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Is virginity worth saving for marriage? Or might doing so increase the likelihood of a bad match if two people discover that they're sexually incompatible?
Those are the questions asked by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez in her salon.com article "My Virginity Mistake." In it, she describes how she was encouraged as a teen at a Baptist youth camp to preserve her virginity until marriage. By her own admission, she wasn't sure she bought the message. But her infatuation for the accompanying purity ring, combined with fears about sex, helped her keep her pledge until she married at age 20. She writes:
"I didn’t buy into a word of it. Jesus as my husband: Were they kidding? But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts — everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. … After an intense and very detailed sex talk with my mother , where she stuttered and I blushed and we both used the word 'flower,' I was terrified of sex. That and the slide show in sex ed didn’t help one bit. So I scribbled Jesus + Jess on my Bible cover, and I casually mentioned my virginity in daily conversations. I committed to the idea hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead, it led to my divorce."
Almost immediately after tying the knot, Henriquez realized that she was disinterested in sex with her new husband — in part because of the way he objectified her during the act. She then makes a big logical leap, suggesting that if only they'd slept together before they got married, she'd have known he wasn't the one.
"Had we had sex before our relationship transitioned into a contract, I would have known that there was no passion, no spark, nothing happening between our bodies. I would never have agreed to marry him because sex is a significant part of a relationship and therefore a significant part of our relationship was failing."
It's hard to know where, exactly, to begin with the argument Henriquez is making here. But I think there are several fundamentally flawed presuppositions at work.
First is the presupposition — and it's a huge one — that your premarital sexual "test drive" will correlate directly with your experience in marriage. The assumption here is that if you have good sex before marriage, you'll experience similarly smoldering post-altar passion. Next comes the idea that a marriage in which sex is less than volcanic is somehow not worth preserving. Finally, there's the overlapping implication that the only way to solve a sexual problem in marriage is to get a divorce and try again with someone you've got better "chemistry" with.
I'm going to focus on the first argument, the idea that pre-marital sexual experience is an accurate predictor of what to expect once the rings are on.
Henriquez assumes that an unsatisfying sexual experience early on means that a couple is doomed to what we sometimes hear described in these sorts of articles as "sexual incompatibility." If sex is "bad" or disappointing at first, as it was for her, she suggests throwing in the towel because this area is just too important to experience dissatisfaction in. In this, Henriquez didn't exhibit much, if any, willingness to work on this area with her new husband, to grow, to communicate and to possibly have moved to a better place.
On the other hand, for some couples the newness and passion of sex early on makes those first moments of discovery almost intoxicating, a feeling that they assume will last forever. But when those initial flames begin to cool a bit, they can assume that they've lost something, that something's gone wrong, that they're no longer as "sexually compatible" as they once were.
Either way, it's critical to remember that a couple's early sexual experiences together aren't necessarily an accurate indicator of where things will be a year or 10 or 20 down the road. That's because it's simply impossible to know ahead of time how various factors and experiences that come into play in a marriage will affect your sex life. Many couples, perhaps most, have to navigate new realities after having children, for instance. From kids in beds, to demanding schedules to changes in bodies, the sexual experience after marriage often changes, too.
In addition, the passage of time influences both men's and women's sexual appetites — sometimes in different directions. At times, you might be wildly in synch with each other sexually. Other times, not so much. When the latter situation occurs, good, honest conversation is the key to moving forward into deeper intimacy. But that requires time, tenderness and security to cultivate an environment in which both partners feel safe to talk about where they may be struggling. That kind of vulnerability simply isn't cultivated overnight.
I write this from the perspective of someone who's been married almost a decade and who has three children, as one who has walked through the ups and downs and in betweens on this subject with my wife. Sometimes I'm still surprised how complex this issue can be and how much we're still learning about each other — and about really loving each other well — almost a decade in. But I can honestly say that my understanding of marital intimacy in its totality continues to grow. And we've had many older couples tell us that they didn't experience their deepest and most satisfying sexual intimacy until 20 years or more into marriage.
The promise of marital oneness, then, is not one of ongoing nuclear chemistry that starts out hot and then just gets even hotter. Rather, it's knowing that there's a safe place to love and experience one another throughout our lives together, throughout the peaks and valleys that virtually every couple eventually walks through.
