Why Is Premarital Sex a Sin?
We live in a hedonistic society. Hedonism is the idea that pleasure, and especially physical pleasure, is the primary goal of life, instead of love of God and love of neighbor. One of the most common ways in which pleasure is pursued is sexual pleasure. Having sex outside of marriage has become so common that people, even some Catholics, do not understand anymore why such relations are sinful.
However, this way of thinking and living has resulted in untold suffering, especially among the young. Sex before marriage isn’t free of bad effects, even if it is between two people who love each other. Such effects include abortions and its terrible consequences in women and an unprecedented rise in sexually transmitted diseases, some of them incurable and fatal. Because of hedonism, we now have many broken or unfulfilled hearts and a climate of fear of entering into the lifelong, committed relationship of marriage. These are only a few of the many effects of our pleasure-obsessed society.
People, especially Catholic young people, turn to the Church to ask why she is so “harsh” in areas of sexual immorality. They ask why she is so demanding that men and women abstain from sexual relations before marriage. But I think this question should be turned on its head: why are young people so hard on themselves that they let premarital sex ruin part or all of their lives? Running the risk of being a little “harsh” myself, I would dare to ask each young adult out there to take a “hard” look at himself or herself and ask: “Are sexual relations before marriage truly making me happy? Am I truly engaging in sexual relations out of love, or am I doing so to feel wanted (usually women) or to use the other person for pleasure (usually men)?”
Often, people will engage in premarital sex to “figure out” whether they truly want to commit to the other person. But this is counterproductive. Premarital sex and cohabitation both increase the likelihood of divorce, for those who end up getting married.
Many adolescents and young adults engage in sexual relations “just for fun,” without any regard for the other person’s feelings. It is usually the case that the ones who suffer emotionally the most after “having fun” are young women. Young women tend to relate sexual relations with love more often than men do.
Many young men who want sexual relations with their girlfriends claim that they do so out of “love.” These men even pressure their girlfriends for sexual relations to “prove” that they love them. But, in reality, these men just want pleasure without any responsibility. Sometimes, these men believe they truly love their girlfriend. But premarital sex is not authentic love, even when it is done consensually.
If the girlfriends of these men get pregnant, the men will pressure their girlfriends to have an abortion, or they just disappear along with their so-called “love.” Sometimes, the men do stick around and help the woman raise the child. Even so, the most loving thing they could have done would have been to save sex for marriage, thereby respecting the woman’s dignity and only having intimacy after having made vows to each other. This way, any children that come along have a sure, safe, and secure structure which they can rely on as they grow.
Often, men pressure their girlfriends to use dangerous and abortifacient birth control pills, implants, injectables, or IUDs. Young men do not experience any of the side effects of these methods, but young women do: breast cancer, high blood pressure, dangerous blood clots, etc.
Sometimes it is the young women who pressure their boyfriends to use a condom to “prevent” the transmission of STDs. Apart from the fact that condoms have a dismal failure rate, asking their male partners to use a condom implies a suspicion that these men might have had sexual relations with other women before. A whole climate of mistrust ushers in. Mistrust, which is so detrimental to real love.
Why Is the Church against Sex before Marriage?
So, let us take up again the question of why the Church prohibits premarital sex. Why is premarital sex a sin?
The Church, following the teachings of her founder, Jesus Christ, rejects sexual relations before marriage for the same reasons God created sexuality and marriage. Sexuality and marriage have three intrinsic values. The rejection of any of them constitutes an evil use of sexuality and marriage as God created them. These objective values or goods have not been invented by the government, society, individuals, or even the Church herself. The Church simply shows us what these values are, as given by God, the Creator of men, women, sexuality, and marriage:
- Sacramental sign
But before we engage in an explanation of the profound meaning of these values of sexuality and marriage, I would like you to keep in your mind and heart the question: Do I really want to become or continue to be a Catholic (or a Christian)? If you do, read on, and see if you are up to the challenge.
What Is True Love, and How Does It Relate to Sexual Sin?
Let us begin with love. What is love? Love is giving yourself entirely as a gift from God to the beloved. Love is also seeing and welcoming the beloved as a gift from God to you. Love is welcoming the children God sends as a gift from Him to us, and we as a gift from God to them. As we shall see next, love encompasses all the other values.
