by Gordon T. Charlton, formerly Rector of Saint Andrew’s Church, Wilmington, Delaware, and Director of Field Education at Virginia Theological Seminary.


I’m not surprised at your confusion over the question of sexual morality. The world around you is uncertain and speaks with many conflicting voices. Although I don’t pretend to have the final word, nevertheless I’m glad you have give n me the opportunity to try to clarify the matter for you.

When your parents tell you that sex is the bond of marriage and must be reserved for that purpose, they are not being blindly old-fashioned. Neither are they, in the name of some arbitrary morality, trying to deprive you of freedom or pleasure. Morality, after all, derives from the experience of mankind as to what is good for people and what is harmful. Your parents speak with love, out of a knowledge greater than yours, to protect you from a potential misfortune which they understand but you, as yet, do not.

From what you have told me of your thinking on this matter, I believe there are two things you need to know. The first is that sex is not always the beautiful thing you envision. It can be, of course, with the protecting walls of a lifelong, exclusive marital commitment. But sex, when it is abused, becomes an ugly, horrible thing that brings not pleasure but pain, suffering and sorrow.

Don’t let the mythology of movies and novels persuade you that illicit, extramarital sex is glamorous and thrilling. It is usually furtive, awkward and sordid. Its pleasures are fleeting and its painful consequences may be lifelong. It does not deepen, strengthen and beautify an affectionate relationship, as marital sex may do, but leads almost invariably to contempt and hatred.

The other thing you need to know is that sex is dangerous. Like dynamite, it serves an important purpose when properly handled but it destroys people when it is not. I’m not referring solely to such things as venereal disease and illegitimate pregnancy - although both of these are far greater dangers than you think, and doctors and clergymen see a constant procession of sad and frightened youngsters who thought they “knew how to take care of themselves.” I’m referring more to the drastic psychological effects of promiscuous sexual behavior which often lie deeply buried in the subconscious mind and play havoc in later life, making people incapable of mature, adult relationships, wrecking marriages and destroying innocent children.

Sex is nothing to play with, my friends; it is not a form of recreation or entertainment. It is the bond of marriage, the means of parenthood and a source of joy, when used as God intended. When it is taken out of the context of marital love, it is as dangerous as a game of catch with a live hand grenade.

Perhaps the foregoing will help you to see what we parents and counselors mean when we say that extra-marital sex is “wrong.” We do not mean merely that it is destructive and dangerous - that it takes something of beauty and makes it ugly - that it produces not happiness and well-being, but suffering and sorrow. That’s what we mean when we say it is “wrong,.”

I hope you can see, therefore, that your parents, far from trying to deprive you of any good thing, are in fact trying to keep you from prematurely seizing and ruining this wonderful but fragile thing called sex. They are trying to see that you, in your youthful eagerness, do not throw away your own future happiness.

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