Early Marriage - a solution to sexual frustration?

Growing up in the conservative evangelical subculture, my friends and I used to say that we hoped God would delay the rapture until after we had the chance to get married and have sex.  We were joking….sort of.  

Now that I’ve lost both my virginity and my belief in the rapture (got married in 2003; read Surprised by Hopein 2008), I haven’t spent much time thinking about those angst-filled years. But a recent Christianity Todayarticle entitled "The Case for Early Marriage" piqued my interest, and I thought I’d ask your opinion.

The author of the article, Mark Regnerus, wrote a similar op-ed piece for The Washington Post.  In both, Regnerus rightly notes that the average marrying age in America continues to rise, as does the average age for starting a family. In evangelical circles in which abstinence is encouraged, this creates a significant challenge, as our bodies essentially scream to engage in sex, beginning in our teens.

Writes Regnerus, “I am suggesting that when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex. It's battling our Creator's reproductive designs.”

His solution?  Young adult should buck the system and get married earlier…despite the fact that that early marriage is the number one predictor of divorce. (Regnerus offers some interesting perspectives on these statistics.)

It’s hard for me to form a strong opinion about this issue, as I got married at 22 and am pretty detached from the current conversation regarding singleness and sex. However, I sense that Regnerus hit on some important points that raise questions worth discussing here. Some observations:

  • When folks are hitting puberty at ages 12 and 13, but not getting married until ages 27 and 28, it does seem as though we are putting considerable physical strain on singles by asking them to abstain from sex.  Our bodies were made to have sex during these years.
  • In talking with singles, I’m hearing more of them question the biblical foundation for abstinence.  It was a different culture, they reason, one in which men and women got married at much earlier ages and under dramatically different circumstances. Perhaps it is time for religious groups to relax their expectations, they suggest.
  • On the other hand, many Christians argue that we live in a gratification-based culture, and that the solution is not to relax standards but to provide a better community for singles within in the church.  Just because abstinence is getting harder doesn’t mean it can’t be done, they say.
  • Advocating for early marriage has some appeal, but I can see where it could lead to folks getting married simply for the sake of having sex…which seems like a bad reason to get married.
  • On the other hand, expectations regarding marriage have also changed over the last 50 years. In a consumer-driven, pleasure-focused culture where marriages are often abandoned over negligible differences, we perhaps put too much effort into creating so-called “perfect matches” rather than helping couples through the ups and downs of a lifelong commitment. 

What do you think? Should Christians advocate “early marriage”? Is it too much to ask young adults to abstain from sex for ten to twelve years after puberty?

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Disturbing Photos + This Week on the Web

So yesterday’s post was about all the troubled marriages making news this week, and because I like to include a graphic with each piece, I went to stock.xchng to get a free stock photo to use.

I entered “marriage” into the search field, and guess what came up:

Transient
Transient

What the heck? Looks like we can add one more item to our list of things that actually threaten the sanctity of marriage - stock photos.

Perhaps some captions are in order? 

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On the Web this week, you might want to check out: Peter Bregman’s article, “Don’t get outraged at Sanford” on CNN.com; Peter Rollins’ post on what makes someone a theologian; Brian McLaren’s interesting (and probably controversial) piece on sexuality.

I recently discovered “Conversion Diary,” a very cool blog from fellow writer Jennifer Fulwiler about her journey from atheism to Catholicism.

Also bumped into an old Out of Ur post from Scot McKnight about how he believes the work of N.T. Wright and Chris Wright best embody where theology is headed over the next few years, arguing that the two Wrights have “set before us two words that have become increasingly fruitful and I think will be the subject of serious theological reflection in the future. The two words are ‘earth’ and ‘mission.’”  I’ve been reading a lot of N.T. lately, but haven’t had a chance to pick up Chris’s The Mission of God. Great. Another book to buy! :-)

I try to check out my readers’ blogs regularly and have been super-impressed, though I don’t always have time to comment.  By the way, if you think Paul VanderKlay’s comments are smart here, check out hisblog. So much to think about!

So, what struck your interest on the Web this week? What are you writing about on your blog? (No shame in self-promotion here, folks!)

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Six Things that Actually Threaten the Sanctity of Marriage

This hasn’t been a good week for marriage. From Jon and Kate Gosselin’s divorce, to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s infidelity, to the embarrassing exploits of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscon, the headlines have been a painful reminder of how troubled modern marriages can be.

As I’ve mentioned before, I personally think it is counterproductive to spend time and money trying to mess with the constitution so that it restricts the rights of U.S. citizens under the banner of “protecting the sanctity of marriage,” especially when heterosexual couples face a divorce rate that hovers between 45 and 50 percent.  The truth is, gay couples make up a very small percentage of the population. Regardless of your position on homosexuality, when you consider the numbers, it becomes clear that gay marriage would have very little effect on an “institution” that we heterosexuals have done a fine job of screwing up on our own.

Now, I’m no expert, but I have a feeling that our time, our money, our sermons, and our political activism would be better spent combating those things that are actually threatening marriage in this country and around the world. Here are a few things that came to my mind:

1. Materialism. I don’t know about you, but for me it is genuinely a struggle to remember that I don’t need more stuff to be happy. We live in a culture that constantly blurs the lines between necessity and pleasure, and so it should come as no surprise that what couples argue about the most is money and spending. If I had to name the one vice that I think has done the most damage to the reputation of the Church and the family over the past 100 years, it would be greed. And I struggle with it as much as anyone else. It’s so sad to think that marriages are ending every day over things like credit cards and fancy cars, McMansions and model airplanes – things we don’t even need to be happy.

2. Entitlement. Also linked to America’s culture of greed is our pervasive sense of entitlement. Entitlement is what leads men to think they “deserve” a mistress after a hard week at work and women to think they “deserve” a new wardrobe that will break the family budget. When there’s an argument, both parties feel they “deserve” an apology, and when apologies are not given, someone often will feel they “deserve” to be happy by getting out of the marriage.

3. “It’s all about the kids.” One thing that struck me about the Jon and Kate interviews was how often the couple said, “It’s all about the kids.”  “It’s their house,” Kate said at one point. “I work for the kids,” she said at another. “I have to do what’s right for the kids,” Jon added.  “We do the show for our kids,” they both said. By making our children the center of our lives, we are 1) teaching them to be selfish and entitled, and 2) neglecting the importance of prioritizing our marriages. Sure the Gosselin kids have matching clubhouses and cute clothes and constant activities and memories from expensive vacations, but now they don’t have a strong marriage to look up to...which is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.

4. Sexual repression. I love that Christians are beginning to talk more openly about sex, because for many years sex was treated as something dirty and sinful.  In fact, I’ve known more than one Christian couple to break up early in their marriage because of major sexual repression issues that stemmed from the guilt associated with sex.  I think progress is being made in this area.

5. Sexual exploitation. On the other hand, on TV and in movies, sex is often made into little more than a joke. Now, like most people, I enjoy a little sexual humor every now and then (Chaucer and Shakespeare certainly incorporated it into their work!) but when sex is treated as nothing but an animal instinct or bodily function, it loses its mystery and sacredness and gives us one more excuse to approach relationships with an attitude of consumerism.

6. Hypocrisy. Not to belabor the point, but high-profile pastors and politicians who preach incessantly about “family values” would do well to observe their own rules. Their hypocrisy triggers cynicism, and cynicism triggers despair.

What would you add to the list? What are some other things that actually threaten the sanctity of marriage?

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.