Saving yourself for marriage?

I am a daily reader of The Friendly Atheist, as well as a number of other blogs, and I usually agree with Hemant on a number of topics.  Today, I don’t agree with his (probably tentative) reaction to this post on his blog today.  Here’s his (again, probably tentative) conclusion:

There’s nothing wrong with waiting.

But there’s nothing wrong with having safe sex before marriage, either.

Why do I disagree with this? Because I think there may be something very harmful about waiting.  Further, having sex before marriage may be the only way to have a fully satisfying sex life after marriage.  That is, one might be satisfied, but perhaps not as happy as they could be sexually, without having tested the various grounds out there.

Experience and Communication

Sexuality is complicated.  When we are young and inexperienced, we not only don’t know what to do, we really don’t know what we want.  And even if we know what we want, that does not imply that we can know what others want, especially if those things are not the same (or incompatible).  The ability to give to others what they need sexually to some degree depends on sufficient experience with different types of sexuality and our experience with how to respond to those needs.  I doubt that anyone can be prepared for this with only one partner for whom they wait until marriage.

And, perhaps most importantly, when we are inexperienced we rarely communicate about sex, especially during the act itself.  Does that feel good? Do you want me to do that harder, softer, or not at all? Would you like to be spanked, or to spank me?  All legitimate questions.  And there are many more questions in addition to these, of course.  Without prior experience to feed off of, how would people know to ask such questions?

It takes more than two, baby!

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is to have two inexperienced people trying to figure sexuality out together.  This is not to say that two people with no experience cannot figure it out, but it will take time, patience, and possibly some research.  Most importantly, it takes honesty and a willingness to push ourselves.  We cannot find what lies deep inside if we are afraid to look there.

But let’s be honest here; most people who decide to wait until marriage are coming from religious backgrounds with conservative views about sexuality.  There will be exceptions, of course, but this phenomenon of waiting is primarily religion-driven, I’d be willing to bet.  People who were brought up to believe that sex is sinful, except in marriage (and possibly even within marriage, if it gets kinky), are the ones doing the waiting.

These are not people to likely discuss their sexuality in the open, even with their new spouse.  They have become so used to repressing the topic, that in order to then suddenly be sex-positive  will be a rare exception and not the rule by any measure of the term.  Further, because of their lack of experience with other lovers, they will not even know what it is they are lacking.  This is why people need to find themselves a more experienced ethical slut to help them along before they move onto marriage.  Hell, they may need that before they are ready for a serious relationship.

Finding it too late?

And what happens in situations like this, where young people wait until marriage, is that perhaps they get married too soon, or to the wrong person, because they don’t know better.   How could they know? They have little experience to draw from, remember?  And then they find themselves married, perhaps enjoying the sex, but after some time they feel as if something is missing.

With a likely inexperienced lover, they may have desires that they don’t know how to express.  In this situation, most people will not explore their sexuality until after years of pushing back desires that will seem abnormal, wrong, or perhaps sinful.  This is probably why so many people get married only to come out years later as homosexual.  But in many other cases people have a vanilla (that is, “normal”) sex life until they discover their inner kinks later on, and then you see them as they should have found themselves while much younger.

I cannot tell you how many people I have met that say that they wish they knew what they did now, about themselves sexually specifically, 20 or 30 years before.  I meet people in the polyamory communities who only opened up to their kinky side when they were in their 40s, 50s, or later.  Imagine all the years they could have been enjoying sexuality more passionately, ecstatically, and with more people if they just didn’t hold back.  And no, not all these people did wait until marriage, but how could a person who does so avoid this fate? Again, some will avoid it even if they do wait, but most will not.

Everyone should have been exploring their sexuality as teenagers, young adults, and ideally exposed to sex-positive environments as children.  If children grow up knowing that sex is a healthy thing, they will be able to find what they are into easier as they grow up.  And if they get a chance to be sexual as they grow up, of course progressing on their own terms and as they grow comfortable, then they will be able to know that a person is sexually compatible with them.

