Ethics involved in Sexual Morality: Adultery and Fornication

I was going over some writing from when I was taking a course in Ethics while attending Bible College, and I thought the information would be good discussion material.  I do not recall the source material. If anyone recognizes any of this, please let me know, so I can attribute it appropriately.

I wanted to discuss the ethics involved in sexual morality, specifically adultery and fornication.   The issue is whether it is morally right to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage.  This entails both adultery, which is sex between a married person with someone other than one’s spouse, and fornication, which is sex between unmarried people.  There is one position that holds that sex outside of marriage is not a good thing, while there are two views that consider fornication to be morally right, the natural impulse view and the affection view.

The basis for the natural impulse view on sexual morality is that sex, which as a impulse or instinct and completely natural, should be enjoyed to obtain the greatest happiness.  Contraceptives remove the concern of unwanted pregnancy or sexual disease.  Sex should be considered a pleasurable physical activity, with no moral guilt attached to it, as long as both partners voluntarily engage in it without the involvement of harm or deceit.  There is no need to restrict sexual fulfillment to a single partner nor is there a requirement that sex be accompanied by love.  There are four arguments for this position:

1.     Sex is an impulse or instinct, which is natural and should be followed, much like wild animals – especially since contraception is so readily available.

2.     Sexual repression is bad, and engaging freely in sex is healthy. Sexual repression has resulted in a variety of neuroses, including insanity.

3.     Mankind has a moral obligation to maximize pleasure.

4.     Any act is right, and those who would restrict behavior must prove that it is necessary.

The Christian response to the natural impulse view on sexual morality:

1.     What is wild or natural may not be good.  People seem to inevitably form societies, which in turn place limits on sexual behavior.  Besides this, God has written His moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:14-16).

2.     Although there is nothing wrong with pleasure, man in not obligated to maximize it.  Sometimes we have to do things that are painful and are not morally justified in avoiding these acts because we want to pursue pleasure.

3.     If one were to suppose that people should seek the greatest pleasure, that does not mean that sex outside of marriage is the greatest pleasure. A simple example of this would be that it is uncomfortable to have sex when one has no descent place to engage in such activity, which few teenagers have.  Also, many people who engage in such activity feel anxiety about it, if for no other reason than society frowns upon, or for fear of pregnancy, inadequacy, or disease.  Such fears would be negligible or non-existent in a healthy marriage.

4.     Unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease are still concerns since contraception is not 100% reliable.  This can lead to many problems: a rising number of single parents, a rising number of women on welfare, and a rising number of abortions. These are not pleasurable things. Someone who was seeking the most pleasure would not seek any of these things, yet they are the direct result of premarital sex.

5.     Sex does not need someone to assign meaning to it, it is already filled with meaning.  It affects one to their very being, forever. By becoming “one flesh” (1 Cor. 6:12-20) with someone with whom they are not in love, people who engage in sex outside of marriage have less of themselves to give to their true love.

The affection view of sexual morality says that sexual freedom should be guided by the ideal of intimacy.  There are no ethical absolutes to guide behavior, but openness and caring should guide behavior.  In this view, people go in and out of relationships in which they engage in sex; if things work out they get married.

The arguments for this position are:

1.     Sex is inherently and completely good as long as it is with someone you love.  Casual sex will occur; it is not ideal, but excusable.

2.     A covenant that binds one individual to another it to be rejected; one’s primary obligation is to oneself.  Each partner must retain his independence.

3.     The right to intimacy is created by compatibility, not covenant. When compatibility is no longer present, divorce is morally right.

4.     Sex is a private matter.  What you do and with whom is entirely up to you.

5.     Sex can be engaged in with no strings attached. Passing from virginity to experience does not involve profound personal change.

6.     Women and men should be treated the same. What is excusable for one is also excusable for the other.

7.     Sex demands maturity to be able to weigh all the variables that are involved in determining if sexual intercourse is acceptable.

