Wednesday, February 27, 2013

All marriages are not created equal

In Christian culture, it is well known and widely accepted that marriage is the sole qualification for determining whether sex between two people is a sin or a blessing. By the way people in purity culture treat sex, the difference between sex-as-sin and sex-as-blessing is as big as the ocean. Sex-as-sin reaps terrible consequences, can never be good in any way, is shameful and hurtful, and is worth shunning people for. Sex-as-blessing is a wonderful gift from God that is bonding, special, an expression of love, reaps multiple blessings, and is worth praising God for. What makes the difference between these two things? What changes this one form of human interaction from a cesspool of horror into a rainbow of dreams? Normally a change that drastic would require a big event, or multiple factors, or an evolution that takes a long time.

Because something that bad cannot possibly transform into something that good overnight, can it?

According to the majority of Christian belief, it can. All it requires is a marriage. Specifically, a religious ceremony or a legal certificate, depending on who you talk to. A personal commitment between two people does not count--you have to have one of the other two things for it to be valid! I've known purity-believing Christians who believed it okay to have sex after just a legal signing, and I've known those who will consummate after only a wedding ceremony. I've also known those who needed to have both before they could consider themselves truly married. But I've never met anyone who believed sex could be okay without the ceremony or certificate, no matter how deep or committed the relationship was. The general consensus is that if you have the ceremony and the certificate, your marriage is holy and accepted by God, and sex is now good and pure where it would have been sinful and destroying just thirty minutes prior.

It is assumed that when a couple gets married that they are deeply in love, they are mature enough to know what they want, and they have the best intentions in mind for each other and for their future. But not only is that not always the case, but it doesn't really matter if they don't have that relationship. Because when it comes to making Christian sex holy, all that matters is that you went through the motions: the ceremony and the certificate. If you were to ask anyone in the purity movement whether it would be okay for two mature adults in a committed and loving relationship to have sex without going through the motions, the answer will always be a resounding NO.

Relationship doesn't matter. Going through the motions matters.

My problem is I don't believe going through the motions should be the criteria for changing sex from a sin into a blessing.

To illustrate my point, here's part of a blog post by a woman who got married at a young age after a brief courtship:

6 years ago...Sam and I had our first real date out alone together, I honestly thought us getting to do THAT was my valentine's surprise, I got my first flowers from him ever AND he asked me to marry him...
Twas quite a day to say the least! Full of wonderful and not so wonderful memories. [...]

 As our therapist said today, we are now friends beginning to fall in love like we should have gotten to do 7 years ago when our "relationship" started. We are dating now like we should have dated at the beginning. It IS totally backwards and IS so much very harder...especially with kids. We are married on paper; to others; but we are boyfriend and girlfriend in our relationship reality.
Answer me this: why is sex between a couple of young adults who barely know each other considered holy, when sex between couples who have a much more real and deep relationship is not? These two people were thrown into the institution of marriage, and they weren't ready. But according to the rules of Christian sex, they received an instant stamp of approval. That is not healthy. People should begin sexual relationships when they are ready for them. But there are many Christians that push young people into rushed marriages because they think it's more important to avoid the temptation of sex outside of marriage.

Not everyone who gets married is at the same relationship or maturity level, so not all marriages are equal to each other. So then how can this one event systematically and consistently change something from a horrible sin to an unqualified blessing? I don't think it does. But I have been told that it does, over and over again.

If Christians choose to be this simple-minded about sex and marriage, we are allowing a fundamentally flawed view of humanity and God's law to wreak havoc on peoples' lives. Going through the motions of an average wedding does not magically change us into people more capable of handling a sex life or nurturing a relationship, and believing it does only sets us up for disappointment and an incapacity to handle reality. This is why I think it's important to ask the questions, "What is marriage, really?" and "Does my treatment of marriage promote healthy, natural relationships?"


  1. I agree with you if you are raising the bar (marriage + maturity), but I disagree with you if you are lowering it, (maturity > marriage). I know a lot of people who have gotten married and are getting married who are really not, in my mind, mature enough for all that marriage entails.

    I agree that marriage does not imply maturity, what it implies is commitment. It is my personal belief that the most important things in a relationship are a spiritual foundation and commitment. A wedding is not simply a ceremony. It is a time in which the community and God bless and honor a lifelong and holy commitment that goes beyond our human ideas of "maturity," and "love."

    I agree that maturity is extremely important, especially given that an understanding of commitment is derived from maturity. But I think commitment goes far beyond maturity being that maturity is developed over a lifetime anyway whereas commitment is black and white. If I'm reading this right I think you are raising the bar, and I agree.

    1. I suppose I do advocate for "raising the bar" for people who choose to get married, but that wasn't my main purpose for writing. It was to point out inconsistencies in the belief system that I believe cause unhealthy relationships, among other problems.

      I'm not 100% sure what you meant by lowering the bar by placing maturity as greater than marriage, but I am probably simultaneously guilty of that as well. Because I believe that it is better for 2 mature and ready people OUTSIDE of marriage to have sex than for 2 immature and unready people INSIDE of marriage to have sex.

      Regardless of what significance a church attaches to a wedding ceremony and the expectations it has for the individuals it marries, there are people who flout the significance and aren't ready for what's expected of them. What bothers me is not those people, but that the church ignores the fact that they exist and acts as though the marriage ceremony, regardless of how seriously it was taken by the participants or how ready they were for it, puts them all on equal ground regarding sexual sin. That doesn't make much sense to me. And that's really my main point.

  2. Why is it a good thing to have sex outside of marriage, whether you are mature or immature? You may be mature about other things, like paying your bills, but when it comes to making a commitment to another person, you are not yet mature, you are still just playing around.