An Evangelical Dilemma: Wait for Sex AND Wait to Marry?

Categories: Religion & Theology, Sexuality & Family

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Jason Staples Substack

Reading time: approximately 15 minutes.

This post is something of a large-scale roadmap for my thinking on this issue; in the near future I plan to break down many of the points in this post individually, explaining each point in more detail.

I’ve been wanting to make a few posts on this topic for a while after having gotten into several conversations about it, both online and in person, and this article from has provided an excellent stimulus. The basic premise of the article is that Evangelicals are caught between preaching abstinence until marriage and the cultural forces that are pushing marriage later and later such that present averages of first marriage are over 27 and 25 for men and women, respectively. I have been observing this phenomenon with some interest of late, watching as Bristol Palin, for example, gets clobbered by Evangelicals for speaking the truth.

What is striking is that Bristol’s comments actually are fairly close to those of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1–3, where he says,

“It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually], but [realistically], because of immoralities [Gk. πορνεία, “porneia”], each man should have his own wife, and every woman should have her own husband. The husband is obligated to fulfill his [sexual] duty to his wife, and likewise she to him.”

In other words, Paul says, “Yes, it would be best for everyone to abstain, but seriously, let’s be realistic. With all the sex out there, people should just get married—it’s way more realistic than telling them to keep their hands off each other.” Likewise, Paul’s advocacy of marriage in this passage amounts to a rather striking concession: “But if they can’t control themselves, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.”

If Evangelicals are going to be serious in their advocacy of abstinence-until-marriage, they need to start taking passages like these seriously. [digression]But in order to do this, most Evangelicals are first going to have to readjust their attitude towards sex and physical desire in general to the more neutral and realistic view witnessed in the Bible. I am amazed at how so many evangelicals take a decidedly negative view of anything sensual or sexual. Far too many Evangelicals want to pretend marriage isn’t about sex in the first place. It’s shocking, really, because it’s such a distortion of the biblical text Evangelicals ostensibly value so highly. Then again, it is quite in line with hyper-Augustinianism and traces back through the Puritan roots of most American Evangelicalism, so it shouldn’t be so surprising. [/digression] The only realistic solution is to take the same path Paul did—push for earlier marriage.

Otherwise, the continued embarrassment of Evangelical teens turning up pregnant (as discussed in this New Yorker article) will continue to increase. Face it, one cannot choose to oppose cultural norms on one hand (advocating abstinence) while simultaneously upholding the very direction of that cultural current on the other (late marriage). Frankly, although I think the “blue state” sexual ethic addressed in the New Yorker discussion is unsustainable and ends up being harmful to those holding that view in the long run—particularly harmful to women), the blue state ethic is at least consistent and realistic inasmuch as it recognizes the power of basic human drives—drives that any Evangelical must admit were placed in each person by God, who declared these drives good at creation. At least those following the non-abstinence route are actually living in accord with their beliefs instead of lying to themselves.

Inconsistency Between Embraced Culture and Theology

In order to understand the problem more fully, it is necessary to understand from the start that a certain inconsistency has worked itself into the popular Evangelical view of marriage. The mere observation of the abstinence/late marriage paradox is actually helpful in revealing this inconsistency.

For one, the nature and definition of marriage in the West has been in flux for some time; the very reasons we marry in our culture have largely been redefined. As University of Iowa sociologist Christine Whelan points out, marriage in American society has come to be about personal enrichment, about “what the relationship can do for you as an individual.”  The Evangelical church at the lay level has largely embraced this shift. In my own experience, I have seen little difference between most Evangelicals’ views of marriage and the rest of American culture’s, aside from the stated position that sex should be reserved until marriage.

Have you found your soul mate?
Have you found your soul mate?

If anything, as Glenn Stanton points out in the MSNBC article on abstinence, Evangelical culture has pushed the “eHarmony philosophy,” that is, “the belief God will deliver someone perfect.” Perfect, one should ask, for whom? As someone who grew up with a lot of exposure to Evangelical culture, I can attest to this expectation—teens are told to save sex for marriage because their spouse will be “worth waiting for.” An interesting flip-side to the prudery that often plagues Evangelicals is the absurdly high expectations of mind-blowing post-marital sex that awaits the abstinent as a reward for their endurance, expectations built in part to reinforce convictions in the present. Moreover, these teens are told they are told they shouldn’t marry until they’re absolutely sure they’ve found (in the words of Dr. Neil Clark Warren—a former Focus on the Family writer/personality) their “soul mate.”

Of course, such expectations of marriage will lead to disappointment the vast majority of the time. Marriage involves a lot of work and compromise, and disillusionment spawned by the discovery that the person one married was not created exclusively for one’s own pleasure is a certain result. So the message of “wait until you find your soul mate and then you can live happily ever after” has become, in my view, extremely harmful to the Evangelical church, leaving many disenchanted and jaded people in its wake, people who did not experience the joys of a perfect marriage and the subsequent “blessed life” as they had expected. Even worse, that each party enters the marriage expecting the other to be “perfect for me” is an ideal way to create especially selfish expectations rather than the commitment and compromise foundational to a strong and lasting marriage. The result? The same divorce rate in the church as in the rest of society, despite a stated contempt for divorce.

