The moral case for sex before marriage


Condemning premarital sex and promoting abstinence are not working. Lasting, loving relationships are made through intimacy

Americans love to tout the value of waiting until marriage to have sex. We teach abstinence-only education in schools across the country, and even comprehensive sex-ed programs often point out that “abstinence is best.” Pop stars from Britney Spears to Jessica Simpson, to the Jonas Brothers, to Miley Cyrus, to Justin Bieber routinely assert that they’re waiting ’til marriage – putting them into the Good Role Model category (at least, until someone leaks a sex tape). There’s a booming “purity industry”, complete with jewelry, elaborate events, books, t-shirts and DVDs.

Our state and federal tax dollars have long been spent promoting “chastity”. While conservative commentators are happy to assert that waiting until marriage is the best choice for everyone and people who don’t wait aren’t doing marriage “the right way”, sex-positive liberals hesitate to say that having sex before marriage is an equally valid – if not better – choice for nearly everyone.

So here it goes: having sex before marriage is the best choice for nearly everyone.

How do I know? Well, first of all, nearly everyone has sex before marriage – 95% of Americans don’t wait until their wedding night. And that’s a longstanding American value. Even among folks in my grandparents’ generation, nine out of ten of them had sex before they wed.

Of course, just because lots of people do a thing doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. But sex is. In terms of happiness, sex is better than money, and having sex once a week instead of once a month is the “happiness equivalent” of an extra $50,000 a year. People with active sex lives live longer. Sex releases stress, boosts immunities, helps you sleep and is heart-healthy.

Written By: Jill Filipovic
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  1. Absolutely — let me add a bit to that.

    In the human sphere, moral interactions have a common thread of all participants being Informed, Consenting, and Empowered.   To be uninformed is to be exploited.  To be nonconsenting is to be forced.  To be unempowered is slavery.   [empowerment has to do with recourse]

    We need to be educating (age appropriately) how to have sex as an Informed, Consenting, and Empowered (BOTH/ALL parties) activity.
    Informed (STDs, pregnancy, intimacy, feelings, real risks, appropriateness, expectations during and after)
    Consenting (doesn’t need to be forms signed in triplicates but it DOES need to be explicit and all parties have a burden to ensure the willing consent of all others, not just assume it, NOT force it, NOT put it under stress or pressure or to account for such stress and pressures where they do exist)
    Empowered (empowered to say NO,  and have NO mean NO – and have it recognized and respected by the law)

    Someone forcibly kept in the dark about the facts of sex is therefore being treated IMMORALLY, by their parents and by anyone exploiting this uninformed state.

    Make it your mantra:  Informed, Consenting, and Empowered — and don’t just ensure it for yourself, take the moral responsibility to help ensure others are equally Informed, Consenting, and Empowered in your interactions with them.

  2. Sex education is vitally  important for the young ones. In the end of the day ,teenagers do what teenagers want to do.

  3. One of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard about is the Purity Ball, an event popular in Evangelical circles in which young girls are encouraged to pledge their virginity to their fathers. Eeeeewwwww.

    From Wiki: ” Proponents of these events contend that they encourage close and deeply affectionate, but chaste, relationships between fathers and daughters, thereby avoiding the sexual activity that allegedly results when young women seek love through relationships with young men of their own age.”

    “But chaste”? Is it really necessary to add “but chaste” when talking about events involving fathers and their daughters? Isn’t that a given? I guess the girls should be grateful that the organizers go so far as to insist that these “deeply affectionate” relationships stop shy of actual penetration. What father looks at his daughter and thinks “her hymen should belong to me”?

    Also from Wiki: “The girls can range in age from their college years to 4 years old, however the majority of girls are “just old enough… [to] have begun menstruating” as purity ball guidelines advise.

  4. For a “purity ball” experience that will induce total, skin-crawling, heart-shrinking, brain-withering creepiness paired with the kind of disgust that makes you want to shower with bleach and be lobotomized to erase the images from your brain, watch “The Virgin Daughters” on YouTube.
    For me, it was a Kevlar-jacketed carbon fiber reinforcement of the idea that religion is child abuse.

  5. Nope, sorry – that’s not his wife.  And that’s far from the worst thing on that video.  I watched it after having a few drinks, and it was still hard to take.  I was outraged that this could be happening in 21st-century America – or anywhere.

