The Dating/Courting Christian: How Far Can We Go?

Sex is for Christians! A Joy-Filled Look at the Blessings of Biblical Sexuality - Chapter 9

PLEASE NOTE: This e-teaching is not appropriate for children, preadolescents, and many adolescents.

"The Dating/Courting Christian. How Far Can We Go?"

Among all the strange, sexual stories in the Old Testament, one stands out as being perhaps the most patriarchal. It involves a young, single woman, an orphan named Esther. She lived with her uncle (or cousin), Mordecai, among an exiled community of Jews in Susa, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire.[1]

Persia’s king, Ahasuerus, hosted a half-year party for his court and dignitaries that showcased “the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty” (Est. 1:4). During the final seven days of the exhibition, all the citizens of Susa were invited to a lavish banquet at which “the heart of the king [became] merry with wine” (Est. 1:10). Like any drunk husband might do who possessed a trophy wife, Ahasuerus decided to exhibit his woman, so he ordered the royal eunuchs to summon beautiful Queen Vashti. She, however, was not a woman who appreciated being put on display before a hall of half-drunk men so they could gawk at her face and body as all their wives stoically pretended not to mind. So she refused to comply.

Her dissent enraged King Ahasuerus, so he consulted his royal advisors, all men, to ask what should be done to Queen Vashti. Worried that her insubordination might embolden all of Persia’s wives to disrespect their husbands, they quickly reached a consensus:

Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.” And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti should come no more into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. And when the king’s edict which he shall make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small (Est.1:16-20).

As you probably noticed, women’s liberation had a rough start.

Queen Vashti was given no chance to repent or find even an ounce of mercy, and her husband exacted full revenge for his humiliation. Because she refused to come when summoned, she would never be permitted the privilege of being in his presence again. She would remain married but be functionally divorced from him. That would teach her, as well as any other wife “from India to Ethiopia” (Est. 1:1) who might be tempted to disrespect her husband’s drunken orders.

But it gets worse.

Although Vashti would be deprived of sex with her husband for the rest of her life, Ahasuerus had a harem of exclusive sexual partners. From that harem, he could have selected a new queen. However, with the advice of his all-male council, Ahasuerus decided to treat himself to a royal, sexual upgrade. They suggested that a search be conducted to find the most beautiful young virgins from all 127 provinces of his kingdom, and that they be added to his harem. He could then try out each one for a night, and the woman who pleased him the most could become his new queen. All the rest would remain available to him as members of his royal harem. It doesn’t get any more patriarchal than that.

Ahasuerus loved the idea.

Esther, as you probably know, was one of those selected to be a member of Ahasuerus’ humongous harem. First-time readers of the biblical book that bears Esther’s name might hope to learn that she, on her trial night with Ahasuerus, succeeded in strangling the sexual predator and unlocking the door that kept his harem captive, freeing the unfortunate women who served as his sporadic sex slaves. But no. Rather, they read how Esther, after fully submitting to the requisite year of cosmetic treatments, made her best effort to please the king. It would seem reasonable to also think that she, as a virgin being prepped for an entire year for the first sexual encounter of her life, received plenty of instruction on how to make Ahasuerus happy.

Esther apparently was not only beautiful, but also a good learner, distinguishing herself above the rest of the other women on her special night. Ahasuerus consequently selected her as his new queen. And although God is never once mentioned in the book of Esther, there is no hiding His providential hand, and readers soon realize He exalted Esther to ultimately save all the Jews in Persia from genocide. Ever since, Jews have annually celebrated those events, remembering Esther during the Feast of Purim.

A Marriage Made in Prison

Though casual readers might imagine how romantic it was for Esther, a lowly commoner, to be chosen by a noble king to be his prized queen, they should concede that Esther: (1) knew she had been selected, not for her personhood, but because of her beauty and sexual skill, (2) apparently didn’t regularly sleep with the king and at least once didn’t even see him for 30 days, (3) was deathly afraid to enter his presence or risk arousing his anger, knowing how temperamental he was and that he’d banished his previous wife because she didn’t comply with a degrading, drunken order, and (4) sexually shared him with perhaps hundreds of concubines (Est. 2:12-17, 4:10-11). And that is how it would always be. She would be his sexual playmate for as long as she could hold his interest. Narcissistic Ahasuerus robbed Esther, and scores of women like her, of all the blessings of a monogamous marriage.

