Pre-marital Sexual Relations

One of our goals ought to be to develop within the hearts and minds of teens that virginity is something very good, something to strive for until marriage, and something not to be embarrassed about possessing, but in fact an accomplishment to be proud of keeping. We want them to remain virgin until marriage, not simply because they did what they were asked in not having sex, but that they valued themselves, the person they will marry, their relationship with God, and sex itself. Teens ought to see sex as something very sacred and good and therefore an act not lightly undertaken.
Archpriest Joseph F Purpura | 23 October 2009

Source: The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America


Taken from Fr. Joseph’s book: Moral and Ethical Issues Confronting Orthodox Youth Across North America



It is not surprising that one out of every four teens are unsure if it is right or wrong to have sexual relations prior to marriage, given how much teens are inundated with sexual messages and images in their daily life, starting from the pre-teen years. The fact that only 5.57 percent of teens in the survey thought pre-marital sex was right is remarkable given the pervasive exploitation of young males and females in the media as sex objects and the constant portrayal of sex outside of marriage as normal and an everyday event without consequences. We need to better equip teens to make good choices concerning sex and to be able to see through the multitude of sexual messages they receive on a daily basis. We want teens to see themselves as important, valuable and sacred, despite the messages they receive to the contrary, which tend to debase both males and females. Simply teaching teens that sex is bad is insufficient and tends to leave teens further confused as to why they are having the physical and psychological feelings and urges that come along with puberty and thereafter. In fact this approach typically leads teens to feel that they themselves are bad for having these feelings and for being attracted to people of the opposite sex.


One of our goals ought to be to develop within the hearts and minds of teens that virginity is something very good, something to strive for until marriage, and something not to be embarrassed about possessing, but in fact an accomplishment to be proud of keeping. We want them to remain virgin until marriage, not simply because they did what they were asked in not having sex, but that they valued themselves, the person they will marry, their relationship with God, and sex itself. Teens ought to see sex as something very sacred and good and therefore an act not lightly undertaken. For that matter, we want them to understand that the consequences of a sexual relation are something that they carry with themselves throughout their life. They do not forget it or the person they had sex with, because they give up to the other person a very special part of themselves in the bonding that takes place in a sexual relationship. The bond created in having sex with another person is very real and does not simply disappear once the relationship ends.



We should strive to help teens remain virgin (or stop having pre-marital sex) because we care about them now and care about their future marriage relationship. Sexual relations that occur outside of marriage are brought into the marriage in one form or another and can stand as an impediment to the marriage being successful. One who has had sex outside of the marriage and has experienced the breaking up of that relationship often finds it more difficult to be able to fully and freely give of himself or herself to the other person. When a relationship breaks off there is always hurt and pain in that separation, and this is especially true when sexual relations have been involved. All of us, teens and adults alike, build up walls to protect ourselves against past hurts. People who have broken off relationships tend to be more protective of their feelings and emotions with the next relationship. Having sex within a relationship is a life-changing event that greatly intensifies the depth of the relationship and therefore the intensity of the hurt at separation and therefore typically entails the building of higher and stronger walls to protect one when the next relationship comes along. We want our young people to be successful in marriage and to enjoy the full intensity of the marriage relationship and that includes being able to give themselves fully, freely and totally in their sexual relationship in the marriage. In fact, being able to fully and freely give oneself to one’s spouse through sexual relations is essential to the health and well‑being of the marriage relationship.


The survey strongly indicates an association between whether teens believe sex outside of marriage is right and whether they themselves engage in pre-marital sexual relations.[1] The obvious place to begin with preventing pre-marital sexual relations amongst teens is to begin with their attitude concerning sex and other related issues. We know from the survey that parents and clergy can have a profound impact on teen’s attitudes concerning pre-marital sex.[2] It therefore makes sense that parents and clergy work together to discuss these issues with teens and dialogue with them about making good choices regarding their sexual purity.


Consideration should be given to providing opportunities where teens can safely spend time with their peers and learn to engage in healthy relationships with peers of the opposite sex without feeling pressured to have sex. These may be opportunities where both male and female teens can meet in well supervised events, free of alcohol and other drugs that tend to make pre-marital sex that much more likely to occur. [3] Likewise, efforts should be made to reduce, as much as possible, opportunities for males and females to be alone with one another, on such occasions as dating alone or no adults being home when teens are home from school and have a friend over. According to the survey, teens who did not have an adult present in the home when they arrived home from school were more than twice as likely to have had a sexual relationship than their peers who had an adult present when they arrived home from school.


