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Putting genies back into bottles: Sex before marriage

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Katrina Fernandez - published on 03/09/17

Sex without the full commitment of marriage creates a false sense of intimacy

Dear Katrina,

A Catholic family member of mine is sexually intimate with his girlfriend, despite his full understanding of Church teaching on this. He has expressed to me (but not to his girlfriend, as far as I know) a strong desire to correct this aspect of his life, but he is afraid of how his girlfriend will react. I would love to help him, but frankly I have a hard time getting past the fact that he allowed himself to fall into this situation in the first place.

How can I help him while at the same time being charitable and refraining from coming off as judgmental?



Dear Ohio,

I know it can be frustrating to watch the ones we love do things we know are bad for them. It can really test our patience. But let me ask you, don’t we all allow ourselves to fall into sinful situations when we willingly choose to not do the right thing? No one is immune from regrettable behavior.   

With that in mind, go ahead and offer to help him. I don’t believe he would have brought it to your attention if he didn’t value your advice on the matter. Also, I firmly believe that anyone who expresses a strong and genuine desire to amend past wrongful behavior deserves the opportunity to do so.

Being charitable doesn’t mean refraining from judgment, and judgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of how much easier our lives would be if we simply practiced having better judgment. Your family member’s desire to correct his behavior shows that a certain level of self-judgment has already occurred, which should make it easier to be a little more charitable and less exasperated with him. Remember he came to you for help and that shows a strong level of emotional maturity and self-awareness that many people don’t possess. 

When offering your help, consider the following: Is this relationship serious or just physical? Is the girlfriend Catholic? How long have they been together as a couple? It’s also important to emphasize the very real possibility that their relationship will not last once sex has been factored out. Sex without the full commitment of marriage creates a false sense of intimacy that can quickly diminish once the couple stops sexual activity.  

Read more: 10 good reasons to save sex until marriage

Realistically, his girlfriend may react very poorly. She might get angry, accuse him of cheating, break up with him, or pretend to be supportive to save the relationship only to try tempting him later to change his mind. She may also be genuinely understanding and use this as an opportunity for them to grow stronger as a couple. The fact is that he should be more concerned with his relationship with God and his standing with the Church than worrying about how his girlfriend will react.  

If there is a viable relationship then she’ll respect his religious convictions and appreciate his efforts to have a more meaningful relationship. If not, then your family member has learned a valuable lesson to carry into his next relationship.

I would just encourage him to be prepared when he decides to talk to his girlfriend. Encourage him to read about Church teaching on premarital sex because he’ll have to be able to thoughtfully explain it to his girlfriend. Have him meet with a priest or suggest they meet with a priest together as a couple. He also definitely needs to make a good confession.

Your family member needs to be prepared for his girlfriend not to understand or accept Church teaching, and that’s OK. It’s a hard teaching for many people to accept. Encourage him to be kind and patient with her but to also be strong in his convictions.

People are more likely to follow through with something if they know their decisions will be supported by family and friends. I believe you can be that support.

Recommended reading – Pre-marital Sex: Lessons from Reason, Scripture

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