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I think that virginity is a very special gift to give your spouse. But it won't secure a happy marriage. I think that Jess probably bought into thinking that virgins that marry will be perfectly satisfied with each other and always be happy. Not true. Like what I said before, virginity is a gift, not a ticket to ride on the train of marital bliss 'til kingdom come. I wear a purity ring. But it was my choice. I wasn't pressured into it or strongly advised to wear one, but I chose to wear it. And I chose one that is discreet. It could be any regular ring. It doesn't have an inscription or anything so people aren't going to look at my hand and say "OOOOOHHH! She's chose to stay pure.....!!!!" It's a commitment to God and my future spouse.
The problem with the woman in the article wasn't that she waited for marriage to have sex. The problem is that she married someone she didn't really know and that she wasn't willing to work on her sex life. It wasn't immediately great (which is quite common, actually), so she assumed it would never be great and checked out. She gave up before they even got started and then wonders why it didn't work out. If you want to be good at sex (like being good at anything), you have to work at it. And with sex it takes two working at it together.
Part of the problem was with her church and the expectations they placed in her (anyone else think it's totally weird to speak of teens marrying Jesus?). She thought it was a deal where she waited like God said and then He would bless her with amazing sex right off the bat in marriage. It just doesn't work that way. It would be good if churches and parents would tell young people that sex takes work and isn't something you'll be immediately good at. They should see wedding-night sex as just the first (often awkward) encounter in a lifetime of working together to make it good. And the goal isn't necessarily to be good at sex, anyway. Having a satisfying sex life is less about technique and more about learning to serve each other and to work as a team. Sex unifies a couple in ways that other activities cannot. But a great sex life is an outgrowth of a great marriage. You have to have good communication and trust in order to work on your sex life. When you try to make sex all about the physical sensations alone, and not about the relationship, you miss out on so much of what it was meant to be.
Another part of the problem was that she apparently didn't date properly and thus married a man she really didn't know or love like she should have. My guess is that they only did surfacey things together like watching movies, talking pop culture, going to events together, and whatnot. That doesn't really tell you about the person or whether your goals for life are compatible. You can date someone intentionally for just a few months and know them well or you can date for years and never really know them. It all depends on how you go about it. Dating for a certain length of time does not guarantee that you know someone well enough to get married. This problem of not knowing each other enough would not have been helped by having sex before marriage. More often than not, having sex gives a premature sense of intimacy that causes people to ignore red flags in their relationship (rather than revealing them). It makes them feel closer and more compatible than they really are. My guess is that their intimate kissing sessions did precisely that, even though they didn't have intercourse. She thought she loved him because she loved kissing him. But the two are totally different things. After marriage, she found out that loving the idea of being with someone and actually loving that person sacrificially are different.
However, the biggest problem was that they weren't willing (or at least she wasn't willing) to work on marital problems together and to stick it out when things weren't perfect. She thought marriage was supposed to immediately fulfill all her passions and desires. She thought it was about what she was going to get out of it. She wasn't prepared to love sacrificially. So when the marriage didn't meet her expectations, she gave up and went looking for something else to satisfy her. What a tragic tale.
After reading the article I have come to the conclusion, at least inferred by her words and writing style, is that this entire tragedy was everyone else's fault but hers. It was the pastor's fault she bought into the purity ring and promise of mind blowing sex after marriage. Her parent's fault for spending a fortune on the wedding and pressuring her to get married and not back out. The husband for just about everything else. Never once did I get the sense that SHE was at least partly to blame for the situation. Before marriage they could've had some frank talk about sexual expectations. She could've talked to him after marriage expressing her dissatisfaction rather than fake it so often or asked they both attend therapy (maybe she did but her lack of mentioning it does raise eyebrows).
It might have been more forgivable if after the divorce (I wonder who filed for it; she fails to mention that too) she simply met another man to marry. No, instead she engaged in low-commitment flings. I'm not sure if she will marry again, but in some ways, I hope not. Once she discovers something else about her husband she doesn't like, I'm fairly certain she will focus on the discontent and serially move on like some people do.