Parents may want to give consideration towards discouraging their teens from dating during their early teen years, as statistically younger teens who dated were much more likely to have engaged in sexual behavior. The number of times a young teen had dated also raised the likelihood that they would be sexually active. For example, 20 percent of thirteen year olds who dated had intercourse, 8 percent of fourteen year olds, 7 percent of fifteen year olds, 12 percent of sixteen year olds, 21 percent of seventeen year olds and 29 percent of eighteen year olds. One can assume that not all eighteen year olds had sex only when they were eighteen, but may have had sex at an earlier age. Those teens that had not dated over the previous 12 months had no instances of pre-marital sex with the exception of seven teens, three of who reported being forced to have sex. In short adults can help teens remain virgin, by dialoging with them on what is appropriate, supporting them to remain virgins, consider placing more controls on dating, and to provide safe opportunities where teens can interact with their peers of the opposite sex, free from the pressures of feeling they are expected to have sex. The following material is offered to assist those dialoging with teens on the issue of sexuality.


The Church’s view on Pre-marital sex


The Scriptures, writings of the Church Fathers and current theologians are all consistent in their view that sexual relations belong only within marriage. Sexual relations outside of marriage attempt to express a relationship and union which do not exist, a fact that eventually becomes evident in all such relationships. Sexual relations are seen as something good and necessary within marriage as an expression of a union (oneness) and commitment between husband and wife, neither of which exist outside of marriage. What is written in this section concerning pre-marital sex certainly also applies to sex outside of one’s own marriage and in fact extra-marital affairs add the consequence of breaking the marriage commitment and oneness of that marriage, a break which is often irreparable.


The Scriptures abound with prohibitions against pre-marital sexual relations, not because as some would say, “God does not want us to have fun,” but because God loves us, understands us, and knows that such relationships can only bring harm, sadness and brokenness. In the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks concerning fornication (sexual relations outside of marriage):


And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:10-20)


St. Paul writes in Galatians:


For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.


But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.


If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. (Galatians 5:13-25)


And in Ephesians Paul writes:


Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:1-13)


The writings of the apostles also warn against fornication:


My son, flee from all wickedness and from everything like it. Do not become angry, for anger leads to murder. Do not become jealous, or quarrelsome, or irritable, for from all these murders come. My child, do not give way to evil desire, for it leads to fornication. And do not use obscene language, or let your eye wander, for from all these come adulteries.[4]


The Shepherd of Hermes teaches that we should guard even our thoughts as these can lead to sin:


Fourth Mandate




‘I command you,’ he said, ‘to guard purity. Let it not enter your heart to think of another man’s wife, nor about fornication, nor any such thing. If you do, you will commit a serious sin. Keep your wife in mind always and you will never fall into sin. For, if this desire comes into your heart, you will make a slip and you will commit sin, if any other such wicked thought enters you heart. For, a desire of this kind is a serious sin for the servant of God and, if anyone puts into execution such a wicked thought, he draws death upon himself. Be in your guard then: Keep this desire from you. Where holiness dwells, there, in the heart of a just man, lawlessness should not enter.’ [5]


The Scriptural and Patristic teaching on sex outside of marriage whether it be physical sex, viewing pornography, or the latest fad of “cyber sex” can be found consistently through the writings of other Church Fathers, such as John Chrysostom and Basil the Great. In this regard, Mathew records the words of Jesus, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Current theologians similarly express these same views, as seen in the writings of John Meyendorff, Stanley Harakas, Alexander Schmemann, Thomas Hopko and others. Consistently the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage are because sex is sacred and blessed by God as a good and necessary ingredient to the health of marriage. The careless expression of sex before or outside the marriage bond cheapens and degrades both the intimacy of the sexual relation, its very beauty and ability to express oneness. Christ, the Scriptures and the Church Fathers consistently teach to guard one’s words and thoughts as much as one’s action, as one leads to the other. In sharing sexual intercourse, a person becomes one with the other person.[6] That intimate sharing does not just disappear when one moves onto the next relationship. When a person has sexual intercourse, they give fully of themselves to the other. Through intercourse they become one physically, emotionally and spiritually. If one has had sex before marriage they bring that experience and a “piece” of the other into their marriage. Sexual intercourse no longer becomes the unique bond of oneness shared only with husband and wife within the marriage but has had another complicating factor added and placed in-between the couple. With each sexual relationship and breaking of the relationships, one begins to put up more defenses and becomes more closed as a thinking and feeling person, placing more barriers between and within the marriage bond, therefore making true intimacy more difficult and strained. Young people should be urged to remain virgin until marriage to allow for a deep and fulfilled marriage commitment and a more intimate sexual relationship with their spouse.


For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity[7]. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29 – instruction to the Gentiles)



Shun immorality[8]. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-19) 



[1] Four percent of teens that believe that pre-marital sex is wrong have had a sexual relation, while 38 percent who believe pre-marital sex is right have had a sexual relationship.

[2] See Parental and Clergy effect on teen’s views concerning pre-marital sex in chapter 3.

[3] See Effects of alcohol on sexual behavior in chapter 3.

[4] Didache or Teachings of the Apostles, Chapter 3:1-3, FaithWorx

[5] The Shepherd of Hermas, “Fourth Mandate: Preserve Chastity 1:1-3”, FaithWorx CD

[6] Mark 10:8 and 1 Corinthians. 6:16

[7] Other translations use the word fornication

[8] Other translations use the word fornication

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