“I knew it was just a one time thing” she said. “One thing just led to another.”  

We were talking about sex. I sat across the room from this sweet brunette as we dialogued about her interactions with the opposite sex and her desire to make a better story for herself.

But then I noticed something within the chit-chat of our conversation. She used words like, “protection,” “the pill” and “fooling around.” What I noticed while reading in-between the lines was this: the word “sex” to her held a far different meaning than the word “sex” meant to me.

In her mind, what we meant when we talked about sex was the obvious: a pleasure-based physical interaction between two people. It was an act like most other pleasurable acts—akin to eating, or playing or sleeping.

I sometimes wonder if as Christians, we also tend to preach about sex in this unfortunately one-dimensional way. A physical act—like other acts—but one to be avoided until marriage. An act to be avoided—like smoking, or drinking or doing drugs. We often treat sex like a “say no to drugs campaign.”

But what if in our one-dimensional perspective, we’ve failed to recognize some of the most valuable components about sex and a sexual relationship? And what if those other components hold some of the most motivational factors when it comes to approaching the conversation about abstinence?

When I look back to my time as a single, there were so many more dimensions to the conversation about sex that were left unspoken. Looking back, I wish someone had helped me see that reserving sex for marriage had so much more to do with things far deeper than the physical. While the physical is definitely a necessary part of the conversation about sex, there’s far more to it than the simple fear of STDs, pregnancy and losing your virginity. There HAS to be, because according to most recent statistics on unmarried Christians having sex, those one-dimensional fears are no longer holding anyone back.

As we engage our culture in this important topic, let’s always keep in mind that beyond the physical components: here’s what we actually mean when we talk about sex:

The emotional side

More powerful than a kiss and more intimate than an embrace is the emotional intimacy that is experienced within the walls of healthy marital sex. We have to talk about this component when we talk about sex because sex is meant to amplify emotional intimacy. Essentially, healthy sex is the by-product of a thriving marriage. 

An unfortunate thing occurs then, when sex is used the other way around—as a way to mask the lack of emotional intimacy between two people. In many cases, sex outside of marriage is an instrument that is used to cover relational flaws instead of dealing with them. It is a faux “commitment” in that it fuels a false sense of emotional intimacy that takes root outside the confines of permanent relationship.

But real or fake, it’s nearly impossible to untangle the physical and emotional components of sex. They are dependent on each other and they work together. Whether or not we are even aware, our perceptions and interactions within a relationship are impacted by sex. This is great news for those of us who are married. But for those who aren’t, sexual intimacy before a marital commitment can cause confusion and majorly mess with our emotional compass.

The psychological side

As a professional counselor, I’ve had to help people unpack a lot of baggage when it comes to the psychological implications of sexual history and the impact it’s having on marriages. Some call it guilt issues, conscious struggles, relational insecurities or even social conditioning—but whether Christian or not, no one can deny the impact that a person’s past sexual history and experiences has on their marriage.

We are creatures of habit, and our sexual experiences become a part of our expectations, insecurities, needs, desires and fears. Our psychological makeup is impacted in a profound way by the intensity and frequency of sexual experiences before marriage.

We can’t have the conversation about sex without explaining that sex and psychology go hand in hand. When it comes to the impacts of premarital sex on our expectations of marital sex- packing less baggage is always best.

The spiritual side

Even though I’m married and have two children, I’ve yet to even begin to wrap my head around this part of sex. Marital sex is spiritual in the sense that is an experience that reflects a transcendent Love. It is fueled by selflessness, love and service—three things that by their very nature call for the promise of permanence.

But beyond that, I truly believe that there is something supernatural that occurs within the framework of a sexual relationship—the incredible covenant that unites two beings into one. It is an act of worship, giving glory to the God who makes everything beautiful in its time.

As I reflect on my time as a single and what I wish to have understood about sex, I can’t help but think that maybe when we begin to understand the deep and meaningful components of sex through every dimension, our appreciation for this God-given gift will begin to grow. Maybe when we take the time to see the purpose and power behind this “act,” we’ll find a reason to savor the wait rather than wish it away. My hope is that the more we know, the better we will choose to do.

May God give us the wisdom to know and the strength to choose well.  

This article was originally posted at truelovedates.com