“Does God Want Me to Stop Having Premarital Sex?”

So here’s an email I got:

John,

I would love to get the advice of you (and your wonderful readers) about something. I’m 44 years old, divorced, and have two children. I’ve been sexually active since I was fifteen years old. I had a conversion experience in my twenties, but was married at the time. After my ex and I split I spent pretty close to a year and half without dating anyone. I didn’t expect, honestly, to ever really date anyone again.

So last November I met Roger. He is 48, divorced for quite a few years. His son is grown. Roger is a Christian, but in a mature, accepting way. He went to Bible college when he was young intending to be a minister, and had a very conservative faith in his younger years, but he’s very smart and very open minded and his life experiences molded his beliefs so that he and I are very similar in our faith.

I am IN LOVE with this man. He is sweet, thoughtful, calm, tender, generous, self-composed, responsible, reliable, loving and smart. He treats me like I walk on water, he’s exceptionally patient with my special-needs kids and get this — he’s even willing to learn how to ride a horse so that he can share my passion for all things equine.

I’ve been genuinely surprised at how exceptional this relationship is; I had spent years in a marriage full of anger and bitterness and verbal/emotional abuse. I’m not used to being around someone who is genuinely happy to see me every time he sees me. I’m not used to being around someone who is optimistic. Kind. Thoughtful. Unselfish. He and I were both wounded by our past relationships, and we both have independently and prayerfully reached the conclusion that God has given us to each other to bring about an exceptional amount of healing. I’m so grateful for him, as I know he is for me. For the first time ever in a relationship I’m not worried about when he’ll ask me to marry him – or even IF he’ll ask me to marry him. We are so happy and so content just to be with one another and frankly, after the recent horrid end to my last marriage, I’m not in a big hurry to repeat the past. I think Roger is probably open to getting married again, in fact from everything I can recall from conversations, he probably has every intention of marrying me should the day arrive when I’m no longer freaked out by the notion.

Now I’m no biblical scholar. My faith is centered so much more around my understanding of God as I have come to know Him. One thing I’m curious and wondering about — and maybe a little worried about, though I must not be THAT worried about it because it hasn’t changed my behavior — is the question of sex outside of the marriage relationship. See, in addition to all of the other wonderful qualities Roger has, and all of the incredible ways we complement each other relationally, there is the added benefit of some really incredible sexual chemistry between us. I have found my soulmate in every way imaginable, and I’m stunned at my age to be having this kind of spectacular sex life. He and I have the same effect on each other, and the weeks when my kids are with their dad, we can’t keep our hands off of each other. It’s like being teenagers, except worse, because we know SO much more than we did way back then about Tab A and Slot B.

I asked Roger what his thoughts were on whether what we were doing was sinful, and his answer was that a) we are mutually committed to one another even though we aren’t married, b) nobody is being hurt, emotionally or physically or otherwise and c) why would God give us something that feels so amazingly good if we’re not supposed to do it? I worry sometimes that it’s not bad enough that I’m a divorced heathen Christian who likes her wine and swears too much, but that I have to go and compound the situation by acting like an adulterous whore. But there you have it. I’m not sure it hinders my spirituality, but I will be very honest, there are times I have a good deal of residual guilt about this. Is that just left over from my conditioning — being a child of parents who never, ever talked about sex, and being in churches where I was told what I am now doing was a horrible sin? Or is that guilt there to tell me that I need to put a chastity belt on until I’m ready to marry my boyfriend?

Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

First of all, I want to express to anyone reading this how deeply I hope that you were not, as I was, eating, when you read the words “Tab A and Slot B,” scrambled eggs. Or, for that matter, eggs of any sort.

So that’s another breakfast ruined by someone writing me about their sex life.

Which reminds me: yesterday, having misspelled the word masticate, my spell-checker prompted the alternative masturbate. Which certainly is an alternative to chewing your food.

But the point is, there’s an important lesson there for all of us.

Wait. No, there isn’t. Sorry.

Right. So about this letter. I love it. I love how perfectly it captures what a healing joy a truly good relationship is. She really does seem to be in love with him; he really does seem worthy of that love.

Yay for love!

But … this sentence sounded a horsefly-in-the-ointment alert:

I think Roger is probably open to getting married again, in fact from everything I can recall from conversations, he probably has every intention of marrying me should the day arrive when I’m no longer freaked out by the notion.

Underlines mine.

So now I’ll talk directly to the woman who wrote me this letter:

Dear WWWMTL:

Thanks for writing me this great letter! And congratulations on your new excellent-sounding relationship!

The reason I highlighted the sentence above is because it raises two major questions:

1. Why don’t you know how Roger feels about marriage? That you don’t know something so fundamental to your relationship with him as how he feels about getting married generally and about marrying you specifically can only mean that you’re not as close to Roger as you’ve otherwise indicated you are. It’s like saying that your car means everything in the world to you — you love that car; you dote over it! — but then being unable to say what color the car is. It doesn’t make sense. How could you have talked with him about this so few times that in trying to share Roger’s thoughts on the matter, all you can say is, ” … from everything I can recall from our conversations about it … ?” You should know exactly what the man thinks and feels about marriage, and why. Having that chuck of knowledge missing from your relationship is like having the cornerstone missing from a new building. It’s just not a good foundation.

2. Why are you “freaked out by the notion” of marrying Roger? You’ve told us he’s the greatest guy in the history of testosterone: a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime man whom you love with all your heart. So why does the notion of marrying him freak you out? I understand that what happened with your first marriage has left you wary of marrying again. And that’s understandable: nobody goes prancing across a field in which they believe are buried land mines. But you’ve already committed to Roger in every last way except marriage. You’ve already traveled across that field. And yet, having arrived safely at the other side, you’re still terribly worried that something might unexpectedly blow up on you. And that’s cool. But it indicates that in some major way you’re not actually at the party you’re throwing. And you’ve said you’re not sure you’ll ever want to attend that party. So maybe letting that party wind down a bit is in order.

And let’s look for a moment at Roger’s justifications for why you and he should keep having sex together. (Obnoxiously sexist side note: gee, what a surprise: a man with logical reasons for why a woman should keep having lots of sex with him.)

1. “We are mutually committed to one another, even though we aren’t married.” You and Roger may be “mutually committed” to one another, but you’re not fully committed to one another: if you were, you’d be married. Inside that innocuous sounding “even though” lies much baggage that needs unpacking.

2. “Nobody is being hurt, emotionally or physically.” But you’ve said that at times the sex you’re having with Roger leaves you with “a good deal of residual guilt.” That is somebody being hurt. That’s you being hurt. You’ve either not told Roger about this guilt you suffer — or you have told him about it, and he’s failing to take it as seriously as he should. Either is problematic.

3. “Why would God give us something that feels so amazingly good if we’re not supposed to do it?” What is he, eight? (Sorry.) Anyway, again: it’s not feeling so “amazingly good,” is it? Guilty is about the least amazingly good feeling anyone can have.

So. Logic FAIL all around, yes?

I do want to stress again how wonderful this relationship sounds; nothing I’m saying here is any reason to think it can’t develop into something spectacular and enduring.

That said, you have only known this guy for six or seven months. And what right now is happening with your relationship with him is that: A. He (apparently) doesn’t want to get married to you; B. You (apparently) don’t want to get married to him; and C. You live with your children.

So my Complete Vote is that you stop having sex with Roger until the two of you really are committed enough for you, in your heart of hearts, to be absolutely, one hundred percent positive that, in giving to him your all, you are not transgressing against something at least as dear to you as he could ever be. I suggest you tell Roger that you want to put the brakes on your sexual relationship with him until you figure out what about having sex with him is producing your resultant guilt. Tell him you want him as a partner in your exploration of that deeply emotional terrain. If he really loves you — if Roger really is the Mr. Right he certainly seems to be — then he’ll be deeply gratified to no longer be for you a source of guilt, honored that you’ve chosen to be so honest with him, and excited about beginning the journey you just invited him on toward a whole other level of relationship with you.

What say you, wonderful readers?

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About John Shore

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  • Sara

    This could be my husband and me. We were both very damaged from previous relationships, and I was so commitment-phobic that when he said he wanted to date exclusively, it was almost too much. Yet we couldn’t keep our hands off each other from the first date. After vowing to take it slow – both soooo leary and gunshy – we ended up getting married 4 months after our first blind date!

