Engagement 6: What if I have done something unwise?

Posted by on Apr 27, 2015 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

What if?blame game

Some of you may have already given in to the temptation to have sexual intercourse, either with the person you are engaged to or someone else. Or maybe you haven’t had sexual intercourse but have come close—so close that you feel ashamed and guilty. On the other hand you might have given in to lust and watched pornography. Or you may masturbate regularly and feel bad about it. Some of you may have even been sinned against—a victim of sexual abuse or rape. You may have discussed this with someone. But more likely it is your secret, and hiding it makes you feel dirty and ashamed, or hurt and angry about what was done to you—even angry at a God who let this happen.

Yes, whether by your choice or circumstances outside your control, what happened is wrong. But you shouldn’t feel ashamed and guilty about it. Turn your emotions around and rethink your sexuality and relationship with your future spouse. Thoughtfully and prayerfully turn your sex life over to God. Claim the promise that repentance brings. Remember, Christ came and died for broken people.

Having listed a range of sexual and other sins, Paul goes on to say:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Trust this promise of sanctification and let the sin go. Then move on to set a new way of thinking, living and relating as a couple as you plan your married life together. Consider the sins of the past dead and yourself alive in Christ (Romans 6:10–14).

This letting go and moving on with Christ as a new creation takes effort and time. Specific situations need to be dealt with wisely. How much detail should you expose to your partner? What about your sexual experiences before you met? How explicit should you be? What of abusive experiences? Rape? There is no easy answer to these questions. You may need help from a wise elder or a counsellor. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. You owe it to your partner and to the success of your marriage. You can depend on the God who created you to see you through. As Paul told the Romans, nothing will separate you from God’s love for you (Romans 8:37–39). It is best to face it and deal with it.

As a Christian sex therapist, I see newly married and not-so-newly married Christian couples who carry the burden of shame, guilt and the anger of unresolved sexual issues. They present in my consultation room anxious and hurting. They tell me of sexual desire and arousal problems that threaten to destroy their marital sexual intimacy. We spend time teasing out the sexual issues in their history that are acting as stumbling blocks. It takes time, effort and grace, but good sex does happen. So, if you have any doubts or anxieties about sexual experiences or behaviour, talk to a therapist or counsellor. Do it early. Give yourself and your future spouse time to deal with the issues before marriage.

Masturbation

Another ‘what if’ involves masturbation: Is it wrong to masturbate during this engagement period?

Masturbation, ‘jerking off’—call it what you may—solo sex is self-stimulation of the genitals (or sometimes other erogenous parts of the body like the breast) to orgasm (and ejaculation in the man). An orgasm releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Dopamine and endorphins give a thrilling brain buzz and oxytocin causes the feelings of relaxation and euphoria. We don’t have clear statistics, but therapists tell us that 90% of men say that they masturbate and the other 10% are probably lying. The statistics are even harder to come by for women. But we know that they too masturbate.

Historically, masturbation has been seen as a display of ‘loss’: a loss of self-control over a man’s own nature and thereby an undermining of masculinity ; a loss of essential energy and creative potential. The biblical story of Onan  has been seen to describe masturbation as a turning away from divine guidance (from where comes the term ‘Onanism’). However this story needs to be interpreted with care, since it is really about disobeying God or, at the most, coitus interruptus and not masturbation at all.

Historically, the fear of ‘loss’ and the consequences for general and mental health in particular led to a search for a ‘cure’ for the condition. These have taken the forms of food, medicines and even surgical equipment. Over the ages, a range of torture-inducing equipment was developed and used to subdue the urge to masturbate.  In 1837, health food enthusiast Sylvester Graham is said to have preached sermons about the dangers of masturbation, and invented a cracker to help ward off those dangers. If you ate your cracker in the morning, the blandness of the cracker was supposed to lower your lust all day so that you would not have ‘vital fluid expending’ urges. Similarly, Dr John Henry Kellogg believed that spicy and sweet foods would increase the libido. When cornflakes were invented, Kellogg immediately latched onto its possibility as a sex-reducing staple food because of its lack of spiciness and general lack of flavour. The next time you reach for a cracker or a bowl of cornflakes, know that they were both used as a cure for masturbation!

