Does Consensual Sex Equal Marriage?

A compass sits in a window
When a couple has consensual sex, doesn’t that mean they’re essentially married in God’s eyes?

If everyone believed that sex implies marriage, women would be more likely to guard their virginity, and men would be far more careful if they knew that sexual intimacy demanded commitment. Shouldn’t that be the message we communicate when it comes to premarital sex?



Technically speaking, you’re right: In God’s eyes, sexual union is an integral part of marriage — even more than church ceremonies or legal documents. But consensual sex isn’t the same thing as the commitment of marriage.

Applying theology to contemporary culture

Scripture tells us that marriage is fundamentally a matter of a man and a woman becoming one flesh. And sexual intercourse is central to that process. Modern culture might treat sex as a toy, but in reality it’s a powerful thing. It creates a bond between a husband and wife that isn’t easily broken.

That truth is why the apostle Paul warns, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” (1 Corinthians 6:16).

But biblical theology needs to be put into practical application. And it’s not so much a matter of helping people understand that sexual activity equals marriage in the eyes of God — the real question is how to get them to care.

Part of the answer lies in helping people understand the incredible value of the exclusive relationship between husband and wife. The one-flesh union of genuine biblical marriage should embrace every aspect of human existence: mental, emotional, moral, spiritual, economic, and physical and sexual.

True, the physical bond plays a crucial role in bringing all these ingredients together. In a certain sense, it cements them into a whole. But it’s not, in and of itself, the “one flesh” relationship described in Genesis 2:24.

Consensual sex doesn’t mean commitment

Sex is not a sufficient basis for establishing an ongoing commitment of the will and intellect between partners. That’s why most cultures have developed ways of solemnizing the sexual/marital relationship to make it socially and legally binding.

Even if we could get all men and women to believe that there’s a connection between sex and marriage, the problems we face in western culture about premarital sex wouldn’t disappear — because knowing and doing aren’t the same thing.

This is especially true when it comes to passions as powerful as those associated with sex. People need to be held accountable to act according to the truths they claim to know and believe. And that’s where social sanctions and the authority of the larger community come into play.

The communal aspect of marriage

From the biblical viewpoint, there’s a distinctly communal aspect to marriage. It’s first understood in a couple’s decision to leave their parents and cleave to one another. With that step, they initiate a new family unit as a part of general human society. The implication is that marriage — including the sexual act that results in “becoming one flesh” — is anything but a purely private affair.

Marriage involves a couple’s public commitment to build a strong and lasting relationship. That relationship isn’t merely a foundation for the nurturing of their own children; it’s also a building block of social stability and a contribution to the well-being of the broader community.

This is why vows, rings, ceremonies, and marriage licenses have such crucial functions within the cultural “economy” of marriage — each plays a vital role in holding marriage partners accountable to the mutual promises they make when they engage in physical intimacy. Without that public accountability, commitments can easily be forgotten.

Want to talk about it?

Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be happy to help in any way they can. The team can also give you referrals to reputable Christian therapists in your area.

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