I get asked a lot about the rules of sex before marriage when you’re adult. Are they the same as when you’re a teenager? The answer is harder than a simple yes or no. As adults, it is more nuanced than that. Listen to this episode to find out how integrity should drive your decisions whether you are 16 or 46 and how that can make you more happy than if you just do what you “should.”
Are you a single adult and never married? Or maybe you find yourself single again after a divorce or the death of a spouse. Whatever your circumstance is, navigating a physical and even sexual relationship as an adult comes with its own challenges. You aren’t a teenager anymore, so do the same rules apply? These are questions I get often from many followers and listeners and what I want to talk about on today’s podcast.
I was talking with a woman who had recently divorced. She said that she’s always had a good relationship with her sexuality as a married woman but now that she’s divorced it didn’t really matter. And she was pretty shocked when I told her just because she’s divorced doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a relationship with her sexuality and it’s something she should explore. It was something completely new for her to even think about.
Whether you have never been married before, you’re divorced or widowed, marriage does not legitimize your sexuality. First and foremost your sexuality is yours. It is yours to experience. It is yours to develop. And it is yours to share if you choose to do so, whether you are married or single. Let me say that again because I think it is so important! Sexuality is not legitimized in marriage.
It is important that everyone develops a healthy relationship with their sexuality no matter what their circumstance. How you relate to your sexuality will very much determine the choices you make with it. Will you let it rule you? Or will you use your agency to make choices that are in alignment with your integrity?
A lot of singles ask where the line is, and really there is no line. It would sure be easier if we had guidelines that said do this and don’t do that, but that kind of leads us back into the same trap that we had trying to follow For The Strength of Youth. The simple do’s and don’ts are an immature way of relating to yourself and your sexuality. As adults, we are more nuanced. It is up to us to check in with ourselves and our value systems to see what aligns for us and what feels good and right for us. And I don’t just necessarily mean what feels good for us in the moment. But what feels good for us in the long run. What is in alignment with our integrity. For me, it always needs to come back to an integrity based decision, whether you are 16 or 46.
One of my mentor’s, Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife did her dissertation on women who were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in what part their agency contributed to their beliefs about sexuality before and after marriage. According to Dr. Finlayson-Fife, those who made integrity based decision using their agency in how they wanted to engage with their sexuality before marriage were much more successful in their sexual relationship after marriage even if the behaviors looked the same as those who acted out of “shoulds” or just obedience.
Just as we talked about last week, no matter what age we are, when we act within our integrity and value systems, we are going to be much happier than when we don’t.
So where does this lead us?
Especially for those who have been married before, I think it is very hard to go from being sexual with a partner to not having that. If you’ve never engaged in sexual activity, I think it’s easier to push on that brake and stop things. But once you have been, your body just goes there. Your body is used to loving through sexuality. That is why, when someone engages in sexual activity before marriage (whether they are youth, single adults, divorced, or widowed) I understand. There is no judgment from me. No shame. I get it. And I am so grateful for the atonement and repentance process. But I also understand when people choose to engage sexually with a partner before they are married from their integrity, even if it’s outside of their normal value system.
Here’s a few examples:
Many years ago, a friend of mine had a daughter getting married. She and her fiancé were in college, they were old enough to get married, but my friend and her husband weren’t feeling like he was a good choice for their daughter. They definitely had concerns. And one of their concerns was that they were just getting married because they wanted to have sex. I remember her saying to me (and it shocked me at the time) that she would rather they just have sex before they were married than for her to marry the wrong person. That thought really stuck with me.
How many of you married your spouse, probably before you were ready, or maybe even regretted it later, but you just really wanted to have sex with them? How many people do you know that have done this? I used to hear stories of BYU students going to Wendover or Las Vegas, getting married, having sex, and then trying to get it annulled. It’s kind of ridiculous. I truly believe that sex is a wonderful sacred act that is best shared between husband and wife. But if people are getting married to just have sex, either practice more self-control, or just have sex. Just know that there will be consequences to your actions, because there always are.
