Sexual Purity: Mission Possible

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How do people refrain from having sex before they get married? I’m 18 and I’ve never touched myself before or had sex but it’s getting difficult. How can I keep myself pure?

–Kyle

Dear Kyle,

I commend you for your decision to remain sexually pure. By following God’s design for sex, you’ll gain far more than the scorn of mockers, you’ll both maximize pleasure and minimize pain and regrets.

I realize how easy it is to forget this in the heat of the moment. Believe it or not, until about five years ago now, I was an unmarried person two years out of her teens, in love, and fighting to save it for marriage. Self control has never been a strong suit for me, and we lacked support as far as our family didn’t understand all our standards (beyond the no taking your clothes off thing.) But by the grace of God, we made it. Let me share with you what worked for us:

1) We sat down and discussed our standards of purity.

For that matter, Adam and I were “just friends” until about a week before he proposed to me. Yeah, we were a tad . . . neurotic about it. Still, the principle of focusing on friendship when relating to the opposite sex until you’re ready to explore the possibility of marriage will save you a lot of heartache whether you call this marriage-centered premarital dance “dating” or “courtship.” Most find socializing becomes much less stressful when they throw out the pressures of dating, too.

If you’re already seeing someone regularly, now is the time to sit down and talk about where this relationship is headed. Can you honestly see yourself marrying this girl within the next 12-18 months? If not, it’s time to rethink your status. Getting romantic with someone you couldn’t reasonably take down to the courthouse and marry in a pinch is a recipe for disaster.

For that reason, most would be better off hitting the couples events with a good friend of the opposite sex and leave off on dating/courtship until they’ve finished school, and, depending on their goals, perhaps gotten started in their career. Put into wide practice, this would alleviate some of our major social problems. If someone’s plans are so important that, to stay on course, s/he’d consider murdering any surprise bundles of someone’s joy, don’t those plans deserve exclusive attention?

2) We agreed upon what we would allow.

We put it in writing, which is helpful if you revisit the document as a reminder, but a verbal agreement will also suffice. In our case, we allowed hand holding, but wanted to save kissing on the lips for the wedding. We had no support network to hold us accountable, so we ended up breaking that particular rule after about four days.

The thing to realize here is, love-making involves more than mere penetration. On a practical level, “making out,” or most romantic kissing is entering the initial stages of making love with the intention of quitting before penetration. When I try that tact with a brownie, before I know it, I haven’t had “just one little bite,” I’ve eaten the whole brownie. The only way I can stay diet-pure is to not touch the brownie at all.

Why is this relevant to sexual purity? Nearly any marriage book will tell you, and this is especially true for the female, “the marriage act” begins before  physical contact is made. Which is why you have “spiritual adultery” situations where a man has emotionally/spiritually cleaved (ie, has a soul tie) with another woman even though he’s never actually touched her. In short, whether traveling the slippery road down Mount Diet or Mount Love, the sooner you put the brakes on, the easier it is to stop. That said, you need to give each other grace when you do slip up rather than letting “I ate the brownie” excuse eating another.

3) We committed to getting married before we allowed ourselves to indulge.

When things got too hot, Adam would literally threaten to drive me down to courthouse and wake up the justice of the peace. That was more effective than any cold shower for me. It’ll work just as well with nearly any girl. Which leads me to point four . . .

4) We respected each other’s boundaries/guarded each other’s purity.

Actually, I had a bit of a problem here. I had the idea in my head, since he respected mine, that he didn’t have the same yearning and figured I could lean on him and let him take care of most of this self-control business. So poor Adam ended up shouldering about 3/4s of the load. Most aren’t quite as naive and trusting as I was, I hope, but in our culture, at times you will have to show respect for the girl you’re out with even though she doesn’t have any respect for herself. That’s a truly Christ-like love. If seeing a girl who shares my former naivety, don’t pretend to be stronger than you are. Let her know that, despite how perfect she thinks you are, and that while you do value her purity and yours, you’re also a sinful human being, and need her working with you at this guarding each other’s purity thing.

5)We eliminated opportunities to mess up as much as possible.

We agreed on rules to this end. We were not allowed beyond each other’s doorstep if no one else was on the premises, we were never allowed in each other’s bedrooms. All our dates had to be in public settings, and we were not allowed to park anywhere that we wouldn’t have any fear of getting arrested if we got too physical. I also discovered how enticing the fear of discovery can be when we used “we’re engaged” as an excuse to relax this one. One thing based on what we did: does it really matter if your parents are in the living room, if you’re alone in the laundry room and no one can hear or is likely to interrupt? We managed to stop ourselves, (okay, he managed to stop ourselves), but that was a tempting situation we’d have done better to have avoided.

6) Chief of all, we prayed and studied the Bible together regularly.

Whether by phone, at church, a coffee house, or while strolling through a public park, it doesn’t matter. The point is to keep Christ at the center of the relationship (as a bonus, if it does lead to marriage, you’ll be starting that off on the right foot as well!) Trust me. His strength IS made perfect in our weaknesses, and you  need to stay bathed in his word in this season.

Abiding in Christ like this is always important, but especially at times where you’re needing a special grace to make it through temptation. Satan might be able to break a cord constructed of only your efforts and hers, but if Christ is with you, that’s another story altogether: A cord of three strands cannot be easily broken. (Ec 4:12)

One thing to realize here is that God’s grace isn’t a license to sin all we want without consequence. God’s grace is an active grace that enables us to get back up when we’ve fallen and enables us to keeping running and not stumble when temptation calls. That’s why I’ve spoken about sexual purity rather than virginity. If you stumble and fall sexually, you can’t ever get your physical virginity back. But by God’s grace, you can get your sexual purity back and keep on running.

7) Our circumstances made this difficult for us, but I want to reiterate the importance of your social network.

Take a close look at the people you surround yourself with. It’s easier to keep pure when those around you are rooting for you. Seek out people who share your values, cultivate friendships with those who will encourage you and hold you accountable.

As much as possible, distance yourself from friends who don’t understand why you care about sexual purity and mock, discourage, or make it easier for you to slip up. That said, so long as they don’t disrespect you like that, it’s okay to have a few friends, or to allow contact with family members, who are not Christians and don’t practice sexual purity themselves.

But if all, or even most, of your friends are doing it and really don’t get why you’re not, even if they do try to respect you, that’s not good for you. You’re more likely to relax your moral standards if outnumbered. If you’re the one being influenced rather than being a positive influence on them, you’ve lost all biblical reasons to cultivate those relationships.

It’s true we should ideally be strong enough to stand firm no matter what everyone else is doing, and it’s true God can strengthen us to that end. But the scripture also teaches not to put him to the test in this regards. Cut off relationships that have a strong undertow pulling you away from God and undermine your quest for sexual purity, and cultivate those that encourage you towards Him and hold you accountable to His standard.

8) Don’t let anyone you’re dating pressure you to go farther than you’re comfortable with or into actual sex.

It’s one thing if s/he shares my weakness for self-control and is merely being naive and too trusting. It’s quite another if s/he simply doesn’t share your values and shows nothing but disrespect and scorn for your desire for sexual purity. Realize you deserve better and walk away. Hold out for someone who will respect you and who shares your values and faith. As Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”

May the Grace and love of Christ be with you always. Amen.

In His Purity,

Andrea Graham

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