So, I’m getting married to the most amazing woman in the world on Saturday. I know. Pretty exciting, right? Amid the whirlwind of preparation I decided to go to the doctor and get a physical just to make sure I start off marriage without any unexpected problems. I was expecting a full battery of tests but after a quick overview with the stethoscope the doctor said, “Well, everything looks fine. I think we should just do an STD test.”
“But I’ve never had any sexual partners, so I don’t need one,” I replied.
The doctor gave me an incredulous look and then proceeded to do a few more tests. I asked him about different kinds of cancer risks, because I am the kind of person who keeps emergency food supplies under his bed and memorizes tsunami evacuation routes when I visit the beach.
“At your age there’s nothing to really worry about, except for STDs. Perhaps we should do an STD test?”
“But I already told you I’ve never had sex with anyone, so there’s no way I could have an STD.”
“Uh-huh,” he sarcastically replied.
When I was twenty-five, the annual physical was even more contentious. When I told that doctor that I had never had sexual intercourse, he said, “Look, you need to tell me the truth, because if you don’t it’s only going to hurt you in the end.”
Am I making a huge mistake?
Our culture has descended into a bizarre mentality that considers chastity to be not only nearly impossible but even unadvisable. This brings me to a recent depressing and wrongheaded article on Salon.com called “My Virginity Mistake.” In it, author Jessica Henriquez describes her journey from a fourteen-year-old who took a virginity pledge to a divorcee in her twenties. Henriquez’s thesis is that if she had slept with her husband before marriage then she would have seen how sexually incompatible they were and would have never married him in the first place.
Henriquez's argument—that women should have sex before marriage lest they marry an incompatible person—falls flat. First, her own testimony leads me to think that the reason her marriage failed wasn’t because of “bad sex” but because the marriage was built on a bad foundation. She describes how on the morning of her wedding day she vomited at the thought that she hardly knew her fiancé (what exactly she did not know is unclear). She writes, “Our wedding reception was filled with underage drinking and boys wearing their father’s suits. I danced to Top 40 with my friends; he got drunk in a corner with his.”
Stop right there. If your groom has resorted to getting drunk in a corner and can’t even dance with you at your own wedding reception, then you have serious problems that premarital counseling, not coitus, could have discovered. Henriquez’s story gets even worse when she describes how each time she had intercourse with her husband she checked out mentally:
As he began to kiss me, my mind shut off. I felt his movements and I heard heavy breathing but I thought nothing, it was as if it was something that was happening next to me, or to someone else entirely.
Rather than get marital counseling to help with her communication issues with her husband, Henriquez’s story ends with divorce a few months later and her “epiphany” that sex is more fun with bartenders who know only your first name.
A better view
Henriquez describes how when she was a teen her pastor encouraged abstinence until marriage by trumpeting the dangers of premarital sex (e.g., STDs, unintended pregnancy) and promising that abstinence until marriage will be rewarded with “amazing” sex. But Henriquez’s pastor was wrong to promote the message “pre-marital sex=scary, marital sex=amazing.”
Sex within marriage may actually not be amazing, and it’s possible to have an “unintended” pregnancy during marriage (or what those who practice NFP call “surprise pregnancies”), which might be scary at first. Those aren’t the reasons sex outside of marriage is wrong. Nonmarital sex is wrong because sex outside of marriage is an act of lying, and it’s wrong to lie to people.
Sex involves a language of the body that communicates the message that you fully and freely give your entire self to only the person with whom you are having sex. No attitude or hookup agreement can change the intrinsic language the body speaks during sexual intercourse. Sex outside of this lifelong commitment betrays what the body naturally speaks in the marital act (that is why sex is called "the marital act").
While Henriquez might consider sex an “itch” you have to scratch, and if your spouse isn’t able to help then you are justified in sleeping with the pool boy, I disagree. In fact, it’s possible that after marriage the woman I am marrying, Laura, might become sick or disabled and we will never have sex again (remember I imagine worst-case scenarios for everything). And you know what I’m going to do if that happens? Still love her and care for her, because I will be her husband. When we engage in the marital embrace this weekend we will literally become one body that can never be separated again (see Alex Pruss’s awesome new book on this topic).
It’s an amazing thought that of course makes me very nervous, but that’s why I am looking forward to the graces that come with the sacrament of marriage that will help Laura and I accomplish that task. So to those people, especially women, who might read Henriquez’s article and think that waiting until marriage is a mistake and you need to sleep with a guy to make sure he is right for you: DON’T!
If anything, the flood of bonding hormones that are triggered during sex will probably cause you to date some loser for six years until he breaks up with you because he’s not sure “where he’s going in life.” Instead of dating someone who MUST have sex, or someone who is uninterested in sex, date a man who has mastered his sexuality and is not a slave to it. He’s the guy who can restrain his sexual desire during the dating period so that the two of you can see if you’re actually compatible.
Then he can use his sexuality not to extract pleasure from you but to communicate his love and desire for a lifelong exclusive union that is open to children. Even if he or you have had sex in the past, the past doesn’t exist anymore. You can choose now, right now, to use your sexuality to communicate total, unconditional love, and you deserve to marry someone who shares your same sacred view of sex.
Men and women, don’t settle for anything less.