Sexual Abstinence Until Marriage
November 15, 2011 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Should I abstain from sex?

I've recently started a relationship with a wonderful man, and we are in our early twenties. I am a virgin and always told myself that I would abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage. My reasons for following this train of thought are not religious but rather stem from practicality: I am looking to find a dependable, loyal husband, and I feel that waiting to have sex would allow me to find someone who treats sex as so precious as to be saved for marriage only, and also it just seems nice for both of us to save ourselves only for each other. I feel that finding a man who views sex this way would allow me to find someone who exercises a lot of self-control and respect for women.

I know this kind of viewpoint is not common nowadays, and I'd like to ask: what are the pros and cons of abstinence? Some of the religious arguments for abstinence resonate with me (even though I am not religious), such as creating a maximum sense of emotional intimacy in knowing that the married couple has not engaged in sexual activity with anyone else. Is this kind of thinking really outdated? I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.

So, I would appreciate any arguments for and against abstinence until marriage. Thank you all!
posted by enantio to Human Relations (86 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

You keep mentioning 'nowadays', like other people are the problem here. People have been having premarital sex since the beginning of time and it isn't stopping. Just 'nowadays' there is more information on it and more ways to be safe and protected.

This seems like you are building up a lot of pressure for your future husband and setting yourself up for disappointment. Marriages end in divorce 50% of the time, why do you think that being a virgin on your wedding day will spare you the pain of being not being a virgin and being broken up with?
posted by LeanGreen at 2:23 PM on November 15, 2011 [16 favorites]

There are sites for this: and

I would say the major con of waiting would be that most of the extremely high quality men I've met in my life would not have waited for marriage until sex, and so you're cutting your pool of excellent people down by quite a lot. That isn't to say that there aren't extremely high quality men out there who would be willing, but they're far fewer.

If you also require that he be a virgin as well, you're cutting you pool down by even more.
posted by namesarehard at 2:23 PM on November 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

I feel strongly that a man who places a lot of value on a woman's virginity is not likely to be someone who particularly respects women.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:23 PM on November 15, 2011 [258 favorites]

Pros: You won't get pregnant, and you won't get a genital STD.

Cons: You're missing out on something very awesome and pleasurable.

Sex is what you make of it. If you choose to assign it sacred importance, and one where it increases the emotional bond to such an extent that you "would be emotionally devastated if we broke up," that's you choice. But there's another way.
posted by mreleganza at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

The problem with societal "ideals" like abstenance leads to "maximum sense of emotional intimacy" is that they very rarely meet personal expectations in practice. Not to be too fine a point on it, being married to someone you're sexually incompatable with, no matter how much love there might be, frankly, sucks.
posted by kjs3 at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

I feel that finding a man who views sex this way would allow me to find someone who exercises a lot of self-control and respect for women.

So to have sex with a woman is to disrespect her?

There are a lot of bizarre logical inconsistencies here, and it would exhaust me to enumerate them (and I'm sure others will), but this strikes me as the most basic attitude you might want to question your reasons for having.

Also, I think you're extremely unlikely to find a man with the attitudes at all, and if you do he's more than likely to be religious.
posted by cmoj at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

The obvious con is that sexual compatibility is absolutely crucial in a long-term relationship. It's hard enough when a couple gets married with the same sexual appetites and one person slows down/speeds up/changes somehow.

True sexual compatibility is a rare thing. It's a combination of appetites, desires, preferences, kinks, and anatomy. Lots of incompatibilities can be overcome in a loving, otherwise-satisfying relationship, but I personally wouldn't want to go in blind.

2nding the above poster-- you'd be extremely emotionally attached if you had sex, but not if you made it all the way to the altar without it?
posted by supercres at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [18 favorites]

Three cons against abstinence immediately occur to me.

First, waiting until marriage means that you'll have a poor idea, at best, of your sexual compatibility, and that kind of compatibility is pretty important for the long term health of your relationship.

Second, putting sex on a pedestal the way you are can be problematic, again in the long term. If sex is supposed to be a mind-blowing, super-intimate experience every time, you're putting a ton of pressure on each other to perform, and creating a lot of tension if it isn't always mind blowing and deeply intimate. It makes dealing with sexual issues much more difficult. It makes routinely dealing with sexual desire almost impossible, and in its way can be a reason not to have sex: You'd like to just rip one off, but you can't without a dozen candles and at least two hours set aside.

Third, what you ultimately settle for in a long term partner will have a lot less to do with sex than it will his character, your compatibility and how well you communicate. By making men run a sexual gauntlet to even get to that point with you, you're eliminating a lot of men that, under other circumstances, might be fantastic partners--but you'll never know because they don't share your somewhat unique views on a relationship topic that tends not to be as important over the long run.
posted by fatbird at 2:25 PM on November 15, 2011 [18 favorites]

I am looking to find a dependable, loyal husband, and I feel that waiting to have sex would allow me to find someone who treats sex as so precious as to be saved for marriage only

one does not imply the other.
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:25 PM on November 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm going to answer assuming that "sexual intercourse" means vaginal or anal penetration.

What makes this difficult is you are not aware of what you are missing and you do not know what the result of abstaining will be.

It does not matter whether the thinking is "outdated" or not. What matters is what you and your partner want to do. On an issue like this you have a veto, and the partner has a veto of a different sort.

I would guess that there is a nice feeling when one gets married and then has sex. What that feeling is worth is your decision. I suggest you ask a few people you know who didn't have sex before marriage.

I also suggest a lot of discussion with your new guy.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:25 PM on November 15, 2011

The pros and cons of abstinence are going to vary greatly from person to person; I'm not really sure anyone here can answer that for you.

It sounds as though you are looking for a fellow virgin to marry. Is that correct? If so, it may be difficult to find a similarly non-religious person who has decided to abstain from sex. I clearly have no way of proving this, but I would venture a guess that many people (perhaps even most people) who are choosing to save sex for marriage are doing so for religious reasons, and thus might want someone who shared their religious beliefs. They may not consider you compatible in that regard.

FWIW, one of the hardest breakups for me was with someone I hadn't had sex with. You can certainly have a deep, emotional connection with someone you haven't slept with. Choosing to wait to have sex isn't going to protect you from emotional hurt or necessarily make break-ups less painful. If that's a primary reason for waiting, I might re-examine that belief.
posted by pecanpies at 2:26 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

choice quote:

"suppose your new husband announced when you got to your honeymoon suite that he wouldn't be able to climax unless you took a massive shit on his chest before vaginal intercourse commenced. Would that have changed your mind about the advisability of marrying him without fucking once or twice him first?"
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2011 [20 favorites]

Some people, sad to say, are just bad at sex and will never get better whether due to physical or psychological issues. Lewis Black once called going into marriage without having sex with the person first a gamble on an unimaginable level. Well, that's why. You run the risk of entering into marriage with someone who will never be able to provide you with what you need. Are you willing to take that risk on any other level?
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

Hey, so my head's all clogged up and I'm sick, so I am going to forgo trying to make some of the other points I have, but...

Why are you asking a bunch of people on the Internet, rather than talking with your boyfriend? Are you afraid he would try to sway you into having sex, because he wants to? Do you not yet feel comfortable talking about sex with him?

Either of those two signs may point to you not being ready to have sex with him yet.
posted by kellyblah at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2011

I am a virgin FWIW. I am against abstaining sex before marriage. Instead I'm all for having sex with someone you are deeply emotionally involved with. Regardless of a cake and legal documents. Marriage is a date, something much more arbitrary.

Sex and being ready for it shouldn't be able to be something you can mark on a calendar.

Plus, if I'm going to marry someone, I'm going to make sure that my future spouse is a good lover. That they are attentive and interested in making things feel good for the both of us.

I'm not willing to take the gamble that the person I'm going to spend the rest of my life with is bad in bed.
posted by previously at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

Being married is WAAAY more intimate than sex (I'm assuming the P-in-V kind.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

I know there are many men who exercise "a lot of self-control and respect for women" in every aspect of their lives, and certainly toward their girlfriends, while being sexually active. I can absolutely understand why that was a useful proxy for screening out partners when you were younger, but you say yourself that your man is "wonderful." I think it may be time for you to trust your own instincts that he is indeed wonderful, even if he has a worldview that includes both sex and being a good person.

I believe that you create "a maximum sense of emotional intimacy" (though not necessarily the best sex) by being in love with the person you are having sex with. In many (but by no means all) cases, yes, that love is deepest when it is the result of many years together, and/or the context and trust of a long-term commitment to one another such as marriage... as you will certainly experience with your future husband, many years down the road, regardless of whether you are a virgin when you get married.

