September 12, 2017

‘Cheap Sex’ and the Single Christian

Editor’s note: The original version of this article was first published by The Christian Post. Click here to read it. 

The Washington Post ran a fascinating op-ed by Mark Regnerus on September 5 that examines just how negatively society’s dating patterns are impacting young Christians and what this could mean for the Church’s future.

You’ll recall Regnerus, an associate professor at the University of Texas, is the sociologist whose research found children raised by same-sex couples experienced more negative adult outcomes compared to children in traditional family structures. Now Regnerus is turning his attention to unmarried Christians.

His Washington Post article is well worth the read. Regnerus briefly touches on topics including online dating, delayed Christian marriages, clergy’s uncertain responses, and our overly-permissive culture.

Where to start? Premarital sex as an acceptable sin.

Chastity is a lifelong onus for all Christians—married and unmarried. The problem is premarital sex seems like a more acceptable sin among the Millennial generation.

Regnerus identifies “Cheap sex,” as the culprit. Proliferation of the Pill, pornography, convenience of cohabitation, and efficient online dating apps has cheapened sex.

“Young Christians are suffering the bruising effects of participating in the same wider mating market as the rest of the country,” Regnerus writes.

“They want love, like nearly everyone else,” he adds. They couple. Sex often follows, though sometimes after a longer period of time — a pattern that confuses them more than most, because premarital sex remains actively discouraged, but impossible to effectively prevent, in the church.”

The stats hint this may be more than a mere fluke. Eighty percent of unmarried Evangelicals between 18 and 29 had engaged in sex, according to a study in 2009 by National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

So what can we expect?

Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine challenges to the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics could get worse. Amid religious revisionists’ efforts to turn gender into self-expression and marriage into free-for-all groupings, now we face the impact of devalued sex.

The much-maligned purity culture is taking its toll on young Christians. Sex is a good gift. It’s a physical and spiritual union between husband and wife within a lifelong covenant reflective of Christ and His Church. From my own personal observations, this message doesn’t seem to be getting across in youth groups.

Following the same dating methodology as secular culture is a devolving, destructive trend for young Christians’ marriages. Not because online dating for example, is a corrupt medium. In a transitional metropolis like Washington D.C., online dating has its benefits. The problem occurs when users approach online dating like a supermarket, wandering up and down the aisle in search of the best product for the lowest price.

Following this same no-strings-attached dating patterns as non-religious 20 and 30-somethings could result in Christians’ delaying marriage. And Regnerus warns not to underestimate the negative effects delayed marriage could have on the Church.

Lower marriage rates could mean dwindling church membership. Local churches have historically offered a support system for couples and their children. Previous trends saw younger Christians leave the church during college years and inevitably return after marriage and family. Unmarried 20 and 30-something Christians could lose sight of churches’ vital role in their lives.

“All this puts pressure on American pastors, operating as they are in a free religious market,” Regnerus concludes. “‘Meeting people where they’re at’ becomes challenging. Congregations are coming face to face with questions of just how central sexual ethics are to their religious life and message.”

These dynamics raise important questions to consider:

  • How is the sacredness of sex passed down to future generations?
  • How can local churches better support singles as equally well as families?
  • Are Christians defending sex as vehemently as marriage?

Sex is under siege. The marriage culture war goes far beyond the same-sex or transgender dilemmas. Neglecting to defend the value of sex, chastity, and fidelity will have its consequences. Because, as Regnerus puts it, “It’s not science that’s secularizing Americans — it’s sex.”

8 Responses to ‘Cheap Sex’ and the Single Christian

  1. Nora Lee says:

    People today of all ages need help with socializing and dating chastely. Customs must be revived, and some part of the broader community must take responsibility for providing safe and enjoyable group venues, such as parties and even dances. Happily married women should counsel single women, and happily married men should counsel single men–informally and without necessarily waiting to be asked.

