21 Jan 2021
A single young man has struggled for years with an addiction to pornography. He’s had some ups and many downs and is now fairly discouraged. He looks forward to marriage as the key to defeating this sin. He is engaged and is now clinging to the hope that having marital sexuality will free him from pornography.
Another young man has no fiancée on the horizon but is praying for one. He pleads and reasons with God that if only he would give him a wife, he would not feel compelled to fantasize about having one. His prayers come close to saying, “Please, God, give me a wife because, until you do, I can’t help but go to porn again and again.”
Both of these men are putting great hopes on marriage as the special ingredient to cure their porn addiction. And it’s not just men we hear this from. This is a common scenario that we see in our ministry to both single men and women.
At first glance, there is a seemingly commonsense and biblical reason for a young man to think this way. It seems like common sense to say that when he has a licit outlet for his sexual desire, he will be able to turn from his illicit outlet. And biblically, doesn’t Paul say that marriage is a remedy for sexual immorality? However, in my experience I have generally seen that 1) marriage does not resolve a previously established pornography problem, and 2) when an unresolved pornography habit is brought into a marriage, it causes significant damage, up to and including sometimes destroying the marriage. This suggests that we need to be careful and wise in how we encourage the young men above—and other men or women like them—in their desire for marriage.
Let’s hear what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. The entire chapter is his response to a Corinthian proposition expressing a high value on celibacy. In verse 1, Paul writes, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” He does not directly contradict this sentiment. In fact, as he extends his response to various demographic groups and situations in the Church, Paul makes apparent that he considers a life of single, contented, worshipful celibacy the preferred option. This is his own state, and he considers it the most blessed (verses 7, 8, 38, and 40), especially during troubled times, when even normal attentions to concerns of this life may be wisely suspended (verses 26–31).
However, there is a catch. The prerequisite for this life is a sufficient level of self-control (verses 5, 9, 36, and 37). The desire for the companionship and intimacy of marriage is natural and good; the decision to forgo it involves an ongoing commitment to self-denial of things pertaining to marriage. Not everyone has this. Some might have self-control in other areas, such as finances, food, or anger, but not in sexuality; as Paul says, “Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (verse 7). If you don’t have this type of self-control, then a life of singleness will only make it more likely that you will fall to sexual immorality.
So what is the bottom line? Are you trying to decide whether to marry or stay single? If you can handle the self-denial required to maintain celibacy, singleness brings huge blessings. But beware: If you don’t have a good level of self-control in this area, celibacy will increase temptation to sexual immorality.
So what does this mean for men or women hooked on pornography? On the one hand, the fact that they are addicted to pornography suggests that they don’t have the self-control to practice celibate singleness, and they should probably seek marriage. However, to simplistically think that marriage will solve their pornography problem is a dangerous mistake. Here are some reasons why.
While trying to remain single when lacking the self-control to be celibate is a pretty sure recipe for immorality, marriage does not make you immune to it.
Remember that adultery, properly speaking, is a sin involving married people. Even in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul’s first mention of the need for self-control is directed to married couples “so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (verse 5). Satan’s goal is always to get you to turn from God’s holy design for sexuality. He doesn’t give up the day you exchange your vows.
Your pornography habit is already a form of sexual immorality and must be dealt with, whether you marry or not.
While marriage provides the opportunity and responsibility to learn and express a godly sexuality, established patterns of sexual sin do not go away without repentance from those particular sins. Do you have a habit of porn use? You will live with that habit until you put it to death. Whether you are married or single, this is done by applying the gospel, living out of your union with Christ, and setting your mind on the things of the Spirit. There is no substitute for this.
Your pornography habit, if not dealt with, will destroy your marriage.
