Why I Object to “No Sex Before Marriage”

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I was recently at a Friday night church service and they were mentioning a few upcoming events. One of the upcoming events, aimed at 13-18 year old girls, was called “The Bride Wore White”. I grumbled when I saw it. I must have done this louder than I intended as the friend beside me said “Calm down, T.”

I’d like to take this moment to say I actually don’t go to church very often, so these kind of things stand out to me a lot more than they did when I went regularly. I’d also like to say I have no objection to what you personally choose to do with regard to your own sexual experiences, and do not think any less of anyone who chooses to wait until marriage to have sex.

With that said, this really bothered me. Why? Because I believe pushing abstinence and “wait until marriage” as a message linked to morality is at best ineffective and at worst downright damaging.

I know this because I am one of the many victims of this kind of teaching.

Putting aside for a moment that this kind of thing is targeted at girls and not boys, the thing is many teenagers are going to experiment or people who have been in a relationship for a long time may wish to sleep together. And that’s fine in a safe, consensual, informed environment. And what this kind of teaching does is not take away the desire for teens to experiment, it drives it underground and takes away the “informed” part of the equation. It also drives guilt, and an unhealthy attitude to sex, which may even make it more likely for people to go further than they would if an open, frank conversation with an adult in a position of authority were an option.

Even those who do wait until marriage often then experience sexual dysfunction as they then find it almost impossible to go from “sex and desire is bad” to “sex and desire is now allowed” purely through the exchange of marriage vows. Sure, in theory it’s lovely to wait until marriage and give yourself to one other person and one other person only, but it’s very hard to undo 10-20 odd years of teaching to suppress one’s desires through an exchanging of rings.

truelovewaitsThen you get people like me. People who experience massive guilt around sexual desire, and equate it with some kind of moral failing, even though I am a married woman. Who, let’s not beat around the bush, lived with her husband prior to marrying him and therefore did not wait until marriage.

I do believe in teaching young women that sex is something to be taken seriously, something to think about, and something to save for a loving relationship and a safe environment. But I don’t believe phrases like “the bride wears white” do this. I believe they prevent nothing from happening, only drive up guilt and dysfunction when it does.

If you stay abstinent, you run the risk of being left behind as your peers experiment with sex and you don’t. If you start having sex you risk feeling guilt and shame about what you’ve done, or making uninformed choices and ending up with an STI or pregnant. If you wait until marriage you can end up getting married for the wrong reasons far too young, and the divorce rate skyrockets, or can be unable to experience sexual pleasure once you do.

It’s a dangerous game where nobody wins. And our children’s future sex lives are in the firing line.

Of course there are exceptions to this, and I know of people who waited until marriage and have no issues at all. However I believe this is the minority – it’s just that no one wants to admit it.

Linking sexual desire to morality does no one any favours. Open, honest, factual discussion does. Education is the answer, not morality enforced abstinence.

What do you think? Does the push of “No sex before marriage” at young girls bother you? 

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  • http://kimbalikes.com Kim-Marie Williams

    It annoys me that this reinforces the misguided belief that it is the female responsibility as males are overwhelmed by sexual desire and can’t be trusted. The reverse can be true and it just reinforces the whole Madonna-Whore complex.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      This frustrates me as well

  • Melissa Savage

    Reason number 7,321,668 that I’m glad I didn’t grow up with religion.

    I like to refer to the fabulous decade of sex I enjoyed before marriage. I didn’t feel guilty and I don’t regret any of it. I had the self-esteem to wait until I was ready, and no cross-shaped baggage. It was great. The only time I ever encountered any weirdness was when Jelly’s pastors and parents got all 1951 about us living together.

    • stevens

      Out of curiosity, can you say that your ‘fabulous decade of sex’ has had no negative impact at all on your marriage? Not wanting to be judgemental, just interested. How does your husband fell about it, seeing I am assuming he didn’t get a decade of fabulous sex?

      • Melissa Savage

        Oooh my first slut-shaming! I feel so grown up!!

        My husband was about a third of that decade, and was no virgin when I met him.