The essence of the problem is that the Evangelical world, while maintaining an especially high view of marriage in line with Christian tradition and paying at least lip service to the horror of divorce, has simultaneously embraced an incompatible cultural mindset of how and why one marries—that is, for “personal enrichment,” for effectively self-centered reasons. And aside from some corners of the Evangelical world that push “courting” (“serious” dating, with marriage in mind from the start), the search for a mate looks largely the same among Evangelicals as it does elsewhere.

But that’s not all; basic cultural values and the definitions of “success,” the expense of weddings, and the presumed necessities of raising children have likewise contributed to the mixed message of abstinence and delayed marriage. Ask most middle-class Evangelical teens when they should get married, and I guarantee that 9 out of 10 would respond, “after college,” in keeping with the notion that life has a proper order: finish high school, go to college, meet one’s mate (if one hasn’t already), finish college (and maybe a Master’s), get married.

Many Evangelicals who do finish college without marriage on the horizon fall off the abstinence wagon sometime soon after that, as disenchanted with the violation of expectations as their peers who married, and by this point having a starved sexual appetite, ready to try the sexual experiences they heard about (and witnessed) all through college.

But why is finishing college somehow the barrier that means a person is “ready for marriage?” (Of course, no one is ever completely ready for marriage anyway). The answer is that it became a norm because it ties directly to financial status—the same thing now pushing the average marriage age closer to 30 in the wider population. People are told they shouldn’t marry “until they’re financially secure.”

On the one hand, there’s some truth to this inasmuch as the #1 cause of divorce is usually some disagreement over money. On the other hand, this very protection of middle-class status and fear of poverty is itself foreign to the gospel message Evangelicals supposedly embrace. Why, for young people supposedly out to convert the world, regardless of the cost, are finances such a concern? Again, the Evangelical marriage paradox reflects the incompatibility of the cultural and theological commitments.

Equally problematic is the oft-referenced notion that people aren’t entirely developed as adults until 25 and thus shouldn’t marry before then. So you’re telling me that we should wait until we’re completely stuck in our ways and established as individuals and then try to establish a lasting unity? How does that make sense? Wouldn’t the couple marrying younger have a chance to grow together as a couple in a way that people who were already more established wouldn’t? And if we’re going to bring biology into it, why would anyone think it a good idea to make it normative to abstain from sex at precisely the time of life that the sex drive is at its peak? That’s nonsense! That’s not to say that all young marriages are better, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

A related problem is our culture’s utter foolishness in considering teens “children.” I’m sorry, but a 16-year-old isn’t a child anymore. The problems we’re having with teen sexting and resulting “child pornography” charges reflect the absurdity of our standards.

Miley Cyrus adult teen sex sexting
This is not a child.

We wonder why adolescence extends indefinitely now, but we’re telling our teens, who are biologically adults, that they’re children. All the while, they learn not to function as adults but as those with some adult freedoms but no adult responsibilities.

This extension of childhood and adolescence needs to be challenged not only within the Evangelical world but also wider American culture. We need to face the facts: 16 year old “kids” are young adults, not children, and they should be treated as such. But because the Evangelical world has boxed itself in with its abstinence stance, Evangelicals have little choice but to reconsider the matter.


A Few Solutions

If this problem, and I think it’s a substantial one, is to be addressed in the Evangelical world, several things must be done. First of all, the contradictions mentioned above need to be brought further into the light from Evangelical leaders—people need to understand the differences between their explicit theological commitments and their unconsciously-embraced cultural commitments—and where those commitments come into conflict.

Secondly, if there is a group today that, as far as I can tell, is having success in maintaining some consistency with respect to abstinence and marriage, it is the Latter-Day Saints. Evangelicals need to swallow their pride and their distaste towards Mormons and study how they have approached this issue.

Part of the solution is that, quite frankly, the average Mormon is generally more committed to his/her faith than the standard Evangelical. When a typical middle-class Evangelical teen finishes high school, she goes straight to college in the hopes of getting a solid job afterwards. When a typical Mormon finishes, he goes on a two year mission, putting college off until later, since the faith comes first. Between 80 and 90% of 19 year old males whose families are active in the LDS church go on such a mission. Try getting Evangelicals to agree to that sort of thing in those numbers—it wouldn’t happen.

As a result, Mormon students get to college as more mature and thoroughly prepared individuals than the typical youth-group Evangelical. They’ve already had two years away from home, in the real world, in a sort of forced responsibility while representing their faith against all comers. It is also far from abnormal for a Mormon couple to marry before or during college. After all, college was already put off two years anyway. Even more importantly, both the family and the church support the young couple financially, providing a safety net and sense of community for the burgeoning marriage at a point when the couple is at the bottom of its earning power.

In contrast, Evangelical families tend to do exactly the opposite, often declaring that  once a couple is married, they’re on their own, responsible for their own finances. For their part, Evangelical churches are generally too busy with their building drives and expensive projects to support these young and fragile couples. But if they want stronger churches in the future, it would be wise to redirect many of these resources to the support of faithful young couples who aren’t yet in a position to earn much.

