“I love how you call them your kids,” a former student said to me. I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it. When had they gone from being my students to being my kids?...
I teach high school Theology at a small Catholic School in the south. One day while reviewing the chapter entitled “Respecting Sexuality,” one of my 8th grade kids asked, “What’s wrong with living with someone before you get married?” The vocabulary word was “cohabitation” and they asked the question the way only a 13 year old can, innocently, simplistically. It was clear that they thought the couple would just “live” together. This wasn’t a question of sex, but one of pure practicality. What on earth is wrong with that?!
In the past, I had been caught off guard by the naiveté of the question, the assumption that two people who are sexually attracted to one another could live and sleep in the same space and not have sex. By the time “my kids” get to the 10th grade the question is more direct: “What’s wrong with two people who love each other having sex before marriage?”
Where to start?...
Over the last eight years I have answered the question many different ways. From rules to relationships, the truth of the Church’s teachings to the beauty. There are lots of approaches:
Statistics show that people who live together before marriage are much more likely to get divorced. The divorce rate for couples who cohabitate before tying the knot is 33 percent higher than for those who wait to live together until after they are married. Why? There are many theories. I propose that it is because the foundation of their relationship is based on something temporary. Let’s see if this works. They have not spent time disciplining their passions the way an athlete or a musician does. It is a different level of commitment. I’m not saying the marriage won’t work, I’m saying it’s not the best option, it’s much less successful in the long run. It’s hard enough to make marriage work in today’s culture, give yourselves the best chance possible. Love is patient. Wait for one another. Don’t commit before you’re ready to commit.
Want to know if something is right or wrong? You can tell a tree by its fruit. What is the fruit of premarital sex? Unwanted pregnancies, abortion, STD’s, broken hearts. The hurt and suffering unleashed into the world as a result of premarital sex is incalculable. Sex is designed by our Creator to be pleasurable. None of the above is pleasurable. Sex outside of the covenant of marriage is sex out of the order it was intended, and as a result the pleasure aspect is distorted if not altogether destroyed. We’re not supposed to be scared after sex. What if l I get pregnant?... Will he or she remain faithful to me after I’ve exposed myself in the most vulnerable of ways?...
In addition to being pleasurable, sex is intended by our Creator to be unitive and procreative. What does that mean? Two become ONE. You can’t separate ONE. Sex is meant to be a way to show with our bodies that we are 100% and forever committed to the good of other. The other person’s body becomes one with our body. Flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. We become one with the other. It is a sacrificial and permanent giving of your self to someone else. This is real love. Sex is intended to be so much more than just a biological function like eating or sleeping. It is the closest you can ever get to a person’s soul. It is a way to pour all of your love and your very self into the other in such a way that it overflows into new life. A mini-me. An adorable you. Together in one flesh. Your heart walking around outside your body. A love you never imagined possible. It simply doesn’t get any better than babies. They are not inconveniences to be scheduled into our busy lives or expenses to be tallied. They are blessings beyond measure.
One day recently I started answering the question again and I found myself frustrated for words. There was so much I wanted to say to them but I didn’t know where to start. And none of it felt good enough. I knew I would lose them. I was swimming upstream in a culture that was swamping me. My answer became long and wordy and I saw them slipping away the way only a teacher can recognize. In a moment of near despair, in the face of the daunting task at hand, my heart burst with love for them.
“You know what I want for each and every one of you?!,” I said, reclaiming their attention. I want a bold, fearless love for you. I want someone to deny themselves and their desires out of respect for you and what is best for you. I hope you find someone who wants to stand in front of God and all of their friends and family and shout to the heavens: I LOVE YOU! Now and forever. In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer… until death do us part!” NO MATTER WHAT. I will honor you and cherish you all the days of my life!
Please, I begged them, don’t settle for a “love” that wants to “test you out,” to see if you fit into their life, their world, their ever changing plans; someone who reserves the right to decide one day that it’s not going to work, that you leave the towel on the bathroom floor or roll the tube of toothpaste the wrong way.
Love isn’t practical or logical, it is self abandonment for the sake of the other. It requires unbelievable strength and courage. It involves real sacrifice and commitment. Patience, persistence, restraint and discipline. It is the most important thing in life. It is what it’s all about. Practice that. Not sex. Not before you have promised in front of God and everyone else you love that you intend to spend the rest of your life with that person. Please. For your own well being and happiness, as well as the sake of a entire culture that is increasingly forgetting how to tolerate, let alone love “the other.”
Be a witness to that kind of love in the world. We need you.