What does Christianity say about sexual relationships?

The starting point for a Christian understanding of human sexuality is the belief that all humans are made 'in the image of God'.

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God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.'Genesis 1:27

The creation story in Genesis shows how male and females are intimately connected to each other:

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So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.Genesis 2:21-24

This story suggests that man and woman unite to become complete.

St Paul reminds Christians that: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This teaching is important because it refers to the responsibility Christians have for what they do with their body and how they treat it. The teaching has a strong implication for a Christian's sexuality.

The Roman Catholic belief is that when a man and woman connect to each other in a sexual way, it is the most intimate physical expression of their total union. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church teaches in Familiaris consortio that this union is sacred and is a key element in marriage.

Most Christians accept the teaching that sexual relationships should only happen in marriage. This is supported by one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus:

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You shall not commit adultery.Exodus 20:14

Christians believe that this commandment shows that God wants people to exercise sexual fidelity within marriage and chastity before marriage.

Chastity

Chastity is generally understood as the act of saving yourself sexually for a particular time or person. For many Christians, this means not having a sexual relationships outside marriage. While many Christians recognise that people often do enter into a sexual relationship before they get married, most believe that this is not an ideal situation.

The American Baptist Churches sponsor a movement called 'True Love Waits' which supports young people who want to remain virgins until they marry.

Contraception

Contraception is an umbrella term that includes any way to prevent a pregnancy as a result of sexual intercourse. There are different beliefs about how contraception should be used, depending on what denomination or church a Christian belongs to.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the act of sex is a way of showing true love and it is through this expression of love that God works to create new life. Since one of the purposes of sex is to procreate, the use of artificial methods of contraception interferes with God's creative act and is not acceptable.

Most Protestant Christian groups believe that sex is an important way to show love and affection in a marriage but it is not exclusively for procreation. Therefore many allow the use of artificial contraception as it allows a couple to show their love for each other and to regulate the size of their family.

The Quaker stance on sexual relationships is:

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Sexual activity is essentially neither good nor evil; it is a normal biological activity which, like most other human activities, can be indulged in destructively or creatively.Towards a Quaker view of sex, 1963

Quakers are happy for each couple to decide for themselves on whether or not they wish to use contraception.

The Methodist Church holds the view that contraception can be a way to enable a couple to reach fulfilment in their marriage for the good of the family.

What does this mean in practice?

Most Protestants are happy to follow the guidance of their church, especially over the use of contraception. There has been a great increase in the number of children that are born outside marriage. This reflects the fact that many people are having sex before marriage, which goes against one of the main principles taught by the Christian community.

Despite the Church's teaching on contraception, many Roman Catholics do use contraception to regulate the size of their families, which suggests that they reject the principles the rule is based on. However, the Catholic Church insists that it cannot water down the fundamental truths of the faith simply in order to be popular.