If You’re In a Committed Relationship But Not Married Why Is It Bad to Have Sex?

Two weeks ago we started our Sex Talk with middle school students. At the end of this first part I did some Q&A with them. The following is one of the questions they asked anonymously on a 3×5 card that I thought would be a great one to attempt to answer and post on the blog.

As these posts have the potential to gain a relatively large audience I recognize that not all who read it share my faith and worldview. If you are an outsider to the Christian faith reading this chances are you won’t agree on principle with my answer. Even so I hope you may find it a well thought out answer.

Question: “If you’re in a committed relationship but are not married why is it bad to have sex?”

Answer: What makes a relationship committed? Is it simply two people agreeing that they won’t date another? Is it two people agreeing that they won’t be emotionally, physically, and sexually intimate with someone else? Committed is defined as, “being bound or obligated, as under a pledge to a particular cause, action, or attitude.” In marriage you are binding and pledging everything. Property, assets, name, and of course bodies, all legally lawfully bound together. Committed relationships, particularly those of teenagers, are in no way binding except for the fact that they spend a lot of time together, and are therefore exclusive with one another. There isn’t anything keeping them together beyond their affections. Should their affections change they can de-commit by simply, “breaking up”. There is no need to hire lawyers, divide property and assets, or change names back to what they were. Not that committed relationships are bad and should be done away with, but they were never meant to be the Junior Varsity to the Varsity Team that is marriage. Committed relationships are more like tryouts. No one receives nor gets to wear the uniform until the make the team. Sexual intercourse has the potential to bind you to someone in ways that can’t so easily be undone by walking away. The contraceptive industry makes the bulk of their millions by assisting people in a “committed relationship” to prevent being bound to one another via babies and STD’s. The false dichotomy of “casual sex” is built upon the exercise of divorcing your heart and mind from sex as to avoid being bound to someone with your thoughts and feelings. Likewise there is a false dichotomy of “sex within a committed relationship”. A committed relationship is for the purpose of deciding whether or not you want to commit to binding yourself to another for life. Sex then within a committed relationship is to begin binding a big part of yourself to someone while still having the option to “break up” at a significantly lower cost, before you’ve actually decided you want to commit to be bound to only them for life.

What makes sex sex? The Bible teaches that sex is way more than just two bodies joining together for the purpose of experiencing sensual pleasure (even though it doesn’t shy away from that aspect of it). So often the writers of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament writers, referred to sexual intercourse by saying “and they knew one another”. What are the scripture writers saying about what sex is when they refer to it as “knowing” another person?

When I was about 19 years old unmarried and a virgin, a sexually active non-Christian female told me, “If a girl ever tells you she wants you she doesn’t know what it is she’s asking for.” Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what she meant but I know she, a sexually active unmarried non-Christian was provoking me to think of sex as much more than a physical act and thus something not to tread lightly upon. Honestly I think she was urging and encouraging me not to have sex outside of marriage. Think of the colloquialisms we have for sex today; ‘doing it’, ‘doing the nasty’, ‘afternoon delight’, the list goes on and on, but you’d be hard pressed to find any that capture the fact that when you become “one flesh” with someone there is the potential for something transcendent to happen that leaves you very vulnerable and exposed to the person you’re having sex with. I think that’s what she was trying to tell me. There is a power in sex to help heal our brokenness, to affirm our humanity and therefore it also has power to shame and destroy our humanity as well. There is a huge investment being made when we connect with someone sexually. The promises pledge and complete joining together of marriage is meant to provide the security of pledge and promise that frees us to experience it with our whole being without fear, without holding back any part of our humanness.

What is marriage? Contrary to what popular culture often tells us marriage is not shackles that imprison us to another but the safe confines to not have to keep parts of our self, the parts of us that can’t be quantified in limbs curves and skin, hidden from the person we are giving ourselves to and receiving them in return. Marriage is meant to be the confines within which you can be free to reveal and share all of who you are. That’s not to say that people in committed relationships can’t experience these things. It’s just that the cost to walk away doesn’t match nor correlate with the investment that sex dictates whether you want it to or not. We typically don’t tell engaged couples this when they are nearing the altar but the truth is they can still walk away without it costing them much. Sure the money spent on the wedding has gone down the drain, but they don’t have to divide up property and assets, they don’t have to change their name on legal documents and credit cards, and unless they have children they don’t have to be as concerned with who else it will have a lasting affect on. The reality is that some grown adults have chosen to join every aspect of their lives together as a functionally married couple without the formal and legal ceremony binding them together because so many married people have trudged into and out of marriage as though it were just another committed relationship.

