they could raise their child/children in a loving envi- ronment (the unitive dimension). We might add that in the language of love, genital sex is a way for two people to say: “I give myself totally to you. I am totally committed to our relationship and if God blesses us with a child, I will be here to love and raise that child with you.” The Church believes that the best context for that kind of relationship is mar- riage.
As much as they might like to do so, no couple can rewrite the meaning of sexual intercourse. It is tied to committed love and to a love that creates new life. To let on that sexual intercourse is something else is to separate it from the design of our Creator. When our Church speaks about “openness to new life,” it is, of course, only speaking about couples for whom this is a biological possibility. Now that we are clear about the Creator’s design for sex, we can look at some of the ways that people can fail to live out God’s purpose.
Recreational or casual sex. Recreational or casual sex often occurs between people who want the pleasure that comes with genital sex but don’t want the responsibility of an intimate relationship which of its very nature demands much self-giving and sac- rifice. In her book The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn Eden (who spent many years involved in recrea- tional sex) writes: “If you hunger for intimacy but fear rejection, it is much easier to let a man touch your body than to let him touch your heart” (p. 83).
Recreational or casual sex is morally wrong not only because it trivializes God’s gift but also because it completely separates sex from its proper context, namely, that of love and marriage, and uses the other person as a means of sexual gratification. The fun and pleasure dimension of recreational sex ends quickly when a pregnancy occurs or when sexual disease is contracted.
Dating couples. Many dating couples engage in premarital sex as a way to express their love and to see if they are sexually compatible. Others move in together because they believe it is a smart way to prepare for marriage. What can be said about these two modern-day aspects of dating?
It is normal for dating couples who are growing in their love for each other to want to express their love in a physical way. But when dating couples become sexually active with each other, they are usually al- lowing their bodies to say much more than their hearts are ready to give.
For a Christian couple, the dating period is a time to discern if God is calling them to the sacred vocation of marriage. It is a time to see if a particular person would make a lifelong partner. It is a time to see what qualities, gifts, values and goals a person would bring to the marriage table. It is a time to see how mature and good-hearted that person is, how he/she handles pressure and difficult situations, how well he/she communicates and deals with conflict.
However wonderful sex might be during this period of the relationship, it might also get in the way of two people making a good decision about their readiness for marriage. One woman who had lived with her fiancé during the dating period decided to move out. She said: “I had come to the point that my judgment of the relationship was based on sex. When sex was on and good, I judged the relationship to be good and vice versa. So I moved out and stopped having sex to see how the relationship would be without the sex.” Often the sexual dimen- sion of a dating relationship makes it very difficult for a couple to break up even though there are very good reasons for doing so.
Cohabitation. As stated above, many couples today think that cohabitation is a good way to prepare for marriage. But all the research shows that couples who cohabit prior to marriage have a much higher rate of divorce than couples who choose to go the traditional route. Perhaps the old saying is correct; “Easy to move in, easy to move out.” In addition, cohabitation can be a source of scandal to younger siblings and to friends. It also weakens the respect that we, as a Christian community, should have for the sacred institution of marriage.
The gospel ideal of saving sex for marriage is not an easy one and will make little or no sense to couples who do not have a personal relationship with Christ and are not serious about following his gospel mes- sage in this area.
Living the Church’s message of “saving sex for mar- riage” is very contrary to the world message of “safe sex.” But as we ponder the consequences of the world’s way―AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, increase in abortions, unwed pregnancies, and di- vorce―we begin to see the wisdom of the Church’s message in this area of Christian life.