What does the Catholic Church teach about Premarital Sex and Living Together?
We can see that the covenant of marriage flows directly from the original human experiences and the qualities of the human body. Human beings are unique, for they are in solitude with God and have bodies that are symbolic.
Furthermore, the experience of solitude leads to the experience of unity. Human beings are made for love. Their bodies are nuptial, and this is why a man and woman can become “one flesh.”
Sex does not belong only to the physical world. Rather, sex belongs to the world of symbol and the world of love. Sex is not a casual pastime or a mere toy, devoid of any coherent meaning. Nor can sex be reduced to an experimental activity; it is not like test driving a car. It is not something we do to see if a relationship might work. Sex is much more than that.
Sex consummates. It elevates the relationship between a man and woman, bringing it to a higher, more perfect level. Sex places on sacred ground the love a man and woman share. Sex is mysterious precisely because it is symbolic and nuptial. It therefore needs protection. It needs the words of commitment that are spoken on the wedding day.
Sex is thus the seal on a relationship – not the beginning of a relationship. When a man and woman enter into a sexual relationship before marriage, they can easily confuse sexual pleasure for love. They may not be but in lust, and this may well be the reason why those who marry after living together have a divorce rate that is 50 percent higher than that of those who do not cohabitate before marriage.
Recent studies show that for a woman, the sexual act is tremendously significant. A woman releases bonding hormones three times in her life: during sexual intercourse, while giving birth, and while nursing or breast-feeding. Notice that they are called “bonding hormones.”
“Hormone” is a physical term, and “bonding” a spiritual term. It is a symbolic term used by medical professionals. Clearly, sexual intercourse should be accompanied by a deep and abiding commitment. This commitment is marriage.
Sex within marriage, then, leads to a profound experience of unity. On the other hand, someone who has sex with a number of people before marriage leaves part of him or herself with those other people. A part of the self is left with person A, part with person B, and so on. This divides the person within him or herself, which will make life difficult. Virginity and chastity are safeguards against this danger.
Of course, sex is not only a love act. It is also a life act. Sex has more than one meaning.
A prominent writer in this area, Professor Janet Smith, recommends that when you are dating someone, you ask yourself the question, “Do I really want to have babies with this person? Do I want to be the mother or father of this person’s child?”
This is a good question. More likely than not, it will eliminate a lot of people whom you find sexually attractive but would not want to marry.