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Is the Church’s teaching against premarital sex realistic?

AFP PHOTO / Stringer

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 03/27/13

Men and women are getting married later - but they can still wait

Church teaching tells us that sex is “a sign of a total commitment made between two persons, and made to their whole persons, not a temporary one made to their bodies alone” (read what Pope Bl. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body says about premarital sex). Even though societal standards – such as a person’s average age at the time of marriage – may change, human nature does not.

In an age where both men and women often seek to establish their careers first and marry later, premarital sex may be a greater temptation for some. After all, one of the purposes (though not the primary one) of marriage is that it can be a cure for concupiscence. Church teaching communicates God’s purpose for man and is in harmony with the way that we were designed. Therefore, Church teaching does not change along with cultural trends; the truth that sex is made for marriage cannot be changed.

So is saving sex for marriage realistic? Yes, but not because it isn’t difficult. Thankfully, the virtue to chastity to which we are all called is a gift from God; we don’t have to accomplish it on our own. Chastity is a moral virtue that we do have to work at, but fortunately, we are not at it alone – God’s help is available to us. The Catechism tells us how: “Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer.”

Everyone is called to chastity, whether they be married or single, clergy or lay. To live chastely means to engage in sexual relations only when they are linked with a procreative and unitive purpose within marriage. It may be helpful for the single adult to keep in mind that they are not the only ones who must exercise continence for a lengthy amount of times. Clearly, religious and clergy live chastity by remaining continent throughout their life. However, married people also practice continence at times: for weeks or months after the birth of a child, when one spouse is ill or away, or if the couple is practicing natural family planning. Every person, regardless of their state in life, must strive for the virtue of chastity, which “comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (Catechism 2341).

In considering this temptation, it is important to recall that a ban on pre-marital sex is not an arbitrary law designed to make life difficult. Rather, the emphasis should be on the profound reality that is waiting for those who are called to the Sacrament of Marriage: “[t]his is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24).

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