    She definitely needs to figure out what is causing the negative emotion, whether it be conditioning or a spiritual guidance. She needs to sit down with Roger in a neutral place and have a productive “where is this going” talk. She needs to search her own heart to know if she can trust him so she can stop “freaking out” at the mention of committment. The results from those searches should show her the right path.

  • Eve in Eden

    I don’t fully agree in this response. You tried to correct her behavior without working on trying to correct her perception of herself. Why is a woman either a “whore” or a “virgin” and nothing in between? Men never have to fall victim of being one or the other. This would be a great opportunity for you to help her and other women to see that women are more than one extreme or the other extreme. I don’t necessarily think her guilt comes from her engaging in sex in this particular relationship. It comes from how the church keeps driving the notion that sex in almost ever circumstance as a sin. (There are many circumstances when it is, but if both people are on the same page with one another, they are not married to anyone else and they are adults, then I don’t believe it is.) What messages did she grow up with regarding sex and religion? Now sex should be happening responsibly and with the utmost transparency and communication. But the church has made one’s sense of sexuality a sin. Some people bury their sense of sexual self so far down because of the message “it’s a sin!” They aren’t being authentically themselves by denying this part. Again, I stress, it needs to happen with responsibility.

    I agree that the discussion of marriage and future need to happen soon just so both parties are on the same page with one another. If the reader feels that she needs to stop having sex in order to clarify with her partner, that is her decision. But she is not an adulterous whore.

  • Sara

    PS I absolutely *hated* the term “adulterous whore” when referring to lovemaking between 2 people who adore each other. That phrase is what makes me think this guilt business is from conditioning, not a spiritual guidance.

  • Micah

    I don’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing. The trouble is in the way she feels about it. If she’s doing something she doesn’t feel good about — for whatever reason — she should take a look at that. I think this is what she’s asking you to do: answer the “why do I still feel guilty if this is perfect?” question. I’m not sure anyone else will be able to answer that for her. For a divorced woman in a new relationship to feel like an adulterous whore makes total sense to me, for what it’s worth. She’s been married, been conditioned to say no to anything that could lead to infidelity to what sounds like a crappy spouse, and not that she’s no longer married to said spouse, she’s still got that “no no no no” voice in her head. Possibly also combined with a “this man treats me too nicely. I don’t deserve this” voice. I say, don’t change anything. Stay in the relationship, stay sexual, but be as prudent as you can about protecting yourself physically and emotionally, should something unexpected happen and it turn out that you don’t know this guy as well as you think you do. Chemistry is a powerful factor and makes everyone do stupid things. Not saying you’re doing stupid things, but never underestimate the power of sex to make you feel like you know someone better than you do. My .$.02

  • Christy

    Agreed.

  • Debbie Kos

    I agree with your response, John. I am Christian and I’m thinking that God is definitely a part of my relationship with my husband, and marriage by extension… and well, shouldn’t He be? I was divorced before my marriage and I do empathize with sexual needs and desires being strong, but waiting to have sex until marriage deepened the bond between my husband and myself right off the bat, knowing that God was right there all along.

    One thing I don’t get is that this guy is a Christian, “but” in a mature accepting way. I just don’t get that statement and what it might seem to imply for the rest of us.

  • Lucy

    I think you are right on with your reply, as these people are claiming to be Chist-followers. If she feels badly/guilty, then she IS being hurt – so ‘no one is getting hurt’ is a lie. If Roger is willing to hurt her, or she is willing to let herself be hurt – than neither one should be in this relationship.

    God designed sex to be within a fully commited lifelong relationship. People screw this up, as we do most things- we’re sinners! There is forgiveness when we do, but when we strive to do things HIS way rather than our own, it’s so much better!

    Yes, it’s hard to keep your hands off each other. God designed us as sexual beings. Sex is not bad, just like food is not bad. But what you do with it can be bad for you- eating things you shouldn’t and when you shouldn’t makes you unhealthy… and sex in the wrong context does the same thing, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

  • Lucy

    Would fornicator be better? If you’re not married and you’re having sex, that’s called fornication. This isn’t just “Spirtual guidance”.. these people are claiming to be Christian – “Christ Followers”. If that’s the claim, then are they following His teaching? If she’s feeing guilty about it, it’s not “lovemaking”.. it’s just plain old sex. For Roger to be trying to tell her this is ok, he’s certianly not following Christ!

  • Female Reader

    I agree with those who say that a lot of it has to do with conditioning. Two people committed is exactly that – two people committed. I no longer believe that a marriage certificate from the state or a marriage ceremony with a priest/pastor makes a relationship any more committed than two people who have looked each other in the eyes and said, “I’m in this with you.”

    If something happens to my husband, I’ll likely not remarry. Many, many reasons for this – none of them reflective of him or our marriage, both of which are great blessings in my life. But I likely also won’t become celibate. If a relationship presents itself in my life and we’re mutually trustworthy and respectful, I’m not going to say no to an intimate relationship because the state hasn’t sanctioned it.

    I would have suggested counseling to this woman (whose bravery for putting this out here deserves kudos). It would be good to get clarity about where the guilt is coming from and what her expectations are as well as what her desires for the future of the relationship (expectations and desires can be two different things.) Yes, sure, she needs to talk to Roger, but not before first being super clear about her needs and expectations and desires as well as where the guilt is coming from.

  • http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com Paul from Canada

    “Why would God give us something that feels so amazingly good if we’re not supposed to do it?”

    Then, by extension: Anywhere. Anyone. Any time.

  • http://annajoy5.blogspot.com Anna Joy

    Ditto on the whole “adulterous whore” self labeling….

  • Sara

    Actually, yes – at least to me, fornicator is a better word than “adulterous whore”.

    For one thing, neither of them is married, therefore it’s not adulterous, nor is lovemaking with your committed partner ‘whoring’. THAT’s why it’s conditioning, not spiritual guidance.

    Conditioning – BAD; Spirtual Guidance – GOOD.

  • M. McM.

    Puh-leeze. Set aside the residual guilt and enjoy the blessings of God. I.E. Yahoo! You’re in relationship and that’s what God is all about.

  • Carla

    Sounds like old Roger has a good thing goin.’

  • vj

    John, I just have to say that I think your response to the letter-writer is wonderful – both in the nature of your wise counsel and in the writing itself. THIS is why I love to read your stuff! :-)

  • Don Rappe

    You’re not a whore unless you’re taking money for it.

    You’re not an adulterer unless a spouse is involved.

    These guilt filled words are not related to her life at all. So yes, quite possibly her guilty feelings are simply irrational.

    .

  • Don Rappe

    Clearly, when she says no one is being hurt, she means other people outside the relationship.

  • shaw

    love is love. why hold back?

    maybe the whole “judge not lest ye be judged” thing applies to judging yourself, also?

    and just to put this “whore” thing in perspective i know plenty of 25 year old men and women who have easily slept with 50-100 people of the opposite sex, possibly more. whatever floats your boat, as long as you aren’t transmitting aids or babies.

  • Don Rappe

    Yes, if it is unselfish and injures no one.

  • Don Rappe

    Yes, absolutely sexist. They are at an age where it seems hard to say who has the better thing going!

  • Amy

    Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as pre-marital sex… the sex is what binds two people and makes the marriage.

    That said, I do think the lovely letter writer needs to sit down with her man and get on the same page- whatever that page may be.

  • Don Rappe

    Mark Twain tells somewhere about a cat that jumps on a hot stove lid. It will never jump on a hot stove lid again. It won’t jump on a cold one either. I’m pretty sure this story is not just about cats. Certainly a man and woman in a monogamous sexual relationship should talk to each other. But it’s not all that common. Surely, the possibility of another child should be discussed. 44 is not beyond the age of child bearing. Two people are married when they have pledged their troth in faithfulness to each other. Perhaps if you were not already sharing sex I would agree with John, but, under the circumstances, I don’t. You do need to communicate with each other about the possible futures of your relationship, but I see no real benefit to withholding sex unless you are only doing it for him, which is clearly not the case.

