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What does the Bible say about sex before marriage? Is abstinence the only option?

The original language of the Bible has no word to describe sex before marriage, so we need to look at other biblical principles to help us figure this out. The Bible condemns adultery and sexual immorality, but does premarital sex fall into that category? Let's look at 1 Corinthians 7:2, which offers a "cure" for the sin of sexual immorality: "But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband."

The Apostle Paul was basically saying that when people can't control their sexual urges, they should get married. By committing to one person for life, they may enjoy sex in a monogamous relationship and be satisfied rather than pursue sinful, sexually-immoral relations. This biblical principle leads us to conclude that sex within marriage is a perfectly moral way to fulfill sexual passion. Sex outside of marriage should therefore be considered sexual immorality, which is a sin (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7). For the unmarried Christian, abstinence is the only option.

Sex is NOT Evil

We want to be clear that sex in and of itself is not sinful. God created sex, and He meant it to be pleasurable. (Proverbs 5:18-19 makes it graphically clear that sex with your wife is awesome. Also see Song of Solomon.) The fact that sex feels good is not some secret thing that mankind got away with! That's why our bodies may yearn with sexual passion and desire sexual sensations. Not only that, but the act creates a special, powerful bond between two people as they (literally) become "one body."

Paul says even a man who has sex with a prostitute has become "one body" with her (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). Sex exposes an extreme level of vulnerability in a relationship—no matter who it's with. Before making yourself that vulnerable, make certain you fully trust that person to love and care for your heart.

That's WHY God wants us to wait for sex until we're in a committed, fully-trusting, marital union (1 Corinthians 6:9, 13; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 13:4). Yes, sex feels great, but we shouldn't have sex for pleasure with just anyone. Being that emotionally and physically vulnerable with another person is like giving a precious piece of yourself away. Are they going to care for that piece by staying with you, keeping you whole? Marriage answers this question (1 Corinthians 7:2-4; Ephesians 5:3, 25-33).

Also, we can't ignore the fact that sex can lead to procreation. Sexually-active, unmarried couples risk creating a human life outside the family structure God intended for every child (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:24). An unwanted/unexpected pregnancy outside of wedlock complicates life for everybody, including this new human who has no say in their involvement. An unwanted/unexpected pregnancy within the confines of marriage has a better chance of a positive outcome because the couple has already committed to supporting one another for life.

Is it wrong to have sexual urges in the first place?

Maybe you're thinking, "I'm too young to get married, but I still have sexual urges!" Friend, you're not alone. Many unmarried adults feel the same. They aren't ready for marriage or haven't met someone they want to marry yet, but they STILL get sexual urges. Porn is wrong. Having sex outside of marriage is wrong. If abstinence is what God asks of unmarried people, then what can an unmarried person do with those feelings?

Just as being attracted to another person is not a sin, simply having sexual urges is not a sin. Can we repeat that? Having legitimate sexual desire is NOT A SIN. If you ever feel shame or self-hate for your sexuality or sexual desire, please please please look at 1 Corinthians 7:9 as a source of peace rather than condemnation. (To be clear, lust is separate from sexual desire and IS sinful.)

Paul addresses the "unmarried and widows" with this: "But if [you] cannot exercise self-control, [you] should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9). He's not saying that if you can't exercise self-control, you should just stay single until the desire goes away. No, he's saying that your sexual desire and sexuality is a normal part of being human and may be sanctified through a committed marriage to a loving spouse.

Yeah, but...I'm still single.

We hear you. Maybe you'd love to get married if you could find the right person or if your right person would say yes. Are you "doomed" to a life of abstinence?

What's the point of abstinence anyway?

Did you know that Paul advised married couples to practice abstinence at certain times? That's right! In an environment where consensual sex is fine, sometimes a married couple should abstain from sex. Why? If any verse can help us understand the point of abstinence, 1 Corinthians 7:5a will: "Do not deprive one another [of sex], except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer..." (emphasis added).

Abstinence helps us develop our spiritual health.

If we don't allow sexual desires to rule our thoughts, we can better honor God as we focus on our relationship with Him (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul goes on to explain the different concerns of the married vs. the unmarried:

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." —1 Corinthians 7:32-35

All believers are set apart from the rest of the world (1 Peter 2:9); we don't adhere to the world's standards but to God's. Sexual urges are likely to happen—especially as a teenager—and that's OK. You don't have to be mastered by those urges though (1 Corinthians 6:12). I wish we could give you a 3-step plan to combat these feelings so they don't take over, but there are no guarantees with the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our simple advice is this: Use caution in what you allow into your mind in the first place, and don't dwell on sexual fantasies.

Make your thoughts obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and learn to express your pent-up energy in healthy ways. Abstinence can be frustrating when your body is driving you in the opposite direction, but that doesn't mean it cannot be done. Believe it or not, Christ knows the struggles of humanity, and He will help you if you ask.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." —Hebrews 4:15-16


ALSO SEE: How can I control my hormones and sexual urges?

TL;DR

Sex outside of marriage is considered sexual immorality, which is a sin. For the unmarried Christian, abstinence is the only option. Use caution in what you allow into your mind, and don't dwell on sexual fantasies. Make your thoughts obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and learn to express your pent-up energy in healthy ways. Abstinence can be frustrating when your body is driving you in the opposite direction, but Christ knows the struggles of humanity, and He will help you if you ask (Hebrews 4:15-16).

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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