Why I’m Going to Encourage My Kids to “Wait” for Marriage… Even Though I Didn’t

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I make no secret about the fact that I am a follower of Christ, one of those people often ridiculed as “born agains,” and I confess that many “Christians” have made the job of calling them hypocrites particularly easy.

My faith shapes my life, drives my political beliefs, and molds how I choose to interact with the world.

But I have a confession that won’t surprise you:

I’m not perfect, as the Prayer of Confession and Pardon says in the United Methodist Church before we accept Holy Communion, I have not loved Him with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbors, and I have not answered the cries of the needy.

And I am one of those 80% of Christians who had sex before I was married.

In response to Elizabeth Smart’s admission that she can understand why the victims of kidnapping and rape feel no reason to escape their captors, many Christian and non-Christian writers have challenged the church to begin reexamining the way it teaches the importance of only practicing sex inside marriage. I have to agree, but I also think we should be careful not to drop the concept all together.

I can tell you first-hand how much heartache can be avoided. I can list for you, from personal experience, the side-effects of being sexually active at a relatively young age. I can show you the physical and emotional scars of a life lived chasing intimacy outside the security of a healthy marriage.

I reject the notion that my worth, as a woman or as a human-being, is altered by the choice I made to have sex before marriage; to do so would completely ignore the message of Christ as love perfected, forgiveness freely given, and Grace endlessly extended that Christians are supposed to espouse.

But regardless of my religion, if my daughter or son (several, several years in the future… I just got married, and we’re in no hurry to have kids) asks me if I “waited” until I met and married their dad, I’m going to be brutally honest. I’m going to tell them that I didn’t, but those reasons are the very reasons they should.

Because now that I am married I see how much of my young life I spent chasing the false security of the sexual attention of boys, trying to mold myself into an object that would be pleasing to them, instead of concentrating on what would make me the best person I could be.

And that is why I’m going to encourage my kids to wait. Not just because no teenager should have to worry about raising a child, and the opportunities missed in doing so at such a young age, not just because of the danger of disease, and not because I think it would make them dirty and used up.

But because, there is so much more I could have been doing with my young life if I hadn’t been concentrating on filling the holes in my self esteem with the fleeting and shallow chase of boys who didn’t value me first for my intelligence, wit, and work ethic. I felt dirty and used, not because I had violated the “True Love Waits” class I went through when I was 13, but because I was mistakenly searching for emotional security and satisfaction from another person, instead of finding it in myself.

I understand that this view is contrary to the centralization of sexuality that has been adopted by many libertarians lately, and that my story and thought process are going to be criticized, probably even mocked. I am in no way shaming women who made different choices than I wish I had, and I’m not advocating for any law to enforce my views. I simply wish to add a voice to the discussion in our movement that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Keri

    Elizabeth, you make some great points. I am not a Christian, but I tend to believe the same way you do about sex. I’ve never been married, don’t really have plans to be, and I’m not a virgin. I have been abstinate for about five years, however. Five years ago, I went through rehab for severe alcoholism. While a practicing alcoholic, I was promiscuous for the same reasons you spoke about: low self-esteem and the need to be loved by someone, anyone. It wasn’t until I quit drinking and had time to reflect that I realized that sex should be special. Cheesy, but true. I did a lot of damage to myself and others with casual sex. It’s not for me. So, now, I wait for the special someone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think this is a position on the issue that needs to be heard.

    • Elizabeth Thames Robinson

      Keri,
      Thank you for sharing your story, and for your words of encouragement.

  • I don’t think the answer to the problems you faced is to impose an arbitrary date and time on your children for when they should have sex. In fact, I would say that doing so does more harm than good.

    Consider this: Marriage as the date for sex is a pretty arbitrary date. Why marriage? Why not till you’re 21, or 30? Marriage has a sense of finality to it, yes, but what if your child never wants to marry? Should they rush into a marriage in order to have sex because they feel that one must come before the other? I know many a southern couple who has done that. Marriage doesn’t protect children from the harms of sharing intimacy with someone who doesn’t deserve it.

    For that matter, saving sex for the arbitrary date of marriage is such an easily destroyed idea that any person who puts pressure on the idea (like someone who wants to get in your kid’s pants) will immediately find it folds. This leaves children without a good reason why they should wait. Without parental guidance on that matter, they may fold to the pressures of their peers or society. Namely, they still find themselves in the situation of having sex for all the wrong reasons and, thus, subject to the emotional harms that you endured (for which I am very sorry. 🙁 )

    I think a more sex positive culture helps more with this than a culture that is less sex positive. Embracing sex that is an awesome thing to do—when and only when you want to do it—empowers people to be actively decisive on whether or not they want to have sex, to think about it, consider what they want, and then go for it. Then sex becomes a positive experience for everyone.