The search for a cure continues, with the internet rife with websites that offer herbal cures for masturbation and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). There is, however, no empirical evidence that any of these work other than at a purely psychological level.

So, what’s the big deal with masturbation? After all, it is a great tension release and it doesn’t harm anyone. Or does it?

Here’s the catch: it is near impossible to masturbate without some form of erotic thoughts. In the engagement period these thoughts could be of your partner. On the other hand, they could be of some other person, a porn star or a sexual situation.

If you are masturbating to thoughts of the person you are engaged to, and this involves lustful fantasies of sexual acts, you are reducing your future marriage partner to a commodity for your personal gratification. It will be near impossible to shut these thoughts out when you are next together. This could lead to your desiring to play out your fantasies with your partner and, ultimately, to inappropriate sexual intimacy, even intercourse. This in turn could result in shame and guilt, and could lead to problems in your marital sex life, a vicious cycle of marred sexual intimacy.

What about masturbation as an outlet for sexual tension (like when you go home after seeing your partner)? In this situation the question is one of self-control. If you get into a habit of masturbating whenever you’re sexually aroused, you’re getting into a habit of poor self-control. Self-control is one of the gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). God wants us to learn to control our body, not indulge in passionate lust (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). Being sexually aroused doesn’t have to lead to orgasm. You don’t have to masturbate. You can do something to distract yourself, or channel your energy into some other productive activity. Exercise, good music and even a cup of hot chocolate or strong coffee send up endorphins and other brain chemicals which, while not being the same as an orgasmic high, come pretty close.

The importance of self-control

We have discussed how important self-control is in terms of training yourself to be trustworthy during the engagement period. This will continue into marriage. Your husband or wife is not always going to feel like sex when you want it. If you’re used to controlling yourself, you’ll avoid becoming a slave to the need for immediate gratification. But if you’re used to quickly masturbating to satisfy your desire, then you are likely to pressure your spouse for sex or watch pornography, both of which will erode your partner’s trust and damage your marriage relationship.

Regular masturbation to pornography or some other sexual activity can also set up patterns of quick sexual response in your brain. You may carry these into your marriage and find difficulty with intimacy and sexual performance in marriage.

What if you come (climax, have an orgasm) when you are together as an engaged couple? Maybe not doing anything more complex than a hug? Is that masturbation? Is it a sin? It is a normal physiological response of your body to being close to the one you love. It is not lust and definitely not masturbation. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty if it happens.

Some of you reading this may be in the habit of masturbating regularly. Right now you may be feeling pretty awful. Stop worrying. It’s a habit that can be changed. Here are some techniques that could help:

  1. Keep track of the triggers that tempt you to masturbate. Is it some place? Some thought? Avoid these places and redirect the thoughts as they come into your conscience.
  2. Find some alternative activity. If coming home to your single room after visiting your fiancée or fiancé makes you want to masturbate, schedule in an alternate activity at that time. Maybe a session at the gym or a chat with a friend may help.
  3. Find an older wiser Christian who can be your mentor.

The time you spend together as an engaged couple is important. Use it wisely. Train your body and mind to be self-controlled and loving—other-focused in your passions and wants. And look forward to a lifetime of good sex as a couple.

A proviso to purity

We finish this section on engagement with a word of caution.

Sexual purity during the engagement period is an act of honouring your future spouse and a witness of your belief in marriage as the appropriate and God-given context for sex. However, avoiding sexual intimacy before marriage does not automatically assure you of great sex and mind-blowing orgasms as soon as you get married. This is a myth and an impossible expectation. What marriage promises is the best relationship ever. Great sex takes time and practice.

This series is from the book “The best Sex for Life” available at: https://www.cepstore.com.au/best-sex-for-life