Is premarital sex a sin?

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We'll start with sin. Sin too often gets interpreted as "Oh, I'm so bad and awful" and "God must hate me." Actually, sin means missing the mark of ultimate goodness set by the God who loves us literally to death! Sin is any action that falls short of what we might achieve if surrendered to God's loving purposes instead of our own short-sighted ones. As the church views marriage to be the context in which intimate sexual expression achieves its fullest good, then yes: sexual intimacy short of marriage is missing the mark and qualifies as sin.

Is it going to "send you to hell?" Going to hell is the formal result of a mortal sin that remains unreconciled: a sin grave enough, premeditated enough, and deliberately chosen to separate you from God for all eternity. You literally have to plan on doing something that creates a permanent breech between God and you: like choosing a life of hatred and destruction rather than the way of love and goodness. Most people in monogamous relationships are choosing to love, however imperfectly, and not signaling their eternal rejection of God.

When someone asks questions like these, I presume it's because a Catholic family member, friend, or pastor is voicing them. Or it may be an echo of something heard in Catholic school or religion class. When you hear this echo in your head, try to imagine that the speaker is primarily voicing his or her concern for you. He or she probably believes (and may have been taught by another well-meaning person) that sex outside of marriage equals hell-in-a-handbasket, no questions asked. Just as they probably won't convince you that a non-marital monogamous relationship separates you from God forever, you won't convince them that non-marital sex isn't a chute straight to hell. This is not a winnable argument.

But if you're able to accept the premise that a monogamous relationship that's not a marriage is not a perfect arrangement, then you might consider why you're choosing it. Living together is at best a prelude to marriage—and at worst an avoidance of deeper commitment. You might ask each other: Is this a trial marriage, or a pairing of mutual convenience until something better comes along? Are we open to marriage and if so, what circumstances keep us from taking that step? When it comes to loving commitment, hitting the mark is always preferable to missing it.

Scripture: Genesis 2:23-24; Song of Songs 8:6-7; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 6:18-20;Colossians 3:14

Books: In Pursuit of Love: Catholic Morality and Human Sexuality - Vincent J.Genovesi, SJ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996)

Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions - Michael Lawler (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002)


Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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