The Christian response:

1.     Love and intimacy as defined in this view are too weak to deal with the impulses that make up human sexuality. In the passion of the moment, anyone can convince himself that anything is love.

2.     While the affection view puts emotion at the heart of human behavior, Christianity teaches that the human will is what determines behavior. Love is seen in and fostered by action. Intimacy is developed through persistent self-sacrifice.

3.     Sex involves the expression of the total person and grows out of lives that are fully shared.

4.     The sex act can cause the couple to over commit to each other because of the bonding effect of sexual intercourse. Just because people have good sex does not mean they will have a good marriage.

5.     Premarital sex robs people of the opportunity of sharing something special unique and special to their marriage.  But if sex is saved for marriage, it gains significance.

The view that holds that sex outside of marriage is not a good thing is the abstinence view.  In this view, it is recognized that sex is pleasurable and natural, but it should not be used purely for sexual gratification.  God teaches in the Old Testament and New Testament that abstinence is what should be practiced outside of marriage: Ex 20:14; 22:16,17; Lev. 18:20;  20:10, 14: 21:13; Deut. 22:15, 17, 20-21; Prov. 23:27;  1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9, 13, 18; Eph 5:3; 1 Thes. 4:3-8.  These verses teach that prostitution is wrong: Deut. 23:18; Prov. 23:27; 1 Cor. 6:13-18. Sex involves the whole person, bonding two people physically and psychologically. Sex between two uncommitted partners only brings fleeting and trivial pleasure.  Limiting sex to marriage encourages people to marry and remain married.  This makes for a more stable society.  When all the benefits of marriage are available without the responsibilities, society and children suffer.  Marriage in which both partners are absolutely faithful to each other reduces the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Finally, abstinence eliminates the possibility of unwanted pregnancy for those who practice it.

These same arguments hold for adultery. The Old and New Testament teach that monogamy is a good thing. God made men and women in His image (Gen 1:27).  Human sexuality is part of God’s design, and as such is good (Gen 1:31). Polygamy was allowed, but often created problems (Gen 29:21-30; 2 Sam 5:13-19;  1 Kings 11:1,3).  Concubinage was practiced and levirate marriage was commanded to raise up heirs for a deceased family member (Gen 38:8; Deut 25:5-10). Divorce was allowed but not God’s wish (Deut. 24:1-4; Mal 2:14-16; Mat 19:3-12;  Mark 10:2-12; 1 Cor 7:10-17).  The Song of Solomon talks a great deal of the virtues of married love between husband and wife.  Indeed, Paul taught that sexual desire is a legitimate reason to marry (1 Cor 7:2, 9, 36-37).  The husband and wife each have a sexual duty to one another (1 Cor 7:3), because a partner’s body does not belong to himself or herself alone (1 Cor 7:4). So neither should deprive the other from sex except by mutual consent for a time to devote oneself to prayer (1 Cor 7:5).  Adultery is condemned in the OT and NT: Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22; Ex 20:14; Lev 18:20; Deut 5:18; Mat 5:27-28; John 8:3-11; 1 Cor 6:9.  Adulterous thought (lust) is as wrong as the act (Mat 5:28; Eph 2:3; 1 Thes 4:3-8; 2 tim 2:22; tit 3:3; 1 Pet 2:11; 4:2-3; 1 John 2:16). Lust distorts one’s desire, and can, like the act itself, harm the marriage.  In short, God instituted marriage and desires it to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, with neither going outside the marriage for sexual gratification, but each agreeing to meet the other’s needs.

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2 Responses

  1. i witnessed such acts in my parents lives as an adult, experienced the destructiveness of the issue as the spouse of a prolific adulteress and the old ghosts of such that had been a part of my life in the three decades hence.

  2. I am sorry you witnessed such things. Our human sinful nature , and the enemy, can cause us to be drawn to things that are unhealthy. These in turn can affect others adversely.

    But God can and does forgive and heal, should the individual seek it.

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