Using pornography is not essentially the same as married sexuality but without the vows. Pornography is a warped, demonic distortion of sexuality. By giving yourself to pornography, you have learned a sexuality which involves no self-sacrifice, no love, no patience—a sexuality in which you exercise total, god-like control over other people solely to maximize your own pleasure; a sexuality in which other people are not whole persons bearing the image of God but objects to be used and discarded; a sexuality that caters to the idols of your heart, thus eroding faith and strengthening your rebellion against the one true God. What happens if you get married without addressing this evil? Your spouse becomes your next porn object. I have talked with too many men who treat their wives as the porn they are allowed to have. What you desire in sex has been warped by porn and needs to be transformed. God designed sexuality to be committed, faithful, sacrificial, and exclusive. The sexuality of pornography is the satanic opposite of that in every way. Marriage will not solve your porn problem; your porn problem will destroy your marriage.
So what advice should be given to those struggling with porn? Should they seek marriage? Yes, you can certainly seek marriage. But godly, married sexuality is very different in character from the pornography-fed version to which you have become accustomed. You will need to embrace the responsibility and joy of the “putting off” and “putting on” of the gospel to your entire approach to sexuality. So don’t expect marriage to cure you of porn. Rather, make yourself ready for marriage by killing your porn habit now. Begin to love your future wife or husband by bringing every gospel weapon to bear on unlearning what porn has taught you about sex. And if God does give you marriage, do not think that this means simply transferring your sexual habits into a “moral” context; it is rather a constant putting off of old ways to be clothed with Christ. Marriage pursued and practiced this way will indeed be a strong help against sexual immorality, as surely as resurrection life defeats sin and death.
In my last post, I talked about what 1 Corinthians 7:4 does not say. I argued that the passage does not, in any way, support sex on demand in marriage. Today, I’d like to consider what it does say. The picture of sex in marriage that these verses present is radically countercultural in our world. In these verses, both the husband and the wife are called to give to the other spouse sexually, with intentional, purposeful deliberateness. The picture is not one of stimulus-response, passion-driven, sex-drive satisfaction.
To use classical categories, sex is described as an expression of agape love, not eros love. Agape is the intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial love with which God loves us, and with which we are then called to love each other. Eros is the passion of sexual desire. Sex in marriage may obviously entail eros, but it is to be primarily led by agape.
In our culture, eros is revered, even worshiped, as the highest experience, the key to human flourishing, the foundation and requisite of any life-partner relationship, even in marriage. Our culture expects the passion of erotic attraction to be the initiating and sustaining dynamic of any such relationship—so much so that we might say that eros itself is the goal, and relationships only exist or continue inasmuch as they serve eros.
But think of how destructive this eros-led view is to a marriage: A couple plunges into marriage, sure that they have found (or have been found by!) true love. But when the daily, mundane, and unpleasant work of living with another sinful being comes to the fore, the erotic attraction to each other fades or disappears altogether. They’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling.” Sex ends. The relationship requires increasingly harder work, even as their motivation to do that hard work disappears. Of course, this happens because the foundation of the relationship was romantic eros. And the problem is not just the fact that spontaneous romantic erotic arousal fades for the married couple. Equally destructive is the fact that the capacity for arousal does not disappear—it just leaves this relationship. Eros is fickle, elusive, and spontaneous, with a spontaneity that is just as likely to attach itself to someone outside of the marriage. Or, frustrated by its elusiveness, a husband or wife can harness it to their imaginations via pornography or romance novels. Many marriages don’t survive this.
But wait. Perhaps you have heard this often. Christians usually advise that the marriage relationship be based on more than sexual attraction. But 1 Corinthians 7 says something much less common; it extends this principle to sexuality itself. In other words, you may have heard that a marriage relationship should not be led by sexual arousal. In these verses, God tells us that sex should not be led by sexual arousal, at least not primarily! The picture that the apostle Paul paints is not of two people waiting for the rush of romantic attraction to come upon them. Our culture worships moments like this. Such a synchronous alignment of erotic attraction is deemed proof you have found the “real thing.” But, in reality, this is only a firm basis for something as temporary and fleeting as a one-time hookup, nothing more. No, these verses teach us that not only marriage in the broader sense, but also the sexual expression of that marriage, is to be founded in, shaped by, motivated by, and sustained by intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial agape love.
