Published in partnership with Scarleteen
Due to moral and possibly religious reasons, I want to wait ’til I am married before I have sex. But as a woman, I am worried that many men will not wait for this length of time and also will not be virgins by the point of marriage.
Heather Corinna replies:
Many men — and people of all genders — will not and do not wait until marriage to engage in various kinds of sex with partners. That’s as true now as it was 20 or 50 years ago. For at least the last 100 years in the west, we know a large majority of people have engaged in some kind of genital sexual activities with partners, whether we’re talking about intercourse or other activities, before marriage or without marriage altogether. And for many people before the last 100 years, that has also often been the case, and in most cultures — mostly because these kinds of standards had been applied to women more than men, and it was women who paid a price for acting outside of them, rather than men — more men than women have not “waited.”
Some of that is because for an awful lot of global history, women married earlier than men, when they were girls or still in their teens, and also because for an awful lot of history, for many women marriage was about survival: not being married could result in being unable to do things like eat on a regular basis. Historically, most people in the world who married did so much earlier than people do now: in some areas, that is still the case. Historically, it was primarily women who were told — when they were told — to save sex for marriage, not men.
In fact, I’d say that when we look at the world history of sex and marriage, we can say that while it’s still a small group no matter what gender we’re talking about, more men are likely saving sex for marriage now than men in most cultures for all of history before. So, the chance of you finding a male partner who is making the same choice you currently are strikes me as more likely at this point in time than it has been before, not less. Will some people, many people, want to wait for marriage or still be holding off on sex after their early 20s? Nope. Most still won’t unless there’s a massive change with patterns in this that have been the same for at least 100 years for most people.
Your concern here isn’t at all invalid. Your worry about this isn’t coming out of nowhere, it’s based in some common realities. Most people don’t wait until marriage, and many people just do not want to, for a whole host of different reasons, so thinking people who do are relatively rare is sound. However, if this is really important and central to you and what you want, then those people won’t be good fits in a partner for you anyway, right?
So, here’s the big but. What I’m not sure about is why someone else’s choices they made before they even met you would matter so much when it comes to making choices you strongly feel are right for you. Someone honoring your choice to wait and being on board with waiting for sex with you until marriage is quite a bit different than hinging those choices you want to make for yourself on if they have made those same choices for themselves, in interactions or relationships that occurred before you were any part of their lives.
If waiting until marriage is what you strongly feel is the right choice for you, how much does it really matter if it is or isn’t the right choice for anyone else so long as they are respecting and on board with your limits and boundaries, and are okay with holding off on sex with you until or unless it’s right for you? If you’re asking me, and we’re talking about a choice that would not do anyone harm — and choosing not to engage in sex when it’s not right for anyone involved certainly will not hurt anyone, in fact it’s NOT doing that which results in harm — then I’d say it doesn’t matter what someone else does or doesn’t has or has not felt was right for them. I think what matters most is what you feel is right for you, and that whoever you choose to be with in this regard is someone who, even if they haven’t shared your same choices or beliefs, respects and honors your choices and beliefs.
Everyone has their own set of ethics, values and ideals when it comes to sex, sexuality and sexual relationships. We are all going to meet some people who share our ethics, values and ideals, and others who do not. Obviously, some of us will have more people who share those with us than others, depending on how typical or atypical our ethics and values are among our peer groups, communities, cultures or worldwide. And of course, when it comes to our own right choices about what we do sexually with our own bodies and our own lives, that’s primarily about us, not other people and their choices they have made or will make abut their bodies and their lives. The way that’s about other people is if what we want and need are things they are cool with, and what they want and need also works for us and are things we can honor and respect.
To make our own best sexual choices, we need to stick to whatever our personal ethics and values are at a given time: to what each of us strongly feels is most right for us, and to nix what feels wrong for us. If we try and base our choices on what others may want or not instead, we’re likely to make sexual choices that we don’t feel good about, or which may even be physically or emotionally unsafe for us and others.
It doesn’t sound like you’re a long way into this process, where you have pursued a lot of relationships yet and found that your wants and beliefs around this are a big barrier: it sounds more like you’re just at the start of this process, so I don’t think it’s sound to start from a defeatist place, especially if we are talking about something really important to you. In other words, while I don’t think it’s sound to compromise our biggest values — if this is one of those — period. I think it’s particularly unsound to think about doing that before we’ve even found out if that’s something we need to even think about. If we know we really want something, I say we take some real time to pursue whatever that is and see what happens, rather than figuring, before we even start seeking it out, we can’t have it. I’d advise you don’t wear yourself down here by putting the cart before the horse.
