Early Marriage - a solution to sexual frustration?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

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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