Updated: Feb 23
Last month’s blog was on the topic of how to make abstaining from sex before marriage possible and some of its benefits, written from the perspective of a single person. This month, I’m writing on why I think people should abstain from sex before marriage from my perspective — the perspective of a married woman — and why my husband and I chose to pursue chastity while we prepared for our sacramental marriage.
There are many, many, many articles that suggest waiting until marriage to have a sexual relationship is beneficial. Certainly there are a few that say it doesn't matter. Honestly, scholarly work is complicated to interpret and difficult to replicate. I'm here to explain some of the biggest guiding principles behind why we chose to abstain, not to provide a literature review. This article will be most helpful for people in or entering into long-term relationships.
Just a reminder for those who are already sexually active in a long term relationship without being married. You can change and pursue chastity, you can't change the past but you can decide to honour each other in this way going forward. My husband and I weren't Christians when we met and were civilly married for several years before we converted to Christianity and had our marriage validated in the church. It wasn't too late for us to change and it's not too late for you.
What is Love? More Than a Feeling.
Many people hold the contemporary (and flawed) idea that love is simply a feeling and justify sexual activity on the basis of their 'love' for others. How we define love as Christians is the constant striving and willing for the highest good of the other person, regardless of how we may feel towards them. Willing their good goes far beyond their physical or emotional pleasure. We seek for them to be closer to God; we don’t bring them closer to God by together directly violating his commandments. We don’t make an intense life-long bond with someone and put them at risk of, at the very least, a pregnancy, just so we can ‘feel like we love them.’ We don’t place other people in situations where they will be traumatized or their life can implode because our feelings change. When one marries someone, they say to them, to their community, and to God that they are committing themselves to this person for their whole life. This needs to mean through thick and thin, through pregnancy and childbearing, with all of their flaws. That is the kind of promise, the type of covenant, that people deserve before they come together in this most intimate and vulnerable way. This allows sex to be what God meant for humans, a beautiful and full gift of self from both people.
The Rights of Children
Speaking of pregnancy and childbearing… Every time you engage in intercourse there is a chance that you or the person you are with may become pregnant. Sex is inextricable from procreation and childrearing. Even if people are using contraceptives there is still a chance they may become pregnant. As I explained earlier, because of this reality, we get married before we have sex to make clear to ourselves, our spouse, our community, and God, that we will be an active participant and supporter of the other person and these children whenever we are blessed with them. Most people seem to think that children are just lucky to be alive, but as Christians we believe that children have rights.
A right to be born to two people who have united themselves in an unbreakable way: marriage.
A right to have both of those parents live in the same home as them.
Obviously, there are specific circumstances, like abuse, where the right to safety takes precedence. However, when my husband and I were waiting for our civil marriage to be convalidated part of what helped us to abstain were these principles. That we knew we were waiting to bring our children into a healthy, happy, sacramental marriage because we loved them (even before they arrive) and part of that love is understanding that they had a right to have parents who had made that commitment and who would put them first. We wanted to be financially and emotionally stable and to be able to provide them with a loving home. In order to ensure that they had these things, we pursued abstinence. We loved them before they even arrived and we did so by moderating our behaviour to pursue their greatest good.
Other People are Not Cars or Any Other Kind of Object
It’s pretty ubiquitous faux common-sense phraseology now that people should have sex (among other things) in order to “try one another out” or (my personal favourite) to “take them for a test-drive”. It seems sensible at first, before you commit your life to someone to make sure you are compatible. But if you don’t trust the person you’re choosing to give your life to, or love them enough to look for their good and help them to improve, why are you doing, maybe the most intimate things ever, with them? Why are you considering marrying them even? You are actually not looking at them as a full person. You’re basically just checking out their wares. You aren’t choosing to accept them for the full person they are; you'll have to 'see'.
How is that love?
Now there are definitely people out there who don’t think you should talk about sex at all, before or after you are married. I don’t think that is a good idea. Sex affects people on a spiritual level that goes far beyond a physical act, it should be undertaken with this in mind and talked about. In fact, during your engagement is an ideal time to talk about the expectations you both have around sex and to build the kind of relationship and communication skills where you can talk openly about your sexual relationship. That is good, it’s very important. But modern ‘wisdom’ which says that in order to know if you’re compatible enough to promise your life to someone that you have to experience them sexually is actually utter nonsense. I have friends who say this exact thing. The idea that sexual compatibility is just something that exists or doesn't or something that just happens and not something that needs to be nurtured and grown is very bizarre. It also leads to the instrumentalization of others, treating them as objects (you can read about this is in a previous blog).
In order to have a satisfying sexual life (which is important for married couples) women, especially, need trust. I think it’s a little easier to trust someone who stands up in front of a crowd of your closest friends and family and makes a covenant between himself, you, and The Lord, that he will cherish you, rather than some man you met on the street or a boyfriend who says he loves you and maybe even seems to but who hasn’t sealed the deal.
When sex starts, information gathering stops or at least slows down. This does not necessarily mean you’re incapable of breaking things off ever, it just means that, for many reasons, you’re much more willing to let things slide. Oxytocin has been pumped into your brain; sex is associated socially with a certain kind of intimacy, and breaking off the relationship is much more painful when sex is involved. This leads to sliding into aspects of intimacy that aren’t appropriate (like living together), and not taking mindful, intentional steps as a couple.
I think the lack of intentionality from men is a big part of this problem. I’ve seen so many relationships where the above has happened. Men feel very strong feelings, tell women they love them, and feel justified in having sex because of their feelings. But they aren’t thinking about marriage (unless it’s something far off); they’re not thinking of how a change of heart could radically affect this woman they are now intimate with. All they know is that they ‘love them’ and they are not trying to hurt them.
However, when you look at relationships intentionally and with a view to getting married, it allows you to define your values first and create boundaries that match those values. So, at each step, you are deciding. Deciding to get into a relationship, deciding to join your lives together, deciding to get married, and deciding to have children.
It’s deciding to build appropriate intimacy and not slide into inappropriate intimacy.
Sexual intimacy, marriage, who we live our lives with and have children with are actually REALLY important things that should be decided intentionally and not just passively slipped into. Your choices, even though they seem individual, don’t only affect you. They affect the other person, any children you might have, and society.