Dating couples need a game plan: a set of ideas, attitudes and actions that will help them glorify God and safeguard their relationship from premarital sex.
How to date and stay pure…
When I typed out these words as an idea for an article on abstinence, I realized this was a difficult topic to get people talking about. When I asked my peers to share their stories, few were virgins with no sexual history, and even fewer wanted to talk about it. I wasn’t surprised. Recounting my own sin made me feel like the chief of hypocrites. Yet, at the same time, I knew couples who did it right. They met, fell in love, dated and waited until they were married to have sex. There seemed to be a special connection between them that made me wonder, How did they do it?
It started me on a quest to discover what I call “practical abstinence.” All of the “true love waits” messages mean nothing if they can’t be put into practice. And that seems to be where many Christians fall short. You’ve been told why you shouldn’t have sex before marriage, but did anyone actually tell you how?
You can’t jump into dating and expect that sexual temptation won’t be an issue. You need a game plan: a set of ideas, attitudes and actions that will help you glorify God and safeguard your relationship from premarital sex.
Manage Your Own Sexual Desire
God created us as sexual beings. Genesis tells us that He made humans both male and female in His own image. He blessed them, and one of the first commands He gave them was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28). So, sexual desire is a big deal to us, because it was first a big deal to God. It is a gift, but it needs to be managed, which is exactly where we’re having trouble today. We’re a generation that’s almost marked by a lack of self-discipline. We spend too much, we eat too much and it seems as though our sexual appetites have no limits, especially with those cheap porn dvds you can now buy even online.
We must learn how to say “no” to our sexual desires even if it’s unpopular and difficult. For advice on this, I checked in with Dr. Jessica McCleese of the Krist Samaritan Center in Houston, Texas. She has studied Christian sex therapy for the last four years. Dr. McCleese noted that much of our issue with managing desire is that we’ve made our desires too important.
“The world teaches us that our sexual nature is the most powerful piece of us. In reality, our sexuality is only a small piece of who we are. When our sexual selves are the focus, we lose who we are as whole people. If we can learn to see ourselves body, soul and spirit, it becomes easier to save your whole self for marriage,” she says.
She adds that managing desires isn’t just for the single/dating years. “Sexual desire is going to remain throughout your life,” Dr. McCleese says. “Singles often believe that the sexual desire switch turns off in marriage, and they are attracted only to their spouse. Truth is, even in marriage, you have to rein in your sexual desire and allow it to be fulfilled with your spouse in a loving consensual encounter. Part of dating and learning to bring your sexual desire under submission is simply training ground for marriage.”
Have an Accountability Partner
Managing sexual desires begins with realizing that we can’t do it on our own. Every couple needs someone who will speak into their relationship. “A mature couple can serve both the role of accountability partners and mentors who help the couple develop the skills necessary for building a great marriage,” says Jeffrey Murphy, marriage mentor and co-author of The Solution for Marriages. “All temptation finds its power when hidden from others. Accountability partners can rob temptation of its power.”
When I asked my friends about their relationships, it quickly became clear that the couples I knew who saved sex for marriage had one thing in common: They had accountability partners or mentors. Case in point: Jason and Danielle Peaks. Both in their 20s, they dated for a year before getting married, and they found that talking about their relationship with people they trusted made all the difference.
“We both had accountability partners,” Jason said. “I have a number of men who I meet with. We had my parents check in on us many times. We also had a few couples that we spent time with who would prod into our situation.”
Jason is a worship leader and minister at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. So he knew eyes were on him, which he believes helped him stay accountable. “It was good to have people on an individual level and on a more public level to engage with about our relationship,” he says.
As the leader in a dating relationship, a man has an important responsibility when it comes to making and keeping a game plan with his girlfriend. The primary way of doing this is by initiating conversations about physical boundaries and casting a vision for a relationship that honors Christ.
Viticus Thomas, one half of the married couple behind Dating and Waiting, a ministry that promotes abstinence, advises young men to not make sex a focal point, but to instead point the relationship in a better direction.
