Focus on the Family

Why Wait for Sex?

by Focus on the Family

Purity seems archaic; abstinence impossible. Why wait when everyone else is getting the goods now?

It's just sex — the subject of nearly every movie and primetime show, even magazine ads. What's so special about it? In a sex-saturated culture, waiting till marriage seems outdated and prudish. Pleasure is the name of the game. But that's not the whole story.

In addition to the risk of contracting STDs and AIDS or getting pregnant, premarital sex leads to emotional distress, distrust, regret and emptiness. That's because sex connects two people in body and spirit; it's impossible to separate the two.

If you're planning to give away your virginity, or are hurting from past sexual experiences, read on for a different view of sex.


Three Lies About Premarital Sex

Is Scripture becoming outdated and archaic in light of today's cultural views concerning premarital sex?

by Shana Schutte

When Cindy met Rob, she knew that even though he attended church, he didn't share her convictions about premarital sex. Rob thought it was OK—and even good for dating couples to engage in—and Cindy believed it was wrong from a Christian perspective.

As their friendship progressed, Cindy and Rob's opposing viewpoints caused some hot debates. It also forced them both to take a second look at their convictions. As a result, Cindy developed a deeper understanding of truth, and Rob was forced to face the lies he'd always believed.

If you're like Cindy or Rob, and you've taken a stand for (or against) premarital sex, but you're not sure why, here are some things to consider.

Scripture is Outdated, Right?

Like many singles, Rob thinks the Scriptures on sexual purity are outdated and archaic. "Those parts of the Bible aren't relevant to today," he told Cindy. "After all, when the Scriptures were written, the people during that time got married when they were teens; so they didn't have to struggle with sexual temptation like we do now."

In response to Rob's argument, Cindy found Scriptures about sexual purity and showed them to him. When Cindy read 1 Corinthians 6:9, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Hebrews 13:4 and Deuteronomy 22:13-28, all which condemn sex before marriage, she asked Rob, "Are these Scriptures relevant to today?" "Nope," Rob responded.

"Do you have a pair of scissors?" Cindy asked.

"Why?

"Because I think we should cut those Scriptures out. After all, if they're not true because people can't control their desires, why not completely eliminate them? After all, we can just pick and choose the parts of Scripture that we want to believe on sexual purity, right? Give me your scissors," she said.

"You're crazy," Rob responded.

Crazy or not, Cindy had made her point—there are holes in Rob's it's-not-true-because-people-can't-control-their-desires theology. Why? Because, if his beliefs were based on truth, they would stand up in every circumstance, but they don't.

For example, if sex before marriage is okay because people supposedly can't control themselves, then it must be okay to engage in pornography, too, right? After all, the temptation to watch and participate in porn abounds like it didn't in Bible times.

Not surprisingly, when Cindy asked Rob if it was OK to engage in pornography, his theology changed. "Pornography isn't okay because it's damaging to the people who are doing it, and it's not very Christian."

Why does Rob have a schizophrenic view of purity and of the Bible's commandments?

Additionally, if scriptures in the Bible became untrue because people can't control their desires, then we'd also have to cut out the commandments on stealing, lying, cheating and having affairs.

Sure enough, there are holes in Rob's sex-before-marriage theology, just like there would be holes in his Bible if Cindy cut it up.

Doesn't Sex Produce Intimacy?

During their discussions about premarital sex, Rob insisted that it was good to engage in sex with a dating partner because "it brings you closer."

Cindy believes that this is true, and not true. On one hand, the Bible says that sex causes "two people to become one." Therefore, it's more than just a physical act, it's also a spiritual encounter (Mark 10:6-9).

Additionally, Dr. Patricia Love, the author of The Truth About Love, writes that a feeling of intimacy is created by a "chemical cocktail" that is produced in the brain during sex and stays with each person for up to 24 hours after intercourse. Perhaps this physiological bonding is what Rob was referring to.

On the flip side, having sex is no guarantee that the deep emotional intimacy that everyone longs for will develop.

Alice Fryling, in an article titled, Why Wait for Sex? writes:

"Genital sex is an expression of intimacy, not the means to intimacy. True intimacy springs from verbal and emotional communion. True intimacy is built on a commitment to honesty, love and freedom. True intimacy is not primarily a sexual encounter. Intimacy, in fact, has almost nothing to do with our sex organs. A prostitute may expose her body, but her relationships are hardly intimate."

Some experts even report that premarital sex short circuits the emotional bonding process. Donald Joy, a writer for Christianity Today, sited a study of 100,000 women that linked "early sexual experience with dissatisfaction in their present marriages, unhappiness with the level of sexual intimacy and the prevalence of low self-esteem."

