Have you ever felt like God is punishing you, and your sex life in marriage, because of sexual sin before marriage?
(I was going to run a post today where people could get our pre-order bonuses for The Great Sex Rescue. It’s coming tomorrow! Just some last minute changes that had to be made. So I thought I’d say this instead!)
When I first did my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex back in 2011, I found that roughly a third of women had never willingly had sex with anyone before their wedding. The rest had, either with their now-husbands or with others, or both.
Despite us talking so much about purity, then, most women, when they get married, have already had consensual sex.
I had a few open ended questions on that survey, and in one of them I asked women if they had anything they’d do differently about their wedding night. The most common response? I wished I had waited.
As I looked deeper into those open-ended questions, and as I’ve read comments on the blog in the ten years since, I do see a common theme: Many women are worried that God is punishing them because they did sex wrong.
The fear is: I did it wrong, and so I’ve tainted everything. I can never have the bliss that God wanted for me.
Last week, on our podcast, Rebecca and I were talking with Rachel Joy Welcher about purity culture. This idea that our worth is in our virginity (our purity, which is usually defined in sexual terms) is pervasive in evangelicalism. And it can do great harm.
It’s difficult to talk about this well, because I do believe that God intended sex to be in marriage.
However, it’s also a big leap to say that because we messed up, God will punish.
Yet that’s what so many women are feeling. They have a hard time letting go in the bedroom or enjoying themselves, because they feel like they did it wrong. If sex is difficult, then it must be God punishing them. If it stops feeling good, then God must be punishing them. Or if it felt better before marriage than afterwards, it must be God punishing them.
I think this is a very sad and distorted way of seeing your sex life and of seeing God, and I’d like to go through the thinking behind this a little bit today.
Part of the problem is that we see God’s plan for sex in arbitrary sin terms rather than seeing God’s heart.
Why do you tell your child that they have to eat good food before they get dessert? Is it because you’ll be terribly angry at them if they eat dessert first? Or is it because you want them to eat good food?
Why do you tell your kids they have to stop fighting with each other and figure out how to work things out and how to share? Is it because you’ll be terribly angry at them if they won’t share? Or is it because you know that the best thing for them is to learn how to get along with each other, and that this will put them in good standing for the rest of their lives?
Why is it that you tell kids that it’s wrong to lie to you? Is it because you’ll be terribly, terribly angry at them if they lie? Or is it because you know that a life lived with honesty is better for everyone, and that the habit of lying takes you places that you don’t want your child to go?
I know this is an oversimplification, and God does want our holiness. But sometimes I think we picture God more like an arbitrary pagan God who needs to be appeased with sacrifice than we do a loving, personal God who wants the best for us. If you look at the Commandments, and if you look at how Jesus tells us how to act, one commonality that you’ll often see is God’s protective heart. He wants what is best for us. He wants us to thrive.
When He sets up rules, or boundaries, to live by, those are not arbitrary, in order to stay on God’s good side. Those are so that we will thrive, and we will be protected.
Why does God want sex to be within marriage?
I honestly think it’s mostly a protective thing. Think about ancient cultures, where women were often very disadvantaged. By making sex only within marriage, it ensured that women would be in lifelong relationships where they would have to be cared for. It ensured that children born would be born in stable families. It ensured that disease wouldn’t spread.
And it provided a relationship where intimacy could blossom. With sex being reserved between married couples with lifelong commitment, then sex could be about a sharing of each other and a deep intimacy, a “knowing” as Genesis 4 talks about, rather than just a physical experience that’s shallow.
We read about God’s protective heart towards women in many places in Scripture. In Malachi 2, the prophet writes:
Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
God is upset when men leave the wife of their youth. Similarly, in Proverbs we read, “let her breasts satisfy you at all times,” and “may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18). Jesus, when the Pharisees came to Him asking if a man could divorce his wife for any reason, said no, because the practice of the time made it easy to ditch women.
And what happened when women were divorced? They had no means of support.
God wanted lifelong commitments, and I do think that’s one reason that He made sex and marriage inseparable. Want sex? Then you need to be stay with your wife and be faithful.
