Several years ago I was teaching a graduate course on family life at a university in the Midwest. There were about eight students in the class and one day we were discussing human sexuality. Somehow we got on the topic of extra-marital sex and near the end of the class one student asked me an unusual question. He asked me if I had ever committed adultery. I responded that I had not. The student, in his late 20s, asked a follow-up question, "Why not?"
My first impulse was to suggest almost all of my values in life came from my parents and subsequently our religious training. I simply wanted to quote one of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." That was and still is sufficient for me.But the class of graduate students was not particularly religiously inclined, individually or collectively. So the immediate challenge for me as a professor was obvious. Are there reasons not to commit adultery beyond one's religious values?
The students knew I came from a fairly conservative religious background. One older student lit his pipe, leaned back and suggested my religious upbringing was undoubtedly restrictive and could even have been suppressive. I responded it could possibly be perceived that way but then suggested that religious teachings are necessarily given to restrict our freedoms. Perhaps they are there to protect us from consequences.
I suggested that one definition of maturity is the ability to anticipate specific consequences of specific behavior. I then explained that I didn't have to have an extra-marital sexual experience to realize the many consequences it would bring. In fact, the anticipated consequences were quite vivid in my mind.
I conceded there might be some momentary pleasure in such an experience, but then again, there might not. I also realized that there could be other physical consequences of such an act. I might father a child out of wedlock. I could envision the resultant consequences of having to deal with that in my life. I suggested I might contract some kind of disease. The man with the pipe smirked and looked at the other students. (I might add at that time we had not yet heard of AIDS.)
I told the class for me there would be social consequences of such an act. Seldom does extra-marital sex remain a secret. Sooner or later the act usually becomes known to others. I told the class about my wife, Susan and our children. I did not have to have the experience to envision the reality of coming home and having to discuss my "affair" with them. At that point my wife and children might choose not to live with me. That would be a real consequence!
I could also anticipate having to confront such behavior with others I cared about including neighbors, parents, family and friends. I also explained that I was the assistant minister in our church congregation (actually in an LDS bishopric) and likely would be removed from that position and may, in fact, lose my church membership. The social consequences for me were real. The eight students were amazed.
There would be for me, I continued, great mental consequences. I would probably feel very guilty and suffer mental anguish over such an act. One student suggested I should learn to ignore the guilt. I replied that would be like ignoring the blinking lights on the car dashboard when the oil is low or the radiator is out of water. Guilt may be one mental indication that something in life is out of balance.
As the class drew to a close I wanted to tell the graduate students that perhaps the main reason I had never committed adultery was primarily because of anticipated spiritual consequences. But the bell rang and they left the classroom.
That night I went home, picked up the Bible and read Proverbs 6:22: "Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul."
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