So what does this mean? If Rob tries to convince Cindy, or any woman, that sex will actually help their relationship, she might want to think again before consenting. While premarital sex does produce a short-lived chemical cocktail in the brain, there is no guarantee that it will produce long-term emotional closeness or relational satisfaction.

Can't Sex Help You Determine Compatibility?

Rob told Cindy he felt it was unreasonable to expect him to abstain from sex before marriage because no one would buy a car without test driving it; so he couldn't imagine committing to marriage without taking a "sex test drive."

When Cindy suggested to Rob that his "test drive" mentality could lead him to compare his wife's sexual performance with his other partners, he denied it. "No, I wouldn't," he adamantly said.

However, his logic is faulty. Here's why: If it was true that Rob wouldn't struggle with comparison, why would he need to "test drive" anything? After all, if he'd never had multiple partners, he would automatically think his wife the best. For example, the man who hasn't ever seen or driven more than one car doesn't know what other cars are like; therefore he would be satisfied with his automobile.

Partners can also feel threatened if they think their mate could be comparing them with previous partners.

When Cindy randomly asked 10 women at work if they would be worried that their husband was comparing them if he'd had intercourse with multiple women before marriage, 80 percent of them said yes.

This provides a strong argument to abstain from sex before marriage to protect the emotional safety that your spouse will need to feel in marriage.

Hope and Restoration After Premarital Sex

Perhaps you're asking, "What if, like Rob, I'm guilty of sexual sin?"

The first thing to remember is that no sexual sin is beyond God's forgiveness. Thankfully, He doesn't withhold forgiveness or grace from those who ask for it.
I John 1:9 promises that if you confess your sins, that He is faithful to forgive and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Note: This includes all sin, and does not exclude sexual sin. Psalm 103: 12 also promises, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions [sins] from us."

In addition to forgiveness, God wants you to embrace His grace that will help you move forward in life and embrace the promises He has for you with joy. In spite of your choices, God wants to bring you relational fulfillment.


Risk Factors for Premarital Sex

Teenagers who feel incomplete, inadequate and unappreciated are more likely to seek comfort in a sexual relationship.

by Focus on the Family

Teenagers who feel incomplete, inadequate and unappreciated are more likely to seek comfort in a sexual relationship. But those with a life rich in relationships, family traditions, activities, interests and — most of all — consistent love and affirmation are less likely to embark on a desperate search for fulfillment that could lead to unwise sexual decisions. Those who have a healthy, productive faith in God are more likely to have deeply rooted reasons to respect and preserve the gift of sex and to respect rather than exploit others.

Be aware of these specific risk factors for teen sex:

This increased risk does not mean that adolescent sex is inevitable in single-parent families. But it does place an additional responsibility on single parents to send their teenagers clear and consistent messages about sexuality. And it is one more reason for single parents to enlist as much support as they can.


Sex is Not About Waiting

The point of sexual intimacy is the union of persons that it represents and is itself a part of.

by Michael Lawrence

Parents are big believers in waiting. Do you remember any of these? "Wait for your little brother!" as you ran off with your friends. "Wait a half hour before you get into the pool" just as you finished your lunch. "Wait until your father gets home!" as mom caught you pummeling your sibling for being such a nuisance.

Of course, it's not really that they saw virtue in waiting itself. It's just that waiting ensured something more important — loving your little brother, or protecting you from danger, or impressing on you the consequences of your actions.

There's one other kind of waiting that parents try to teach — the patient waiting involved in delayed gratification. From staying in school because of the better job we'd someday get, to working hard at practice every day, so we'd be ready for the competition that was weeks or months away, to saving the money we earned mowing lawns or babysitting so we could pay for college or buy an engagement ring (I can't tell you how many lawns are sitting on my wife's finger right now!), we learn to patiently wait in order to maximize our gratification in the future. It's a good lesson, as far as it goes.

But it doesn't work for everything. Some things are best when done as soon as possible — like eating an ice cream cone on a hot day. And other things can be delayed too long — like the vacation of a lifetime that comes too late in life to be really enjoyed.

And then there's sex.

At first, the argument to wait makes sense on the grounds of protecting yourself from something you're not emotionally or physically ready for. Later, it makes sense on the grounds that it will be better if it happens in the context of a committed, adult relationship. But what about now? You're in your 20s or 30s; your career is taking off, and your body and emotions are about as developed as they're ever going to be. And though you're not married, your relationships with the opposite sex are mature and adult-like in every other respect. So why keep waiting? You're not a kid anymore. And even if sex is marginally better inside of marriage than outside, what if your prospects for marriage aren't that good? Isn't sub-optimal sex now better than no sex at all, ever?

That's where we come to the limits of the "wait, because it's better in marriage" argument. And it's one of the reasons why so many of the single men and women I counsel in the local church find themselves in tears on my couch, telling me that after years of waiting, they just couldn't wait any longer.