How many committed relationships can one person have? Sometimes I wish I had dated more before I got married. I was slow on the pick up on how much a friendship with a woman and a “committed relationship” with a woman is not apples to apples. However, on the flip side if I had had a number of “committed relationships” how might they have formed me for marriage to my wife in ways that would be counter productive to our binding relationship? I can’t say for certain but she and I would have to take the good with the bad and everything in between. Say I had been sexually intimate in some of those hypothetical “committed relationships” I would have to unlearn, and undo the unique ways I had formed myself with those other women sexually, or bring all those things with me to be bound together with my wife. We often refer to all those things as baggage.

Why is it bad? At the end of the day you can do what you want. Even if you want to soften God’s commands into advisory precautions from the one who created human bodies, sex, and gifted them with this complex thing called intimacy, it’s not hard to see why sex outside of the binding pledge and promise of marriage is risky business. Encouraging young people, still dependent on their parents and under their authority, in particular to go ahead and have sex as long as it is within a committed relationship is as fraught with danger as encouraging the same young people to go to the bank and open a joint bank account. We would discourage teenagers from binding to one another financially no matter how much they thought they were in love or felt that the time was right. Likewise there is great wisdom in discouraging two people, especially teenagers, who aren’t joined and bound together by pledge and law from becoming sexual intimate.

One final thought… I have friends who aren’t Christians who have bound themselves to one another in most ways that married couples do. They have share exclusively with one another their bodies, their home, their property and assets. They are exclusively sharing their life and all of who they are with one another. In all likelihood they will never marry, but their hope is to grow old together. While I don’t approve of unmarried couples living together I treat them as a married couple. Given neither or them are Christians thus not holding the same view of marriage as me I want to encourage them to remain committed to one another for the long haul because that is their expressed desire. While I prefer they eventually make their relationship legally binding at this point I would hate for them to break the bonds they’ve formed together. In some ways based upon my view of how God designed humanity and sex they’ve gone too far in sharing their lives with one another exclusively that I’d hate to see them split and start the process over with someone else. If anything their decision not to marry is largely in response to how marriage is so often treated as a committed relationship. Too many married people don’t honor and value marriage for what it truly is. They see it as a means to be happy, and not as a means to bind them self to another person, and be fully known by them. Many people will end a marriage because they are no longer happy or don’t feel the way the once did. Many people who have pledged themselves to another in good times and bad, for better for worse, in sickness and health no matter what may come, in the sight of witnesses and God, only to leave when their marriage no longer suits them. They aren’t happy, they aren’t satisfied, the marriage is not what they thought it would be and so they break the pledge, the promise and the bond. Could it be that committed relationships while training us in some good ways also forms us to ignore, suppress, and break all the ways we have become bound to another person and muster up the ability to walk away because we’re no longer happy? Imagine how much easier it would be to suppress, ignore and break all bonds if you had done it even a few times since you were a teenager? Sex outside of marriage is not only not the best way to live it is a risky personal investment to make. Why is it bad to have unmarried sex in a committed relationship? Sex outside of marriage is potentially very bad for you.

Teenagers Under Pressure: Academic Achievement and Anxiety

It is relatively old news for me to tell you that teens are under an enormous amount of pressure these days. I know there’s a correlation but I still find it very curious, in my experience as a youth pastor, that the highest achieving students are often the ones that are struggling the most with anxiety. The kind of anxiety that necessitates prescription meds to cope and overcome. I’m not writing this to be critical of parents in their efforts to help their children continue down the road to success as adults. Nor am I writing this to be critical of schools. I would simply like to share a few observations and a few things I’ve learned.

1. What Is Failing? We should encourage and even push students to maximize their academic ability. Even if a student is capable of getting all A’s getting a B never has and never will be failing. Unfortunately I know all too well from personal experience the gap between a B and actually literally failing a whole class let alone one test or assignment. I know it both at the High School and collegiate level. When you’ve really failed a class you have two options; either admit defeat or take the class again. If you graduate with a B average there is a very small number of schools you will either have a difficult time getting into or simply don’t stand a chance.

2. What Is The Right School? I didn’t believe it when I first read it because it went against everything I had ever been told since Middle School. I don’t have the book in front of me but Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good For Everyone, by Richard Settersten & Barbara E. Ray to quote it, but it they’re research and findings challenged what a lot of us tell young people about the importance of getting into the right school. We tell students they need to get into these top-tier schools to get an advantage when it’s time to get a job start a career and get paid. Whereas it may have been true thirty years ago today the only measurable difference that can be found between top-tier colleges and universities (with the exception of Ivy League and a handful of other schools) is the debt students leave with. In some cases the difference in the debt is absolutely crippling. With the job market being in the current state it’s in the advantages to going to a more prestigious school are not as profound as it once was.

