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Why Sex Before Marriage Is the Moral Thing to Do

Lasting, loving relationships are built on intimacy.

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Sex, of course, isn't all ponies and rainbows. The United States has one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates in the world. We have one of the highest abortion rates. We have one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections. But our problem with sex isn't that we're having it before marriage; it's that we've cast it as shameful and dirty. And when our collective cultural consciousness says that sex is shameful and dirty, we don't have the incentive – or the tools– to plan for sex, to see it as a positive responsibility and to make healthy sexual choices.

We're obsessed with sex on television, in music and in advertisements, but we somehow lack the ability to talk about sex as a positive, moral, pleasure-affirming choice that, like any other adult decision, comes with a set of responsibilities. And when government money is going toward telling people to just wait until marriage, we are literally funding an idea that has never worked in all of human history, instead of supporting tried-and-true policies that could mitigate the harm of a sex-obsessed, but pleasure-starved, culture.

If waiting until marriage were simply an individual choice with no political consequences or backdrop – if it were as arbitrary a marker as waiting until the third date, waiting until you knew your partner's middle name or waiting until she wore really awesome high heels – it wouldn't be a problem. And personally, I don't really care when you, as an individual, choose to have sex. As long as you feel ready and it's consensual, I say you do you. But "waiting until marriage" as a cultural phenomenon – albeit one that isn't actually happening for nearly everyone in the western world – has some nasty views about women and sex lurking behind it. Using "purity" as shorthand for "doesn't have sex" by definition means that people, and mostly women, who have sex before marriage are impure, dirty or tainted. As Jessica Valenti says in her book The Purity Myth:

"While boys are taught that the things that make them men – good men – are universally accepted ethical ideals, women are led to believe that our moral compass lies somewhere between our legs."

It's all the more troubling when those beliefs are federally funded.

From a more practical standpoint, not everyone is going to get married, or even legally can get married. The instruction to wait forever to experience a fundamental human pleasure is pointless and cruel. And while the old adage tells women that men won't buy the cow if they can get the milk for free, if I'm buying a cow, you can bet I'm going to make sure the milk is to my liking. But our cultural view of premarital sex as morally tainted makes it harder for couples to engage in real talks about their sexual needs and desires before marrying, the same way they would talk about their religious values, how many kids they want or whether the wedding cake will be chocolate or vanilla.

Sexually frustrated marriages are both miserable and common – the inboxes of advice columnists from Dan Savage to Dear Prudie are filled with letters from couples with mismatched sex drives and bad sex lives. We'd be a lot better-off if we recognized that sex is incredibly important to a lot of people, and, for most couples, sexual compatibility is necessary for a great marriage. You really can't tell if you're sexually compatible unless you have sex. The insistence that premarital sex is dirty or perverse makes it a whole lot harder to have necessary conversations. And a worldview that positions sex as shameful and bad also isn't going to evaporate on your wedding night.

 
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