Among the many cultural gaps that exist between East and West, the contrasting perceptions of pre-marital sex stand as one of the most significant and debated issues. However, few have looked at the telos (purpose) of it.
In the University of York, this clash of the different ethics can be seen by how Asians and local British students view pre-marital sex. To locals, pre-marital sex is about individual expression, enjoyment and pleasure. So long as it is consensual, it is perfectly fine. However, to a significant portion of Asians, pre-marital abstinence tends to be the norm. To engage in pre-marital sex is to be perceived to be immoral. Even if it is consensual, it may weaken the bonds of the community by cheapening the value of the institution of marriage. If your partner used to have several prior sexual partners before marriage, what guarantees that he/she wouldn’t cheat on you? And isn’t pre-marital sex likely to lead to the spread of STDs? (To avoid stereotyping, I would like to note that there are British students who prefer pre-marital abstinence, and vice-versa. All societies are normal distribution curves, after all).
The Western view that pre-marital sex is normal does have a lot of value both to the individual and to the community. It empowers young adults to have a healthy view of sex. Secondly, it enables each student to gain essential sexual experience, which is useful in deciding if his/her future marriage partner has long-term sexual chemistry. Isabella (not her real name), a British mentor of mine from a martial arts society, notes that choosing the right marriage partner is like choosing a car for life. If one is presented with 10 cars of different brands, one does not simply pick a USSR-made Lada and stick with it for the rest of his/her life. One has to try out all 10 cars first. Likewise, pre-marital sex is a crucial way to test for sexual compatibility. To enjoy your future spouse, you have to first know what constitutes a good or bad partner in bed. Healthy sexual frequency in marriage can also prevent cheating, thereby reducing divorce rates.
Often times though, Western students are too quick to rush into sex. At clubs, they tend to participate in one-night stands. This has led to a high rate of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, potentially unloved children born out of wedlock, and abortions. This trivializes the preciousness and sacredness of life and causes societal anomie.
This is where the Asian view of shunning pre-marital sex has value too. By delaying sexual gratification, it allows time for the crucial emotional bond to develop, and enables the foundation of the relationship to be love, friendship and respect. The redeeming power of love within a couple can be far more satisfying than an orgasm from a quickie.
However, complete sexual abstinence in Asian countries can be disastrous for a marriage. It may turn out that after several years of chaste dating, both partners are not sexually compatible. The wife and husband, having no prior sexual experiences, have no idea how to pleasure one another, and the marriage may start to break down. One of the spouses may be tempted to cheat on their partner, or they may end up in loveless marriages whereby both sleep in separate beds.
Therefore, East and West can learn from each other. Pre-marital sex and abstinence may each have a different telos, but both ethics can be synthesized together. Couples may find it better to avoid having sex immediately after the first date, and delay it till after several dates or after several months. This allows the couple to get to truly know each other (including whether your partner has a STD). It allows love to be the nexus of the romance. Only once a strong emotional bond is formed should a couple engage in pre-marital sex-and test the next crucial question: do both of you have genuine sexual chemistry with each other? To use a crass but highly relevant car analogy, is your partner a Lada or a Rolls-Royce in bed? Sex and love are like Yin and Yang, both strengthen one another. Great sex that brings many orgasms reinforces love, while a great and enduring friendship between the couple can lead to better sex. This can lead to more satisfying relationships, it can reduce cheating and divorces, and ultimately a reduction of disorder in society.