Is It Wrong to Be Attracted to the Person You’re Going to Marry?

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Preparing for Marriage | 39 comments

Is sexual attraction outside of marriage a sin?

Honestly, this is a strange discussion, but I’m not the one who started it. Jared Moore, an SBC pastor, started a kerfuffle on Twitter last year when he said that even being attracted to someone that you’re engaged to is a sin.

I talked about this briefly in April before we left for vacation, and created a Fixed It for You of it.

I’d like to address it in more depth today for two reasons:

1. The comments on my posts were super interesting, and I think it’s worth dispelling this myth in more detail;

2. Jared Moore is now running for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I think people need to know what he really believes and how unhealthy his views of marriage and gender are.

So let’s jump in, and let’s start with some definitions.

What is sexual attraction?

Sexual attraction is simply finding someone attractive on a physical level. That’s it. And here’s the key: It’s an involuntary response. It doesn’t mean that you’re fantasizing about them. It doesn’t mean that you’d follow through with anything. It doesn’t even mean that you’d want to follow through with anything. 

It’s merely: If I were in a sexual situation with this person, I wouldn’t be grossed out, all other things considered. I could see myself theoretically enjoying physical contact with them (even if you can’t see yourself enjoying it in real life). 

Now, again, that doesn’t mean you’d actually welcome that contact.

I often use this example when I’m trying to explain it on a podcast: Ryan Reynolds is a very attractive Canadian man, but if he showed up at my door and wanted to kiss me, I’d shut the door in his face. You can find someone attractive theoretically and actually be quite appalled if you think about ACTUALLY doing something with them, because you just don’t want that. 

Sexual attraction, again, is an involuntary reaction to someone. It is something automatic. But that doesn’t mean that we actually want anything in real life or are pursuing it in real life.

What is lust?

Lust is not the same as sexual attraction. Lust is a deliberate action, combined with a deliberate mindset. Jesus said, “whoever looks on this woman with lust has committed adultery.” So we have the deliberate action of focusing on her, and we have the mindset of obtaining sexual gratification from thinking about her sexually.

Lust involves objectification. You want to use her (or him) for your own gratification, and you’re really only thinking about the physical part of it. Instead of seeing sex as a way to express connection and intimacy and serve one another, you’re seeing this person as a means to your own gratification.

This is why, by the way, I don’t actually think wanting to have sex with your fiance (or fiancee), or even picturing what you’re honeymoon will be like is lust. In this case, you love the whole person, and sex is the natural expression of it which is about to happen anyway. Most of the Bible book Song of Solomon is written about them imagining things before they’re married.

Why do people confuse lust and attraction?

That’s a complicated question that Keith and I often debate. I think one of the problems is that we’ve made all sexual feelings a sin, because being attracted means you might start thinking about sex, and that’s bad, and so any attraction is automatically about you wanting to sin.

But we are made to be sexual beings. God created us to want to connect with others sexually. To not feel attraction is not something to celebrate; it means that you’ve numbed something God-given inside of you, and squeezed it out (I’ll be talking to Sam Jolman tomorrow on the Bare Marriage podcast exactly about this!).

Now, I realize that there are asexuals who just don’t experience attraction, and I’ll talk about that later. But in general, to set up the expectation that we should never, ever feel attraction means that we are killing something inside of us that God created.

The issue is that we aren’t to sin; it is not that we aren’t supposed to be sexual beings. 

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What happens when we tell people they shouldn’t be attracted to their fiance? 

Honestly, I think we end up marrying someone we honestly don’t want to have sex with. We think this means we’re holier and closer to God, and so the marriage will be that much more awesome. But it doesn’t work that way. If you don’t find waiting until the wedding night difficult, then you likely shouldn’t be getting married, quite frankly. This is someone you’re going to have sex with a lot for the rest of your life. If that thought doesn’t excite you, then you’re setting yourself and your future spouse up for a lifetime of sexual disappointment.

That’s what a lot of the replies on Twitter to Jared Moore related to, and they’re quite interesting to skim through. 