I mean, how awful would it be to make a commitment to someone who you are not sexually compatible with?  Granted, they don’t have to be monogamous with them (although those that save themselves are more likely to attempt monogamy, I’d bet…at least in the short-term), but to be married to someone who you can’t be your sexual-self with?  How many people are trapped in loveless and/or sexless (or, with unsatisfiable sex) marriages.  And of course they can just get a divorce, right?

Because people with conservative sexual ideas tend to be OK with that too….

No, do not save yourself for marriage.  Marry someone (if you marry at all) who fits your sexuality.  If you want orgies every weekend, marry someone who is into that.  If you want plain old missionary position for 50 years, then by all means at least test out the product before you buy it.  Hell, even vanilla sex can be better or worse with the right or wrong person.

You don’t have to be a slut.  But find a way to explore your sexuality, and to teach your children to explore their sexuality, in healthy ways.  Don’t let them repress their sexuality in the name of some absurd sacredness to sex that is somehow ruined by having it.  For Dionysus’ sake, have some sex, and enjoy it!

28 thoughts on “Saving yourself for marriage?

  1. It seems to me that you don’t actually think that waiting until marriage to have sex is harmful, but rather than being sexually repressed is harmful. These aren’t the same thing.

    You are right that the former is often an expression of the latter, but it doesn’t have to be.

    I posted a bit in the Friendly Atheist comments about my own experiences as someone who is very sex-positive, very open about sex, perfectly comfortable talking about it, etc but who decided to wait until I had reached a commitment level with someone before becoming sexually active. I had been sexually active with myself for years, as had he, and we both entered the relationship knowing exactly what we liked and what we wanted, and being willing to communicate that.

    I realize that I am just one person, but sometimes a single anecdote is enough. In this case, when you are equating waiting for marriage with being sexually repressed, my existence is enough to show that this is a false equivalency.

    There are many reasons to wait. Personally, I was concerned about letting physical passion distract us from getting to know each other as individuals. I wanted to develop a very firm base of friendship and companionship before we introduced anything else. I’m very glad that we did this because many couples I had as role-models would often ignore serious issues in their relationship by simply having “make-up sex” after every disagreement. My husband and I, on the other hand, were forced to learn how to solve our issues through cooperation and compromise because we had no alternative. As a result, we’ve never had angry sex or make-up sex.

    I definitely agree with you that being sexually repressed is a truly awful thing. For most people, sex is a very important part of overall happiness and life satisfaction, and to be in a relationship where you aren’t getting what you want/need, and aren’t communicating your problem to the person who can solve it, is pretty awful.

  2. Did I not say there are exceptions?

    Many people are not as sexual as I am. My issue is with people who are sexual, but repress it. You saw that correctly. I do realize that some people are not as sexual as I am. For them, waiting is not an issue in the same way.

    For me, physical passion distracts whether I’m havinf sex or not. I just am honest with this fact and act on it because if I don’t, then it is distracting in a way that makes being rational difficult. For me, once the sexual desire is not as present (because I just had some sex), then I can deal with other issues.

  3. Grimalkin,

    I’m glad to hear your story, and it sounds to me like you are a rare exception. If I knew someone like you — sex-positive, open to talking and thinking about sex, and actively exploring their own sexuality privately — who voiced their decision to wait until marriage to have sex, I wouldn’t argue with them. But the overwhelming majority of people I know who make that decision are doing it for the wrong reasons and in ways that are damaging to their sexuality.

    I guess one distinction would be, “How strict are you going to be about ‘waiting’?” Is it a hard-and-fast rule that you will hold yourself to or feel like you’ve failed? Or is it a general intention, based on your current assessment of your needs and desires? And how does that fit with the intentions of an unknown partner? What if you fall in love with someone who doesn’t want to wait… is it automatically assumed that the other person will have to yield to your plans? Is that fair?

    I think it’s a bad idea in general to make firm, unilateral decisions about what you will and won’t do, especially about something as important and multi-faceted as sexuality. If people went around saying, “Right now, I think I’d like to wait until I’m deeply committed to someone before having sex,” I’d have much less of a problem with it (although I’d still advise against it in many cases.) But the decision to Wait Until Marriage is usually proclaimed in this definite, set-in-stone way, and I just think that’s unwise.

