premarital sex

Christian College Fired Female Employee For Getting Pregnant Out of Wedlock Then Offered a Job to Her Fiancé, Because That Is Not Inconsistent at All

1) It’s exactly like it sounds.

2) This pretty much dishes any protest San Diego Christian College might make that they fired Teri James because of sexual immorality, not because she got pregnant. Prepare to get slapped upside your collective head by Gloria Allred, SDCC.

FDA Will Allow College to Retain "Plan B" Vending Machine

Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania has been operating a vending machine that dispenses, among other things, condoms and Plan B—otherwise known as the “morning-after pill”—and the FDA has decided they are A-OK with this.

I feel like I need to say this pretty frequently, so if you’ve heard it before, please forgive the repetition: Plan B is not an abortifacient and does not prevent implantation; it prevents ovulation.

Christians generally feel uneasy about providing people with ways to have consequence-free sex outside of marriage, but think about it this way: a rise in readily-available contraception means a decrease in the abortion rate.

Via the Feminist Majority Foundation Blog.

The Casualties of Casual Talk About Casual Sex

Christ and Pop Culture today posted a short dialogue between two ladies—Faith Newport and Erin Straza—about how much better married sex is than casual sex. Unfortunately, neither woman seemed to have put serious thought into how Christian teaching on the subject should interact with the cultural mainstream.

For example, the conversation opens by discussing the danger of false rape accusations:

It seems like all too often the anti-abortion movement accuses women of wanting to escape the consequences of casual sex—but isn’t opening yourself up to a potential rape charge just another consequence of casual sex? The guys who meet a girl, treat her right, and bring her home to their parents aren’t worried about this kind of thing—it’s the guys who are sleeping around that have to think about it. Where’s the rhetoric on that?

Fantastic. Let’s continue to propagate the trope that devious women are just lying in wait to accuse men of rape, when nearly all the negative consequences of even “forcible” rape fall on the victim, not the perpetrator.

Then Erin and Faith start bemoaning the pervasive notion of “consequence-free” sex:

Men and women should be held equally accountable for their sexual choices. (And in my mind, they are.) But the primarily private nature of sex enables partners to engage then split with no one knowing. It’s not like the consequences of getting in a car accident, when there are forms to complete and repairs to schedule and money to pay. If a man has casual sex and fails to stay involved with the consequences the woman faces, she would have to expose his shirking, and we, as society would have to “remind” him of his responsibilities.

Why? Why should anyone be held accountable for their sexual choices to anyone but God and themselves? This obsession with making sure people reap negative consequencs for illicit sexual activity needs to end.

Then we get even more disconnected from reality:

This takes us back to the fallacy of casual sex. There is no such thing. Certainly there are many cases where sexual activity does not produce immediate consequences. But the potential for long-term ramifications cannot be completely avoided (unless one of the partners is infertile)—something the casual sex movement ignores.

No, casual sex totally does exist. Some people really do just have one-night stands or repeated meaningless sexual encounters. I’m not arguing that this is healthy behavior, but it does happen, and claiming that it doesn’t just seems like wishful thinking. Further, the claim that “long-term ramifications cannot be completely avoided (unless one of the partners is infertile)” at once ignores the near 100% effectiveness of modern birth control and erroneously limits the possible consequences of sexual activity to unwanted pregnancy—disregarding the much more likely consequence of emotional confusion or disappointment.

The wishful thinking then continues:

It’s almost like you would have to approach sex with a commitment involving a socially ordained set of expectations, rights, and responsibilities… Oh, wait—that’s marriage. However, because of the shift we’re experiencing in cultural attitudes towards sex, we may find that another social institution evolves to govern casual sexual activity.

It becomes quite clear at this point that the conversation is not about concern for the well-being of society but is simply more conservative hand-wringing over the culture’s failure to reflect our own values. Proposing an institution to govern sexual mores is classic social conservatism: having realized that people aren’t following God’s (our) moral code, we seek to replace God with some sort of enforceable rule to make people behave the way we think they should.

I’ve got news for these people: nothing but knowing Jesus will make anyone act as if they know Jesus. If you want people to follow Jesus, introduce them to him.