  2. Byrom says:

    This article focuses on young single Christans. However, this is also a concern for those of us older Christians who find ourselves single again via being widowed (my case) or divorce. I find Scripture to not directly cover some of our situations. All I have concluded is that, as an adult with a close relationship with the Holy Trinity and looking for the same in a woman, I will make the right decision in whatever situation I find myself.

  3. MarcoPolo says:

    All due respect to Mark Regnerus, I’d need to review his findings to fully appreciate his claim regarding negative outcomes of children raised in same-sex households.

    Gender isn’t a “self expressive” notion or a whim, that has negative affects upon society. We’re ALL just people, only different from one another! Accept it and move forward.
    As for delaying marriage, I can only imagine that that would be a healthier choice than getting hitched before turning thirty years old. There’s a lot of Life to discover before “settling down”. And there is research that has found that to be true!

  4. g says:

    Three quotes warrant comment:

    “…premarital sex remains actively discouraged, but impossible to effectively prevent, in the church.”


    “…it’s difficult to imagine challenges to the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics could get worse.”


    “…this message doesn’t seem to be getting across in youth groups.”

    From the last two quotes, I question the message that many churches (if not most) are broadcasting. Notice the assumed goal from the first quote was to effectively prevent sexual immorality, and that goal is essentially admitted to be unattainable.

    Turns out that’s exactly the case. It is an impossible outcome. Further, I assert that the outcome of sexual purity should not be the primary goal of any church teaching. That outcome is a fruit of what should be the primary goal of all church teaching: the gospel.

    The reason it’s an impossible goal is that it is impossible to address any sin apart from an understanding of and submission to the gospel. So I suspect the message that is being broadcast does not illustrate how sexual purity relates to the gospel and should be a holy result of a gospel-transformed life, and instead I bet it’s essentially being broadcast as a moral code. But, how can a group of “youth-ified” or “single-ified” dry bones live according to any Godly moral code? They can’t, and so the gospel is the thing that is needed as the main ingredient of this mix.

  5. Frankly Frank says:

    9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6 Point: the sexually immoral (among others) are not Christians! They will be very surprised one day. End of point.

  6. sasha dence says:

    I think ‘g’ says it best. He identifies the aspects of this article that make it truly significant. The heart of gospel can, I believe, be relatively easily and tightly bound to the reasons for chastity. I agree that teaching sexual restraint in an age and place of almost total lack of restraint can’t be offered in terms of ‘morality’ or commandments. Of course those rules and words are completely right. No question. But as a former English teacher I know that words are loaded with associations. The words ‘hell’, ‘morality’, and even Christian, as many Christians know full well, come with baggage like rigidity, intolerance, bigotry and self-righteousness (even when unearned). What has helped (somewhat) for my boys is unpacking the heart of the gospel as well as giving them some facts they simply never got in all their sex education about how girls are different and that difference is good. Not just different physically — also emotionally. What worked for my older son about pornography was relating how God revealed just how valuable a human being is by being willing — choosing — to be tortured to death for his or her sake. If a person matters that much — if the source of Life itself, i.e. God, is willing to die, then the act that makes a person can’t be trivial. Similarly, if a person matters that much — she cannot be used or purchased or viewed as a lifeless, impersonal thing. An object. A commodity. A two-dimensional piece of stuff. Or a body organ. To do so, not only dehumanises her, it dehumanises him. That worked — although I must tell the truth — he continues to find chastity hard work (he’s 24). We talk about it. With my younger son what has helped is referring the gospel to the poor. “Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not — for such is the kingdom of heaven. I tell you truly, when you do it for the least of these my brethern, you do it for me.” Elsewhere Christ also says, “I and the father are one” or “when you see me, you see the Father”. In his case, compassion for the most powerless among us, the ones who have the most to lose, helps. We talk about the fact that Christ was saying more than have compassion on children or the poor, he was saying that when you see them you see God. You see the kingdom of heaven — the Holy of holies. I invited him to see all his future children in the room with him — to see the joy they represent — and to see how sacred their origins are. If we love God, children must come first and they need adults to understand sex as about their lives, their hearts and minds. Their futures. This has helped — but he also finds chastity a nightmare to maintain (especially since he has a gf) and since finishing education and getting a job seem impossibly far off (he’s only 19) and also has ADD. They’ve both said as promiscuous and limitless as sexual relations had been when my husband and I were in university – they’re so significantly more so that it is difficult for us to understand. I think prayer and just keeping the conversation going is the only real remedy. Also relatively early marriage (our daughter is already married). However I also think the current crisis (and it is a crisis) is an opportunity for Christians to revisit their foundational message. For me that has meant (after a lot of prayer and thought) returned to the notion that is seen as outdated in so many Christian circles — that our lives here are not as important as our lives later — and that the so-called ‘supernatural’ actually exists. These issues are fraught on so many levels but parents, grandparents and most importantly Christians, do have an serious obligation to the younger generation struggling to do the right thing, the Christian thing, in a context so inimical to that goal it makes former persecutions look relatively painless. It is that hard because the current climate appeals to the worst in us in ways disguised as good. If it is hard for adults to remain chaste — think how hard it is for young adults with those hormones coursing through their blood streams — and told in every world but (some) Christian circles, that they have permission to act on those desires. It is like being an alcoholic (and we’re all potential alcoholics or addicts) and everywhere, school, the work place, even church in many cases — are bars.

