If you just tuned in, this is part three of a three part series on the biological/chemical components that God creatively hard-wired into the foundation of emotional and sexual relationships. But what he designed to powerfully knit a husband and wife together forever can be significantly undermined long before the couple ever gets married.
Now for the good news...the stuff that makes me stand amazed at how our God designed His world to work in such an incredible and beautiful way.
BIOLOGY: The Addictive Power of Romantic Relationships (part 3)
The Good News – God’s Plan for Oxytocin
We live in a culture in which it is quite normal to have multiple sexual partners before one gets married. One study says that the average number of prior sexual partners for males in America is seven and the average for females is four. I gave an anonymous online survey to couples who have attended our pre-marital workshops over the past few years. For these couples, most of whom are church-going young adults, the average was about 4.5 previous sexual partners before meeting their spouse-to-be. When I speak to these young engaged couples about God’s design for virginity and monogamous sex, they rarely make eye contact with me. I assume they are either zoning out because they think I’m so old-fashioned or they are saddened that they are bringing so much sexual baggage into their marriage.
But let’s put God’s design for oxytocin under serious scrutiny and see if it doesn't give us a renewed appreciation for God’s design for sex in marriage. To do that, I will paraphrase something powerful that Mark Gungor describes in his teaching on “The Number One Key to Incredible Sex”:
In his early, pre-marital sexual encounters, the typical teenage boy is likely to have an amazing orgasmic experience; one that he takes immediate mental note of. But because he is young and immature, he is not able to love in a selfless way. While he may not admit it (or even be aware of it), the bulk of his motivation is focused on self-gratification. He likes the experience and wants more of it. Thus, he begins to imprint on the sex act. He begins to learn that “sex means everything.”
It’s like a baby goose that sees a dog instead of its mother in its earliest days of life. The little goose imprints on the wrong “mamma” and begins to follow the dog around. Instead of learning how to fly and migrate, it learns to run in the yard. Oxytocin causes this same power of imprinting to happen to guys in our early sexual experiences. But in the absence of any real substance in the relationship (no real commitment), we imprint on an experience, not on a person.
For the typical teenage girl having early sexual experiences, there is often little meaning in the act. Because she ultimately desires more of an emotional connection than a sexual one, the girl hopes that physical intimacy will draw her closer to her guy. Sex is a means to an end. But it rarely happens. Apart from a committed long-term relationship, she is unable to significantly imprint on anything, neither the guy nor the sex. This is especially true if she begins to feel that the only interest the guy has in her is physical. She learns that “sex means nothing.”
Take two virgins with limited sexual experience. Let them develop a slow-simmering emotional connection based upon self-sacrificing love as modeled by Christ. Eventually, get them to an altar where, in front of their family, all their best friends, and a holy God, they pledge their life and their all to one another in a covenant “til death do us part” relationship. Then, safely in their marriage bed and with God’s blessing, they have their first sexual experiences with one another. In this scenario, they are powerfully imprinting exclusively on each other, not just on the sexual act. The oxytocin that God created to connect two people (and that has been safely guarded by the couple) overwhelms them for one another.
Considered in this light, God’s command to “abstain from fornication” is less of a downer and more of a blessing. He is purposely encouraging his children to have the best sex possible – sex that perfectly ties emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy together. Our heavenly Father truly knows what He is talking about.
But beyond just the Biblical imperative, current social research affirms that this dynamic of marriage cannot be ignored. Professor Jay Teachman, of Western Washington University, conducted a study to examine the correlation between premarital sex and the divorce rate in women. Published in the May 2003 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, his findings included that having at least one other intimate relationship prior to marriage is linked to an increased risk of divorce. In contrast, women whose intimate premarital relationships were limited to their husbands do not experience this increased risk. Sexual exclusivity between marriage partners (even before the marriage starts) creates a strength within marriage that cannot be downplayed.
When studying the data from 2008 National Survey of Family Growth, one finds a clear connection between virginity and marital success. The divorce rate for women who had just one sexual partner before marrying was 49.6%. The divorce rate over the same time period for those who married as virgins was 14.9%. (For more information, go to this site.) To me, these findings are absolutely staggering.
This research affirms what God has been trying to tell us all along. Sexual intimacy is reserved for the marriage bed. The biological factors at play should give us as parents all the more reason to encourage our kids to wait – to save their sexuality for their marriage partner.