Sexual Self-Control Can Enhance Sex in Marriage

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I was sitting on a cruise ship with my husband of two decades, Bob, visiting with friends we'd met through our random seating assignments. That's when a shocking topic came up. Our new friends asked Bob, "Did you and Dannah have sex before you were married?"

My husband, never one to shy away from a hot topic, jumped right in without hesitation. "Nope! We waited."

The table went silent for a brief moment until one of our friends exclaimed, "That's ridiculous! How did you know Dannah would be any good in bed?"

Working as a national expert in abstinence and modesty, I have to admit that this was not the first time Bob and I had been asked that question. Maybe the topic has come up in your conversations, too.

My friend Chizurouke told me that when her Chicago co-workers found out she and her husband, Dave, waited until marriage to have sex, they wanted to reach out and touch her because they'd never met "one of those" before. Another virgin friend told me that she was accused of being naïve for not adopting a "try before you buy" mentality with her virgin fiancé.

The conversation at the dinner table that night on the ship was full of crests and waves as we intelligently navigated four friends from different perspectives to an understanding that a conservative philosophical position on sex might just be a good thing: one man and one woman in lifetime mutual monogamy.

To be clear, Bob and I didn't come to our marriage bed without some emotional pain related to sex. I was not a virgin — Bob had battled and would continue to battle the allure of pornography. And we know we were not alone. A 2014 report published by ChristianMingle.com and JDate confirms that more than 60 percent of Christian singles said they would or have had sex before marriage, and CovenantEyes reports that 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women say they view porn at least once a month. Unfortunately, our story is just one in the masses that prove Christians follow the culture rather than Scripture when it comes to sexual behavior.

When Bob and I decided to pursue our relationship, we also decided to let Scripture form our story rather than let our story form how we interpret Scripture. We may not be the poster couple for sexual purity, but we can tell you firsthand why God established boundaries for the fire of our sexual passions. We can also tell you how magnificent His healing grace can be.

I've devoted my life to researching sexuality and sexual healing, and I've even had the honor of delivering a TED Talk defending tolerance for virginity. In all of that, I've discovered that one compelling reason to have sexual self-control is that you're more likely to have a healthy sex life in marriage. Here are three ways self-control can make a difference:

Emotional connection is often better

While any sexual experience may provide momentary physical pleasure, shouldn't emotional pleasure count, too? One Penn State University study revealed that though the men felt good about sex the next day, the women reported a significant decline in body image after having sex. This alarmed me because the cocktail of chemicals the brain shakes up during sex should make a woman feel like she's the hottest thing on the planet. But further research revealed that a woman's brain doesn't produce the chemical oxytocin in quite the magnificent way when she's in a relationship without long-term commitment. A survey referenced in Psychology Today found that both men and women reported liking sex more when it was in the context of commitment, concluding that "most people think that love and sex can be separated, but would prefer to have them combined."

Physical pleasure often increases

It has been proven that the quality of sexual pleasure is generally better within committed sex when compared to those participating in hook-up culture. According to research cited in Robert T. Michael's report Sex in America, a study out of the University of Illinois found that those having the best and the most frequent sex were not college co-eds with a variety of sexual partners, but middle-aged people in mutually life-time monogamous partnerships. And the highest levels of sexual satisfaction were from "religiously active" respondents.

The news is good for men who exhibit self-control, too. An Indiana University study found that men having more partners in their lifetime was a predictor of less sexual satisfaction. Our bodies were made for monogamy, and our emotions and minds tend to affirm that. Despite recent spikes in infidelity, porn addiction and the publishing of erotica, faithfulness in marriage still creates a safe place for both men and women.

Spiritual understanding can increase

The most powerful word I've found when using Scripture to form my sexual story is yada. God uses the word to describe the act of sex in the Old Testament. It means "to know, to be known, to be deeply respected." This choice of terminology transcends the physical act to speak of an emotional connection. That's the true act of sex. The physical is just a conduit.

The power of this word is that it is also used to describe the intimate knowing we can have with God himself. Ephesians 5:31-32 tells us that marriage and the sexual intimacy shared within the marriage bed are meant to help us understand God's love for us.

Bob and I are on a journey to know and be known and to display mutual respect for one another. In part, this is so we can understand God better. It's complicated and it takes time. It has highs and lows. But it's beautiful when we get it right.

Does that discourage you because you may need to do some of that hard work of healing? The good news is that God gives us second chances to live lives of purity. Whether you're a 22-year-old married woman with a sexual past your husband doesn't know about, or you're a 40-year-old man who's secretly addicted to porn with a wife wondering why you don't want her, you always get a do-over with God. Consider making today the day that you begin to let Scripture form your story.

Dannah Gresh is a best-selling Christian author and public speaker whose ministry focus is sexual purity. She founded Pure Freedom and is the author of several books, including What Are You Waiting For? and Pulling Back the Shades.
© 2016 Dannah Gresh. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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