The lime between puberty and marriage is full of tensions. Specifically sexual urges have replaced the casual interest between the sexes, and a new, strange energy suffuses life. In fact, in our culture the tensions are heightened, because our youth does not ordinarily malTy at the time the sexual urges are the most turbulent. In spite of the fact that sex is not the capstone of life, the problem of this explosive energy and restlessness is still with us, and we must take account of it realistically. Since the sexual life of man points to marriage, where it finds its destiny, especially in our time, when marriage often must be postponed, the sexual problems are nor to be slighted.
Charged with such new energies, in a culture which has drifted away from God’s commandments and is glorifying sex, youth are placed before many temptations. Let me point out two things with respect to these. First, though it is very bad that in a sinful world these temptations and even sexual aberrations exist, we should not class sexual sins as especially heinous. We should not minimize their seriousness; but neither should we be horrified at them, while passing by with scarcely a glance the less obvious but really more fundamental sins. We cannot help youth beset with sexual problems by keeping silence, breaking it only to condemn those who are discovered in overt sin. I’d any youth are lost in a wilderness of muddled information, half-tenths, and misrepresentations. We should not withhold information and help, and merely despise the ones who perhaps by disposition and training are fighting more than others a lonely and desperate battle against their passions. Secondly, parents and other leaders should seek sympathetically to direct the youth and mold their thought and emotions in a healthy direction. For two years I have taught a college course on marriage and the family, and I have noted with satisfaction the gratitude the students have shown for some aid in coming to Christian maturity in this difficult matter.
Sin’s Degradation of Sex
Looking at the wonderful thing that God has created, as it is befouled by sin, we are amazed. Any Christian who has studied something of sexual pathology should be astonished that something so fine could sink so low. We must remember, however, that no one escapes altogether this degradation. Christ’s gracious treatment of the woman taken in adultery, though not a lesson to provoke carelessness, should nevertheless be a warning to every Christian not to assume a haughty and disdainful attitude. The truly righteous will realize the terrible conditions to which sexual sins can lead; but he will feel sincere pain and have a compassionate desire to help those who are in need.
In order to be of help the Christian should make it a point to be aware of the situations and problems that arise for the growing child. It is probably not correct to call such exploration specifically sexual, but even the little child will tend to play with its sexual organs. This is a cause of alarm with some parents. One should, however, call the child’s attention to it as little as possible. It is not advisable to draw attention to it by scolding or by some forcible act. Il is better just to remove the occasion for such stimulation, perhaps by diverting the child’s attention in a quiet and natural manner.
With puberty there is real danger that abuse of the sexual organs will set in. Here the specifically sexual desires awaken, especially in the boy, and the child is faced with a problem of which it knew nothing and with which it finds itself perhaps unable to cope. It is a shame that so many Christian parents, through ignorance or fear, do not give their children proper guidance at this crucial time. Parents may be sure of one thing, that the children will learn something, if not from good sources, then through playmates or through vicious adults. If the parents do not take care that they themselves have the truth firmly in hand, and if they do not assume their responsibility to educate their children in as natural and sympathetic way as possible, the children will fall prey to the half-truths whispered among the neighborhood gangs and their natural curiosity alone will be powerful enough to interest them in information that is gleaned from erotically colored or perhaps obscene stories.
The awakening child should be told the pitfalls of abuse. Self abuse can contain such a hold on a person that it is among the most difficult habits to break. At best it is an inadequate and unsatisfying substitute for the sexual act. For this, reason it may be accompanied by a loss of a natural sense of worth, of poise, of assurance that is necessary for growth into maturity. Because it occurs in a whole complex of attitudes and acts, it may result in loss of will power, effeminacy, loss of energy. A fundamental thing is that it turns the person in on himself, while the true direction of sex is outgoing, directed in love to the marriage partner. It call develop the· person into a self-isolated individual, who is taken up with his own fantasy rather than with healthy social fellowship with other children. Prolonged and unnatural stimulation of the sexual organs might also injure them.
Recent reports on sexual behavior have shown how widespread such abuse is. It is not limited to non-Christians. The Christian parent should be very watchful. He should try to make his child see the unnaturalness and dangers of such action. He can encourage the child to develop habits that will give less occasion for temptation to arise. For instance, the child can arise immediately upon waking, can take a cool shower, and can go to bed when tired and ready to sleep. The patient can also watch that the child does not take too many stimulating foods. Most of all, the parent can observe the child, which to see whether it is withdrawing into itself, and try to give it opportunities to develop a healthy, ongoing personality in companionship with fine feeling children. Such care and instruction call go a long way in aiding the child to make the adjustments which are a part of the thorny road of puberty.
