Hooking Up vs. Holding Out:
Helping Singles Find a Healthy Sexual Balance
(Part 3 of 7)
Although I believe wholeheartedly in the inerrancy of scripture, I must say that I’m often tempted to interject a parenthetical phrase into Hosea 4:6. Its meaning would be clearer if we were to expound slightly and say that “it’s a lack of [the right kind of] knowledge that causes people to perish.” I’ll explain by shifting our focus to the opposite extreme from the last blog post – examining the other end of our “pendulum swing” analogy…
When the Pendulum Swings to the Right
Terra was raised in a home and attended church where sex was talked about – often. Scriptures about sexual immorality were quoted and memorized. Statistics regarding sexually transmitted diseases and pre-marital pregnancy rates made frequent fodder for dinner table discussions. Any sexual insinuation or innuendo on television resulted in the remote control power button getting pressed in record time. Purity rings were purchased for every child’s thirteenth birthday. Terra wore hers proudly for nine years, until she married at the age of 22. As she shopped for wedding gowns for her special day, nothing but bright white dresses would do to symbolize her pristine purity. It seemed the recipe for the perfect marriage – two virgins walking the aisle, dragging absolutely no sexual baggage behind them whatsoever.
Although the wedding day was a stunning success, the wedding night was deemed a disaster. Terra confessed, “Before I came out of the hotel bathroom, I was crying over the thought of relegating my role as a virgin. It had become such a source of my identity, I wasn’t sure who I would be if I was no longer a virgin.”
Terra’s husband, Trent, was patient. No pressure. They had the rest of their lives, right? He finally got to make love to his wife on the fourth night of their honeymoon, but Terra found it painful and “slightly disgusting” in her opinion. In the coming months, she tried to open herself up to the possibility that married sex was a blessing, but admitted that it felt more like a burden, stealing the wind completely from Trent’s sexual sails. After less than two years of marriage, Trent decided to jump ship. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to twist my wife’s arm to let me have sex with her!” he insisted.
Perhaps you think Terra’s situation is an extreme case. Think again. I’m hearing this sentiment several times each month from life coaching clients or through emails such as Lori’s, who says:
I’ve been married for nine L-O-N-G months. Growing up, sexual abstinence was preached at me constantly. Not only was I taught that sex before marriage was bad, but I was never taught that sex within marriage was good. So I have pretty much always thought of sex as a terrible thing that should never be done, least of all enjoyed, and that the only reason you should ever need to have sex is to get pregnant. So, as you can probably gather, I hate sex! I’ve never enjoyed it, and never want to have it. Perhaps it’s something subconscious because I can’t seem to get rid of all of these negative thoughts about sex implanted in the back of my mind. I don’t know what to do. It’s destroying my marriage. I have tried to enjoy sex for his sake, but the whole time I can’t wait for it to be over so I can be left alone. I don’t even enjoy kissing or cuddling with my husband anymore, because I always think he’ll try to push me to go further, and I don’t want to. I don’t even like sleeping in the same bed with him for fear that he’ll try to initiate sex. I’m at the end of my rope. I feel like I don’t even want to be married. I want to be alone. I want to have my space, where no one expects or wants sex from me, and where I can sleep by myself.
Yet another couple divorced after only seven months of marriage for this very reason. She simply could not relax and enjoy something that she’d been told over and over was so “dirty… wrong… despicable” and he wasn’t willing to spend a lifetime just holding her hand. So sad!
Perhaps you think this dynamic is unique to women. Think again. Megan explained, “I always thought men wanted sex any time they could get it, but NOT my husband! Brad says he’s not that interested, and sees no point in wasting our time when we could be doing other, more productive things. How is this supposed to make me feel? And what am I supposed to do with my sexual needs? Just because he’s not interested doesn’t mean I can turn myself completely off!”
As an abstinence educator and author of such books as Every Young Woman’s Battle, I’m all about equipping junior high, high school, college-age, and single adults to embrace a lifestyle of sexual integrity! However, something has gone very awry with the whole “sexual purity… true love waits… purity ring thing” when the pendulum swings SO FAR to the right that there’s no balance in a couple’s sex life after they marry.
Sadly, I often discover a significant common thread running through my relationship coaching clients who wind up on either side of this pendulum swing – both those who hooked up and those who held out prior to marriage. The common thread? They received little-to-no pre-marital counseling. “We don’t need it! We’re fine!” most couples reason. Brains scrambled, hearts ablaze, most engaged couples are absolutely intoxicated by the high of romantic love. And they have no idea what kind of hangover awaits once that high wears off.
Let’s realize that convincing young people to save sex until marriage is only half of the battle. We must also help them prepare for a healthy sex life within marriage, just as God intends! How? By not being afraid to talk about sex as a pure and holy gift from God to be celebrated and savored in the marriage bed! (No, such talk will not set their loins ablaze with lust, but rather provide encouragement that marital sex is so good that it’s worth the wait!)
On the other end of the purity spectrum, it is sadly estimated that 80-95% of young people eventually walk down the aisle on their wedding day as non-virgins (according to which study you read).[i] Therefore, we can’t overlook the need to minister to the sexually broken prior to marriage either, making sure they’ve experienced deep healing and genuine transformation rather than expecting that wedding band to cure them of all their sexual issues.