A large part of the fear of early marriage involves early pregnancy, which would presumably “doom” the young couple to a life of poverty and ending the woman’s college career. First of all, pregnancy is by no means inevitable upon marriage. Secondly, even if a pregnancy does occur, the whole point is that the priorities need to change—support of of these young couples needs to take the front seat. Evangelical parents and churches should take responsibility for supporting the young family until they’re on their proverbial feet. Younger marriages are only feasible when the community—starting with the parents—convert their priorities away from vacations and retirement and towards supporting young couples.

Why is it so unthinkable for two 20 year olds to get married and then continue to receive financial support from their parents to live? Wouldn’t they have received the support anyway had they remained single? But in the absence of children (obviously), it’s actually cheaper for them to live as a couple.  Even the admittedly substantial expense of raising children is overstated in part because of our rapid expansion of the “American dream.” Look at reruns of “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Brady Bunch.” Kids shared rooms; “small” houses were the norm. Why is it so important all of a sudden to be able to afford a “large enough” dwelling or pay for expensive lessons and activities? These priorities need to change, as does the concept that one’s 20s are somehow a time to travel the world and take vacations, but that’s another discussion altogether.

Thirdly, the conception of the college years needs to change, not only in the Evangelical world, but in America at large. As things stand today, college is an extension of adolescence—it is one last opportunity to truly be irresponsible most of the time while still gaining necessary qualifications for adult life in the future. College “kids” are known for their binge drinking and risky behavior, including all sorts of sexual encounters. Evangelicals are of course aware of this and try to provide alternate activities for their college students—campus ministries and the like. Parents often provide some support through college (though that would typically be revoked upon marriage), while scholarships and student loans frequently account for the bulk of the students’ support. In return for this relatively carefree lifestyle, the average student is expected to spend 12–15 hours per week in class, with a few papers and exams at certain intervals.

It should therefore come as no surprise that, as an instructor, my married students have typically been my steadiest and best students. They seem to find time that no other students have, and they’re usually on top of their work. Now, I ask, why do we regard the university years as somehow detached from the rest of adult life? Why isn’t school looked at as the equivalent of a job? Why is it so taboo for couples to marry while in college?

Frankly, I think it’s probably better for many Evangelical students to go through college while married—they’d more than likely get higher grades and have fewer problems due to the lack of responsibility that comes with being single and having lots of free, unstructured time. Why can’t college be seen as the beginning of the work world, rather than a sort of liminal adolescence between being home and having to work? Why isn’t college seen and handled as a job? What’s the difference, other than income? A job pays in the present, while college (presumably) is undertaken in order to get paid more later.

But then how to pay for the wedding? Am I not aware that the average wedding costs around $20k these days? Again, why is it necessary to follow the culture on this? Why not simply have a small celebration; after all, it’s the covenant that matters, not the ceremony—at least if theology is to be taken seriously.

Finally, in order for there to be any consistency, the marriage relationship itself needs to be reframed. That is, Christian marriage must be understood as a God-centered relationship, not a self-centered one. Rather than fixating on finding a partner who satisfies “me” in the pursuit of a standard “successful” life reflected by financial comfort and a big house, Christian marriage should be framed as finding someone with whom to serve God while sharing a sexual relationship and potentially a family.

Such a perspective is remarkably simple, and reflects a practicality about the work involved in a marriage relationship in order for it to survive. At that point, it simply becomes about finding a person who shares one’s values and sense of service while also being mutually sexually attractive. As my ever-practical father has said for years: Find a like-minded woman you actually enjoy spending time with; if you find her attractive, marry her. It’s a far cry from the “soul mate” mentality that has been pushed for so many years, and it works hand-in-glove with the call to commitment inherent in the gospel.

Finally, marriage must be understood as a representation and vessel of God’s presence in the world. In keeping with prior Jewish tradition, Paul repeatedly turns to marriage as the best illustration of God’s relationship with his people. And marriage is seen as a mode of sanctification—not only for oneself but one’s children (1 Cor 7:14) and as an avenue for grace to be extended to the world. After all, Jesus did not say that he would be present in large groups, but that he would be “in the midst of” two or three gathered in his name—effectively establishing the believing nuclear family as the basic unit of the Jesus-movement.

As a final note, I should add that my comments do have an additional experiential authority on this matter, as I am a 27-year-old virgin (for that matter, I have not yet experienced the joy of a kiss). I wish I were the norm (cf. 1 Cor 7:7), but even the apostle Paul thinks that to be unrealistic. The fact that I have managed does not mean that everyone else should be expected to make it to their late 20s. It’s neither practical, nor realistic. Unfortunately, the Evangelical world has not recognized this, though there are some positive signs of change on the horizon in that respect, as the initial MSNBC article discusses.

The bottom line: if Evangelicals are to continue to push abstinence-till-marriage as a biblical essential, they ultimately must embrace earlier marriage (and a different view of both college and marriage). Otherwise, the abstinence message is, in the words of Bristol Palin, “not realistic.”

Tags: abstinence, Bristol Palin, Christianity, early marriage, eHarmony, Evangelicalism, Marriage, MSNBC, relationships

45 Comments. Leave new

  • mickeymicklos
    August 11, 2009 1:15 am

    You wrote: "The bottom line is that if Evangelicals are to continue to push abstinence-till-marriage as a biblical essential, they ultimately must embrace earlier marriage"

    I don't think so. I do agree that this wait til after college norm is kind of ridiculous. However i would reword your last statement. It should be "If Evenagelicals are to continue to push abstinence-till-marriage as a biblical essential, they need to first know WHY they are striving for obedience and be sure that they themselves actually regard God as ultimate and not marriage/sex/soul-mates.