So, let’s be honest. Esther didn’t have an enviable marriage. I can’t imagine any self-respecting woman wanting to trade places with her.

Are there any redeeming lessons that single Christians can learn from Esther’s story? Yes, and the first one, if you are female, is to avoid at all costs men like Ahasuerus. If you are male, the lesson is to avoid being anything like Ahasuerus.

Although all males, ancient and modern, share in Ahasuerus’ visually-oriented sexual nature, thankfully not all of them view women solely as collectable sexual objects. Godly single Christian men view single Christian women as sisters in Christ, daughters of God, and as “fellow heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). Although such a proper view doesn’t eliminate biological physical attraction, it does result in a respect that tends to keep sexual desire in check.

Later in this chapter, we’ll consider “best sexual practices” for dating/courting Christians. First, however, let’s talk about premarital precautions that can be taken to avoid a prison marriage.

A Strategic Plan

Like many ancient marriages, Esther had no say in selecting her spouse. Her polygamous concubinage/marriage was essentially arranged by a government bureaucrat. Most modern single women (and men) are glad that their marital fate is not in government hands, but that they have the right to make their own decisions. That being said, choosing a compatible, lifetime mate is a daunting task. Imagine the precaution you would take if, when purchasing an automobile, you knew you would be required to drive it for the rest of your life. You would probably do a lot of research and talk to other people who had already purchased cars. You would take your time. You might even buy a book titled, Buyer Beware! subtitled, Proven, Safe Strategies to Guarantee You Get the Right Vehicle and Avoid a Lifetime of Mechanical Misery. The first chapter in such a book might be something like, “Love that Body? Imagine Rust and Dents.”

The decision who to marry is certainly one of the most consequential decision of one’s life, and so, as they often say at weddings, “Marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly.” Perhaps you’ve heard the quip, “I thought I’d found Mr. Right, but it wasn’t until after we were married that I discovered he was “Mr. Always Right.” That’s funny; but it’s not funny to those who feel trapped in marriages that are characterized by constant conflict and disharmony. Although some conflicted couples work out their differences to enjoy eventual marital bliss, some suffer through the hell of divorce and its aftermath, while others “settle out of court” for a tenuous truce and a lifetime of marital mediocrity. If you remember anything from this chapter, remember this: Marriage doesn’t change a person’s character. Suffice it to say, better to be single than mismarried, or worse, wedded and at war.

All that being so, premarital precaution is wise. A strategic plan is certainly in order.

I would suggest that Christian singles first assess their own desire and readiness for marriage. Age and personal maturity should be taken into consideration, ideally with the counsel of parents and trusted friends. Successful marriage isn’t attained by simply “finding the right person.” It starts with “being the right person.”

Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with not wanting to be married. The apostle Paul wrote in favor of singleness, as it allows undistracted devotion to the Lord (see 1 Cor. 7:7-35). In fact, Paul said that God gives some a gift to that end. Don’t be ashamed if you have that gift!

Those who do not desire to be married, or who are not of sufficient age or personal maturity, would be wise to avoid any dating and should limit social interaction with members of the opposite sex to group settings. One-on-one dating should be reserved for those who desire marriage and are of sufficient age and personal maturity to be married. Additionally, such single people should not date anyone whom they have already determined is not a potential marriage partner, otherwise they risk misleading and emotionally harming another person, violating the Golden Rule. Honesty is always the best policy. (And you can see that I’m advocating courting over dating.)

Next, I would suggest that those who are ready to court pray with faith that God would guide them in the discovery and selection of a compatible life-long mate.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight (Prov. 3:5-6).

Then it would be wise for those who are trusting the Lord to “narrow the field” by determining the basic criteria that must be met by anyone whom they court. Obviously, one such criterion would be a commitment to Jesus Christ. If you want to marry a Christian, there is no sense courting non-Christians. Besides, if you marry a nonbeliever, you are guaranteed to have trouble with your new father-in-law, the devil.

Next, I would advise those who are narrowing the field to take advantage of dating websites that allow them to input information about themselves as well as essential criteria for those with whom they will be matched. That can be a good way to speed up the process of narrowing the field, and hopefully it will result in some excellent matches with persons with whom they can communicate back and forth in writing via the dating website. By such means they can further explore compatibility and determine if they should, at some point in time, meet face to face to continue getting to know one another.