The Biblical Command

When we turn to what the Bible has to say about sex outside of marriage, it's not hard to sum up the message. Don't do it. From the Ten Commandments in Exodus to the laws of Leviticus 18, to the instructions of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6-7 to the public embarrassment that attached to the Virgin Mary, the Bible is clear that God's standard is that sex is to be reserved for marriage, and marriage alone.

And unlike much that you'll find on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore, the Bible doesn't spend much time trying to justify that standard. You won't find a verse that says "Thou shalt wait, because it's better in marriage." There is no chapter in Scripture that touts the protection from physical disease and emotional heartache that comes from monogamy, although both of those things are true.

Instead, the Bible says things like, "You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 18:4). Or, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Bible teaches that we should reserve sexual intimacy for marriage for no other reason than that, if we are Christians, we belong to God. Sex outside of marriage is not only a sin against ourselves and our partner, but a fraudulent misrepresentation of God and a cruel distortion of the intimacy he created to be a picture of the eternal intimacy of the Trinity itself.

A Union of Bodies, But So Much More

What is the point of sexual intimacy? Genesis 1 tells us that one of the points is procreation. We're to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the image of God, and it's through sexual intimacy that we do that.

But right away it's obvious that there's more going on than mere reproduction. For one thing, though all living creatures are created to reproduce after their kind, not all do so sexually. And among those that do reproduce sexually, simple observation tells us that humans are unique in their experience of sex. Mating in the animal world is clearly attended with much urgency and instinctual drive, but not much more. Why are we different?

Of course, as far as the world is concerned, only a nerdy biologist, or a prudish Christian would bother to ask such a question. To the world, the point of sex is pleasure, release, orgasm. What other point would anyone need? Sex results in pleasure. I want pleasure, so I have sex. I want more pleasure, I have more sex. I suppose it's a given that men in our culture tend to buy into this view — even married men; even Christian married men. What seems to be new in the last generation is the increasing extent to which women are viewing sex this way as well.

Ironically, though the first view is historically associated with Christianity, and the second view is associated with the world, both miss the main point of sexual intimacy, because both reduce sex to an instrument, a means to another end. And whenever something is reduced to a tool, a utilitarian process, it ceases to be an object of beauty in and of itself, and is only as good as what it gets you.

Why is our experience of sex so different than the rest of creation? Why did God pronounce it very good? Simply put, because the point of sexual intimacy is neither the children nor the pleasure it produces, but the union of persons that it represents and is itself a part of.


Sex is About Union

The union between a husband and wife is ultimately beautiful because it too stands as a picture of the union between Christ and the church.

by Michael Lawrence

A Unions that Displays ... A Marriage

Sexual intimacy is all about union. Physically, of course, that's obvious. But there's so much more. In sexual intimacy, we also know a union that is emotional, as our hearts are knit together even as our bodies are. We know a union that is intellectual, as we come to understand and know one another in intimate detail. We know a union that is even spiritual, for as every married couple figures out, the best sex isn't when I make sure I get what I want, but when I forget about myself, and give myself for the blessing and delight of my spouse. And at that moment, we are very close to the heart of Christ, "who loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25).

But there's more. This union of sexual intimacy, complete in itself, is also a sign and symbol of an even more profound union of lives in the covenant marriage, when a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh. Being "one flesh" with someone can refer in a secondary way to sex, but primarily it's just a Hebrew way of saying one family, flesh and blood. The union of marriage is not an alliance of families, with each partner representing a previous set of priorities and loyalties. No, and this was and remains quite radical, marriage is a union that dissolves the old bonds, the old loyalties, the old priorities, and creates one new family, with all that entails — one new set of priorities, one new set of fundamental loyalties.

Do you see the picture so far? The beauty of sex is that it is a profound union that stands as a sign and symbol of an even more profound union of lives in the covenant of marriage. This of course is why sex outside of marriage is ultimately unsatisfying and destructive. Without the union of marriage, the union of bodies is a parody and mockery of itself. Bereft of it's proper point and context, sexual intimacy outside of marriage does not bring us into the lover's embrace, but merely exposes us to the stranger's stare, and reduces us to the means of someone else's pleasure.

But there's even more to this union that makes sexual intimacy as God designed it so beautiful. I mentioned that many men tend to view sex as a means to the end of their pleasure. If that is the typical failure of men, then I think many women tend to view intimacy, broadly considered, as an end in itself. But women, that view is just as much idolatry as the man's worship of pleasure. There is no created thing, including the intimacy of marriage, that exists for its own sake.

The amazing thing that Paul reveals in Ephesians 5 is that the union between a husband and wife is ultimately beautiful because it too stands as a sign, a picture of something else. And that is the union between Christ and the church.