Also, every breakup from someone you love is emotionally devastating. Perhaps it is more devastating when it is the end of the relationship with the person you have lost your virginity to, especially if you have held onto it for a long time, but I think you should also try to evaluate the emotional toll between two adults who are holding themselves back from enjoying all of the awesome, fun, meaningful physical expressions of love available to them, simply because of a younger notion that withholding it is the best/only way for one partner to be convinced that the other person respects them. I don't think that it is really possible to avoid the risk of emotional devastation in relationships, and I would question whether trying to mitigate that risk is worth missing out on the joys, and emotional intimacy, of an adult sexual relationship with a man you know is wonderful.
posted by argonauta at 2:40 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

What are your views on divorce?

You seem to be concerned about the "practicality" of sex, which is all fine and dandy, but you need to understand that there is no way for you to prevent getting your heart broken. Even if sex were the switch for emotional attachment (which it isn't) wouldn't that just mean that you're all set to marry someone you're not emotionally attached to? And even if not having sex meant having self-control and respect for women (which it doesn't, necessarily) wouldn't that just mean that all that self-control and respect is conditional upon not having sex and would therefore potentially vanish on your wedding night? I say this ignoring the most obvious con, which is potential sexual incompatibility. Sexual incompatibility is a huge problem in relationships and one of the few problems that sometimes just can't be fixed.

So, again, what are your views on divorce? If you see divorce with the same "practicality" with which you regard sex, then go right ahead. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out.
posted by lydhre at 2:41 PM on November 15, 2011

IMO - Cons:

Missing out on a lot of wonderful, caring, loyal men just because they've had sex. Having had sex before getting married does not mean they have poor self control or no respect for women. Abstaining until marriage doesn't mean they have respect for women (although I'll give you that it demonstrates a degree of self control, but self control in one area doesn't mean self control in all). Just because a man is a virgin doesn't mean he's loyal or dependable.

People who believe in no sex before marriage tend to marry quicker than those who don't. How long are you willing to wait? Some people are in relationships for many years before deciding its not working out - either because they had unrealistic expectations of how much their partner would change/how much those 'little things' would bother them long term or just because they change and grow apart as people. The chances of your first LTR being 'the one' is fairly slim.

You have no idea, before committing yourself to this person supposedly for life if you will be sexually compatible. Even if you're both completely vanilla (or perfectly matched in your fantasies and kinks) your 'parts' may not be a good fit.

The older you get, the smaller your pool of available men gets.

You're going to get loads of Cons here and not a lot of Pros - we're a very biased source but other than being reasonably sure neither of you have an STD (sex isn't the only means of transmission!) I can't really think of any reason to wait until you're married. I suppose getting to the proposal quicker could be one. (my partner and I got engaged on our 10th anniversary heh)
posted by missmagenta at 2:48 PM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

No one should have sex on principle.

And no one should abstain from sex on principle.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:52 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Are you sure your new boyfriend is a virgin? You seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on saving yourselves for each other without mentioning whether he's actually saving himself for marriage, too.
posted by jabes at 2:55 PM on November 15, 2011

I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.

I don't think this logic follows. Yes, sex [often, though not always] carries great emotional significance, but a long relationship without sex also carries great emotional significance. If you break up, you'll likely be devastated either way.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:58 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

what are the pros and cons of abstinence?

There are definite pros in abstaining until you are emotionally mature enough and with someone you love - that is, not doing it with some random guy when you're drunk and 15 because you feel peer pressure.

I am not exaggerating or being flippant when I say that, in the context of loving and healthy relationships, in my opinion there are absolutely no pros to abstinence. None.

creating a maximum sense of emotional intimacy in knowing that the married couple has not engaged in sexual activity with anyone else. Is this kind of thinking really outdated?

With all due respect, if you've never had sex with someone, how can you pretend to know how non-virgins experience love and intimacy with their later partners? I mean, this thinking isn't so much outtdated as just completely wrong - the kind of mythical reason that people concoct in order to justify a lifestyle that they favour for other religious/cultural/personal reasons. Find me a single person who says that they felt less intense intimacy with someone because that person had slept with someone else before, and I'll show you a misogynistic control freak/abuse victim. Healthy, loving people just don't feel this way about their partners - love is just as intense whether or not your partner is a virgin. (At the beginning of physical intimacy, it's a whole lot less awkward.)

I feel that finding a man who views sex this way would allow me to find someone who exercises a lot of self-control and respect for women.

People who deny themselves sexual intimacy until marriage may be self-controlled, or they may be deeply sexually repressed. I would wager that in many contexts men who preserve their virginity are actually gay, and that abstinence is just a socially acceptable way of dealing with sexual desires that are not accepted by the culture they find themselves in. Leaving the homosexuality angle out of it altogether, unless you're getting married really young (which is the way it used to happen precisely because it's so impossible to ask most adults to be sexually inactive), there's all kinds of potential guilt and self-shaming that can go into abstinence - nothing to do with "self-control and respect for women." I mean, you might be right, but to be frank you're ascribing the best possible motives to something that is more often associated with cultural repression or sexual dysfunction.

And how, exactly, is someone who has consensual sex with women not being respectful of them? I think you need to seriously question some of the assumptions underlying the way you think about sex.
posted by Dasein at 2:58 PM on November 15, 2011 [35 favorites]

My mother actually told me-- when I was in high school-- that a problem with abstaining until marriage is that people get married order to have sex. She had married very young and I think she was pretty much talking about herself, and maybe warning me not to do the same. But, yeah, as missmagenta said, abstainers do seem to marry earlier and some are surely very happy with their marriages but it seems like a lot of pressure to put on a relationship.
posted by BibiRose at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

I wanted to add - there's nothing wrong with waiting until you're in love to have sex but loving someone doesn't necessarily mean you should marry them.

Love isn't always forever - especially when you're young, you're changing and growing. You might love someone and have a deep emotional connection but then find you just can't live with them. You need more than just love to make a relationship work, whilst its maybe not common there are couples who break up not because they don't care about each other deeply, just because in practical terms, the relationship isn't working out.
posted by missmagenta at 3:07 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

My uncle waited until marriage to have sex with his wife. Then it turned out she just didn't really didn't like sex much anyway. They are divorced now.

In addition to the whole compatibility issue, yeah, you are really going to be limiting your pool here - in terms of numbers (and these numbers will only keep getting smaller as you get older) and also mostly limiting it to pretty religious people. If you're not religious yourself, are you going to find that your values are too incompatible with someone who is very religious?

In my experience there is no correlation between respect for women and willingness to abstain from premarital sex.
posted by naoko at 3:11 PM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I suggest that you read this book before you make your decision.

"The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women" Will challenge your currently held beliefs about sex and virginity.

I am not trying to say that you are "wrong", just that you should research both sides more heavily (then just a Mefi post) before you make such a weighty decision.
posted by Shouraku at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

Another thing to think about is that virginity isn't a medical term, so deciding to abstain from sex and stay a virgin isn't actually a single decision: "Nope, no sex ever; now, what do you want for dinner?" because you've got to decide first what counts as sex and what doesn't. It may be clear that kissing isn't sex, but what about manual sex? oral sex? Does it matter if you're doing it to him or if he's doing it to you? How much nudity is allowed before it's too much and too close to being sex?

All of that matters because you said one of your main reasons for abstaining from sex is you don't want to get hurt if you break up. But penis-in-vagina sex isn't the only way you can get really physically intimate with someone and therefore get attached. Heck, having someone's hand down your pants can be a really intimate experience even when you both remain fully clothed. As can spending enough time with someone that you know exactly what he smells like.

So unless you define abstinence as avoiding all physical contact with your boyfried except for the occasional peck on the lips, there's a pretty good chance that your animal brain is going to get attached to him whether you like it or not, especially if you fool around a bit or cuddle on the couch. So it seems to me that it'd be better to figure out realistic coping strategies, in case you do end up getting hurt, rather than abstaining. I can sympathize with wanting a perfect shield that can protect you from all of the potential harm and scariness that comes from letting yourself trust someone, but there really isn't anything in the world that can magically protect you from the possibility of getting hurt while you go out and live your life. Better to figure out ways to know in your bones that you can survive whatever the world throws at you than to create filters and imaginary shields that might not even protect you from what you're hoping they will.
posted by colfax at 3:13 PM on November 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

Ditto colfax. I think it is sort of funny how we draw this arbitrary line at PIV sex as this huge separation from other sexual acts. When I was a teenager I had built up sex into this HUGE thing in my head, and when I finally did it, it was like, ok, this is great and all, but it's not actually on some completely different planet from the things I was doing before. I think I have been equally "intimate" with people that I haven't done the PIV thing with.
posted by naoko at 3:19 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.

