The High Cost of Immorality

For more than five decades, self-proclaimed experts and so-called sexual reformers, beginning with Alfred Kinsey, have worked to advance the belief that there are no public consequences to private sexual behavior. And Americans, for the most part, have bought into this notion, proving what Lenin said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth!"

This ideological offensive, which gained traction during the sexual revolution of the 1960s, led to the erosion of all prior social and legal boundaries, which restrained sex to monogamous marriage. This exclusive union—which strictly limited the acceptable relationship for sex and esteemed the traditional family—was reinforced through the stigmatization of sex outside of marriage and the criminalization of certain acts.

Historically, most states in the U.S. had legal prohibitions against adultery, often called "crimes against marriage," which were designed to protect marriage by punishing those who jeopardized the family by seeking sexual satisfaction beyond their spouse. Virtually every advanced civilization has had some form of prohibition against adultery. Granted, these have not always been evenly applied to both husband and wife including within Christianized cultures, despite the fact that Scripture equally condemns both male and female offenders.

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Today, the enforceability of criminal sanctions for adultery is problematic in light of Supreme Court decisions since 1965 relating to privacy and sexual intimacy. However, this right of privacy never existed until Kinsey asserted that there were no public consequences to private sexual behavior.

Similarly, most states had laws against fornication, which criminalized sex between unmarried persons. In 2001, Jesse McClure was convicted under Georgia's fornication law. When McClure was 16, he was caught having sex with his girlfriend in her bedroom. The girl's mother reported the incident to her daughter's probation officer, who then brought charges. McClure was ordered to pay a $200 fine and write an essay explaining why he should not have engaged in sex. Instead, he wrote that it was not the business of the court to know why. As McClure told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Invading personal privacy just isn't right."

In 2003, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out McClure's conviction. Chief Justice Norman Fletcher wrote, "The government may not reach into the bedroom of a private residence and criminalize the private, noncommercial, consensual sexual acts of two persons legally capable of consenting to those acts."

ACLU attorney Catherine Sanderson, who represented McClure, insisted the issue is again one of privacy and therefore, "no longer does the state have any say in regulating private sexual activity between consenting persons of legal age." Journalists and others heralded this as a "great victory" for civil liberties calling such laws "relics of a Calvinist past," "a stupid law," and "ancient" -- the implication being that we will all be better off now that we can legally have sex with whomever we want!

While only a handful of states maintain fornication and adultery laws on the book, none actually enforce these statutes and most people today would likely regard any attempt to do so as ridiculous. But are they right? Are there, in fact, no public consequences to any private sexual behavior? If there are, does the individual's right to privacy trump the greater good of society?

First, our right to privacy does not extend to any and every consensual behavior. For example, one cannot evade conviction for the possession and use of illegal narcotics on the basis of using them in the privacy of one's own home. Illegal drug use has enormous societal consequences in both human and economic terms. Therefore, it becomes an essential role of government to intervene [over and against the right to privacy] in effort to preserve and promote public safety and well-being among its citizenry.

Secondly, contrary to the propaganda of the last five decades; there is recent data which demonstrates there is in fact a public consequence to certain private sexual behaviors. In first-ever research, a scholarly study, entitled The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All 50 States quantifies a minimum $112 billion annual taxpayer cost from high rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing. This amounts to more than $1 trillion in taxpayer expense over the last decade that is directly attributable to marital breakdown and out-of-wedlock births.

"These costs are due to increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty, criminal justice and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals whose adult productivity has been negatively affected by increased childhood poverty caused by family fragmentation," according to Ben Scafidi, Ph.D., one of the study's authors and economics professor at Georgia College & State University.

Add to this, the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease among all other industrialized nations, the highest rates of teen pregnancies, the largest producing and consuming nation of pornography, the highest rape rates, and more than 40 million abortions since 1972 and one must be willfully blind to suggest that there are no public consequences to any private sexual behavior.

By first accepting sexual activity outside of monogamous marriage, the legal and social structures, which served to protect and promote marriage were either weakened or eliminated. As sex was increasingly separated from marriage, marriage became less and less necessary. Alternative family forms such as single-parent, cohabitating and most recently same-sex came to be merely modern family "options" equal to the traditional two-parent family. I understand that single-parenthood is a pervasive reality, and that these single-parents are working as hard if not harder than any other parent to raise and care for their children. So, I am not denigrating these families by asserting that the traditional family is superior. The two-parent family is by every objective standard, both today and throughout history, the best possible arrangement. I'm sure most single-parents would be the first to agree.

Suffice it to say, divorce and out-of-wedlock birthrates all skyrocketed as society separated sex from marriage, demonstrating there is a devastating public consequence (or cost) to private sexual behavior, apparently more than $112 billion a year!

As God's called people we are to demonstrate the reign of God. This is a significant area in society where we can begin to act as a redemptive influence by living under God's rule related to sex and the family. Of course this means that Christians stop divorcing at the same or greater rate than those outside the church. It means that Christians stop cohabitating, that they remain chaste until marriage and that Christians stop "struggling" with pornography and actually flee sexuality immorality—three vices within the church that are near equal in scale to those outside the church! If we do this then we can proclaim that Christ changes us!

By living in obedience in these areas we can once again advance the establishment of social and legal structures that promote and protect marriage as the only acceptable relationship for sex. This is not mere moralizing on the part of simple "religious folk" but the answer to a pressing social problem that, as the evidence demonstrates, has enormous human, social and economic costs.


S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of discipleship and Church renewal that works to equip Christians with an intelligent, thoroughly Christian and missional approach to culture. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources, and other works by S. Michael Craven visit:

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