The Premarital Sex 'Test Drive'


During a 2011 roundtable discussion on Fox News, guest commentator Jay Thomas argued that young people should not be too concerned when it comes to pre-marital sex, because nobody would choose to "buy a car without driving it first."

Rebecca St. James & her husband

You don't get married, and you don't learn about sex, by not having it." Any reasonable person would prefer to avoid someone who might be, in his words, "odd in the sack," much as any reasonable person would prefer to avoid getting a lemon when purchasing a new car.  Mr.  Thomas, therefore, could hardly envision anyone's committing to marriage without first "kicking the tires" a bit, and going for a sex "test drive."

The test drive analogy comes up short in a number of important ways, and premarital sex is not at all synonymous with a harmless "test drive." The context in which sex occurs is everything in terms of "getting it right." Separated from its proper context of marriage, it becomes a quick path to emotional and interpersonal wreckage.  Since sex takes on its proper meaning only within marriage, it cannot be properly evaluated outside the marital commitment.  It might be analogous to trying to evaluate the performance of a particular car before it has even been assembled or come off the assembly line. 

The story is told of a famous but irresponsible race car driver who decided to borrow a friend's Camaro to take it for a test drive around the racetrack.  He quickly ran it to the edge of the speedometer, red-lining the engine at over 100 miles per hour.  He pushed it hard for several laps around the track, then finally pulled the vehicle off to the side.  As he did so, the strained engine overheated, seized violently, and began to pour out smoke.  He was used to expensive, high performance racing machines, and the Camaro felt sluggish by comparison.  He walked away from the vehicle, muttering under his breath, "I wonder what's the matter with that car?"  Sex before marriage is a similar kind of "test drive" — clearly unreasonable and harmful. 

A sexual "test drive" mentality is essentially exploitative in nature, reducing a potential spouse to someone who is easily replaced by a "better" model.  When we take a car for a test drive, and don't like it, we can just return the keys and move on to the next model.  But people are not cars that we can just exploit and cast aside. 

The notion of a sexual "test drive" as an entree to matrimony trivializes and degrades the serious business that marriage really is.  What sorts of things would a young man be expecting to discover with a sexual "test-drive" anyway?  What kinds of qualities would disqualify someone from becoming his wife?  If he had lived in purity himself, and it were his first sexual experience fresh on the heels of his marriage vows, he would automatically suppose his wife to be wonderful, and no "comparisons" should even be necessary. 

Dating and marriage are about commitment and sacrificial love for another person, not comparison shopping for the best deal.

In the final analysis, who really wants to be sexually "compared" to others anyway? Predictably, partners can feel threatened if they think their spouse might be comparing them with previous partners.  This provides a strong incentive to abstain from sex before marriage, to protect the emotional safety that spouses need to feel together in marriage.  Every woman prefers to marry a man who has lived chastely.  Similarly every man, in his heart of hearts, wants to marry a virgin, rather than someone who has been "test-driven" by scores of other men. 

As one happily married woman described it on her internet posting: "I've only been with one guy; he was only with one girl — and it wasn't until our wedding night.  Maybe we were both bad in bed.  But, you know, neither one of us had any clue, because we'd never been with anyone else.  I've never seen that as an issue."

Singer/actress Rebecca St. James, who also participated in the Fox News roundtable, echoed the same sentiments: "Can I just say married sex (and I've never been with anyone other than my husband) is wonderful.  It's so cherishing and beautiful, and I'm so glad I don't have any memories with anyone else, and I'm glad my husband doesn't have anybody to compare me to.  We only have each other."

Dating and marriage are about commitment and sacrificial love for another person, not comparison shopping for the best deal, or test driving the latest vehicle.  Sex is a unique gift by which we hand ourselves over to another within marriage, and cement the treasure of marital love in a permanent commitment to one another.




Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph. D. "The Premarital Sex 'Test Drive'." Making Sense Out of Bioethics (January, 2012). 

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph. D.  writes a monthly column, Making Sense Out of Bioethics, which appears in various diocesan newspapers across the country.  This article is reprinted with permission of the author, Rev.  Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph. D. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) has a long history of addressing ethical issues in the life sciences and medicine.  Established in 1972, the Center is engaged in education, research, consultation, and publishing to promote and safeguard the dignity of the human person in health care and the life sciences.  The Center is unique among bioethics organizations in that its message derives from the official teaching of the Catholic Church: drawing on the unique Catholic moral tradition that acknowledges the unity of faith and reason and builds on the solid foundation of natural law. 

The Center publishes two journals (Ethics & Medics and The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly) and at least one book annually on issues such as physician-assisted suicide, abortion, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research.  Educational programs include the National Catholic Certification Program in Health Care Ethics and a variety of seminars and other events. 
Inspired by the harmony of faith and reason, the Quarterly unites faith in Christ to reasoned and rigorous reflection upon the findings of the empirical and experimental sciences.  While the Quarterly is committed to publishing material that is consonant with the magisterium of the Catholic Church, it remains open to other faiths and to secular viewpoints in the spirit of informed dialogue. 


Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk earned a Ph. D.  in Neuroscience from Yale University.  Father Tad did post-doctoral research at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School.  He subsequently studied in Rome where he did advanced studies in theology and in bioethics.  He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.  Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.  See

Copyright © 2012 Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D.

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