Q: Is it wrong to have sex before marriage?

In a word, yes. And here are a few more words about what a challenging reality this is!

It would be easy to say, “Well, okay, we live in a different age.” Young people in this 21st century live in an incredibly sexualized society, where films, TV, and every sixth grader’s iPod all preach a wide-open accepting of casual experimentation. The current expression, “Friends with benefits,” describes a low-key relationship where sex is offered and shared among acquaintances as a convenient source of easy comfort and physical relief. “Friends by day, sex partners by night.”

But the plain reality is that the Bible always says what the Bible always says! A hundred preachers or books or essays or computer delete keys can’t erase this unavoidable truth. Every generation struggles with these particular words written on the pages of Scripture which tell us that fornication – sex outside of marriage – is wrong. Flee fornication [sexual immorality[, Paul writes in I Cor. 6:18. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committed fornication sinneth against his own body. The dusty King James tone of those words make the instruction seem archaic, but check it out in the popular Message paraphrase:

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy – leaving us more lonely than ever – the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”

All of us probably join the disciples in saying to Jesus, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” It’s tempting to rationalize that the Bible was written in a primitive era where children barely into puberty got married – and didn’t experience today’s long years and even decades that come between a teen’s sexual peak and a wedding night. Not to mention again those iPods and the incessant “do it do it do it” philosophy preached on Sex in the City and syndicated reruns of Two-and-a-Half Men. The good news, though, is that God’s Word faithfully preaches an optimistic message of liberating sexual fulfillment, of deeper love, of lasting relationships where the sex is both safer and better.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a high view of sex, equating adultery not just with extramarital sex but with the mind and the attitudes and a person’s deepest thought patterns. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, told the members that sexual fulfillment and regular intercourse between husband and wife were a God-given blessing and were to be the norm, never the exception.

In contrast, countless studies show that premarital sex is generally furtive and less fulfilling. In his book, Teens Speak Out: What I Wish My Parents Knew About My Sexuality, Christian author Josh McDowell shares anecdote after regret-tinged anecdote – and there’s no lonelier feeling than to climb out of a bed you didn’t belong in. And even those low-cut magazines at the supermarket checkout counter often admit that the highest rates of orgasmic success are usually found among happily married couples, and often among those who profess a religious faith.

I once had to give an impromptu talk to a group of nursing students in my childhood home country of Thailand. Bangkok is known for two things: the prettiest young girls in the world, and a rampaging sex industry, an HIV infection spreading its deadly tentacles out from the infamous red-light district of Patpong Road and seeping into the entire kingdom and beyond. In my halting Thai, I said to these innocent-faced beauties: “God made you for something special. You are all princesses, all children of a heavenly king. Don’t ever let someone use you, treat your body like a discounted plaything. You’re too good, too valuable, too fine to settle for a small, discardable gift when you were created to experience a love that is so much more special and elegant and satisfying.”