Should people wait to have sex until they are in a committed relationship?
- The word ‘sex’ derives from the Latin ‘sexus,’ which means to be “Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive function,” but ‘sex’ as meaning the “Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour,” was not associated with the word until the 1900s.
- A 2020 JAMA Network study found that between the years 2000 and 2018, sexual activity decreased among men ages 18 to 34 and women ages 25 to 34, with the highest decrease happening mainly among men and unmarried individuals.
- As of January 2021, the CDC estimates 1 in 5 people in the US have a sexually transmitted disease, which results in an estimated $16 billion in lifelong medical costs.
- Sexual intercourse has several health benefits like strengthening the heart and other muscles (through cardiovascular exercise), lowering blood pressure, burning calories, reducing the risk of heart disease, and even boosting the immune system.
Sex is the most intimate and bonding activity that committed, sexually active partners share. Once committed, introducing sex to the relationship can become too overwhelming for a couple based on how much pressure they've put on themselves and the act. Avoiding openness about sex can turn something pleasurable into something embarrassing or shameful.
In some cases, over-sheltering oneself from the act can be devastating. For example, the so-called 'purity culture' has negatively affected the self-esteem and state of mind about sex in adolescents and adults who were scared straight into abstinence by anti-sex rhetoric and exercises such as comparing unpure, uncommitted women to a piece of chewed-up gum. Both men and women raised with these unnatural ideals were taught that commitment was not only their proof of faith, but a means to an end of a celibate life.
When society mystifies sex this way, it takes away from the reality of its naturalness, and we do ourselves a disservice as loving beings. Casual sex doesn't automatically erase the possibility of a love connection. A study found that one-third of marriages actually found their start via hookup. Additionally, exploration of sexuality before commitment can sort out differences quickly. Intimate deal-breakers can be illuminated and save the couple from heartbreak later on. Sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., says, 'it's a great way to figure out if you're romantically compatible or not.' Every person deserves autonomy and comfortability in their sex life, so there's nothing wrong with preferring to wait. However, using sex to define, limit, or bargain the relationship's parameters makes for an unhealthy relationship at best.
Historically, biblically and sociologically, humans have always pursued sexual desire outside the bounds of committed relationships, such as marriage. Psychologist Sigmund Freud wanted to abolish 'sexual repression,' while Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, advanced the concept of 'sexual freedom' outside the confines of marriage well before the movements of the 60s. Modern society views sex almost exclusively in terms of consent rather than relational commitment. But this doesn't make the act of sex apart from commitment correct. When specifically evaluating the opposite-sex dynamic of romantic human relationships, there are many practical reasons for waiting.
Sex has always been much more than just a physical activity consenting people experience together. It bonds women and men together emotionally and physically. The bonding 'love hormone,' oxytocin, is released in women during sex and for men when they kiss and hug, are aroused, and orgasm. It helps women feel safe, trusting, forgiving of their partner's faults, and loved. And it helps men stay faithful to their female partners by providing a visual neural pathway in their minds (instead of looking at attractive alternatives). Experiencing this strong physiological bonding chemical without having the relational commitment to go with it is what can make breakups and one-night stands so painful, particularly for women.
If more partners waited for sex until commitment--ideally in marriage--the world would have far fewer STDs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, unwed mothers with fatherless children, and perhaps even less of a demand for extramarital sexual exploits as found in pornography, prostitutes, and hookups. Waiting helps one avoid committing 'sexual fraud' against another by promising with their body what they have not promised to give with the rest of their lives. While some might call it unnatural, waiting is wise and beneficial.