In our sex-saturated culture, you’ve heard this question before: “We love each other, and we’re committed, so why can’t we have sex before marriage?”
Responding to our friends can be tricky. Irrefutable torts like “But that’s a sin!” or “The Church doesn’t allow that!” only draw growls. Before we attempt an answer here, let me share a real-life situation that makes a thorny question thornier.
A young college couple was engaged. They had bought the ring, fixed the date and handpicked the priest. As soon as she graduated, they would celebrate the sacrament in a Church with friends and family present.
“We’ve waited for each other. We’re not ones to scorn the Church’s vision of sexuality. On the contrary, we know our virginity is the most beautiful gift to each other as we enter into marriage. But we’ll meet at the altar—it’s set. Doesn’t abstinence at this point seem like mere legalism?”
They had been faithful and generous, yes, and with the passions we bear within and the social pressures that wage war without, that’s no small victory. So why not sanction a little exception, a compensation prize, just for a brief time and then tidy things up on the wedding day? Is that really too much for good Christians to ask for?
A course in sexual theology wouldn’t hurt, but perhaps you only have time for a quick illustration.
“It’s midday on July 3, and the fireworks are ready for blastoff. Venue? Secured. Scaffolding? Erected. Pyrotechnician? On hand. Just give me the green light, and I’ll give you all the rest!”
“No, abort mission,” says any reasonable person, but not because we’ve got anything against fireworks, mind you. Surely a 4th of July without fireworks just isn’t the same, but just as the holiday can’t do without the fireworks, neither can the fireworks do without the holiday. No municipality “test-drives” their fireworks the day before. Some things are so special that they are saved necessarily for the feast.
Lighting the fireworks prematurely would be like lying. “The feast is come,” our act would say. “The feast will come,” nature would say.
Sex is language too.
It says, “I am wholly yours forever. I give you all of myself without reserves.” To say that outside of the marriage covenant would be double-tongued. The naked truth is this: premarital sex, no matter how you dress it, is always a contradiction (cf. CCC 1755).
In matrimony, the spouses bind themselves to one another in an exclusive and total self-gift, and when the two “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), the indissoluble bond is ratified. So for unmarried Christians, sex isn’t off limits because it is bad. Rather, because it’s so good—so holy—it merits the right place and time.
Back to our lovebirds in college. Since she wanted to turn her tassel before tying the knot, they set a date, yes, but five years in the future. No wonder they were getting antsy! Sometimes the problem isn’t so much the “stringency” of God’s laws as much as our preference for non-essentials.
On the one hand, the diploma would bring a certain social security; on the other, biological clocks were ticking. Her heart and body seemed to be telling her that the time was ripe to become a wife and mother.
Thankfully, the couple opted to alter their wedding date, not God’s plan. They won’t spoil the show before sundown, and against the backdrop of a clear conscience, they’ll enjoy the nuptial fireworks all the more.