  • Don Rappe

    If a Christian woman acts like an adulterous whore, of course that’s bad! But since this woman is not, that whole concept is a red herring dragged across the trail. No sign of her being heathen either. If the relationship is unselfish and injures no one than it is not a sin. Save the word fornicate for players.

  • shaw

    the real question, then, is “who’s doing the hurting?’

    the reason she feels guilty is because she subscribes to a church who has told her that god doesn’t like it when people have sex out of wedlock.

    maybe it is her belief and need to satisfy the church’s desire for marriage that is causing her guilt, and not because of her loving new relationship.

  • Dirk

    My two cents, for what they are worth.

    Why buy the cow when milk is so cheap down at the local store?

    More poetically, there is a song on exactly this topic:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIr8-f2OWhs

    “If you liked it, you should have put a ring on it”. Pretty much sums it up from my perspective.

  • Christy

    Totally agree.

  • Christy

    Lucy, in considering your reply I’m wondering if there are other instances where people may feel guilt and shame about an action that is completely normal and healthy.

    Masturbation comes to mind. Perfectly normal. Perfectly healthy and because of conditioning, usually from religious institutions, an unnecessary number of people carry around guilt and shame because of it.

    The guilt and shame are not extensions of the act, but the bad conditioning. The act is not bad; it’s that we’ve been inculcated that the act is bad. Analyzing and revising our assumptions about the act will relieve the guilt.

  • Christy

    “Yes, we praise women over 40 for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal. For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over 40, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 22-year old waitress. Ladies, I apologize. For all those men who say, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”, here’s an update for you. Nowadays 80%of women are against marriage. Why? Because women realize it’s not worth buying an entire pig just to get a little sausage!”

    — Andy Rooney

  • David H.

    John,

    I usually love your stuff, but your response to this woman was as full of FAIL as anything I’ve ever read from some narrow-minded, “conservative” Christianist. It’s just this sort of heartless Chrisitanity that drives thinking, feeling people away from the church (and good riddance, if that’s all we’re about).

    The only response she should have heard is about how to get rid of that crushing guilt that’s the result of the superstitious hatred of sexuality that has somehow survived in the Western church.

    Dude, this woman came to you for help, and you might as well have smacked her across the face.

  • DR

    Wow. As a woman who’s had a similar experience I felt empowered to actually pursue the guilt after reading this than being shamed even more.

  • DR

    Lucy, why do you think changing the name of this to what matches Biblically is going to change this experience for her? Or even be helpfu? Please stop treating the Bible like a magic trick. Sex like most things is often a symptom of a much larger issue. She’s already said she feels guilty – did you read that? Why rush in and only make sure she’s aware of how much the Bible is telling her she should feel guilty when she’s already filled with guilt? It’s hard to understand why you think that’s helpful – it seems like people read ‘sex” and then their brain goes into “the only thing that’s important here is that you know what the Bible calls that” when the Word is written on our hearts and Jesus came to deal with the root – not the symptom – which is so often what our choices of behavior are.

  • DR

    Shaw,

    No one knows the reason anyone feels anything on the internet. Of course conditioning comes into play here and it’s possible this has impacted the OP in a substantial way. And it’s also true that for her, sex is very vulnerable for reasons of which we’re unaware. The behaviors we choose around sex have everything to do with how safe we feel in the relationship itself. The *safety* of the relationship for her, might mean marriage. This may have nothing to do with her sexual desires at all and everything to do with what she needs to feel safe enough to have sex with someone. Which is absolutely her right to shape for herself.

  • DR

    One more thing: The behaviors we choose around sex have everything to do with how safe we feel in the relationship itself. The *safety* of the relationship for her, might mean marriage. This may have nothing to do with her sexual desires at all and everything to do with what she needs to feel safe enough to have sex with someone. Which is absolutely her right to shape for herself and not for any of us to judge, nor is that some kind of hold over from Conservative Christianity I know a lot of liberal-minded christian women who feel the same way. Stricter boundaries for oneself around sex may just be due to some boundaries around one’s heart and mind that are placed there due to a variety of factors – as much as we want to protect women from the accusations of “whore” for being sexually active, let’s not over-correct and suggest there’s something faulty with women who have a lot of other stuff tied into it for themselves that may have nothing to do with religious conditioning.

  • Amy

    Here’s a blog re-posting of an article I read ages ago in Re:generation magazine:

    http://www.johnpbarr.com/2005/10/25/theres-no-such-thing-as-premarital-sex/

  • DR

    I understand the intent of your point, but for people who are married and can’t have sex (there are a lot of them) this is a pretty narrow definition.

  • DR

    x2

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    David: You surely, SURELY read this way too fast. I never once (for instance) even MENTIONED, in my response to her, God or Christianity. Take off your angry glasses; read again.

  • Marcelo

    What I hope isn’t too contradictory follows:

    1. OP, I hope I am wrong, but it does sound a bit like you are asking John for “permission” to engage in sex in what sounds like a wonderful relationship. The question is, why do you think you need this validation?

    2. Related to that, what is the source of this residual guilt?

    3. Why haven’t you had an explicit and non-scary discussion with your guy about the whole marriage thing? You don’t have to conclude you will or won’t in discussing this with him, but given the seriousness of your relationship I agree that it is vital that you each discover how the other feels very explicitly about the possibility of marriage.

    4. Having said all this, I have to confess to a fair amount of residual guilt of my own. Similar to the OP, I find myself in a very similar relationship with a wonderful woman. I wonder if our incredible sex is just that or is something more.

    5. The point of all this–and why I have put this in the form of questions is–OP, you have to decide these things for yourself. I think we get hung up too many times asking others for permission to do something that we know for ourselves is wrong just to assuage our guilt OR getting permission to do something that we SHOULD know is not wrong, but we carry unearned guilt about. This is only something you can truly decide, OP, and you cannot abdicate responsibility for coming to that decision on your own. No one, except you and God, know the reality of your situation.

    6. I do have to say, John, that you may have drawn some conclusions that aren’t warranted without more information, and thereby unintentionally lay more guilt at OP’s doorstep. Given with what she’s already dealing with, it may be unwarranted. Normally I so agree with so many of your conclusions, but on this one it seems a bit like the leaping-to kind.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Nothing to add–I agree with your response John.

  • Christy

    “Every person processes and embodies their tradition in an original and organic way that is complex and embedded in the person’s experience of joy and suffering; loss and loves. When talking about religion we are always treading on delicate and intensely personal ground and an authentic religious conversation involves listening more than speaking in order to fully understand and appreciate another person’s religious background.”—Paul Raushenbush, religion editor, The Huffington Post

    John, you know I love your work. If this woman were writing to me, I would not have chosen to respond to her in this way. I think in telling her to stop having sex and tangentially referring to it as transgressing without the recommendation of counseling and without more measured reasoning and a few more caveats, you may end up reinforcing her sense of guilt. I sense she will end up feeling: “He wouldn’t have told me to stop if I wasn’t doing something wrong.” And, it isn’t as gently worded as I would have chosen to be…… especially starting off so early in your reply with words like “ignorant” and phrases like “you’re not as close to Roger as you say you are”. I was taken aback by the one-two punch of those comments, and I’m not the letter writer. It ends up sounding more critical than offering insight. Her situation seems similar to the letter writer you referenced in your piece “Is the Devil Making Me Believe in a ‘Liberal’ God Who Isn’t the True God?” and your advice there would have seemed to fit so very nicely here as well:

    “Sorting, as it were, the chess from the checker pieces, isn’t easy. It takes a lot of emotional work

    done over a great deal of time. If you’re serious about undertaking that prodigious journey, seek

    as a guide and helper a good psychologist or therapist. It’s almost impossible to do such

    challenging work alone. We all need help freeing ourselves from the oppressive tyrants of the

    old, and accepting for ourselves the liberating, true love of the new.”

    She has had her eyes opened to what a healthy loving physical and emotional human relationship looks and feels like. This can also be the catalyst for growth and insight into a more loving and healthy relationship with the Divine – a spiritual journey for sure, requiring eyes wide open, self-reflection, awareness, and a compassionate wise guide.

    Dear Writer,

    1) Find a caring counselor or therapist to help you work through the issues of the past and the guilt of the present in order to be better prepared to make healthy, insightful, life affirming decisions for each new day….including whether or not the sexual aspect of your relationship is meeting those needs.