Obviously, if incompatibility is discovered, it would be easier to discontinue a relationship while it is still only in the stage of written communication. For that reason, I recommend not hurriedly meeting face to face. And although rejecting someone is difficult and being rejected hurts, “breaking up” is better than divorce. Again, honesty is always the best policy.

I should also add that any rejected person who threatens suicide or revenge sends the sure sign that he/she has not reached a place of personal maturity to be ready for courting, much less marriage. Those who court must accept the risk of rejection, and when/if they are rejected, they should do their best to take it in stride, remembering that, as many of our mothers told us, “There’s a whole lot of fish in the ocean.”

Finally, speaking of mothers, I would advise that such single people solicit the advice of their parents and/or trusted Christian friends during the entire process. It certainly can’t hurt to have some loving, outside evaluation and input.

My wife and I, who have been happily married for 42 years, have two daughters and a son. Both of our daughters followed the courting process I’ve just described, and both found wonderful husbands who also turned out to be fantastic fathers and sons-in-law. Our son followed the above process to a degree, skipping the step of a dating website, but God has also been very good to him. He found a gem of a wife in Burma during a mission trip and got to know her over a period of months from a distance of 8,000 miles. She, too, has proven to be a wonderful mother and daughter-in-law. As I’m writing this, we are all enjoying our annual all-family vacation with them and our 11 grandchildren—who are all being homeschooled by their parents. It pays to follow God’s wisdom.

Relationship Risk Management 101

If there is one lesson that can be applied to any prospective human relationship, whether it be a friendship, business relationship, or marriage, it is this: You can generally predict peoples’ future by looking at their past. That is what banks do when they determine to whom they should lend money. A potential borrower’s credit history reveals to lenders the likelihood of them repaying. People who defaulted on past loans will probably default on future loans. Again, past behavior foretells future behavior.

So, if a potential friend, employee, employer, or spouse has a consistent history of broken and failed relationships, there is a likelihood that any relationship you develop with that person will also end up broken or failed. Of course, people can and do at times change for the better, but alleged changes need to be consistently validated over time to mitigate risk. Don’t be fooled by any potential spouse who promises to change some undesirable behavior on the condition of marriage!

A man who has had a string of sexual encounters with multiple women before marriage is not likely to break that string after marriage. A man who regularly indulges in porn before marriage will likely indulge in porn after marriage. A man who mistreats his mother or biological sisters will probably mistreat his future wife. So the wise woman will fully investigate! The best time to prevent divorce is before marriage.

Of course, all of this also applies to men who are considering potential future wives. How she treats others is eventually how she will treat you. Don’t dream that you are somehow the exception to the rule.

The Vetting Process

A thorough investigation of a potential mate requires sufficient time and effort. In cultures that practice arranged marriages, all such investigation is done by parents. They do so from the time their children are born, and they never stop appraising other local families and their children, always on the lookout for good potential future mates for their children.

Such parents know that children are products of their family environments, so their search for good future spouses for their children is narrowed to those from respected families. They don’t want their children to marry someone whose parents set a bad example of marriage before them as they were growing up. They also know that other parents are watching their family, which provides a motivation for them to maintain community respect and raise honorable children. All of that social monitoring has a positive moral effect on society, resulting in benefits that have been lost to modern cultures that practice “love marriage.”

All of that is to say to single people: You can’t investigate a potential future spouse too thoroughly, learning all you can about their background in order to assess what it would be like to live with them for the rest of your life. Discovering all you can about their values, character and personality, parents, siblings, friends, past boyfriends/girlfriends, associates and adversaries, upbringing, past experiences (both positive and negative), future hopes, greatest strengths and weaknesses will serve you well in determining the likelihood of wedded bliss, marital misery, or something in between.

Balancing this, keep in mind that negative life experiences can, and often do, have positive effects. Suffering can make one bitter or better—it all depends on how one reacts to it. Some people who grow up in dysfunctional families, for example, end up being exemplary spouses and parents because their negative experiences birthed within them an inner resolve to ultimately possess something superior.

