As I was doing research for my Sex is great, sex is good series, which defends premarital sex from slander by the religious, I came across a couple of arguments that demonstrated the immature, undeveloped relationship many Christians (and sexually restrictive religious people in general) have with sex.
One argument that I found in lots of different places is that it’s better to save sex for marriage so you don’t have to worry about comparisons with past partners. To quote from the first source above:
Premarital sex with other partners creates a variety of sexual experience. Some may see this as a plus but in real life it’s not. Your spouse may not do things the way a past lover did and then you have frustration and dissatisfaction. You have sexual memories that pop up at inopportune times. There can be jealousy over past relationships or fears over comparisons to past lovers.
Where to begin? First, if my partner is not satisfied by the sex we have, we have the kind of relationship where she will tell me, and I her. If one of us isn’t getting what we need sexually, we will talk about it and work on it just like we would any non-sexual problem that we have. “Frustration and dissatisfaction” in this scenario aren’t a result of having had past sexual partners; they’re a result of not being open and honest with the one you currently have.
The “jealousy” issue I’ll come back to in just a minute.
Another argument I’ve seen is that when you have sex with someone you aren’t going to marry, you are taking something that belongs to someone else. From the latter source:
Do you want your future spouse to wait for you? Then you should wait for your future spouse. Do you want the person who is currently dating your future spouse to take what rightfully belongs to you? Then you shouldn’t take what rightfully belongs to someone else.
And another relevant quote:
For many reasons, one of the greatest gifts a husband can ever give his wife, and a wife can ever give her husband, is his or her virgin body on their wedding night.
I imagine a lifetime of building sex up as this magical thing that must take place with only one person ever (nevermind the fact that people can get married multiple times) would cause a person to take this view. But when analyzed, this view begins to take on a sinister tone. Your virgin body is a gift, it belongs to me. It’s not enough that you’re giving yourself and your love to me now; true love requires you to never have given it to anyone else.
And thus we return to the subject of jealousy.
I have had the experience of being jealous of a girlfriend’s previous sexual partners. It’s one thing to rationally acknowledge that she has dated other people, but it becomes a much more visceral experience when you’ve actually met one of those people. For me it was a very unpleasant, disturbing feeling. “This guy has had sex with the girl I love!?”
It’s ironic that such a sentence has almost nothing to do with love.
I imagined what it must have been like for my girlfriend in her previous relationships. She’s dated other people, kissed other people, been in love with other people (as have I). The thrill and excitement of being with me is something she used to feel for other people. I do not expect her not to have had these experiences – these experiences of happiness, love, and yes… sexual pleasure with other people. I’m happy that she was happy then, and I’m glad that we’re happy with each other now.
It would be further unjustifiable to say, if my girlfriend and I were married, that she had given something away that should have been mine. What, exactly, have I lost? I’ve written before about some of the things that, to me, make sex wonderful: the love, the caring, the physical pleasure and the joy of giving that pleasure to someone else, the ability to bring one’s full mind and personality into the act.
We have all of that. We’ve loved others in the past, but that doesn’t change our ability to love each other now. If anything, we bring what we’ve learned in previous relationships into this one to make it better. That’s the kind of gift that really matters to me.
So all this pleasant-sounding language that Christians use to describe sex is really hiding an unpleasant and unrespectable philosophy. Honestly, it’s sad. It’s sad when social pressures force a person to impose this stupid, inhumane requirement on themselves, and they must later face the reality that other people are having sex before marriage and they’re not ashamed of it or harmed by it. It’s no wonder that Christians invent reasons to find harm in premarital sex, find ways to boost themselves up (“I’m saving myself for marriage!”), and find ways to describe their partners’ virginity in terms of something that is owed to them.
But we need to acknowledge this dissonance reduction for what it is – a way to feel better about a view of sex that makes people feel worse. And we need to be as outspoken as we can so that people know that it doesn’t have to be this way.