I agree with everything that Adam wrote. But I would add I think it is a big problem in Christian youth culture to on one hand in regards to sex say "No, no, no." and on the other uphold the myth that wedding night/newlywed sex is going to be amazing if you save yourself for your spouse. For many of us (particularly women), it's not. And it can be hard to go from sex being a huge sin if you do, to a sin if you don't.
I feel for the girl that wrote this piece, because I was once there too. It really took prayer and time to get to a good place and there have been bumps (few people tell you that a baby is terrible for your sex life, ironically enough!), but part of marriage is commitment and that means (hopefully) working things out together.
Absolutely not. In my opinion if we adhered to this more in today's world the divorce rate would be significantly lower.
I'm always disheartened that the first response to articles like this is that "good sex takes work" or "don't expect honeymoon sex to be fantastic". Of course everyone's experience is different. But sometimes, sex really IS fireworks the first time. And sometimes, the sexual side of a relationship comes easily, comfortably and naturally. Unfortunately this woman didn't want to work on her marriage but I don't think it's wrong to have expectations of having "sexual chemistry" with your spouse.
There are several problems with the virginity until marriage movement in America that are exposed in this article. Firstly, no one is really sexually sinless. Even if you don’t do anything, your sexual thoughts and intentions are almost always sinful, and that is just as offensive to God. As Christians we are righteous because of what Christ has done for us and not because of anything we have done (or not done). So instead of focusing on being "pure" let's focus on being humble and repentant of even the "small” sexual sins we commit.
Secondly, sexuality and marriage has been divorced from love. If her husband really loved her he wouldn't be so focus on selfishly serving himself. If her parents really loved her they would realize that a wedding is a sacred covenant before God and not an expensive worldly party. The reason I didn't have sex before marriage is because I wanted my wife to know I respected her and that I didn't want to risk a pregnancy before I was ready to provide for a baby.
Virginity is still common in some cultures, but elevating culture instead of Biblical teaching brings its own problem. Yes you may have virginity until marriage but cultural sins crop up elsewhere.
I've found the best way to prevent young people having sex outside of marriage is to provide them with good fathers. And how do we know what a good father is unless we read about God the Father in the Bible?
Finally, no woman or man will ever really fulfill you sexually (or in any other way). Give your sexual desires to God - He gave them to you so offer them back to Him. Allow Him to satisfy in His way regardless of whether or not you will ever get married.
After reading that article, I feel so sorry for the author. Did she learn NOTHING through her experience? She is blaming her virginity, not herself. Her relationship with her then-husband sounds so unhealthy and they are equally to blame.
I also can't understand how they could go from passionate kisses, pre-marriage, to none afer-marriage. I would think that kissing and further intimacy are inexorably linked.
She would have a more valid point if, by her own admission, she'd married him because she thought she was "supposed to" and had never even held hands before marriage. But reading that article, so MANY red flags were obvious and her virginity was not one of them.
You SHOULD be (very) attracted to your future-spouse; if you're not, then why on earth are you contemplating marrying them?! I have only seriously dated men that I am definitely attracted to, and this is where setting boundaries and prayer comes into play to remain a virgin. It's not easy, to maintain purity in a relationship, but then again, to me that's a sign that if we marry, we should never have that terrible moment where one of us just totally shuts down at the idea of sex.
Quotes from the article:
"The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t. But it dawned on me how much we hadn’t learned yet about one another. We had known each other for three years by this point, but there was so much unexplored territory."
"My mother had mentioned no less than 400 times, this wedding was costing them a fortune; I was getting married, there was no way out."
"“I’ll give you a five-minute head start if you want to run,” my dad said with a half-smile as we walked up the aisle. I held onto his arm tighter, afraid my legs might just take him up on that offer."
"Our bodies wanted different things from one another, so what we ended up with was a horizontal battle."
"We would fight, and then have bad sex and then fight some more. Every flaw in our marriage and in him seemed much more miserable when combined with the possibility of faking orgasms until death did we part."
"Six months into our marriage, the idea of separating seemed more appealing than feigning headaches for the rest of my life."
"Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have."
