By Lori F.
Do you wonder if chastity is still important, or if we have outgrown it as a culture? After all, there are other Biblical teachings that have largely gone by the wayside–most of us don’t limit the number of steps we take on the Sabbath, nor do we sacrifice animals. We can see how the seventh commandment (prohibiting sexual intimacy between people not married to each other), was important for its time. But what if the reasons behind it are no longer relevant?
I think we make a mistake when we believe that we know the reasons for the things that God asks us to do, or asks us not to do. Curiosity is important, and striving to figure things out can be very valuable. But if we think we’ve got the whole picture, we’re likely to run into trouble, because our speculations might lead us to conclusions that are unsupportable. For example, if I were to assume that the only reason God wants us not to have sex outside of marriage is that children need to come into a family with both a mother and a father, then if I’m personally unable to have children, or if I’ve got effective birth control, that reason would go away. I might decide that looking for sexual fulfillment wherever I could find it is a reasonable strategy. Many people have decided just that.
I believe that God really does intend for children to have the blessing of being nurtured by two parents who are committed to each other and their children. But I don’t think that’s the only thing going on when it comes to chastity. Some of the brain chemicals released during sex (like oxytocin) function to establish and strengthen emotional bonds, so even if there is room in my worldview for the idea of “casual” sex, my personal chemistry works hard to make sure that on an emotional level, there’s no such thing. Those emotional bonds facilitated by biology connect a husband and wife together, help them to cherish one another, and help them to weather the inevitable storms that every family faces.
We might consider that those biologically-related emotional bonds are designed to work like the adhesive on an envelope. The envelope manufacturer intends for it to be used to establish a secure and permanent seal. If I lick the envelope and stick it down, leave it for a while and then pull it up, something’s going to rip. If I stick it down and then pull it up again right away, it may look okay, but it’s unlikely to stick as well when I try to close the envelope later. In terms of physical intimacy, our brain chemistry and hormones are going to try hard to attach us emotionally to our sexual partner in the way that husbands and wives should connect, regardless of whether this person is the one we chose “forever,” “for a while” or “for tonight.”
There are more dangers to physical intimacy than those emphasized in high school health class. If we are sexually involved with many people, then even if we’re practicing “safe sex,” we may find that we’re interfering with the way things are meant to work on an emotional level. Over time, people can become desensitized, so that eventually what seems like being fine with casual sex may instead be settling into a kind of numbness. God has provided a power that could be a source of intense pleasure, deep belonging, and genuine fulfillment for us. When we use that power outside the relationship it was meant for, in the end it may bring little more than rapid heart rate and hormone spikes.
Jesus Christ wants us to experience great joy in this life, and if that joy isn’t part of our present, it can be part of our future. His sacrifice for us means that there’s a reset button, and with his help we can reach it, and make it work in our lives.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are further reasons why remaining chaste is the best course, reasons we haven’t even imagined. But it turns out that we can receive blessings for obedience even when we don’t understand all the reasons for the commandment. And we lose blessings when we opt out, even if we think the commandment no longer makes sense in a modern world. In the case of counsel to be chaste, I think this principle is one that will prove to be timeless.