Others have picked up on this and I agree with them; it is very bad logic. Leaving everything else aside, are you really thinking of marrying someone to whom you don't have an extreme emotional attachment? You believe it's okay to marry someone with whom a breakup would not cause emotional devastation, sex or not?
posted by Justinian at 3:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a cousin who married a guy who wanted to wait until marriage. She found out on her wedding night that the reason he said this was because he had ZERO interest in sex, or in doing anything whatsoever about that. It is also entirely possible in this day and age that the guy who says he wants to wait until marriage and is religious/bases this on his religion is closeted and gay. Or asexual. It does not necessarily mean that he thinks sex is precious and special and he's saving his dick for you alone in holy wedlock. Odds are actually fairly high that he doesn't like sex, or doesn't like it with women, if he can 100% hold off until after the vows.

This kind of thing is why people advise you to at least get up to something physical before marriage, even if it's not the whole PiV shebang. If you are only allowed sexual congress with one person for the rest of your life, you're better off finding out if that person wants to do that, and is compatible with you sexually, before the vows.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:27 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oh, and someone (with a psych degree, mind you) told me that I'd go completely psychotic if I broke up with the first guy I did that with. This is not true. If you are in love with someone, you'll be the same level of sad whether you had sex with him or not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:28 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I, personally, don't understand, at all, waiting til marriage. For one thing--who cares about marriage? If you're not religious, what difference does it make if you wait until you file taxes jointly to consummate your relationship? And nthing what others have said about respecting women does not equal valuing their virginity, and in fact sounds like pretty much the opposite of that! A man who respects women doesn't think less of her because she had sex. Hell, I'd go so far as to say if you can find a guy who will bone you on the first date and still call you? He's a keeper. Ha. Oh and nthing others who said a breakup wouldn't be magically easy and fun just because you never had sex. In fact I think it may hurt you more because you had been banking on such a deep emotional connection.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

From a user that prefers to be anonymous:
My husband and I, for various reasons, waited until after our engagement to start having PIV intercourse - we had been "having sex" for several years at that point if you include mutual masturbation and oral sex (which I do).

The thing is, no one told me that PIV sex can be kind of difficult for virgins, especially older ones, and for some people more than others. It was painful for me, it was awkward for him. We couldn't get into a rhythm. We couldn't figure out how to hold our bodies to sustain any kind of movement. Condoms can be strange and we weren't prepared for a less intrusive form of contraceptive.

In other words, sex can take practice - it took us honestly, several months to a year to get comfortable with PIV sex. It's possible that we are an edge case, but from other stories I've heard, I would be honestly surprised if "Two virgins have successful PIV sex on their wedding night, leading to pleasurable orgasms for all" was more common than my experience.

In other words, I'm glad we didn't wait till after our wedding day (or, horror of horrors, on our wedding night) to get started. It would have added a lot of stress to our relationship in a time that was already sort of stressful due to wedding stuff.
posted by mathowie at 3:47 PM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

To paraphrase Sex and the City and be somewhat crude, would you ever buy a car without taking it for a test drive first?
posted by mostly vowels at 3:47 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pros: You won't get pregnant, and you won't get a genital STD.

Well, not necessarily. A person who's never been sexually active could still have HSV-1 orally and you could contract it from them genitally through oral sex.

I understand where you're coming from because, probably like you, I was raised with a variety of messages* that suggested that
(1) Sex is really for the benefit of the man, not the woman
(2) Much like you said, a man who encourages or lets a woman be abstinent has virtuous self-control and respects women and/or are protecting her virtue or something like that
(3) Men are inherently incapable of having sex responsibly and/or are borderline rapacious
(4) Women exercise power and self-respect by turning down sex whenever possible

I believed all that up until I was around your age, because being raised in a sex-negative (and gender relations-ignorant) environment isn't exactly easy to deprogram. But the truth of it is that whether or not you choose to wait, these messages are about convincing you that your sexuality controls you, rather than the other way around. Emotionally mature people (and heck, even ones who aren't all that emotionally mature) don't suddenly wantonly hurt each other once sex becomes involved. These ideas don't add up to a healthy sexual relationship, with or without marriage. In fact, someone who shares your beliefs about sexuality might not have a particularly healthy attitude towards sex or intimacy.

Let's get a couple things out of the way here. I get the feeling that you're probably uncomfortable with desiring and/or feeling entitled to wanting sex at all, so it's worth stating: You're allowed to want to have sex. No, really. You're a responsible adult. Also, your partner is allowed to want to have sex with you too, and that doesn't make them a bad or irresponsible person either — a good partner will take you and the sex that they're having with you seriously, whether or not you're married. If you choose to have sex, the sky isn't going to fall and you won't ruin your life. I worry that you'll go down the path of mistaking someone's lack of enthusiastic desire for you as "respect"; this is how similarly-minded women end up with partners who aren't into them/are asexual/not attracted to women in general.

Also, choosing not to have sex with someone you care about doesn't prevent you from getting hurt. It prevents you from feeling awkward and vulnerable about the sex you had with them, sure, but you'll still feel the pain over love lost. Trust me on this one; you can try it out for yourself with your current guy but take it from someone who wasted their early 20's doing just that — it still hurts.

I'm not going to tell you not to wait, but I am going to suggest that the problems you associate with sex don't really exist if you're emotionally healthy and choosing to date good people. Perhaps you've got the second condition covered, but a big part of emotional health in a romantic relationship is not regarding sexuality as something either fragile or ruinous.

*You say you're not religious, so I can't help but wonder if you were also raised in a non-religious household. If that's the case, feel free to MeFi Mail me if any of this resonates with you -- being secular, pro-abstinence (but questioning) and having intimacy concerns can be tough to talk about.
posted by thisjax at 3:50 PM on November 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

It is, of course, totally your decision. Being in agreement with your chosen partner is crucial, regardless of what others think of your chosen stance.

In addition to the "taking one another for a test drive to see if you're compatible" thoughts, with which I agree: when my now-husband and I hooked up on our first date some 21 years ago, I was (and remain) very glad that I'd been around the block more than a few times. It takes practice to get good at something physical, and if the bedroom stuff hadn't been so excellent from the beginning, we might not have stuck around to get to know one another better. Of course, I'm glad he'd had some experience too. It only benefited us both.
posted by Occula at 3:50 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You won't get many viewpoints advocating abstinence on Metafilter. This probably isn't the right forum for such a question if you're looking for a diversity of perspectives, judging from answers to similar questions asked previously.

I'll offer you the viewpoint I've gotten hanging out within a community of Christians (chill, non-extremist people with strong faith), some of whom married in their early 20s - there is no need to "try before you by" and figure out your sexual compatibility if you're able to communicate well with your partner and be totally open with him. Abstinence can actually be an asset in that respect - you have to be able to communicate well and support each other to get through the temptations you would both face as you become more emotionally connected, and want to match that with physical intimacy. I'm pretty sure not having sex before marriage, in many instances, didn't mean the couples just held hands and made out. There's definitely gray area there, and only you can decide what you are comfortable with.

Another aspect to consider is the rose-colored glasses effect sex can have on you. Sex has a powerful effect of blinding you to flaws, which is integral to getting through the tough times in marriage. I'm not so sure of how that fits into the process of picking a marriage partner. You must have a critical eye when you're picturing spending your life with a man. Perhaps you are not an idealist who tends to make decisions with her heart (ever heard of limerence? gah!), but being one myself, I am leery of the effects of sex on relationships.
posted by sunnychef88 at 4:00 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of people are weighing in with really great points, but my own thoughts are these:

Let's assume you want your marriage to work. I've always been of the opinion that a healthy relationship has a good friendship component, a good romantic component, and a good sexuality component. If you agree with my three parts analysis, you're going into things with no clue about a third of it.

Let's say you think I'm full of crap, a distinct possibility. That's still something significant that you're going into a relationship intended to be permanent with no knowledge about something that is part of the marriage contract in many traditions. It's fine not to have expectations, but if you were to live with your spouse indefinitely, would knowing a little more first hurt?

Also, you're now going into this theoretically permanent relationship not knowing something significant about yourself. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but know that it is a risk. People should know what they're getting into.

Always decide to do what you want most. But be aware that there are consequences for doing things and for not doing things. Be prepared to pay the toll for your choices.

Disclaimer: I think couples should cohabitate for a few years before even considering marriage, believing it is better to know well the person you intend to dedicate yourself to indefinitely. There's no guarantee in this life or any other, but you should do your best to make the odds favor you. Otherwise you might be letting two people down instead of just one. And maybe it's just me, but I think it's far more acceptable to let yourself down than another human being. Particularly one close to you.
posted by Strudel at 4:03 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The con is that it is difficult because it is rare to do at the moment for self-doubt/self-control reasons, but the pros are pretty nice. You're taking a path that's associated with a high quantity and quality of enjoyable sex, physical and mental health and a high reported level of happiness. That's not to say other people don't enjoy these things too, but you're maximizing your chances.

