Marriage, Joy, and Abstinence: With Gratitude to Mark Twain

Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council. | (Family Research Council)

"To get the full value of joy," Mark Twain wrote in Following the Equator, "you must have someone to divide it with."

In other words, the redoubtable Samuel Langhorne Clemens was saying, only marriage enables two people to experience the fullness of life's good things.

Key to a good marriage is fidelity — and, although now it's often ridiculed — abstinence until the knot it tied. Put religious worship into the mix, and the likelihood of an enduring husband-wife bond grows even stronger.

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Family Research Council's Marriage and Religious Research Institute ( has released a new collation of federally-collected data showing that religious practice has a lot to do with chastity and waiting until marriage for sexual intimacy.

The report shows that "chastity and abstinence are more prominent among those who attend church weekly or more." For example, the MARRI report shows that of those who worship weekly, only 14 percent had ever had sex at age 14 or younger and that nearly half remained either monogamous or abstinent during their lifetime.

Contrast that with those who never worship: 26 percent had ever had sex at age 14 or younger, and only 25.3 percent remained either monogamous or abstinent during their lifetimes.

Why is this desirable? Because MARRI studies have also shown that the less a person worships, the more likely they are to have multiple sexual partners — and the more likely they are to divorce.

It is religious practice by intact families that yields lower rates of out-of-wedlock sexual activity. These data are non-judgmental. They do not point fingers or allow any community of Americans to become puffed-up with pride. But they do show the significant impact of religious worship on the sexual behavior of the young. Choices made by young people can have lifelong implications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) make clear that abstinence until marriage and faithfulness within it have profound health effects.

In a report issued in 2013, the CDC noted that there are "nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in this country, half among young people ages 15–24, accounting for almost $16 billion in health care costs. Each of these infections is a potential threat to an individual's immediate and long-term health and well-being. In addition to increasing a person's risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV infection, STDs can lead to severe reproductive health complications, such as infertility and ectopic pregnancy."

There's also the undeniable fact that divorce devastates children. As MARRI scholars noted in a report earlier this year, "Family structure profoundly impacts the lives of children. Seventeen-year-old adolescents on the brink of adulthood are particularly vulnerable as they are forming habits and making decisions that will last a lifetime. Whereas family intactness fosters an environment of belonging among youth that increases their likelihood of exceling in education, health, economic security, and religious practice, family brokenness creates a sense of rejection that can thwart proper growth."

Most Americans hope to see lifelong commitment by their children. They welcome the prospect of having grandchildren. If that remains the case, we can have optimism for the future. But that is why we need to discourage pre-marital sex. Even such liberal journals as the Washington Post occasionally give a nod to the desirability of a chaste premarital lifestyle.

As tolerant as Americans are, we still rightly see divorce as undesirable and regrettable. If we hope to reduce divorce rates, reducing pre-marital and extra-marital sex is the best way to achieve this goal. We know that out-of-wedlock births and no-fault divorce have been major contributing factors to poverty.

So, share the joy that Mark Twain so aptly described with a life-long husband or wife. And better ensure that joy by staying sexually abstinent until the bond is solemnized by worshipping your Creator in the days of your youth.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council, was a presidential appointee in the George W. Bush administration chief-of-staff for two Members of Congress. He is a longtime member of the Evangelical Theological Society."

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