The Lies of Romantic Sexual Morality

by J. Alan Branch October 31, 2017

Katheryn Elizabeth “Katy” Hudson (b. 1984), aka Katy Perry, is the daughter of parents who were Pentecostal pastors. Having moved far from her evangelical upbringing, she is the author of the 2010 song Teenage Dream, which in many ways reflects how Christian kids move quickly to a sloppy form of moral reasoning concerning sex. At one point she sings, “Let's go all the way tonight; no regrets, just love.”

Perry’s idea of “no regrets, just love” is a form of what has been called the “Romantic Sexual Morality,” i.e. sex is moral as long as the couple “loves” each other. When Christian teens and single adults go wrong in their sexual ethics, they usually have some fuzzy form of “Romantic Morality” as their moral reference point, saying, “Sex outside of marriage can’t be wrong because we truly “love” each other.” Often, this form of moral reasoning is combined with several other wrong-headed ideas which are quite destructive. Here are some brief responses to three common arguments used to advocate premarital sex.

“Premarital Sex is Fun.”

Our culture stresses that premarital sex is fun and should be pursued. In fact, for many young people it is not only premarital sex they seek, but casual premarital sex. For example, one of the most popular euphemisms for sexual intercourse is “hook up.” When a couple claims they “hooked up” at a party, it may mean they engaged in heavy petting and intensely passionate kissing, or it may mean they had sexual intercourse.  Caroline J. Simon gives a good definition of the term: “Hookups are noncommittal, sexualized exchanges were sexual intercourse may or may not be involved. Hookup also conveys that sexual exchanges, whatever the details, are no big deal.”[1] Indeed, many professed Christians have become convinced that sexual encounters before marriage are “no big deal” and shouldn’t be avoided.

In response, no sexual encounter is ever “casual.” In 1 Corinthians 6:14-17, Paul stresses that when we have sex with someone, we are joined to them in a unique manner, a joining God intended only for marriage. We are bonded to that person with whom we had sex and, in some way, a bit of them stays with us. Again, no sexual encounter is ever “casual.” Furthermore, sexual sin is indeed fun, but only for a season. But, the seasons change, the leaves fade, and the bill comes due. Casual sex is associated with higher incidences of STDS and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, neither of which are any “fun.” Furthermore, casual sex actually cheapens you as a person by suggesting your only value is in the pleasure you can provide another person. Your value as a person is found in the cross of Christ and your identity is as someone who has been bought by the price of His own blood (1 Corinthians 6:20).

“We are going to Get Married Anyway.”

If a Christian couple is engaged or committed and heading towards marriage, they may argue, “If we are in love, committed to each other, and clearly going to marry, what’s the significance of a piece of paper (i.e., marriage certificate)?” They may add that refraining from sex until marriage is actually so frustrating that it can be harmful to their emotional well-being and adjustments to sex.[2] This is another form of the “Romantic Morality.”

In response, some Christian couples who are engaged or dating may indeed have sex and eventually marry each other. But for most, the promise that “we are going to get married” is just a lie. In many cases the couple breaks up and both the guy and the girl move on to other people. Unfortunately, they have left their purity and honesty behind.

“The Bible Doesn’t Really Forbid Premarital Sex.”

I’ve encountered people who say something to the effect of, “I’ve read the Bible, and I have not found a single verse that says, ‘You shall not have sex before you are married.’” People making this argument sometimes say the Bible is clear that adultery is sin, but is not clear about sex prior to marriage.

In response, the “Bible Doesn’t Specifically Forbid It” argument is based on shallow, flawed hermeneutics. I call it “Hermeneutics via Google,” with young people often insisting, “I have done my research!” When the person making this argument says they have done “research,” they mean they have performed one or two Google searches. There is a tremendous difference between reading passages in context and reading selected verses generated from a search engine.

In the New Testament, the Greek word porneia is commonly translated as “sexual immorality.” Sex before marriage is certainly included in porneia because it is a general word covering all sexual immorality. It has at least four clear meanings by virtue of the context: It can mean adultery (Matt. 5:32); it can mean sexual immorality in general (Acts 15:20; 1 Cor. 5:1); it can mean prostitution; and it clearly points in the direction of unmarried people who are to avoid sexual immorality. To defend the last point, two passages are important:

1 Corinthians 7:2 (NASB): But because of immoralities [porneias, plural of porneia], each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NASB): For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.

In both 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, marriage is encouraged so that single Christians can avoid porneia. The unstated premise in both verses is that single Christians should not have sex prior to marriage.    


Sexual abstinence before marriage is the clear Biblical standard and arguments otherwise are based on a very poor grasp of Scripture and a shoddy handling of the texts in question. Abstinence before marriage leads to a life of integrity and joy and is foundational to a marriage that is strong and based on Christ.  


[1] Caroline J. Simon, Bringing Sex Into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 120.

[2] Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 129.