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For human beings, use of the reproductive system is best done within a committed relationship (marriage).
"When I am an adult I wish to be in a loving, intimate relationship, where I can rely on my partner always and vice versa, so that we can raise a family together."
This supports the Family ideal: I wish to have a loving family, where the parents will love the children always and care for them as long as they need it, and where the parents are committed to stay together always in love and friendship. This ideal applies to my family that I was born into as well as a family that I may create as an adult.
Each person can make the wish come true by seeking out a partner who meets their aspirations and by having a committed relationship with that person when they find them.
Short cuts that involve mating without such a loving relationship generally result in heart-break. Also there are risks associated with doing so, even if contraceptives are used. Unplanned "spur of the moment" mating outside of a monogamous relationship puts one at risk of veneral disease. Often in such situations contraceptives are not used or are not used properly, which creates a risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Teens or young adults who engage in this kind of behavior often find that it has long-term unfortunate results that can affect their whole life.
For many animals it is normal to mate without a committed relationship. Those are animals who produce offspring that require little or no care from the parents. If the offspring require any care at all, it is usually a limited duration of a few months at most: from mating season in the spring until the end of summer.
For such animals, mate selection must be done in a short time. Therefore there can be little concern for the qualifications of the potential mate except for their physical fitness, the latter of which is established by a mating dance or a fighting contest among potential mates.
Humans, however, have evolved differently. Human offspring, being learning creatures, require many years of upbrininging before they can live independantly. In such situations, there is an evolutionary advantage if the parents remain in a committed relationship, so that they are both available to raise the child. Because raising a family is such a big commitment, humans have tended to be much more selective than other animals when choosing a mate.
Over many generations of development, this has resulted in a more complex motivational structure in humans as compared to other animals. Humans have the same basic instinct of physical attraction found in simpler animals, but they also have motives of friendship and love that go beyond physical attraction. A man may find that he is initially attracted to a woman because of appearance, but if their interaction lasts beyond a few minutes that attraction can be quickly extinguished if he finds that she is obnoxious, ignorant, dishonest, or if she falls short of his ideals in any other manner whatever. The same is true of a woman's attraction to a man. Each is judging the other, so in order to find a suitable mate one not only has to be vigilant in searching for a mate, but also make onesself qualified for such a mate. (It wouldn't do to find the parter of your dreams, only to discover that he/she doesn't want you!)
Some debate has occurred about this, primarily in the mid 1900s when contraceptive methods became widely available. It was thought that contraceptives would enable humans to satisfy their basic instincts without any long term consequences, and that this would therefore result in a "new morality". What this failed to consider is that complex motivational structure of humans hasn't changed. Basically, casual mating behavior is counterproductive to these motivators, and therefore it is counterproductive to overall happiness in humans.
Not only will a person find that they are not truly happy by undertaking such behavior, but also they disqualify themselves from finding a mate where they can together have true love, and fulfil their dreams of a partner whom they can rely on. Whenever a person mates casually, they become unattractive to someone who seeks a committed relationship. Remember, that to find an ideal mate, one not only has to search vigilantly, but also to be qualified themselves!
One potential exception might be a person who has given up on finding love. As a second-best alternative, they decide that at least they can enjoy sexual activity, even though it gives rise to mixed feelings. If the persons they are mating with are in the same situation, so that no dishonest "pretense of love" is involved, then presumably neither is creating heart-break for the other. However, in practice this usually doesn't work, inasmuch as people can't really turn off their higher motivators, and those involved often tend to end up feeling disappointed and abused.
Moreover, it really doesn't make sense to recommend a "second best alternative" when a first best alternative remains open. In the real world people often find that it takes many years, sometimes in excess of a decade, before they find the person who is the "true love" that they seek. When they finally do, they generally regard it has being worth the wait.
So in the end, we cannot recommend any exception to the basic rule for humans, which is to reserve mating behavior to a committed relationship, also known as marriage. For more information on important considerations for that commitment, refer to the marriage topic on this site.
If a potential spouse is unwilling to commit publicly, that is a pretty certain clue that they haven't developed the love for you that is necessary for your long-term mutual happiness. To mate with such a person is taking a big gamble that usually doesn't pay off.
Advantages of marriage:
Facts about sexual activity outside of marriage:
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