The last couple of “Boundless Answers” columns have got me thinking. More accurately, they’ve got me remembering.
For those of you who haven’t read them yet, Candice yesterday responded to a single woman who plans on asking her “future husband to get tested” for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And last week, John Thomas offered some advice to a young man who is dealing with feelings of insecurity as he anticipates a future discussion with his girlfriend regarding their past sexual experiences.
In the first case, the woman acknowledges that she is not a virgin, but has concerns about the sexual health of her future husband. In the second instance, the man discloses that he is a virgin, but has “much reason to believe” that his girlfriend — whom he loves deeply — is not. Needless to say, this thought troubles him very much.
Reading these columns took me back to the time when my now-wife and I were dating. And while I largely agree with the advice Candice and John offer, I would like to add some of my own. More accurately, I would like to supplement their answers with the counsel we received at the time from our pastor and his wife:
When couples moving toward marriage decide to have “the talk” about their sexual pasts’, they should be very cautious when it comes to discussing details. It’s certainly reasonable to ask if a potential mate is a virgin, in which case the STI question reasonably follows, but what more is gained by taking an inventory of past relationships and the corresponding activities — particularly if such activities took place before one or both parties was a devoted follower of Christ?
In other words, this is one case where “the whole truth” can be a destructive thing. Does it really help to know whether the woman you want to marry slept with two or five others before you met and fell in love? If that part of her life is truly in the past, does an exact number make you feel better or worse? More or less secure? And likewise, will the man you want to spend your life with love you any less if you learn the names of his past sexual partners, particularly if that area of his past now seems like a lifetime ago?
Now, I realize that “openness” and “transparency” are extremely popular concepts; I, for one, was convinced that I wanted to ask (and likewise answer) any and all questions to/from the woman I wanted to marry. There would be no secrets in our relationship, we vowed, even if the truth was a bit painful. But when we began to be open and honest, we quickly learned that our pastor and his wife were very wise indeed.
Though neither of us had what you might call a sordid sexual past, it’s also true that I did not save my first kiss for the altar, and neither did my wife. And as we began to “transparently” answer each other’s questions, what resulted was not a sense of greater closeness and security, but rather resentment and insecurity. What good did it serve to hear about her other boyfriends? My previous girlfriends? To be completely open and honest with you, it didn’t do much good at all.
When we saw what was happening, we realized that our pastor was right — the details weren’t very important after all. (Incidentally, I have now heard this same advice from a number of pastors/counselors.) As a result, my wife and I have lived in blissfully ignorant matrimony for more than 15 years now.
Now please don’t twist my words to suggest that I’m in favor of keeping secrets from a potential spouse. I am not. If you are sexually experienced and he’s not, be honest about it. And don’t wait until you’re married to reveal the truth. But sharing every intimate detail of that experience will do little to strengthen the bond you are trying to forge.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Along with the already noted exception of health-related issues, it would also help to know if a potential mate comes from a history of abusive relationships or moral failures — a past abortion, for example — but even those can be worked through with the help of a qualified counselor. So, if you are convinced via prayer, hours of conversation and the counsel of other Christians that the person you intend to marry is today a solid, committed, regenerated believer in Christ, then what hold do past experiences have on him/her?
Let the details stay in the past, where they belong.