A Union that Displays ... the Gospel

The ultimate point of marriage isn't your emotional satisfaction, but to make visible the gospel reality of Christ's love for the church and the church's love for Christ. The absolutely amazing truth of the gospel is that we who were separated and alienated from God have been united by faith to the Son he loves in the New Covenant of his grace. The marriage covenant illustrates the New Covenant; the marriage union points to that even more profound union between Christ and the church.

What does this have to do with the beauty of sexual intimacy and the single who is still waiting to experience it? You can think of this like matryoshka, or nested Russian dolls, in which each doll's shape is determined by the shape of the next doll hidden inside. The intimacy of sexual union, as desirable as that is, is also picture of the marriage union, which in turn is a picture of our union with Christ.

As profoundly intimate the experience of sexual union is, at it's best, it is just a hint, a small taste of the joy and satisfaction and perfect intimacy we will know with Jesus, when we are united to Him as his Bride. That union won't be sexual, but there is no other union God's given us that speaks more truly of the intimate love we'll know in Christ. To rip one of these unions out of it's connection with the others is to destroy not only it's goodness and meaning, but to distort the pattern that it was designed to display.

A Union that Displays ... God

There is one more connection to draw, one more union to think about. For as profound as our union with Christ is, that union is not the ultimate and final union in the universe. Have you ever wondered why we are united to Christ? It's kind of an odd image, when you think about it. Jesus himself gives us the answer. In John 14-17, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to abide in him, to remain in him, for in that union they had life. And then, in his high priestly prayer in John 17, he says the most remarkable thing:

"Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

There is more there than we can possibly unpack, but at least this much is clear. The union we have with Christ in the gospel, and the transformation that union effects, is meant to be a visible sign, a proof, of the prior eternal union of Christ and the Father in the Trinity. So that when the world looked at those united to Christ, they could not help but see that Christ himself is one with the Father.

What is the point of our union with Christ? It is the glory of God. As Jesus concludes his prayer, "I have made you known to them ... that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." In our union with Christ we are mysteriously made signs and symbols of the Son's union with the Father. What's more, through that union we participate in and are taken up into the eternal love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

Here we have finally come to the mystery of union, the core that defines every other union in the universe, including the union of sex. That's right, you read that correctly. Sex is a foretaste, a hint of what it will mean for us to participate in the eternal union of love that exists at the very heart of the Trinity. The beauty of intimacy is that it is a taste of the glory of God.

Isn't God good that he would make something so enjoyable at the same time so noble? Isn't he good that he would make something so full of pleasure so good and pure. Isn't he gracious that he would make us in such a way that delighting in our spouse leads us to find our ultimate delight in him?

What does this mean for you if you're single? It means that the problem with sex outside of marriage isn't finally that you're breaking an arbitrary rule, or that it is emotionally destructive, or that it is more likely to expose you to an STD.

No, the problem is that sex outside of marriage is a fraud and a fake. It pretends to be true intimacy, but is nothing more than exposure. It uses the language of love and commitment, but knows nothing of either. And by suggesting that true pleasure and intimacy can be had without loving, covenantal commitment, it perpetrates a massive assault against the very character and glory of God, whose eternal, intimate, loving relationship within the Trinity is the blueprint and pattern for every intimate pleasure that you or I will ever know.

What if you gave up waiting? Some things can't be undone in this life. But for those who repent of their sin and trust in the grace of God held out through cross of Jesus Christ, all things may be forgiven.

If you're still waiting (or waiting again) for marriage to have sex, keep waiting. Because it's not about waiting. It's about displaying the glory of God and his gospel in your life.


Solomon's Line on Premarital Sex

The first time I read the Song of Songs in the Bible I thought, No. Way.

by John C. Thomas

The first time I read the Song of Songs in the Bible I thought, No. Way. I immediately grabbed a friend's Bible to see if his featured the same book. "Dude, have you read this?! This is unbelievable!"

"What? What is it?"

"Clusters, man! They're talking about climbing palm trees and taking hold of clusters! IN THE BIBLE! It's right here!" I was a teen Christian with active hormones and my grandmother's prayers were finally being answered because I suddenly developed an intense hunger for the Word. Hallelujah!

Over time, of course, I realized that the relationship described in Solomon's Song, including those face-blushing palm tree and cluster verses, occurred within a specific context. In the midst of beautiful, poetic language about the stages of a relationship that start with a glance and eventually lead to the honeymoon, the author charges us three times, "Do not arouse or awaken love until it pleases," or, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message, "Don't excite love, don't stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you're ready."

I often point to this book when people, usually young singles, ask me about relationships and pre-marital sex. They want to know, where, exactly, does the Bible talk about pre- or extra-marital sex, when neither partner is married. They know about the adultery prohibitions, and they agree — you shouldn't have sex with someone who is someone else's spouse. But where does it talk about not having sex if there is no spouse involved? You have two consenting adults, and neither has made any vow to any other person, so it's not technically adultery. What's wrong with that? Does the Bible speak to those situations?