Perhaps you can imagine some of the implications of this radical perspective on sex and marriage. I will mention a few.
If you are married:
- Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. If husband and wife are motivated to move toward the other sexually on the basis of an intentional commitment to give to the other sacrificially, sex will not be limited to those rare moments when the erotic stars align. Isn’t it obvious that a couple applying Paul’s instruction will have sex more often? The irony is that this will result in much more eros in a marriage, not less; however, it will not be the driving force, but a fruit of agape.
- There is hope for your marriage, despite your personal history of eros. Many married people have lengthy, personal histories of being led by eros. Not only have they learned to be slaves of spontaneous erotic attraction, but that attraction has habitually been attached to something other than their spouse, like other individuals (i.e., old flames) or pornographic images. The memory and power of these habits of eros have no respect for your marriage vows. If you continue to be led by eros, these old habits will constantly intrude and compete quite effectively against your spouse for your loyalty. But if you make even your sexuality subject to your agape love for your spouse, the two of you will build new habits of eros on a foundation that your old memories can’t touch. Having renounced their power to control you, these old, erotic masters will increasingly lose their ability to draw you away from your spouse.
If you are single:
- Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. The world and your own flesh are trying to seduce you into patterns of slavery to erotic attraction that will leave you empty, broken, discarded, and hopeless. Now is the time to learn to receive God’s agape love and give it to others. This love is your eternal inheritance; it, not eros, is the key to human flourishing. Practice treating it as such. And if, in the future, God brings you into marriage, the eros you enjoy will depend upon the agape love in that marriage. Be wary of how pornography, the media, and peers seek to train you otherwise.
Take heart that Christ came to redeem all aspects of sexuality, including your beliefs about sexual attraction and love.
You can also watch the video, “What About the Sexless Marriage?,” which corresponds to this blog.
27 Aug 2020
Let’s suppose…the husband is truly repentant and growing, but he also feels like his wife’s coldness to him is making it more difficult. Is 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 relevant for him?
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by R. Nicholas Black and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “The Whims of Erotic Attraction and 1 Corinthians 7,” which corresponds to this video.
23 Jul 2020
Let’s meet this issue head on: Sexual abuse is possible within marriage. Wherever physically or emotionally coercive behavior infects a married couple’s sexual relationship, it is abusive. Any such behavior needs to be confronted with a call to repentance.
Some will contend, “But doesn’t the Bible say that a husband has authority over his wife’s body? Doesn’t that give him the right to sex on demand and in the way he prescribes?” 1 Corinthians 7:4 does say, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” Husbands sometimes invoke this passage to defend themselves or to complain against their wives. Do they have a legitimate point? Most of us instinctively say “no,” but how do we defend that? Here are three ways to explain that this passage does not justify sex on demand, even in marriage.
The issue in this passage is not “sex on demand” but “forced celibacy.”
It is important to note the question that this passage answers. Paul begins, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” Whether this is a Corinthian statement or his own, Paul begins this discussion by acknowledging that there is some moral value to voluntary celibacy. But Paul then proceeds to argue not only for marriage as a check against immorality but also to warn against “depriving one another” in marriage. Apparently, the matter to which Paul is responding involved valuing celibacy to such an extent that not only were men being encouraged to refrain from marrying, but even those who were married were encouraged to eschew sex altogether. In other words, the presenting issue is husbands thinking swearing off sex with their wives would be a spiritual virtue. They thought they would win religious points by giving up sex in their marriages.
