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Marriage and Premarital Sex: Christianity Today's Village Green

January 7th, 2010 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

One of the new features I'm really enjoying about the new Christianity Today is their 'Village Green,' a brief symposium on important topics.  Space limitations prevent the conversation from going deep, but CT has done a good job of blending theoretical and practical concerns.

And since we like a little dialog around here, the difference of opinions is simply fun to read all in one spot.

This month's is how to promote pre-marital abstinence in an over-sexed culture.

Mark Regnerus' response is, not surprisingly, the most compelling.  The best way for young people to avoid non-marital sex (as he rightly identifies it) is for them to get married. It's a shocking idea, I know, but the more you think about it, the more sense it's going to make.  Trust me.

But Donna Freitas registers her disagreement:

Most people understand abstinence as a several-years-long commitment, perhaps even a several-decades-long one for young adults, and present it as such. If you present a student, already overwhelmed by living in hookup culture, with what sounds like another overwhelming framework for having sex (or not having it), you won't get very far, at least not with too many of them. They are already living in one impossible situation—offer them what sounds like another impossible situation, and they are likely to keep treading water where they are. And where they are is hookup culture.

While I think Freitas is wrong to create the false dichotomy between the "overwhelming framework" of marriage and short-term strategies for abstinence, I suspect that on a practical level her appeals to individualism and rebellion against the norm have a more attractive appeal than--alas--marriage.  But such appeals also further reinforce the notion that abstinence is a "lifestyle choice" that can be tried out "just like you can try out hooking up."

But, of course, abstinence isn't a lifestyle choice.  And isn't the goal of Christian teaching on sexuality not to prevent pre-marital sex per se, but to cultivate and promote robust and healthy marriages?

Chastity is a positive virtue, not a negation, and while CT's question is clearly relevant, it misses the most central aspect of young people's sexual lives.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.