But I like this one especially from @onfire7, who said:

I’m sorry, but it’s it your position that you shouldn’t be attracted to your wife until after you may her?

How exactly does one pull that miracle off?

How does she go from unattractive to attractive overnight?

@onfire 7

Twitter (or X)

That’s it exactly. What does Jared Moore think is actually going to happen? You don’t feel attracted to this person at all before the wedding, but then suddenly you do?

Quite frankly, he has no business conducting pre-marital counseling if this is what he’s teaching about attraction.

He’s going to cause untold shame among perfectly healthy couples, but he’s also encouraging couples who really shouldn’t marry to marry, as if they’re specially blessed by Jesus for being so obedient. 

What about sexual attraction to others after you’re married?

Again, the issue is not the involuntary response. The issue is what you do with it. You can see someone, find they’re attractive, and then think, “not for me” and go on with your day thinking absolutely nothing more about it. It doesn’t matter to you at all. This is perfectly possible and normal and even healthy.

Here’s how someone else explained it on X:

 

Jared, that is just stupid. You don’t find everyone unattractive when you’re married. The key is to not long for, desire for and/or lust after someone who’s not your spouse. To say you only find your spouse sexually attractive is just dishonest, stupid, and ignorant.

@roblovesjc

Twitter (or X)

Yep.

And yet this is someone that may very well be the next SBC president.

When a popular pastor is preaching this stuff, it means that denomination is so unhealthy on sexual issues.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that they have such sexual abuse scandals. When you can’t talk about sexuality in a healthy way, everything gets swept under the rug. Shame flourishes. And that’s when abuse tends to proliferate.

It just drives me nuts that there are Christian leaders with such large platforms still spouting this nonsense.

The issue is how to treat other people respectfully, and how to see them as whole people rather than objectifying them. I wish people could take a step back and realize that God is not trying to create all these “sins” that make Him mad at us arbitrarily, but rather that God wants us all to treat each other well and be kind and honoring to one another, treating each other with dignity. And when we don’t, that’s when He gets upset. It’s not that He’s upset because He’s arbitrarily decided something is wrong; it’s that He wants us to be good to one another.

So the issue with sexuality is how can we treat each other kindly, with dignity, and respecting one another?

And that means that we don’t lust. We don’t objectify. We think of each other as made in the image of God, rather than existing for our own personal enjoyment. People are not a means to an end.

But feeling things sexually is part of being human. Negotiating and navigating how to handle those feelings while still treating each other well is a huge part of Christian growth.

But denying our sexuality only hurts us.

And when those in authority in the church say stuff like this, they show they’re missing the mark entirely. They don’t understand healthy sexuality. They don’t understand the true nature of sin. They don’t even understand what it is that God wants for us.

The fact that he is so accepted by so many in the SBC is, quite frankly, sobering to me.

But the fact that so many are speaking out about it, and not tolerating it anymore, is really awesome. And that movement is growing. Health is winning. And change is coming.

What do you think? Why do people confuse sexual attraction and sin? Let’s talk in the comments!

 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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39 Comments

  1. Codec

    Doesn’t Isaach outright say he wants to marry Rebekah and have a family with her? That’s why he agreed to work for seven years.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Bourne

      You’re thinking of Jacob and Rachel, but yes.

      Reply
  2. Jo R

    So, if the fiancé isn’t supposed to think about sex or even be attracted to his fiancée before the wedding, then how in the world will he know how to tell her where she should stand, what she should wear, and what she should do? 🤔

    Will there be instructions in the hotel room? Will they be magically beamed into his brain? Will he go to the Desiring God website for his action-plan checklist? 🤔

    Reply
    • Laura

      I am literally LOLing at this!

      Reply
      • Angela

        ME TOO!!!! THANKS FOR THE LAUGH 😂😂 😂😂!!!!

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      HAHAHAHAHA!

      Reply
    • Nathan

      From other sources, I gather that the Holy spirit will tell her everything she knows the minute the marriage is finalized.