So this is not a question of “sex on demand” but a question of “forced celibacy.” This is about a husband unilaterally deciding that there will be no sex in “his” marriage—and thinking that in doing so he increases his righteousness. Paul corrects this by pointing out that this is a violation of the wife’s rights. Consigning a woman to a sexless marriage was a serious sin, with implications much bigger than deprivation of pleasure; it would condemn her to barrenness (see the story of Onan and Tamar in Genesis 38:6–10 for an example of what God thinks about this). 1 Corinthians 7:11 provides evidence that some likely carried this celibacy virtue to the next logical extent: Divorcing one’s wife would be best—perhaps with the “kind” motive of freeing her to have children with some less righteous bloke. But that is not Paul’s solution. Rather, he explains that sex in marriage is a duty and a right; forced celibacy is wrong.
However, saying, “You should not force celibacy on your spouse,” is not the same as, “You must give sex to your spouse on demand.” Many times, circumstances or differences in mood or desire result in one spouse saying, “Not now, dear.” Such circumstances are not what this passage is talking about; they do not even come close to approaching the forced celibacy suggested here. It is incorrect to use this passage to deny someone the right to say, “No.”
Responding to a one-sided question from the man’s argument, Paul’s answer is pointedly mutual.
I find it ironic that the presenting issue in this passage involves men supposing it virtuous to deprive their wives of sex, while it is more common nowadays to hear men invoking this passage to complain of being deprived by their wives. Yet in either of these scenarios, part of the man’s problem is that he thinks it’s all about him. Paul corrects this by taking a statement speaking one-sidedly from the man’s perspective and answering it in a pointedly mutual way. Unlike other passages in which Paul gives differing instructions, different roles, or different authority to the husband and the wife, here, in the context of sex, he takes pains to emphasize perfect equality and mutuality. Beginning in the second half of verse 2, Paul gives a series of parallel statements, alternating speaking the exact same words to husbands and to wives. In fact, he carefully makes sure that even the order of address does not favor one over the other: In verse 3, the husband is addressed first, and then in verse 4, the wife is addressed first. In verse 5, they are addressed as a couple: “Do not deprive each other….”
This mutuality makes clear that Paul is commanding not an attitude insisting on rights, but rather of giving rights. He is calling on married couples to give of themselves for the good of the other, instead of seeking to get their “needs” met. As Dave White summarizes, “God gave us 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 because spouses need to be taught that selflessness must govern the marriage bed, and serving each other is the path to deep joy and fulfillment.”¹ This mutuality also creates a logical problem for the would-be abusive husband: If he would demand sex from her, claiming his authority over her body, won’t he need to use his own body to do it? But according to the passage, he doesn’t have authority over his own body; rather, she does. The mutuality of the authority makes all coercion and demand logically impossible.
This passage is best understood in the light of other commands of Scripture.
This passage’s call to mutual, selfless service is consistent with the rule of love expressed throughout the Bible, so it is right to group these verses with passages such as Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”—and Ephesians 5:25—“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A husband who knows and submits to his Bible will never use 1 Corinthians 7 to control or manipulate his wife.
¹God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019) 97.
05 Mar 2020
The majority of men who come to Harvest USA for help with sexual struggles are married.
In this video, Mark Sanders shares several important truths that husbands need to know about humbly, patiently, and sacrificially walking alongside their wives in the long process of reconciliation and healing.
You can also read the corresponding blog, Wives and Porn: What Not to Say After She Knows.
23 Jan 2020
In 2015 I began to struggle with gender transitioning and whether God’s Word would allow me to live as a woman. God’s answer to me was a resounding “NO!” This is my story.
The question of my gender identity began tugging at me during early childhood when I found a bag of girl’s dresses in our garage. I secretly tried on every dress. Fast forward a few years, my subsequent struggle with pornography began as a pre-teen when a neighborhood friend and I discovered a box of old pornographic magazines in one of the local farmer’s abandoned cars. It was a struggle that would last for the next 35 years.