    2) Intimacy depends on communication: Talk to Roger about how you feel, your hopes, dreams, fears, and expectations as well as the guilt. Ask him to share the same. Take note of how he responds. Affirming or dismissive? Emotional vulnerability is the fertile ground for meaningful relationships, but it does involve risk and is often very difficult to achieve following the end a painful relationship. Being risk averse is natural, however it can also rob us of valuable meaning and deep connection in our lives. The goal in any relationship is to build this trust and intimacy through striking a healthy balance between sensible caution and emotional openness.

    3) Here’s a great video by a wonderful woman, Brene Brown. She’s a researcher studying human connection, vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.

    The Power of Vulnerability

    http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

    This TED video is the best 20 minutes I’ve spent since the last time I laughed so hard with my best friend I nearly peed my pants and since the last best A-ha breakthrough moment. The wisest most concise WOW of pulling the “it” of my past 9 years of reading, self-reflective work, and experiential learning altogether. It speaks directly about our fear, worthlessness, vulnerability, shame, longing for love and human connection, sense of belonging, relationships, why we experience them and why we interact with people as we do and how it is played out in modern culture, relationships, religion, and politics.

    I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    4) Spend some time reflecting on what you and your children need and want.

    5) The best life-changing advice my dearest friend ever gave me about God and feeling like I never measured up was this:

    “Yes, the journey is it…and remember too that none of us will ever get it all right…our human-ness means we’re imperfect no matter how hard we try to be the perfect servant, and so then letting go of “we’re not enough” is important. We are enough…the Lord takes us just as we are. With a humble and loving heart it’s a joy to be led where we need to be…I try to listen for God’s voice and if not sure, wait. I know from personal experience that it’s sometimes very hard as being a problem solver and independant by nature compounds the struggle, but I do feel that I’m getting better at letting go…and it’s such a relief! Perfection will never be achieved, and it’s not important…open-ness and letting go is. The more I practice, and just try just to relax and enjoy the journey, the more joy I find. Your heart is in the right place, and God is already using you for good, my dear friend. Just let go and enjoy who you are now. God is already taking care of you…and each trial is an opportunity for growth…..God isn’t waiting until you are a perfect servant to love you…God loves you now…”

  • Holly

    This was so interesting to read. As a woman who is in the dating world after going through a crappy (to say the least), albeit short, marriage, I have some thoughts…

    The combination of spending years in a terrible marriage, having it end badly, and then not dating at all for a while… can kind of put you in a place where there could be some strong reaction to someone who treats you, well, like a woman SHOULD be treated.

    Obviously you two aren’t a coupla dumb kids, and of course there’s absolutely nothing bad about thoroughly enjoying what sounds like an exceptional relationship….

    But these points are where I felt weird:

    Referring to yourself as an adulterous whore.

    Feeling guilty after sex sometimes… (I’m gonna take a guess that guilt isn’t the only negative feeling that rears it’s ugly head? I dunno though.)

    Talking about Roger as though HE is the one who “walks on water”.

    And the biggest one for me is you being genuinely surprised that things are so exceptional… Shit, it had BETTER be exceptional… You’ve known each other for 7 months.

    Since Roger doesn’t seem like he’s just some jerk who is just enjoying being around someone who thinks he’s perfect, I would say that if you can openly describe your occasional after-sex negative feelings, and he shows concern, asks questions, shows empathy, etc… then Yay!

    But, if he tries to write it off as just you being an over-emotional woman with “baggage”, and then reiterate his list of reasons why it’s totally all good to keep doing what you two have been doing- then tell him to fuck off, honestly. In my opinion, that’s a red flag that no amount of soul-mate-ness can cancel out. Even if he packages that shithead reaction in pseudo-niceness. If he makes it “your” issue and not “our” issue… dump him. I mean… that’s just my opinion.

    I feel like it kinda doesn’t matter WHERE these feelings of yours comes from, as much as how your partner handles the situation with you. Men don’t really have emotional ties to sex as much as women do. (No one argue that with me please. It’s true. Endofstory.) =)

    Find a good time and place to have that conversation with him, don’t hold back the truth out of fear, remember that YOU DO deserve a relationship as wonderful as you described SANS the guilt! =) You’re obviously an intelligent, cool ass woman– You deserve wonderful. Boom.

  • Holly

    Agreed, DR. Totally.

  • Allen

    But Paul, “it” does not feel wonderful with anyone, anywhere, anytime — for this writer of for anyone else. I agree that the “why would God give us…” question is often used as a license to live an unexamined life of pleasure, but this woman is clearly not doing that.

    And Don, I’m more in line with your reaction, except I know of cases where there is a willful suspension of disbelief about whether anyone is being injured, until it’s too late to pretend otherwise.

    Life is rather complicated, huh?

  • Allen

    Bullseye, Female Reader! I think writing to John Shore counts as seeking counseling, although it lacks a certain structure and doesn’t continue over weeks/months. This is a good “appetizer” to a main course of counseling. Counseling, of course, is only as good as the counselor, which makes it a daunting step.

  • Allen

    Debbie, I think that “but mature” modifier shows the kind of Christianity this woman was familiar with in her past: the black/white, heaven/hell, sinner/saint variety that is fairly simplistic and immature. There’s a difference between “Jesus loves me this I know / for the Bible tells me so” and “Jesus/God was there for me when no one else was, I felt God’s love in my heart.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Christy: You wrote, “She has had her eyes opened to what a healthy loving physical and emotional human relationship looks and feels like. This can also be the catalyst for growth and insight into a more loving and healthy relationship with the Divine – a spiritual journey for sure, requiring eyes wide open, self-reflection, awareness, and a compassionate wise guide.”

    See? Now, I would have thought that entirely too condescending, ephemeral, pat, and patronizing.

    But that’s just me!

    And I did NOT “tangentially refer” to her having sex as transgression: you need to read that part again. What I SAID was that her guilt tells me that she IS transgressing against something she holds dear; the proof of that is that it’s causing her the emotional pain of guilt. Those two aren’t the same things at all, Christy.

    And I thought long and hard about that word “ignorant.” Saying someone is ignorant of something is NOT the same thing as calling them ignorant. I am ignorant of the current price of rice in China. That doesn’t make me ignorant generally. You come up with a better way of saying what I did right there, and I’ll cut it into the piece.

    And if I had put into this piece any more “measured reasons” and “caveats,” it would have been intolerably long.

    MAN, but people come into these posts with their buttons on full alert.

  • Allen

    there are two other things a woman can be: a “Good Wife” or a “Spinster.” A good deal of conditioning in our society suggests that if you are no longer a Good Wife (that is, divorced) then your options are limited to Whore and Spinster. I agree with several other people here that the source of this writer’s guilty feelings is the thing to discover, and to keep an eye out while developing the relationship.

  • SugarMags

    I’m about 2/3 through the responses here, and I want to finish later and post more thoughtfully. I totally understand this woman!!! I get it. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. But I think everyone is overlooking something — although one or two responses hit on it just a bit — marriage is NEVER defined in the Bible as two people standing before a pastor or a representative of the state and saying vows. It’s not a certificate, it’s not a celebration or a ceremony. These things have evolved over time, and in many cultures, and in many different ways. In the early Jewish tradition, in the time in which Jesus lived, a man could marry a woman by ceremony, or by having sex with her! Once they had sex, he was expected to fulfill all the duties of a husband to her, and this would be held up legally. It was the culture’s way of protecting a woman. I don’t agree with the person who said that sex = marriage, but I also don’t agree that sex between two mutually committed people can’t be blessed by God without a legal certificate signed by the state. God can’t be put in a box. His laws and ways transcend culture and time. Imagine telling a couple in a nomadic tribe that they aren’t really married, because they have no state-signed certificate?

  • Allen

    I’m not going to get into the “sex outside/before marriage” thing because it’s so relentlessly heterocentric I just don’t understand it. We weren’t able to get married until 18 years into our relationship, (in 45 states we still couldn’t be married) you can see how that would change my views.

    Finding out the source of the guilty feelings seems like job one, and writing this letter to John and his readers is a reasonable first step in that process.