Many make the translation to a healthy sex life; but the anomalies of sex are legion. Many of these are mentioned in the scriptures. When the children of Israel crossed into the land of Canada, they were forced with the idolatry and sexual degradation of the inhabitants. The worship of Baal appears to have been associated with human sacrifice and sexual orgies. Even at the time of Abraham homosexuality was rampant in the area, as we see from the request of the Sodomites for the two angel visitors to Lot. Yet the Scriptures say that in the time of Abraham the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. We can therefore presume thill at the time of the Exodus wickedness had progressed to an alarming extent, and that the life of those in Canaan was it big, cancerous growth that had to be excised. The Israelites did not complete this work, so God left the remnants of their enemies in the land as a test of their faithfulness. The newcomers were quickly infected with the venom of the heathen worship and immorality. Such sexual degradation had to be removed. No fornication or unclean person shall enter the kingdom of God.
“Sympathy and Understanding”
It is important to handle the problems of youth with understanding and sympathy, but such Scripture passages make us recognize the dangers to which sexual urges can lead. The Scriptures speak out clearly and strongly against sexual perversions. They contradict the popular idea that sexual desires in their present form are simply natural and irrepressible. Sexual life is by no means a simple necessity. Human sexuality is quite different from that in animals. In the lower creation it is a matter of instinct, occurs at regular intervals, and has a largeIy promiscuous character. Man’s sexual life is far different. It is not confined to periods, nor is it rightly promiscuous. In man sexual life must be controlled morality. Unfortunately the impression given by many novels and also books on sociology is that the moral is not an essential part of the sexual. One is thought to be something of a fool if he is unable to hold his spouse by sheer sexual attraction. The suggestion is that the individual is free to roam at will, unless he is actually overwhelmed by the attractiveness of his partner. If he is not, the convention of marriage is something unfortunate that must he kept up in appearance, much as one would keep up his lawn, but which may be circumvented at will as long as no one is hurt, at least openly. Part of the leadership the parent must assume is to show his children the falsity of such a position. It is impossible to insulate children from it; it must be unmasked. The children must see through it and master it. In face of the temptations which crowd us from all sides, all Christians should seek the power of God to gain the moral understanding and ability to master the sexual life. Young Christians can recognize that all fall short, yet press on to their high calling in Jesus Christ, preparing carefully for their future marriage.
A first stepping stone in preparation for marriage is a proper view of its significance, including the physical side. However, this information must he given naturally and with the proper spirit, so the young person will see it in the proper spiritual perspective. Much is gained also by an open, respectful discussion between the betrothed before their marriage. Many young brides enter marriage without having been instructed, with sometimes disastrous results.
Secondly, the young person himself should be firmly decided that he will wait and prepare for his marriage. On the negative side, that will mean that he will flee from youthful lusts. On the positive side, however, it will mean that he will actively engage in preparing himself, making sure that he has something to offer his beloved. He should see that he is healthy, both physically and spiritually. If the body is part of our total makeup, we should not neglect it. Debility of body and nerves can affect satisfaction in marriage. He should also keep himself strong spiritually. If, as we claim, the of life comes to its true expression only in its directness to God and his will, spiritual strength will be of the utmost importance for the entire marriage relationship. Spiritual maturity is a requirement for Christian marriage. If such maturity, is present, many marital problems will simply not appear.
Selecting a Good Mate
One of the best solutions for marital problems is also to avoid them altogether by selecting a good mate. This choice is of tremendous importance; but the youth obtain far too little wise guidance and help in this problem. The parents should not be unaware of the nest of difficulties facing the young person. The fact that one wishes to marry a Christian narrows down the possibilities, and the field is still more narrow since not all Christians are suitable. In addition, there are problems of it more general nature. For instance, when a girl continues her education past high school, she is statistically limiting her chances of being married. Let us suppose that the educated woman graduates from college at 22. Hut at the age of 22 half of the native while women are already married. That means that there arc fewer prospective husbands. As the age of the girl increases, the statistical age of her prospective husband increases much more rapidly. The average man of 25 marries a girl of 22.2 years. The man of 35, however, marries on the average a girl of 28.5 years. As the girl gets older her chances mathematically speaking, of finding a mate diminish very rapidly. This is further complicated by what is called the mating gradient, the fact that women tend to marry above their own level. As the educational level of the woman increases, the number of men on a higher level decreases. The answer to this problem is, of course, not to eliminate education. The problem does point out, however, a parental responsibility. Parents should see that their children have the opportunity of meeting others of their own age. It is Unfortunate that Christian parents are willing to spend so much time and money for their children in less important respects and yet do not make it possible for Christian young people to mix together, thus laying the foundations for future mating.