    • Elizabeth Thames Robinson

      Long and short, because in my experience the “marriage” line is a lot more difficult to cross at a younger age than the “someone you love and trust” line.

      I had a much longer response written up, then Disqus decided to be mean haha

      • AuntMerryweather

        While I agree with Gina that “marriage” seems like a pretty arbitrary line, Elizabeth makes a good point that “someone you love and trust” is far more arbitrary, PARTICULARLY for a teenager.

        But Elizabeth, I think many of the insights you’ve found are the same insights that non-abstinent women reach through age, experience, and self-reflection. (e.g. “I’m looking for security/identity/catharsis via physical connection” or “I’m giving too much of myself to a partner who doesn’t respect me.”)

        I’m not married, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to identify relationship (however loosely you want to define that term) partners who are respectful and kind. Whether you think of sex as a recreational activity or as an experience that ought to be tied closely to love, the most basic standard that we ought to set for ourselves (and our kids) is to partner up with somebody who shows respect. It’s incredibly easy to delude yourself into believing that some jerk truly “loves” you (“s/he just doesn’t know how to show it.”). It’s much harder to convince yourself that a partner who is routinely callous, disingenuous, or aloof really RESPECTS you.

  • miley cyrus

    I guess my question is, if you’re going to encourage your children to wait, are you also going to tell them “well if you don’t here’s how to protect yourself”? I ask because I understand why you want to tell your future children to wait, but wouldn’t you also want them to know what to do if they decide not to.

    Also, if your daughter were to ask for birth control, would you provide it to her? I just don’t want you to be stuck in the dark about what kids do.

  • Lizfan

    I really don’t understand why people seem to think it’s so hard or undesirable to stay a virgin before marriage, or to stay a virgin and never marry. Why is that unrealistic or undesirable? We are not animals acting on instinct alone. We are thinking human beings that are capable of logic, reason, and self-control. Sex is not a necessity for life like food, water, shelter and clothing. I think there is way too much emphasis on sex in American culture. I decided when I was 13 that I was never going to have sex. At age 45 I am still a virgin, I still have no plans to marry and those decisions have never caused me any difficulties, sadness or embarrassment. There should be no shame in being a virgin. It boggles my mind that some people seem to think it’s impossible or unrealistic to keep their pants on and wait until they’re married to have sex. It should not be considered abnormal to abstain from sex until after you marry.

  • alabamapenguin

    Elizabeth I have to say I am really impressed you wrote this article. I commend you for your honesty. I have been married over a year and am 30 years old but still feel ashamed that I was not a virgin at my wedding night. So ashamed that at my little sister’s lingerie party recently, when everyone else was gushing about their virginal wedding night experiences, I smiled and nodded along, hoping she would think that was MY story too.
    I should have been the one person in the room to say “And on the flip side, here’s a Non-virgin’s Wedding Night Story…it’s not bad at all!” But I was too worried that she would see me differently, that I would be a bad influence on our other (single) sister, that the word might get back to my parents, that it would ‘taint’ the purity of this lingerie party for a 22-yr-old-virgin, etc.
    I know that some of the other commenters are going to find my stance completely old-school, oppressive and ridiculous, but I more or less agree with you. I waited until I was in my mid-20s to have sex. Having sex with other men before my husband came along was an overall NEGATIVE experience and I wish I could take it back. However, having sex with my husband BEFORE he was my husband WAS a POSITIVE experience though. And I don’t feel like it has been a sinful burden on my soul, our marriage, or our wedding night.
    I don’t even think my husband knows the truth about my sexual past – he never asked, and I never told. He is laid back and would have not cared, but I stayed silent –due to my own insecurities, and cowardice, and striving to still look like this sweet perfect vessel of a woman.
    So I don’t know what I will tell my future children someday.
    Is it best to wait until you have found the person you’re going to marry? I do believe it is. Will losing your virginity at a relatively young age, or having a promiscuous sex life, affect a woman negatively? In my opinion – as a Jesus-loving, non-perfect woman — yes. Are you a ruined woman if you ‘mess up’ and lose your virginity before your wedding night? Absolutely not.
    This piece is really going to stay with me; it has given me a lot to think about. Thanks again for your honesty and willingness to speak truthfully on a difficult subject . As a fellow Jesus-loving, Southern raised, big sister to younger sisters, I really value your thoughts.

    • alabamapenguin

      Sorry for double posting my comment, I just now signed up for a Disqus profile and am figuring out this posting thing. #newbie 🙂