    I’d also add that the relationship as described sounds better than average, and is worth developing/maintaining. John may be right that removing sex from the equation will answer some questions, but it seems like a way to quickly add another thing to feel guilty about. A quick survey of marriages will tell anyone that they are not all the same, and it’s not rational to fear getting married because your ex-spouse (or your best friend’s, or your sister-in-law, etc.) was a jerk — but that’s a cerebral response, and this writer’s issues are not cerebral. I also didn’t see the use of “probably” as being such a big red flag — coming out of a bad relationship (which surely looked promising at the start or there wouldn’t have been a marriage), I’d use modifiers anytime I talked hopefully about the present & future too.

    I agree, looking at the conditioning/authentic feeling stuff is going to clarify a lot of this.

    (BTW, I’m sorry to be writing in the third person rather than directly addressing/responding to you, but it seems to be the way this is done. I don’t like the image of a bunch of us sitting around discussing you as if you’re not here, but it also feels too personal to answer you directly, since you were not asking me directly. New media = new communication nuances I guess.)

  • http://facebook Keith

    I think you were dead on with your response and were very insightful.

  • charles

    I LOVE your response John….

    I think you are totally correct in all of your comments- especially about the kids involved.

  • David H.

    Sorry, John. Re-read it, still came to the same conclusion. In what I generally think of as church-speak, your response was “un-helpful.”

    I just hope you didn’t make it worse for her…

  • SugarMags

    I agree, DR!! The word “fornication” is just as guilt-producing as “whore”. And neither one really applies here anyway. The biblical meaning of fornication depends completely on the context. There are so many meanings (bestiality, incest, adultery, etc.) of which “sex outside of marriage” is only one. So again we must ask…what indeed is marriage? Is it a ceremony? a certificate? a commitment? Anyone who has been in an emotionally abusive marriage knows you can have a certificate — you can even have a “commitment” — and not have a “marriage”. And how many women have been raped in their own marriage bed, by their own husband? Sexual sin, as well as non-sinful sex, is so complicated….it can’t be defined by “marriage or not”.

  • SugarMags

    Completely agree.

  • selene

    Personally, I think people place way too much on the legal institution of marriage. The legal institution does not in any way reflect the spiritual institution. Marriage before God is a marriage of the heart, giving yourself entirely over to another and that person doing the same until you think of each other as one, inseparable unit. I believe there are people living together who aren’t married that are married before God. I also believe there are many people who are “married” who were never married before God or who have divorced each other before God. So, just because she hasn’t gone through the state to change her name yet doesn’t automatically mean that she isn’t married to him.

    That being said, I’m most concerned about her reasons for not getting married. She says she is committed, but if she were truly committed, marriage wouldn’t be a big deal, either way. The fact that she doesn’t want to get married tells me that she may want that “out” waiting for her should she decide he’s not that great. She wants to be able to break up with him and leave without any mess to clean up behind her . . . which is why sex would be infinitely wrong for her. They’re both being somewhat self-centered in their view of sex with each other. The guy is too blind to see that if she’s asking if sex is a sin, it’s bothering her and he should keep his hands off until she feels secure again. She’s being selfish by allowing him to think that the relationship is “marriageable” and that they are fully committed. How is no one getting hurt in all of this? She’s already hurting. If she decides to leave, does she think he will be unhurt? Just because the hurt hasn’t happened quite yet doesn’t mean that it isn’t destined to happen.

    The admonitions in the Bible about extra-marital sex are, I believe, admonitions to protect people. Sex is most meaningful when it’s between two people who trust and love each other completely. As I pointed out, since they aren’t in full trust and commitment (whether legal commitment or not), they are hurting each other. Moreover, when looking at the sex “rules” in light of the law of love, I’d have to say that sex should always be done in love. It’s not really love if he can convince her to keep having sex with him. He’s not really considering what’s best for her psychologically right now. He’s thinking with his dick and his dick is saying, “give me mine.” Similarly, she’s not really loving him by having sex with him with those doubts. She’s giving in to pressure, for one. And she’s giving in to what feels good for her, for two.

    Now let’s take it a step further. We’re told to love others as we love ourselves. That implies that there has to be a healthy sense of self-love too. It’s probably easy to show how the selfishness of each is getting in the way of the other, but is having sex really loving herself properly? Is she truly doing what is best for herself. Is she contributing to her sense of personhood, or is she detracting from it? What I’ve found to be the best judge of whether sex is good or not is a simple question. Does it dehumanize or objectify anyone in anyway? One night stands are the obvious “yes.” The only purpose for the partner is to cause an orgasm. They’re personality, background, etc. don’t matter in a one night stand. But for other “committed” relationships, that question can be harder to answer. In this instance, I believe she is dehumanizing herself by ignoring her own doubts. She is dehumanizing him by leading him on while holding onto her escape route. He is dehumanizing her by valuing sex above her feelings and needs, and he is dehumanizing himself by reducing himself to the stereotypical sex machine.

    I feel her pain. I know what it’s like to be afraid of the “ball and chain.” But she needs to realize that she’s doing more harm by having sex with someone that she can’t commit to because she doesn’t know or trust him enough to know that he won’t change when they get married. She’s hurting herself by holding onto that fear that “maybe he will become like my ex if we get married” but she’s also adding in “maybe he won’t want me anymore if I don’t want to have sex.” Both are unhealthy for the relationship. From what he said about sex, he doesn’t sound as perfect as she describes. Perhaps it’s time for both of them to step back from the relationship and take a hard look at what the foundation and substance of that relationship is. If it’s built on fear, mistrust, and lust–that’s not good, no matter how many kind, nice things he says. If it’s built on mutual love, then abstaining from sex to work on the fear and mistrust bit is the only way to sustain that love. Sex should NEVER happen if there is any mistrust or lack of commitment. It harms her. It harms him. It harms love. Don’t let love get mistaken for lust. That’s happened too much in our society today. Let love be love, and sex the beautiful result of total and complete oneness with another person. Using it as the tool to oneness will never work.

  • charles

    I LOVE your response John….

    I think you are totally correct in all of your comments- especially about the kids involved.

    I should add however- the language of whore or adultress might be suggesting her own self condemnation- not Gods…. Jesus hung out and cared for harlots and tax collectors- (which back then, as I understood it had a much darker meaning than today…if thats possible…).

  • micki7

    Having been in a similar situation as this woman, I can understand. The difference with me was that I refused to label myself with guilt ridden shame based names. I too was divorced, and as we all know (wink wink) women who are divorced should NEVER be allowed to find happiness again, since they are now “damaged, used goods”…such is the ideological oppression of women’s sexual identities. ‘I was more fortunate in that I no longer CARED what people called me (and they DID call me: whore, fornicator, Jezabel) I knew then and know now that my perception of God/Goddess/Source is more understanding of the foibles and “interesting adventures” of the human experience, and not limited to the Dogmas that keep crapping on everyone’s lawns and lives. Were this a man asking the question what would be the response? Thing is, men WOULDN’T be asking the question, they’d be just getting on (and possibly getting IT on) with their lives, “Christian” or not.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    So you’re sticking with I showed her nothing but “heartless Christianity.” Amazing.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I think she was mainly just kidding by calling herself an adulterous whore.

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    When I saw the headline of “acting like an adulterous whore” I was expecting the person involved to be talking about having lots of one-night stands or something, not a situation of having sex with one guy she’s commited to (just without a state legal certificate).

    My own relationship is…. weird… to say the least. I know I’d be married if the state wasn’t involved in marriage – the certificate and record thereof would screw us up moneywise, debtwise, and in getting the help I need for a health condition. I know that sometimes “legal marriage” can be – just paper, paper that could mess things up more than help (and the church hasn’t caught up to that thinking). Sex isn’t involved in my partnership, however, so perhaps my saying such a thing is a luxury.

    All I know is that when I think of someone “acting like a whore” my mind goes to “strings of uncaring one-night stands” rather than something within a longstanding relationship.

  • DR

    You are projecting your issues with and emotions about Christianity so thoroughly here and are so unwilling to consider that. It’s amazing how invested we are as human beings in keeping our stories alive and using any conversation we come across (like this one) to do it. Creepy.

  • Guilty as Charged

    Thanks all for your responses, and John, thank you for your very thoughtful response to my letter.

