I’ve read many articles criticizing premarital abstinence, claiming that it causes all sorts of sexual issues and insecurities. And I believe those issues are real— but premarital abstinence itself is not to blame. It’s more complicated than that.
Because premarital abstinence is an unpopular and difficult commitment many people over-glamorize it. They lose sight of the real reason they’re doing what they’re doing, and they create fantasies and hyper-focus on the irrelevant. They obsess over the beauty of virginity. Or they obsess over the perfect wedding night. And when the night comes? Perhaps they find the virginity obsession remains and they feel ashamed about sex. Or they find themselves disappointed by something painful or embarrassing or anything-but-romantic. When things don’t turn out as perfectly as they expected, when “waiting for marriage” isn’t a free ticket to a good marriage, they feel lied to. They feel like they gained nothing from a stance that, in many ways, defined them. They feel like they wasted time suppressing their feelings and lost the time in which they could have learned how to express them.
And the truth is, they did lose time. The truth is, while premarital abstinence may help prevent a certain type of problem, it doesn’t prevent all problems and it may even, in fact, cause some problems of its own. We are kidding ourselves if we pretend that not having sex will avoid all difficulties with sex or marriage. Life is never that easy.
But ease is not the point.
The point of premarital abstinence (or doing anything you believe is right) isn’t to gain something easy (although it certainly might make life easier in the long run). The point is to do something good, and to know that in doing so you create a habit of goodness. With premarital abstinence, you create a habit of doing the right thing— together.
You don’t wait for marriage so that you can have amazing sex, even though amazing sex could be an eventual side effect. You abstain because you believe it is one aspect of a larger attitude about marriage and about life. It is one aspect of the belief that sex is beautiful and good and that it is most fulfilled in its objectively right purpose and place. It is one aspect of the belief that sex can enrich a person and express love when it is experienced mindfully and unselfishly. But we miss the point when we see it as more or less than that. We miss the point when we focus on self-centered fantasies. We miss the point when we act as if everything hinges on whether or not you “go all the way.” That matters, but it’s not everything. It’s both too much and not nearly enough. The journey is much more complicated than that.
Sexual love, like all types of love, will always have to be worked on, managed, tamed, channelled, refined. It is a lifelong struggle that begins on the first date and it lasts long after the wedding day. But we don’t like to admit that. We prefer to sum it all up with a few years’ purity commitment. We prefer to over-simplify. We don’t like to think that doing the right thing is a lifelong struggle. We don’t like to think that something as natural as sex should have to be guided and guarded and worked on indefinitely. We don’t like to think that love could be difficult.
But love — doing the right thing— is always going to have difficulties. If we focus on the difficulties, fears, guilts, and fantasies, we miss the point. There is something wonderful about striving to do the right thing. A commitment to doing the right thing, even when it is difficult, is an act of hope. And that hope produces joy— joy that is stronger than the difficulties— joy that is stronger than anything in the world.
That’s what we need to hear in the abstinence talks. Not just about wedding nights. Not just about partners who were each others’ “firsts”. Those things are nice, but they aren’t a guarantee and they aren’t the most important things. What we need to hear about is a habit of hope, a habit of committing to doing the right thing. We need to actually talk about what that habit looks like, how you form it, how it works in dating and then, especially, how it works in marriage. We need to not just talk about the sex you don’t have before marriage, but also talk about the sex you do have after marriage— because they both matter and they both have difficulties— whether you waited or not. We need to stop demonizing or idolizing sexuality and we need to start talking about it like it is, all the good and all the bad, practical and real and sometimes difficult. We need to admit that abstaining from sex until marriage doesn’t necessarily make things easier (at least in the short term), but that it’s always worth doing what you believe is right, because joy is so much better than ease. And joy shared— that’s what’s so worth the sacrifice, the struggle. That is what really makes the “wait” worth it.