If, during the investigatory phase, the relationship continues in a positive direction, at some point in your conversations, it is good for both parties to verbalize their true feelings for each other. Both can express what makes the other so attractive as a potential spouse as well as acknowledge any hesitancies or suggest any “advanced topics” for discussion. Again, honesty is the best policy. In my experience as a former pastor and requisite marriage counselor, I found that most marital problems stemmed from disagreements about children, money and sex. So those categories would make for wise discussion topics. Here are a few questions couples should be asking each other who have progressed in their relationship to the point of seriously considered engagement:

If we were to marry:

—   Would you want to have children? If yes, how many and how soon?

—   What is your philosophy of raising children? How should they be disciplined when disobedient? Should they be given chores? Should they have cell phones?

—   Would you want our children to attend public school, private Christian school, or that they be home schooled?

—   What would be your financial expectations? Would both of us pursue careers? Or would one of us be the breadwinner and the other stay home to raise children, at least while they were young?

—   What is your conviction regarding debt? What should or should we not incur debt to own? What would be your maximum debt threshold? Would you be bringing debt into our marriage?

—   Where would you want to live? Do you prefer urban, suburban, or rural living?

—   Do you have any sexual experience with another person? If “yes,” how do you feel about it now?

—   How important do you believe sex is in marriage? How knowledgeable are you about sex? Are you comfortable talking about it?

—   Do you think you may have any negative feelings or hang ups regarding sex? Do you think your parents had a healthy sex life? Do you think that they instilled in you a healthy attitude toward it?

Christian singles, of course, will want to know the conversion stories and spiritual commitment of any person they court. A genuine repentance and new birth can mitigate or even eradicate negative elements of a person’s past or personality that might otherwise be of legitimate concern. But has there been a genuine change? Does the allegedly born-again potential future spouse recognize what was wrong before, and has his or her spiritual transformation been validated by a consistent, transformed life?

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to marry someone who is perfect, because there are no such people. I am suggesting, however, that before you agree to marry someone, you know their strengths and weaknesses. Your “I do” should be a well-informed decision. Back in the days when I served as a pastor, I always asked couples who requested that I perform their weddings, “Have you been dating long enough to have seen the other person’s ‘dark side’?” Unless they answered in the affirmative, I told them to come back in six months.

Sexual Compatibility

Ahasuerus, of course, wasn’t taking any risk regarding his “marriage” to Esther. If things didn’t work out, he could ban her just as easily as he did his previous wife. Remember, his sole vetting criteria for Esther was essentially a sexual performance test, and even that was superficial, as he had scores of exclusive backup sexual partners.

Should couples considering marriage have sex to determine if they are sexually compatible, as is sometimes advocated? No. If one of you is male and the other is female, you are sexually compatible. If you do marry, chances are good that, with regular practice, you’ll become increasingly more compatible than you found yourself to be on your wedding night.

Statistics show that couples who engage in premarital sex are not less likely, but more likely, to end up divorced. Why is that? Simply because couples who engage in premarital sex reveal flaws in their character that they carry into every other aspect of their marriage. Not only do they reveal a lack of self-control, respect for their partner, and commitment to Christ, but they also display a degree of selfishness, all of which will be manifest in other ways within their marriage.

Additionally, premarital sex can easily cloud one’s judgment as he/she considers a prospective mate. It can mask your mind to character flaws you would otherwise notice, flaws that will later cause misery. They say “love is blind.” Premarital sex can make you deaf, dumb and blind.

The person who attempts to engage sexually on some level, or who sends signals of wanting to engage sexually on some level, reveals a character flaw that should be a warning to anyone he or she is dating/courting. If he or she is willing to engage sexually with someone who potentially could be another person’s future spouse, what does that suggest might occur after marriage? Is such a person not more likely to be unfaithful after marriage, either via an affair or porn? Will marriage somehow improve their character? Don’t fool yourself into thinking it will.

If you’ve read the previous eight chapters you are hopefully convinced that sexual intercourse, according to God’s standards, is reserved exclusively for marriage. Unmarried people who engage in sex commit the sin of fornication. Scripture reminds us:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; emphasis added).

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4; emphasis added).

Those are solemn warnings.

Dating and courting couples often fool themselves that sex with each other is OK because “We’re really in love, and it looks like we’re headed towards marriage.”