By all means, you might want to think about how important is it really is to you in the big picture of serious relationships that a partner you may have made and may make the same choices you want to with sex and marriage. You might also want to think about why that is very important to you. I don’t ask those things to suggest there is any one set of conclusions you should come to: I don’t think there are right or wrong answers, just whatever your own thoughts and feelings are and how sound they are when it comes to what you expect any given set of choices means about someone or will result in in a relationship with that person. I think if you can sort those things out more for yourself, you will perhaps be better able to find a way to make sexual choices for yourself that square with your own ethics and values even if they don’t square, or don’t completely, with someone else’s.
I don’t think, as you probably don’t either, that someone simply having a sexual history, no matter what it was like, is a sound primarily criteria for finding awesome partners and wonderful relationships. A person’s choice to have engaged in sex or not just doesn’t tend to tell us very much about that person. I think there are other things you will probably want to put first when considering someone for dating, let alone a serious, legally-binding partnership. After all, just like people who have chosen to have sex before or without marriage can be awesome people or crummy people, the same is true of people who have chosen not to. Whether someone has or hasn’t made the choice to save sex for marriage or not doesn’t tell you what kind of person or partner that person is or will be.
Finding people we deeply connect with, who are great people who love and value us and vice-versa, and who want the same kinds of things out of life and relationships we do, and where there are also mutual feelings of desire to be sexual with each other, to have a relationship of which sex is a wanted part, can often be difficult all by itself. And someone’s life and sexual history is often only so relevant. To boot, if and when we really like, love and value someone, that person is who they are in part because of their life history.
Let’s say you meet someone who ticks a whole bunch of whatever boxes you’ve got for what you want in a long-term partner or spouse. He’s a guy who is really awesome, who loves you, cares for you, values you and respects who you are as a person. He wants the same or very similar things in life that you do. But that guy also happens to have had sexual partners before you, either inside or outside of marriage. And yet, while his choices have been different than yours, and his values and beliefs may differ from yours, he’s got all that other good stuff, including wanting to honor the choice you want to make around waiting for yourself, even though it wasn’t the choice he made in his life before you were in it. On the flip side, what about the guy you meet who has chosen to save sex for marriage, but doesn’t meet all or even any of your other criteria, including just being a good person you feel mutually connected to? Both of those are extremes, by all means, and you’re probably going to meet more people somewhere in the middle. But it might help to think about those extremes in sorting out your feelings about all of this.
Mind, if you very strongly want a partner without any history of sexual relationships or interactions with others, then you do. You get to have that criteria: you get to want what you want. Yes, that will probably mean you’re going to have a pretty small dating pool, certainly considerably smaller than it would be if you were just limiting yourself to people who honored your choice to wait without having made the same choice for themselves.
There are groups besides something like this where people also have a small dating pool: this is something gay and lesbian people deal with all the time in most areas, for instance. And it’s often manageable, even if it’s not ideal. Can it be a little more frustrating? Yep. Can it take longer to find people to pursue relationships with? Yep. But, just like with gay and lesbian people who only want romantic or sexual relationships with partners of the same sex, if these are the things you want per yourself and a partner, then they are, and you probably are going to feel a lot better sticking with those strong wants than you would about compromising them.
But once you add on an investment in a partner having made the same choices you are in their past, you do make a small pool even smaller. In the gay and lesbian comparison we’ve got going, that would be a bit like being like a lesbian woman who has only had women for partners who didn’t just want to have relationships with someone else who was lesbian, but who also has never had any kind of sex with men, too. But again, just as I’d say to a lesbian woman with criteria for partners like that, I’d say to you: if that’s what you want, that’s what you want. If that’s only what you want to seek out, then it is. Maybe that won’t limit you and will work out just fine, even though it’s a very small pool. If you find, over time, that it does limit you and your opportunities for relationships too much, then at that time, you might want to evaluate if that’s working out for you or not, and if you feel there are some adjustments you could make and still feel good about to widen your net, especially if any of that criteria is about things that might not really matter that much, or which might not be sound in the bigger picture of what you want.
