I’m of the opinion that, in general, we do what we want to do, we avoid what we dislike, and, if you look at how we spend our time, you can see our priorities: we do what we value.
Certainly some actions are done out of obligation, but most of us feel free enough to regularly reject obligation in favor of doing what we want.
This is applicable to the cleanliness of our homes (I don’t like to clean very much), our activity level (I like to exercise), our social activity (we’re with people we like, not those we dislike), and even more. I think it’s applicable to whether we keep sexual intercourse only in marriage.
Please allow me a few disclaimers: I have Problems with the Purity culture, I don’t think sexual intercourse is the most important act in relationships, I believe Modesty is for Me, Not You, and I think some of our ideas about marriage are, well, a bit off.
But still, I think we can keep sexual intercourse only in marriage.
That is, if we really want to.
Now, I realize that there are times when sex is coerced; those aren’t the times I’m talking about.
I’m also not trying to make anyone feel guilty about having sex outside of marriage—that’s part of my Problems with Purity blog.
I further realize that our prefrontal cortex takes a while to develop, and that affects our decision-making ability. However, I’ve seen many young athletes (with underdeveloped prefrontal cortices) make daily choices of self-control and discipline. Excelling as an athlete requires daily choices not only about exercise, but also about eating, sleeping, etc. Others put self-control and discipline toward academics, or art, videography, or different pursuits. They decided they wanted it enough to reject the alternative; every choice is a renunciation of the opposite.
They are rewarded for those choices of self-control, and our culture seems to expect self-control in many areas. We just don’t expect it in drinking alcohol or in our sexuality.
I think, if we really want to, we can delay sexual intercourse until marriage, and that self-control may have its own reward.
Why am I talking about this? Mostly because the prevailing thought is that we can’t resist our sexual urges.
Here’s the thing: our Creator has given us an “Owner’s Manual” for our lives. That’s how I see the commands in Scripture. If you own a car, you have an owners’ manual; it’s the car creator’s guide to caring for the car in the best possible manner. If you want your car to have the longest and best life possible, you follow the advice in the manual because the creator has made the car to function best that way. Same thing with the commands in Scripture: following them gives us the best life possible.
And Scripture says to have sexual intercourse with your spouse, and to avoid it with anyone else.
That’s the Creator telling us how to have the best life possible.
If we really believed that, I think we’d follow it. Problem is, there are competing voices that say the opposite, and we’re interested in experimenting.
What C. S. Lewis wrote about temptation in Mere Christianity can be applied to sexual temptation:
“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.”
John Stott, Christian leader, writer, and life-long celibate believes we can resist sexual temptation.
“We Christians must insist that self-control is possible. We have learned to control our temper, our tongue, our greed, our jealousy, our pride: why should it be thought impossible to control our libido? To say that we cannot is to deny our dignity as human beings and to descend to the level of animals, which are creatures of uncontrolled instinct.”
Self-control is, after all, part of the fruit of the Spirit. And we use it, when we really want to.
You see, I think that not keeping sexual intercourse only in marriage is not really about lack of self-control; it’s more about lack of motivation. We don’t really want to.
And no amount of “You Should Want To” actually motivates many.
May I offer a few ideas that I hope may motivate?
- God commanded it in our Owners Manual for the Best Life (Bible)
- Sexual intercourse unifies people in more than just a physical way (it’s also spiritual, and more)
- Delaying now makes it easier to trust that our spouse can and will be faithful when we’re apart (they know how to deny their sexual appetite)
- Delaying now teaches us other intimacies (the physical doesn’t take over all others)
- Delaying now trains us for the times in marriage when we can’t have sex (serious illness, after delivering a child, etc.)
If these don’t motivate, that’s okay. Just remember you can practice self-control in many areas, if you really want to. And the more often you use your self-control muscle, the stronger it becomes.
But only if you want it to.