Conservative Christian considering sex before marriage — What to do?

Dear Alice,

I'm a Christian, very conservative in upbringing, and I'm having difficulties in discussing sex in an open and casual manner. I told my male friends that sex should be done within the parameters of marriage. But they told me that I should have a first sexual experience so as to satisfy my wife or maybe a girlfriend (I don't have one yet). Should I follow their opinion regarding this? Should I first know the sexual dynamics of sexual intercourse before doing it with her?

I would appreciate your kind response.

Thank you.


Dear GentleKid,

Talking about sex can be slightly uncomfortable and confusing, regardless of ideology or upbringing, but it can also be exciting and fun. Communicating about sex is essential, and it opens channels to understanding our own relationship to sex, as you have demonstrated with your thoughtful question. When it comes to following your friends opinions and having sex before marriage, that it completely up to you. Everyone has their own values around sex, and whether or not you decide to explore sexual relationships before marriage depends on you. 

You mention that your male friends feel differently about premarital sex than you do. It’s true that engaging in premarital sex, as well as holding more liberal attitudes toward premarital sex in general, is more common in younger generations than in older ones. Prior to the 1960s, premarital sex was faced with censure in many Western cultures. However, in the 60s and 70s, a shift cultural perception of sexual behavior during a period known as the “sexual liberation period.” This time period experienced an increased acceptance of premarital sexual encounters between unmarried young adults. As such, the younger generation at the time adopted a more liberal outlook on premarital sex than their elders, and the trend has been consistent with each new generation ever since, as premarital sex is even more common and less frowned upon among young people today.

As society became increasingly more sex positive, the modern-day outlook on premarital sex among younger Christians began to shift as well. While American Christians in particular have typically held less permissive views about premarital sex than religiously unaffiliated Americans, one study showed that some Christians nowadays believe that it is acceptable, in at least some circumstances, for consenting adults to have sex outside of marriage. There are a number of factors that impact their stance on this issue: most significantly, whether these adults are in a committed relationship or not. 

Even if you decide not to wait for marriage to have sex, you may still find that there are benefits to waiting longer to have sex while in a relationship—for both you and your partners. It is commonly thought that relationships that take more time to develop result in a higher overall relationship quality than those that developed more rapidly—in addition, there is also a common assumption that people have sex sooner in relationships today than in the past. To determine the validity of these beliefs in conjunction, one study in particular examined whether the pacing of sexual activity in heterosexual marriages and cohabitating partnerships had ultimately affected the quality of the relationship. The study demonstrated that these couples moved rapidly into sexual relationships, with more than a third reporting having had sex within the first month of dating—however, having sex sooner than later only formed a negative association with marital quality for women in these relationships. The study suggests that the contrast between men and women have something to do with women tending to be more likely to assign symbolic value to having sex, especially if it occurred early on, compared to men. In addition, women who waited longer to engage in sexual activity reported increased sexual satisfaction. 

As your feelings surrounding premarital sex pertain to your faith, you may want to reflect on a few questions to help you make your decision. Why do you want to wait until marriage? What value does it have to you? Where did you form these beliefs and do they still hold that same meaning to you today? What might it mean for you if you chose to explore sexual relationships before marriage? Are some acts more permissible than others? What are you hoping the outcomes will be if you choose to explore these relationships before marriage? What are you hoping it will be if you choose to wait? Ultimately, the choices that make you feel most comfortable are the ones that are right for you. There is no need to put pressure on yourself to make a decision right now. In fact, feeling unsure about having sex may be a great way to start the conversation with your future partner(s). You can explain to your partner, just as you have here, that you have been brought up to wait until marriage to have sex, and you would like to hear their thoughts on the matter. 

Whatever you decide, the most important thing is that you and your future sexual partner(s) feel comfortable and safe, and that whatever you’re doing is what you both want to do, not what anybody else expects of you.

Last updated Oct 21, 2022
Originally published Sep 19, 1997