I like to start with Solomon's Song, because it celebrates the whole package of the relationship — initial attraction, exciting emotions, longing, and sexual intimacy — and it connects all of this to the proper context or timing, when "it pleases," a timing that is marked by public approval of the relationship, highlighted by a wedding (chapter 3). The whole relationship, including the celebration of the sexual aspects, takes place within the context of community approval — no, more than approval — rejoicing.

I ask these young, unmarried singles, does the community — your friends, family, church — celebrate your private, sexual liaisons? When it appears that a pregnancy might result, is there rejoicing? No, of course not. Why not? The timing is wrong. The context is wrong. A private affair is being forced out into the public and is clouded by shame. You've "aroused love before its time." There will be pain, disappointment and sadness. Compare that to the tone of Solomon's Song. The couples' sexual life in the Song of Solomon takes place within the context of a lifelong commitment of marriage, and the community rejoices. It will produce grandbabies, nieces, nephews, more members of the little platoon of the family. The couples' sex life is ultimately a social benefit. That, I say to my young single friends, is a picture of sex in the proper context.

Keep in mind, I say, that in biblical times there just wasn't a whole lot of sex taking place before marriage, since people married at such young ages, and there just wasn't much time between reaching the age of sexual maturity and marriage. Most of the sex taking place was after marriage, either with your spouse, which was good, or not with your spouse, which was prohibited, and that's why there's more talk about adultery than pre-marital sex. We wrestle with this issue more now because the time span between reaching the age of sexual maturity and marriage has bumped up a decade or two since biblical times.

I also add that we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation were it not for birth control, especially the "pill," and if abortions were not so easy to obtain. Without birth control and abortion, sex would mean a greater likelihood of raising babies, and raising babies would mean commitment, and commitment would mean marriage. That's life in biblical times, so the question itself didn't get much discussion in a world where sex and babies went together much more than they do in our time.

Then I mention Hebrews 13:4, where the author distinguishes two types of sex that are prohibited. The first, moichos, refers to a married person having sex with someone other than his or her spouse and is generally translated adultery. The second, porneia, in this case refers to any other unmarried sex, usually translated fornication or sexual immorality.

Anything else? They say.

How about Ephesians 5:1-3, where we are instructed to have not even a hint of sexual immorality (porneia), or any kind of impurity in or lives. Do you think pre-marital sex might be at least a hint of sexual immorality? I ask.

Maybe, they say. What else do you have?

Well, I say, there is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which, among other things, tells us to flee sexual immorality (porneia) because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are to honor God with our body.

What else? They say.

Well, I say, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says to avoid sexual immorality (porneia) and learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable to the Lord, not in passionate lust, like the heathen, who do not know God.

Sure, but what else? They say.

What you really want, I say, is a Scripture that goes something like, if Jack and Jill are not married to anyone nor to each other, and not engaged to anyone nor to each other, and have sex with each other, that's wrong, and that they should either stop having sex or get married.

Um, they say, that's in the Bible?

Well, that's my paraphrase, I say. Then I point them to Exodus 22:16-17, a very interesting "case law" scripture in the Old Testament. By "case law," I mean one of those "If ... then ..." commands that provides some underlying principles applicable beyond the example used. For instance, when Scripture says in Exodus 23:4, "if you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, then take it back to him," the application extends beyond oxen and donkeys, to dogs, children, bicycles, credit cards, etc.

Exodus 22:16-17 gives instruction on what to do if an unmarried, unengaged man has consensual sex with an unmarried, unengaged woman: "If a man seduces (implies consent) a virgin (or a woman of marriageable age) who is not pledged to be married, and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price (or marriage present) and she shall be his wife." Most scholars believe the same prohibition is found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered ... he must marry the girl...." Most scholars believe that "rape" is not being addressed here, but consensual pre- marital sex (albeit the man's strong initiation), especially given the phrase "and they are discovered."

These might be the clearest disapproval of sex for singles in Scripture. The message couldn't be more obvious: Whether you're engaged or not, don't have sex outside of marriage. Period. If you're unmarried and having sex, legitimize it and get married to the person with whom you are having sex — get the piece of paper and go public.

It's your choice, I say. Public or private. Song of Solomon or hiding in the shadows. God's way or your way.

These singles often come to me hoping to find a loophole, and a few leave frustrated and disappointed. Some, though, leave with strengthened resolve, and for the first time have a vision of love and sex in the right context — a vision of poetry and celebration.

I pray for the disappointed ones, for them to embrace God's vision for their sex lives. I rejoice over the ones with new vision, because I know they will soon discover what really good sex is all about.