One way a man can do this is by paying attention to the kinds of dates he plans. “It is best that you and your date do a lot of outside activities so you can remain focused on each other and not sex,” he says. “Date smart. Don’t add more temptation by always being alone.”
Jason Peaks agrees that a relationship out in the open helped him and Danielle stay pure. “We tried to not be in a house together alone,” he says. “Stay in public as much of the date as possible. No laying or lounging on couches or beds.”
When temptation arose, Jason says he showed leadership by taking 2 Timothy 2:22 literally. “On a few occasions, we were together and I felt temptation, I would run out of the room, and once, I ran out of the apartment,” he says.
Obviously, much of abstinence is about each person having self-control. Passion can build inside of you much like stress or tension can, and it’s important to control that passion before it controls you. For some that means avoiding sexually charged movies, books, television and anything else that puts you in the mood. Some couples are mindful of the words they say to each other or how they sit with each other (i.e., lying down or snuggling). Set your boundaries, discuss them with one another and stick to them no matter what.
Repent (As Often As Necessary)
So where does this leave all of those who have already messed up? For couples who have slept together or have other regrets, it’s important to know that you can always put your relationship on the right path. Proverbs 24:16 reads, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…” (NIV). The first step in getting back up after a fall is repenting.
Repentance is not just saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness. It is a turning away from sin. It involves action. It means changing the way you behave, from re-evaluating how much alone time you spend together to choosing to end date nights earlier. Healthy couples sometimes have to set and reset their boundaries. This is also another area in which other people can help. Sit down as a couple with your pastor, mentors or accountability partners, and talk about what’s going on.
I found in my life that sexual sin was a heart issue, and I needed to spend less time dating and more time with God. Mentors can help you as a couple decide whether or not you should break up, but no matter the outcome, you as an individual need to seek after God to renew your own spirit.
Live by the Spirit Together
Galatians 5:16 reads, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Likewise, Paul wrote to the Romans, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
Live by the Spirit not only as an individual, but also as a couple. Read Scripture and seek God’s guidance together. Attend the same church, if you can, so you’re sitting under the same teaching. Get a Philippians 4:8 mindset that keeps you both focused on what is honest, pure, lovely and virtuous. Jeffrey Murphy says, “When a person develops their spiritual life in Christ, through Bible study, prayer, worship and fasting, they have the strength necessary for defeating the enemy of our souls.”
A life lived inwardly from the Holy Spirit is our strongest defense. When pleasing Christ rather than our flesh becomes a priority, abstinence is a restraint based not on rules, but on genuine love and respect for yourself, your God and your future mate. After all, boundaries can be pushed; ideas can be challenged, and rules can be broken in the heat of the moment. What you want is honor written on your heart so that your will becomes His will for now and for the future.
So, Is It Worth It?
Tamara (not her real name) is married to a good man and has a lovely family. When I look at her photos, she looks happy, but she confessed that she wasn’t always so. “Neither of us had waited, and the fact that we were long distance and travelled to see each other didn’t help our case,” she says.
Tamara always felt guilty about having sex before marriage, but eventually developed a resistance to the guilt. However, sleeping with her then fiancé changed her honeymoon and the year that followed.
“I recall our wedding night being not that big of deal. There was nothing new except a wedding band and a name change. It was a letdown,” she says. “We missed out on that first time excitement without fear or guilt. I don’t know what that’s like.” It took years for Tamara to forgive herself and move forward in her marriage despite the past.
Then there are those who waited, and for them, the joy of saving sex for God’s timing not only helped their marriage, but also helped their overall lives.
“I think that our willingness to stay pure was absolutely worth it,” Jason Peaks says. “To know that we honored the Lord in our decision to abstain gave us a pattern of purity that has impacted all areas of our lives, especially spiritually.
“To live a life that is guilt-free and shameless is a wonderful spiritual heritage we are sowing into, and it makes the marriage bed all the more enjoyable. Knowing that you love another person enough to wait for them is an indicator that real love is patience.”