When I became a Christian in high school I got involved with the Protestant ministry that introduced me to Christ. This led eventually to me being a “leader” in this ministry and helping to host camps for teenagers. It was wildly formative as I was able to work alongside men, young and old, and learn how they did things, handled challenges, and even loved their wives. This was all new to me, since I had not grown up in such an explicitly “God-first” ecosystem.
After becoming Catholic, my understanding of the Christian ecosystem grew, especially in the realm of sexual morality. While there are exceptions, the Protestant communities all around us have very little depth to their understanding of sexual intimacy. Often, it just gets boiled down to “sex should not be done until marriage, but after marriage anything goes.”
At one of the camps I mentioned, I remember when all of the single guys retired to a group cabin and the married ones to family cabins. As we lay there, one of the leaders (who was older than me) said, “Just think, those married guys get to go to their cabins and just slide right into their wives.” Everyone started laughing and agreeing – “Won’t it be great to be married and have a lot of sex?” By “sliding into their wives”, in case you missed it, he meant intercourse.
In further discussions it became clear, we young men had accepted the idea that lust will be cured by marriage, when we can just satisfy that “need” using our spouse. There is a certain truth lurking somewhere here, which St. Paul notes. In the letter to the Corinthians he praises the celibate life, but also notes that it is better to be married than to be burning with passion:
I wish you were all in the same state as myself; but each of us has his own endowment from God, one to live in this way, another in that. To the unmarried, and to the widows, I would say that they will do well to remain in the same state as myself, of continence, let them marry; better to marry than to feel the heat of passion (1 Cor. 7:7-9).
This is, however, a concession that the natural desire of man is for woman, and without a special grace and self-control, it can feel almost maddening. This is not permission to get married so as to use your wife. Listen carefully: lust is a sin that can be committed against a wife.
The mistake we were making in that single cabin long ago, was thinking that marriage cures lust. The young man did not want a wife, he wanted a means to the end of his own pleasure – he wanted to indulge his flesh, not give himself to a spouse. He knew that sex was prohibited in the single life, but he did not see that if he uses his future wife as a means to the end of his pleasure it is basically using his wife as a tool to masturbate with. Sexual intimacy is a beautiful, self-giving act. Lust is not.
If you think that you just have to “control yourself” now so that you can “let it all out” in marriage, you are setting yourself up for lust and sin, except in marriage you will be hurting another when you use your wife. As one of those mentors told me, “most strife in marriage is over money and sex, just like most scandals.” You need self-control on greed and lust now, because it won’t end at “I do”.
The single life is the time to gain self-mastery, to learn true freedom through self-denial, and to learn to look forward to the sanctification of your future spouse. You should be praying for her now, not longing for a female body to play with. It’s time to grow up and conquer lust (maybe time for Exodus 90?), because marriage is not the cure for your slavery. Freedom is.