Things like:
-having perfect wedding night sex
-being really good at sex with one's life partner immediately
-never having a fight
-being more of a good person than others

are not benefits of abstinence or non-abstinence.
posted by michaelh at 4:03 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry to talk more, but sex can be a REALLY good part of your life. I am glad my boyfriend and I have sex. If we broke up (5 years strong, woop woop), I would be really upset! But I don't think the amount of upset would change if we'd never had sex.

If the idea of having sex with someone before marriage REALLY makes you sad or uncomfortable, then by all means don't do it. A healthy, positive relationship with sex starts with a positive First Time and if you jumped into the sack because the internet told you to, you'd probably not enjoy yourself. So despite how sassily I just told you to get it over with, I really want you to do the right thing FOR YOU, not the right thing for me. But if it feels right, and it happens to be before you're married? You can go for it and not worry about being a bad person. Good f..uh, luck!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:04 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's kind of like buying a house sight unseen. May work out fine, but it's a hell of a risk to take.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:07 PM on November 15, 2011

In my early 20's I was in your precise position. Although I'm a very liberal Christian, none of my family members and few of my friends were/are religious, and my choice to stay a virgin was confounding to all-- nobody in my church even cared either way. I'm 30 now, and am so glad I chose to stay abstinent.

Until the age of 21 I toyed with the idea that, perhaps, virginity until marriage was outdated dogma, nothing more. I dated secular hipsters in my large midwestern city and kept and open mind. However, when push came to shove I ultimately realized that my instinct squared with the idea that sex is sacred-- the prospect of being penetrated by a man to whom I was just dating felt so *wrong* that I decided not to go there. I won't lie-- it definitely made my dating pool much smaller, and caused me many heartaches. When I moved to an even bigger city on the East Coast I sometimes felt so frustrated by the casual-leaning dating culture (online, IRL, you name it, I tried it) that I sobbed and took frequent breaks from it all.

Since I had no luck meeting men through church, most of my dates/boyfriends were non-religious dudes who obviously preferred to have sex before marriage. Telling them about my virginity after a couple of dates led to a lot of disappearing acts. I have no doubt I would have had longer relationships with more proper boyfriends if I had been willing to sleep with these men, but I don't regret my decision not to do so because: 1.) The three most loving relationships I have had were with agnostic or not-especially-religious men who dealt very well with my choice, and it wasn't a factor in our breakups. 2.) I am a highly sensitive, old-fashioned, heteronormative woman so totally susceptible to peptide bonding (even a kiss makes me crazy) that adding intense penetrative sex would have made breaking up much, much worse for me. Also, as I got older, many of my short-term ex's came crawling back, wild oats sewn, and bemoaning the mistake they made in letting me go-- it depressed me somewhat, but vindicated my beliefs.

Currently, I am dating an agnostic man 5 years younger than myself, and we have the sort of solid romantic partnership I always dreamed of finding. We're planning on getting engaged shortly, and you can only imagine how happy I was to discover that he is also a virgin, with the same instincts about sex being a spiritual thing to be shared with just one life-partner. I'm so happy I waited for this man-- I truly feel my sacrifices have been worth it, although if you had told me at 21 I'd be 30 when I found this person, I honestly would have wept.

PS I believe sexual compatibility can be sussed out by on making out, touching, bodies intertwining, etc. Saying full-on intercourse is the only way to gauge a potentially bad lover seems really entitled to me-- a lot like a shopper at the grocery store who sticks his/her fingers in every jar of jelly and puts it back on the shelf saying, "How else would I know it's worth buying?"
posted by devymetal at 4:13 PM on November 15, 2011 [16 favorites]

I think "abstinence until marriage" is a marketing ploy. Widely accepted thinking is that kids shouldn't be having sex. In general, young people are too immature to handle the intimacy of a sexual relationship, the huge emotions that come into play and the consequences of unprotected intercourse. So, we tell them "Save Yourself for Marriage." Why? Because it's an uncomplicated message. It's easier than: "Experiment with your partner but do it only when you're mature enough to handle this stuff and please don't do it at home where your Dad and I might accidentally walk in on you."

So, you're left with approaching a sexual relationship not as a child (simplistic notions of "purity") but as an adult who has to take command of what they want and who has to take responsibility for their actions. And the truth of the matter is, once you start having sex, this all becomes much more apparent. Once you've cleared the act off the list, you are left with a lot of other stuff which seems, to me, far more important than virginity. And your feelings about it will evolve, too. I kind of think that elevating virginity to equate it with a healthy, long-term, respectful married relationship is giving it FAR too much credit.

Which is not to say, go out and get it over with. But maybe examine what sex can mean as one facet of your whole life and your future relationships. What if virginity is not so important? What does that leave you with?
posted by amanda at 4:15 PM on November 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sex is special. It is a big deal. But it is not precious. It's not something that needs to be saved, protected, encased in armor, placed on a pedestal, or regarded with awe.
I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.
That can happen. Especially if you have placed so much import on sex in the first place. Some people can have casual sex—for them it's a fun romp. Some people can develop extreme emotional attachments even without sex. Heartbreak is part of life. It's not fun, but most folks who has put themselves out there emotionally have experienced it. If it happened to you, you would survive. Just like in the Donna Summers song.

Just to play devil's advocate, suppose you remain a virgin until marriage, and five years after marriage, you figure out that you're not getting what you need, sexually, out of marriage. Consider the heartbreak and complication then. Because sex is a big deal, sexual compatibility is a big deal. People have already made this point upthread, and I agree with them.
posted by adamrice at 4:49 PM on November 15, 2011

I present as a dude for what its worth. I am also a loyal and dependable partner and who treats sex as a precious, giving, and amazing thing worth cherishing, understanding, and deeply respecting; though I am not married and not currently abstinent.

I would, myself, have serious reservations about marrying someone who had never had a sexual relationship with anyone before.

The modern euphemism for sex seems to be "making love" but I actually like a much older one that seems to have fallen out of style a long time ago, "knowing someone." That to have sex with person X is to "know them."* In having a giving, enthusiastically contenting, and mutually awesome sexual relationship you really do get to know a hell of a lot about your partner in amazingly intimate ways, but you also learn a hell of a lot about your own desires, quirks, and Self. To expect virginity from someone you intend to marry truly is foolish. Because for most it means ignorance of self, and if your partner doesn't "know" themselves how could you know enough about them to make that kind of choice? Regardless of your choices, hey if virginity is something you want for yourself please Rock It and don't look back, but I would strongly recommend not looking for it in a partner and staying the hell away from any partner looking for it in you.

Placing strong value in the virginity in a partner, especially outside of a religious context, is a powerful indicator of insecurity, lack of connection to the modern world, and uncool control issues. It does not indicate, though I certainly don't think is necessarily incompatible with, loyalty or dependability. Someone requiring that a partner never "know" anyone else, would indicate to me that there is something they value more than the understanding that their partner knows what they want out of a sexual relationship. Especially a permanent one like a marriage, and ultimately represents a lack of respect for their partners well being over their religious beliefs (understandable and not necessarily bad!) or insecurity (profoundly not cool!).

I think the idea that you must "try a partner before you buy it" is objectifying in a unhealthy way, especially if there is a mutual and enthusiastic desire to wait. However, I would suggest that it is important to "know" yourself sexually, whatever that ends up meaning for you, before committing to a permanent and exclusive sexual relationship. Much more importantly, I would want to council you that seeking something that, at least for most, indicates ignorance in a lifelong relationship is a horrible, unhealthy, unwise, and so often insecure thing to do. It makes for so often terrible and indeed statistically impermanent marriages. Previous virginity, followed closely by a profession of the Southern Baptist faith, is one of the most powerful statistical predictors of divorce. I am not recommending that you go have sex, but I am recommending that you live with self awareness before marrying someone and would suggest that an awesome and mutually enthusiastic and consenting sexual relationship is one great, fun, and easier, though still fucking hard path, to it.

*Most languages split the verb "to know" into multiple verbs along a spectrum of how well you know the subject of the verb, with this in context being the most strongly knowing verb only appropriate to use on a person in this context.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:05 PM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.

We tell 13-year-olds "Don't have sex because you might get hurt."

The thing is, we also tell 13-year-olds "Don't make big plans around this guy because he might let you down" and "Don't tell him any embarrassing secrets because you don't know if you can trust him."

Honestly, sex is no more emotionally risky than any of those other things that we advise kids not to do. If you can handle making plans around the guy, or trusting him with your feelings, then you can handle sleeping with him.

