Instead of the head-in-the-sand mentality of so many Christians about premarital intercourse, the author, Mark Regnerus, writes that “over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church- going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I’m certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I’m suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don’t and won’t.”
Regnerus makes the argument that because the first-time marital age has been pushed back and young people are having to wait longer and longer for sexual fulfillment (within marriage), maybe what Christians ought to be pushing is earlier marriages. With the divorce rate as high as it is, that sounds like a recipe for disaster, because the common wisdom is that the younger a couple is when they marry the more likely they are to divorce. But is that really true?
Perhaps the real problem is that we prolong a state of suspended adolescence far into a person’s twenties. We send out the message that you’re not old enough to do anything but go to school until you’re at least twenty-two and that you shouldn’t even think about marriage, let alone having children, until you’re in your mid-to-late twenties. When you consider that most people are sexually mature by the age of sixteen or even younger (that is, they are capable of reproduction), that seems like an awfully long time to expect them to wait to have, not only sex, but mature adult experiences like marriage, establishing a household, finding employment and having children.
I often say that I was too young when I married the first time. But was it my age (20) or the lack of maturity that led to my marital problems and subsequent divorce? I also started having children rather young (22), by today’s standards, and although I often felt overwhelmed by raising children, I don’t know that I would have felt any more prepared if I’d been 28 (which is when I had my last child). And I have to admit that it’s nice to have my children grown and gone by the time I was 45 (not that they’re ever really gone, but out of the house at least). And I’m thrilled that I will have so many years with my grandchildren.
There is no one way that is right for everyone and we all have different paths in life. But perhaps it’s worth considering if we are doing a young people a disservice by keeping them in a state of dependence for as long as we do. It might be that the real problem is that we’re not teaching them how to grow up and shoulder the responsibilities of adulthood. Instead they play at being adults by entering into adult-like situations without a real sense of being responsible for them.
I’m not saying I think that anyone who wants to have sex should get married first, or married at all. What I am questioning is the mentality that says that you can put off the serious things in life as long as you want to. Not everyone is ready for the same things at the same time, but we could do a better job of making young adults ready for marriage at any age.