By Spencer D Gear
It is not unusual to hear people advocating sex before marriage and the benefits of defacto relationships – cohabitation. Why do people decide to shack up together without marriage? There are many reasons for it that I have heard in general and relationship counselling over many years.
I encountered this fellow, who states he is a non–Christian, on a Christian forum online. He stated:
It IS all about sex. All objections about shacking up, from time immemorial, are fundamentally based on the belief that sex outside of marriage is wrong.
What else about a couple living together would someone have objections to? Sharing meals together? Sharing housework? The man seeing the woman early in the morning without her makeup on? Let’s at least be honest: a romantically involved couple who decide to live together are announcing to the world that they’re having sex, and this is fundamentally what upsets so many people.
How should I respond? Here goes:
I have two objections to cohabitation before marriage:
(1) God says it is wrong (see 1 Corinthians 7) and I want to please him. And,
(2) The statistical information is clear that cohabitation does not lead to long-term relationships, and marriage after cohabitation leads to a high level of break down of marriage.
Let’s look at some basic statistical information:
Take a read of these articles
- The Risks of Cohabitation (Fitzgibbons 2005-2011).
The second article (Fitzgibbons 2005-2011) states:
In the U.S., cohabitation, not divorce, now poses the biggest challenge to marriage. In 1960: 500,000 and in 2010: 7,529,000 couples cohabitate. More than 60% of marriages are now preceded by cohabitation (Wilcox et al. 2011).
A 2013 report on cohabitation from the National Center for Health Statistics was based on in-person interviews conducted between 2006 and 2010 with 12,279 women, ages 15-44. It demonstrated:
as a first union, 48% of women cohabited with their male partner, up from 43% in 2002 and 34% in 1995;
22 months was the median duration of first cohabitation, up from 20 months in 2002 and 13 months in 1995;
19% of women became pregnant and gave birth in the first year of a first premarital cohabitation and
70% of women without a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared with 47% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (Jayson 2013).
About 40 percent of children spend time in a cohabiting household, while 21% of children are born into cohabiting unions (Fitzgibbons 2005-2011).
Also, from the same article:
A. The Harmful Effects of Cohabitation in Relationships
- A 1992 study of 3,300 cases found that couples who cohabited prior to marriage have a risk for divorce that is about 46% higher than for non-cohabiters (Journal of Marriage and the family: February 1992).
- Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples (Journal of Health and Social Behavior: September 2000).
- Women cohabiting relationships are more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than married women (National Marriage Project, Rutgers University: 2002).
- The more months of exposure to cohabitation, the less enthusiastic couples are about marriage and childbearing (Journal of Marriage & Family: 59, 1997).
- Cohabiting couples report lower levels of happiness, lower levels of sexual exclusivity and satisfaction, and poorer relationships with their parents (Journal of Family Issues: January 1995).
- Cohabiters tend to not have an ethic of commitment that is as strong as non-cohabiters. This could explain the high rates of divorce among couples that cohabited prior to marriage (Journal of Marriage and the Family: August 1997).
- Cohabiting unions tend to weaken the institution of marriage and pose special risks to children (Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children and Social Policy. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 2002).
- By 2000, the total number of unmarried couples in America was almost 4.75 million, up from less than half a million in 1960 (U.S. Census Bureau: 2001).
- Cohabitation increases acceptance of divorce among young people (Journal of Marriage & Family: 59).
- Cohabitation can contribute to selfishness and later a lack of openness to children.
- Respondents who cohabited after divorce or cohabited with their partner in a subsequent marriage reported, on average, lower levels of happiness in the remarriage than remarried respondents who did not cohabit at after the initial divorce (Journal of Marriage and Family: Vol. 68, Number 2. May, 2006).
- Compared with peers who had not cohabited prior to marriage, individuals who had cohabited reported higher levels of depression and the level of depression also rose with the length of cohabitation. (Alabama Policy Institute: August 2006).
- The longer couples cohabited before marrying, the more likely they were to resort to heated arguments, hitting, and throwing objects when conflicts arose in their subsequent marriage. A longer length of cohabitation was linked to a greater frequency of heated arguments, even when controlling for spouses’ age. (Alabama Policy Institute: August, 2006)
- Women in cohabiting relationships are nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than were married women. Within cohabiting relationships, middle-aged women were at greatest risk of being killed. (Shackelford, T.K. & Mouzos, J., 2005. Partner Killing by Men in Cohabiting and Marital Relationships: A Comparative, Cross-National Analysis of Data from Australia and the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol.30, number 10, 1310-1324.)
The above details are from Richard Fitzgibbons (2005-2011).
Did you notice the first point of this last list? ‘A 1992 study of 3,300 cases found that coupled (sic) who cohabited prior to marriage have a risk for divorce that is about 46% higher than for non-cohabiters (Journal of Marriage and the family: February 1992)’. And that’s a 1992 study.
Cohabitation is NOT a good way to go with relationships and marriage. The statistics are out there for all to see.
The Fitzgibbons (2005-2011) article tells of the harmful effects of cohabitation on children. Why don’t people take a read and contemplate the harm that cohabitation is doing to the couples in our nations. My friend’s marriage ended in divorce a few years ago (she is in her 30s). Since then she has cohabited with 3 different fellows. Only a few weeks ago the third fellow, whom she would have liked to marry, walked out on her, leaving her devastated. She thought the relationship was going well, but he did not want the commitment she was wanting.
