Television, movies, magazines, books, social circles, social networking, advertising. All these platforms have contributed and continue to contribute to the idea that sex before marriage is simply not a big deal and will not harm either of the parties involved. Unfortunately, this lie has been widely accepted by a large majority of our generation, despite the protestations of our conscience, the advice of elder generations, and the Catholic Church.
Most know that the Catholic Church is against premarital sex, but I think a lot of us have not been properly educated on why the Catholic Church is so adamantly opposed. Today, I hope to explain to you just a few of the many good reasons for why the Church knows marriage is worth the wait, on both the spiritual and scientific levels.
Firstly, every teaching given by the Church on the subject of morality has one primary aim: to help ourselves and fellow human beings become freer, that is, to live into one’s human nature to the fullest extent possible. St. Irenaeus once said, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The Church gives us rules and guiding principles not to hold us back from having fun, but rather to help us live life in a way that brings us the most peace and joy. Jesus tells us, “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). So really, all the Church is really hoping to do is lead us on the path to freedom. In CCC 1733, the Church tells us,
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (Romans 6:17).
One reason the Church is opposed to premarital sex is because it can become enslaving. Especially during adolescence, our brains respond very rapidly to new stimulus of pleasure. If casual sex becomes a normal occurrence for a teen, he or she can become almost addicted to it because of the chemicals released in the brain, such as oxytocin and dopamine. Not only can sex before marriage make one a slave of desire, but it can also cause us to see others as objects of pleasure. As humans, we were created out of and for relationships. When we damage our perception of other people, such as coming to see them as tools that aid us in receiving more pleasure, we deny one of the essential elements that makes us human.
Another reason the Church takes such a firm stance against premarital sex is the concept of body language, thoroughly introduced and explained in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Normally when we hear the phrase “body language”, we think of it as reading people, or gathering information based on observation. If a person is slumped in their chair staring off into space, we can tell that they are most likely not focusing, based on their body language. Theology of the Body takes this idea one step further, saying that when we have sex, we communicate a deep and profound kind of body language. When a marriage is consummated, the man and woman’s body language indicates “I am totally and forever yours.” Whether or not we are immediately conscious of this message does not change whether or not it occurs; it happens regardless, and this message of love echoes to the depths of our souls. When we have sex before marriage, this body language is still communicated, even if we do not mean it to. Thus, when a breakup occurs, the soul is put through great pain because it recognizes that the total and lasting love demonstrated in the sexual act is no longer present, or was never present.
Let’s go back to the brain chemicals I was talking about earlier, specifically the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin has been nick-named “The Cuddle Hormone” because it is often released when two people share an affectionate exchange. Whether it be something light-hearted, like holding hands or cuddling, to something of a more serious nature, like sex, oxytocin is there. What oxytocin does it binds those two people together than they were before, increasing trust and faithfulness. Oxytocin is released in large quantities in the brain during the sexual act, so when a couple has sex, their trust and faithfulness levels spike. However, oxytocin cannot just continue to bind us to more and more people as we continue to find new sexual partners. When we move on to new sexual partners time and time again, trust levels fragment and we end up unable to trust and fight for faithfulness in ourselves as strongly than if we had waited for that one special person whom we marry. For this reason as well, the Church stands to fight against premarital sex. If we had had several sexual partners in the past, we end up unable to love as fully the person we chose to be our spouse. And not only does oxytocin bind us more strongly to another, but it also impairs our critical thinking and perception of the world. This often can result in bad marriages that end in divorce, as the couple begins to realize the flaws in each other, when they no longer are under the influence of oxytocin.
A few good sources for more information on why the Catholic Church is opposed to premarital sex, check out a Catechism of the Catholic Church (or visit the online edition here), as well as Chastity Project.
I pray that I helped answer a few questions, God bless and have a peaceful and joyful summer.