Commentary | Sex before marriage: what’s the deal?

Is premarital sex deviant?
While I was taken aback when this was recently proposed as a discussion question in my sociology class, I quickly realized that the answer is more complicated and subjective than one might think. I suggest that you consider the proposed question for a minute to form your own opinion before reading mine.

Deviant behaviour is often regarded as behaviour that takes place on the margins of society, and defies expectations in some way. Following from this, premarital sex is not deviant, as it is a widely practiced behaviour dating back as far as history can take us. It doesn’t exist on the margins, nor is it wholly beyond expectation either. Just as prostitution is said to be the oldest profession – and probably the most persistent – premarital sex is an act that will always happen. This being the case, it is hard to see it as being deviant.

Now let us analyze how religious or societal prejudice is sufficient to make an act deviant. To understand this, we need to acknowledge that premarital sex is deviant only in light of the institution and implementation of marriage into the legal and religious systems. When a ban is placed on something, it naturally becomes less freely discussed. From there, it progresses into being a taboo, and voilà, you’ve witnessed the birth of a “deviant behaviour.”

Before dismissing this, as we are wont to do, as insufficient grounds to deem something deviant, let us consider why the rule was brought about in the first place. Since every societal rule, be it in the form of legislation or religious commandment, originated to serve a specific purpose, it follows that this rule too was necessary for the smooth functioning of society. It arose from the chaos and instability that at some point upset a certain balance that society needed to maintain.

Now, just as with all rules, such rules were not expected to be adhered to, but rather to serve as a guideline – as a mere suggestion to consider before delving into one’s carnal desires. Thus, members of societies from thereon out acted with this in mind. In today’s Western society, it is no longer the case that people only engage in premarital sex clandestinely for fear of being gossiped about. However, I believe that a society that lives, like ours does, with even the slightest vestiges of such a dated rule works better in the long run than it would have had this rule never existed.

In this way, premarital sex is not deviant in the sense that it is unnatural or perverse; it is deviant in the sense that society would have run less smoothly had it not been, at some point in the past, regulated and deemed wrong. Although the advent of contraception provided one less reason why premarital sex was controlled – unwanted pregnancies – the guideline exists in the back of our minds as an ode to our ancestors, and still influences the way we elevate certain sexual relationships above others.

Mays Chami is a U2 Chemical Engineering student. Tell her about deviance at mayschami@gmail.com.


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