I think in modern times we forget how big a deal this is. You only have to watch Les Miserables and see the horror of being destitute as a woman and having to care for a child you love. I do believe that much of God’s heart towards our sexual ethic revolved around protection–making sure that didn’t happen; making sure families were the basis of society, because families are stable and allow children to grow up with consistent caregivers and love. And families tend to bring more peace.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that God created sex to be an intimate, passionate experience.
He wanted that for humankind. He didn’t want sex to only be about chasing orgasm, but also to be about uniting us in a significant, unique, and beautiful way. He wanted love to grow and commitment to grow and passion to grow, and that can only happen where there is a true relationship with commitment.
He didn’t want broken hearts and broken relationships when we became emotionally and sexually entangled with someone, with all the power that brings, and then the relationship ends.
There are other reasons, of course, but what I want us to see is that God’s heart is not to set an arbitrary rule so that He can be angry if we cross a line. God set up a rule for our protection and for our benefit.
God cares about us. And that means that God is not a God waiting and wanting to punish.
What happens when we think of God as a punishing God?
We tend to forget about all these protective instincts that God has, and instead focus on how God is just waiting for us to mess up so that He can punish us. That simply isn’t the God of the Bible.
We quote John 3:16 so much, but I wish we’d add John 3:17 to the mix more, because that verse is just as important:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not die, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
God is not waiting and eager to condemn us; God wants to save us!
How does that impact how we see our own sexual history?
God is not punishing you if you didn’t abide by His sexual ethic.
If you’re having trouble in your sex life today, it is not because God is preventing you from orgasming, or is killing your libido, or is causing your husband to watch porn. God is not waiting to zap you or to hurt you.
Lots of people have issues with sex who did everything right.
I was a virgin on my wedding night. My husband was a virgin. We did everything right. And yet I had a horrible case of vaginismus that took years to resolve. We did not have it easy, and we did everything right. Many women do everything right and they still have trouble with orgasm, or they still feel hang ups, or they still have issues.
Like we talked about in the podcast last week, doing everything right is not a guarantee of great sex. God does not reward those who did things right with great sex; rather, those who do things right often avoid some of the problems that come from having sex with multiple partners. But that is still no guarantee that sex will be great or easy.
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You may be experiencing some effects of having sex early.
All that being said, you may indeed be experiencing some of the effects of having sex before you were married. Not everyone does–but if you’re feeling like God is punishing you, some of this could be the natural effects of your actions. Some couples have sex early in their relationship before they’ve become really emotionally vulnerable, and then the physical pull replaces the emotional connection. You feel closer than you really are, and you think you’re in love when you may not be as close as you want to be.
Later, when you’re married, you can end up feeling distant from your spouse. But this isn’t because God is punishing you; it may simply be that you didn’t spend enough energy getting to know each other on a heart level. And that can be fixed!
Or maybe part of the allure of sex before you were married was because it was forbidden and therefore “hot”. And now that it’s not forbidden, it doesn’t feel as hot!
These things can be fixed.
But here’s the thing: When we see these problems as just issues we’re having in our relationship, then they can be fixed. These are things we can work towards. We can reconnect with our husbands and get to know them on a heart level. You can learn to spice up your marriage! But if you see these things as the fixed state of your marriage because God is punishing you–then there’s no point in working at anything. God doesn’t want that.
You are new creations together.
Finally, I often tell people that when they marry, they become a new entity. God forms you together as one flesh. It’s really beautiful. And so think of it as a new beginning, because God does. What happened before is past; the present is what God wants you to work on now. Whatever you did before, Jesus already carried it away. God does not want you punishing yourself for it now.
My dear friends, God does not delight in punishment.
Yes, God punishes a lot in the Bible. But if you look carefully at those instances, it tends to always be about fixing injustices. God gets very angry when we hurt each other, and eventually God will act to punish that.
That’s because God cares about us and God wants us to live well. Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it to the full. He does not delight in punishing people for sins that they once committed. And He does not set up rules just so that He can punish you if you cross a line.
He wants your good.
Can you see that in Him today? Can you see that God does not want your marriage tainted because of something you did earlier?
Yes, you may always regret not doing things in a different order. But that does not mean that your marriage today needs to be tainted or “less than”. It does not mean that God is not pleased with you. It does not mean that God is deliberately making things bad for you.
God wants to smile on you. I pray, dear friends, that you will accept that smile, rather than turning away from it.
What do you think? Is this something you’ve struggled with? What has God told you? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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