      And welcome back, Sheila!

      Reply
    • Taylor

      **snort-laugh**

      Reply
    • Rich

      That’s funny

      Reply
    • Erica Tate

      Brilliant comment!

      Reply
  3. Laura

    “Honestly, I think we end up marrying someone we honestly don’t want to have sex with. We think this means we’re holier and closer to God, and so the marriage will be that much more awesome. But it doesn’t work that way. If you don’t find waiting until the wedding night difficult, then you likely shouldn’t be getting married, quite frankly.”

    Six years ago, I almost married someone I was not physically attracted to because I thought attraction would come later. I hardly ever felt sexually tempted around him. When other areas of our relationship did not seem to work out, we both took a step back and that’s when I could admit to myself that I was not sexually attracted to him. When I confessed this to my mother, she was not surprised at all. It’s funny how mothers know these things well before we do. Well, to make a long story short, I had been single for a long time before I met my ex-fiance and because I wanted to do things the correct biblical way (do not really know what that is anymore), I bought into the belief that attraction was the same as lusting.

    After having the experience of a broken engagement and reconstructing belief systems, I am so happy to say that I had let go of those harmful beliefs that this SBC candidate wants to push. BTW: Less than one month ago, I married someone I am physically attracted to and love him in every way!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I didn’t know you were already married! Oh, Laura, I’m so happy for you!

      Reply
    • Erica Tate

      Yep. Paul said it was better to marry than to burn with passion. Notice he did NOT say it was a sin to burn to passion.

      Reply
  4. Jane Eyre

    Have you read “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski? She’s a secular author, albeit one who is completely nonjudgmental about everyone (including those who wait for marriage). A lot of what you talk about is stuff she really dives into: involuntary responses, acting on it, not acting on it, etc.

    Reply
    • Codec

      I have read her book. It’s not bad honestly.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I have read it! I really want to read her new one because I think she’s rethinking the spontaneous vs. responsive thing, and seeing responsive as really more “there are things that are holding me back”.

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        She has a new one?! (headed over to Amazon right now.)

        Reply
  5. Marina

    I think one issue in the SBC (as someone who goes to an SBC church myself) is that the average church goer is very uninvolved with the upper leadership. I myself only rarely remember the name of the current president and I have heard no mention that people were even running for the position right now. I honestly have no idea who the representative from my church has voted for in the past, or if we have ever even cast a vote. Add in little interest in theology (and thinking about the actual outworking of said theology) in the average church goer, and you end up with a denomination that is mostly asleep at the wheel as far as what their leadership does. I think this is how so many “icky” teachers end up with platforms and book sales. People rarely look beyond the surface, so long as things appear okay.
    Mind you, I know that this is no excuse for the issues that this neglect causes (as the sex and clergy abuse cases show, I think I’ve heard even the FBI is investigating now). I just don’t know if the SBC will ever be able to pull itself out of this tailspin. I imagine that most lay SBC don’t even know that there is an investigation! This is one of the reasons why I am heavily considering jumping ship out of my denomination. I know all churches have issues, but there has to be something better somewhere, right?
    I’m also very tempted to ask that teacher “So, did you not find your wife attractive when you married her? Or were you unappealing to her?” Like has been mentioned before, this teaching reads more like “Oh, you don’t think I’m actually attractive? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re just holier than me!”

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I decided several months ago I would never give a dime of offering money to a baptist church, given their ongoing mishandling of sex abuse scandals. My roommate’s response to that was basically, but the association in our county does so much good for people. So your point about church members being asleep at the wheel really resonated. It’s so easy to get focused on our everyday lives and forget that there is a bigger world out there, that is influencing a lot more people than we realize.

      Reply
  6. Megan

    Back in college (2008) I was in the situation where I had two guys attentions and interest in dating. They were both lovely guys whom I was already friends with. It felt so wrong as a Christian, that really the main deciding factor was sexual attraction. I explained to my friends that only one of them could I imagine kissing and I got some pushback about it. I struggled so much with not dating a perfectly lovely person due to lack of sexual attraction. Ultimately I have been married to the one I did choose for nearly 14 years so I think it worked out.