  7. Natalie says:

    I think eighty percent is an under-estimate of reality. Might be accurate for people at a Bible college or seminary, or maybe it is accurate for 18 and 19-year olds, but not for the broad grouping of 18 to 29 year old evangelicals. As the article intimated, the “waiters” get married quickly, and those that remain single are very likely to have done the deed at least once (the stat promoted by the study).

  8. Eric Alger says:

    While all of this sounds wonderfully academic, well quoted and referenced, the truth on the ground is much simpler. People hurt.

    Almost all of the single Christians I know, in fact almost all the singles I know which includes myself, seek intimacy and sex because we hurt, We are lonely, depressed and sometimes suicidally so. Why? We are made to feel like lepers because we haven’t been successful in finding a spouse. We aren’t strong enough, rich enough (yes, even in the Christian community), Alpha-male enough, pretty enough or whatever standard is the current trend. Women seem to go for the ‘bad boys’ because they are more ‘fun’. Countless ads looking for guys who have a job, car and their own place yet we can’t seem to get dates never mind girlfriends. Women who are seeking these men keep running into ‘player’s’. No one fits the criteria, and on that rare occasion we do get someone to go out with us for more than a night we are compelled to be as intimate as possible because we don’t know if it’s going to last. We fear loneliness so much there is no room for a more disciplined approach to a relationship.

    Then there is the whole idea of celibacy. That incredible feeling of being unwanted by everyone. You’re marked as a failure when you are young, then as undesirable when you are older, then off the radar completely by fifty. Doing without only deepens these feelings over time until you no longer feel capable of being loved by anyone and in response you no longer feel you can love anyone else.

    I am sure all the married people here will point out that God loves me. And in the night, or sometimes in the middle of the day, when I am crying and asking God to end my life because I feel so abandoned by everyone and everything that I once held dear, I know God loves me and it doesn’t bring me any comfort. For here on earth I am alone, and no one is going to hug me, hold me or love me like a wife would. No one is there to give me strength with words I can actually hear. No one is going to be on the other end of a call. No one.

    Within this context can you imagine what the intimacy of lovemaking means?

    A lot of hurt people out there are crying for intimacy. And there is no one in their lives. So if they find someone why would they even slow down never mind stopping themselves from having sex? Especially when there is so little joy remaining in this world.

    Yes, I am a harsh realist, having spent the last twenty years of my life being celibate not by choice, struggling every day as a Christian, because I am unwanted. At 55 I no longer have hope of a relationship. I just don’t have the time or inclination to pursue such matters when all efforts for twenty years have been fruitless. I am not the only one. I am just no one.

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