    Since I wrote to you, the subject of marriage has actually been discussed in more detail. He would marry me right now, were that what I truly wanted to do. However, my feelings about marriage are complicated — both from a logical view and from an emotional one. I have a great deal of emotional baggage, no one is going to argue with that. :) I have seen few relationships where getting married improved anything, mine included. What that tells me in retrospect is that I chose the wrong person to be married to, which also says a lot about me and what things I need to be working on. The other issue is that I share my children’s last name, and it seems rather complicated to me to figure out how to best approach that in a way that honors the people who are most important to me – my children, and “Roger.” I am also not sure that having a piece of paper from the state that says ‘married’ makes me any more or less in love than I already am. We are talking about it, though, and he takes my concerns seriously and has never once made me to feel like I’m being foolish.

    I continue to struggle with unshackling myself from the rules and strictures that I grew up with. I had a mother who, though I love her very much and she was in many ways a most excellent parent, had serious difficulty discussing sex with me. I was given books to read, but when I was in high school and she suspected I was having sex with my boyfriend, she blurted out “I hope I don’t have to get you an abortion!!!!” and ran from the room. Yes, it was THAT difficult for her to talk about sex. That greatly colored my own ability to discuss sex openly, including with eventual partners. It influenced my perception of sex as being shameful and not okay. I continue to try to shatter those long-buried and harmful beliefs.

    I am in a very liberal church, but I still feel that were I to talk to my priest about sex outside of marriage, I would be told what I am doing is wrong. Maybe that’s not what would really happen, but it is my fear. I grew up in a generation of women who were told “you don’t call a boy, you wait for a boy to call you.” I was involved in a church in my younger years where “submitting” meant letting your husband tell you what to do, and getting a divorce made you a person to be shunned.

    I suppose ultimately it is struggling with knowing that people – both people I know and care about and people I have never met – would look at what I am doing and tell me I am shameful, bad, wrong. And when I am with Roger, whether we are eating a meal, reading, or making love, I feel so free and deeply happy. It is when the thoughts of the outside world intrude that I wonder.

    I’m not sure why I felt the need to write John – I’m an adult, its not as if I need anyone’s permission. But I respect John as a Christian and as a scholar, and I know that he genuinely loves and cares about his fellow human beings. I knew that he would give me advice that was well-thought out and carefully written. Here’s what I read in his advice:

    “If you think you’re doing something wrong, then there’s something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having sex with someone you love and are committed to, but something is making you feel bad and you need to figure that out. Make sure that he is fully committed to you — don’t just assume that he would marry you – discuss it with him and assure yourself that his commitment to you is 100%. Don’t have sex with him unless it is. Talk to your partner, talk to your therapist, and be emotionally healthy, otherwise the dissonance you feel is going to interfere with your great relationship.”

    At least I think that’s what I’m reading in it, John.

    To John and to everyone who has replied, I love you all. You have given me some really good things to consider and think about and I will be checking the links that were given and having some deep discussions with Roger and with myself.

    As far as things stand, we are still very much in love, ridiculously happy with one another, and committed to being together. And yes, still having some *really* fantastic sex.

  • DR

    Apparently David is going to blow by what the OP is actually struggling with in order to insert his own narrative. The one about a woman (that he doesn’t even know).

  • SugarMags

    Yes, John. We do. :)

  • charles

    that might be the case, but I would say others might self label to ill effect….

  • SugarMags

    I agree with both DR and David. I felt like DR — empowered to pursue the guilt (what an awesome way of putting it!). But like David, thought it was too strong for this woman. And actually, quite different from what I’m used to reading here.

  • SugarMags

    DR, can you help me understand how David is doing that? I’m asking in humility and sincerity…not being flippant at all. I’m really just not seeing it. I don’t agree with him completely, but I do “see what he’s saying” and I had some similar reactions. I like to check myself always…so I’m asking for help understanding how you’re seeing his response. I usually find your posts here quite “on target”, and we seem to have some similar experiences. I would appreciate you helping me open my eyes. I may not agree, but I will be expanded as a person. :)

  • Christy

    John,

    Just letting you know how it made me feel even though I’m not the one who is emotionally invested in your reply. I see you’ve already changed the line in question. I think a measured reader will get what you intended, but perhaps an emotionally invested reader might see other things.

    She has inferred beautifully your intent; it was lovely of her to share that with us.

    I could have been more gentle in my criticism of your otherwise wise and careful reply. I hope you will forgive me that transgression. ~ C

  • Debbie Kos

    Thanks… I’ve never heard anyone differentiate and separate people and their faith in this way… Not trying to be picky, but I don’t believe that “simplistic” is necessarily “immature”… Well, not all the time, anyway. There’s a certain wisdom in simplicity.

  • Debbie Kos

    I agree with you..

  • DR

    He seems to be inserting a lot of hostility about the church and how we’ve handled sex, even calling it a “hatred” for sex which is creepy. I’ve been really conservative sexually – I still am- so as John suggested we all have our buttons to push that we’ve brought to the discussion. But I’m grateful for the caution I received from the church, I never had to worry about getting pregnant or being sexually used or objectified like so many of my friends experienced. Im not alone and for David or anyone to paint being cautious about sex or even considering it as something special/holy is real has a dusting of hostility that I find odd, particularly coming from a man. Men can be feminists and stand up for women beautifully but there’s a heat to these comments that seems inappropriate and presumptuous.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I love it. Thanks for this response. I wrote this ONLY for you: I wasn’t trying to say (and so did not say) anything at all about whether or not sex outside of marriage is good, or bad; I never even MENTIONED God or religion or Christianity; I made ZERO moral judgements about anything at all. All I said, really, was that you should talk to Roger about your relationship, and that you should consider stopping having sex with him if doing so is causing you truly troublesome guilt. That’s it.

    Anyway, thanks again for chiming in. I certainly DON’T want to make anything worse for you, as you know. (And I also knew that you understand how sometimes, in serving the necessary brevity of these pieces, one must sacrifice certain delicacies of articulation for … borderline-rude succinctness.)

    It sure does sound like you found yourself a good man there. Fantastic.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Christy: No, no worries at all. And you’re right: I DID go back and change what you indicated I should. Mostly with these things, you know: you just make your best calls, and keep moving; it’s a blog, not a book. But, actually, for this one, I took real time: on most posts I spend about five hours; for this one, I spent easily twice that. But ultimately–and always in shorter order than I know I’d prefer–you reach a point where you just hit the “Publish” button, and let ‘er ride. One of the things I count on, then, is my readers and commenters to sort of fill in the gaps I simply haven’t had time (or appropriate space) to myself look to. YOU guys expand the thinking I’ve started; YOU guys hone the ideas; YOU guys go down the tangential trails I can’t. And you’ve always been one of those who are especially good at that; my blog wouldn’t be half as good as it is without you and those like you who make this thing WORK. So if YOU criticize me, I pay a good deal more attention to it than I might someone who just showed up here out of nowhere; in a word, I put stock in your judgement. So I DID go back and change those words–and the piece is better for it. Thank you, again, for how you serve my work.

  • Matt Ray

    Not to diminish what the author might be going through, but it all seems a bit silly and melodramatic for no good reason. There is nothing adulterous (lordy!) or whore-ish about having sex in a monogamous, committed relationship. They aren’t 16 after all. I just don’t see the issue. And yes, I’m a Christian, formerly Church of Christ fundamentalist, not so much anymore, and don’t intend to buy into all the sex is bad, horrible and will scar you for life nonsense the church likes to promolgate. Just judging by the letter, this does not seem at all tawdry or flighty or promiscuous or any of that. Good grief what will you do when you have something real to worry about? I don’t think it is realistic or reasonable or necessary for 40-year-olds to wait years to have sex until marriage, if they choose to marry, within the confines of the relationship as described in the letter. Enjoy your life and stop looking for unhappiness and guilt where there isn’t any.

  • Female Reader

    Thank you for sharing your story and your struggle with all of us. I’m very happy for you that you and Roger continue in a happy relationship that is fulfilling and satisfying.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    But … if she didn’t go LOOKING to feel guilt. She just felt it. And that’s real, and needs to be dealt with. “Stop feeling guilty!” isn’t … useful advice. (And if you’re going to open with “Not to diminish what [you're] going through,” you might not then want to refer to the person’s concerns as “silly,” “melodramatic,” and without good cause. People always do that; they go, “No, disrespect intended, but you’re a craven scumbag.” Weak.)