    The problem is that most Christians aren't Christians, they just profess. A life without true regeneration can claim whatever it wants, but it doesn't mean anything. God knows our hearts and sadly most Evangelicals love religion and rules and forget that Christ is the reason for obedience.

    The question isn't what is right or wrong. The question is what stirs your affections for Jesus and what robs you of them.


  • Jason A. Staples
    August 11, 2009 7:05 am

    Good comment, Mickey. On the other hand, while you're right that the biggest problem is the number of "still-born children" in Evangelical churches (that is part of what I'm getting at by pointing out the difference in how the Mormons handle things), it's not the only problem.

    Remember Paul's council — why make obedience harder by putting off marriage? And he gives this advice to legitimate Christians. On the individual level, you're correct. On the level of the Evangelical church as a whole, a move towards earlier marriage would be a biblical solution.

  • entrustedwith
    August 11, 2009 9:24 am

    I think this article makes some excellent points. I especially like how you address the concept of teens needing to be treated as adults. I think one of the reasons that early marriage is by in large unacceptable is that 17 and 18-year-olds are still viewed as children. However, if we started viewing 13-year-olds as adults, it would be easier to see how someone could be ready for marriage at 18 after having spent five years in adulthood already.

    I think the comment above on obedience is also important- two truly regenerate people who enter into the covenant of marriage (even a young marriage) and are willing to be obedient to the Lord in His calling on husbands and wives- the mutual laying down of one's life coupled with biblical submission- have a great chance of success.

    I have never heard a couple who married young say they wish they had waited for financial security or any other supposed milestone in life before getting married.

    I look forward to reading more from you on this topic!

  • Stephen C. Carlson
    August 11, 2009 1:08 pm

    What I understand from my undergraduate history is that the age of first marriage tends to be driven by economic considerations. What the aptly chosen Mormon example shows is that, if you want earlier marriages, there has to be a commitment to supporting them beyond just the parties in the marriage.

  • Sarah S. Wiest
    December 12, 2009 6:54 pm

    Jason, I couldn’t agree more. I think you have highlighted a really important hole in evangelical theology that has made following the church very difficult for me. And I also agree that evangelicals need to look to the success of the Mormon church (and also the Seventh Day Adventist Church).

  • I agree that it’s a dilemma. But I would argue that Generations X and Y do what they do in part because of the fear of divorce. If you live in a society where divorce is common, even in the church, how might you logically try to avoid this? If your parents are divorce, what is foremost on your mind as you look for a marriage partner? Logically you would:

    *Make sure to become economically self-sufficient, especially if you’re a woman, so that divorce would not economically devastate you were it to happen someday
    *Be very very careful about who you choose–after all, your parents pcked someone they enjoyed hanging out with and to whom they were attracted, and yet they still got divorced and destroyed your family. You can’t be too careful!!! It’s worth loneliness and angst and reduced fertility if in the end, you can break that pattern and enter into a lifelong marriage.
    *Marry older, especially when you see that the divorce rates for college-educated adults in their late 20s and early 30s are much lower than for younger folks.

    At least, that’s how I thought about things—I was extremely focused on creating a marriage that would not end, and willing to wait years if that’s what it took. Happy to say, it has all worked out well.

  • Excellent article! I came to watch the video of your engagement, but I did some other searching of your site since I hadn’t seen it. Also, another argument is that the childbearing years of women are better around the teenage years. My sister-in-law has just started having kids at the age of 37 (when she had her first), and a lot of her friends are about the same age with young kids. It’s not ideal since most of the time those pregnancies can be high risk and have problems. You made so many other good points that that is really the only one I saw that you didn’t make specifically.

  • […] The author, Michael Gerson, observes that, though puberty and sexual activity is generally coming earlier now than has been the case in the past, the marriage age has continued to creep higher (averaging 28 and 26, for males and females, respectively). And, he argues, this is a bad thing (something I have argued in this space before). […]

  • […] argued before, and I continue to argue, that the bigger danger for conservative Christian youngsters is that […]

  • Thanks Staples! You have mentioned a lot of my thoughts exactly in this piece. I imagine I will be referring interested Christians to this article of yours in the future.

    Grace & peace!
    Wes Kelley
    (From Qoheleth class back in the day)

  • […] articles on early marriage (which I blogged about here after having written on that subject, which I have termed “the Evangelical dilemma,” myself). Well, Regnerus is at it again, this time in Slate, with an article explaining […]

  • […] it is an excellent representative of how harmful the common teaching on this passage can be. (See this post for a discussion of the fallacy of searching for the soul mate in much of American Christian […]

  • I think part of the problem is that evangelicals have turned sin into an optional “not a big deal” thing. Why should kids wait until marriage when God’s grace covers it all anyways? The grace focus of today’s evangelicals has made a mockery of Christianity. The bible still condemns sin and the perverting of God’s grace into sensuality (Jude 4).