What would the stats be like in 2013? We do have some more recent statistical information. See, ‘Is Living Together Before Marriage a Good Idea?’
B. Effects of cohabitation on children
This Fitzgibbons (2005-2011) article tells of the harmful effects of cohabitation on children. Why don’t people take a read and contemplate the harm that cohabitation is doing to the couples in our nation.
1. The defacto results
Those who cohabit have relationships that don’t last very long. Those who cohabit and then marry also have limited relationship longevity.
The statistics should scream at us that shacking up together in a defacto relationship is a bad idea.
C. The claim that porneia did not mean sex before marriage
In this same thread on the same forum, I was somewhat shocked to read this kind of statement on a Christian forum about sex before marriage.
“Fornication” was an English word. The Greeks used the word “porneia” which meant “whoremonger, audultery (sic), idolatry.” It never meant sex before marriage.
My counter punch was:
I don’t know where you are obtaining your information about the Greeks and their use of porneia. I suggest that you go to Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon for the NT (I read and teach NT Greek) and you will find that porneia means ‘prostitution, unchastity, fornication, of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:699, emphasis in original).
We know from what Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he was dealing with the problem of unlawful sexual intercourse outside of marriage. He wrote:
‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality [porneia], each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband’ (1 Cor 7:1-3 ESV).
It is clear from this passage that God’s requirement was against unlawful sexual intercourse – fornication (porneia) – outside of marriage. Therefore, Paul urged the Corinthians ‘concerning the matters about which you wrote’ (1 Cor 7:1) to marry and not have illicit sex outside of marriage. Therefore, it is against God’s Word to advocate sex outside of marriage.
Let me be very practical about the implications. I have just retired after 34 years as a counsellor and counselling manager, mostly with secular Australians. I have spent the last 17 years in a full-time counsellor / counselling manager position and also supervising counsellors.
I wish I did not have to deal with the consequences of illicit sex and what it does to a relationship and marriage. A significant portion of my counselling would have been eliminated if I didn’t have to deal with porneia (fornication) before and after marriage.
I could not begin to tell you of the damage that multiple sexual partners does to a relationship and the impact of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on a person and relationship. Only 2 weeks ago I was in the emergency department of a major Brisbane public hospital being treated for a collapse associated with my heart disease. In the bed beside me, only separated by a curtain, I heard the horrific screams of woman that went on and on. I overheard an emergency nurse ask her: How many sexual partners have you had in the last 12 months? She had many and the nurse told her that she could have an STD. These are the practical consequences of the practice of porneia (fornication).
I hope you understand by now that there are practical reasons why God tells Christians to avoid fornication, adultery, sex outside of marriage.
And we haven’t dealt with what God says that happens when a man and a woman join in sex – the effects of bonding. See my article, God’s view of sex.
There are biblical and practical reasons why God forbids sex outside of marriage – porneia.
D. Sex outside of marriage not forbidden, she says! Really?
This person wrote:
I wouldn’t place the idea of sex before marriage in the same category as murderers. No where in the Bible was a personed (sic) punished for having sex out of wedlock, nor does the Bible say a single word about unwed mothers sinning. Mary became pregnant with Jesus before she was married (emphasis added). 
This is factually untrue.
1. Old Covenant consequences
I suggested that this person should go back to reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation where she will find the truth about illicit sex outside of marriage.
Take a read of Leviticus 20:10-14,
‘“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11 If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you (ESV).
Here, under the Old Covenant, the punishment for illicit sex outside of marriage was death for both perpetrators.
Why, therefore, did this person promoted the lie that nowhere in the Bible was a person punished for having sex out of wedlock?
As for Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, it was not caused by a joining of a man and a woman so could not be regarded as porneia (illicit sex).
Also, take a read of Leviticus 18:20, ‘You shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her’ (ESV).
2. What about the New Covenant?
I encouraged this person to be accurate in what she wrote about this subject on the forum.
E. God’s view of sex before marriage
See my articles,
In summary: Do you want sex at its best?
First Corinthians 7:2-5 (NLT) is a key passage in understanding God’s view of sex at its best (in marriage):
But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.
3 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. 4 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
All of that sounds all fashioned, but sex at its best comes with God’s approval and research supports it.
F. Works consulted
Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the NewTestament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).
Jayson, S 2013. Cohabitation first is new norm for unmarrieds with kids (online), USA Today, April 4. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/04/cohabitation-families-pregnancy/2050073/ (Accessed 30 January 2014).
Fitzgibbons, R P 2005-2011. The risks of cohabitation (online). maritalhealing.com, available at: http://www.maritalhealing.com/conflicts/risksofcohabitation.php (Accessed 30 January 2014).
 Jim Odom #19, 6 November 2013, Christian Fellowship Forum, Christian Morals, ‘Shacking up before marriage’. Available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=11&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122551 (Accessed 27 November 2013).
 Ibid., Ozspen #41, 27 November 2013.
 Ibid., Melissa #34.
 Ibid., ozspen #39.
 Ibid., Melissa #34.
 I wrote the follow as ozspen #40, ibid.
 This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.