But God did not design sex for people who think they are headed towards marriage, but for people who are married. Until you are married, you don’t have sexual rights to your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/fiancée. In fact, your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/fiancée may be someone else’s future spouse! You don’t know for sure otherwise until you are married. In one sense, that makes fornication a form of potential adultery.

Remember, God’s sexual standards are an expression of His love. He’s not trying to restrict our enjoyment of sex, or of life. Rather, He’s trying to enhance our enjoyment of both. The best sex occurs between two people who love each other enough to reserve their sexual gifts exclusively for each other, and for life. Sex is an expression of their unique love for each other. Their unions produce treasured children who grow up in a secure family, a garden of love.

Contrast that with the selfishness of single people who entice someone else to experience sex’s deep psychological bonding, even though it is often followed by a rejection (“breaking up”) that is somewhat comparable to a divorce. The habitual fornicator selfishly “marries” to then “divorce.”

Let’s be honest. Fornication is pure selfishness. It is so selfish it could almost be described as consensual rape. Both parties use each other. Both potentially violate another person’s future spouse.

Fornicators also risk being partners in unplanned pregnancies that cause innocent children to suffer on some level, perhaps through a fatherless childhood or by being brutally murdered in their mother’s womb through abortion.

According to the apostle Paul, Christian fornicators sin against their own bodies, because their bodies are members of Christ’s body, are temples of the Holy Spirit, have been purchased by God, and will one day be gloriously resurrected:

Yet the body is not for immorality [porneia], but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality [porneia]. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral [porneuo] man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:13b-20).

All of this is to say that single Christians should avoid fornication at all costs. It would be, to borrow some words from Jesus that we considered in the previous chapter, worth plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand to avoid.

Staying Away from Slippery Creek Banks

How can single Christians remain sexually pure, especially if they are in the process of falling in love?

The answer to that important question is found in the passage we just read in 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote, “Flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). That means to get away from it as fast as you can whenever the temptation crops up. It is only when you play along the slippery banks of the creek that you are likely to fall in. So, stay away from those slippery creek banks!

A few such “slippery creek banks” are parties, bars and clubs that are standard “pick-up spots” for “one-night stands” with strangers. No genuine, born-again, Spirit-indwelt Christians have a desire to attend such places: [2]

For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet. 4:3-5).

If you do enjoy indulging in such environments, that is a good sign that you have not been born again. You may be religious, your parents might be born again, or you may have given mental acknowledgement of some theological facts. But you really don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God before whom you will one day stand in judgment. His Holy Spirit is not living in you.

The remedy for that is to repent of your sins and truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then you will actually be born again, God’s Holy Spirit will come to reside in you, and your highest aspiration in life will be to please your Lord, Jesus. Obedience to Jesus is the mark of the true, born-again Christian:

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29).

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:9-10).

Although being born again results in a transformed life, it does not affect basic, biological sexual desire. So the potential to sin sexually still exists. Christians must remain on guard against sexual temptation. Paul wrote, “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts [desires]” (Rom. 13:14). That is another way of saying, “Stay away from slippery creek banks.”

Courting Christians should not allow themselves to be together in environments where they might be tempted to compromise. Dates and meetings should take place in public places. Spending time together, for example, at one or the other’s residence when there is no one else at home is an invitation to temptation. Parking in a car together in a remote or secluded place is the same. So is hiking together to a secluded location.

If either party suggests doing something together that could open the door to sexual temptation, a simple reply of, “I would love to, but let’s try that somewhere else where there’s no danger of compromise” should not be offensive, but perhaps even be flattering. It sends the message, “I’m physically attracted to you, but we’re not married, and because I respect you and love God, I want to take precaution.”

How Far Can We Go?

Obviously, God designed sex to be progressive. Married couples engage in “foreplay” that consists of non-penetrative sexual activities, such as kissing and caressing, that ultimately lead to intercourse. Non-progressive sex is generally perceived as rape.