Doesn't mean you have to. Just means that if you do, it probably won't be any bigger of an emotional risk than the ones you've already taken on.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

In other words, sex can take practice - it took us honestly, several months to a year to get comfortable with PIV sex. It's possible that we are an edge case, but from other stories I've heard, I would be honestly surprised if "Two virgins have successful PIV sex on their wedding night, leading to pleasurable orgasms for all" was more common than my experience.

I came here to say this.

When I think about the idea of waiting until marriage to have sex, what I picture as "the first time" is like in a romantic movie: the two meet at the bed's edge, and then fall backwards into it while staring into each other's eyes; they kiss; the camera stays totally focused on their (perfectly aligned) faces as they start moving; they hold hands; they both gasp slightly; and then the guy falls down onto her, they cuddle, end scene.

That's what we think of as romantic sex in our society.

That is NOT what sex is like. At least, not when you're new to it.

When you're new to sex, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to stare into each others' eyes, hold hands, and just enjoy the amazing intimacy of the act. Instead, there's going to be a lot of physical confusion ("Wait, you stay there -- no, hold on, your leg is --- wait, no, that hurts -- okay, that's fine, but now your elbow is..."). There's going to be sticky stuff, and goo, and perhaps rug burn. If you're not used to being naked around others, you'll feel self-conscious. If you've never orgasmed in front of another person, you'll feel self-conscious. If the guy has never had sex before, it is may very well be over way too quickly -- before you've really felt anything at all. If the girl's never had sex before, it may very well be terribly painful for her.

In short, if you are abstaining until marriage for the sake of living out the romantic ideal of sex, you are going to be terribly disappointed. And, furthermore, if you have decided that sexual activity is a sign of deep, loving intimacy and that the consummation of your marriage will be the ultimate expression of that deep love, you may very well end up feeling hurt, confused, and lost after your first time. This sounds like a terrible pun (and I don't mean it that way), but if you go into your first sexual encounter with so much expectation, you will likely end up feeling nothing but empty, hollow. Where you are expecting an overwhelming sensation of love and joy, you may instead find yourself feeling nothing.

I'm not saying it's not a good idea to abstain. For some people, it may very well be. However, the way that you have described sex in your question, I worry that you are just setting yourself up to be hurt, confused, and lost. It's not a good thing for the first night of your relationship to involve tears, pain, fear, and the total breakdown of your expectations for married life.
posted by meese at 5:12 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

the problem with figuring out if you're sexually compatible with another person by just talking about it is that you can have errors both ways: you could think you like something, but actually not, or you could think you wouldn't actually like something, but actually do. also, just b/c you both like some act a certain way doesn't mean that you actually like it *with that person*, and since it's impossible to accurately describe in detail, talking about sex is not a substitute for actually having it.

and all that is assuming your partner isn't misrepresenting what they want, or would be open to.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:18 PM on November 15, 2011

As others have pointed out, you're placing a lot of, perhaps undue, emphasis on the significance of sex. I might suggest you're placing a lot of undue emphasis on the significance of marriage.

You indicate you're not coming at this from a religious place, so I'm going to assume marriage doesn't carry religious meaning to you. I might wonder, then, what exactly is the purpose of waiting for marriage? What changes when you get married, rather than just merely having a committed, meaningful relationship?

It's plausible, likely even, that you'll find sex more fulfilling with someone you care about, who cares about you, and with whom you have a meaningful emotional connection. It's also plausible that by waiting to have sex until you're in a stable relationship of that sort, you'll screen out the guys whose intentions are incompatible with yours. I think that by reserving sex for marriage, however, you're doing yourself a disservice in a number of ways that others have touched on (being overly-exclusive in your dating pool, possibly committing yourself to a suboptimal sex life forever). If the institution of marriage doesn't carry any especially deep meaning to you, I would forget about using it as a marker of when you are or are not ready to have sex. It's just ratcheting up the pressure on your relationship for no real good reason.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:19 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

" I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up."

That sounds like you're scared of being hurt, which isn't a healthy or fun way to live.

One can survive being emotionally devasted, but you can't get back time lost to living in fear.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:25 PM on November 15, 2011 [18 favorites]

Something to remember about the "no sex before marriage" thing is that it started back in the days when it was common to get married at thirteen years old.
posted by Xoebe at 5:25 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

We were head over heels in love. It was amazing.
If we had waited until marriage, we would have been married before we discovered that we were completely sexually incompatible, and our options would have been both living in misery forever, or divorce.

Don't underestimate the power of sexual incompatibility to create misery and strain in a relationship.
Don't believe you can "just know" you're sexually compatible with someone.

No sex before marriage, to me means you're playing fast and loose with your marriage. You're taking unnecessary gambles with your future happiness and prosperity.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:48 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel that finding a man who views sex this way would allow me to find someone who exercises a lot of self-control and respect for women.

Um. No. I just don't see any way that those two things logically follow each other, at least not in contemporary society.

I think that if anything you are likely to be selecting for men who are (1) strongly religious, or (2) have antediluvian views on sexuality and gender roles. (Or both, but for the sake of argument we'll pretend the two are orthogonal.) While men in group 1 could go either way in terms of "respect for women," I would be extremely suspicious of men in group 2.

A male obsessing over or strongly valuing virginity -- particularly his partner's virginity -- is, in my experience, a pretty good indicator of someone with scary views on sex and relationships, and a giant red flag.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:52 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

"No sex before marriage" is also repulsive in its origin and deceptive about the real reason for it - it's primarily a method of control to ensure that a man's child is his biological child. This is why female virginity is a much bigger deal than male virginity.

Mothers know that their baby is theirs. Men don't know if they're the father, and either have to trust the woman, or shape society to ensure paternity.

"No sex before marriage" is dressed up as virtuous for a lot of (often ridiculous) reasons, but the real reason it exists is to guarantee paternity.

But nowadays, we have DNA tests.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2011 [20 favorites]

I think a lot of people are being really negative to your notion and I find this vaguely hilarious. It's weird how society can so totally swing from shaming in one direction (Sex is for marriage only!) to another (Sex is for right now!) and everybody seems to be on same page.

But, since we have all established that now is correct and the past is and has always been wrong, I say society, you so crazy.

That being said, I'm totally in the sex is for now camp, but I can at least respect that there are other camps. Camps I totally don't want to go to canoe to, but camps nonetheless.

Anyway, trying not to be dismissive -- since you want to do this, I will mention two issues with the plan:

1. The guy you have met (or perhaps a subsequent guy who replaces him) and like will probably think that you cannot be serious about this. He will push the issue, and by the standards of the day, it will not be him who has any explaining to do. If you wanted to be this way it would be way easier if you WERE religious, because then you could backstop this notion with religion and blame it on the Jeez man, or whatever. What's more, if you were really into said guy, you wouldn't be in a position to say "take it or leave it" because you'd be really into said guy.

2. People who are really truly serious about not having sex until x and y conditions have been fulfilled (I think I can pencil it in during summer break between my Masters and my PHd, oh wait, I have skydiving that week...) aren't really interested in having a whole sex. Not so much. So I'm going to say that you probably don't really have much of a sex drive, and that would be a significantly huge thing for a guy to want to find out before he's married, since even you have acknowledged that sex is very important by treating it with such reverence.

In general, your idea that the ideal man wants to wait because of respect and emotional connection sounds off base, but maybe I am generalizing. I would say on average people don't go crafting grand theories on when they should or should not have sex, rather uncontrollable forces take over their brain and make them do things that they had not planned on doing. A lot of these things are Bad Ideas, but they are enjoyable. Since you don't seem to be affected by these forces, Strange Things May Be Afoot At The Cirkle K.

On the other hand, it's possible that you could meet an ideal man who is also not particularly interested in having a whole lot of sex and all of this could work. Or he could be gay. That would be bad.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

* whole lot of
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 6:21 PM on November 15, 2011

I am looking to find a dependable, loyal husband

Has absolutely nothing to do with this:
someone who treats sex as so precious as to be saved for marriage only

If my wife had told me at the beginning of our relationship that she wouldn't have sex with me until we were married (or if she had DQ'ed me for having had sex before marriage), we would have never made it to marriage. And, not to be too egotistical about it, but by pretty much any metric I think I am a pretty good husband. Financially, I am a fairly successful engineer - I pay all the bills such that she can stay home with our daughter. I have never been disrespectful, never cheated, never been abusive in any way. I support her hobbies and interests. I help take care of our daughter.

maximum sense of emotional intimacy
Sex is not "maximum emotional intimacy". Wait until your boyfriend flies in from Europe and then immediately to L.A. to meet you at your father's bedside after he's had a stroke. Or wait until you've been up for two days in labor and delivery and then the baby's born and the doctor asks you for her name. Not to be preachy about it, but you only think this because you don't have enough experience to know otherwise.

I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.
Probably. That happens. Better to have loved and lost than to avoided it all together.