  • Guilty as Charged

    On first read, John’s response might seem abrupt. But I try to read carefully, and so I read what John wrote several times. I summarized in my reply to this post what stood out to me, and nothing about it was heartless to me – the words were the words of someone who cares. “Don’t do things that hurt you. I’m not saying having sex outside of marriage is bad – but if something about what you are doing causes you any sort of emotional pain or hurt, stop, examine that, and take care of yourself. Make sure the person you are in love with loves you back equally, or giving yourself physically might cause you to REALLY get hurt.” That’s not bad advice for anyone, Christian or not.

    And David, thank you for defending me, even if I don’t think I needed defending. <3

  • Guilty as Charged

    I.

    Am not.

    A.

    COW.

  • Sara

    I smiled all over myself reading your response to John. Your happiness just glows off the page. Thank you for the followup, it really made my day!

    I relate to your happiness well because I married my soul mate 5 years ago and we’re deeper in love than ever. As for the name change bit – it just wasn’t an issue in our house. Kids are accustomed to these things any more and you might be surprised if you talked to yours about it. I never felt there was any dishonor to my children to change to my new husband’s name. One thing, I *NEVER* ever badmouthed their dad or his family to them, and also maintained a very friendly relationship.

    Marrying again took a huge leap of faith, scared silly, sweaty palms and all. There were a lot of shaky circumstances. My family hadn’t even met him (and yes, I had a special needs son at home), he was a confessed “functional alcoholic” – I don’t drink; he was a chain smoker – I can’t stand smoking; he had been married 5 times already…..and he was a non-church-goer. I’ve been a Christian all my life, and a steady church-goer.

    With all those strikes against us, God pulled it all together and made it work to His Glory. My husband quit drinking, quit smoking, started going to church with me (sings in the choir with me too now) and we both know we’re married for life. His children are accepting him back into their lives, my son is heading for college this fall and has bloomed into fine young man with my husband’s guidance. God is Good!

    I also relate to your upbringing, it sounds so much like mine. My former church was very VERY fundamentalist and patriarchal. The man is the head of the house and decision maker, the wife submits. Thankfully I was always so rebellious, I didn’t take all the rules and regs about relationships to heart forever!

    However, my committment phobia led me to do a lot of things that I had to forgive myself for later (I know God already did – He knew I was a traumatized mess!). We’ve talked through each other’s history and our “shrapnel” as we call the emotional baggage. When a piece of shrapnel pops to the surface, we sit down and talk through it gently and non-judgmentally. We have healed each other of so many old wounds this way!

    I hope and pray that your lovely relationship will grow to be wondeful too!

  • Rosemary

    Don’t over-think this thing.

    Don’t feel guilty.

    I’m so happy for you and Roger that you found each other. Life and love come with no guarantees. Life is short. Celebrate the fact that you found each other. Sex is a miraculous and beautiful gift from God that allows us to truly express our love for our partner, and to truly know each other in every way. You are not a whore, you are a complete woman experiencing total, all encompassing love for another human being. Congratulations! Enjoy your wonderful and fulfilling gift of a relationship to the full – no guilt, no left over hangups from ‘Christians’ who seek to demean and denigrate one of God’s loveliest gifts. It’s not the marriage certificate that’s important, it’s the love and caring and commitment that most reflect God’s unconditional love for all of us.

    Best wishes to you both. xx

  • DR

    Wow, the rudeness on this thread is really shocking. Who gives a crap about how you seriously you think something is for someone else and how reasonable you think something is for someone else? Pain is relative and so are the things we’re going through and learning about. You’re totally out of line and I’m bewildered as to how comments like these are supposed to be supportive.

  • DR

    Thank you for letting us all weigh in, clearly situations like yours provide quite the catalyst for many of us working out our own stuff about sex! I think it’s so encouraging that you’ve found love, I’m smiling from ear to ear and how happy you seem and that your partner is so willing to support you. Cheers to love surprising us, it’s so beautiful. I’m sure you’ll find your way in all of this and it looks like you may have helped a few others find their way a bit further too. Blessings to you!

  • DR

    BRAVO.

  • Guilty as Charged

    Holly, I love what you said here, especially about the importance of a partner’s response to an expressed concern. I think it is one of the best things about my relationship with Roger, he really listens to me when we talk, not just with his ears but with his mind and his heart. I’ve never had a relationship where I felt so loved and cared for in every way, where I felt so validated. It changes everything when your partner treats your every concern as important and worth talking about.

    Thank you for your words.

  • SugarMags

    Thank you, DR. :)

  • Guilty as Charged

    No worries, Allen. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and insight, very very much.

  • Dirk

    Sigh.

    The great limitation of the Internet – no sense of humor – strikes again.

    I did not say nor did I imply that you were a cow.

    The saying is perhaps no longer current, for that I apologize. Once upon a time, it meant:

    If someone can get what he wants for free, he won’t bother to pay the full price for it.#

    In other words – this man needs to be clear about his intentions with you. If it’s just sex, then he’s abusing your trust with all his “Christian” BS.

  • Don Rappe

    I meant to be a little tongue in cheek. It’s obvious to me that anyone, anywhere. anytime is selfish and injures many people. I thought the comment I was replying to was a little off the wall.

  • Barnmaven

    Whenever I want to really learn something about God, my world, myself and humanity, I come here and read what John writes and what Christy says about it.

  • DR

    YES! Me too!

  • Chewa11

    Thank you for that, Selene. I cried a little.

  • David Milton Greer

    you sound like you *really* have your head on your shoulders, “guilty as charged”… that said, i find it incredibly sad that the notion of “guilt” has been taken to an extreme here. the guilt you feel (if i might be so bold) isn’t an internal sense of moral guilt but a sense of guilt based on external factors (what you have been TOLD to believe and what you are afraid OTHERS are going to perceive of you)…

    you’re in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship. to get married just to add sexual intimacy (which seems to be one of the things you’re being coerced into considering) would betray the *real* reason for getting married. a marriage license is so much more than a license to have intimate relations.

    good for you for growing beyond your fundamentalism…because, if you were still “married” to that notion, you wouldn’t even be a candidate for marriage (since marrying after divorce is still viewed as adultery in the minds/eyes of fundamentalism). funny, folks seem to be ok with CHOOSING to ignore that part because of changes in society’s views on marriage but are unwilling to evolve with other societal changes (that you so honestly point out, do no harm to another).

    good luck, and i hope that wedding bells are in your future, should that be the path you and your beau choose to take.

  • David Milton Greer

    congratulations on your marriage! isn’t it a shame that the STATE forced you to “live in sin” for 18 years! …and i use quotation marks for a very pointed reason. commitment is commitment.

  • David Milton Greer

    wish this blog had a ‘recommend’ button…then i wouldn’t have had to post a comment to say how much i agree with your posting! :)

  • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

    Thank you , John. That was very kind and generous of you.

    And, DR and Barnmaven, alright already…..that’s enough of that….you got me all misty over here.

  • Holly

    That’s so AWESOME. Just… awesome! =)

  • Shaw

    From my perspective, getting married at all is kind of… weird, I suppose? I hardly know anyone who is married. Being young and living in NYC, it’s just not a thing you do, but neither is being Christian. That there should be any guilt related to the idea of sex before marriage, or around getting married at all, seems to be entirely because of church doctrine and seems to have very little to do with personal feeling on the part of the OP, I’ve never met a non-Christian who had hangups about having sex out of wedlock, although of course many people want to wait so that the relationship is relatively solid before they start having sex, but that’s a totally different thing.

  • DR

    Christy, you demonstrate such grace and thoughtfulness to anyone you’re dealing with, even those who frustrate you. I think you’re one of the most important educators here, the deliberateness of your words and how well you can control your emotions as you choose them are something to which I aspire. You’re a great example for me.

  • DR

    That makes sense, it’s definitely a religious thing. Thanks for explaining. :)

  • RayC

    The Bible is pretty explicit about its opinion on premarital sex. It is clearly not in favor of it. There seems to be a little bit of circumvention in this discussion.