    Reply
  7. Amy G.

    Do they think all Christians are supposed to magically be demisexual? Purity culture already assumed teen girls were all asexual. I’m not interested, so I’m not getting married. Idk why they think women somehow go from asexual to heterosexual on their wedding night.

    Reply
  8. Jim

    I would say that this is an expression of the shame that is injected into men from a young age in and out of the church that ‘noticing’ is ‘lusting’.

    The thought then follows that if ‘you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny, consume you it will.’ (Master Yoda describing the dark side to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back)

    I think that it is also injected into women with the idea that ‘all men are (potential) predators’.

    While there are plausible reasons for both lines of thinking, there is a lack of nuance and situational awareness which create fear in both sexes.

    I find this black and white thinking divides us and makes things worse instead of solving the problem.

    Reply
  9. Jason

    This kind of teaching actually causes guys a struggle even more because it makes them think that whenever they’re attracted somebody they’re automatically lusting. They are told that they can’t have these thoughts or feeling so they try to suppress them. and that actually makes him think about even more and becomes even more entangling and then guys because of the fear and anxiety that they’re going to think something wrong and it makes it even more overwhelmed by women’s bodies. And the fact that they make women’s bodies so taboo to even be seen actually makes them even more overwhelming to because of the forbidden fruit a fact we know that even Paul even talked about how the law actually aggravates a sin nature in actually causes people to want to do those things even more when there’s a rule against some thing that’s that’s pushed
    These so-called Christian leaders are sowing the seeds for abuse and even more rampant pornography use

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very, very true. That’s the problem in a nutshell!

      Reply
  10. Jason

    When I think about Ravi Zacharias and all the abuse of women and then also Bruce Hollen of Calvary Chapel the Woodlands and others you know you would think that if they had prayer meetings and they have Christians supposlly spirit filled Christians that supposedly have the holy spirit why did it take these churches and these people so long to find out what their leader was doing ? You would think if they were really following Jesus , being guided by the Holy Spirit they would’ve found about this a lot sooner than they did you know about this sooner. You would think the Holy Spirit would tell one of the church members that the leader is doing horrible things, if they are getting together for prayer for other things. If the Holy Spirit supposedly tells them about what should be preached about, who should be the new deacon., they would find out sooner of the horrible abuse. Scott me to believe that these groups are not really doing what Jesus wants anyway.

    Reply
  11. Angharad

    I had the opposite problem when I was engaged, in that so many Christians told me that if I wasn’t finding it a constant battle NOT to have sex with my fiancé before marriage then there wasn’t sufficient sexual attraction and we shouldn’t marry! What is it with Christians and extremes?!! It actually got me quite worried, because, while I was looking forward to our honeymoon, and was sad at the delay in being together when our wedding got postponed due to Covid lockdown, I never felt like it was a struggle not to have sex before our wedding. But when we got married, it was fine!

    Reply
    • Nessie

      I wonder if theirs was a concern that sex might be withheld or at least insufficient (to satisfy lustful thoughts) due to a lack of desire?

      Reply
      • Angharad

        Yes, I think that’s the reasoning behind this thinking, but why not just say “You shouldn’t marry someone if you’re not looking forward to having sex with them” rather than “you shouldn’t marry someone unless it’s a HUGE struggle NOT to have sex with them”? I wonder if these people have very high/strong sex drives, and so they are speaking out of their own experience, but they need to realise it’s not the same for everyone.

        Reply
  12. CMT

    This is problematic on so many levels.

    This thinking subtly reinforces the gender segregation and discrimination present in many (most?) conservative churches, under the guise of “fleeing sin.” More excuses to marginalize women!