At this point I would like to ask you: do you give yourself totally as a gift from God to your girlfriend or boyfriend? Do you see him or her as a gift from God to you? Are both of you open to the possibility of having children? Hold on to these questions as we continue.
Jesus came to earth not only to save us from sin, but also to teach us to love as He loved us (see John 13:34). God Himself is Love (1 John 4:8). God is pure Self-Gift. He created us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). This means we ought to live in a God-like way, loving as He loves.
Of course, we cannot do this without His grace. His grace is His own power to love. How does this grace work? By means of grace, God enlightens our minds to recognize the truth about love, sexual relations, and marriage. By means of grace, He also strengthens our hearts to accept His truth. Since our souls are completely united to our bodies, these inner workings of grace also penetrate our bodies. They empower us to calm down, to have peace and the self-control that is needed so that we don’t give into sinful, unloving ways of using our sexuality. And through His providence, He sweetly protects us and guides through the turmoil of the circumstances of this world to our own good and finally to our Heavenly Home. That’s how grace works.
God has a wise and loving plan for you. Find out what it is!
God has a loving and wise plan for humanity and for you. There is a compassionate and intelligent design that God has in store for all of humanity, including you. Yes, for you personally! He revealed His plan since the beginning of the world (see Genesis 1 and 2). He also revealed His plan by means of His commandments (see Exodus 20). And Jesus carried this plan to its perfection (see Matthew 5:17). He gave His life out of love for us. In doing so, He revealed what true love really is.
Jesus meant for this self-giving sacrificial and joyful love to be expressed in all kinds of ways: honoring our parents, serving the sick and the poor, serving and having fun with our families and friends, and, yes, engaging in conjugal relations in marriage.
- Love is forever. It wouldn’t make any sense for the would-be spouses to tell each other “I am going to love you for the next 25 years or so.”
- Love is also unconditional. You wouldn’t tell your would-be spouse: “I am going to love you as long as I find you attractive.”
- Conjugal love is also exclusive. You wouldn’t tell your would-be spouse, “I love you very much, but I will also have some sexual fun on the side.”
- Love is also life-giving. True lovers don’t get married with the pre-condition, “I do not want to have any kids, or any more than two. We have birth control at our disposal, or abortion if we have an ‘accident.’”
Children are not “accidents”; they are the greatest gift of God to the spouses. Procreation does not mean only to bring new lives into the world, but also to love them, cherish them, and gently guide them in the teachings of Jesus through His Church. The family is like a Church in microcosm. That is why it’s called the “domestic Church.” A family is a community of love formed by the marriage of a man and a woman and the children they naturally beget or receive through loving adoption. The Christian family is like an icon (a living image) of the Holy Trinity.
What a beautiful and wise plan! Do you seriously want to miss it? Or claim that it is too hard? Think about it!
What Is the Sacramental Sign of Marriage?
Finally, conjugal love is also characterized by the sacramental sign. Read this beautiful description the Church gives of the sacrament of matrimony (CCC 1659-1661):
St. Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church…. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25, 32). The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament. The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life.
This wonderful passage merits at least a partial explanation of the words we have highlighted:
First of all, St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. This is an awesome challenge! “As Christ loved?” You’ve got to be kidding! Christ suffered a horrible passion and died on a cross in excruciating pain!
But wait, don’t chicken out! Remember that Jesus is going to give you all the strength you need to live up to this challenge. Also, He will not ask you to do anything beyond your strength. But the whole point of this teaching is that it throws out the window all the evil, selfish, and stupid notions about love that are out there in society. These notions denigrate marriage by denigrating the beautiful love that spouses ought to express to each other. Only this kind of love will bring peace and happiness to you in this world (imperfectly, of course, but real, nonetheless), plus eternal life! It will also fill your life with meaning.
Love, and especially God’s love, is the meaning of life.
Marriage as a Covenant
Notice that the Church teaches us that marriage is a covenant. Some people say that “marriage is just a piece of paper.” My friend, if marriage were just a piece of paper, nobody in his right mind should get married!