  4. @Ginny – Thanks! I would argue that most people, at least in our social context, have a fairly damaging relationship with their sexuality – whether it means that they feel like they have to have sex even when they aren’t ready, or that they refuse to have sex even when they really are ready.

    To be clear, my rule wasn’t to wait until marriage because I really don’t see anything magical about a piece of paper and some jewelry. For me, I wanted to wait until I had a commitment, until I was sure that my relationship was really going somewhere, and we had developed a comfortable level of trust. In other words, my rule was “when I’m ready and you’re ready” rather than “when we can afford to put on a party.” In other words, it’s your latter option – a general intention based on current assessment of needs and desires.

    Your question about yielding when one person is ready and the other is not is a very good one. In this case, I would go with the lack of action being preferrable to action. Sex is a very intimate and vulnerable act – you’re naked, you’re completely exposed, you make weird faces, and (if you’re female) your first time, especially if you are very nervous or emotionally unprepared, is probably going to be quite physically painful as well. You really do need to be ready. And as far as emotional damage goes, I would think that feeling like you were coerced into sex before you were ready is more likely to have a lasting impact than feeling like you had to wait longer than you wanted to.

    And no, that’s not fair to the one who is ready to be sexually active. If it’s important for that person that they start having sex, it’s a shame, but it’s probably for the best that the two part ways. That’s certainly a better option than either coercing one partner into having sex before their ready, or causing any kind of harm to yourself because you need sex and are ready to have it but your partner is not in the same place of the relationship as you are.

    I agree entirely about making firm decisions. In my own life, I far prefer to say “this is what’s best for me – now. I’ll review when the option comes up again.” I would say that applies as equally to the decision to wait until marriage as it does to the decision to have sex earlier in a relationship.

  5. I have had a lot of sex in my life. Some has been with people in committed and emotionally close relationships. Some of it has been with people I didn’t know very well at all. I disagree that sex has to be an act of deep meaning and emotional consequence, because sometimes she (or he) is just fucking hot and you want to have a good sexy time.

    And being naked with wierd faces can just be fun; funny even. That’s because sex is fun, and we should enjoy it like we do anything else; with the right people and with appreciation of how silly, beautiful, ecstatic, or exposing it can be.

    Sex is just sex. In my experience, some of the best sex I’ve had has been in situations where all there is is a sexual attraction. That is, with people with whom no serious emotional attachment exists. Is this somehow ugly, less pure, or even wrong?

    If so, I would argue that this implulse is the same (or similar) impulse which makes people want to wait until marriage, and I think it is unhealthy more often than not.

    I genuinely feel a little saddened by the view of sex you seem to have. It seems so barren, but I guess if it works for you…

    Except unless you have other experiences, what do you have to compare it to?

  6. @Shaunphilly – Being naked with weird faces can definitely be fun (a lot of fun), but it isn’t if you aren’t ready for it. I also never said that sex has to be an act of deep meaning with emotional consequences – I said that there are emotional consequences to having sex before you are ready. These are two very different things.

    I don’t know why you’re accusing me of saying that purely physical sex is wrong. I’ve never said any such thing, and I certainly don’t believe that. It’s wrong FOR ME. If it’s right for you, go for it. But regardless of which kind of sex ends up being your delice, it’s never a good idea to have it before you are ready.

    As for calling my sex life barren, I haven’t judged you so why are you judging me? I know what I like, so I pursue that. I respect your right to do the same. How intolerant of you to say that my “kink” is something one should feel “saddened” by!

    This is the same attitude I’m encountering on the Friendly Atheist blog. We have a bunch of people who are into casual sex or kink telling me that NOT being into these things makes me “holier-than-thou” or judgemental. Can’t we all just live and let live? Can’t we just let people do whatever is right FOR THEM without trying to shoe-horn them into whatever we’ve arbitrarily decided is the “right way” to have sex?

  7. Here is the thing…

    I am really tired of this idea that “this works for me” as an excuse. You have every right to do what you want sexually. But why would you limit yourself?

