Is premarital sex today less “evil” than it used to be?

Walter Russell Mead says yes. He writes:

The core truth is that premarital sex is less evil today than it used to be.  It remains, as moral theologians say, wrong in itself, we Christians believe, and that is a quality that does not change.  But premarital sex is less of a sin against other people than it used to be.

It’s an intriguing premise, no? That premarital sex isn’t as damaging to others now than it has been historically. What’s to blame? Ah, the almighty Pill that helped separate fertility from sex–with a healthy dose of antibiotics on the side.

More Mead:

In the old days, for example, before contraception, every act of intercourse outside marriage carried a substantial possibility of ending in pregnancy.  For women, the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock were life shattering: disgrace, the loss of any hope of a good marriage, economic and social marginalization.  It was very foolish and wicked for young girls to place themselves and their families at risk of all this for a moments’ pleasure; it was much worse for young men to attempt to persuade and cajole girls they did not plan to marry into sex.  Young men who behaved in this way attracted the deserved moral censure of the community, and parents were vigilant to protect their daughters from unscrupulous seducers.

Premarital sex under these circumstances was not just a moral crime against God’s law; it was a selfish act of personal gratification that endangered the well being and happiness of whole families.

If we add to that the devastating consequences of sexually transmitted diseases in the era before antibiotics made them treatable, premarital sex becomes an even more dubious phenomenon.  Insanity, death, sterility, defective offspring: unchastity brought all these consequences in its wake.  The casual seducer who infected a young woman with syphilis might be condemning her, her unborn children and her future husband to madness and death.

He’s right. As a result of the devastating consequences, parents cared enough to warn their children against the dangers of premarital sex. No more. It’s seen as a right of passage. Um, beware too many late-night hookups, dear. You might never learn to properly commit yourself to multiple partners later.

This helps to explain the diminished concern that parents and educators feel about the 88 percent.  It does not mean that a society in which marriage steadily weakens, abortion is commonplace, and millions of children grow up without a father in the home is a healthy place.  But it explains why many parents in particular are more concerned with their children’s grades than with their sexual activities in college and why tuition-paying parents no longer demand that their daughters be kept in sex-segregated dorms with curfews and parietals.

Mead concludes that more is as stake beyond our collective morality–it’s the very idea of life centered around family at risk of becoming endangered.

Read the rest.

P.S. Where is Stacy? With “Christians Are Still Having Sex” as a tantalizing headline, I expected The Other McCain to be hot on the trail.

UPDATE: linked as a “Recommended Read” by Pundette. Thanks!

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3 Responses

  1. Dante placed sexual transgressions in the first (outer) circle of hell, which is the least sinful. I think (at least as I perceive it) it has always been looked at as less of a sin than say murder.

    Really, where I have my dispute with the Catholic Church is over contraceptives that don’t create life (barrier) for married couples. The Church insists that all married sexuality must be natural, even if you’re trying to not conceive.

  2. Love this post! Thank you for reminding me why marriage is sacred.

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