(Photo: Reuters / Mike Segar)
A majority of single Christians are rejecting biblical doctrine by choosing to have sex before they are married. Sixty-one percent of self-identified Christian singles who answered a recent ChristianMingle survey said they are willing to have casual sex without being in love, while only 11 percent said they are waiting to have sex until they are married.
In an interview with The Christian Post, two Christian Millennials share their diverse stories on faith, sex and marriage, and explain why many singles are battling against the "purity culture" of their youth.
When Heather Lindsey moved to New York City in 2004 at the age of 22, the Michigan native both attended church regularly and considered herself a Christian.
While Lindsey grew up in the church, she said it rarely emphasized reading the Bible or one's relationship with God. As an adolescent, her mother's only sex-ed advice was to use birth control when she became sexually active. But while in college, Lindsey "gave her heart to Christ." There, for the first time, she became convicted that premarital sex is wrong.
But despite this realization, after Lindsey moved to New York, she did not abide by this new sexual ethic. Instead, she entered and exited relationships frequently, often sleeping with the men she was dating.
"Even though I knew it was wrong, I continued to have sex outside of marriage," Lindsey told The Christian Post. "Why? Because when you're single you don't want to be lonely."
"I was the girl that broke up with one boyfriend and had another one on speed-dial—that afternoon I'd already be going out with somebody else. I kept a boyfriend because I liked the attention," she continued.
For Lindsey, her behavior was not simply a result of her conforming to the sexual values of her non-Christian peers. Instead, she had friends from church with similar sexual ethics and even dated and became sexually involved with a man who was serving at the same church that she was.
"We all went to the church. We were hypocrites. We said we loved the Lord but we ignored the scriptures that said that fornication is a sin," said Lindsey.
Lindsey eventually cut off all people that had been a part of that lifestyle. Several years ago she got married and moved to Atlanta, where, now 31, she is the founder and CEO of Pinky Promise, an organization that encourages single and married women to "rise above cultural pressures and to "stay determined to live for Christ regardless of their circumstances."
Only 11 percent of Christians are waiting until marriage before having sex
While Christians may see Lindsey's premarital sexual behavior as typical for that outside their faith, a new Christian Mingle study suggests that it is increasingly commonplace for Christians to sleep together outside of a marital context.
In a survey of 716 Christians released in January, only 11 percent said they save sex exclusively for marriage. Instead, 60 percent said they would be willing to have sex without any strings attached, while 23 percent said they would have to be "in love." Five percent said they would wait to get engaged.
This data supports a 2011 Relevant Magazine poll that revealed that 80 percent of "young, unmarried Christians have had sex" and that "two-thirds have been sexually active in the last year."
While the findings of a 2012 National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Grey Matter Research poll did not show outcomes as high as the two previous polls, according to its research, 44 percent of unmarried evangelicals between ages 18-29 said that they had sex, including 25 percent who said they had had sex in the last three months.
Battling against the "purity culture"
Emily Maynard, 28, a writer from Portland, Ore., has witnessed many of her friends rejecting abstinence, in what she interprets as them pushing back against the "purity culture," or the conservative sexual and dating norms with which they were raised.
"It's a family, church and social system that favors the idea of courtship. There were phrases like 'Don't date unless you're ready to get married' or at the age where you can support yourself on your own. Or 'Guard your heart, particularly as a woman.' I was told that even crushes were giving away a piece of myself," Maynard told CP.
Maynard said that as her and her peers grew up, many of them became "jaded" with their childhood values and consequently chose to make decisions contrary to those espoused by the purity culture.
"We were raised with the idea that says, 'Wait for God to bring you the one.' And 'Don't wait around, don't sleep around, and you'll kind-of get this reward,'" said Maynard.
"I think a lot of people who are dating in the Christian world, say late 20s, early 30s, they did 'the right thing.' They followed the system. They waited until they got married to have sex and their marriage fell apart by the time they were 25. I think there are a lot of people entering the dating world who are jaded with what a lot of churches and purity culture promises you," she added.
While the backlash might be true for some subsets of evangelicals, according to the NAE poll, most Christians attributed their sexual activity to culture, followed by lacking a strong biblical foundation and "living in the moment."
The Church is following secular culture opposed to leading by example
Lisa Anderson, who is the director of Boundless, Focus on the Family's singles and young adults ministries, said that she was not surprised at Christians' high tolerance for premarital sex.
"Generally, if you look at the dating landscape in the church today, it looks very similar to that of the world. There's not a lot of distinction in the way people date [or] in the attitude toward dating and marriage," Anderson told CP.
While "sex may be the determining factor" for some Christians "we're even seeing that line blurred," said Anderson.
"And in every other respect, we're generally seeing the same kind of attitudes and practices," said Anderson, listing "dating ad nauseum, dating indefinitely, dating someone without any specific game plan, and dating recreationally without a view toward marriage," as examples of ways that the Church has adopted the patterns of the larger secular culture.
"For the Christian culture it's extremely frustrating, because they are trying to go after something lasting, but they're using the same formula to get something that's just not going to get them there," said Anderson.
The second part of The Christian Post's series on Christian dating culture will address the impact church attendance has on singles' views on premarital sex.