3. What Remains True? Of course considerations need to be made for a particular school having a strong department in the field of study one wishes to pursue, but one thing remains true. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Put more accurately it’s not so much where you go, but who you get to know wherever you go. Personally I’m not big into networking (the very thought of it exhausts me) but I’d be a fool to think that who I know had little to do with where I am today. I went to a relatively small university in the middle of nowhere Michigan, but I met the right people while I was there which helped in landing a job at a mega-church straight out of college. The irony for me is that one of the people I knew had no affiliation with the university I was attending at the time.

4. Success At What Cost? I recently met with a middle school student of mine who was struggling with some things at school. They were conflicted with the fact that she had started become the target of cheating. In other words other students were looking to her to allow them to cheat. Nothing new with cheating except I found it interesting that this is a student who is in a number of honors classes. Maybe I’m naive or revising my own experience but I recall it was usually the students who weren’t high achievers trying to cheat, but now it’s the kids who have shown they can apply themselves and perform at a high level academically who are opting to cheat. Personally I think the extra emphasis on “class rank” has a lot to do with it. It’s not enough to show you’ve mastered what you’ve been taught you have to outperform everyone else, and thus a culture of cheating has gotten out of control.

Conclusion: I’m sure some of you will disagree with my observations and conclusions. Disagreement is welcome. At the end of the day we all want the same thing for our young people. We want them to grow up to be successful and high achieving adults who contribute to the world being a better place. We also want to see them be healthy and not fall victim to crippling stress and anxiety. Therein may lie the biggest problem. We have an entire generation of young people who have been bathed in the culture of fear that has been created and the finger of blame could be pointed in a lot of directions. A whole post could be dedicated to that topic alone, but in the meanwhile t wouldn’t be a stretch to say if we peeled back the layers on each of the four observations I’ve made here we’d find a culture of fear at or near the core of each one.

Should Girls Be Held Responsible For Boys Lusting?: And Other Thoughts on Modesty (2nd Edition)

Revised with an additional thought at the end in attempts to keep it balanced and make sure that a double standard is not being communicated while keeping in mind the differences between men and women.

So Says Ced

Yesterday evening I got into a discussion with some of my female volunteers about modesty. Of course whenever there is a discussion about modesty as it pertains to teenagers its usually a conversation about the way girls dress and how boys respond to the female figure. This particular discussion came up because some of the girls had understood our policy against the girls wearing two pieces to trips and retreats as being primarily an issue of not wanting them to cause the boys to have lustful thoughts. For clarification sake I’ve maintained this particular part of our dress code in the youth ministry as being a modesty issue. It begins and ends with modesty. With that in mind here are some thoughts when it comes to the issue of modesty.

Leggings Show More Than Just Your Legs
Could someone please explain to me why we make such a big deal…

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Five Tips For Christ Following College Freshmen

August is upon us which means another crop of incoming college freshman are about to descend upon their college campuses all over the country the next few weeks. The summer after graduating from high school before my freshman year of college may have been the best summer of my life (the summer after graduating from college right before starting my career and the summer I got married rank up there too). As the summer weeks wound down closer to the time I would be leaving for college I tried to recall all the things that people told me to expect when I went to college. For the most part I could remember all the encouragement, warnings and things I could expect for how college was going to be different than anything else I had experienced.

I appreciate that people tried to prepare me, but honestly nothing they said made that much of a difference because the information in advance paled in comparison to the actual experience. Simply put the information gave me an awareness of what to expect, but in a lot of ways it didn’t prepare me because it was just so different from High School. I remember thinking I won’t bother telling incoming college freshmen all the things I was told cause it just didn’t prepare me. Well now that I’m a youth pastor I feel a little obligated to give some advice or heads up. So here are a few things for you all to keep in mind before you go off to college.

“You’ll Have Way More Time On Your Hands”—This is the one thing that no one told me that I wish they had. If there is one thing that I failed at in my first few years of college it was time management. The best way I can describe college is that you have way more time than you know what to do with. This is especially important to note if you are a procrastinator because you’ll have more time to do just that. Interestingly enough a student I had coffee with this summer had the opposite problem, “I got so used to being in school seven hours a day, and doing homework until at least ten o’clock at night that the first few months of college I never left my room because I thought I should be putting as much time in as I did in High School even though the professors didn’t assign much in the way of homework.” First things first, is the key principle to practice regardless of which camp you fall into. When I finally figured that out, with the exception of the occasional project, I never did homework and studying past eight o’clock and had plenty of time to hang out with people without having it in the back of my mind that I still had work I needed to finish.

