Is It Natural to Abstain From Sex?

Short statements can convey a lot. Reflecting on the topic of abstinence outside marriage, a reader offered a concise comment.

Abstinence is unnatural.”

That statement says much more than meets the eye. It conveys an entire worldview. There was no need, in the commenter’s mind, to expound and detail why abstinence is unnatural. His three words were an appeal to our communal experience. Had he added anything, it might as well have been “… and you know it.”

And of course, he’s right. Abstinence is unnatural, if by nature we reference only our current fallen state. But that nature, while an essential reference point for any behavioral discussion, is not a standard we should aim to follow. There are all manner of behaviors which prove natural, and yet wholly inappropriate or unhealthy. The question relevant to abstinence is not whether fallen men and women are naturally inclined toward it. Clearly, we’re not. The question is whether acting contrary to our fallen nature produces a better result. Clearly, it does.

The semantics around natural behavior confuses our cultural discourse. When we talk about sex, debate often gets hung up on this notion of what proves “natural.” Is sexual orientation innate? Does monogamy jive with the human condition? Can teenagers really be expected to remain virgins? Such questions, while retaining some worth, distract from a larger point.

We can do better than nature. That’s what makes us human, made in God’s image, and distinct from lower animals. We can bypass our instinct and act on reason. Indeed, that’s the essential quality that makes for a civil society. Happy families will never be made by acting naturally, but by fighting our nature each day as we strive toward better.