        • stevens

          Oh my! No, I didn’t mean to offend you! When I was growing up I was told that if we had sex before we were married, it would cause issues within our marriage. I heard ministers say that promiscuity was the leading cause of the growth in divorce rates.

          You seemed to be open to talking about it and I just thought I’d ask as I was curious. I didn’t mean to offend you.

          • Melissa Savage

            I do apologise; I think we rather have a generational and faith gap at work here. I don’t generally post things on the Internet that I haven’t already talked about in front of my husband, so he’s heard the ‘fabulous decade’ phrase before and heck, he was there for the best bit of it :P.

            We’ve always been completely open with each other and as he says far more eloquently than I ever could, we don’t dwell on our separate pasts but instead focus on our future together.

            Again, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.

          • Anon=]

            Haha:) I enjoy reading this and everything, it’s nice to have some balanced views. As a Christian 16 year-old I also feel that people generally just try and ‘fence the li’l virgins in’ without even TRYING to get girls like me and others to find our boundaries of our own volition.
            Due to the fact that we are barely informed of anything at all, I believe people want to jump the fence more often than not because of the not thoroughly explained ‘barrier’ put up using talks of immorality.
            I know all I know from reading about, well, my body. I should know about and other girls should know about their own body too.
            As to ‘waiting’ personally, I think it’s a nice thing, but I’ve decided to just do what feels right, and wait until I feel ready and in a steady relationship(in maybe another 2+ years hehe), that way I believe you could be more open and not shy around one another when you do get married.

            Hmm, as for the problem? I kinda think that it really should be put more out into the open, and not ‘buried’ as said. It removes sexual shyness and hopefully shame. I think that if indeed girls were more ‘informed’, they’d have a LOGICAL reason not to have sex or wait until a good relationship is established. Plus, this removes the whole ‘curiosity problem’, if you don’t know anything, it’s easier to be overcome with the desire to experience sex, the ‘sinful taboo’ at least once, in secrecy, with which would come sexual shame.

      • http://jellystyle.com Daniel “Jelly” Farrelly

        Turns out he doesn’t really care. And by he, I mean I. And also ‘don’t’ (we wouldn’t want to be grammatically incorrect now, would we?). People take their own path through life and it would be rather plank-in-the-eye of me to dwell on something like that.

        Besides. I have the promise of many decades of fabulous sex ahead of me. Who am I to complain?

        • Monique Fischle

          I wish I could like this comment a million times.

          • Heather

            Me too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.k.chapman Jessica Chapman

    I think the one of the worst outcomes is when a couple stays together just because they’ve had sex and feel so guilty about it that either party don’t recognise how unhealthy the relationship is and that they’d be happier apart. From my point of view God is supposed to be forgiving and the church should be teaching that instead of emotionally manipulating it’s young people.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      I know a few people this has happened to and I agree. It’s damaging to the people involved as well as any children from the marriage.

      Personally I’d rather be happily alone than unhappily married, and I’d rather have two happily divorced parents than two unhappily married ones.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.k.chapman Jessica Chapman

        Definitely! And children always pick up on the way their parents interact, which means that if their parent’s relationship is unhealthy they’re less likely to form healthy relationships as well.

  • http://www.kyliepurtell.com/ Kylie Purtell

    Excellent, thought-provoking post Tamsin. You’ve managed to put in to words thoughts and feelings that I’ve had but never knew how to articulate or express. I agree linking sex to morality is indeed a very slippery slope and as someone who seems to come from a similar background church-wise I know the shame and guilt you are referring to.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Thank you.

  • Jane Hollier

    I’ve been a Christian my entire life, and one thing I have learnt is that the church is failing its members by constantly communicating a one dimensional message about sex. Not only that, but the conversation is very one-sided. As a result, young Christians often feel quite isolated and end up dealing with a heavy burden of sexual shame that can last a lifetime. Of course, I say all this having no idea how it can actually be fixed. But I really liked and appreciated your article, Tamsin, because this is an issue that needs a lot more attention in order for it change.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Thank you, Jane. I think it does too. It’s not talked about anywhere near as much.

