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Reasons not to fornicate, besides "God said so"

The Christian faith teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Interestingly, so does the research of plenty of secular experts. Amelia summarizes their studies into 10 easy-to-understand, non-religious points on reserving the bed for marriage.
God said not to be sexually involved outside of marriage. In the Bible, it's called "fornication" or "immorality" and is forbidden. Of course, the fact that something is forbidden doesn't mean a majority of people aren't doing it …

Fornication isn't a new sin. It's been around since early Old Testament times. The only difference between now and past eras is that people are becoming more tolerant of it. The fewer people there are who express disapproval, the more immorality we're going to see around us.

In the end, we'll all learn that it's not about what we think, or what those around us think. It's about what God thinks. And what God thinks, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and many, many Protestant denominations and individual churches, is that we should be chaste prior to marriage. Even during marriage, we're required to remain pure. There are some acts that are natural and pure, and there are others that aren't.

I'm not sure why the whole chastity/purity commandment is confusing to so many people. I understand why it can be difficult to honor it, but I don't see why it's so difficult to understand. I've had discussions about this with so many Orthodox people—some of whom go to church regularly and indicate that they have an active spiritual life—and, evidently, there really is a lot of confusion.

Why can't you sleep with someone to find out if you're "compatible" with each other before committing to spending a lifetime with that person? Why can't you be intimate with someone you intend to stay with? Why can't you share a home with your partner prior to the wedding, even if one of you is already wearing an engagement ring? If you don't know the answers to these questions, read the Bible. Read the Holy Fathers. Read books and articles by priests. Even look it up on my web site. A lot of people have already answered all of these questions and more.

Not that faith isn't reason enough, but it turns out that there's also a lot of secular advice in favor of abstinence before marriage. To my surprise, I found a huge amount of academic literature that attests to the many consequences of fornication. It may not be called that, and the consequences discussed may be more worldly than spiritual (or maybe not), but there's still a lot of interesting information out there. Without faith, that information is useless; we can't discern what's good or bad. With faith and Christian discretion, though, it can give us a lot of extra ammunition for our moral arsenals.

After consulting a lot of research, I was able to summarize what I've found into 10 main points. Rest assured, they're not the easy answers of "because you might get pregnant" or "because living together might have legal implications," or "because you might get your heart broken." This is cold, hard statistical data on human behavior patterns and psychological experiences. And in light of all the reasons we typically hear in favor of fornication, at least a few of these are likely to be a big surprise.

The ultimate "expert" on any subject is, of course, God—but here are ten expert recommendations from the secular world against sleeping/living together before marriage. In one way or another, they all echo the Lord's commandment.

1. It leads to an increased rate of infidelity.1

Both partners need to learn how to control their urges and impulses before marriage. If one or both of you can't keep your hands off of the other now, a wedding isn't magically going to teach you how to keep them off of other people in the future. Research on thousands of men across multiple countries confirms this: More sex during dating means more infidelity during marriage.

2. It leads to an increased rate of divorce.2

If you sleep with someone you don't end up marrying, your risk of divorce will be significantly higher once you do get married. In a study of 6,500 married women, the divorce rate was three times higher for those who'd had multiple sexual partners than for those who were never intimate with anyone other than their husbands.

3. It leads to decreased sexual satisfaction in marriage.3

People tend to think you have to "practice" physical intimacy before marriage in order to get the most out of it during marriage. One of the most liberal studies ever conducted, however, revealed the opposite: People who were completely abstinent prior to marriage are more satisfied during marriage, particularly those who abstained for religious reasons.

4. It leads to decreased feelings of romance.4

Sexual experience with a partner you don't end up staying with leads to a lessened experience of romance with whomever you do end up with. There's a direct relationship between the number of your past partners and your feelings of romance with your current partner: The higher the number of partners, the lower the feelings of romance.