My earthly father led me to the Lord at the age of seven after attending a local church camp. Diane and I met at that very same camp ten years later. During the two years that we dated, I shared with her my struggle with pornography. In spite of this, my bride agreed to marry me and walk alongside me. You see, both of us believed in the common fallacy that marriage would be the answer to my struggle with lust. We were wrong! Instead, our marriage would yo-yo for the next 25 years. At times, when our walk with Christ was maturing, our marriage was amazing. In between, when I struggled with porn, our relationship turned distant and resentful; each time, little by little, my sin would slowly escalate. Yes, sin does that. You don’t skip from A to M to Z; instead, you progress slowly from A to B to C. And when you reach M or Z, you wonder, “How did I get here?”
After twenty years of marriage my lustful desires began to escalate exponentially, to the point where I began wearing women’s undergarments, a habit which slowly grew into full blown cross-dressing. After reading about Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn in 2015, I began to seriously consider the possibility of transitioning, myself. And several months after Diane and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I shared with her my desire to experiment with living as a woman. My desire to dress as a woman was no longer enough. Hence, I was about to enter the next phase of my struggle with lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
I confessed to my bride, not only that I wanted to live as a woman, but that I wanted her to share in my gender dysphoria, embracing this journey with me! You see, I believed we could continue to enjoy life together, only this time as two women. And I also believed that, by becoming a woman, I could finally conquer my struggle with lust that had persecuted me now for more than 35 years. I so wanted this struggle to end that I was willing to do anything. I questioned God: “Why did you make me this way? Why did you put such strong sexual desires in me? I just want to live for you, but I cannot put to death this sin in my life!”
Satan appeared to be winning the battle for my life, our marriage, and our family, but God had other plans! Over the next four difficult years, he worked miraculously in our lives and our marriage, pursuing us in different ways and maturing our faith, while burning the sin from my heart and life. And, although we were both believers, because of our different reactions to my gender dysphoria God led us both on two remarkable, contrasting journeys.
Diane turned completely to God for her strength, crying out to him from the beginning. He walked her through what she now describes as the most agonizing time of her life. In time, God revealed to Diane that she had made me her god! Without realizing it, she had been placing her trust in me, instead of him, and I had become her idol. With this realization, God provided Diane comfort. Faithful and obedient, she kept praying and began relying exclusively on him.
I wish the same had been true for me. I tried having it both ways, keeping myself in church, weekly men’s Bible studies, even accountability groups, and discipleship with a fellow brother in Christ who struggled with pornography like I did. But I still allowed pornography and my own sinful desires to consume my thoughts, convincing myself that God would be OK if I chose to live as a woman. And, thus I continued to justify my own sinful desires. After all, since he made me, he also must have made these desires and feelings as well!
As my struggle with gender dysphoria advanced, it appeared to be the answer to my life-long struggle with pornography. Or so I thought! What I found was that, when I wasn’t able to cross-dress frequently, that old struggle with pornography would return. Not only had my gender dysphoria not healed my pornography addiction, but in time, it even escalated it! Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more. And my sin was idolatry, plain and simple.
Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more.
In her obedience to God, Diane saw my situation clearly. But, stubborn and rebellious, I was blind to God’s truth because I wanted to walk with my Lord and Savior and live in my sin! I became the double-minded man described in James 1:6-8, “One who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
But God was still faithful. He pursued me, even when I failed to pursue Him, in spite of my doublemindedness and false assumptions held onto since my youth. What I’d originally thought of as ‘a small compromise’ had enslaved me over time, culminating in gender dysphoria and threatening my marriage. Rules that I thought didn’t apply to me, or were outdated and limited my fun, I dismissed. Thinking I could create my own boundaries, I failed to see that God’s laws were intended to protect me.
Blindness caused by sin is why many will disagree with me, and I realize that, in today’s culture, my point of view will not be a popular one. But having traveled this journey, I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that my gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God. I allowed lust to reign in my life for all those years. And that lust ballooned into even uglier sins—idolatry, selfishness, and covetousness—sins that I cherished over my Savior. I was guilty of interpreting God’s Word through the lens of a secular worldview and I chose what I thought best suited me! In full rebellion, I even used Scripture to justify my actions, dismissing those who tried to speak truth to me.
My gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God.
Together, Diane and I sought help from numerous Christian counseling services, only to be turned away because they did not feel prepared to deal with the gender dysphoria struggle. Then, in a unique and unexpected way, God led Diane to the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) where she restarted her college education. Amazingly, God personally used those courses to minister to both of us, becoming our personal counselor, himself.
Then we learned about Harvest USA. Together, we attended a conference where we listened to Tim Geiger speak on transgenderism. Afterward, I reached out to Tim for help and over the next six months, Tim discipled me via Skype. Diane also received counseling from Harvest USA staff as well. At the conclusion of our remote counseling sessions, we traveled to Philadelphia for intensive face-to-face counseling with Tim and several other members of the Harvest USA staff who discipled us and prayed with us. Diane and I are so thankful that God provided Harvest USA to walk faithfully alongside of us.
Several months after our time at Harvest USA, God revealed my rebellion to me, caused by my sins of lust, covetousness and idolatry. While I was praying one day, God even spoke out loud to me when I heard a literal voice say, “It is done.” I was stunned! I looked around to see if anyone else was present, but I was alone. Immediately, I knew our tribulation was over. As I continued to move toward God in repentance, about a week later he placed the beautiful old hymn “I Surrender All” in my heart, one I had learned as a child. From that moment on, God removed my sinful desires, released me from my self-imposed yoke of spiritual blindness, and began to repair the destruction I had sown.
Only now can both Diane and I fully appreciate God’s redemption in our marriage. If you struggle with pornography, gender dysphoria, or any other sin, remember God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Diane and I were married, God already knew this tribulation was ahead of us. He never allowed us to give up on our covenant with him or our marriage. If you are his child, he will never give up on you, either! My prayer is that my own testimony will lead you to allow God to write his story with your life. He loves you more than you will ever know!
Editor’s Note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name and we refer to his wife as “Diane” because they have chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom from Harvest USA. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
In this video, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage.
If you’d like to learn more, consider reading Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
09 Jan 2020
Derrick and Carli are three months out from their wedding. Invites have been sent, RSVPs have come in, the honeymoon has been booked. When they sat down last week for their final premarital counseling session, they both had the wedding jitters. However, a painful and unexpected truth came out in that hour of counseling—a secret Derrick had kept not only from their premarital counselor but from Carli as well. He had been struggling with pornography off and on for the last twelve years, since he was fifteen. He had tried everything he knew to overcome it, but he was always on his own, never daring to share this with anyone. Now that he was in seminary to become a pastor, the terror of being found out had kept him even more committed to hiding. However, as he explained, he loved Carli and wanted her to know about it before their wedding so that she would be able to help him.
Carli was shocked . . . and heartbroken. He’s just telling me about this now?
Now what do they do? Should they move ahead with the wedding and hope for the best? Do they postpone it? Do they call it off?
Michael and Shaina have been dating for eight months and are now beginning to talk about marriage. Sure, they have a few fears, but excitement is growing as they both sense God is doing an amazing thing in their relationship.
However, there are significant secrets hidden in each of their hearts. Each has engaged in pornography and masturbation, though it’s Shaina who is more actively pursuing porn online. She is most drawn to lesbian stories in the sites she visits.
Shaina has been encouraged that, since her relationship with Michael became serious, her struggle with lust seems less intense, even if she’s still giving into temptation. She’s thought to herself, “God must be preparing me to marry him. Maybe when I’m married to him, the temptations toward women will go away all together?”
Michael would be shocked to know that Shaina struggles with porn. It’s completely off his radar that women would be tempted in that way. He’s mentioned several times that men really “wrestle with lust . . . it’s a guy thing.” She wants to be confident in his love for her, but his comments have tempted her to feel dirty and ashamed because she’s looked at porn for years—lesbian porn at that—and isn’t a guy.