Sex and the Art of Bonsai

Bonsai keepers remove everything but what is essential to the plant. We cultivate holiness in a similar fashion.

by Carolyn MacInnes

Half way through the PBS special on Japanese gardens, my roommate decided she needed a bonsai.

I silently recalled the catastrophic ends that had befallen her African violet, her salamander, and the stray cat we found outside the dorm.

Nevertheless, we spent the next afternoon perusing shelves of tiny, well-groomed trees at the street fair. OK, they aren't actually trees – as the elderly Japanese vendor explained. They're common types of vegetation kept small through constant, extensive pruning. Delighted by my friend's interest in his merchandise, the vendor shared his secrets for bonsai maintenance.

Repot plant often.
Wire branch to shape bonsai.
Then pinch off new growth.

And that was just the start. An hour later, he'd convinced me that bonsais aren't your basic houseplant. They're an artform.

Alas, my roommate was no artist. As exams and activities vied for her time, the tree deteriorated into a scraggly brown shrub. Guilt finally drove her back to the street vendor. Was there anything she could do to restore it to its original glory? As the man examined the sickly plant, he made no effort to mask his disgust. His bitter rebuke tumbled out like a broken haiku:

THAT
Is not bonsai
Anymore.

You can understand his frustration. After all, he'd sold my friend a handsome, perfect plant. He'd provided explicit instructions for care. But she'd neglected it. She'd let it become something it was never intended to be.

Sexuality is a lot like the bonsai. God's instructions are clear – enjoy it in marriage. But sexual purity is just one element of a much larger directive: Strive to live a holy life.

I think the concept of holiness confuses us, though. It evokes images of Mother Teresa or some long-dead saint. We envision an unattainable level of perfection. Some of us grew up believing that holiness just meant remaining abstinent until marriage. By simply avoiding intercourse (even if we did everything else we could think of), we'd circumvent the flames of hell.

But these common notions lack a key element: love. God didn't impart rules about sex to control or manipulate us. They were borne out of his passion for us. He knew we would crave intimate connection with others. That's why he created the gift of sex. He presented it fresh and vibrant and beautiful.

He desperately wants us to us to keep it that way.

We can waste time resenting God's rules, or we can get out our clippers. Because maintaining a holy life requires a good deal of pruning.

Starting in the 17th century, Japan bonsai keepers began to redefine their art by minimizing. They set out to remove everything but what was essential to the health and beauty of the plant. We cultivate holiness in a similar fashion. The Bible urges us to make ourselves pure from everything that pollutes our bodies or spirits (II Corinthians 7:1). Here are some suggestions for doing that:


What is Sex Worth?

I know the true desire that comes in knowing and feeling God. And nothing — no relationship, no sexual act, no person — can match that.

by Cassidy Whitmore

One Look?

Could have been a look, could have been a come-hither smile, could have been desperation, but before I knew it, he and his friend were spending the night in the dorm room with my roommate and me.

Nothing happened. That night.

I'd been living the frat party lifestyle for nearly a year. Growing up in a strict, but genuinely Christian home, I knew better, but chose worse. In hindsight, the days run together from my freshman year through the first semester of my second year of college. My roommate's drinking often rewarded her with men. Mine usually rewarded me with nausea and loud, obnoxious, regretful behavior.

But the night I met Andrew was magical. He was a football player, and it seemed my girlish, romantic dreams were coming true.

The relationship moved at breakneck speed. In the first week, we exceeded the physical boundaries I'd set while dating my last boyfriend. In six weeks, I'd given away almost every physical experience possible between a guy and girl. It was fun and pleasurable, but I'd expected to wait and enjoy these feelings with my husband.

Fireworks?

Andrew seemed to love every cell of my body, and for the first time in my life, I passed mirrors and smiled. Sexy was a new feeling for me. Cute, yes. Pretty, even, at times. But sexy, rarely…if ever.

Maybe that was why I gave so much of myself to him. Or maybe it was because I felt he deserved what I gave.

We spent most of our time with four other couples. We were the only pair not sleeping together, albeit only technically. On Saturday nights, everyone would head off to bed together — except Andrew and me. I could sense his frustration. In passionate moments, he'd whisper, "Come on, baby. I love you." I found that hard to believe since we'd been dating only a few weeks; but in those moments, it was hard to hold back and remember that I meant to give my virginity only to my future husband. The condom that often lay beside the bed added its own degree of pressure.

Sex Education

It wasn't until college that I met girls who'd actually had sex. Until I was 16, I didn't even know that there was anything between kissing and sex. Keeping my virginity until marriage was the only option. It was what my parents taught, my preacher preached and my childhood friends believed. My freshman year, however, I was introduced to new terms by girls who were apparently experts in the field. Graphic descriptions of sexual acts and anatomical parts found their way into conversations. I thought it was good to be educated.