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jason. As someone attempting to raise up a “Timothy,” watching him struggle with this issue, encouraging him to marry only to hear his mother (I am not his father nor her husband, nor related to her in any way beyond attending the same church) threaten, “Marry her and we will NOT put you through college” and subsequently losing the battle, I wondered outloud to the young man I truly love dearly. “Does your mother prefer sin over social norms? Is she willing to support you while you sin rather than support you all the more for doing what scripture requires (1 Cor. 7:9)?” As a Christian, I have never understood the concept of turning newly weds loose to do as they see fit. It seems to me the maturity necessary to conduct a marriage can come in part from the advice, godly counsel and involvement of the parents on both sides.

    Grace and peace…

    • Michael, that sort of scenario is all too common. It’s exactly the opposite of what the church should be doing. Christian parents (and the church itself) should go out of their way to give extra support to those who choose to marry early rather than cutting them loose financially. It makes no sense—if the plan was to support the young adult at that age anyway, why not continue it after marriage?

  • Eric Eskildsen
    May 19, 2012 8:07 pm

    I wonder whether you’ve read /The Adventist Home/. You might be interested in how the first few sections echo and expound on some of the ideas put forth in this post.

  • Riley Adam Voth
    July 1, 2012 8:02 pm

    YES! Oh my… I stumbled onto this blog by a random search for transferring to WordPress. Saw your subject matter and had to read this. I’ve been reading quotes to my wife (of 6 months) and yelling, “YEA! EXACTLY!” for the last 20 minutes now. I work in college ministry, 24 yrs old, and my wife is 21. We heard all this nonsense talk, and continue to hear it from all the students and friends around us. I feel like I preach this stuff every day!!!

    I’ve honestly said out loud ten times while reading this that I want to give you a high-five or something. Thank you for actually thinking well on this issue! It’s rare. I agree with seriously everything you wrote here, which is also rare that I do that (with anyone – it’s the first I’ve ever read from you). I’ll probably be using this post as a resource to collect my thoughts for many months to come now! I’ve been saying for months that when I get my blogging schedule a bit more routine, I’m going to do the same thing and hit a few of these points. So keep up the good work and the good thinking!

  • […] Waiting for sex and waiting for marriage: the evangelical dilemma. […]

  • As a Latin Mass Catholic I echo many sentiments here even though from a different perspective. One battle I am facing now is a variation of the following exchange;
    [NOTE – this is very close paraphrasing of an actual conversation I had. I have tried the same with others and they were all-but-one close to this]
    Me (a Catholic with 5 sons): ‘I think it is very important that a young man focus on one of two things – the priesthood or supporting a family as the sole earner’
    Her (a Catholic mom with 3 or more daughters, some close to my sons in age): ‘Oh, of course’
    Me: ‘My oldest is very focused on being a husband and father and having a stay-at-home wife. He is on track and could easily be ready to support a family in 2-3 years, before he is 20’
    Her: ‘Oh, that is so wonderful! We need more men like him!’
    Me: ‘Thank you. He would like to marry young and start on a family immediately’
    Her: ‘That is the most important thing. My daughters all want to be wives and mothers and have large families and be stay-at-home wives and mothers’
    Me: ‘That is great. So, are your daughters focused on home ec or maybe getting a certification in book keeping so they can manage their finances?’
    Her: ‘Good heavens, no! ALL of my daughters WILL have a 4 year degree! I tell them again and again they MUST focus on their studies in home schooling so they can get into a top college and get a real degree! No time for boys or fooling around with hobbies like sewing, they NEED a degree!’
    Me: ‘So you insist that your daughter, who wants to be a SAHM, not meet boys while she is a teen or even in her early 20’s because you insist that she rack up tens of thousands in debt to get a degree she doesn’t want to use?’
    Her: ‘I want them to develop their intellect! And what if something happens to their husband and they need to support a family?’
    Me: ‘So you are basing your planning on your daughter being abandoned or widowed? Isn’t that almost a prenup?’
    [Note: Catholics are forbidden to have prenups]
    Her: ‘It is just the smart thing to so. No, I would forbid my daughters to marry until after they have a degree. My husband doesn’t want them dating until after their degree is done and their careers are established’
    Me: ‘So you want your daughters to be, oh, 24-25 years old before they even start dating?’
    Her: ‘Certainly!’
    Me: ‘so, what if she was, say, 26, and came home with a good Catholic boy about her own age. He had been working for 6-7 years, owned a home, had no debt, was part owner of his own business, and was dedicated to having a SAHW?’
    Her: ‘That would be perfect’
    Me: ‘But he never went to college; he is, oh, a plumber’
    Her: ‘Welllll. Maybe, it would be awfully hard for her to settle, though, wouldn’t it?’
    And that was it, folks! less than a minute after telling me the world needs more young men like my oldest boy she admitted she really wouldn’t want her daughter to *marry* a man like my oldest! Like I said, I have repeated this conversation about 6 more times in the 3 months since the first one. Five of them were about identical to the paraphrase, above.
    The other was a woman who said flat out
    Her: ‘I want my daughter married by 21, no later. No college, no debt, none of that foolishness. I want a Catholic son-in-law that wants to marry a good Catholic girl, have her stay home and raise as many kids as they can’
    Me: ‘How is she getting ready?’
    Her: ‘She is only 15 but she can cook, sew, knit, embroider, clean, and babysit. She helps me pay the bills each month, too.’
    Me: ‘Huh. My oldest…’
    Her: ‘I know about your oldest’
    Our families have been spending time together recently. The daughter is a sweet, kind, lovely girl. Her dad is taking my oldest sighing next week.
    Wish us all luck.