5. It leads to less love and overall satisfaction in marriage.5

Decreases in romance and sexual satisfaction aren't the only consequences of out-of-wedlock sexual experiences. Research confirms that the highest levels of love and overall satisfaction belong to people who (1) are married, (2) had the fewest number of sexual partners, and (3) did not live together with their current or any previous partners.
6. It leads to poor decision-making and partner-selection.6
Sex outside of marriage is directly related to poor relationship choices. Physical intimacy clouds good judgment. Several studies have shown that if you're abstinent while dating, you're likely to use better discretion in selecting a prospective partner. If you're sexually active, however, you're likely to overlook important aspects of a potential mate's character, fidelity, and sexual history as long as you think that person is "sexy."
7. Just because it's great now doesn't mean it will be great later.7
Physical intimacy during dating isn't representative of what it will be like during marriage, even if you marry the same person with whom you've been intimate. One researcher explains that this is because "the dating relationship has an agenda that marriage does not. … There is a lot of pressure to win over a partner, which causes a person to consciously or unconsciously please that partner in ways that may be very temporary." He adds that the very reason a new relationship is so exciting is because of the tension of not having explored sexual intimacy with that person.
8. It creates unnecessary complications in the marriage bed.8
There's a learning curve with everything in life, including the physical aspects of a relationship. When both spouses enter into a marriage inexperienced in that respect, they learn together, and a very special bond is created as a result. But when both spouses have learned things from being with other people—or worse, when one has and the other hasn't—it gives rise to memories of past experiences, regrets about the ways in which one's spouse might not measure up, and feelings of jealousy from the spouse.
9. It hides existing relationship problems and creates additional ones.9
In marriage, sex can't be separated from the other aspects of the relationship—the good and the bad. In dating, however, sex very often precedes the development of a solid relationship. Because of this, it can mask problems that exist but haven't yet been identified by one or both partners. It can create temporary feelings of euphoria that will ultimately shatter, once those problems begin to surface. And if physical attraction happened to be the primary basis of the relationship, then there won't be much left to salvage when that falls apart.
10. It can make a relationship very unstable.10
According to one psychological model, there are five dimensions to any relationship: Knowledge, trust, reliance, commitment, and touch. If the level of touch exceeds the level of anything else—if you don't know everything you need to know about your partner; if you haven't been together long enough to prove that this is someone you can trust; if you can't or don't know how to rely on him or her; and if there isn't sufficient commitment (i.e., a marriage)—then the relationship becomes very unstable. It will leave you desiring all of the other aspects, but with no guarantee of ever receiving them.
* * *
I think that these secular findings add some strong input to the argument against couples sleeping together before marriage. Regardless of what the secular research reveals, however, the fact remains that God forbids it. It's good that there are academic studies recommending against fornication, but the most important reason for not doing it is, in fact, "because God said so."
I don't mean to be crude by focusing on such a socially unacceptable topic. It should be sufficient for God and the holy fathers so say, "Don't do it!" and for us to follow their direction without hesitating—but, unfortunately, that's not what most of us are doing. Most of us may not even be aware that the topic is socially unacceptable; while it's still something scorned among Christians, it's become something that's okay to do, talk about, and celebrate among others.
If the only people weighing the "pros" and cons of sexual sin are the ones in favor of it, theirs will be the only perspective found when someone who truly wants to understand goes looking. The popular idea that you have to live with someone in order to know whether marriage to that person is worthwhile sounds convincing, especially if you consider how high the divorce rates in our country are. But now that I've shown—completely with secular research findings—how many divorces and marriage problems are actually a by-product of fornication, hopefully the idea has lost whatever appeal it might have had.
In the end, of course, no one is going to base his or her decision not to sin on what a handful of research studies says; that's where faith has to come in. (Research shows that drunk-driving is dangerous, yet people continue to do it every day.) According to Christian faith, no good can come from defiling the marriage bed, regardless of whether it's defiled during or prior to marriage. Also according to Christian faith, God punishes sin. There's punishment in this life, too, not just the next.
Punishment for fornication comes in the way of mental illness, sick children, ugly diseases, and even early death; refer to the holy fathers on this. And when a person dies without having repented for his or her sinfulness, it doesn't matter how much that person repeated that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God," or did good deeds, or went to church every Sunday; the ultimate result is still the deprivation of eternal life.
No one is perfect, not even those who are free of the sin of fornication. And there are many other sins of which we need to rid ourselves, not just fornication. For many people, though, this is the sin that warrants the most concern. It's the only one that has universal appeal.
The reason fornication is often so appealing to so many people is because it has its roots in human nature. It stems from something very normal, very natural, and very permissible within Christian marriage. But any goodness in physical intimacy is destroyed when it's removed from the one, holy context in which it belongs. It becomes a sin that's addictive, clouds one's vision, overtakes one's thoughts, and poisons one's heart. It's more dangerous than other sins because, as many of the fathers have written, the demon of fornication has nature on his side. It's not human nature to lie, or steal, or kill; we know these things are wrong. The desire to be close to someone, however, is as natural as anything gets.
For more information on the Orthodox perspective on this subject, I recommend the following titles:
On chastity and premarital cohabitation by Father Pavel Gumerov
The Orthodox Christian marriage: Sex, children, birth control, divorce by Father Alexey Young
Sex isn't sin when practiced within a sacred context by Father Barnabas Powell
And from my web site:
But it's the 2000s …
Innocence lost
[1] White, R., Cleland, J., & Carael, M. (2000). Links between premarital sexual behavior and extramarital intercourse: A multi-site analysis. AIDS 2000, 14, 2323-2331.
[2] Teachman, J. (2003). Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 444-455.
[3] Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O., & Kolata, G. (1995). Sex in America. New York: Warner Books, pp. 124-125.
[4] Cunningham, J. D., & Antill, J. K. (1981). Love in developing relationships. In S. Duck & R. Gilmour (Eds.), Personal Relationships, 2: Developing personal relationships (pp. 27-51). London: Academic Press.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Van Epp, J. (2006). How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk: The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart without Losing Your Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 300-301.
[7] Ibid., p. 305.
[8] Multiple sources confirm this.
[9] Van Epp (2006).
[10] Ibid.