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Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands with a Boy First

angry preacher

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication, they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, also an IFB congregation. Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the-way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time for fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me. 🙂

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few summer-of-love children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. 🙂

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher boy to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule.) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, the late James Dennis, was the pastor. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop during my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought that if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or not touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age twenty-one, eight out of ten teenagers have had sex, including teens in your congregation. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    I remember my first foray into Christian camp when I was like 13 or 14; can remember “there is to be no ‘pc’ between the sexes”, (pc meaning “physical contact”, lol)

    And yes, they had the 6 inch rule, too! Nothing quite like the good ‘ol IFB, lol

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    I attended Southern Baptist church and Christian school (the founder and most of the teachers were IFB, mostly Bob Jones or Pensacola Christian College educated). At school, there was no sex education whatsoever, and even in Biology reproduction of humans was not discussed. At the beginning of each school year boys and girls would be segregated. Female teachers talked with the female students about proper skirt length, not showing skin beyond dress code rules, not “teasing boys”, and proper hygiene. I don’t know what the male teachers told the male students. 2 girls from my high school were expelled when they became pregnant and thoroughly expunged from the yearbook.

    At church, by middle school boys and girls were in different Sunday School classes. Other than no physical contact allowed in youth group, I remember only a couple of instances where attraction was mentioned (the word “sex” was NEVER uttered). When I was in high school our church hired a young minister of music who was engaged. Both were very talented singers and musicians, she more than he, but of course he was hired and she was just expected to help him as a good minister’s wife should. After they got married, they gave a talk to the youth choir about the importance of staying pure until marriage. Kind of like, “yes, it’s really hard, and we thought, we’re engaged, why not, but NO, you HAVE to stay pure and wait until marriage”. The next thing I remember was that around the same time the church hired a new youth pastor, a very good-looking young guy. All of us girls secretly or not so secretly had a crush on him. He had a girlfriend (later to become his fiancee and wife). They had met while she was in high school and he was at seminary – I don’t know the details but I suspect that they started seeing each other while he was doing an internship at her church. She taught Sunday school, and they got engaged and were married within months. They talked to the youth about “remaining pure until marriage because it’s the absolute best way, it’s God’s way”. There was the implication that it was impossible to have a good sex life if you’ve slept around with a bunch of people because you’d always be comparing. And always there was the reminder that sex was ONLY to be between a married man and woman. Always.

    Once I was helping in the nursery at church and overheard 2 women discussing an assistant pastor’s wife and that they practiced the “rhythm method”. One woman said, “and she wonders why they have so many kids”…….I had to ask my mom what the “rhythm method” was – she said it was the least effective birth control method ever….

    We had the 6 inch rule too but used a Bible or hymnal as the measuring stick. Pocket Bibles didn’t count.

    Fortunately, when I was younger, my mom was still somewhat outside the pull of the fundagelical church, and she gave me a complete sex education. She told me things in great detail – she had been sexually abused as a child and wanted me to be aware of anything that is a sex act so that I wouldn’t unknowingly be abused. Many of the girls from my church and school married young – either dropping out of college and marrying or getting married right after graduating from college. The ones who didn’t marry were expected to remain “pure”.

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    Didn’t have the six inch rule, but did have the no sex before marriage rule. Turned out great. So glad I don’t have the baggage of premarital sex. So I recommend not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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    jfc, you do not sound like you ‘turned out great’ to me. You speak in cliche Xtian code and give no evidence of your statement. Sex is a natural development in bipeds and the Christian church messes with it like they mess with everything in your life. You give over your rights to basic respect when you decide to go along with the original sin bullshit, that you are fallen and evil and your desire to love/have sex/whatever is wrong and bad. I would suggest that your choice of expression in code, that reveals nothing whatsoever of your personal experience, is evidence perhaps of the damage done by your flavor of Christianity and not proof that everything is great. Just how for instance does some sensual premarital experience throw the baby out with the bathwater? Perhaps Christianity of the sort you seem to support is your baggage. Perhaps it has even taken away your personal voice and replaced it with the code you blurt on this blog.
    Just so you are well aware, I do not support a blanket necessity for marriage. If my kids choose to have a ceremony of some kind with a mate, then I will do my best to support them. I will not interfere with their sensual development by telling them how evil their impulses are but I will (have) counselled them in human anatomy and responsibility we share as human beings. I did not mention your God or any other imagained boss in the process. (perhaps you are not as indoctrinated as you sound ?)

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    I have to admit, I laughed at loud when you asserted I did not turn out great. You certainly couldn’t know. I guess you assumed I was attacking you, but I am merely stating that there is wisdom in monogamy. As I mentioned, I am glad not to have baggage from premarital sex… baggage like a broken heart, compounded by the hormonal connection made by sex… baggage of diseases-there are so many I never need to worry about. Also, I don’t need to go hunting for a partner when urges hit, monogamous marriage gives me a safe place. There are many advantages to waiting until you are married to have sex, far more than I have listed here. Unfortunately the statement you used to preach does oversimplify and add to the Bible’s teaching. Perhaps that is why you assumed in your response that I thought sex was evil ( if I understood correctly). Quite the contrary. I believe sex is precious…more importantly…I believe I am precious…so I have treated this part of me as precious too. I think the Bible’s actual teaching on sex is very smartrt…and helps this area to be great.