Earlier the parents had much more to say about the choice of the marriage partners, and even now in European countries this is more the case than here. Our individualism and our great emphasis on romantic love militate against this. Our freedom has not always led us in desirable paths, but it must be granted that it is healthful to have marriages found· ed upon mutual love, and not on considerations of whatever son that would prompt a union in spite of the wishes of the young people themselves. There should be a deep and enduring love between a couple before they elect marriage. However, the parent also has a role, in helping to make the right acquaintances, in instilling right attitudes, and in counseling about specific cases in which assumed love is seen not to have a sound basis.
Standards for Choosing a Mate
What then are some of the standards a Christian should apply in choosing a male?
First, we can mention the health of the partner. The Christian faith does not find the entire meaning of marriage in the procreation of children; but this side of marriage is very important. For childbirth and for raising a family one should be strong. Though obviously not all-important, health should be considered, for marriage between certain individuals will of necessity mean it life of continual sacrifice for one. Before marrying a person who is weak physically, one must be sure that he is willing to assume this burden graciously.
There are also broadly cultural matters to be considered, matters of interests and tastes. Here again there is no decisive criterion: but these matters may not be ignored. There are levels of society with different styles of life. Selecting a person of the same cultural level is largely a matter of natural choice; but if one contemplates marrying one or a different cultural group, he must ask himself whether there will be severe cultural antagonisms. The same is true with respect to education. Especially if a girl marries a boy who is much inferior to her in ability and education difficulty may arise. Apart from the social niveau and education there is the question of the fulness of one’s life. Can there be a communion between the two on the broad basis of mutual interests and tastes?
A third standard is that of physical attraction. This is what dominates the youthful imagination, and it is what Christians shy away from especially since it has been so overplayed and commercialized. In seek ing a proper attitude we must be careful not to limit too much the idea of physical attraction. Perhaps the most overstressed is attractiveness in the way of beauty. This, however, is no guarantee of success in marriage. Further, the idea of physical attraction is broader than beauty. Some trait in the face or another part of the body may be very attractive to another, though the person may not be beautiful judged by ordinary standards. Even a homely, person may appear attractive. With this in mind, we can say that there should at least be no physical and sexual aversion when marriage is contemplated. There should be physical attractiveness, though this attraction may exist only between the couple themselves and may not be very strong.
The only absolute criterion, however, for the Christian in marriage is that he marry a believer. The unity of spirit that should exist between husband and wife is not just a sentimental fantasy. If we believe that man is a spirit, made in the image of God, a religious being who needs God, and one whose religions commitments are the fundamental controlling element in his life, we dare not slight this criterion in choosing it marriage partner. We do not refer here, of course, to an outward attachment to an institution. One may belong to a Christian group and yet not be at all deeply molded by the Christian faith. We suspect that is the reason any “religion” does not play as much a role as we might expect in the happiness of couples, according to sociological surveys. The mass of our people have religious ideas implanted in them by our culture and our school system, in spite of the church they attend. This is one thing that accounts for the homogeneity of denominations of very diverse backgrounds. But for one who is convinced of the truth of the Christian faith, it is unthinkable that he seek a marriage partner outside of Christ. This does not necessarily mean that there must he denominational unity, though such matters might be the source of tensions, and they should be discussed and decided before marriage. We refer primarily to the unity in love for God and for his Son. Such Christian unity is command from God. Without it there cannot be the full communion which makes husband and wife truly one flesh.
In the choice of a marriage partner unconscious factors will have their influence. Our training gives us certain inclinations and preferences which determine who we shall find attractive. Conscious factors, however, should be foremost in our actual choice. We must have the courage and strength to stand fast, to determine that our partner will be strong in faith and character. Here as elsewhere it is true that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Selection of a marriage partner should take place with prayerful supplication, that God will provide here as elsewhere. If we pray for our food and for our clothing, shall we not also pray for this important thing? If the sparrow does not fall without the Father, will he not also care for us?