Whereas in times past marriage was mandatory in most cultures, modernity has legitimized the arrangement of two people living together. This living together typically includes the physical intimacy previously afforded to married couples. Though different terms and phrases exist, the most official designation is cohabitation, where a couple lives together but refrains from a matrimonial covenant. Often hailed as an alternative, it promises financial efficiency as well as a trial-run period when partners can be put on in a fitting room and either chosen to be purchased or returned to the rack.
What is initially presented as a good idea often results in negative repercussions that often benefit one gender above another. Cohabitation as an alternative becomes a marriage substitution, where there is always an “out.” Should the couple get married, studies have shown, they have higher rates of divorce, emotional and social instability, and overall lower levels of happiness during marriage. There are also ramifications for children and extended family. And even if there were no observable negative repercussions, we need to look back to Scripture to see what it teaches.
To those born again in Christ, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:18–20, sexual sins are against one’s own body. Since Christians have been bought by Christ’s blood, their sexual behavior reveals the value they place on Christ’s sacrifice and ministry for them. When it comes to cohabitation, there is no acknowledgment of God as Creator, Redeemer, or Lord over the individual, couple, or their bodies. It is an open license for promiscuity and ends up hurting, or “sin[ning] against his [or her] own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).
Some tout the benefits of cohabitation, where marriage can be entered with more information. But this argument and others like it accept unbiblical presuppositions and assumptions. Secular ideas glorify the sexual experience as secret knowledge that will unlock untold ecstasies. This knowledge is sought through more experience. But God intended that both parties in marriage were to experience their intimacy together, growing in their experience at the same time (Gen. 2:24). Cohabitation rejects this principle altogether.
Others take a more individualistic approach, stating that what people do in their private lives is their business and as long as they are Sabbath-keeping tithe returners, who are we to judge? In a sense, they are correct if we are talking about non-believers. But once we are talking about those in the community of Christ (not always necessarily those in the church), we need to agree on our collective identity, especially in light of Scripture, in light of what Jesus has saved us from, in light of the current working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and in light of our new identity as citizens of the New Jerusalem.
Rather than viewing sexual needs as a part of the individual’s whole, cohabitation differentiates and separates them. Emotional and spiritual fulfillment are separated from the physical and financial. True fulfillment comes through a wholistic perspective, where God blesses the individual, the husband and wife couple, their minds, bodies, and spiritual capacities—the whole package—through His sanctifying presence.