But no, marriage is more than just a contract. It’s a covenant. In a contract, two people agree on something external to themselves: the sale of a house, a position at a company, acquiring an academic degree, etc. But in a covenant the agreement is the spouses themselves! They promise and give to each other nothing less than themselves in body and soul. It is an irrevocable promise. There is no turning back. The conjugal relations within marriage are meant to truthfully expresses this inner meaning of the marriage covenant. This meaning is expressed vocally by the groom and the bride through their wedding vows and is consummated irrevocably by the truthful language of their bodies by means of their conjugal relations.
Finally, the Church teaches us that the Sacrament of Marriage is meant to signify the love-union between Christ and His Church. The marriage between Christ and His Church is the real deal. Our marriages are called to be living reflections of that supernatural marriage. This is the sacramental sign of marriage: the unity between the spouses, including their conjugal unions, ought to make present in the Church and in the world the unity between Christ and His Church! How awesome! Am I going to trample on this beautiful plan of God for human sexuality and marriage with my own ways of living my sexual life?
When people (especially Catholics who ought to know better) engage in extramarital sexual relations, they unwittingly are telling God: “Ok God, you have your plan for my sexuality. But you see, I have my own plan which is different from yours. Sure, my sexuality and my entire person were designed by you, not by me. But you know what, I just like to have it my way.”
This is nothing else than supreme arrogance and affront to the very Heart of Jesus and of Our Heavenly Father – and also, to the Immaculate Heart of Our Blessed Mother and the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph our spiritual father. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have any problems with God and His Holy Family! No sir!
Why Is Premarital Sex a Lie?
You can readily see that any sexual relations outside marriage are a lie because God designed conjugal relations to be an expression of the love between Himself and His People. But sexual relations outside marriage do not express any of that. This is why they are an intrinsically and gravely illicit act:
- They are intrinsically evil because they violate goods or values that are intrinsic to the human person.
- They are gravely evil because they violate values that are very important: conjugal love, the possibility of procreation, and the sacramental sign. In fact, fornicating or adulterous relations are so ugly and evil that they constitute a countersign, a false sign, a counterfeit.
But Christ is the Truth. He proved so not only by His teachings full of wisdom, but also by liberating us from sin and giving us true freedom: freedom from selfishness and freedom to live a life of authentic love. If we put into practice His commandment, we shall discover or confirm that what He taught is true. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
The Bible Teaches Premarital Sex Is a Sin
Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Matt 19:4-6, emphasis added)
In Scripture, Christ refers to sexual relations as occurring after marriage. Being “in one flesh” is a reference to conjugal relations, which Christ here describes as being between husband and wife.
…the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God hath both raised up the Lord, and will raise us up also by his power. Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot, is made one body? For they shall be, saith he, two in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit. Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body. Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:13-20, emphasis added)
This passage clearly shows that fornication (i.e., sex before marriage) is forbidden. Our bodies are not made for sexually immoral acts, but for glorifying God. And we see yet again in the New Testament:
Marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4, emphasis added)
Are You Willing to Accept the Challenge?
I invite you today to abandon, once and for all, any lifestyle that involves the practice of fornication. Embrace Christ, tell Him you are sorry for offending Him, the Holy Family and even the persons you have had sexual relations with. Go to Confession. Don’t be afraid. The more sincere you are the more you shall receive from Jesus: His peace, His joy, His strength, His company, His love.
Do not be afraid of repentance, and do not let the devil convince you that you are “too sinful” to turn to God. No one is too sinful to receive God’s love, mercy, and grace. Take confidence in such saints as Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who left her life of sin and followed Jesus, and who was the first recorded person to see Him after His Resurrection! Be inspired by St. Mary of Egypt, a former prostitute. Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, a man who lived a life of fornication before his conversion.
Join a parish, offer your talents. Join an authentically Catholic support group, a group of adolescents or young adults or a pro-life group, learn about abortion and the lie of “safe sex.” Show your parents that you love them and are willing to serve them. Be a good student. Engage in positive activities: sports, art, music, reading inspiring books.
Be free from sin and ready to love God and your neighbor!
This article was originally published in October 2022 by Adolfo Castañeda and was most recently updated in September 2023 by Marisa Cantu.
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