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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My husband and I had sex before we got married but after saying for almost a year. I felt horribly guilty and ashamed for years because I grew up in the purity culture of the 90s in youth group and teen camp, but I also had a friend who was disgusted with me for not waiting until we were married.
When my husband and I started dating, I’d waited years and prayed for God to send me the man I was going to marry. When I met him, I knew he was the one and we talked about marriage and knew we were going to get married after just a few days of dating. So our relationship was filled with intention and wasn’t casual at all. After years of feeling shame and guilt about having sex before we married and keeping it a secret, someone helped me see that I needed to forgive myself because God had and wanted more for me. I’d been in a loving and committed relationship and I hadn’t done anything wrong.
After that conversation, I was finally able to let it go and forgive myself.
I’m glad, Annie! Often the negative repercussions we have are not God punishing us, but instead our own guilt playing havoc with us.
Sometimes I read your posts and dont know how you do it Sheila – then I remember you arent doing it God is 😀. I have a belief that since the resurrection of Jesus God no longer punishes us for anything PERIOD. What I have come to believe is that we punish ourselves by not following Gods will. Meaning our punishment are the consequences of our actions and we can either yield to those consequences and change or dig the hole deeper and keep on going. For me while I didnt sign up for what I got in life, I continued the path for a time until I decided to turn it around. Here is why I was I was so impressed with your post today. Grace and I have been teaching our adult Sunday School class together. We build the lesson together and then we present as a team truly based on however it plays out. Here are the primary vrs from our lesson this past Sunday. Isaiah 35: 8- 10. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. (Holiness aka follow Gods will – do not have premarital sex) No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. (Protection) They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Joy! Aka great sex!). And yes I pulled over to write this on lol.
Thanks for that encouragement, Phil! That’s great that you and Grace are teaching together. I think volunteering and serving in church together is such a great way to build companionship and purpose together in marriage. And I totally agree with you about punishment. That’s not really the way God relates to us, but often we do it to ourselves!
I love those verses, by the way.
I have felt this way for the whole 5 months I’ve been married. We had sex within two weeks of dating but I know I didn’t want to. I cried after because I couldn’t believe I had given my virginity to a guy I didn’t even know if I loved yet. Then he cheated on me online for our entire relationship. I only found out a month ago. I feel every day that God is punishing me for not being stronger and being more assertive when I said no. And then for eventually actually wanting to have premarital sex.
I find it hard to see how this isn’t God punishing me, I cry often at night standing outside quietly screaming at God why He has put me through this.
I’m going to re read your post Sheila until maybe someday it sticks in my head that I am not being punished, his sex addiction has nothing to do with me, and I am my own complete person and don’t need to rely on him for my own happiness.
I want to give you a giant hug right now. <3
I’m so sorry, Heirofblack! I really think you need to talk to someone (professional) about this. You need a helping hand through this trauma and grief.
I think Sheila needs to discuss true consent and what it means. It sounds like you weren’t fully consenting and have trauma from that, too.
I also think that some women marry the men they “gave their virginity to” because they feel it’ll somehow redeem the loss of virginity. Even though we didn’t have intercourse until marriage, we did a lot of other things, and a part of me did feel obligated to marry him because I was “used goods.” (Yeah, I thought that way.) Thankfully, it isn’t a bad marriage.
However, what we may feel is God’s punishment is actually the consequences of our actions and choices. The good news is we can work with those. We can make choices. We can move forward. We can heal. If we believe God is giving us a right good taste of hellfire, it gives us an excuse to do nothing. Instead, He is holding His arms out saying “come to me all you who are burdened….”
No matter how far you go with a man, you are never obligated to stay. I used to go to a church where a teenage dating couple got pregnant and the church made them marry. Now, the church did help set up house and establish a job for the boy, and offered counseling, but they literally forced two barely legals to marry!! They soon after left the church and I have no clue what became of them.
You have freedom, dear one. You can make a change. Put all your “beating myself up” energy into taking steps forward in your life and you’ll go places. You are precious!
I’m just seeing all of this now because I’ve been busy today (It’s Rebecca’s birthday! And I was making a cake). But I echo what Katydid said here. When I read your story, HeirofBlack, I did think that that did not sound like you necessarily consented to sex when you were dating.
It really sounds as if you need someone professional to talk to. These are big issues: sexual addiction this early in marriage; him cheating on you; feeling pressured into marriage. I don’t know how it all will end, but what is happening right now isn’t healthy, and it’s very unlikely to get better on its own. I’ll say a prayer for you, and I wish I could give you a hug, too!