I have another friend who had lost her husband. She found a wonderful man that she wanted to marry. But she also knew that she didn’t want to get married to just to have sex. So, she made a decision, out of her integrity, to have sex with this man before they got married. She knew the consequences and was willing to face them. But she didn’t want to marry him so they could have sex and then realize that it wasn’t the right thing. And guess what, I totally respect her decision, because it was integrity based.
When my husband Kevin and I met, we knew within 24 hours of meeting that we would get married. But we didn’t marry for another 7 months. Those were a HARD 7 months. But we decided to set some boundaries for ourselves so that we wouldn’t end up doing something that we would regret later. These were decisions made out of our integrity. We made rules for ourselves like “no being alone in the house together.” And “no laying down while kissing.” Sure, some of those rules were out of the For Strength of Youth pamphlet, but we both agreed that it is what we wanted for our relationship. We were trying to get clearance to get sealed in the temple, but things weren’t working out, and it was getting harder and harder to keep our boundaries, so the two of us eloped to the courthouse and we got sealed a year later. That is what worked for us and our integrity.
I also hear a lot of people who have been divorced, felt like they were sexually incompatible with their previous spouse, and want to make sure they are sexually compatible with someone before they marry them.
There are a couple of ways this plays out. I’m in a Facebook group for divorcing and divorced LDS women. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a post from women who said that they had absolutely no desire for sex when they were married to their spouse but now that they are single the desires are strong.
Then there is the flip side of the men and women who were the higher desire partner in their first marriage and they want to make sure in their next relationship that their partner has similar desire levels so they think they need to engage in sexual activities before marriage in order to know. And while I understand this, I also don’t necessarily agree that the sex you have before marriage will be the same as the sex you have within the marriage. People change. Circumstances change. What is forbidden is really arousing and the mundane daily grind isn’t. So I don’t necessarily agree with the premise that you need to check your sexual compatibility by actually having sex before you’re married.
What I do think is the biggest thing to help you get to know your partner sexually without actually having sex, is talking about it. And I don’t mean talking about it in a way that you are necessarily arousing each other. But talking openly and honestly about your belief systems. What you feel like is ok and not ok in your relationship. Expectations of frequency. If you can have open and honest communications about all the intricacies of sex, most likely you are going to have a pretty good sexual relationship. But if you run into a person who won’t talk about it, can’t express what they like and dislike, I think there is some work to do.
When me and my husband were dating (knowing that it was leading to engagement and marriage), he asked me if I liked sex. I told him that I liked it a lot. We talked openly about things we were willing to do, things we were open to trying, and things that were off the table. We were open and vulnerable with each other. And I believe it is one of the things that has led to us having a great sexual relationship throughout our (almost) 10 years of marriage. That original list has definitely expanded as we’ve grown closer and more open and vulnerable with each other and it’s been one of the most beautiful things about our marriage. A part that I truly cherish.
So before we end today, let’s talk a little bit about masturbation. If you haven’t listened to Episode 134 yet, I highly recommend you do so. It is my most downloaded podcast episode because the topic is controversial. My personal belief is that whether or not you masturbate, that is between you and God. Again, check with your integrity to see what is good and right for you. I think it can be a great way to help you relieve some of that sexual tension when you are single. And even *IF* it is a sin, this sin has far less consequences than breaking the Law of Chastity. But again, you do what is best for you.
So what can you take away from this?
- You need a healthy relationship with your own sexuality whether you are married or not.
- Sexuality isn’t legitimized in marriage.
- Make your decisions using your agency that are in alignment with your integrity no matter where you are in your life and relationships.
- If you act out of alignment with yourself, course correct to get back in alignment. Make it right.
- Don’t just do what’s easy. Sometimes the harder choices are the right choice.
- Others decisions are none of your business. We all mess up sometimes, we all need the Atonement. But it’s not your job to decide if someone else does or not.
- The best way to figure out sexual compatibility is to have frank and honest discussions. To be open and vulnerable. To create an intimate relationship (knowing them fully and being fully known) first. Then you are much more likely to create a sexually intimate relationship after you are married.