But nothing goes as planned. The night that follows is painful, both physically and emotionally, and instead of basking in your wedding night glow, you’re uncomfortable in bed next to your husband. Nothing went the way it should have. Is there something wrong with him or you? Where did it all go wrong?
Sadly, this is a common experience for many new brides. And it’s not their fault nor is it their husband’s. This is the inevitable consequence of the lack of discourse within the abstinence movement. If we want to preach waiting for marriage, we need to be honest about what the wedding night really looks like.
The Benefits of Abstinence
Though it seems increasingly rare in this day and age, there are still young men and women who want to practice abstinence. The immediate question that arises within the topic of abstinence, usually from skeptics, is why would anyone wait until marriage to have sex? After all, don’t you need to see if you’re “compatible” with your girlfriend or boyfriend before you really commit?
Most would associate a decision to remain abstinent with so-called “purity culture” or Christian evangelical groups. But the reality is, abstinence is part of a wide variety of cultures and religions throughout history, and you don’t have to be religious to see there are benefits.
When you wait until commitment to have sex, you can rest assured that the other person is really in the relationship for all of you, not just your body or the benefits of a sexual relationship. You have the chance to grow your intimacy with one another on an emotional level before things become physical. As an added bonus, you’re also never at risk for unplanned pregnancy or STIs, and you can completely avoid any risk of awkwardness or confusion if you have sex too early in the relationship or during the “talking” stage. With abstinence, you never have to worry if the decision to have sex is what changed your flirtation to a purely physical situationship rather than an actual relationship.
In a dating relationship, the strength of the physical part could distract from other important aspects, like connecting with the other person beyond sex or noticing potential red flags. Mark Regnerus, PhD, notes that those who have sex early on “often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy.”
People who wait until marriage overwhelmingly agree that it was the right thing to do.
A study that was published in the Journal of Family Psychology looked at thousands of participants who had sex early on during dating, after a month or more of dating, and those who waited until after marriage. The group who waited until after marriage to have sex reported that their level of communication, sexual quality, relationship stability, and satisfaction was higher than both the other two groups. Though it’s increasingly rare to find abstinence talked about without disparagement in our mainstream culture today, the advantages of waiting are still obtainable.
Expectation vs Reality of the Wedding Night
For whatever reason you decide to wait – as a religious promise or a dedication to yourself or future spouse – you might have friends, family, and other adults you trust in your life feeding you a specific narrative about abstinence. While this advice and counsel likely comes from a place of love, it could lead to something they didn’t intend: a confusing letdown.
Abstinence is always billed as the best possible option because the payoff is so much greater after marriage. Sex within the confines of marriage is a beautiful expression of intimacy between two people who have become one within the bonds of that unity. With this perspective, we’re told that our first time will no doubt be enjoyable, magical, amazing, and all the rest.
And while some might be lucky enough to have this experience on their wedding night, most will not. Regardless of how much you prepare or research in advance, you will likely be unprepared to have sex for the first time. Everyone is. And if you aren't aware of the possibility, it could spell trouble for your relationship later on. You may grow to fear sex, or stop wanting it altogether. You might lack the communication necessary for a healthy sex life. You may not even want to understand the issues you have and start to resent your spouse as well. None of these consequences are a result of waiting to have sex, but they are a result of not being taught the full truth of the matter.
The Issue With Purity Culture
If we want couples to wait for the security and stability of marriage to be intimate, we need to start being honest about the realities of having sex for the first time. Moreover, we should encourage abstinence because being sexually selective with our bodies is the right thing to do, not because our wedding night will be the best sex we’ll ever have.
We need to acknowledge that sex within marriage is an exploration, not a destination.
When you make the decision to be abstinent, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that all sex outside marriage is horrible and all sex within marriage is beautiful and life-affirming. The truth, however, is more complicated than that. Intimacy outside marriage can still become enjoyable, but the strength it takes to wait for the right person is what abstinence requires. The real tragedy of waiting until marriage is being misled into thinking that because you’ve waited, your reward will be easy, simple, and satisfying.
You might very well be unprepared to be let down by your own expectations. You might struggle with body image and with someone seeing you for the first time. You might have a hard time with the emotional gravity of the situation, as well as the potential physical pain. On the other side of the coin, your husband might feel extreme pressure to perform. You might be burdened by the fact that you waited and your husband didn’t, or you might feel like the blind leading the blind if it’s the first time for both of you. All of this can weigh on a couple and turn your wedding night from something fun and enjoyable to something awkward and confusing.
Sex is wonderful, but it can also be uncomfortable. This is not to say that because your first time could be bad, you should just get it out of the way beforehand. On the contrary: People who wait until marriage overwhelmingly agree that it was the right thing to do. But we need to acknowledge that sex within marriage is an exploration, not a destination. It takes time to learn each other sexually, and the best kind of intimacy thrives on compatibility and communication.
Waiting until marriage is both a difficult and rewarding experience. But it’s time to rewrite the discourse on abstinence for the benefit of both men and women. Sex requires an extreme amount of trust and patience on both sides, and we should do a better job of emphasizing that rather than glorifying a fairy tale that may or may not be accurate. The first time may not be magical, and it may not be what you were expecting, but the good news is that you'll have the rest of your married life to make it better!
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