Q – Is pre-marital sex always wrong (a sin)?
A – It seems like a simple enough question – is pre-marital sex always a sin? The answers to that question, given by Catholics, might shock you – even if this was from 5 years ago. The gist of the results are the following:
- In 1972, 39% of adult Catholics responded that premarital sex was “always wrong.” That went up to 54% of Catholics who attended Mass at least once a week.
- In 2008, 14% of Catholics responded that premarital sex is “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded as such.
- Put another way – 70% of Church-going Catholics do not believe the Bible or Christian teaching on sexuality. Among Catholics who do not go to Mass the number is even higher at 86%.
We have a lot of work to do. But, I am not shocked by the numbers. I see the results of such numbers all the time.
The simple answer to the question is yes, it is always a sin. Why? Because we were made for something better! Premarital sex is a selfish, unloving, use of another human being and a misuse of our sexuality. Let me break it down.
Pre-marital sex is selfish:
It is never about the other person. If it was, then we wouldn’t be risking the other person’s health, getting someone pregnant while not married, spreading disease, emotional welfare, spiritual state-of-being, and future marriage. It really is all about me and only me, whenever pre-marital sex happens. Yes, there might be strong emotions, friendship, and some love which exists between persons – but, the act of premarital sex itself is never about true unselfish love (see the next point).
Pre-marital sex is not a loving act:
The highest form of love = “choosing what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself” and could be summed up in one phrase = “gift of self“. We are called to love others by being a selfless gift for them. Thus, when we choose something that is about me and is not good for the other, then it is not love. Pre-marital sex, by definition, can NEVER be a loving act.
Pre-marital sex is use of another human being:
John Paul II said using another person as a means to an end (in this case your pleasure) and not as an end unto themselves is the opposite of love. It is reducing a human being to an object. Not treating them as a child of God. If we humans are the most amazing things God has ever made, and if we aer made in God’s image and likeness, then we have a purpose. To be used is never part of our God-given purpose.
Pre-marital sex is a misuse of our sexuality:
Why do we have these desires in the first place? It isn’t just to bring us pleasure. It is to be open to new life (procreation) and to bring a married man and woman together (unitive). These two ends are the purpose of marriage. Pleasure is a by-product of sex. A good by-product, but when it replaces one or both of the real purposes – it degrades the act and we are back at selfishness.
Sex is a gift from God and like any gift can be used for good or bad. It is also a meant to be a beautiful act between a man and wife – in the context of marriage. Sex is something intimate and wonderful. But, just like anything good, it can be twisted to be bad. This is what happens with pre-marital sexual acts. While it may feel like true love, we would never risk another person’s future, virginity, pregnancy, disease, soul, broken heart, etc. if we truly loved them as best we could.
Another way to re-phrase the question might be to ask “where is the line between sin and not sinning?” Well, (for some things) it depends on each individual. While all sexual activity (not just intercourse) outside of marriage is sinful, lust is as well. This is the deeper issue. Lust isn’t just a passing sexual thought about another person. It is when we grab hold of that thought and use it for our own pleasure.
When we have a control of what is going on in our hearts and minds, then we will easily see where the line is drawn and will do all we can to avoid even approaching it. We want to try and change our hearts, not just our actions.
I know there are many Catholics who struggle with their sexuality and controlling their desires, but it is worth it. Here is the reason – you can’t give what isn’t your own. If you don’t have self-control, you can’t give yourself away fully. This means you can’t really love another person by being a gift to them. We can either be in control of our desires or allow them to control us.
Chastity is the virtue that allows us to give ourselves to another…remember the definition of love as “gift”. To give everything means we are free of selfishness in our love and chastity frees us of selfishness in our sexual desires. Therefore chastity = sexual freedom! Unfortunately this understanding of chastity is not known well. Most people think that it means just not having sex. It is not a negative thing – it is a positive thing.
Sex should be saved for marriage, where the deepest intimacy (of all kinds) is supposed to be. Unfortunately in today’s world, we give our sexuality, our emotions, our bodies, and our lives to people we our not married to. We have lost the depth to what a intimacy really means. We end up deadening our sensitivity to it and putting present and future relationships at risk.
Just look at the results of a world that encourages us to be sexually intimate with many partners, in many ways, so long as it gives us pleasure. Are we a happier and more fulfilled people? Is this kind of lifestyle leading to contentment and goodness? I don’t know how anyone could argue that it is. We see brokenness and a poverty of love, much of it due to the misuse of our sexuality and a misunderstanding of who we are and why we exist.
To put it another way, I have never met a person who saved sex (of any kind) for marriage and regretted it, but I have met thousands who didn’t keep themselves pure and now do. You will never regret purity. Never. But, you will always regret impurity, eventually.
A life with no regrets is a full and good life.
Marcel is a husband and father of five, serves on the pastoral council at St. Mary’s and is the founder and Executive Director of Catholic Missionary Disciples.