  • […] older but good article on the problems of marriage brought on by Marriage 2.0 and the selfish requirements of kids and parents that delay the time of […]

  • This is such a needed, thoughtful article, and you have obviously put much time, contemplation, and energy into it! I unfortunately do not have time to sing *all* of the praises of the truths contained herein, but would like to point out just a few: platonism (crept in by Augustine, sure) and misapplied puritanism still plaguing protestant church (though not as much the Catholic or Orthodox), a “keep the meat and spit out the bones” assessment of what works in Mormonism regarding this topic, and a more complete, accurate assessment of these Pauline texts regarding marriage! So much Christian truth!

    If I may throw in one point of discomfort though: as a high school teacher in the public school system, with at least a decade of experience, I feel I can say with a fair degree of authority that adolescents emphatically should NOT be treated as adults.

    I assure you there is a GREAT berth in cognitive function and emotional and social growth between 16 and 18!! The law is quite correct in making a distinction at just *this* precise age, no sooner.

    Sixteen year olds may be physically adult (and in previous cultures, the cultural context enabled earlier marriage and provided more protection for it), believe me, they are not thinking like adults. Even in terms of physiological brain development, we now know that there is a difference in the reasoning abilities of “older teens” and “younger teens”. Spend time with some, I promise you will see what I mean!

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking article. I hope that it is widely disseminated (with a slight caveat, of course 😉

  • […] Evangelical dilemma: Wait for sex and wait to marry. […]

  • […] Jason Staples also counters this fatalistic view: […]

  • Jason, I know this is an old post, but I thought you might be interested in revising the one line about the divorce rate in the Church. This has recently been debunked, which you may know already:

    Rest of the article is excellent, in my opinion. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Christopher. Yes, there have been some interesting studies of late that have suggested that the practice of regular church attendance or other spiritual disciplines dramatically alters the numbers versus those who respond that they are Christians or church members on a survey.

  • […] in August I posted a roadmap of my thoughts on what I termed “An Evangelical Dilemma” (if you haven’t read it, I’d suggest starting there), the unsustainable […]

  • Dear Jason, have you ever read the book “moral revolution” by Christ Vallaton? If so, what are your thoughts about it?

    Also, I found much of what you have to say both interesting and insightful, however I do have a few comments/question.

    If a young person (like yourself) has the self control to wait until they’re more financially established, why not? Why not enjoy life as an independent person before settling down?

    Also, concerning a “soul mate”, don’t you think a person should use discernment, and rely upon the leading of the holy spirit when choosing a spouse? I mean, you’re going to spend the rest of your life with this person, so isn’t being selective a good idea? Of course there will be work involved, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t lead you to someone that you are compatible with.

    I guess it mostly just depends how you view life. Do you believe that God has individual plans for people’s lives, or do you believe that he just kind of “turns us loose” to tough it out here on earth? I believe that God has a plan for my life, which includes a calling, a career, a wife, and so on and so fourth, which maybe makes me a more “destiny” minded person.

    • Hi Daniel. No, I have never read that book.

      This piece is not so much about those who have unusual self-control but rather the majority who don’t. And to those, 1 Cor 7 gives clear counsel: Get married sooner rather than later. My suggestion here is that if Evangelicals want to take that seriously and be realistic, they need to encourage and support early marriage.

      I do think some people are better matches than others and that it’s a good idea to use discernment and make a good choice in that regard. Selectivity is a good thing. But the idea that there’s one “soul mate” out there who will be a perfect fit is misleading and doesn’t prepare people for the very real struggles that will be present in any relationship.

      One final thing: Your comment “enjoy life as an independent person before settling down” is a little too close to what Ross Douthat calls “expressive individualism” to fit well in a rigorously Evangelical perspective. First of all, for most who choose that path, sex is a part of that “enjoying life as an independent person.” Secondly, the notion of waiting to be financially established and enjoying independent life reflects the privilege of being part of the upper-middle class (or above). What about those who will never have such resources or financial freedom? Thirdly and finally, this sentiment does not fit with the perspective that life is not so much for individual enjoyment but for service toward others.

  • I agree that the church should encourage, or at the very least, not discourage early marriage. However, I also believe that we are not animals, and it does not take “unusual self control” to wait. We’re not animals, and we’re not controlled by our desires (perhaps the unregenerate are, but certainly not God’s people.) Self control is a fruit of the spirit. I have managed to make it to 22, and my brother to 24. Although I had the advantage of being home schooled through 16 years old (and my brother all the way through high school), so perhaps that social isolation yielded more self control. At any rate, it seems to me that with healthy boundaries and common sense, it’s not that hard to wait.

    In regards to living an “independent life” I was not referring to a loose lifestyle, but simply to the fact that right now I have more options as far as travel (which could include missions trips), work or school that involves travel, and just more options in general. In other words I only have to consult God before making a life changing decision, not God and my wife.