Andrew was educated in a very different way. He was not a virgin, and though he started the relationship claiming that he didn't want to "take" my virginity, as the weeks progressed, his claims changed. Soon he began telling me, "If you want to give it to me, I would love you for it."

As November approached, I decided on Andrew's Christmas present. I would give him my precious gift of virginity. Little did I know a friend was praying for me. God was about to throw a kink into my plan.

A Different Plan for Me

Darla came into my room Monday morning as I frantically searched for my chemistry homework.

"Wanna go to worship tonight?" she asked hopefully.

I'd gone my entire freshman year. Even as I began to drink and party, I still tried to keep pieces of my old life, serving and loving Jesus. Now the pain of living a lie was too intense. Andrew didn't know or love God, and our relationship was certainly not pleasing God. I was tired of playing games. I had traded worship for physical pleasure.

"Umm…not sure. I may have plans," I lied. Andrew had a football gathering with his buddies, and I had almost no homework.

"If you change your mind, let me know," Darla said.

With a quick "Sure," I dashed out the door.

Something made me change my mind. My roommate, who'd been living a similar lifestyle, felt compelled to go that night, too.

As the service drew to a close, my roommate leaned over, and with conviction in her voice said, "Something's got to change."

I knew she was right, but the weight of giving up the life I'd come to enjoy was a heavy load. She hung around after the service to talk to the pastor. Tears of repentance and regret ran down her face. I sat 10 yards away, stoically considering my options. Part of me felt full. I thought I loved Andrew. I thought he was wonderful. Yet there was a deep part of me that was empty and aching.

The pastor walked over to me after talking to my roommate. "Are you doing ok?" he asked. Such a simple question. Such a loaded answer.

"I'm fine," I tried to lie.

He stood there.

"Ok, I'm not," I confessed. "There's something missing. I feel like my life is worthless. I have everything to live for. I should be happy."

"Did you give away God for all this happiness?" he asked.

And that was the issue. I'd traded the complete contentment and fulfillment I'd had in my relationship with God for the temporary pleasure of a relationship with Andrew.

And God was immeasurably better to me — and for me — than Andrew had been.

I knew at that moment that the hollowness in my soul was an aching need for God.

That night, instead of feeling guilty and dirty before a holy God, I felt whole and forgiven. All along He had been waiting for me to find happiness in Him, rather than wasting my days drunk and unfulfilled. At the same time I realized I was forgiven, I felt the extreme need for my life to change — dramatically.

Trading My Guy for My God

The next morning I skipped class. As I broke up with Andrew, I quoted a verse from the New Testament. It wasn't a pious way of telling him off; it was the most truthful way to explain why I could no longer be with him. Matthew 6:24 says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." The words go on to talk about choosing between serving God and money, but for me the principle applied to trying to serve both God and Andrew. Aside from the issue of whom I was really serving, I knew Andrew would not be willing to back away from our physical relationship — and if I were honest with myself, I didn't think that I would be able to either.

My life drastically changed. I distanced myself from alcohol, my party-lifestyle friends and especially Andrew, and tried desperately to build an intimate relationship with God. I spent hours reading the Bible, praying and listening to uplifting music. It wasn't an effort to become a better person; it was an insatiable hunger inside me to change. I felt fulfilled, free, loved … but I still felt so guilty.

I'd awakened desires inside myself that were only to be awakened in the context of marriage, where sex satisfies and even enhances a relationship. I'd had some of that connection with Andrew, and now that he was gone, I faced temptations and longings that seemed more than I could handle.

So, I took some practical measures to keep myself from running back to Andrew for satisfaction — or turning elsewhere. Mainstream music went out the door. I began to realize that much of what was on the radio and my CDs was causing me to dwell on my past life. The music either promoted pleasure or created feelings of depression. I discovered that listening to music with lyrics about loving God caused a different chain reaction, leaving me feeling worthy, loved and celebratory. Other times, I faced simply missing Andrew — his laugh, his arms, conversation and connection. At those times, I'd pray for him, asking God to offer him the same fulfillment that I was now experiencing through my life in Christ.

A new solemnity replaced my partying, crazy lifestyle of pleasure. From the outside, it might have appeared boring. On the inside, I glowed.

A Harsh Realization

Conversations with Andrew were rare, but on one occasion, he called me. Several months had passed since our breakup, but he just wanted to talk. During the conversation, he revealed that he didn't consider me a virgin. Though I'd given a lot away, I was still clinging to this qualification. Though minor, it gave me the feeling that I'd still kept the one thing that I meant to give to my husband.

We hung up that night, and I sobbed heavy, painful tears. I asked God to forgive me, and knew that He already had. However, in my turmoil, God chose to fill me with a peace and love I had never experienced. I felt whole and clean. Suddenly the term "virgin" meant so much less to me than being forgiven by God. The technicalities disappeared in the light of God's love and mercy.

