In the United States, marriage is becoming increasingly rare. The 2000 U.S. Census found only 51% of all households are married couples, continuing a steady decline over the past several decades. Meanwhile, the number of unmarried couples living together has increased rapidly. In 2000, 5.4 million couples are living together without being married. In this increasingly permissive society, 30% of all children do not live in a two-parent home. The result is that ideas and terminology once readily understood must be defined carefully for people to understand.
The Bible uses several words to describe sexual sins. The word adultery refers to a sexual relationship where one or both partners are married to someone other than the one with whom they are having intercourse. Fornication is a broader term which refers to sexual intercourse outside the bonds of marriage. It can include adultery when used by itself, or it refers to all sexual relations between unmarried couples when used in conjunction with the word adultery. In several modern translations, the word fornication has been translated immorality or sexual immorality because our society has essentially stopped using the word fornication. Another important word is passion which refers to the arousal of illicit sexual desire. This would include things like pornography, erotic dances, or anything else that stimulates the desire for sex outside of marriage but does not result in actual intercourse.
The apostle Paul bluntly states that those who engage in various sexual sins cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Among the sins listed are fornication (sexual intercourse outside of marriage), adultery (sexual intercourse where one partner is married to someone else), effeminate (one who dresses or behaves as a member of the opposite sex), and homosexuality (engaging in sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex).
Paul goes on and explains why sexual sins interfere with our relationship with Jesus (I Corinthians 6:15-20). Even when sexual intercourse is engaged by two consenting individuals, such as a man lying with a prostitute, the sin is against God and the sinner's own body. Other sins, such as thief or murder, are committed against other people. Other people are harmed by the sin, but sexual sins harm the person engaging in sex. Sexual sins contain a high risk of disease because those engaged in such sins rarely remain with one partner (Proverbs 5:15-20; 6:32-33; 7:21-27). Yet, the damage of sexual sins is more subtle. It keeps us from spiritually bonding with our Lord (I Corinthians 6:15-17).
Few people notice the bonding that takes place when two people engage in sexual intercourse. Even a person who pays for a few moments with a prostitute leaves a portion of himself bound to the prostitute (I Corinthians 6:16). Take two pieces of duct tape and stick them to various things, the floor, the chair, etc. Each time the tape comes in contact with something, it attempts to bond, but the bond is ripped apart. The first time the bond is broken with difficulty, but each succeeding bond becomes easier and easier to break. Eventually, you can put the two pieces of tape together and without much effort separate them into two.
A similar thing happens when a man or woman engages in intercourse outside of marriage. The person builds a strong bond with the first person with whom they have sex. When that relationship ends, as almost all do since there is no covenant holding them together, the person is devastated. His world has come to an end. Yet, eventually, he finds another willing partner. When this relationship also ends, the pain is not nearly as severe. After all, he has experience in breaking up. Over time, a person becomes numb to the making and breaking of relationships. His ability to bond with another person is damaged. This is why the marriages of people who have engaged in sex before marriage generally end in divorce. They have developed a habit of solving relationship problems by leaving, and leaving doesn't bother them because they have become used to the pain of severing bonds.
Compare this to taking two fresh pieces of duct tape and joining them together. Just try and separate them! You will destroy the tape before they come apart. Two people who wait until after marriage to try sex are like the fresh pieces of tape. They bond solidly together in the sexual relationship. Shortly, it will destroy the couple if someone tries to destroy the marriage.
In Genesis 34 we read about a couple who approached marriage in the wrong way. Dinah was a country girl visiting some friends of her in the town of Shechem. The son of the ruler of that area noticed Dinah and had sex with her. The Hebrew text is unclear as to whether the relationship was consensual or not. It merely states that Shechem humbled Dinah, meaning that she was no longer a virgin and causing her to lose her self-respect. As we pointed out, sexual intercourse causes a binding of those so engaged. Such happened to Shechem. He became deeply attached to Dinah and fell in love with her. Notice that this happened after they had intercourse. Men don't have to be emotionally involved with a woman before they have sex. Regardless of the lines men sometimes use, sexual intercourse is not necessarily an expression of love to a man.
Shechem then asks his father to arrange a marriage between Dinah and him. To Hamor, Shechem's father, and Shechem this seemed to be a natural order of events. Perhaps they thought they were honoring Jacob by offering him a chance to marry his daughter to the future ruler of the region. Yet, notice the reaction of Jacob's sons. They considered it disgraceful and a thing that should not have been done (Genesis 34:7). When Shechem offered them to name their own price for Dinah, they viewed it as payment for the services of a prostitute (Genesis 34:31). The proper thing would have been to come to know Dinah, asked her father for permission to marry, and then after the marriage engaged in sexual intercourse. Shechem approached marriage entirely in the wrong way.
Paul warns Christians that we have left the ways of the world behind (Colossians 3:2-6). It is because people engage in fornication (sexual intercourse before marriage) and pursue passion (stimulating themselves with the desire for sex) that God's wrath will come against the world. We must keep our vessels (our bodies) sanctified (set apart as holy) and in honor (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). In order to accomplish this, Christians must not engage in fornication or pursue lustful passions. We cannot keep ourselves pure and damage our bodies at the same time.
The abhorrence for sexual sins should be so pronounced that, as Paul told the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:3-5, fornication or any impure thoughts should not be named among Christians. In other words, when topics, such as who is sleeping with whom this week or who was caught with a Playboy magazine under their bed, the last person you would associate with such actions is a Christian. A Christian should live such a life that no one would think he would engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
To promote such a reputation, a Christian must guard not only his actions but also the way he talks. Paul warns against "filthiness." This is dirty talk (talk with sexual connotations) or lewd gestures. We must also avoid "foolish talk." This is making light of serious matters. Sex intercourse is a serious matter and should not be a topic of banter in a locker room. The third thing Paul warns against is "coarse jesting." These are dirty jokes about sex and sexual function. If a Christian engages in this type of talking, it would leave the impression that he engages in such things and approves of such behavior. We must not only keep ourselves pure, but we must also keep our reputation pure.