One of my main concerns would be making sure whatever your criteria here is doesn’t limit you so much that you miss out on relationships and people who would be great for you. Additionally, I’d want to check that you’re not assuming this criteria — a person not just honoring your sexual beliefs and choices, but having made the exact same ones — will mean that person will automatically be a great partner for you, or better than someone else with a different history or set of values. After all, people who aren’t so great or who won’t make good partners can come with all sorts of sexual histories, and that includes people who are choosing to save sex for marriage. same goes for great people who can make good partners: they too, have a diversity of sexual histories and beliefs.
Again, there are not right or wrong answers to this stuff beyond the fact that you respect your own values and stick to partners who do, too. This is a lot to think about, and about some really complex issues and feelings, as well as the very complicated business of working out how to apply values that had a lot to do with very different conditions in history to a very different time now.
I think you might find it very helpful to talk to some other people who share your values with this and want to make the same choices you do: not just people you might pursue a romantic relationship with or consider for marriage, I’m talking about a larger community. You say that, for you, some of this may be religious. If that’s so, you might find spending more time in a community that shares your religious beliefs can both provide you some extra support around this and also may make meeting people more like you — even if not exactly like you — in this respect to consider for dating a lot easier.
My best advice is just to figure out what choices you feel are best for you, per the choices you, not someone else, can make, and then to own and honor them. Focus on what you really want and feel right about, not on what someone else might or does. Obviously, you can only do that for right now and the immediate future, but that’s okay. None of us can predict the future, the best we can do is start with where we have been in the past, wherever we are in the present and our best sense of how we might feel a bit down the road.
Then, as you date or otherwise consider people for serious relationships and potentially marriage, consider them as whole people, not just people who have or haven’t had sex before or do or don’t share your same values and beliefs with this.
Pay attention to how well they treat and view you, other people and themselves, including if they are clear they do and can respect and honor what you want, for yourself, around whatever limits you have when it comes to sex, like — again, if this remains important to you — saving sex for marriage. That part, someone respecting (even if they don’t share) whatever our own ethics and values are, is pretty non-negotiable in healthy relationships that endure. That also doesn’t require that they have made the same choices. Same goes for if they are on board with saving sex with you for marriage. Again, not everyone will be, because not everyone wants those same things, be that wanting marriage at all, or wanting a relationship that will be sexual, but won’t be anytime soon. Some people will not feel comfortable making a serious commitment like that which involves sex without at least exploring some parts of a sexual relationship first. Other people simply want a sexual relationship now, not later. So, folks like that just may not be the right people for you to pursue romantic relationships with, but that’s okay. Like I said, the process for any of us, whatever our values, finding the people we really, deeply connect and fit with is usually challenging.
But if and when you do find all of the core basics with someone — when they are on the whole, awesome people who feel like a good fit for you — then is when I think you’ll be at a sounder point to consider, with and only about that individual, how much or how little their sexual history matters to you, whatever it is. I think trying to do this in the abstract, making it about “many men,” not a man, especially in forming your own ethics and values, is an exercise in futility that won’t be very useful to you, if it’s useful at all. You don’t need to care what many men do or don’t want, are or aren’t okay with. You just need to concern yourself with the much smaller group of individuals it turns out you really connect with and may want to pursue a bigger relationship with.
I’m going to leave you with some extra links to read, including some past questions and answers from people with similar issues, where you can see a range of thoughts and outcomes. Hopefully between what I could give you here and those links, you’ll have a good bunch of food for thought to give you some extra help in this process. As well, I’m including a few that might help to give you some fuel for any discussions you may need to have with potential partners should you continue to choose to abstain from sex, and should you need some help with how to talk about that limit with them.
- Does Abstinence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?
- Safer Sex…for Your Heart
- My friend and I are both virgins, but he isn’t feeling good about it anymore.
- Two Guys, Waiting and Wanting
- Can my girlfriend really love me if she lost her virginity to someone else?
- I gave him my virginity, and I don’t feel like I got anything back.
- Managing Vulnerability & Sexual Insecurity
- I thought I’d wait until marriage, but I’ve changed my mind.
- We waited for marriage… but it wasn’t worth the wait.
- Hello, Sailor! How to Build, Board and Navigate a Healthy Relationship