"Selling Out on Contraception"

Libby Anne is pleased to discover that at least one element of the pro-life movement is pushing contraception as a means to decrease abortion:

What matters more, lowering the abortion rate even if that means encouraging contraceptive use among those who aren’t married, or ensuring that sex has consequences and is tied to procreation even if that in practice leads to a higher abortion rate? The pro-life movement establishment, partly because of Catholic influence, has long eschewed the former position and embraced the later. But as more people take seriously the rhetoric about “saving babies,” there may be a shift as more groups and individuals move toward the former position and reject the latter.

I’ve long agreed with the position Libby Anne ascribes to her husband Sean: that the pro-life movement is no longer really about controlling women’s bodies but about saving “people”. When this is unclear, I think it is for two reasons:

  1. As Sean contends, the movement simply hasn’t shaken off its old practices and rhetoric, so it frequently does and says patriarchal things out of habit.
  2. As I’ve said when discussing a different issue, people are not always completely logical, and logical people tend to forget this when they examine the beliefs and practices of others. The actions of the pro-life movement, partly for the above reason, don’t always jibe with their stated goals.

So when Libby Anne says:

If the pro-life movement’s goal is to reduce the abortion rate they should be focusing on things like contraception and a social safety net that makes raising children more affordable. When they instead focus only on overturning Roe and banning abortion—the goal of all of the major pro-life organizations—one begins to wonder if the goal really is to save “unborn babies” from being “murdered” as is claimed.

I think she is giving the movement too much credit for logical consistency.

Undeniably, though, the pro-life movement desperately needs to move past caring whether unmarried people have sex and care instead about the best proven method for decreasing the abortion rate: contraception.

If you consider yourself pro-life you really should be reading all of Libby Anne’s posts on the subject, if only to keep yourself intellectually honest.

Interview With a [Non-Lapsed Christian] Virgin

The Hairpin’s follow-up to their Interview with a Lapsed Christian Virgin, only this time she hasn’t lapsed. A thoughtful, respectul interview with a rather sad—but uplifting—conclusion.

Not All Ponies and Rainbows

Today the feminist corner of the internet is very much in love with this piece by Jill Filipovic for The Guardian debunking the exclusive morality of chastity before marriage. Despite my interest in reframing the conversation about pre-marital sex, particularly within the church, I found it riddled with unfounded assertion and the assumption that correllation equals causation. Here’s an example:

So here it goes: having sex before marriage is the best choice for nearly everyone.

How do I know? Well, first of all, nearly everyone has sex before marriage – 95% of Americans don’t wait until their wedding night. And that’s a longstanding American value. Even among folks in my grandparents’ generation, nine out of ten of them had sex before they wed.

Data? Not in evidence.

I see this type of ill-considered writing (and speech) all the time from evangelicals, too. It’s what happens when your culture becomes so insular that you start mistaking your conclusions for valid premises.

Getting Married "The Right Way"

Steven Crowder of Fox News wrote an entire column about how awesome he and his new wife are for being virgins when they got married, and he doesn’t care what you think about it:

Feeling judged? I couldn’t care less. You know why? Because my wife and I were judged all throughout our relationship. People laughed, scoffed and poked fun at the young, celibate, naive Christian couple.

I feel a little ambivalent about this (a very little). On the one hand: my wife and I were virgins when we got married, and I’ve heard enough responses to that piece of information to feel a little defensive about it when it comes up in conversations with non-evangelicals. On the other hand: I don’t act like a jackass about it.

Christianity is already counter-cultural and offensive enough by its nature; we don’t need to add offensive behavior and attitudes to our faith. Let the world hate us because the Gospel is hateful to them, not because we are.

"I wouldn’t still be practicing chastity if it were only because of [expletive] religion."

Anna Broadway, writing for her.meneutics on chastity before marriage:

Why does sexual patience so easily slip into the territory of religion, whereby waiting becomes a means of manipulating and using God to get what we want?

Years back, when working on my memoir (of “reluctant chastity,” yes), I spent an evening babysitting the daughter of some friends. After the baby had gone down, I picked up a volume of collected C. S. Lewis writings they had out, which included advice I’ve never forgotten. The gist was that it’s all too easy to slip into preaching the gospel on the grounds that it’s good for you rather than simply that it’s true… truth ultimately has to stand on its authority, not its efficacy.

