“Does the New Testament not consider sexual relations before marriage to be a sin? If they are a sin, why do Christians have sexual relations before marriage and why do they not emphasise virginity?”
Our answer is split into two parts.
1) What understanding of chastity, sexuality and love is the basis of the Catholic prohibition of sexual relations before marriage?
In accordance with the teachings of the New Testament the church teaches the virtue of chastity, in other words, it asks of Christians to love chastely and to live chastely.
People violate the virtue of chastity wherever they
separate sexuality from love. Where sexuality is sought only for personal satisfaction the purpose of the sexual union of man and wife is destroyed. “Sexual union is the most beautiful bodily, sensual expression of love. People who look for sex without love are lying, because the closeness of their bodies does not correspond to the closeness of their hearts. Someone who does not take his own body language at its word does lasting damage to body and soul. Sex then becomes inhuman; it is degraded to a means of obtaining pleasure and degenerates into a commodity. Only committed, enduring love in marriage creates a space for sexuality that is experienced in a human way and brings lasting happiness.” (Youcat. Youth catechism of the Catholic Church. Munich, 2010. n. 403)
“A chaste love is a love that defends itself against all the internal and external forces that might destroy it. That person is chaste who has consciously accepted his sexuality and integrated it well into his personality. Chastity and continence is not the same thing. Someone who has an active sex life in marriage must be chaste, too. A person acts chastely when his bodily activity is the expression of dependable, faithful love. (Youcat, n. 404; cf. also CCC 2238)
“Someone lives chastely when he is free to be loving and is not the slave of his drives and emotions. Anything, therefore, that helps one to become a more mature, freer, and more loving person and to form better relationships helps that person to love chastely, also. One becomes free to be loving through self-discipline, which one must acquire, practice and maintain at every stage of life. It is helpful for me in this regard to obey God’s commandments in all situations, to avoid temptations and any form of double life or hypocrisy, and to ask God for protection against temptations and to strengthen me in love. Being able to live out a pure and undivided love is ultimately a grace and a wonderful gift of God.” (Youcat, n. 405)
Every Christian should be loving and chaste, whether he is young or old, lives alone or is married. “Not everyone is called to marriage but everyone is called to love. We are destined to give our lives away; many do so in the form of marriage, others in the form of voluntary celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, others by living alone and yet being there for others. All human life finds its meaning in love. To be chaste means to love with an undivided heart. The unchaste person is torn and not free. Someone who loves authentically is free, strong and good; he can devote himself in love. Thus Christ, who gave himself up completely for us and at he same time devoted himself completely to his Father in heaven, is a model of chastity, because he is the original model of strong love.” (Youcat, n. 406)
The church is against premarital sexual relations “because she would like to protect love. A person can give someone else no greater gift than himself. ‘I love you’ means for both: ‘I want only you, I want all that you are, and I want to give myself to you forever!” Because that is so, we cannot, even with our bodies, really say “I love you” temporarily or on a trial basis. Many take their premarital relationships seriously. And yet, there are two reservations involved that are incompatible with love: The ‘exit option’ and the fear of a child. Because love is so great, so sacred, and so unique, the Church teaches young people the obligation to wait until they are married before they start to have sexual relations .” (Youcat. n. 407.)
2) How can you live as a young Christian if you are living in a premarital relationship or have already had premarital relations?
It is no secret that many Catholic Christians, in particular in our modern society, do not find it easy to live the teachings described here fully and that they either live in a pre-marital relationship or that they have had pre-marital sexual relations. Youcat Jugendkatechismus der Katholischen Kirche [Youth catechism of the Catholic Church] comments: “God loves us at every moment, in every ‘complicated’ situation, even in a state of sin. God helps us to seek the whole truth about love and to find ways to live it more and more unambiguously and decisively. In a conversation with a priest or a reliable, experienced Christian, young people can look for a way to live out their love with increasing integrity. They will learn that every life is a process and that, whatever has happened, they can make a new beginning with God’s help.” (Youcat, n. 408)