  • maree Talidu

    I have NO problem with waiting till marriage. I know many couples who it has worked for very well. Growing up in a christian church I was taught that premarital sex is a sin. I won’t lie, there are positives in relation to waiting: you know each others sexual history. There’s less opportunity for jealousy, resentment and insecurity when you think about who your partner has slept with. You save yourself (no pun intended) the hassle of sexually transmitted diseases.

    In an ideal world, I think it’s a great idea. But this is not an ideal world. I swore I’d wait for the reasons taught to me in a christian environment. But whenever you make something ‘taboo’, you are asking for people to handle the burden of curiosity and sometimes the burden is too heavy. Especially for teenagers. I waited till I was in a committed relationship and reasoned that it was ok, because I was going to be marrying him anyway. He was older than me and not a virgin and it did my head in thinking of other women he’d been with. And I didn’t marry him. Or the next relationship after that. In some ways I felt cheap/used. But I learned some major life lessons.

    As for brides in white? Pfft. How many brides in their white/ivory gowns are virgins? Very few. I think it’s an antiquated notion that wearing white is only for the sexually ‘pure’.

    I strayed from my belief system when I was younger, and it’s not until now when I’m older and wiser that I have made the decision NOT to have sex again before I get married. If I don’t get married, I don’t care. But the next time will be with a husband, or not at all.

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  • fender4eva

    Sex before marriage is entirely the choice of the individual. It makes no difference as to whether the partner will be faithful or not, just because they’ve had some experience. It helps if at least one of you, knows what to do ! Ftr, neither me nor my intended were virgins, and neither of us gave a rat’s arse. :-)

  • Lady Lizard

    I also think the problem with the morality linking is that it is also used to stop masturbation. My first partner was a long term committed relationship (we lived together for 5 years before going our separate ways) and I definitely had issues at the beginning. He would ask me what I liked and I had no idea. I definitely agree with the comment that you can’t just change a lifetime of conditioning over night when you decide (ring or not).

  • Heather

    PS I’d like to add that thanks to the Christian emphasis on pre-marital celibacy I’ve had TWO gay husbands! TWO. One at 21 and one at 32. Actually, I can’t confirm they were definitely gay but I can confirm they wouldn’t touch me with a 50-foot pole and had enormous issues with sex, nudity, me seeing them naked, and anything even remotely related to sexual contact. If you want to find a sexually dysfunctional person, agree to no sex before marriage. They will then self-select at the application stage!

    I am now “living in sin” with the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with and I’ve never had a longer relationship, a more fulfilling and functional relationship or been involved with a more lovely, well-adjusted human in my life. And if I’d been playing the freaky no sex before marriage card when we got together, I am certain it would never have happened. Celibacy is against nature. The Catholic church is a case study in that!

    And before your mind swings hard in the opposite direction, I don’t believe in promiscuity. I think it’s important to consider carefully who you want to share yourself with sexually because you’re also sharing yourself in other ways and if you waste your time with someone who doesn’t love you back, you’ll get hurt. But linking sex and sin in this way is purely destructive and does nobody any favours. I now look back at my 20s and think “you idiot”. All that celibacy and all it did was get me a second sexually dysfunctional husband who was abusive and left me in a financial catastrophe.

    For the gentleman who wanted to know “does it hurt your marriage?” I can confidently reassure you, this view – which is widely peddled by the church – is naive and smacks of immaturity and possessiveness that has no part in a loving mature relationship. It’s the kind of thing I would expect a virgin to believe. One who still keeps a diary under his/her pillow and has covered it in love hearts and the name of their “crush” and “I heart (insert name) 4 eva….” To a pair of adults who love each other, an ex girlfriend or ex boyfriend is no more relevant that the deceased partner of a widow/er (which is somehow never discussed in church circles but comes with infinitely more baggage and comparison in my view – not just sexually but emotionally. When we die, we become immortal and perfect. How do you get the perfect dead ex out of your lover’s heart?)

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