It seems like today was pre-marital sex day on the internet. The New York Times published this piece by a 35-year-old virgin considering her choice to wait for true love to have sex, over on FrumSatire blogger Heshy Fried wrote this piece about virginity and the orthodox community, and Shmuely Boteach wrote this piece positing that saving sex for marriage makes better sex.
I guess I ought give my two cents.
It’s no secret on this blog that I had sex before marriage. In fact, I had sex with three different partners before my husband: A long term boyfriend, a one-night stand, and a guy that I was dating casually but very much not in love with–I was just bored. Ironically I suppose, my husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t have sex until we were married, and that’s what we did.
I’ve been thinking about what I want to say on this subject, and I’ve got a few thoughts:
Prequel: This is not a halachic discussion.
I know there are those out there who will tell me that I shouldn’t have had sex before marriage because it is a violation of halacha. I know there are also those out there who are of the opinion that pre-marital sex can be done within the auspices of halacha. This is not a discussion on that issue. I fully believe mikvaot should have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding unmarried women, but beyond that, I don’t want to discuss the halacha. I want to discuss the mental thought process of premarital sex.
I will also note that when I was engaging in premarital sex, I felt a tremendous amount of Jewish guilt. I read up on all of the opinions that said that premarital sex/mikvah usage was totally halachically appropriate, and yet, still, I felt like I was doing something innately wrong by having sex. Perhaps because my world viewed it that way. For this reason, no amount of halachic reasoning would have been able to change the guilt I felt.
1. I think the long term boyfriend and I dated longer than we should have, because of sex.
This is important. This was the reason I didn’t want to have sex with my husband before we married. I wanted to be sure he was the one, and I remembered being blinded in this previous relationship. The relationship was very much over, we were in different places both literally and figuratively, I wanted to move forward with my life and he didn’t, we disagreed on some pretty important life issues, I felt like I couldn’t talk freely with him–and yet, still, we dated for several more months. The sex was good, and I think we were both just really afraid of sleeping alone. I didn’t want this to happen again, so when I started dating the man who would eventually become my husband, and things started getting physical, I said “let’s take this slow”. As I started to realize more and more that I was falling in love with him, I told him, “let’s wait for marriage for sex.” This maybe was a mistake, because he was very strict on not letting me break the rules. I tried, oh, I TRIED, but he always found ways to convince me not to go the distance. Still, things worked out for us in the end despite us not actually having sex before our marriage.
2. I think having casual sex was very important for me.
I learned a lot about myself when I was having casual sex. I learned what I liked sexually, and that’s huge. (Often, I hear people talking about waiting for marriage in a negative light, by positing that one takes a huge risk by not having sex with the one person that they will be having sex with for the rest of their lives. It’s a real concern, and I don’t know how to answer it other than by saying that with my husband and I, we had a pretty good taste of what the other was like in bed before we got married and before we had sex, because we had done “everything but”.* I’ve also never heard of any couples actually breaking up solely because they weren’t a good match sexually-unless you count the people who went from being gay to being straight or vice versa. I think that most of these “issues” can be resolved by honesty, communication, and a willingness to be adventurous.)
Having casual sex also gave me a huge self-esteem boost when I most needed it. I was in a bad place. I felt like no one could ever love me, because, well, I wasn’t in love with anyone at the moment. But then came my opportunities for casual sex. They thought I was pretty. They wanted to have sex with me. I liked that, a lot.
I felt empowered when I was having casual sex. I was in control of what I wanted. I could try out whatever I wished without scaring the guys away, because hey, there’s always a new guy willing to try new stuff with me. This was an amazing feeling that I think more people really need to experience.
3. Married sex is really, really, good.
I guess I’m a little biased, because I’ve only been married less than 2 years. I wonder what we’ll say in 20 years. Still, there’s something really amazing about having sex with someone who knows you inside and out, someone who cares more about your own pleasure than their own, someone who wants nothing more than to make you happy. I suppose these same things would apply in a long term relationship, but in my very limited experience, it was totally not the same. With me, there is so much more concern for the other in my marriage than there ever was in any of my long term relationships. That’s not to say there wasn’t concern before, but the level is just so much MORE in my marriage. To go off tangent for a bit, my co-worker was telling me about her thanksgiving plans: She lives with her long term boyfriend of seven years. Every year, they go to her family’s house and have a huge Thanksgiving dinner with about 35 relatives from all over the country. His mom usually spends thanksgiving with friends at the beach. This year, she decided that she wanted to stay home and have the couple over for dinner. My co-worker was feeling torn about the different options. One person suggested, “It’s just his mom? Why don’t you bring her to your family’s gathering?”. She responded that she didn’t think her boyfriend was ready to take that step yet. We all were a little surprised, I mean, you’ve been together for seven years, you live together, but you don’t want your parents to meet? I think it goes back to the fact that there is an inherently deeper connection within marriage than in any other romantic relationship. But that’s just me. To each her own.
The gist of Shmuley Boteach’s argument is that premarital sex destroys the pleasure of married sex. One hundred percent not true. I left my previous sexual partners for a reason–I didn’t LIKE them. I chose my husband for another reason–I really really DID like him. Further, I want to stress that just because my married sex is way better than any sex I’ve had before, it doesn’t mean that I’d advocate celibacy until marriage. It means that I’d advocate marriage. But, as noted, there were a lot of benefits I achieved by having sex before marriage, and I think those are really important. Going back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
4. Sometimes, I really don’t see the difference between “hooking up” and having sex.
I should be clear here. When I use the term “hooking up”, I mean partners kissing and touching and being naked with each other and getting the other to achieve orgasm, but no vaginal sex. I know the term is used for a plethora of meanings, and as such, has become a word with no meaning, but it is the best term to describe the aforementioned acts. The New York Times article makes a point that I thought a thousand times when I was in sexless relationships. The author describes a religious muslim friend’s opinion that if you’ve had an orgasm, you’ve had sex. I know I wouldn’t go that far, I mean, my first orgasm occurred was when I was riding a horse, does that mean I had sex with a horse? But still, when you’re in bed with someone and you’re both naked and you’re holding each others’ genitals, I mean really what’s the difference in how the orgasm is achieved actually? Any sorts of concerns about being “blinded” by the physical would still be present. The New York Times author described the difference as being able to feel in control of when things would start and stop, but it sounds to me like she just needs to try BDSM. She also talked about not wanting to be in a place of emotional vulnerability, but let me tell you, you are emotionally vulnerable in ANY relationship where you find yourself falling for the other person. And conversely, the ability to have casual sex and know that it’s only casual sex gives over the same feeling of control that she sought by refusing to have sex.
5. Above all, I think the decision to have pre-marital sex or not should SOLELY be a decision by the individual.
I think community expectations, one way or the other, are really awful for people exploring their sexuality. I would never tell someone, you must have sex before marriage. Also, I would never tell someone, you should definitely not have sex before marriage. I feel like these articles all come from one extreme or the other, some being liberal feminists that feel like women in particular are missing out because they’re not having sex, and some from religious leaders who feel they have a divine obligation to stop the immorality that comes from having sex before marriage. The key here, really, is that sex is a deeply personal decision, and as such, should be decided upon by the person.
*I cringe a little when I hear the phrase “everything but” used, because I often feel that people don’t really mean it. You did EVERYTHING but sex? Really? Have you SEEN the internet. I’m SURE there’s a lot you haven’t done. There’s a lot I didn’t do. What I mean by the phrase is that we had come SO CLOSE to having sex, that we were pretty sure what having sex with the other would be like: awesome. And so far, we’ve been pretty right.