We talked here about when to share big things from your past when dating.
But there’s one thing that tends to be the biggest thing in those situations. The one topic every seriously dating couple needs to discuss eventually, and the one they’re most reluctant to talk about.
It’s the sex talk. As in, talking about your sexual history.
God designed sex for marriage, for a number of very good reasons. Of course, sadly statistics show that a sizable majority of people have had sex with at least one partner before marriage. (I’m not being judgmental; I’m in that category.) Odds are, in almost every couple walking down the aisle, at least one (and likely both) of them will have some kind of sexual past.
So how do you talk about that with your future spouse? What do you talk about?
Things to Keep in Mind
First, check out our post from two weeks ago, which talks about when you should have this discussion. It includes some biblical principles that you should keep in mind, including:
Everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23). You won’t be marrying a perfect person, and neither will your spouse.
If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). You, and your future spouse, don’t have to be defined by your past.
In marriage, the two of you become one (Mark 10:7-9). That means your spouse’s past becomes your past, too. And you can both be affected by it.
Now, to look at some of the different situations you might be in:
What if I’m a virgin and my boyfriend/girlfriend is not?
Good for you! It’s a gift to both yourself and your future spouse that you don’t have any baggage from that.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that you’re perfect and the other person is flawed. You’re not without sin; your sin just looks different.
And that means, contrary to what some people seem to think, God doesn’t owe you a virgin spouse. God doesn’t owe you anything. It’s kind of like driving under the speed limit; you are not owed something for just doing what you’re supposed to do. You’re still much better off, simply because you don’t get a speeding ticket.
If your significant other has repented from their past sexual sin and turned from their past ways, you should forgive them, just as God already has (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Again, that doesn’t mean you have to marry them, but you should forgive.
Finally, realize that there still may be earthly consequences for their past sin. Memories. Hurt feelings. STDs. Children, or the pain from aborted children (which can affect both women and men). Just be aware and find out what those consequences might be, so you go into marriage knowing what you are committing to.
What if my boyfriend/girlfriend is a virgin and I’m not?
For starters, you need to be honest. You do need to let them know at some point. Be willing to answer whatever questions they have (though see below about how many details to share).
Have you truly turned away from that past? If so, what are you doing now to ensure you don’t fall back into past patterns? Talk is cheap; prove that you’re serious.
Also, have you been tested for STDs? Statistics say that a fair percentage of people have STDs, and many don’t realize it. Some are treatable; some aren’t. Part of loving your future spouse well is letting them know what they are signing up for. I realize that this might be something very difficult to share with someone. I’ve talked to many people with STDs, and they are often terrified of the thought of telling someone. When the time is right, however, you will need to.
What about past pornography/masturbation?
It fits in this topic. Jesus equates lust with adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), so thoughts do count as another type of sexual sin that you’ll need to talk about together in a similar way.
What about past abuse or rape?
Rape and abuse are sad parts of living in our fallen world. Though difficult to share (and difficult to hear), you do need to talk about it before marriage if that’s part of your story. Pray for confidence to share honestly and wholly forgive any perpetrator. In Dallas, you can find help at Shelter (for women) or MenD (for men).
Listen with grace. Remember that the person who is sharing is a victim. They are innocent in the matter; the sin was committed against them, not by them. You should not hold that against them in any way.
What should I tell them? Or, what questions should I ask?
When talking about any kind of sexual past, I’d caution against getting into too much detail. You need to be honest, so don’t deny them information if they ask and they really want to know. But be very careful what you ask for. You can’t un-hear something. Before asking, think: is this going to help our future marriage? Or will it just make me more resentful or insecure? (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
While I was the much more promiscuous one before marriage, Monica didn’t want to hear any details about it and after 10 years of marriage, she’s never brought it up. I, however, did want to know the details from her, and today I’m not sure how it helped.
So, this is just my opinion, but I’d stick to the basics when asking about their sexual past. Some things that might be helpful to know:
The extent of it, such as how many partners, and whether it was ongoing or just happened one time (or a few times).
What were the circumstances, or why did you make that choice? For example, was it a long-term relationship? A series of hookups? Because you got drunk? Such info can help you understand who they were in the past, and possibly know how to help guard against returning to old habits.
What’s changed now? How can I know you’ve changed?
You’re free to ask for more details beyond that, but you do so at your own risk.
I’d love to hear if any married couples disagree: do you wish you’d talked more about your sexual past before marriage, or less?
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)