♀Love and Sex

Photograph by  Piotr Bizior

Photograph by Piotr Bizior

This post is the third in an unintentional three-part series on sexual purity. In the first post I discussed criticism of the Church’s “purity culture”, and in the second I explained why I think Christians should stop talking about virginity and focus instead on love as the basis for sexual ethics.

In high school, my youth pastor would sometimes talk to us about sex. He always pre-announced it, and everyone would get excited because teens like sex, even if they’ve never done it and have no expectation of doing it any time soon. Just the prospect of hearing it talked about was cause for anticipation, although, of course, we would inevitably feel a little disappointed afterward because the actual conversation never turned out to be at all titillating.

But that Wednesday night (every youth group I ever attended in the 90s met on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m.), gathered together in our shiny new dedicated youth room under the trendy exposed black ductwork and fluorescent lights, we would wait patiently through announcements and prayer time to hear all about that magical experience we were not allowed to have, and every single time Tim, the youth pastor, would say the same things:

  1. Sex is a wonderful gift God gave us.
  2. You shouldn’t do it until you’re married.
  3. You should stop asking questions like “How far is too far?” or “Is french kissing a sin?” because you shouldn’t be thinking about how much you can get away with but about how you can be as holy as possible.

As you might imagine from the comparative number of words used to express the above three points, the third one took up the bulk of the time. I have no idea how Tim decided that his messaging on sex for teens should revolve around holiness. Maybe the other, hotter, more popular kids for whom sex was actually on the table asked him questions like that all the time and he got tired of parsing out all sexual activity into “good” and “bad” for them. Possibly it was brilliant way for him to avoid a fear- or guilt-based approach to teen sexuality but still say true things that would keep him out of trouble with both protective parents and morally conservative congregants. In any case, he was the only adult in the evangelical community I ever heard talk like this; other messages on the subject revolved entirely around pregnancy, STDs, the sinfulness of impurity, and saving sex for marriage so your future spouse wouldn’t be angry and disappointed with you.

Obviously, these tactics have proven ineffective. Christian marriages aren’t better than anyone else’s—divorce rates in the Church are, if anything, slightly higher than the norm. And teen pregnancy in the more religious red states outstrips that in blue states. Our kids are having sex, regardless of the potential consequences or how guilty they may feel about it.

Why do we want our youth and the unmarried to abstain from sex, anyway? The reasons I’ve most frequently heard correspond roughly to the messaging of my teen years:

  1. Avoiding negative consequences (pregnancy, STDs)
  2. Emotional safety
  3. Promoting healthy marriages
  4. The sinfulness of sexual activity outside marriage

I think nearly everyone would agree about avoiding disease or unwanted pregnancy, and people should certainly be careful about managing their emotions. There is some circumstantial evidence that abstinence before marriage has a positive effect on marital happiness, for practical reasons easy to identify with a little thought. As I explained in my previous post, though, I do not think it is at all clear that God condemns pre-marital sex. In any case, guilt and shame are poor motivators of behavior, while the binary view of sexual purity as something that can be lost but never regained communicates to those who have already become sexually active that they may as well continue. For those who consider abstinence before marriage biblical and important, therefore, we need to replace our current, ineffective guilt-based reasoning with a more positive, aspirational image.

Moreover, both because of the Bible’s relative silence on the issue and due to ongoing cultural shifts, more and more Christians will likely believe quite sincerely that Biblical ethics do not preclude sexual activity before marriage. The Church’s current approach to teaching on sexuality has nothing to say to these people except “stop sinning”. While I believe in healthy dialogue and the obligation to challenge my Christian friends about their beliefs and practices when necessary (commensurate with our relationship), I also believe that I should be willing to continue in community with others even when we disagree about issues on which the Bible is not clear.[1] And if we are going to welcome into our congregations believers who are unmarried but sexually active or potentially sexually active, we ought to be able to engage them on the subject of sexual ethics with more than just a unilateral command.