Should she be honest with him, or just with her two closest female friends who can keep her accountable? Wouldn’t it be more hurtful for him to know? After all, her private fantasy life isn’t really hurting anything, is it?
Maybe you connect with one of these stories. You’re engaged to someone you truly love and yet you wrestle with knowing exactly what you should share with your fiancé(e) about your past sexual experiences and your present temptations and struggles.
Perhaps you’re not in a relationship at all right now, but you’d like to be married in the future. You’re anxious about the how, the what, the when, and the how much of sharing the parts of your story that include sexual struggle and sin.
These are important things to seriously and prayerfully consider before you get engaged, and even more crucial to consider before you get married.
But what happens when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Wise premarital counseling addresses important issues of family history, depth of faith in Jesus, finances, children, sex, roles of each spouse, desires for lifestyle (standard of living, social life, ministry involvement), etc. However, people often marry having avoided, or barely discussed, a critical component of their story: sexual history.
Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, or with oneself, sometimes through technology-based communication and/or sexual fantasy. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what his or her struggle has looked like in terms of length of time, frequency of giving way to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness or resistance to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are any number of reasons dating people (and premarital counselors) avoid discussing sexual history:
- Fear. It’s scary and feels too vulnerable. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend reject me? Is my past or present struggle too much for him or her to handle?
- Some think, “Let the past be the past.” Sharing this will be more damaging than helpful. Leave it alone and trust God to work things out.
- Private sin struggles. Pornography, masturbation, sexual hookups, mental fantasy, etc. may seem to lose some of their tempting power in the euphoria of a new dating relationship. It’s easy to think that perhaps your relationship with this person has solved the problem, as Shaina believed.
- Shame. Derrick had kept his porn struggle hidden from everyone until that fateful moment in the counselor’s office. Shame is a persuasive yet destructive force that leads many to keep secret sin in the dark.
- Feeling intimidated. Therefore, they avoid them all together. Pastors, mentors, and counselors allow personal fears and feelings of insecurity to inhibit the necessary probing into these sensitive issues.
For couples to grow into an honest, truly knowing-each-other level of intimacy, it takes time, risk, and vulnerability. This needs to begin in the dating relationship, as both man and woman wisely open up their true selves, one to the other. Based on that true knowledge of each other, including sexual history and present struggles, each can discern if this is a relationship they want to commit to for life. For this to happen wisely and thoroughly, couples need other trusted people to help them navigate these crucial and often scary conversations—before they get engaged.
Why It’s Wise to Discuss Sexual History Before You Get Engaged
Couples are wise to not wait until engagement and “formal” premarital counseling to discuss sexual history. Pre-engagement is the time for the messiness to be shared and known—not in traditional premarital counseling, which is almost always pursued post-engagement. Why?
Engagement communicates, “I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. I delight in you, respect you, know you, and will support you to grow in Christ through your joys, trials, temptations, and struggles.” Therefore, before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you and stand by your side, ministering to you as I also receive your love and ministry to me.”
Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life.”
Consider another life-impacting decision that requires thorough knowledge and taking the time to gain detailed information before taking action: buying a house. Most people would never purchase a home before the costly, time-consuming process of completing a home inspection. Buyers want to know everything possible about a house before making one of the most significant purchases of their life. A thorough home inspection, conducted by an experienced and trustworthy person, will produce a report that addresses the true condition of that house, from the roof to the foundation. A well-done home inspection brings every problem—both present and potential—into the light. Relationships are much more complex than a physical structure—and thus the importance of knowing potential challenges is that much more crucial!
If it’s commonly accepted as wise to inspect a house, how much more so for couples to do the hard work of knowing, and being known by, each other as thoroughly as possible before committing to marriage? A man and woman need to know each other’s external and internal issues, both past and present, so that they can make a wise decision regarding a lifetime investment into a marriage. Sexual history is certainly one such issue.
