by Fr. Pavel Gumerov
One time I heard a talk given by an Orthodox psychologist, a woman, and she said that she had heard within the teenage milieu the term, “a used girl.” This is quite accurately stated: the boys used her and found themselves another girl.
Sexual energy is an enormous force, and a person is obligated to learn how to keep it under control. Otherwise, he or she risks becoming a sexually preoccupied, physically and psychologically sick individual. Besides its main and great goals of perpetuating the race and strengthening the love between husband and wife, sexual energy has one more quality. If a person has not yet established a family, but does not waste his sexual energy on fornication and lustful thoughts, this energy can be put to constructive use: creative or any other kind of work, or physical activity. And there can be no harm whatsoever in abstinence. Just look at Orthodox monasteries. The majority of their residents are strong, healthy, young people, many of whom received monasticism at a young age. Monks and nuns feel quite well both spiritually and physically. Why? Because they have the proper attitude toward abstinence and chastity. They war with lustful thoughts, and do not incite them in themselves. People who are inclined towards married life will also only be happy in marriage when they learn how to control their animal instincts, and submit their flesh to the spirit. By the way, about animals. Female monkeys allow the males to come near them only about two times a year, exclusively for the purpose of propagating the species. Unlike humans, animals use their instincts according to their need, and would never harm themselves. Any nation that cares about its people’s health would care about their morality, and encourage abstinence, as was done in America after the painful results of the sexual revolution. In 1996, a program was instituted for teenagers called, “Abstinence Education.” Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on this program. Unfortunately, I have not found any recent data, but in 2007 the program was still active. I think that it still is. Anyone interested in knowing what the fruits of the program were can easily find the information on the internet. The results shown there are impressive.
Besides the fact that this sin destroys one’s spiritual and physical nature, it is also a violation of spiritual laws, which exist objectively, independently from our will, just like the laws of physics. You can refuse to believe that gravity exists, but if you decide to walk out of a fifth story window, you will kill yourself, or at least be crippled. By violating spiritual laws, we harm the structure of our soul, wound it, and later pay for it. If people do not preserve their purity before marriage, if future spouses cohabitated unlawfully before their wedding, if they betrayed their wives or husbands, their violation will not fail to leave a mark. In marriage—and generally in life—they will pay for this with sorrows, domestic squabbles and problems. I know no few examples of couples who began their sexual life before marriage, and very soon afterward, had extra-marital affairs and domestic conflicts.
Question: My son lives with his girlfriend. He says that he eventually wants to legally marry her, but doesn’t know how he could take such an important step without them first getting to know each other, without living together. After all, many marriages fail. What can I say to him?
Answer: It is necessary to touch upon a very important theme, which has a direct relationship to mistakes made during the premarital period.
[Note: In modern Russia, the civil “registration” of a marriage, the marriage stamp placed in the passport by an official, is the legally valid marriage document, and not the religious ceremony, which is considered optional (a hangover from Communist times). This is different from other countries. In the United States, for example, a religious ceremony or a wedding performed by a judge before witnesses makes the marriage legal, if the couple has previously obtained a valid marriage license. In any case, Fr. Pavel is speaking about a marriage that is valid under the laws of a state or country. Of course, for Orthodox Christians, a wedding ceremony must take place in church.—Trans.]
Very many young people consider that those who wish to enter into marriage should definitely first try living a sexual life before marriage. They say that this will supposedly prevent mistakes, allow them to get to know each other better, and in general show whether or not they are sexually compatible—because all you hear about nowadays are hasty marriages and speedy divorces. There is a rule: practice is the criteria of truth. You can create as many theories as you want, and repeat all kinds of beautiful words, but when you put it to the test, everything becomes clear.
We’ll begin with the fact that with the rise in number of “test marriages”, the number of divorces has sharply increased, while the number of registered marriages has sharply fallen. Why? Statistics show that only 5% of cohabitations or “test marriages” end in legal marriage. And if the young people actually do enter into lawful marriage after their experiment of cohabitation, those marriages break up twice as often as marriages concluded without that prior experiment. By the way, these statistics do not only apply to Russia. Specialists at Penn State University, Pittsburgh, studied the married life of around 1,500 American couples.
It was shown that the couples who lived together before marriage are twice as likely to divorce. Furthermore, the domestic life of these families is marked by a large number of arguments and conflicts. For cleanness and accuracy, the research was taken from data collected on people of varying ages: from the 1960’s, 80’s, and 90’s. This means that something is amiss. People keep on testing, and meanwhile the divorce rate only goes up. They want to get to know each other better, but they cannot maintain a stable marriage.
The problem is that in an experimental marriage, the partners do not get to know each other; they only confuse each other more.
The time before marriage is given so that the bride and bridegroom might learn in the school of relationship without the additive of passion, wild hormones, and lack of restraint that greatly obstruct any objective evaluation of another person, and the ability to see him or her not as a sex object, but as a personality, a friend, and a future spouse. In a “test marriage,” the brain and feelings are fogged with the intoxication of passion. When people afterward create a family, they very often understand that they were bound together not by love, but by a strong sexual attraction, which, as we know, passes very quickly. Then you have a family consisting of people quite alien to each other. The courting period is given to the future spouses so that they would learn self-restraint, and study each other better—not as sexual partners, not as roommates sharing the same living space and bed, but rather from another, pure, friendly, human, and if you will, romantic side.