What, then, can replace our current negative discourse on pre-marital sexual ethics, allowing us to support those struggling to remain celibate and dialogue with those who view sexual activity before marriage as acceptable Christian behavior?

Holiness.

I’m going to adapt my youth pastor’s message for my own time and purposes: we should not think about far we can go with our sexual liberty but about how well we can embody God’s call to be set apart for himself. My belief—based heavily on nuance and summation in interpreting the scant biblical evidence, but still my belief—is that the best and most rewarding kind of Christian spirituality involves only being sexually intimate in the context of marriage. Many people still share this belief—although they might not frame it in exactly the same way—and for those among them who are unmarried and find celibacy difficult, the concept of celibacy as a component of holiness provides a positive goal as motivation to continue doing the hard work of sexual abstinence. It can also guide those currently in romantic relationships—whether they consider abstinence a command or not—as they determine their sexual boundaries, the call to holiness dictating that, unlike the world, we must make love for one another, rather than our own desires, the rubric of our decision-making.

This is all extremely abstract language, so let me suggest three more concrete (albeit very idealized) situations.

  1. A high school boy and girl who are dating but want to remain abstinent.[2] Endeavoring to control their raging hormones but also starting to get serious, they want to be able to express their affection physically without sacrificing their idea of holiness by becoming too sexually intimate. They have agreed that the cuddling and closed-mouth kissing they currently do represents the farthest they can go in their physical relationship without violating her conscience. He thinks they ought to be allowed to kiss open-mouthed, but another girl from their youth group reminds him that it is more Christ-like to put his girlfriend’s needs above his own. From then on, every time the heat of the moment takes them in that direction he voluntarily backs off because he values her beliefs about appropriate intimacy more than his own sexual desires.
  2. A couple in their 20s who have been together for nine months and believe in abstinence before marriage but have recently had sex several times. Their relationship has become more serious, and they want to keep seeing each other, but they also view sexual purity as important and would like to remain celibate from now on. They decide the issue is so important they should bring it up to their small group at church. After some dialogue, the group helps them realize they should no longer spend time alone together in either of their homes, thus eliminating the kind of situation that could easily lead to another slip-up.
  3. A college-age couple who do not see celibacy before marriage as a biblical command but do think the decision to become sexually intimate should be taken very seriously. After they have been dating for two months she feels they have reached a point where sex would be appropriate, but he wants to wait. One night, while making out in her apartment, he begins touching her inner thigh. She tells him that she is becoming aroused and would like to stop, since he is not ready to take her all the way to orgasm. Remembering a conversation with a morally-conservative friend from church about sexual purity and consideration for others, he agrees that they should find some other activity to occupy the rest of the evening.

Are real people always going to find it so easy to practice sexual ethics that revolve around justice and consideration toward others? No. These are ideals. Real life will be much more messy and difficult. People will repeatedly fail to live up to their ideals and require forgiveness of each other much more frequently than they will immediately identify the right course of action and follow through with it every time. And this is fine. God is not keeping score against us any more. If he thought he could expect a spotless record of us, he would not have sent his Son to be spotless on our behalf. If he thought he could demand perfect adherence to a law, he would have given us a new law.

Instead of a law, though, he has given us as guides of behavior the Holy Spirit and the command of love. When the Church teaches sexual ethics—or any ethics—we must shun constructed codes of conduct, which can only reinforce legalism, leading to a life of guilt, and distinguish ourselves from the world by basing our relationships and actions on our identity as God’s holy people, called to a life of incarnation and love.


  1. My dogma—the non-negotiable beliefs over which I will break off fellowship with other believers—are very few.  ↩

  2. As before, I leave non-heterosexual considerations to another day.  ↩

21st-Century Gnosticism

Stephen W. Simpson wraps up his series “The Naked Truth About Saving Sex for Marriage” with one last warning: “The first time probably won’t be very good… but that’s not the point.”

Simpson advocates gradually increasing physical intimacy as marriage approaches. I’m not sure how I feel about that, and everyone is different, but I do like his rationale:

Thinking about physical intimacy in terms of “how far is too far?” puts the matter backwards. Connecting with someone else is not about how far you can go without pissing off God; it’s about what will enhance and build your relationship in a way that pleases God.