“Free T-shirts Are the Doorway to Debt”—most schools that I know of have an orientation at the beginning of the year where you can find out about all the different student organizations on campus. Inevitably there will be one booth set up with the offer of free t-shirts. Well free if you fill out a no obligation application first. More than likely this is a credit card company getting a bunch of broke unemployed college students to sign up for a credit card by baiting them with a free t. Personally I think it’s kind of unethical for credit card companies to prey on college students who don’t have a real job will have an enormous debt awaiting them upon graduation to get into even more debt before they have the means to handle. But they can do it because you all are technically adults so just no what you’re getting into before you sign up to get the free t.

“Find Christ-Centered Community Immediately”Over the years most of the students I know who maintain a vibrant growing faith in Christ through college are the ones who don’t waste time getting plugged into a on-campus Christian ministry. I know of very few colleges and universities that don’t have either a Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity. Both ministries have a great reputation nationally. One recommendation I would give though is to go a step further and find a local church to get plugged into. Look for a local church where you can form healthy adult relationships and serve. You’re going to be with people your age and life stage all the time. The local church is a great place to branch out and go beyond homogeny. In all likelihood there’s bound to be a church near your campus that does a great job of recruiting families to ‘adopt’ a college student. During my college years the churches that I felt most connected to and a part of were not the ones that had a college ministry but the ones that I served and formed relationships with other adults.

“Drunkenness is a Moral Issue. Underage Drinking Is A Legal Issue”—So just don’t do it. Even if you have the discipline not to abuse alcohol and become drunk you are taking a risk with the law when you choose to drink as a minor. If you get caught your parents aren’t going to be around to smooth things over with the authorities, and you can actually be kicked out of school if it becomes a problem. [Sidenote–It goes without saying that I’m not condoning it, but girls if you choose to drink at a party I strongly advise you get your own drinks and literally eye ball your drink into the cup to assure that it hasn’t been tampered with]

Don’t Rush To Rush—The only Christians I have known that entered the Greek system and didn’t compromise their morals and lose their identity to the identity of the fraternity or sorority are those who approached it with the mindset of doing ministry; to be salt and light. I don’t want to come across as completely bashing the Greek system because they still do good things, but let’s just call it what it has largely become; a place where you can get easy acceptance and identity as long as you can pay the dues, and become a part of a community that for the most part is about partying, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity with the occasional service project thrown in. Sure they’ll have made connections that often prove to be advantageous when they enter the workforce, but at what cost? Not to mention that similar connections can be gained by getting to know at least one professor or administrator and a handful of fellow students in the department you’re majoring in. What was once a culture of developing and nurturing future leaders has become a culture of recklessness. I believe the culture of the Greek system can and should be redeemed but it will require people who enter it with a missional mindset (And if that is your aim I know some people I can refer you to for mentoring on how to do it and what to expect). So if you’re going to rush, rush for the right reasons.

In ClosingAs a youth pastor I want to give students the opportunity to take ownership of their faith. In a lot of ways the college years is the proving ground of whether or not they’ve done that. I can’t take too much credit for how they turn out because there are so many variables. That being said, no matter what ups and downs they encounter at college and university over and above all that stuff above I hope my students know where they can find me.

Either You’re Dating Or You’re Not: Call It What It Is

awkward%20date“You Americans make dating so complicated. Either you’re dating or you’re not. Just call it what it is” That was so refreshing to hear. To this day that is one of the things I appreciate so much about my wife. There was never any question as to whether or not we were dating. From the start we had only known each other two weeks before it became obvious that we ‘liked’ and were ‘interested’ in one another.

What happened that we, in America, have made dating so complicated? Why can’t we just call it what it is? Instead we have to go through all these intermediate steps before we become official? As a youth pastor I think this is an important topic to speak on because this nonsense starts in the teenage years and carries into young adult and adult relationships as well. Christian kids aren’t any better when it comes to this nonsense. In fact I’d say they’re worse. What nonsense do you ask? What intermediate steps am I referring to? Try this; do any of these the following phrases ring a bell and resonate before two people become official?

“We’re just talking”

“Well, we’re talking but it’s not serious”

“We’re both interested in one another but we’re just friends for now”

“We’re hanging but we’re not exclusive”

“We’re exclusive but it’s not official”

“We both like each other and hang out all the time, but we’re not dating”

 

What’s The Point?