    Why do I judge? Well, I have seen both sides of this. I don’t know if you have, but your comments imply you have not yet you seem to deem yourself able to make the decision that your way works for you. And if you have not experienced the other side, what authority should you give your own opinion?

    And a person may never be ready, but that doesn’t mean they don’t challenge themselves. Do you think I was always ready for what I have done? Almost never. Does that mean I don’t? That’s silly.

    Finally, the idea that we should just live and let live… It’s silly. My value is to challenge people’s views when I see fit to do so. How dare you criticize what works for me!

  8. In other words, you have no right to say that you don’t want to stab yourself in the leg until you’ve actually done it, because it’s impossible to know whether or not a thing will appeal to you or not until you’ve tried it.

    Knowing yourself? Knowing the kind of person you are? Knowing what turns you on and what doesn’t? None of that matters. You have to actually do it before you can make any determination as to whether you’ll like it or not.

    What utter bullshit.

    I’m glad that you feel totally fine doing things you aren’t ready for. Unfortunately for most people, feeling like they’ve been pressured into having sex before they were comfortable, especially because of the ideal that promiscuity is the ONLY option for a good sex life, can make them very unhappy.

    Your inability to let other people do what makes them happy is what saddens me. Your judgementalism, your idea that I can’t possibly be happy if I don’t live my life YOUR way and have sex YOUR way, is pathetic. Get over yourself.

  9. Hey, if you really think that the comparison of casual sex to stabbing oneself in the leg is apt, then ok…

    I didn’t say I was ever pressured, just that before I had the experience of doing certain things, I was not ready to do them well.

    Now, if you can honestly tell me that you have never wanted to act on sexual desires with someone you just met, then i have no problem. Maybe you are not comfortable doing so. In that case you may be missing out.

    No need to compare it to something obviously damaging. If sex seems so damaging to you in such a context, that just might be an indicator of something wrong.

    If you genuinely just are not interested in that in any way, then you are indeed an exception. I’ve just known too many people who say they are not interested when it’s so obvious to everyone else that they are physically interested while psychologically not.

    Again, if that’s not you, then whatever.

  10. Pathetic.

    I don’t like the same sex you like, therefore I must be damaged, repressed, etc. Nice.

    And if you bothered to actually read my comments rather than responding to the archetype you’ve constructed of The-Person-Who-Is-Turned-On Differently-Than-You, you might have picked up on the explicit statement that I waited until I was ready. So no, I’ve never had a bad experience with sex, and I’ve certainly never had a damaging experience with sex.

    What I have experienced is counselling friends who had sex before they were ready, because people like you were telling them that they were abnormal or “wrong” to not do it. I can only describe what they went through as damaging. People telling them that they were freaks for feeling that way, as you clearly would do, did NOT help at all.

    And no, I’m neither physically nor psychologically interested in sleeping around. But your idea that someone should have sex if they are physically interested but not psychologically so is just… absurd. I may physically want to eat a bag of chips – that doesn’t make doing so a good or healthy idea. If someone is not interested – regardless of whether it’s physical or psychological – they aren’t interested. That’s it.

    I would also like to point out that people who have casual sex or participate in kink have long been considered “abnormal” or morally depraved. The fact that you would then turn around and judge those who enjoy sex differently from you is just pathetic.

  11. If someone is physically desirous of having sex but psychologically resistant, what they ought to do is figure out why. Where does the resistance come from? What are they afraid of, and are those fears something they should heed or something they should try to overcome? It’s not fair to compare it to eating a bag of chips, as sex (safely) is physically a healthy act.

    I think most of the rest of the conflict here comes from the fact that Shaun tends to talk about how people should act if the world were ideal. If we lived in a sexually healthy society, having sex would not be the tremendous vulnerability it seems to be for a lot of people. Think about it like dancing: if you go out dancing and you have a partner who’s inconsiderate, rude, steps on your toes a lot or whatever, you’ll be annoyed, but it won’t be shaming and damaging for you. You won’t want to dance with that person again, you may wish you never had, but you’ll dust off the incident and move on. In a perfect world, sex would be more like that. For a lot of people, it is now, but it usually takes a number of years, different experiences, and a fair bit of maturity to get there.

