God intended sexual intimacy to mold a man and a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually into “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Seeking a “one-flesh relationship” outside of a long-term, committed relationship is like a long-distance runner substituting performance-enhancing drugs for discipline and training or a graduate student hiring someone to write his/her master’s thesis.
Because we are not just animals, the human value of sexual experience is derived mostly from spiritual and emotional intimacy. Casual sexual experiences actually make it harder for people to yoke genuine intimacy with sexual arousal. This is why ordinary married people usually have a more deeply satisfying and long-lasting relationship than promiscuous celebrities who look spectacularly attractive and desirable.
We have fallen far from God’s plan for sexual intimacy. Contraception now allows the wholesale separation of sex from conception, birthing, parenting, and family bonding. Cultural changes have also identified pornography, promiscuity, and sexual relativism with sexual liberation. Consequently, we see unprecedented rates of divorce, family instability, and social problems.
Rather than experimenting with sexual experiences that scar and break hearts, Christians—whether single or married—should focus on establishing and nurturing genuine friendship and intimacy, the kind that will stand them in good stead for a lifetime.
It isn’t the “Christian ethic” that “denies the sexual experiences and fulfillment to single people that married people enjoy.” It is reality. The Bible and the Christian ethic are based on physiological and psychological fact. Single people engaging in sex can’t possibly experience the same things that married people are capable of experiencing, either in terms of personal pleasure or fulfillment. What they experience is different and destructive, and the Bible rightfully warns of its destructiveness.
The Scriptures make it clear that sexual intimacy is not something to be entered into lightly. (See the ATQ article Why Shouldn’t Sex Be Casual?) Because the natural design of sexual intimacy is to mold two individual people in their physical, emotional, and spiritual entirety into “one flesh,” the uncommitted sexual intimacy of two single people can never be like the sexual experience and fulfillment married people are capable of enjoying. Seeking sexual intimacy outside of its appropriate context of a long-term, committed relationship is like an unscrupulous athlete trying to substitute performance-enhancing drugs for discipline and training. Uncommitted sexual experiences only distort the real meaning of sexual fulfillment. One-bodiedness (genuine sexual intimacy—see Genesis 2:24 ) can only occur in the context of lifelong love.
Contemporary cultural circumstances have confused the purpose of sex. Contraception has separated sex from its natural purpose in conception, childbearing, parenting, and family bonding. The identification of sexual “liberation” with pornography and promiscuity along with a cultural relativism that assumes the equality of all sexual behavior have contributed to unprecedented rates of divorce, family instability, and social problems.
Regardless of the cultural circumstances, Scripture declares that sexual love symbolizes God’s love for us (Ephesians 5:25-33 ). Our fallen nature has resulted in our misusing sex for selfish purposes (lust, power, etc.). Sexuality is linked to a long-term—even eternal—purpose, and requires commitment to that purpose.
It does not matter what the two people . . . have in mind. . . . The reality of the act, unfelt and unnoticed by them, is this: It unites them—body and soul—to each other. It unites them in that strange, impossible to pinpoint sense of “one flesh.” There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it. The Christian assaults reality in his night out at the brothel. He uses a woman and puts her back in a closet where she can be forgotten; but the reality is that he has put away a person with whom he has done something that was meant to inseparably join them. This is what is at stake for Paul in the question of sexual intercourse between unmarried people.
And now we can see clearly why Paul thought sexual intercourse by unmarried people was wrong. It is wrong because it violates the inner reality of the act; it is wrong because unmarried people thereby engage in a life-uniting act without a life-uniting intent. Whenever two people copulate without a commitment to life-union, they commit fornication.* (Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994], pp. 109-10.)
*Fornication is a strong, scriptural word. But the intent of the word is not merely to condemn, but to warn. (Back To Article)