Last time I checked isn’t the whole point of dating that you talk on a regular basis, are interested (we all know this really means attracted to and not just physically even though it’s a key factor) in one another, hang out to the point that it is exclusive, meaning you don’t hang out with other people in the same manner and would be upset if they did? If actions speak louder than words then you’re about as official as can be without changing your relationship status on Facebook or whatever online dating service you’re a member of. No need to have a D.T.R. (define the relationship) and go through the awkward dance of trying to figure out what the other person thinks ‘this’ is, and put your cards on the table.

 

The Litmus Test

A number of times in the past few years I’ve had conversations with a number of people, both male and female, who would be guilty of making dating complicated. I ask them all the same two questions, “So if you we’re just talking to or hanging out with someone else would they get upset? And if they we’re just talking to or hanging out with someone else would you be upset?” If the answer to both of those questions is no then you’re not dating. If the answer to both of those questions is yes then guess what… you’re dating! Call it what is and stop playing games.

Don’t worry. I get it. I’ve been there. Who hasn’t been afraid of rejection and a little concerned that the person we’re interested in may lose interest? Isn’t that kind of the point though? Either you’re dating or you’re not.

 

Center The Pendulum

I’m a part of the generation of Christians who were told, dating is bad and that we should kiss it goodbye—we should only date for the purpose of marriage. We were made to feel totally responsible for someone else’s emotions. I think most of us would say that the pendulum was swung a little too far. I think we can agree that we need to be mindful that dating someone doesn’t become a means to 1. Exploit someone sexually and or emotionally 2. Allow our self to be exploited sexually or emotionally to get our sexual and emotional desires met 3. Not be single. At the end of the day you start dating someone because you are interested in them. When you decide to break up it’s because you are no longer interested in getting to know anything else about them.

Surely there are some who will scoff at my suggestion of simplicity fearing that young Christians will naturally date for recreation and create patterns and habits—becoming a serial dater—that aren’t conducive to marriage.

  1. Don’t you find it interesting and not all that coincidental that there was a rise in the number of young Christians who started doing the whole friends with benefits thing or would simply make out with someone they had no intention of dating, because dating had become this huge thing and yet their 19 and full of raging hormones?
  2. I’m talking about the transition from friendship, or more importantly, transition from not knowing much about someone but having a mutual attraction and desire to see if there is a connection beyond being friends or acquaintances. That after all is what dating is. Engagement is for the purpose and intent of marriage. I think many of my peers, myself included, we’re made to feel and think if we weren’t serious about marrying the person then we had no business dating them at all. I wouldn’t have known that I was serious about marrying my wife if I hadn’t dated her! When I became serious about marrying her and the feeling was mutual then we talked about getting engaged for the purpose of marriage. Like the old saying goes, “don’t put the cart before the horse.”

 

Why Why Why?

Primarily I believe we make dating so complicated on the front end because we’re scared of rejection and we’re scared of others finding out we got turned down (it’s unbelievable how much power the Facebook relationship status holds over some people). We don’t want to put ourselves out there express interest and be turned down, nor for others to find out. I used to be deathly afraid of rejection. There was a time I would never tell a girl I was interested in her unless I was sure that the feeling was mutual. Eventually I realized that my fear of rejection preventing me from even having a chance of being accepted. I realized if a girl got weird because I liked her and the feeling wasn’t mutual then she probably is not someone I would really want to date after all.  Once I got over my fear of rejection realizing I was rejecting myself before I gave a girl the chance too, I never had to wonder ‘what if’ anymore.

 

Real Talk: Listen Up Fellas and Ladies Give Me An Amen

A huge part of sorting out the complication involved in calling it what it is falls on the shoulders of men. What I’m about to say doesn’t apply to High School because boys are dumb and girls don’t know what they want—the following applies to the young adult crowd, college and older. Fellas, women are liars. It’s not malicious or mean spirited, but in all likelihood she’s fibbing. She’s lying because she wants you to step up and lead the way. Lead the way simply means you put your cards on the table first and simply say, “I like you and want to date you so I can continue to spend time with you and get to know you.” I know what she said; that it’s cool, she doesn’t want to rush into anything, that things inevitably have a way of getting weird once you put a clearly defined label on it—she’s lying. Sure there’s exceptions to the rule but we call them exceptions for a reason. I know you’re trying to be a gentleman, not be pushy and take her at face value, and if what I’m saying is right then she’s playing games. Let me assure you she’s not playing games. If what I’m saying is true then she’s not playing games, she’s just doing what women do to protect them self and see what you’re made of. But she won’t wait forever. She’ll keep hanging out with you for a little while, but she’ll eventually get tired of waiting for you to speak up and say what you really want. Or she’ll say no thanks, but at least then you’ll know and not have to wonder, and you can be friends or acquaintances. If what I’m saying is not true then the ladies will let you (and me) know in the comments below.