    Thanks for providing the link – I couldn’t get it to copy into my post for some reason.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with the article.  I bet those who are against pre-marital sex  do try shoes on before they buy them.  Although some may disagree with the analogy, I think it’s a fair one.  Live with the person as a trial, before you get the marriage certificate.  If it does not work out, then the harm is minimised.  Besides, sex before marriage has to be a good thing, as sometimes, there is very little after 🙂

  7. Ok, that has to be one of the creepiest things I ever tried to watch in my attempts to better understand these people and I didn’t even make it pass 01:10.  I’ve heard of this practice years ago (on Real Time with Bill Maher) about how the daughter would vow to retain her virginity until marriage and to wear a creepy ring in honor of that vow before attending a father/daughter dance to celebrate (for lack of a better word).  What truly sickens me is that if this wasn’t religiously sanctioned these people would be charged with child abuse and rightly so. 

    I would love to meet the genius who came up with this brain fart ‘solution’ as they have completely ignored the science of the human body but then that is no surprise from the faithful.  Then again, it doesn’t really matter what Evangelicals believe because you can’t brain wash or bully biology.  As a race we are highly charged regarding sex and the population growth over the last century proves it and teenagers are going to do what they have always done throughout the ages, break the rules.

  8.  Yes that is weird, Katy.  Only in America, as they say (I hope).  I suspect that the founder of this idea, Randy Wilson, is more randy than he is letting on 🙂  Only someone fixated with sex would dream up the idea of a ‘Purity Ball’.  BTW, the more conservative states in the US have the highests rates of teenage pregnancy (and also high rates of other social ills, such as alcoholism, domestic violence etc).

  9. Katy,

    I totally agree with your assessment of the guy’s behavior in that youtube video. A prime example
    of delusional parental thinking within the framework of a delusional adult mindset. Scary indeed.

  10. An early episode of Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show discussed the purity pledge. A preacher asked in his sermon who would make such a pledge. Cleveland was embarrassed when his son made such a pledge. The rest of the episode showed up the double standard of valuing females staying pure while males sow their wild oats. Of course, not all advocates of the purity pledge think inconsistently that male virginity is, as Cleveland put it, “a terrible burden” to be removed ASAP. It’s a very thought-provoking yet funny episode nonetheless.

  11. I made it to the point where they erect a large cross in the middle of the ballroom. It says it all.

  12. A great article.  A major  benefit of doing away with all the nonsense about sex (mostly religious effort to control paternity)  and making it more open and acceptable is that it would help to reduce the global population explosion.  The more it is spoken about, the more knowledge will be gained and the less ‘ mistakes’ there will be.  If it ultimately  almost achieves  the public status of a sport,  contraception would be so established that the decision to have a child would have to be a very deliberate one instead of the present situation where I think the majority of  pregnancies in the world are actually unplanned.  (it would be an interesting research topic to establish how many pregnancies are actually planned)

  13. @OP:twitter  routinely assert that they’re waiting ’til marriage – putting them into the Good Role Model category (at least, until someone leaks a sex tape).

    Or maybe the “posing hypocrisy category” or the theist “reinterpretation of words”, category!.

    There’s a booming “purity industry”, complete with jewelry, elaborate events, books, t-shirts and DVDs.

    Sounds like fundie thinking – encourage spending – but not on anything useful like sex education, and then have couples, take decisions on marriage, before they know if their partnership works! 
    Naturally if it doesn’t fundie divorce is out of the question!

  14. sex before marriage has to be a good thing, as sometimes, there is very little after 🙂
    Hee hee, true enough! Reinforced by the evidence seen on the waistband of some ‘jocks’ I bought which read “best before marriage”… 

  15. Shouldn’t this headline simply read:

    ‘The Moral Case for Sex’


    [Edited to add the word ‘moral’.]

  16. Before the invention of the condom, chastity was the only way to block STDs and pregnancy. Fathers sold their daughters, complete with a seal for your protection to guarantee freshness. Now it makes as much sense as buying a car without even getting in the front seat.

  17. Ha! Thanks for the link, Katy. That was priceless. I don’t know how these people manage to speak in soft-focus, but they do – I nearly threw up at the Father ( circa 01:56):

    “It sounds unrealistic in our day and age. It’s not the path that I went down, personally… but if it can work? How cool would it be to say ‘I have kissed but one man’.  How cool would that be? How… special, how… cherished, how… set apart.”

    Creepy. I half expected him to burst into song:

    “To dream the impossible dream

    To fight the unbeatable foe

    To bear with unbearable sorrow

    To run where the brave dare not go.