    As far as “expressive individualism” I don’t see why individual enjoyment and service towards others are necessarily mutually exclusive. If we were to take the stance that they are to it’s logical conclusion, we would not treat ourselves to so much as a burger or a cup of coffee. We would all live off the bare minimums of food and supplies, and spend everything else to help others. Of course you could argue that I’m being extreme, but who’s to say what “extreme” is? I don’t see why taking a vacation automatically excludes me from a life of service to others.

  • Jason,

    An excellent article. Excellent.

    As for your personal situation. There are still Godly young ladies out there. Who desire marriage and family, and are waiting for
    real men who want to be leaders, Godly husbands, and have maintained their personal purity.

    You want names, I can give you some in a private conversation.

  • As a 23 yo virgin porn addict, I must agree.

    God has been helping me only for a few months, but the first sign he has send me of his existence was changing my wish for children.

    I can remember like it was yesterday, the sadness of wishing to have a family while doing such disgusting deeds.

    The only thing that kept me alive and going during rehabilitation is him and the wish he gave me. Even if I’m very bad at what I’m doing.

  • This was an amazing read Jason. If only this message could be said on all Pulpit’s. You caught me off guard with “27 Year Old Virgin ” . I am writing a piece on who is marriage Good for=disputing the common misinterpretation of 1 Cor 7:7. I argue that it is good for everyone and better for those who cannot contain their burning passion as the word says.
    Then I ask another question : well then who isn’t marriage good for i.e who can live an unmarried life? Jesus speaks of three types of people in Mathew 19:12 who are called to Live an unmarried Life.
    One of the types of people he mentions are those who can abstain from sex(eunuchs) because they are made that way by man. I know this waaay out of the scope of what you discuss here? But is there a lesson for evangelicals? What do you think he means?

    I ask as a 27 Year evangelical who falls in the majority.

    • My reading of that clause in Matt 19:12 is that he is referring to men who have had their testicles removed or otherwise damaged, thus becoming eunuchs by human intervention. I don’t know that there are any specific lessons for evangelicals in that clause.

      As for “called to live an unmarried life,” I don’t think that’s generally the way things work. There are a few exceptions to that rule (e.g., Jeremiah, who is told not to take a wife), but the New Testament tends toward the idea that marriage is a choice. Both the unmarried state and marriage are gifts, and those who are unmarried thus have that gift, while those who choose to marry have another gift by virtue of their choice. Then Paul counsels that men cannot control their sexual desires should take a wife, and women who cannot control themselves should likewise have a husband, though both men and women are better off not being married if able to do without sex.

  • William Hadley
    July 24, 2019 7:52 pm

    I believe people are weak and actually don’t want to ‘wait’, they just claim they are unable to overcome their hormones. I didn’t marry till 28 and hadn’t slept with anyone. My wife died when I was 39 and I’ve been celibate since then, not because I haven’t been attracted to women and vice verse but because it’s the wrong thing to do. If God wants me to find someone they’ll appear to me in some way. Until then I’ll continue to be celibate. I don’t understand both men and women, christian’s included sleeping with whoever and just acting like it’s not a big deal. Either you’re a christian or your not.

  • Thank you for this because it is pertinent in any year. Think about it. People were getting married at 12 to 15 years old in Bible times and dying at what, 30 to 40? Compare that to today where many live till 80 and beyond.

    Just get married? Not exactly easy for many now since money rules marriage and not love. Lol..It is comical to say otherwise. I know so many people divorced or on the verge and it is always lack of money being the center of it. Years back it was for love but because cash rules all now love is in second place if one is honest.

    What about people who are 40 years old and divorced or never married? Or a widow at 55? No sex again? Wait for Miss Methuselah to show up? Bible times where men had various women. Heck, even that finding lately hinted at Paul with wives.

    Body wise people are meant to be married by 15 and die at 40 or 50 but modern medicine and money have destroyed marriage, ironically.

    • It’s not really true that people in antiquity tended to die at 30 or 40. That’s an error in understanding the statistics. Yes, the average (mean) age of death in antiquity for a male was in the 30s or early 40s. But that’s mostly because infant mortality was extremely high—roughly half of those born died before the age of two. But for every child that died before turning one, another person reached the age of 70.

      But if a male child made it to the age of two, he could have a reasonable expectation of living into his teens. And if a male made it to 15, he could expect to live well past 30 as long as he did not die due to violence (war, etc.). If an ancient man made it to the age of 30, he could reasonably expect to live to 70 or beyond.

      It was a little different for women, as childbirth was perilous (some estimates place the death rate for women giving birth around 1 in 5), so women tended not to live quite as long as men on average. But if a woman made it through her childbearing years without dying in childbirth, she could reasonably expect to live into her eighties.

      Modern medicine has definitely extended the average life expectancy at birth, but the vast majority of that difference is due to improvements in child mortality, not how long people live once they actually make it to adulthood. The difference there is more like 5-10 years between antiquity and now.

      Finally, marriage has always been closely tied to monetary factors. That’s definitely not a modern innovation, either.

