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Premarital Sex and Marital Problems

Premarital Sex and Marital Problems July 24, 2014

I’ve written a lot about my parents decision to have us children court rather than date. From time to time I’ve seen readers express confusion as to why parents would reject for their children a process that worked for them. The truth is that my parents turned to courtship for my siblings and I because they believed that dating hadn’t worked for them.

I recently mentioned that I was conceived before my parents married. In other words, when my parents taught my siblings and I abstinence before marriage, they were teaching us something they had not themselves practiced. Reader Angela saw this as hypocritical:

It’s kind of surprising to me that your parents could have embraced some of the beliefs that they did seeing as they did not follow courtship guidelines themselves and that you were conceived out of wedlock. I mean, did they consider their own relationship inferior? Did they feel that your dad was never able to respect your mom? Or did they think that they were the exception? Either way it seems more than a little hypocritical to force a lifestyle on your children that you have never practiced yourself.

It’s actually more common than not that parents turn to courtship et al for their children because they feel their own dating experiences damaged them. They want to help their children avoid their mistakes. This is actually true for a lot of homeschooling culture, and especially Christian homeschooling culture. Parents often turn to homeschooling because they want something different—something better—for their children than what they themselves had.

My mother was raised in a fundamentalist home and my father converted as a teen. They were both swept up in the evangelical fervor of the early 1980s. They both believed that sex before marriage was wrong and against God’s plan, but they’d never heard of alternatives to dating. When they reached adulthood, each left home for college and the workforce, moving across the country from their childhood homes.

Both of my parents dated other people seriously before they met each other. When they met and began dating, they planned to wait until marriage to have sex, but that didn’t work out. I was conceived while my parents were engaged. My mother told me about all of this when I reached my teenage years. She warned me, knowingly, of the dangers of unchaperoned visits.

I think a lot of this comes down to expectations. If you don’t expect sex to be saved for marriage, you won’t feel betrayed when it’s not. But if you do expect it to be saved for marriage and it’s not, you will experience betrayal.

From here on out, we’re going on my perceptions of my parents’ relationship, and on things they’ve mentioned in passing over the years. A lot of this is me thinking through the belief system and trying to understand what happened to my parents. When my parents had premarital sex, they betrayed their principles in a profound way. This created a trust problem. Neither could trust the other to stand on principle and say “no” to grievous sin.

My father looked at my mother and saw a woman who hadn’t had the self-control to say “no” to premarital sex. My mother looked at my father and saw a man who didn’t have the fortitude or character to say “no” to premarital sex. In other words, that my parents did not wait for marriage to have sex—even sex with each other—had a profound effect on how they viewed each other and created longterm challenges for their marriage. In fact, that each gave in and had premarital sex even affected my parents’ perceptions of themselves.

My parents hoped to help my siblings and I avoid these same pitfalls. They believed that if we could wait for marriage before having sex, our marriages would start out on a much firmer foundation. They hoped that practicing courtship rather than dating would help us avoid their mistakes. The emphasis on chaperones and short engagements, parental control and the fast-track to marriage—these things would help ensure that we did not have sin of premarital sex.

And here’s where I bring things back to expectations—if my parents had not expected to save sex for marriage, they would not have experienced betrayal and a breach of trust when they did not. Having had premarital sex created challenges for their relationship only because they placed such value on not having premarital sex.

My husband Sean and I had sex in the months leading up to our marriage. Because of my upbringing, we waited six months to even kiss and another six months before we had sex, but as my thought through and reevaluated my entire belief system my ideas about premarital sex changed. I no longer saw it as sin. I no longer saw it as wrong. So when I had premarital sex, I wasn’t doing something I believed was wrong, and nor was Sean. We didn’t violate our consciences or our convictions—and we have suffered no negative repercussions. I don’t think less of Sean for it, and he doesn’t think less of me.

Having premarital sex does not in and of itself lead to breaches of trust and marital challenges. But having premarital sex when you believe premarital sex is wrong can lead to breaches of trust and marital challenges.

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