    All together, everybody, join with me…

                                                                                         CUT TO:


    This is my quest, to follow that star,

    No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

    To be willing to give when there’s no more to give

    To be willing to die so that honor and justice may live

    And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest

    That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest



  18. I was wondering for a while now about this whole marriage thing. Apart from there being nothing wrong with telling the whole world that you love a person very much and want to spend the rest of your life with her or him, what is the practical use of a marriage?  I can’t actually think of any real use for it. There are some financial benefits and in some countries there are other rights attached to being married, but that actually comes after the fact. It’s all legal stuff or in a religious sense holy stuff.  This religious part has bothered me for a while because I think it stinks a little. Fortunately, for the large part, no religious conviction is needed to be allowed to get married any more. But this has not always been the case. On the contrary, you were supposed to be a member of a certain denomination before any marital rights could be given. And thus, if no sex is allowed before marriage, you will not be able to reproduce unless you are married and to be married you have to be a member of a church. Furthermore, this was (and sometimes still is) a way to exclude certain people from marriage. E.g. if they are from the wrong denomination or, for that matter atheists. Am I the only one who sees this?  

  19. Who can come up with the best ‘speech balloon’ for the girl in the pic?

    I told you to ask for directions 50 miles (80.4672 kilometers) ago.

  20. Here’s the problem. Unbelievably, some kids are having sex at nine, eleven, twelve years old. Some kids are having oral sex during school hours. Many teens and college aged kids go to parties and watch a couple putting themselves on display. Some boys play sex games adding notches to their belt trying to have sex with as many girls within a short period of time. Usually this is a fraternity game, but this extends into high school.

    On the other hand, you have a couple who is in a loving relationship and someone is holding out because of a rule. You have gay kids beating themselves up and entering into straight relationships because society, religion, family is pressuring them to be something they are not.  Or these gay kids are just not getting involved with anyone for a very long time. There are also adults abstaining because of a religious clause, holiday, or cleansing experience.

    What’s not being done is looking for a mature, responsible, reasonable, respectful, loving approach that is of benefit to both people. Abstaining from an idiot is a wise choice. More kids are making an unwise choice rather than taking a (creepy) vow with their daddy. Both views are immature and lacking.

    A while ago, I was listening to a podcast in which the women were talking about sex positive behavior.  I must admit, I was judgmental. I understand women having the choice of getting an abortion, but bad choices and an impoverished background needs to be addressed rather than glossed over saying everything is OK. Others feel it’s OK to have orgies, yet I must admit that I would see someone quite differently in a social or working relationship, if someone were to admit this to me. I intellectually acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with this behavior, yet there is a part of me that would see this person as impulsive, unwise, cheap, lack of prudence in a positive sense etc. If I were in a relationship and someone were to admit attending orgies and having multiple partners simultaneously, I would probably be suspicious of this person in the future. I would have to say – not for me.

    I think there needs to be a more balanced, wise and educated view. This seems like it is a minority view that is much needed.

  21. Sex being part of human, is hard to say if it is wrong to have sex before marriage.  Couples are marrying later in life and some prefer to stay single.  I think sex education should be taught to children at a young age and I think it doesn’t hurt to have it in schools.  Children should know the consequences.

  22. Yes, the problem with teaching any extreme view is that, once discarded by the student, there is no guidance at all.

  23. When I think of how the big three religions have warped and controlled female sexuality, I can’t even figure out why women want to be part of this. As Evo-Bio chips away at the previously puritanical view of sexuality that many of us grew up with, I think that young women will benefit from an understanding of what is “natural” sexual behavior for us.  What are we hardwired for and why?

    If I could magically go back in time, 5000, then 10,000, then 30,000 years at a time, let’s say, here are the questions that I would be thrilled to find the answers to:

    1. What % of sexual encounters were consensual?

    2.  What % of sexual encounters were what we would presently describe as incestuous?

    3.  How flexible was female sexual orientation?

    4.  How solid were male-female pair bonds at any given point in the past?

    5.  How often did multiple partner sexual behavior take place?

    6.  How often was behavior #5 consensual?

    7.  What role did orgasm play in past female sexual behavior?

    Many years ago, before I’d ever read a single book or article on this subject, a young guy asked me if I thought humans were monogamous by nature.  The question shocked me at the time because it had never occurred to me to even ask it, but that one simple question set me on a path of investigating the topic.  Now I don’t hesitate to say in a direct way to others what I know to be true: humans are not monogamous, and based on my best guesses, the answers to the questions above will probably reveal some fascinating truths that will be profoundly disturbing to the puritanical control freak bunch. 

    My best guess answers to the questions above, so far, are:

    1.  50% maybe?

    2.  50% maybe?

    3.  very

    4.  not very

    5.  80% to 90% of the time

    6.  50% of the time

    7.  minimal in hetero sex, maximum in same sex encounters.

    If I’m right about any of these, then it speaks volumes about how women today maneuver through our social landscape and employ sexual strategies to achieve certain goals.