    Sex and shame are just so closely tied together in our society… having sex and not having sex, in different contexts, are equally shame-loaded. So yes, it’s very true that a lot of people have sex because they feel like they’re supposed to, and not because they want to. And that’s just as bad as people not having sex because they feel like they’re not supposed to. And people like Shaun, who are eager to move us all into the sexually liberated future, do need to remember that.

    But people who feel the desire to have sex, or a particular kind of sex, or sex with a particular person, and are holding back for emotional or psychological reasons, will be healthiest and happiest if they work through whatever’s blocking them, rather than hiding behind their discomfort.

  12. @Ginny – If someone is physically desirous of sex but not psychologically, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Just to give you an example, you could probably get a guy erected by rubbing his genitals (physical desire), that doesn’t mean he wants to have sex with you (psychological desire). All it means is that he’s having a physical response to stimulus.

    There’s a lot more to us than just our bodies. This is one of the most common problems I’ve heard of from men, mostly because their physical desire is so visible – the assumption that they must want sex just because their body is responding a certain way.

    As you say, the frustrating thing about this discussion with Shaun is that he is just as guilty of sex-shaming as the repressive religious folk he’s complaining about – he’s just doing it from his sexual perspective rather than theirs.

  13. When I say “physically desirous” I mean more than simple arousal in the moment. Obviously both men and women show signs of physical arousal at times, and with people, where they have no desire to have sex. But if someone is regularly turned on by thoughts of a particular sex act or a particular person, or if they’re suppressing their desires to have sex because of some psychological discomfort, then I think those things should be explored and the psychological barriers broken down.

    Shaun is not part of the sex-shaming culture I was talking about. I’m talking about people who view any particular kind of sex — having it, not having it, having it with one person at a time, having it before or after a certain age — as normative, and people whose desires deviate from the norm as having something wrong with them. Shaun’s issue (forgive me for speaking for you, Shaun) is not with what people desire, but with people not acting on their desires out of fear… and rightly or wrongly, he sees or suspects this often. But I’ve never seen him attack or degrade someone’s sexuality… just their psychology.

  14. No offence, Ginny, but have you seen what he’s been writing to me? I don’t get my kicks in the same way he does, therefore there’s something wrong with me, I’m repressed, and he’s “saddened” by how “barren” my sex life must be. If this isn’t trying to shame me for pursuing the kind of sex that I enjoy for the simple reason that it isn’t the kind of sex that he thinks I should be enjoying, I don’t know what is.

  15. I’m sorry, but I am not being obtuse. I don’t know what you mean. Everything about us is physical. I bring it up because the underlying ontological issues have philosophical and psychological ramifications that pertain to how we think about sexuality.

  16. I said that just because a guy gets an erection doesn’t mean he is interested in having sex with you. My exact words were “you could probably get a guy erected by rubbing his genitals (physical desire), that doesn’t mean he wants to have sex with you (psychological desire).”

    So yes, our psychology is, at base, physical. But the processes that cause an increase of bloodflow to the genitals are not the same as the processes that make one interested in acting on it. Our minds are far more complex than our genitals, and the stimuli we respond do are also far more complex.

    I honestly don’t know how comment #10 could possibly have been any clearer.

  17. I simply wondering if you are really realizing the sexual potential you have or if you are rationalizing some unseen fear or insecurity that may be holding you back.

    And by all means if you are mature sexually, then I’m being a dick. I’m comfortable with that. I prefer to err on the side of repression because the reaction you get from someone righteously indignant and who is defensive are pretty much the same.

    So if I end up being wrong, then I’m just a dick. If I’m right, you may realize that or continue to be under the thumb of a psychological crutch. What so I have to lose? I have to gain a world with one less released person.

    I have grown comfortable with being viewed as an ass. But it comes from a desire to help, because I care.

  18. Sorry, but telling me that my sex life makes you “sad” because it’s so obviously “barren” is not a statement that comes from a desire to help. That’s a statement of judgement.