I have a very loving and caring relationship with my wife. Both of us had sex with other people before we were married. That hasn't diminished our relationship in any way.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 6:36 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Only you can decide when to start having sexual relations. You will certainly want to discuss it with any man you're serious about, but both of you must live with yourselves.

The contemporary urban norm is that couples go to bed on the third date. That's obviously not you, or your friend.

My wife and I were a nearly love-at-first-sight couple, but we dated for several months before first making love, and we lived together for two years before getting married. As the male half of the couple, I certainly was interested in having sex, but I wanted to accommodate a woman I was seriously interested in. Both of us wanted to find out how we would get along for a substantial length of time before making a permanent commitment. That commitment certainly included sex, but more important were emotional and intellectual compatibility -- how it felt to be around each other all the time. My wife told her mother she would never marry anyone without living with him for a year to see how loud he snored.

If you're meant for each other, sex before marriage will make little difference. At least it didn't with us. Sex is an important part of marriage, but far from the only important part. I think whatever you decide, when you start having sex is not the make-or-break part.
posted by KRS at 6:59 PM on November 15, 2011

Sex is a vital part of marriage. If you're sexually incompatible with your partner, your marriage is really going to suffer. You might skate by for a year or two, but it's pretty likely that things are going to get difficult.

The only way to find out how sexually compatible you are before getting married is, well, having sex before marriage. My now-wife put out on the second date. The second date!

And when she did, I realized that she was into the same hot, rough, steamy kind of sex that I was, and the fact that we're into the same things has given us a pretty great sex life for going on ten years now.

Would you marry someone without living with them first? What if they pee on the floor or like to sleep hanging upside down? The same thing goes for sex. You've got to take a car for a spin around the block before you buy it or you're going to end up with a lemon. Make sure you don't get a lemon.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed: Sex is not the ultimate expression of intimacy. Which isn't to say that it isn't a deeply personal thing you have the right to reserve for a few select individuals, or that you shouldn't protect yourself from its consequences.

But I think prolonged virginity can become an unnecessary roadblock to true intimacy. As long as you view sex as a transaction--which you do, by seeing it as something you expect to trade for respect and commitment--you're never going to get as close to someone as you'd like. And the longer you put it off, the easier it will be to keep saying no.

All that said, if you're not ready, you're not ready. But it sounds like it's starting to bother you. so maybe it's time to get the first time over with, so you can start looking forward to the thousandth time.
posted by elizeh at 7:10 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some of the religious arguments for abstinence resonate with me [...] such as creating a maximum sense of emotional intimacy in knowing that the married couple has not engaged in sexual activity with anyone else.

I'd suggest that this stuff resonates because it's an easy answer. It takes the big, messy, uncertain decisions of life (about love, relationships, sex) and gives you a simple formula. It can be really hard to decide when and how much to trust a potential romantic partner--you want to be open enough to let a relationship grow, but you don't want to be naive; you want to make smart choices to give yourself the best chance at a happy and successful marriage. And the religious formula kind of makes sense: consider sex the glue that binds a marriage together, if you treat it as a precious commodity you protect your future marriage; consider virginity a measure of your partner's commitment to the marriage, if you're both virgins then you're each committed to the other before you even meet.

I think it might be helpful for you to know that in some very conservative Christian circles (like, Quiverfull-conservative, these are not mainstream Evangelicals), they say that not only should you guard your physical "purity," you should avoid even entertaining feelings of crushes or affection for men until you're ready to marry the one man you've been saving yourself for. They talk about giving away pieces of your heart every time you have romantic feelings, explaining that if you have a boyfriend or a crush before marrying, you can't give your whole heart to your husband. This is, of course, ridiculous. Our capacity to love is not a resource that diminishes over time, and you would do no favor to your eventual spouse by shutting down emotionally in anticipation of meeting him.

Sex is no more a finite resource than love is. Having sex in one loving, committed relationship does not diminish the potential for intimacy with your spouse (frankly, neither does having casual sex with someone you don't love). Have sex, don't have sex--it's up to you to decide what you want, what's healthy for you, and what you want to do with your current partner. But you won't diminish future intimacy with a spouse by having sex. And you won't guarantee future intimacy by abstaining. There isn't an easy formula for relationships.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:28 PM on November 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

Regarding being *more* heartbroken if you break up with someone you've had sex with, a counterexample: in college, I dated a girl who told me up front that she was saving it for her future husband. My ego told me I could be that one. Therefore, I stuck with her for most of a year, blinded to her ex-post-facto-obvious problems. The rarity (or rather, non-existence but legendariness) of sex made the value seem all that much greater. It was some weird psychological supply/demand system.

Bottom line, when I found she was having sex with another guy (who, indeed, she did wind up marrying), I was 1) more devastated because of the loss of the legend I'd built up in my mind 2) of the mind, "Christ, I gave up a year of college sex for *that*?" It messed me up enough to leave me damaged goods for the rest of my college career.
posted by notsnot at 7:29 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who's been married for 10 years, some our most intimate moments have not come from sex. Helping her get a urine sample while she was in the hospital and too weak to stand? THAT was intimate. Talking about certain non sexual topics? Intimate. Showering or bathing together? Intimate.

There's lots of ways to be intimate and in many ways sex is far down on the list. I see no reason to hold or save it for a future spouse. It's far better to acquire a number of life skills, sex being one of many, to help sustain and enliven your future marriage.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:42 PM on November 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Here is a compelling pro-abstinence POV: abstinence is the ONLY 100% effective STD prevention. Every subsequent partner ups your chances for STD infection. That means, from a practical perspective it's smart to limit your sexual partners and use discernment in choosing a partner who hasn't had an abundance of partners. It's also the only 100% pregnancy prevention (unless you're sterile). And I'd imagine that you don't want to open yourself up to having a baby with a partner who is not fully legally committed to you and said potential child (i.e. married). I think it's depressing that blood tests as a prerequisite for marriage licenses went away in most states.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 7:59 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

here's a compelling pro-never-leave-the-house POV: never leaving the house is the only 100% effective getting-hit-by-a-bus prevention. that means it's smart to limit the number of times you leave the house, and discernment in choosing a time to leave the house when busses are not in abundance. it's also the only 100% walking-off-a-bridge prevention (unless you don't live close to a bridge). and i'd imagine that you don't want to open yourself up to walking off a bridge unless you are fully legally committed to walking off said bridge.

or, you know, look both ways across the street before crossing, and be careful on bridges.

on a serious note: men still have to pay child support, even if they were never married to the mother of their child.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:11 PM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Abstinence from sex is no better a predictor of loyalty, commitment, and respect for women than abstinence from broccoli or racquetball or MASH reruns. It simply doesn't have anything to do with it.
posted by equalpants at 8:31 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know women who waited and as far as I can tell are very happily married.

I know women who've waited and, once married, found they were profoundly incompatible in the bedroom, which was followed by depression, abuse, affairs and divorce.

There are no guarantees. Abstinence can't protect you from heartbreak.
posted by bunderful at 8:49 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sex is great, really great. Are you really trading sex for marriage? Why not marry someone who wants to be with you, sexually, intellectually, personally? Why not be sexual and happy, and enjoy the best way to connect with another human. It's good for you.
posted by theora55 at 9:04 PM on November 15, 2011

This is a question only you can answer. A couple of things weren't clear from your question: (1) Have you talked to your boyfriend about this? He might have some thoughts on it, and if you see a future with him, you should definitely be talking to him about this. (2) Do you expect your future husband to be a virgin also? Because that's also something important to bring up with your boyfriend.

As far as actually staying a virgin until you're married, I didn't have sex until I was married, and I think that was the best choice for me and my husband.

As far as sexual compatibility, I think it's possible to know if you're sexually compatible without actually having sex. Not having sex before marriage doesn't mean you have no physical contact. You can kiss, touch, hold hands, and be physical together in a way that reveals whether you're compatible. If you need physical intimacy and he doesn't touch you? That's probably a sign it won't work. And not having sex before marriage also doesn't mean that you can't talk about it. If you're worried that your husband is hiding some sort of major kink that you're uncomfortable with and won't reveal until after the wedding, then you're probably not at a point where you should get married anyway.

Plus, I think if you really love and care for each other, you're going to be focused on making sure that the other person is having a good time. The key is to marry someone who loves you so deeply that he's willing to do anything for you, and to marry someone you love so deeply you're willing to do anything for him. Yes, it might be awkward at first, but with communication, love, and a willingness to sacrifice for each other, sexual incompatibility might not be so much of an issue.

With regards to virgins getting married ridiculously fast and young, it definitely happens. I've had friends who rushed into marriage because of it, but it doesn't have to be that way. I was 28 and my husband was 31 when we got married, and we'd dated for three years before our wedding. So it's definitely possibly to wait and still have a long relationship to really get to know each other before getting married.