  • Jason, c’mon, it was a nightmare to live back then. These people had nothing. Any disease could spread at any time. For sure child mortality was an issue but this kind of, hey, if you got through that life was kind of fine is not true. Just look at America alone from the 1930s and the average age of death was about 59. Now it is much higher. That is due in part to getting rid of or speaking very bad of chemical destroyers like cigarettes and for sure having more advanced medical care So to say 5 to 10 years in lifespan from antiquity is the difference is comical when compared to the 30s in America to today it is about a 20 year difference! . Even things we take for granted like air conditioning today played no role in antiquity. Just the misery and sweat and disease of that was a nightmare. What happened back then if someone gets sick? Just sprinkle some olive oil on them? Or some kind of healing oils? In many African nations today the average age of death is about 50. Why? Because they are backward places. Look at the ebola crisis there where people looking to help are looked on as agents of the disease and they are actually chased out!!, So are we all going to pretend in the 2nd or 3rd century things were so great?

    Marriage today in advanced nation is astronomically more un affordable than years back and is the main reason besides the creepy women’s movement for people holding off on marriage and kids. In major cities alone and their burbs housing goes for 500 thousand to millions of dollars like nothing. That is a destroyer for many people. That is why there is so much talk of why the young generation of today is basically screwed. We see literal army like populations of homeless people in L.a and New York and others. Why? Because the costs to live are too much!! That alone ends marriages or makes a point to not even start them. Compare that to the 1950s where buying a home was easy and credit cards were barely even used or shoved down the throats of people. Tons of people did without college and lived fine. Anitquity dealt with none of this because everyone was Heck, men had multiple wives like no big deal. Did they really have to pay their wives never ending amounts of money? No.

    Americans were used to a higher standard of living that is for sure disappearing. In good part for years, That is why President Trump got elected. To stop the massive flow of jobs by evil, greedy corporations out of America. For love of money is the root of all evil. Ironic a super rich guy was elected to do that because money rules in most of the world.

    I used to be one of these Christians just touting the Bible with no understanding of years past. Now I make sure to read the Bible history behind the Scripture. For example, JESUS is believed to have said do not look at a woman with lust The absurdity of that statement has to be looked at. So you mean you are attracted to a woman but you can’t want her body? Seriously? But thankfully in the book “JESUS Words Only’ which you can read on its site. JESUS was saying do not look at a married woman with lust! That is a huge difference and truly understandable and normal. As usual it was a translation issue. Just think how different people would think on many things if various other quotes JESUS said were put in the Bible but as we know they were not added despite a mention of them being made. Truly sad.

    To show how nutty that one mis translation regarding lust is. I knew of a pastor who said he could not look at any woman he is attracted to and has to stare straight ahead. He is married, But how weird is that? You mean you have to be a robot and pretend not to be human? Looking at a cute woman is not lust. Going after her or fantasizing about her as a married man would be lust and adultery! JESUS is rational but I do think there have been interpolations by not so rational people who put their own spins on some things in the Bible.

    • Once again, you’re using “average age of death,” which includes infant mortality. When you remove infant mortality from 1930s America (roughly 6.3%), the average age of death moves to around 70. That’s similarly true with the African countries you mentioned; the biggest reason their average lifespans are lower is that their infant mortality rates resembles 1930s USA or is even higher. Yes, the adult mortality rate is also higher, but the average age of death for someone who has reached his/her teens is still well over 60 even for those countries. It’s important to understand the statistics we’re using if we’re going to make any arguments based upon them.

      As for the lust passage in Matthew, I cover that in another article on this site.

      • In the end people did die younger centuries ago and do today in backward nations. Due both to infant mortality and lack of good medical care. It is true the human spirit fights to stay alive even if the body is not willing and I for sure do not call it living, living like cattle.

        Nations or time periods poor on infant mortality are poor in many other areas.

        You are playing games saying people did not die much younger centuries ago as well as in America in the 30s compared to today.. Be it infant mortality or living like a hen in a hen house. Nobody in their right mind would want to live in the 4th century or in most parts of Africa today. Thius 4the invasion of Europe today. Good day. I know social media can get circular.

  • I don’t think sex before marriage is a biblical sin (breaking Torah).
    Fornication has often been translated as sex before marriage. The definitions of fornication is found on the Internet will tell you that it means sex before marriage. But neither the Greek, nor the Hebrew or Aramaic define it that way. The word porneia has to do with prostitution, Temple prostitution, homosexuality, bestiality, unlawful sex, and sexual immorality.
    There’s nothing wrong with being sexual, but there is something wrong with being sexually immoral. Sexual immorality and unlawful sex, are laid out in Leviticus 18.
    In Exodus 22:16-17 it says, “ if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.” This passage does not say the sexual act was a sin or wrong. It simply states what must be done after a man and taste a virgin and had sex with her.
    If sex before marriage was an absolutely horrific sin violation, why aren’t the man and the woman both immediately cast out of the camp and or stoned ?
    Because if you keep reading the next verses, The scripture records the interesting part about the actual definition of fornication. It uses the word bestiality and whoever commits that bestiality will surely be put to death. It would appear that sex before marriage is not in the same category as sex with an animal, which would be punishable by death.

    • Of course, none of this applies to Evangelicals, who hold to a different tradition of interpretation and are the subject of this blog post.

      I’m also afraid that your analysis, while accurate in some respects, falls short of how porneia was understood by the earliest Christians, which is relevant to this discussion as well.


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