fantastic but after a while you long to be more adventurous…

There will be times when you may step over these boundaries. You may already have ridden a truck through all of them. Then acknowledge what God may be saying to you right now. Confess it and thank him for his cleansing and forgiveness. These boundaries give you p
lenty of time to stop and take control of the situation again before you reach the point of no return. Make no mistake. There is such a point. Forest fires are started with a match. Most people like to think it would not happen to them. Remember these seven lies, set yourself  boundaries and you will stop the fire ever being lit, until you are married and you can enjoy one another as God intends. Lets pray.


I am indebted to Josh McDowell & Dick Day for helping me to understand the many good reasons why you should say "No" to premarital sex. Their two books are outstanding: Why Wait? (McDowell & Day, 1987) and How to Help Your Child Say "NO" to Sexual Pressure (McDowell, 1987). I have also made used of material drawn from two other excellent articles by Eileen Jones of Positive Parenting www.parenting.org.uk and one by Alice Fryling which first appeared in the Spring 1995 issue of Student Leadership Journal®. © 1995 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA. All rights reserved. www.ivcf.org/slj/sp95/sp95_why_wait_for_sex.html


[1] Family Policy Studies Centre 1990

[2] Stout Rivera, Schools and sex education: does it work? Paediatrics 1989, 83.3 p378

[3] American Teens Speak. The Planned parenthood Poll. Louis & Associates Inc. Dec 1986

[4] Lancet (1987) 1.323 & Kirkman R Condom use and failure, Lancet 1990, 336, 1009

[5] Rubber, Chemistry & Technology 24.1.93

[6] Family Planning Association Report 1996

[7] Times Educational Supplement 12 March 1999