    And what about LGBTQ+ people? If this logic is held consistently, there’s no room left even for the most conservative Side B, celibate folks. Any non-heterosexual identity or experience (except maybe ace?) would just end up collapsed into the category of “sin.” This seems really cruel to me, especially to young folks growing up in a church that believes this way.

    Reply
  13. Robert Perry

    How can anyone read the Song of Solomon and think that God doesn’t intend us to be attracted to our spouses? I guess you could parse the text out and say “well, they obviously said their vows already” or some such thing, but the ordinary interpretation would be it’s engagement going into wedlock. Sometimes our trouble is we try to be “Heiliger als der Papst”, or “holier than the Pope”.

    Personally, I’ve told all the people dating my kids (including two great sons in law so far, one coming in October) that there are three requirements for dating; you’ve got to be in Christ, must be basically employable, and must be attracted to each other. I can help people figure out the first two, but I smile and say “you’re on your own for that one.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly!

      Reply
  14. EOF

    This the most ridiculous idea! Attraction is a big part of WHY people get engaged in the first place! Or at least it was back in my day.

    I spent over 20 years in a marriage based on all these stupid Christian books and teachings, and am now getting divorced. (Thank you, Bare Marriage! You started my journey toward healing.) Now that I’ve been through two decades of one-sided sex, one-sided submission, one-sided respect, etc. I never want to marry or even date again. The thought of never having sex again makes me want to throw a party!

    If all of that is the goal of these idiots who spout these narratives, then well done. Mission accomplished. Marriage sucks, sex sucks, and as a separated woman, I’ve never been happier or felt more free.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      EOF, I simply want to say I’m sorry you are going through a divorce and all that entails, but I am so glad for you that you are finding heath and healing!

      Reply
    • Jo R

      So glad for you, EOF!

      Reply
    • EOF

      Thank you! I only wish I’d known more sooner, but at least I know now. Onward to good things and full healing!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EOF, I’m so sad for how much that teaching stole from you, and how it set you and your husband up for such a dysfunctional relationship. I hope you find real peace.

      Reply
      • EOF

        Thank you, Sheila. While I’ve lost a lot, I’m grateful to still be young (at heart, at least!) and that the second half of my life has a lot of hope. Now I can serve God rather than man. That was what I dreamed about as a young 20 year old before I was married, and I can finally step into it.

        Reply
  15. K

    I think this is partly purity culture, and partly a larger issue of fear of ambiguity. Many people don’t like the seemingly grey area or ambiguity of discerning between attraction, sexual attraction, sexual activity, and even sexual activity vs. sex acts. I did myself. My realization that it was okay to feel sexual feelings toward one’s date or bf/gf/fiance was a big reason I became comfortable with the idea of passionate kissing. Very luckily, this was shortly before I began dating my now-wife, so I was able to treat her the way that I think a boyfriend, and later on, fiance, should treat his woman (respectfully, with consent and mutually agreed boundaries, but also with the physical attention and love that she needs).

    I think this statement really sums it up well: ” If I were in a sexual situation with this person, I wouldn’t be grossed out, all other things considered. I could see myself theoretically enjoying physical contact with them (even if you can’t see yourself enjoying it in real life).”

    I remember the moment my now-wife first said she was comfortable having sex with me. We were cuddling, shirts off (her bra on), and it wasn’t sexual, just sweet and intimate, and she said she would be comfortable having sex with me. We weren’t going to until marriage, but the idea sounded nice to her.

    Reply
    • K

      Should add, another moment of realization for me was after our second date, when I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the woman who is now my wife. I hugged her goodnight, and, though mentally/psychologically I wasn’t sure how I felt about her, my body certainly did, or at least a certain part of it! Physiological responses are not entirely controllable as they have an automatic component. I don’t think that should prevent a couple from avoiding all physical contact, as that isn’t healthy. I was comfortable with known that my body appreciated her, and from there I was able to mature to the point where I enjoyed the physical reactions she could induce! Which I think is not only normal, but should be encouraged! If a prospective partner can’t turn you on, that’s a major challenge that needs to be worked through.

      Reply

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