So let me get this straight, she knew on her wedding day that she didn't want to marry this man because she didn't know him well enough (or more likely did know him well enough to know that he was wrong for her -- so wrong that it literally made her sick). But then she went ahead with the wedding anyway out of guilt over how much her parents had spent. Then they fought a lot with each other, even in bed. Then after just six months she threw in the towel. Then he met someone who was a better match for him than her.
Sounds to me like this is more likely a case of the bad sex being caused by a bad marriage than a marriage turning bad due to terrible sex. If she truly thinks sexual compatibility was their main issue, then her statement that he found a better match after her divorce is absurd. I seriously doubt she talks with her ex about his new sex life to know wife #2 is a better match in bed. I suspect this couple could have had all the sex in the world before tying the knot and the same marital problems would have surfaced because they had other compatibility and communication problems much more serious than the sexual one.
I too think the sex was only the manifestation of the deeper problems they had in their relationship. She said she felt used by her husband, which suggests he was a self-centered guy who didn't truly care for her. She said she was scared to death to marry him because of so many unknowns--every newlywed faces unknowns but she had no trust in him that he would do his best to take care of her or that they could work things out. It sounds like they both married for what they expected to get out of each other instead of for what they had to give. In the article as other have said she makes the disaster everyone's fault and herself the victim.
Also she talks about Jesus and God but I wonder if she really believes God...would a true Christian dissolve her marriage in order to "find herself" sexually and go on flings? She has a very worldly view of things, of self-actualization and consumerism, that as an impressionable young person by her church-y culture was dressed up as "if I do A, I'll get B from God". It sounds like she thinks of "saving it for marriage" as something the church invented instead of a command from the Lord.
The scary thing is I can notice that attitude in myself...it's important to be able to see worldly thinking invading my own thoughts. Not having sex before marriage seems like a stupid thing to do, but the Gospel is "foolishness to those who are perishing"
Honestly, the biggest issue I gathered from this article is this is what happens when a nonChristian adheres to Christian norms - a sense of pointlessness. We don't have pre-marital sex because God commands us not to and if we love Him, we obey Him. Doing "Christian" things without loving God will cause nothing but despair and emptiness because to be without God is emptiness and despair.
But I do agree that marital intimacy needs to have patience and understanding because it doesn't always go smoothly :) but if both partners will be patient and unselfish, I find it hard to believe most couples cannot have good sex.
I think this article/example is so obvious in it's phoniness it doesn't really register for most who strive to follow Christ. The far more interesting aspect is the failure the "purity" teaching had on this gal. Keith explained this perfectly in his post, and I couldn't agree more. It's simply theologically incorrect, and because of that it doesn't register with people... doesn't matter what marketing or spin it has - nothing can make up for false teaching.
The failures of the people featured in the article are due to everything except sex imo. I wish the blogger had been more honest about this. Really it comes down to their inability to have a healthy relationship, not to mention one centered around Christ.
Is saving virginity until marriage a mistake? Absolutely not! Two naive virgins who love each other, communicate well, and aren't afraid to laugh when things get awkward can have a wonderful wedding night and honeymoon. Believe me, I know first hand! I really appreciated the 'Sex Series' boundless did not long ago. So much great content. As others have pointed out, rarely do bad marriages have good sex. Except for her virginity everything about this article should be a warning about what not to do.
James and Keith are on the money, here. The more we make obvious posts about how right we are about everything the less we actually accomplish toward helping young students and singles actually figure out how to get from intentional celibacy as a good idea to actual celibacy as an intentional life decision. Let's be honest, of course it is biblically sound to advocate virginity until marriage -- however, if that is the most lauded and most sought after quality you are looking for in a spouse, it is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth. I've said it before, virginity isn't everything, there is also character. And there are a lot of virgins that lack character. Just read the article again if you doubt that.
I just reread my earlier comment and realized that while I was trying to keep my comment brief and not repeat what others have said, I inadvertently made it sound like if you did things 'right' that 'good' honeymoon sex was guaranteed. Boy, was that not what I meant to imply! I was simply wanting to offset some of the 'expect a long adjustment period if you are virgin' comments because that wasn't my experience. Hope that clarifies.
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