Recently, I read an article on Relevant Magazine called "Everyone Loves Sex. So Why Wait?" and while the author makes compelling points for how significant sex is in our lives, he barely scratches the surface at what a gift the Lord has given us in this act.
I couldn't stop thinking about all of the other reasons for why sex is reserved for marriage. And it boils down to a completely different foundation of thinking. What if instead of viewing life as God pointing to our reality, we saw it as our reality pointing to God? Stay with me.
In Genesis, God made man. In His image. And it was good. But "it is not good that man should be alone" (Gen 2:18), so He made man a partner, woman. So, if he made man in His image, but needed to create woman to make it more good, it follows that the man and woman more perfectly image (that is, to embody) the Creator of the Universe. It is in man and woman that the King of Kings is revealed in a special way on Earth. Which makes perfect sense when we see God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One being couldn't image the Trinity fully. To image the relationship within the Trinity requires an other, to fully express the love and community between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the fruit created.
It is within the relationship between man and woman that we can more fully understand God for who He is. Meaning, in the most intimate encounter between man and woman, we can see God. The gift of sexual union is a prayerful experience in that through it, we can come to know God deeper. During the marital union, we see God's capacity for love in an earthly way. We open ourselves, making ourselves completely vulnerable, to our spouse and allow our spouse to enter fully into ourselves. The oneness, unity, and huge, gigantic love between the Trinity can be seen in this very act. By working together for the other's good, by fully opening ourselves to the other, by experiencing physical pleasure, and by becoming one though we are two, we can see the mystery and beauty of the Trinity.
Which is where I agree with the statement from Relevant's article that marriage is a "bond...so powerful, so transcending, that marriage is the only force that can contain it."
The biggest, most incredible, most ultimate part of the marital union is that it creates. It is the end toward which the marital union is geared. The Lord's love is so powerful that by His very breath, He speaks Creation into being. His love is so strong and so efficacious that it begets fruit. And, in marriage, we get to participate in that same creation. In the unity of a man and woman, one being is created from two. A new life is created from mere matter from two souls. Fruit, offspring, beautiful children are created through this wondrous act of love in the same way that the Lord's love was so big that He begot his Son and continues to multiply His love through the Holy Spirit.
When we use this understanding to look at sex, we see that sex embodies the relationship between the Trinity. As we see that the Trinity is loving, inseparable, vulnerable, and fruitful, we can see all of those within the marital bond. And when we get to experience that...our spiritual understanding of sex is vastly, vastly expanded.
When we see our reality as imaging God, our whole world comes alive: in our relationships, our marriages, and in the wonderful Creation that surrounds us. For example, instead of when a good father reminds you of the goodness of God the Father, the more sacred outlook is seeing that the Lord's qualities that make Him the ultimate Father are within that father before you. This participation in our reality is discussed by St. Paul throughout all of his letters when he discusses being "one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom 12:5) using the terms "in Christ" and "in Him". That "in" denotes participation in Christ's life, sacrifice, and redemption, inasmuch as the entire Trinity, since all are One. After I listened to this podcast based on a new perspective on Paul, my world has literally been turned upside down.
Sex is reserved for marriage, not only because it's a blessing meant to be shared with only one person, but because it's sacred: an outward sign of an inward reality, one of the most significant earthly ways that we can experience and come to know God. It points toward the most perfect union - the Trinity - and so we must strive to live out married life as perfectly as we can to make manifest that most perfect bond. It is in our covenant to each other that we can experience God's covenant with us. Anything outside of marriage defies that.