I have a slightly different struggle when it comes to my sexual past. My husband and I had sex before marriage, but were together a long time and knew we would marry. He is the only person I have been with but I do regret that we didn’t wait until marriage. Not because I feel God is punishing me (10 years of marriage and 3 kids later and sex is still good) but because those earliest sexual experiences with my husband (which were awesome) are tainted with guilt. I feel I chose my pleasure over doing the right thing in God’s eyes. I wish I could think back on those memories with zero regret and just enjoy them. Instead, when those memories arise I feel the need to suppress them because it feels like i’m sinning all over again.
Hi A, I feel like you are my twin because everything you just wrote is the same for me! Same exact experience, love my husband so much and he’s the only man I’ve ever had sex with, but I felt the same about feeling as if I had sought my own pleasure first instead of God’s will.
A and Christine,
I can relate to feeling bad about not waiting, just like you both. Do either of you have the added stress on not being the first person your husband slept with adding to the stress of your situation?
Don’t forget that God wants sex to be in marriage because marriage (and its fruit, children) is a metaphor for the Trinity. Also, our relationship with Him is presented as a marriage, and it should be faithful and exclusive.
Yes! Very true as well.
Sheila, I was so tracking with you until you got to the end and said “God gets very angry when we hurt each other, and eventually God will act to punish that. ”
My wife and I came together as I was in a marriage falling apart, where I had moved from being a ‘husband’ to being a ‘caregiver’, and I was still married when we started dating. We had sex during this time, and I have no excuse for that, I KNEW it was not God’s best for us. Many years into our marriage, my wife carries guilt and shame for how we began. As I read your post, I thought – here’s something that I can share with her to help break the guilt/shame cycle-… but then you concluded by eliminating us from God’s Grace, as there WAS injustice and hurt caused by us…
I am personally good with God because I KNOW that His love and forgiveness for me is based on whet Jesus did, not what I have done, but your last section broke my heart for the 1000’s of people who in some way caused hurt or injustice to someone in the beginnings of their relationship… (including my own wife who still cannot quite grasp the fulness of that forgiveness)…
Something that has helped me is realising that the person I was then is not the same person I am now. I have compassion and kindness for that person back then because those decisions showed I still had areas to grow and mature in. Personally, that was about have my own boundaries. Now I do that better than I could then. How we need God’s grace in our stories because we are not perfect yet we are maturing.
I really tried to wait. I was extremely confused and felt that I had to give “samples” (not intercourse) in order to catch a husband. And Christian guys weren’t interested in me… I kept thinking that one of the non-Christians I dated would become a Christian… no dice. By 24 I was miserable and bitter and had intercourse to keep a boyfriend, and then a series of them. And then I really met Jesus for the first time and realized how blind and confused I’d been. and got dumped by a guy who had delightedly insisted he was going to marry me. I waited years for him to change his mind, pleading and pleading with God to make it work out. And then I dated and married a guy that many pastors and a retired missionary told me was such a great Christian and seemed to be so in love with me. I held out 6 years because I kept feeling so uncertain. In 12 years of marriage he’s had 7 affairs and stopped having sex with me altogether. I’m close to 50 and never had a genuinely Christian guy want me, and had a terrible relationship with my parents and family, who all were ultra churchy but I now realize probably didn’t know the actual Jesus… I have trouble making Christian friends bc we moved into a missionary training community before I discovered the full extent of my husband’s adulteries, and people move away or die or ostracize me. I don’t understand how my life ended up such an excruciatingly lonely disaster and why nothing ever works out. I’ve had about 25 different counselors and tons of deliverance ministry, and it’s never truly helpful. I don’t know how to find any sort of human relationship where I don’t end up betrayed or abandoned. I feel so extremely stupid and worthless. It definitely feels like God is punishing me.
Oh, anon, I’m so, so sorry! So very sorry. That was never okay.
It sounds like you’ve been in really toxic Christian communities, and you keep ending up in the same kinds of communities, even if they’re just different ones. Perhaps it might be like a breath of fresh air to get in a totally different Christian community? Maybe an Anglican church, or something that’s not so conservative or doesn’t resemble the missionary communities or the “churchy” communities you talked about? Or maybe a Lutheran or Methodist church? Just something very different. Or check out MissioAlliance online and see if they have any churches in your area–just communities where they focus more on the real Jesus and less on fundamentalist culture. I really want you to find community. It sounds like that’s what you really need. I’ll pray that you find somewhere good. I’m so sorry for your loneliness. So very sorry.
I have never had an orgasm. I thought I was broken. I thought god hated me. I now realize that he was punishing me for what I would do to my husband in the future. We’ve been married 17 years and I had an emotional affair for a couple months. I felt things that I have never felt before and I will never feel again. I sinned against my husband. This is my punishment. I accept it. I just wish I had known that I was paying for my future sins all those years. Maybe I could have prayed more.