When courting couples engage in non-penetrative sexual activities, they put themselves on a slippery slope, and risk hindering their judgment and resistance to temptation. So it is best to keep away from any sexual activity that is designed by God to lead to intercourse. Both men and women have built-in physical monitors by which they can gauge if they are doing something that is designed by God as foreplay. When one’s genitals engorge, one is doing something that is designed to lead to intercourse. And if one is not married or engaged to the person with whom one is experiencing physical preparation for intercourse, one may be doing it with someone else’s future spouse. So again, I suggest that courting couples avoid anything sexual prior to engagement, and after engagement, restraining themselves to light and limited kissing (if just to practice for their public wedding kiss!).[3]

I realize that most people, and even professing Christians, would laugh at the degree of non-marital sexual abstinence I’m advocating. On the other hand, I know of a few Christian couples whose first kiss was in front of an invited crowd and when their pastor said, “You may kiss your bride!” Those admirable couples honored each other before marriage, laying a foundation of honor upon which their marriage could be built. They avoided cheapening their future sexual relationship as well as suffering the guilt that always accompanies premarital sex. They knew that they had decades ahead of future sexual enjoyment together, so there was no need to rush into sex.

When you think about the words, “You may kiss your bride,” spoken near the close of every wedding ceremony, they seem to imply the bridegroom did not have the right to kiss his bride until after the exchange of vows and rings. But once the two have solemnly pledged to love each other as husband and wife until death, then do they have sexual rights to each other. Sadly, in the context of licentious modern culture, wedding officiants might be more honest to say, “It’s meaningless, but go ahead and kiss the woman with whom you’ve already had sex numerous times. Let’s hope that neither of you cheat on each other from this point onward, even though all your premarital sex was potentially done with someone else’s future spouse. You certainly have not laid a foundation of trust.”

Once a courting couple has arrived at the decision to marry, it is easier for them to justify yielding to sexual temptation. But engagements can be broken, and they sometimes are (and a broken engagement is preferable to a marital divorce). Wise engaged couples, especially those who are struggling with temptation, don’t prolong their engagement period. Long engagement periods can be a slippery slope.

The Wedding Night and First Year

The best marital sex starts with two virgins. Sexual amateurs don’t have to worry about being compared to former lovers or about their comparative sexual knowledge and experience. They don’t have to pretend. If they both adopt an attitude of “Let’s have fun, openly communicate, and learn together for the rest of our lives,” they are on a path of marital bliss.

What many Christian couples fail to grasp on their wedding day is that they are just starting a sexual journey that will last a lifetime. They often set unrealistic expectations for their first love-making session, not yet realizing that God designed that their sexual skills be acquired over years of communication and practice. The wedding night is just the first step of a thousand-mile journey. Even those who begin marriage with some sexual experience may not initially realize that every man and woman is different to some degree, and not only will they slowly discover what makes their special lover happy, they will surprisingly discover more of what makes themselves happy. So there is no hurry.

Just-married couples have a lifetime of lovemaking ahead of them that will include thousands of opportunities to learn and improve. If the first time is a bit clumsy and unsuccessful on some level, the thing to do is enjoy every moment, laugh, talk, and keep practicing and learning. There is no rule for what must be achieved on the wedding night, and many married couples, in retrospect, realize it would have been better to extend over weeks what they attempted to achieve the first night. Related to that, here’s an interesting commandment from the Mosaic Law:

When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken (Deut. 24:5).

It’s so nice to read such a non-patriarchal passage in the Old Testament. Newlywed husbands were commanded to work on “giving happiness” to their wives during their first year of marriage. There are a lot of ways to make one’s wife happy, and some of them are sexual. All of them require understanding of what makes wives happy, so communication on the part of husbands and wives is necessary. Newlyweds should not be ashamed to discuss their sex lives in detail with each other (but with no one else). On the contrary, a good sexual relationship depends on good communication.

There will likely be at least 100 (and hopefully many more) sexual learning sessions during the first year of marriage. Again, there is no hurry. Wise husbands work on giving their wives happiness, not for just the first year, but for the rest of their lives. More about that in future chapters! — David

[1] In 1901 archeologists found among the ruins of Susa, in modern Iran, the original stela bearing the Code of Hammurabi (mentioned in Chapter 2 of this book).

[2] The exception would be if true Christians are led to such places to spread the gospel to the unsaved.

[3] The modern idea that one is technically a virgin as long as one has abstained from penis-in-vagina sex, even though one has engaged in mutual masturbation or oral sex, is ludicrous in light of Jesus’ words, “everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). In a sense, one loses one’s virginity in God’s eyes with the first act of lust, before there is any physical contact.