Wisdom would lead this couple to invest the time, money, and effort to “go deep” in knowing this house to the best of their ability before purchasing it. Even though they’ve seen the house with their own eyes and have walked on the floors together, there’s more to learn. To avoid the cost and process of a professional home inspection, or to ignore the long-term implications found during the dangerous discoveries of one, would be foolish at best and catastrophic at worst.
Committing yourself to marry a person is so much weightier than buying a house! Taking the time, effort, and vulnerability to truly know a potential spouse isn’t an “inspection”—it’s a way to show humble love to one another and build trust. Rest assured, God delights in honesty and is committed to helping his children walk in the light before him and each other.
Jesus Strengthens and Comforts You in the Process of Sharing Your Sexual History
Sharing your sexual history can be a scary thing to consider. The Lord says that honesty is a good and necessary part of being joined with other Christians (see Ephesians 4:25). If honesty is crucial for our relationships in the church, how much more important is it for those who are preparing to join in the most intimate of unions? Here are some encouraging truths to consider as you prepare to be completely honest with a potential future spouse.
You’re not alone. One of the beautiful facets of a Christ-centered relationship is that it’s not just a twosome. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).
God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 contains a sweet promise and a sober warning as well: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” A lack of joy and freedom in Christ, versus God’s mercy and grace—which reality do you want to live in? Which of these qualities do you want to be embedded in the foundation of your relationship? Jesus already knows us fully and loves us completely. This truth compels us to confess and turn from sin, which is the invitation given to us in the gospel! Humility before God in acknowledging your need of his gracious love will embolden you to be honest with the person with whom you are contemplating marriage.
God enables us to love rather than be self-protective. Jesus loves us, and also sends us to be ambassadors of his love to people around us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). This includes your girlfriend or boyfriend. Galatians 5:13 commands us that in Christ, we are to no longer live for ourselves, but rather to serve others. A decision to be honest about your past and present sexual struggles may not seem like a way to love and serve someone, but it truly is. You are honestly acknowledging and offering a component of your life story to this person. You are inviting them to know and trust you. Hiding, spinning the facts, and telling half-truths are all basically the same thing: deceitful self-protection. For a future marriage to be healthy, it must be built on transparency and solid trust, which itself begins to grow in an honest dating relationship.
God forgives our sin and redeems our past. As God forgives you, you and your future spouse will have many opportunities to offer and ask for forgiveness, participating in Christ’s work of redemption in each other’s lives (see Colossians 3:12–17). Your relationship becomes a testament to the power of the gospel to make all things new, and to restore years of sinful living. In fact, one of the beautiful ways that God uses the unique “one-flesh” union between husbands and wives is to give them a 24/7/365 experience of being known, unashamed, and loved. This images God’s steadfast love for his people who sin, who are weak, and who have painful and stigmatizing scars.
God provides helpers. Another comfort of Christ, though it may feel scary at first, is that you have brothers and sisters to walk with you. Jesus doesn’t expect couples to navigate their relationship alone. In the euphoria of a new relationship, some couples can pull away from other key relationships, which will hurt them in the long run. Such isolated future spouses evolve into an island of two—and when the storms hit, they have only each other to rely on. Proverbs 11:14 encourages humility, which reaches out to others for help, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
Jesus is our eternal companion and spouse. Finally, Jesus is with you now and forever, and will never abandon you. Your relationship may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past. It’s better to know now, before making lifelong marriage vows, if this person can accept and be committed to the real you.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
To learn more about this topic, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History.
When you are with Jesus in glory, you will not look back on any pleasure in this world and think you’ve missed out.
The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
26 Sep 2019
God created sex and wants us to know pleasure in it that leads to thanksgiving and worship of him as the Giver of good gifts. That’s the ultimate goal of sex in marriage.
The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.