I will agree with everyone that your first time is probably not going to be incredibly perfect and romantic and movie-like. It's awkward and uncomfortable and kind of funny actually. My husband and I still laugh at how awkward our first time was. But that's an advantage of a honeymoon--it gives you plenty of time to figure it all out. And really, you have the rest of your laugh to perfect sex. There's nothing that says that your wedding night has to feature perfect cinematic sex (I think most people don't have sex on their wedding night anyway because they're so tired).

To sum it up, you can obviously choose to have sex if you want to and if you're comfortable with that choice. But if you want to wait, you're definitely not the only ones, and there's nothing wrong with it.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 9:33 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honest questions:

I am looking to find a dependable, loyal husband,
Why do you think these traits are tied to abstinence?

I feel that waiting to have sex would allow me to find someone who treats sex as so precious as to be saved for marriage only,
Are you afraid that if you have sex with someone who's had premarital sex, they will be more likely to cheat on you?

it just seems nice for both of us to save ourselves only for each other.
Do you feel if you have been with someone else then that cheapens the experience with your spouse? Why? Do you feel we are given finite amounts of sex, intimacy, and love to share with others?

I feel that finding a man who views sex this way would allow me to find someone who exercises a lot of self-control and respect for women.
Why do you think not having sex is tied to respect for women? This implies that somehow having sex with a woman disrespects her. Why do you feel that way? If a woman would like to have sex, is she disrespecting herself? Why do you feel that way?

I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.
Do you think fear of emotional pain is a good way to plan out your relationships? If you got married you could still break up through divorce. This would be painful, does that mean you shouldn't get married?

creating a maximum sense of emotional intimacy in knowing that the married couple has not engaged in sexual activity with anyone else.
Again--why do you feel that sexual intimacy is present in finite amounts, such that having sexual experience reduces the intimacy you're allowed to experience with others? Did the love I felt for my ex-boyfriend mean I cannot love my current boyfriend as much as I could if I never loved anyone else? Do the dates you had in high school make the dates with your boyfriend less special? Or is it possible that our experiences with others make us better able to appreciate the newer, better experiences we have now?

Here is my take: I feel my past romantic and sexual experiences enhance my current and future relationships. One, I have "been through the wringer", so to speak, I've encountered different problems and situations (not just sexual) through my experiences that I needed to navigate, and having this experience has given me the wisdom to make my current relationships better. Two, the positive experiences are experiences I can bring to the table to make my partner happier. Three, the negative experiences allow me to really appreciate how much better my partner is than previous partners, and this appreciation enhances our emotional connection.
posted by schroedinger at 9:47 PM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

If you want to abstain from sex before marriage than feel free to do so. It's not a common attitude these days and it's an even less common one among the not-very-religious, but it is your choice to do so.

My concern is that you seem to believe it signifies more than it actually does. A man who does not believe in sex before marriage is not necessarily a man who respects women. A man who has had many partners is not necessarily one who does not.

If you want to find someone who is dependable and loyal and respects women then look for someone with those characteristics. If you look for someone who will abstain from sex then that is what you will get, but it's not necessarily what you want.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:28 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Abstain from sex because you think it's beautiful to do so. Don't abstain out of fear. There is no recipe you can follow to keep you from heartbreak. There are plenty of people in happy, loyal marriages who did not abstain.

You can avoid emotional devastation by making sure that your relationship is not the center of your life, but the only way you can avoid having your heartbroken is to not love anyone.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:52 AM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

abstinence is the ONLY 100% effective STD prevention

No. Just because we call them sexually transmitted diseases/infections doesn't mean sex is the only method of transmission. Especially if oral doesn't count as 'sex'
posted by missmagenta at 1:09 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In species that form pair bonds (like us!) it is quite common for individuals to go through trial copulation with multiple partners before settling down with one partner. The only reason humans started becoming obsessed with virginity was due to attempts by males to have greater paternal certainty, which is only a concern when wealth can be inherited and where wealth inequality exists in the society. The fact that female virginity is more highly regarded than male virginity is a testament to the deeply misogynistic history behind virginity in humans, when women were considered property and judged based on their loyalty and fecundity.

A lot of individuals obsessed with virginity still engage in sex and, when they do, they are far more likely to engage in risky, dangerous sex. That's the reason that areas where abstinence is pushed have higher rates of STIs and pregnancies.

Of the couples I know who are young (under 30) and waited to have sex before marriage, they all fall into two camps: 1. They rushed into marriage in order to have sex. Studies have shown that a marriage is more likely to end in divorce if the couple marry before the age of 25. Women who wait until their late 20s/early 30s are much more likely to stay married in a happy relationship. Are you willing to wait until you hit 30 to have sex? A lot of people deeply in love can't. 2. The couple found that they were sexually incompatible. A partner had little to no sex drive or an odd fetish. If you are engaging in sex besides PiV, then you are less likely to have this issue, but then you aren't really being abstinent, are you?

I realize that the plural of anecdotes is not data and there are people who remained abstinent who are now in happy marriages. I'd submit that they are the exception rather than the rule and that you should really only take advice from those who remained abstinent and have since consummated their relationship. When I was young, I thought I'd remain a virgin until I married and didn't consummate a relationship until I had an engagement ring on my finger. I learned that sexual compatibility is not only very important to me, but that sexual intimacy can tell me a lot about the state of our relationship and how I feel about my partner. If I had married my first partner, we would've had considerable relationship troubles since we weren't sexually compatible. Our lack of sexual compatibility was a sign of deeper relationship troubles that didn't become apparant until after we had sex.

My husband is the most dependable, loyal, respectful man I've ever met. He gives me plenty of verbal and physical affection and we remain in the 'honeymoon phase' after over a year of marriage with no sign of it abating soon. If he or I had insisted on abstinence before marriage, we wouldn't be together now.
posted by avagoyle at 4:01 AM on November 16, 2011

I understand where you're coming from, because I used to think sort of similarly in that I didn't want to have sex with more than one person. I didn't care so much about premarital sex, and I had sex with my husband before we got married, but I still had the same idea about not wanting to have sex with someone I wasn't deeply in love with. I've been with my husband nine years so that, at least, has incidentally worked out, but when I was younger I would worry that I'd have sex with someone and we'd break up and I'd be ruined or something. All I can say is now that I'm older and not a virgin I don't think it matters how many people you end up having sex with, and if for some reason my husband became a real asshole or something and we got divorced, I would be really upset, but no more upset than anyone else who gets divorced, and not because I'm somehow tainted or lost my shine. I would be fine.

I can't tell entirely from your wording but it's entirely reasonable to wait for love. (It's also reasonable to not care if you're in love, so I say that not to shame anyone who doesn't care about waiting for love, but only because the social pendulum has swung so far the other way that people who wait for love nowadays can feel weird. You're not weird. I sincerely can't even get sexually aroused without love, so I consider it as legitimate as any other kink and morality doesn't enter into my thoughts on the matter.) Waiting for marriage seems arbitrary to me at best. When I was younger I had the idea that marriage somehow meant love, so I wonder if you want to use that as a marker to be sure someone really loves you. It's not, though. If you're in love with someone, just have sex with them. If you're not, don't (unless it quits mattering to you).
posted by Nattie at 5:02 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

For whatever little it's worth, I was swoony and romantic about sex when I was younger and waited a bit beyond when my friends experienced it for a lot of the reasons you cite--I wasn't waiting 'til marriage but I was waiting until I felt all soul mate-y and deeply connected. When I did have sex for the first time it was with someone I thought I knew inside and out, who I had a 6 year relationship with (and for the majority of that time we both assumed we'd get married as soon as I graduated from college). I thought it would be the most intimate and emotional thing ever if I played my cards right. It wasn't, and that thing mentioned above about how if you go into it thinking that you're likely to feel empty and disappointed and confused immediately after your first time rings super true to me (and it wasn't a "bad" experience--it's just, yeah, like said above, sex is not some cinematic romantic intuitive wow at first at all, it does take practice and frank communication etc.). It wasn't the end of the world, that part, though. What did suck was the thing people are saying about it being too big a gamble given you find out the results AFTER becoming so attached emotionally already, and entrenched (whether married or in my case cohabitating, uprooting myself from everyone I knew and moving 1000 miles to do so). The part where you say you'd be devastated if you had sex and then broke up with someone? You'd be way more devastated if you deeply loved someone, married them and shaped your life around the assumption they'd be with you forever, and THEN had sex with them and found out it was terrible. It took years for me to realize I was not sexually compatible with the guy I assumed I'd be marrying, and it was a painful revelation and the break up was messy and took years to fully get over because of the mismatch between deep platonic/emotional bonding and zero sexual compatibility. It fucked up my sense of sexual self-worth for a while. Funny enough, I went the opposite route with the man I'm now married too BECAUSE of all the hurt over how it went down--we had chemistry up the wazoo and started making out immediately but I kept him at arm's length emotionally for a long time after what had happened with the first guy. We have a rock solid relationship that's equal parts deep friendship/companionship/life partnership and sexual joy. Looking back I feel wiser and happier now that I dismiss those swoony cerebral not-grounded-in-nitty-gritty-reality notions of sex and romance I had when I was younger. It's not even less romantic now for being realistic/practical, kind of like Camus and existentialism isn't a less beautiful narrative than religion if you really examine it thoroughly. This is a hard thing to explain, maybe it's just me. Anyway, that's just one take on things.
posted by ifjuly at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up.

