It seems like many of us are asking the same question, “How open should dating couples be about sex?” When my husband and I were dating, we raised questions like this one because we were facing sexuality issues in our relationship and it was confusing. We found that there really is no easy answer to such a complicated and deeply involved question.
The Bible teaches that God designed sex to be within the context of marriage. But this makes dating difficult because sexual desire is the natural result of being in a loving relationship. Dating couples will deal with sex at some point. As dating Christians, how do we know what’s OK to deal with before marriage and what should be saved for after marriage?
If we lived in a perfect little snow globe Christian world, we’d all be virgins marrying virgins. But our world isn’t so perfect. In a sermon entitled “The Human Heart is a Mystery,” Rob Bell states: “Yes, that is the way [life] should work. And sometimes it does. But true wisdom understands that there will be lots of twists and turns. This is often the problem with religion. People were handed nice, neat ways that the world works. We behave like this and they behave like this. … And then all of a sudden, you begin to experience life and you realize, ‘Wait, it doesn’t always work that nicely and neatly.’”
Producing fixed guidelines about what is acceptable or not acceptable to discuss about sex might not actually be useful in helping couples stay away from sexual sin. Instead, let’s look deeper at this issue and how God expects Christians to regard their sexuality.
The Bible doesn’t specifically say how open about sex we should or shouldn’t be. There isn’t, “Thou shalt discuss kissing and thou shalt not discuss past sexual partners.” But the Bible does talk about sex. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin” (NLT). What does it mean to be holy? It means to be sacred, set apart, pure and awe-inspiring. It’s important that this text starts with holiness. It doesn’t begin with “maintain your virginity” even though God designed sex to be between a husband and wife. The verse starts with stating that God wants us all to be holy. Holiness needs to be the foundation for dealing with all sexuality.
The question for couples to consider then becomes, “Can talking about sex lead to holiness?” We feel it can. However, it’s all about how couples have the conversation. A good friend of ours states this in her own words. “I think Christians need to stop asking, ‘What can I get away with?’ They should instead be asking, ‘Does this glorify God?’ My boyfriend and I have certainly not been the poster children of perfection, but I think discussing sex has been one of the things I’ve appreciated.”
What about all the different topics there are to discuss? Take for instance some of the subjects covered in an online poll done by ABC News (American Sex Survey; A Peek Beneath the Sheets).
30% (polled) say they and their partner have watched sexually explicit videos.
One in five—around 40 million people—say they’ve looked at porn websites.
Among people who are married or living in a committed relationship—16% have cheated on their partner, while 30% have fantasized about it.
14% of adults … have had sex in a threesome, while an additional 21% have fantasized about it.
12% have had sex at their workplace and it’s a fantasy for 1 in 10 more.
Christian couples have a lot of new subjects to sift through. Can talking about pornography or other issues listed above be holy? It depends on what the conversations lead to.
I would suggest dating couples stop worrying if what they are talking about is acceptable and start paying attention to how their conversations about sex shape their relationship. Do conversations lead toward holiness, understanding, growth, closeness and respect? Or do they lead toward crossing boundaries and treating sex as only a physical urge divorced from emotion, spirituality and God?
Maybe one couple’s conversations create shared convictions, compassion and greater unity. But possibly another couple starts noticing they get too turned on when talking about sex. In that case, perhaps they need to discuss sex in the presence of a couples’ therapist or have the conversation in a public place (which is a cold shower in its own right).
Every couple will deal with sexuality in a unique way because they will each bring their own sexual experiences, struggles and convictions into the relationship. Reading the Bible together regularly and interacting with God through the text and in prayer will help couples figure out how they will distinctively deal with sexual discussions. In order to treat talking about sex with holiness, we all need to be in interaction with the Person (God) who made sex holy to begin with.
My husband and I have also found it helpful to talk about sex in a group with mixed genders. If the group can treat sex with respect and a good dose of humor, it can be a great place to discuss questions, concerns and insights. We have experienced that dialogues with men and women present are times where pressure is taken off individuals and sexual issues can be considered by the group as a whole. Group conversations also lead to shared accountability and support. *Note: One-on-one opposite gender discussions about sex have the possibility to lead to emotional and/or physical cheating. It is wiser to exert caution and talk about sex one-on-one with someone of your own gender.
God’s grace is vital to keep in mind as couples work toward talking about sex with holiness as their prime concern. Grace and forgiveness extend to all areas of life where we fall short. Having a sexual past or present struggle isn’t higher up on the sin list than any other area. God can and will forgive any sexual mistakes or missteps made.
What we then do with grace in light of sexuality is to let go of guilt and begin a new day in the journey. There will be twists and turns. God understands them; He knows we’re not going to have perfect sexual records. But He expects us to keep learning, wrestling with, talking about and striving toward sex that is holy. God wants the very best for all of us, and I’m sure He enjoys watching us grow and work through what it means to talk about sex that leads to holiness.
Jake and Melissa Kircher write about marriage and relationships at holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com. Jake is also the author of Answering the Tough Questions About Sexuality which can be found on www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com.