It seems like a simple enough question - is pre-marital sex always a sin? Most know what the Catholic Church's answer is. But, what about how individual Catholics answered the question?
The results might shock you.
- 39% of adult Catholics said premarital sex was “always wrong.”
- Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 54% said it is.
- 14% of Catholics said premarital sex is “always wrong.”
- Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded it is.
The results are sad, because more than 70% of Catholics who go to Mass think premarital sex can be OK, despite what the Bible and all of Christianity have always taught.
This means the Catholic Church has a mountain to climb. But, I am not shocked by the numbers. I see the results of such numbers all the time. Yes, it is always a sin. Why? Because premarital sex is a selfish, unloving, use of another human being and a misuse of our sexuality.
Pre-marital sex is selfish:
It is never about the other person. If it was, then we wouldn't be risking the other person's health, spreading disease, their emotional welfare, spiritual state-of-being, and future relationships and marriages. It is all about me and only me, whenever pre-marital sex happens.
Pre-marital sex is unloving:
Love = "choosing what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself" and could be summed up as = "gift of self". We are called to love others by handing ourselves over to them as a gift. Thus, when we choose something that is about me and is not good for the other, then it is not love. Pre-marital sex, by definition, can NEVER be a loving act.
Pre-marital sex is use of another human being:
John Paul II said using another person as a means to an end (in this case your pleasure) and not as an end unto themselves is the opposite of love. It is reducing a human being to an object. Not treating them as a child of God.
Pre-marital sex is a misuse of our sexuality:
Why do we have these desires in the first place? It isn't just to bring us pleasure. It is to be open to new life (procreation) and to bring a married man and woman together (unitive). These two ends are the purpose of marriage. Pleasure is a by-product of sex. Pleasure is a good by-product, but when it replaces one or both of the real purposes - it degrades the act and we are back at selfishness.
Sex is a gift from God and like any gift can be used for good or bad. It is also a beautiful act between a man and wife - in the context of marriage. Sex is something intimate and wonderful. Just like anything good, it can be twisted to be bad. This is what happens in pre-marital sexuality. While it may "feel" like love, we would never risk another person's future, virginity, disease, soul, relationships, broken heart, etc. if we loved them.
Another way to re-phrase the question might be to ask “where is the line between sin and not sinning?” Well, it depends on each individual. While all sexual activity (not just intercourse) outside of marriage is sinful, lust is also. This is the deeper issue. Lust isn't just a passing sexual thought about another person. It is when we grab hold of that thought and use it for our own pleasure.
When we have a control of what is going on in our hearts and minds, then we will easily see where the line is drawn and will do all we can to avoid even approaching it. We want to try and change our hearts, not just our actions.
I know there are many Catholics who struggle with their sexuality and controlling their desires, but it is worth it. Here is the reason - you can't give what isn't your own. If you don't have self-control, you can't give yourself away fully. This means you can't really love another person by being a gift to them. We can either be in control of our desires or allow them to control us.
Chastity is the virtue that allows us to give ourselves to another…remember the definition of love as “gift”. To give everything means we are free of selfishness in our love and chastity frees us of selfishness in our sexual desires. Therefore chastity = sexual freedom! Unfortunately this understanding of chastity is not known well. Most people think that it means just not having sex. It is not a negative thing - it is a positive thing.
Sex should be saved for marriage, where intimacy (of all kinds) is supposed to be. Unfortunately in today's world, we give our sexuality, our emotions, our bodies, and our lives to people we our not married to. We have lost the depth to what a intimacy really means. We end up deadening our sensitivity to it and putting present and future relationships at risk. To put it another way, I have never met a person who saved sex (of any kind) for marriage and regretted it, but I have met thousands who didn't keep themselves pure and now do. You will never regret purity. Never. But, you will always regret impurity, eventually.
Living a life that is empty of regrets is a full and good life.