  • http://manalive7@blogspot.com Allen

    Just get pat the guilt and have sex with whoever you feel deeply attracted to. It is all, after all, NATURAL–and, certainly, God would never oppose anything that was Natural, now would he??? …

  • Amy

    Sometimes I forget how nit picky people can be. my apologies for not mentioning every single possibility known to human kind regarding marriage. I merely meant to point out that that marriage isn’t the narrowly defined ‘get a piece of paper’ issue modern day people seem to think it is. That said, a marriage can certainly be annulled if no sex has ever occurred. Just another point to think about regarding the above- marriage is a lot of things, not just a piece of paper. And, no I am not making a definitive declaration of anything. Just offering food for thought.

  • DR

    Nit picking? Wow. The article you referenced was fairly specific and as I mentioned, the intent of your point was clear. Woof. So many people’s hot buttons are getting pushed in this topic, I think I’ll bow out.

  • DR

    (I used to write for Regeneration magazine, by the way. They are lovely!)

  • Don Whitt

    Alarms were going off for me when I read the email that the nice lady sent to you. Sure, on the surface it sounds nice. So then why write you about it, John? Wouldn’t the naturally happy-go-lucky super-well-adjusted response be to bask in it and enjoy the soul-mating and all it’s after-glowiness and not look for validation or help??

    Nope. She’s conflicted.

    “…should the day arrive when I’m no longer freaked out by the notion.”

    Freaked out is up there with panicked, incredibly uneasy and “I really don’t want to do this”. The “this” isn’t sex, it’s committing deeply to a relationship with a guy with whom she’s not completely communicating. She’s not all in. And she’s not sure if he’s all in.

  • vj

    “She’s not all in. And she’s not sure if he’s all in.”

    This, really, is the main point – and the main reason for *not* engaging in a physical relationship, until they are both on the same page, whatever that page may end up being for *them*.

  • http://sunnylockwood.com sunny

    Excellent advice, John!

  • Tiggy

    I would say why isn’t she mature enough to make up her own mind without consulting someone online about it. We live in a totally different society now where we dont’ have marriages arranged for us. In fact the whole concept of marriage is different now as are the relations between men and women, hopefully. I can well understand why she wouldnt’ want to rush into another marriage, but obviously she’d like more sex before the menopause and ideally after. Why are you assuming it’s the man who is arguing for sex. It doesn’t sound that way from her letter, it sounds much more mutual.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I never said he was arguing for sex. I only referenced the arguments she TOLD us he made. Sheesh.

  • Paul

    Great wisdom sir. I tend to love stuff like this so that if asked I could respond appropriately and wisely. I would have just told her to knock it off – but there is another side to this that needs sensitivity and wisdom – I appreciate the post!

  • Richard lubbers

    @Allen- Have sex with whoever you feel deeply attracted to? Like maybe your neighbor’s wife, the babysitter, or perhaps your wife’s sister? What are you, a dog?

    John, I found your response to be very insightful. This woman’s story was very familiar. Tammy and I went through pretty much the same thing, and we talked about it. The result of our conversation was that we respected each other enough to put the brakes on the physical part of our relationship until we married (which wasn’t that long).

    Sex is natural. It is also very powerful. Rob Bell’s approach to it in his book, Sex God, made sense to me. We are in the image of God, and everything we do reflects on the relationship we have or don’t have with Him.

    If something you are doing is causing pain in your arm, you typically stop doing the thing that causes you pain until you know why it hurts. Good advice, John.

  • lilypad1213

    Excellent John Shore wisdom as usual.

  • Mindakms

    Well, this outta be unpopular, but I say what IS marriage?

    1) That government office that gay couples don’t have access to, that buys you the better tax code and insurance benefits?

    2) Do you mean a big, expensive party with your family and friends?

    3) Do you mean a religious ceremony where you follow some specific formulae for how to make an unbreakable promise?

    4) Or do you mean the biblical model for marriage?

    John, ’tis not like you not to delve into the details of that very loaded word.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    ’tis?

  • Michael

    id say there are two kinds of marriage. one is legal and mostly for tax and inheritance law reasons. The other is religious and subject to interpretation. i suppose with how common divorce is now, theres no real way to say that marriage is 100% binding. which is actually good because people are stupid and will get married with no idea of what they are doing. marriage can be and is (very) often a mistake.

    incidentily im not particularly opposed to monogamous premarital sex.

  • Philip

    Yes! Yes! THIS is what marriage is about! It’s about sex. And, I know LOTS of people now divorced because they got married … because they wanted to have SEX!

    Good advice, indeed, John (phft!)

    But, I’m confused. What WOULD Jesus do?! He’d Matthew 19 ‘em all, that’s what he’d do.

    I think a reading of Matthew 19–from beginning to end–would indicate that the Church ought not to endorse marriage as the institution that best provides a family or for nurturance, love, or mutual support.

    I mention those three qualities—nurturance, love, and mutual support—because the State of Massachusetts did in its gay marriage ruling, which my friend Ben (who really likes your blog) pointed out was posted here:

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16499869016395834644&q=Goodridge+v.+Dep%27t+of+Public+Health&hl=en&as_sdt=2,7&as_vis=1

    So, while WWWMTL’s conundrum has to do with responsible sex, instead we’re talking about marriage—what it is and what it isn’t. And, I’m glad, because sex is as simple as Tab A and Slot B. There’s not much to talk about there.

    Marriage, since it’s really only a thumbs-up versus thumbs-down on sex, is the Church’s issue; they should do with it as they wish! The Constitution guarantees rights to the individual, not special rights to couples. Getting all huggy-poo kissy-face in front of hundreds of your relatives and closest friends is nice—perhaps even spiritual—but there’s nothing civil about it.

    A truly vital social institution—one deserving of legal, financial, and social benefits noted in the Massachusetts ruling—wouldn’t be exclusive. It would allow me to be responsible for anyone I choose, to receive the benefits, not costly entitlements, for adding my nephew to my health insurance policy, for bordering a homeless person in the spare bedroom, or for putting a neighbor through college. It would allow anyone I choose to visit me in the hospital as I take my final breath. That’s a Matthew 19 model that really expands the Kingdom beyond brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife.

    Family breakups—as well as the failure of families to adequately form—would be greatly lessened if people were rewarded for behavior the state wished to sanction instead of being rewarded for marriages, which need to dissolve to maintain an adequate household economy in the face of a family member’s significant illness or can’t adequately form as a result of TANF’s almost equally significant marriage penalties. These, for starters, are reasons the GLBT push for marriage equality falls far short of the type of moral imperative that would call an end to the Culture War and should be lauded by any follower of Jesus.

    The state has no business allowing or disallowing marriage. They need to get out of the business, completely out of the business for everyone. Nurturance, love, and mutual commitment are not rights. They can’t be granted or taken away. They’re responsibilities. Treating them as rights diminishes their moral value. Rewarding them as entitlements provides a perverse incentive to limit their expression. Defining them as what constitutes marriage is simply short-sited.

    Let the Church be as exclusive and exclusionary in its expression of these responsibilities as it wishes. It already is, and, as a result, I think Jesus would prefer that their congregations build another social club. The state has no business placing limits on or defining the parameters of nurturance, love and mutual commitment. They have no business sanctioning marriage at all–positively, negatively, or selectively–not at all.

  • Robert

    good advice… slow down… talk… listen to your feelings… talk some more… and no mentioned of the bible… just a bit of a snarky humanistic approach…

  • Robert

    also… would not this be considered… post marital sex????

  • Christy

    Good points! Our society can be closer to accepting love in all its forms when it gets past the idea that marriage is the only legitimate type of relationship. I love this: “Family breakups—as well as the failure of families to adequately form—would be greatly lessened if people were rewarded for behavior the state wished to sanction instead of being rewarded for marriages”

  • Chewa11

    #1 is referring to the relationship that the state would have with the family, but it doesn’t say anything about the relationship the spouses have with each other.

    #2 and #3 are referring to a wedding, not a marriage.

    #4 is the only one actually referring to marriage, but asking whether it’s a ‘Biblical model for marriage’ can still have different meanings for different people. I recently read ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S.Lewis, and he speaks of marriage as the fulfillment of a promise made to each other to be faithful and loving toward the other for as long as they shall live. The whole bit about making that vow in front of their community is so that the couple will be held accountable to their promises.


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