by Jonathan Gamble, Staff Writer

“Do not be afraid of being close, of loving each other, of taking risks, of weakness, of being vulnerable. Let love cast out fear. Let steady warmth melt anxiety.” – Jim Cotter

There are churches where many members consider premarital sex a sin in all circumstances. Through this understanding of scripture coupled with a fearful focus on the potential consequences of premarital sex, some are led to believe that sexual desire and lust are identical and marriage is the only context in which such desire is appropriate.

But are they the same? Is lust ever appropriate, even within marriage? To lust is to disregard or violate the image of God in oneself and another person through sexual expression. Fornication is to make love to someone from the flesh (ego) rather than from the baptismal self. It places sex itself and a person as sources of personal gratification rather than mutuality and engages in sexual expression more as an end in itself rather than as a holy embodiment through which genuine vulnerability is given and received.

Whether a couple has or has not had a wedding does not safeguard against this and is an arbitrary means of determining readiness for sexual expression. Plenty of couples have had weddings in the church throughout the ages without ever loving each other. Plenty of couples have, and still do, enter weddings and marriages for socio-economic and other reasons without ever intending to be consciously vulnerable with each other through sexual expression or otherwise. And plenty of couples have a church wedding without ever asking God for permission to marry while other couples ask God for permission to make love before having a wedding.

The limiting of sexual embodiment and expression to marriage, and the condemnation of all premarital sexual expression, may have been necessary at one time. But today, it puts too much emphasis on the wedding ritual and not enough attention to the process of being infused by the reality that the ritual is intended to bless.

Sex, at its best, can be the most intimate and powerful form of physically, emotionally, and spiritually communicating one’s very being to a beloved partner while simultaneously receiving and enwrapping who they are as they are. Such mutuality certainly needs a sacred container to blossom, a relationship of truth and trust, of abiding love and vulnerability, which may or may not be present in a marriage and is not magically created by a wedding ceremony.

To withhold sex from a beloved in the context of a relationship of truth and trust can cause real damage (1 Corinthians 7:5). To wait until it is safe to be fully vulnerable is no risk at all. The right moment to engage in embodied surrender and self-giving is created by the Spirit whose timing is not determined by our rituals.

As Miguel De La Torre writes, “Only when two individuals are totally vulnerable with each other and are able to stand naked – warts and all – are they truly free to become one flesh, fully sharing themselves with each other in body, spirit, soul. Giving of oneself to the drunkenness of love can only occur if it is mutual, and mutual giving is only possible when two parties become totally vulnerable…A church wedding does not create family; it simply blesses a familial relationship that should already be in place.”