In a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, 57% of those who identified as Christians “always” or “sometimes” approved of unwed sex for those in a “committed relationship” without marriage, with fully 79% approval among the non-religious respondents. As for casual sex without any “committed relationship,” 50% of the Christians accepted this “always” or “sometimes and the non-religious did so by 83%.
The influential New York Times (ditto for NPR) has developed an interest in a variant known as “polyamory,” romantic relationships with knowledge and consent among three or more participants, who sometimes take additional partners on the side. (This is distinguished from “polygamy,” marriage with multiple partners, which is barred in the U.S. under “bigamy” laws.)
This month, the newspaper’s “tiny love stories” feature depicted a man’s love for a polyamorous woman. The same week a longer article, with the headline “Interested in Polyamory? Check Out These Places,” depicted Somerville, Mass. as valhalla for such practitioners, complete with polyamorous speed-dating. During a 2020 round of Times polyamory coverage, Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, writing at The Federalist, accused the paper of naïve boosterism that ignored research and real-world results for children.
In Britain’s venerable Jewish Chronicle this month, Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain did not forbid polyamory but wondered whether it could develop ”jealousy, suspicion, favoritism and resentments” or harm children involved, and whether desired stable relationships become more difficult to sustain.
One religion stands out on this score. There’s a “Polyamory Awareness” caucus among the official “related organizations” in the Unitarian Universalist Association, which serves “polyamorous people” whether church members or outsiders.
A bit of a non-religious backlash emerged this past year. British feminist and anti-rape campaigner Louise Perry came out with the book “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution,” a vigorous complaint that open promiscuity works against women’s interests and benefits cads rather than dads, though she urges sensible caution, not avoidance of all non-marital sex.
On the academic level, the University of Virginia’s Brad Wilcox and colleague Lyman Stone wrote in The Wall Street Journal about analyzing government data on 50,000 women. Among their findings: “Americans who live together before marriage are less likely to be happily married and more likely to land in divorce court.”
Popular culture and intuition tell us sexual experience and cohabition help prepare couples for marriage.
But consider research in an American Psychological Association journal cited by Times staffer Michel Leibowitz, who took to her own newspaper to critique today’s culture of hookups and “situationships.” This study concluded “it is clear that the longer a couple waited to become sexually involved the better their sexual quality, relationship communication, relationship satisfaction and perceived relationship stability” once they were married (text here).
Also note federal data on teen sexual activity in the federal “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” (.pdf here).
Back to the religious discussion. Patheos blogger Cross, who was raised evangelical and is now Anglican, seeks support for her view from the Bible and finds it in Genesis 38:6-30, a notably bizarre passage regarding Tamar, an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ.
Tamar married two sons of Judah, both of whom died. Her father-in-law then spurned her right to the protection of children through “levirate” marriage to his third son (as defined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10). So Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, tricked Judah into impregnating her, and was not condemned in the Bible for her seduction and subterfuge!
CONTINUE READING: “Is Premarital Sex Always Sinful?” by Richard Ostling.