Just because a thing is good, this does not mean that it is without boundaries. For example, because sleep is good, imagine that you decide to sleep until one in the afternoon on a school day. You walk into school with the creases from your pillow still embedded in your face. When your teacher asks where you have been, you yawn, wipe the drool from your chin, and remind him that sleep is good and so you were enjoying sleep. You add that when you go home you will probably eat thirty pounds of Girl Scout cookies because eating is good, too.
Needless to say, while sleep and food are good, they do have their limits. Similarly, the good gift of sex has its boundaries as well—and the boundary for sex is marriage. When we take sex outside of marriage, it is like taking fire out of the fireplace. The beautiful gift can quickly become destructive. But what about the fact that sex feels so natural?
Suppose that one day at work I decide to have an affair with my secretary. When I come home, my wife Crystalina asks how my day was. I tell her that work went well, the drive home was pleasant, and that I cheated on her. Upon hearing this, she throws my belongings onto the front lawn. To ease her pain, I point out how “natural” the affair was. Needless to say, she would not be comforted. She is well aware that the fact that sex is natural is not a sufficient reason to engage in it.
Although pleasure is a natural result of sex, it is not the purpose of sex. If you confuse the purpose of sex (babies and bonding) with the additional benefit of pleasure, you abandon love and use the other person as an object of lust.
When people argue that couples should be free to have sex outside of marriage, they do not realize what they are asking for. “Liberating” sex from the confines of marriage is like liberating a goldfish from its bowl—not a great idea. In the same way, the intimacy of sex was never meant to be separated from the total intimacy that makes up married life. It was not meant to be “free.”
One woman explained, “So-called sexual freedom is really just proclaiming oneself to be available for free, and therefore without value. To ‘choose’ such freedom is tantamount to saying that one is worth nothing.” When we divorce sex from marriage, we inevitably meet with disappointment. We are trying to grab the privileges of marriage without accepting the commitment and sacrifice that must accompany the gift of total intimacy.
. Sarah E. Hinlicky, “Subversive Virginity,” First Things (October 1998), 15.