    You have done nothing but judge my sexual preferences, simply because you do not share them.

    There is absolutely no difference between you and the Christian who just wants to “help” by informing all the people who enjoy casual sex or non-missionary sex that they are sinners who would be far happier if they shoe-horned their sexuality into the Christian’s idea of what sex should be.

  19. Ok.

    The difference is that I reject the cultural notion, largely derived from Christianity, that we should not judge each other.

    Judgment is, in my opinion, done out of respect. If you font agree with me, you have the right to that judgment.

  20. Grimalkin,

    You’re missing a fine distinction there. He’s not criticizing your sexual preferences… he’s questioning your claim that they are what you think they are. He’s not saying your desires are wrong, he’s wondering if you’ve rationalized away other desires out of fear. You may find that equally disrespectful — it would certainly piss me off — but saying “I’m not convinced that you want what you say you want” (what Shaun is doing, quite bluntly I’ll grant you) is different from saying “you shouldn’t want what you want” (what people who judge other people’s sexualities do.)

    And with that, I’m done. I’ve watched too many of these conversations go down, and usually at this point tempers are running too high for any useful understanding to be reached.

  21. To clarify, it’s more “You can’t possibly want that, so here, I’ll tell you what you actually want.”

    It’s incredibly demeaning and, quite frankly, I’ve heard the exact same lines from far too many Christians to have much patience for it. It’s exchanging one dogmatism for another.

    In either case, agreed on your last part. There isn’t much point carrying on a conversation with someone like that.

    Nice to meet you, though 😉

  22. yes, that is precisely what I was saying. The thing about defensiveness is that it does not allow you to hear what is really being said. I am not telling you what you want, because I have no idea what you actually want. I’m just skeptical that a person who actually wants sex only wants it under those conservative circumstances.

    That said, there is little discussion to be had right now. Pretty much anything I could say now would come accross as an attack, even if it is genuine. I’ve been judged and found to be dogmatic and judgmental, just like the supposed Christian counter-part.

    Except the fact that an issue has two (or more) sides does not necessarily make any of the sides extreme or dogmatic, nor does it make a moderate position the rational one.

  23. “Saving Yourself for Marriage” is a very honest and insightful piece, which I hope will be read by millions. But it strikes, not merely close to home, but right in my heart. My partner and I are still dealing with the sexual wreckage that I have caused in our life together, due to my religious baggage. We have made some little progress. We love each other a great deal, and we will continue to work through all this. But this is something that I should have resolved some 45 years ago; not in my 60’s. Fortunately for me, there is probably no hell after we die!

  24. @Ginny- agreed wholeheartedly w/ comment #9.

    I used to be of the “wait until marriage” school, but one day I realized that if I didn’t just go for it w/ someone that mattered very much to me, I was going to explode from frustration. That being said, while my sex life w/ my former partner was enjoyable, it wasn’t always 100% fulfilling. I wasn’t always able to ask for what I wanted, and if I did ask, I didn’t always get what I wanted. Had I married said partner, that could’ve made for some unhappy conversations.

    Having said that, for the people who absolutely want to wait, I don’t see a problem with it. I feel that our bodies are ours to do as we please, and if someone doesn’t want to, then why should they have to?
    BUT, having said THAT, I feel that they should wait for the right reasons, and by that I mean that they should wait only if, in their hearts, they feel that that’s not what’s best for them. I’ve never agreed w/ the religious standpoint of waiting. Shame is a terrible thing when it comes to sex. It’s a natural act, tho maybe not natural for everyone at the same point(s) in life.

    @Shaun- Re: to “what is there to use besides bodies?” I usually like a big helping of personality to go w/ a side of sexy booty 😉

  25. Ah yes, but that personality is part of our bodies. Our brain is physical, all of its activities are physical, and so in a strange sense so are it’s outputs; like our personality.

    That said, when are you coming to visit?


  26. With any luck, I’ll be MOVING to GA next year! I’ve finally managed to convince the parentals that TX has major opportunity. Now if I can just convince them that the opposite direction is just as good.

    As of right now, tho, my only guaranteed romp back into town will be September =/

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