"Virginity"

To this day, in deep conversation, it comes out that I've had a very physical past. I don't claim physical virginity. However, I honestly don't see that as the biggest issue anymore. I'm clean in God's eyes. He has offered me a life that beats any physical relationship I could have. I'm not living for the moment anymore. I'm focused on the future, a future that includes God … and maybe a husband.

I'm a different person. I know desire: true desire that comes in knowing and feeling God. And nothing — no relationship, no sexual act, no person — can match that.


Making Decisions About Sex

How do you make the right decision about when and with whom you should have sex?

by Lisa Brock

Sex is a basic human need. Every person has the desire to enjoy a physical relationship with someone they care about. And in the context of marriage, those moments of intimacy can bring pure joy and pleasure to your life.

But when it's used in the wrong way, sex can cause guilt, anxiety, depression, disease and low self-esteem.

How do you make the right decision about when — and with whom — you should have sex?


Dr. Bill Maier on Premarital Sex

Dr. Bill Maier addresses the issue of premarital sex.

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

How Premarital Sex Affects the Marriage Relationship

Dear Dr. Bill: My husband and I have been married for seven years now and in the beginning, we were madly in love with one another. But one problem keeps interfering with our relationship. You see, we were engaged about eight months after we met and then I became pregnant three months before the wedding. We really meant to abstain from sex during that time, but we gave in to one night of passion and that's all it took.

Ever since then we've been dealing with the guilt of this mistake. We've never told anyone, but it's always been an uncomfortable area in relationship, especially when we think of our first child's birthday or our anniversary. My husband and I both want our marriage and family to succeed — Do you have any advice for us?

In today's world, many so-called "experts" deny that there are moral or spiritual ramifications to premarital sex. But it's obvious from your e-mail that those "experts" have it all wrong.

God's created intent for human sexuality is very clear. It is a wonderful gift which brings men and women together emotionally and spiritually. But He designed that gift to be expressed in a life-long marital commitment. When we ignore His design, we often reap a harvest of pain and suffering.

That being said, it's just as important to remember that God offers us the wonderful gift of grace through the death of His Son Jesus Christ. When we confess our sins and express remorse to Him and to those we have wronged, God offers us complete and total forgiveness.

If you've truly repented of this sin to God and to each other, your continued struggle with guilt is misplaced. You may still feel remorse for your actions, something the bible refers to as "Godly sorrow." But if you continue to wallow in guilt, it means that you don't truly believe that God can forgive you for your faults.

Also, the fact that these feelings of guilt are interfering with your marriage leads me to believe that one or both of you may still be harboring resentment over what occurred. That resentment will continue to eat away at your relationship until you work through it. It may also have negative consequences for your children.

I suggest you and your husband make an appointment with your pastor or a Christian counselor and discuss this issue. Our counseling department can refer you to a licensed Christian therapist in your area.

I'd also like to recommend a book that you may find helpful. It's titled When You Can't Say I Forgive You by Grace Ketterman and David Hazard.


Dealing With a Spouse's Previous Sexual Relationship

Dear Dr. Bill: When we were dating, I thought my fiancé and I had saved our virginity for each other. But after we got married, I learned my husband was sexually involved with another woman before he met me. Now my husband has apologized to me and God about this relationship — but I can't let it go. I'm angry, disappointed and feel like I can't possibly be the true love of my husband's life. Are these feelings normal?

Amalia, it's clear that you feel very hurt and angry about your husband's past relationship. Your situation clearly demonstrates that bringing sexual "baggage" into a marriage can destroy the trust and intimacy between a husband and wife. That's why God's design for human sexuality is for men and women to pursue sexual purity before marriage, and then to remain faithful and monogamous to their spouse.

That being said, there are a few things you need to consider about your particular situation. First of all, although you said that you "thought" your fiancé was a virgin before you got married, did you actually discuss this issue with him while you were dating? If you simply assumed he was a virgin without specifically asking him about it, it's unfair to accuse him of deceiving you. It's likely that he felt ashamed and embarrassed about his past behavior – which is why he never brought it up while you were dating.

Also, you mention that your husband has "apologized to you and God." From your description, it appears that he has repented of his past sin and feels a deep sense of remorse about his behavior.

Assuming that his repentance is genuine – and it sounds like it is – I would encourage you to put aside your resentment and jealousy and extend grace to him, just as God extends grace to you for your own sin.

You may need time to work through your shock and disappointment, and your husband should grant you that time. However, if you are unable to let go of your anger, I would suggest that the two of you see a Christian therapist or pastoral counselor. Our counseling department at Focus on the Family can provide you with a referral in your local area.


Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources addressing preparation for marriage

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