Oh, I remember this one. I was told this, as a kid, and I assumed it meant "sex flips a switch inside your brain and forces you to bond like a baby duck to the first person you sleep with, rendering you utterly helpless around them from that point forward." I actually, literally thought that was true- that some chemical thing would happen in my brain to make me fall in love as soon as I had sex. But it doesn't actually work that way at all! I don't know why people insist on saying this, because in my experience, sex bonds you to another person about as much as any other intense shared activity, like hiking a mountain or something. Really. The "extreme emotional attachment" thing is basically a myth.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:44 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

There aren't many people who wish that their spouse had more sexual partners prior to marriage. I find your goals admirable and I share your view on it. More pain and regret has been caused by casual sex than by discipline and restraint.
posted by dgran at 6:45 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't know why people insist on saying this

Because for some of us, it's true :) For some of us, sex deepens the connection with partners and makes breakups far more devastating than they would otherwise be.

OP won't know how sex impacts her until she engages in it. And even then the impact may change depending on her age, changing biochemistry, and who knows what else.
posted by bunderful at 7:35 AM on November 16, 2011

Sweetheart, there is nothing wrong with waiting to have sex until you are comfortable and ready, but none of your reasons hold up. None of those things work the way you think they do, and none of them guarantee anything.

If you want to marry a virgin, and only date virgins- you are going to pass by some really wonderful men who have all the other traits you want way before you find your unicorn- And it's going to be harder every year that passes. There just aren't that many people who haven't had a sexual relationship by the time they are thirty.

If you want to wait to have sex until you are in love, until you feel like you know the man enough to be reasonably sure he's not going to hurt you, that he respects women, that he shares a lot of the same values as you, that's totally fine. But making marriage a hoop he has to jump through (and has to have had no contact even before he knew You, the Magic Woman who wanted him to wait for her) is just bound to make it really really hard to find a partner.

...but one quick thought. do you have much of a sex drive? It dawns on me that this might not feel like that bad of a sacrifice because you might not be that into it. This is something you are going to want to know about- because if you don't have much of a drive and you toddle off to marry a virgin dude who wants to fuck twice a day- things will not end well.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:42 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another comment from another member that wishes to remain anonymous:
I am usually very private about this, but for your sake and for the sake of anyone who might read the question afterwards, I feel the need to speak up. I am technically a virgin, in the sense that I have never had PIV sex, and I am in my mid to late twenties. It was a decision I made a long time ago (about 13 years ago), and my motivation - unlike yours - stemmed from deep religious convictions. My beliefs have changed in the meantime, and I am still reconsidering what effect this has on my sexual conduct, and I may well change my mind and behavior in this regard. However I can tell you a few things that I have learned over the past decade, having had relationships but no vaginal intercourse:

It's not clear to me that by the time you reach your twenties, the men who abstain from sex are those who are most "dependable and loyal", or those who "exercise a lot of self-control and respect for women". The men I have met who are also virgins are generally either quite religious, asexual or otherwise not very interested in sex, socially awkward, or possessing qualities that prevent them from being generally dateable (e.g. misogyny, Nice-Guy-ism...). Obviously this isn't comprehensive, and there are some who were unlucky, workaholics, late bloomers, or who spent their early twenties backpacking through rural Africa, etc., but a huge bulk of the mid-/late-twenties virgin guys I've met fit into the types I mentioned, with religious being by far the largest.

There are also guys who are particularly interested in virgins, and in my experience these also aren't the type you want to be attracting. Some have a very transactional view of sex, and think that sex cheapens women: while they're initially attracted to you, one can imagine the bloom would come off the rose eventually (post-wedding), and it's probably best to know this upfront. Similarly, there is also a disturbing subsection of men who have some kind of virgin fetish and want to be your first, regardless of who you are as a person, which obviously totally negates your professed desire to attract a man without sex getting in the way, if I can paraphrase. Honestly, being a virgin weeds out a lot of guys who probably would be perfectly great partners but feel that dating a virgin would be "too high pressure"; if you demand that your partner also be a virgin, your dating pool shrinks drastically further, especially if you're non-religious, since most religious virgins are virgins specifically because of their strong religious beliefs, and are looking for someone similar. Opportunity, plus religious values inculcated in youth, seem to me to be the biggest predictors of sexual experience, rather than qualities that are spread fairly evenly across the population (dependable, loyal, self-controlled).

I'm not saying here that attitudes towards sex aren't important, but I'd suggest that a more accurate yardstick for the bulk of the population might be those who attach a lot of sacredness to sex and only have sex in serious, committed relationships, versus those who see it essentially as a fun recreational activity. By all means don't have sex until you're ready, and until you feel you're with a partner you love and who loves you and who you see a future with; but having marriage as a fairly arbitrary and distant goalpost for losing your virginity may do more harm than good. My sense is that this might be a more helpful measure for you if you're trying to find a partner who shares your views, especially if you're not wedded (so to speak) to a religious view that mandates saving sex specifically until marriage. Personally, looking back on my dating experience, I've had situations where I'm retrospectively extremely glad I didn't have sex because it was clear that either that was all the guy was interested in and/or our relationship wasn't characterized by the kind of commitment that would make me feel loved and safe; but I have also had a couple of partners with whom I think wish I *had* had sex, as love and seriousness of the relationship would have made it appropriate to me. You don't only regret the things you've done - you can regret the things you haven't done too.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to urge you not to abstain from sex because of fear of being hurt. You say that "I guess my greatest fear is that I understand that sex carries with it extreme emotional attachment, and that I would be emotionally devastated if we broke up". Honestly, you probably will be emotionally devastated for a while if you break up, if it was a good relationship that you invested yourself in. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Although I have not had sex in the strictest sense of the word, my break-ups have hurt like the dickens, honestly. There's no scientific control group where I could figure out if my break-ups would have hurt more if I had had vaginal intercourse, but I suspect they would not. I'm not even sure that avoiding pain of this nature is desirable. In a way, break-up pain honors your relationship, because it demonstrates the seriousness with which you took your relationship, the commitment you had to each other, and the potential you saw for a future together. The only way I could see guaranteeing not being hurt is not investing yourself in the relationship, not making yourself vulnerable to anyone, and closing yourself off from much of what it means to be human. I always think of C. S. Lewis here, whose words sum up what I'm trying to say better than I can:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
posted by mathowie at 9:12 AM on November 16, 2011 [27 favorites]

The woman who wrote the anonymous reply just above mine has hit the nail on the head. All the nails, actually. Please, read her answer a few times and let it sink in. It's beautiful and true.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

By applying a selection criteria that excludes a large portion of sexually healthy men, you are selecting for unhealthy men.

Your desire to stay a virgin is not illegitimate, but it is not useful for your happiness.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:17 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The woman who wrote the anonymous reply just above mine has hit the nail on the head. All the nails, actually. Please, read her answer a few times and let it sink in. It's beautiful and true.

Yeah. Agreed. I particularly like this insight, which isn't one you'll necessarily hear all that often in a discussion of this topic:
You don't only regret the things you've done - you can regret the things you haven't done too.
posted by torticat at 6:54 AM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Gosh. I have a lot to say that might help or shed light.

My first husband was the first person i'd ever had sex with- it was a bit into our engagement and I then said it was "wrong" due to us not being married, he was religious and bought that (in reality i was deep into an eating disorder and had no clue about anything whatsoever to do with my body and aka sex- or how to know if I was compatible with someone sexually, and I frankly didn't want to fuck him) for the rest of our 5 year marriage i let him have sex with me, probably, 8 times?

I broke his heart.

It devastated him... my point? You make sex sound simple- when it isn't... and I used your arguments to pretend that I was "better" more "moral" but in the end I was fucked up and it hurt someone.

Now (4 years later) I'm having regular sex with my lovely partner post ED and its pretty amazing.

Sex is what it is. But don't think for one moment that your views are simple truths.

ps- I went to a private christian school for a few months in my teens and a lot of the girls gave blow jobs and had sex before marriage, they just never admitted it... and a lot of anal went on... blah blah
posted by misspony at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

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