  24.  I ‘ve been saying that marriage is an out-dated concept for a long time; and with recent changes to laws in many places, the legal side of marriage has become irrelevant. So it is only religious and “look at us” that remains. I’ll make a commitment to a partner, but I’m never getting married.

  25. “When I think of how the big three religions have warped and controlled female sexuality, “

    Unfortunately the three main religions are not the only ones. They just use religion to control female sexuality rather than other means. Just look around you, sexism and stereotypical roles for women extend far beyond religion. We aren’t equal whether in religion or outside it. Without religion something else would have warped and controlled female sexuality.

    “1. What % of sexual encounters were consensual?”
    Well how common is non consensual sex in other species? Fairly rare I’d have thought given the effort put in by males to be attractive. And most men and women find things like rape or child abuse fairly abhorrent suggesting it is an aberration rather than the norm. Non consensual sex also tend to be about control and hatred rather than pure sex for fun. I think perhaps women have become less equal over thousands of years if I’m honest. 

    Plus I’d imagine choice of partner on both sides played a huge part in evolving a large brain, communication skills etc. Which wouldn’t have happened if non consensual sex was common. I’d say way higher than 50% with non consensual only playing a part in exceptional circumstances as it does now – eg war, conquest, punishment. 
    “4.  How solid were male-female pair bonds at any given point in the past?”
    In evolutionary terms? I’d have said they’d have to have been fairly solid if relatively helpless, dependent infants were going to survive to maturity. Conception is only part of the story. Whether that bond was always with the biological father or not is another matter, but we’ve evolved as bipeds giving birth to large brained, helpless children. Childbirth and early child rearing make mothers very vulnerable initially, without some kind of pair bond.  

    Male-female pair bonds (or male-male, female-female) are the norm in many societies where both partners contribute equally to survival. Exclusive bonding seems to be very common and seems to be what most people look for whether straight or gay. Sex is usually better and on tap in a relationship without the effort of going out and meeting someone. Then there is companionship, friendship, support  etc. Though as far as I can see it tends to be men that are keenest on marriage and commitment despite the stereotypes. Anyway I can’t believe solid pair bonding is that recent.
    “5.  How often did multiple partner sexual behavior take place?”
    I suppose it is possible that females would bond with one male but would then sleep with others in an attempt to get the best genes? Which I suppose could be the evolutionary reason behind things like concealed ovulation?
    “7.  What role did orgasm play in past female sexual behavior?”
    I don’t understand your answer to this one. It evolved with no obvious benefit and a hell of a lot of women are exclusively  heterosexual and enjoy sex with men so it it must have played a significant role in hetero sex . My guess is the cost of reproduction in women is high – pregnancy, dangerous childbirth etc – so the rewards must be great to risk throwing caution to the wind. Plus it allows them to determine which men care enough to make the effort and therefore are more likely to stay around if there are children. And doesn’t the oxytocin released contribute to pair bonding?  So maybe it contributed to the whole thing of pair bonding thing which in turn led to greater survival rates for children. With pleasurable spin offs for same sex encounters.

    “humans are not monogamous, and based on my best guesses, the answers to the questions above will probably reveal some fascinating truths that will be profoundly disturbing to the puritanical control freak bunch.”

    Simple human emotions like jealousy suggest we prefer monogamy when in relationships. Though that may be serial rather than absolute monogamy. I’m not sure that is a puritanical thing rather than a simple evolutionary one. Relationships may not be for life but when in one most people expect it to be exclusive.

    “If I’m right about any of these, then it speaks volumes about how women today maneuver through our social landscape and employ sexual strategies to achieve certain goals.”

    Sadly you probably are right, its something we’ve all done. And they shouldn’t, they should be maneuvering through our social landscapes on the same grounds as men.

    As for the article – isn’t it stating the bleeding obvious? No sane person would marry someone they weren’t commited enough to to have wanted to leap into bed with them  long before planning the white dress and cake. Thats just bizarre.

    And no normal person holds off from having sex until they find the right person.  If you think they might be the right person you’d surely be desperate to have sex anyway, long before knowing for sure and if they weren’t you wouldn’t keep your legs crossed waiting for someone better to come along. 

    Anyway we did what most people we know do these days and waited till after the second child had come along to give us ready made small bridesmaids. For the obvious reason that it conferred some legal rights on their dad. Cos unmarried biological fathers have none. 

  26. The fact that human males are c.30% bigger than females suggests that at some relatively recent point in our ancestry males operated some kind of harem system. In species where life pairs are made there is little to no difference in size.
    Mammals with large harems e.g. elephant seals this becomes obvious where the male is 4-5x the size of the female.

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