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    Jfc, I think Christianity sours pretty much everything it touches. It harms basic well-being through the bullshit of original sin. It suggests we are helplessly lost without the Jesus of our Bible, our village, town,city, culture (the version that ‘lives’ where you attend church.) It demeans women and encourages the abuse of children and really does little better for men. It convinces people that harming themselves with self-disgust is something ordained by the fantasy God. It suggests as you seem to that there is one way to ‘do’ love and that all else is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I understand that there are many many interpretations of the Bible and that it can be used to assert pretty much anything you choose. As for the heart, I would agree with the idea that it was made to be broken, that it evolved to have a huge potential in meaning for our lives. It is so hard to endure a broken heart but it must be far worse in my thinking, to imagine that you have not suffered one in your life. That is copyright-worthy denial, methinks. Were you never a teenager in desperate love? (Or doesn’t the love in youth count?) I am happy for you in believing sex is precious. I heard this line in Sunday School too. It was used as an excuse to make rules for kids, impossible, ignorant rules about control of everything in life, even thought. To think sensually was deemed the road to hell. It is all a crock. If that narrow road taught me anything, it taught me to be obsessed with the subject that had the power to make adults go nuts with taboos and rules, with threats and hateful ideas. You know there are those who think it is quite an accomplishment to never have sex. They say that perhaps even Jesus of Nazareth never experienced it. It is just so silly. We have seen what happens to Christians who swear off sex and become holy men of God. They become if they are not so already, perverted people. The black collar series is full of them and yet there are still Christians willing to encourage their children to go straight down that same path.
    There are so many ways to be in relationship with another, so many ways to love and be loved. Monogamous marriage is just alright with me! And so is open marriage and no marriage at all. I am glad your ‘way’ works for you.

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      “They say that perhaps even Jesus of Nazareth never experienced it”

      I wonder how they can claim to know this. Does the Bible specifically say that Jesus never had sex? He seems to have done a lot of the other routine things that people do as part of a normal life.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I was raised Catholic, and of course premarital sex was forbidden, but not touching or kissing. But my parents (well, my father) sent me off to university a couple of hours from home, and the student health service was quite willing to prescribe birth control pills. My first serious guy was as paranoid about me getting pregnant as I was, so we were careful, made sure the pill was working, brought condoms into play if I missed a pill. and so on. (I later married the guy.)

    Did I feel guilty, having sex? Hell, yes. And the guilt didn’t go away when I married. My mother believed that sex was bad, period, except for making babies (and her body wasn’t able to do that, I’m adopted). Women were not allowed to enjoy sex. It was created exclusively for men’s enjoyment. That isn’t Catholic teaching, BTW, it’s crap from her family of origin, or maybe crap from the mouth of some [expletive] priest who pastored the rural church of the farming town where she grew up. It was a challenge for many years AFTER my marriage to accept that it was okay to have fun in bed. Fortunately, I married a patient and supportive husband.

    But back when I started having sex in college, I admitted to my father that I was on the pill, and he accepted that information without a reaction. His Lutheran upbringing said that premarital sex was bad, but I suspect he was relieved that his daughter would not get pregnant before marrying. My mother never knew, and was livid when she realized, after we were married, that we were using birth control. It was a sin! Oh, and she desperately wanted grandchildren, lots of them, ASAP. I got a lot of lectures on the sinfulness of birth control. Didn’t work, and we remained childfree.

    Christianity in all its forms messes with people’s heads regarding sex, and at age 62, looking back on the anti-sex crap that was embedded in my brain and that I struggled with so long, I get furiously angry. That BS is just cruel.

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    “Public displays of affection were forbidden”

    Interestingly, the churches that most strongly condemn public displays of affection also seem to have the most public displays of hatred.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Karen–My Catholic upbringing is similar to yours in the ways you described. Premarital sex was out of the question, but they didn’t seem to have much to say about touching–including by the priests themselves. (I know about that all too well.)

    Infidel–Great observation. I also find it interesting how much sex of all kinds is all but overtly expressed in so much of Christian art and iconography.

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    JFC’s 2019 comment – ‘baggage of pre-marital sex’ made me smile. My 3 daughters, raised fundy, were pretty much the only ones in their school/college year not to be sleeping with boyfriends. (Few of their generation went to church in secular UK.) Now, 20 years on, most of these friends have married, are faithful to their spouses and have children or are with long-term partners. I may not agree with their choice….but I honestly can’t see how any of them were harmed by pre-marital sex and I’m betting most have no regrets about it. It’s just what they did as teens/students….and, not being chained to faith, have no (un-necessary) guilt or shame about their past sexual relationships.

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    My mother-in-law recently admitted to my daughter that she was pregnant when my in-laws got married. They had a hastily planned wedding because both were the eldest children of devout Catholic families, it was the late 1960s, and that’s what one did. My MIL swore for decades that her first baby was born prematurely and that’s why she died. My FIL swore the baby was full-term, and I am inclined to believe him in this case. I heard from someone in my FIL’s family years ago that the reason my in-laws married was because she was pregnant. It’s unfortunate because they had an awful marriage that ended badly in divorce. If they had had access to birth control, that awful marriage and unhappy family with 3 traumatized kids could have been prevented.

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    amy b

    I grew up in an Eastern Orthodox church, but they were just as repressive in their gender roles. In fact women and men didn’t even sit together — the women sat in the pews on the right and the men sat in the pews on the left. (Some younger families nowadays tend to sit together though.) And the women lined up to take communion on the right side of the church, men lined up on the left. Dating and even hanging out with the opposite sex (outside of a church function) was frowned upon. Lots of single women in that church, and the men generally don’t get married unless a really aggressive woman goes after them.

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Bruce Gerencser