"But He (or She) Isn't a Virgin"
January 11, 2012
I recently got an email from a concerned virgin: a young man who is troubled by the sexual sins of his partner’s past. His voice is just one in the choir of hundreds of young men and women I meet and counsel who are bogged down by disappointment at the unreciprocated sexual purity they face in light of their partner’s sexual history.
It's clear that letting go of a partner's sexual past continues to trip up many Christians, both virgins and non-virgins. This truth is illustrated anew in the controversial confessions of Mark and Grace Driscoll's book Real Marriage. They discuss their relationship under the public spotlight, including some of their personal hang-ups and hardships and the effects of premarital sex on their marriage. Though neither were virgins when they married, their prior experiences made Grace "frigid and fearful" and caused Mark to wonder "how many years he could white-knuckle fidelity." One of the most controversial statements occurs when Mark details a dream he had of Grace "sexually sinning during a senior trip she took after high school when [they] had just started dating." When he told his wife about the dream, she confessed that it was true. Mark admits, "Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her."
Whatever criticisms the book may draw, the discussion serves as a reminder that our sexual pasts continue to leave deep scars and painful wounds, even within our modern generation where virginity may not always be the norm.
There are times that we as humans get so fixated on the details that we fail to take in the big picture. As Christians, one area that our narrow perspective has negatively affected has been the topic of sexual purity. Inarguably, sexual purity is a very important thing. God would not have mentioned it time and time again throughout Scriptures if that were not so. He knows the pain and devastation that “sex done wrong” can cause in both short-term and long-term relationships. Yet we as Christians must remember that though it is an important piece to the puzzle of a flourishing marriage, it is by no means the most important factor.
If you are stuck because of pain of your partner’s sexual past, or perhaps feel trapped by your own past, here are some important things to really consider before you take the next step relationally:
Our sexual past is a symptom of who we were, and is not necessarily a reflection of who we are. When I am counseling young couples, this is where I always start. Though a person’s past may add a lot to the dynamics of who they become, the most important factor to consider is who is standing before you today? I have seen countless young people pass up potentially solid relationships because of the fact that they could not get over the idea of marrying a “non-virgin.” On the opposite spectrum, I have seen entire relationships founded on the basis of mutual sexual purity, when there were so many other major dysfunctions in the relationship that were overlooked and simply dimmed in comparison to the spotlight of “purity.” Our tendency to get hung up on the details can be devastating.
Beyond the scope of sexual past, one must consider who a person is in their present. We serve a God of grace and mercy, a God who uproots us from our old selfish life and plants us into the soil of holiness and righteousness. For those who are in a true relationship with Jesus, sexual past can no longer be the defining point of their lives. They are now defined by their relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that should be overflowing from every part of their current being—growing, sanctifying, maturing and equipping them to be the person that God has called them to be. Look for that Spirit-filled relationship in every single part of your partner’s life and allow that to be the source of decision making when it comes to laying the foundations for a dating relationship. Purity is a condition of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit more than a simple category of one’s physical experiences.
Our inability to forgive our partner’s sexual past (or our own) may be a sign of a heart issue that has nothing to do with sexuality. I once heard it said that someone who cannot forgive themselves for their past is not struggling with the sin of guilt, but with the sin of pride. Pride is the voice that tells us that what has been done is too great of a sin to be covered by God’s grace. As though our sins were more powerful than the blood that He shed. Pride is also at the root of a heart who cannot forgive another for the sins committed against them.
If you find yourself stuck on your partner’s sexual past, you must ask yourself if you have really accepted and understood God’s grace in your own life. Like the story of the unforgiving servant who had an enormous debt wiped out, yet could not manage to forgive the debt of his own servant (Matthew 18). Though your past may look different than the past of your partner, God’s grace has covered you both. If you cannot learn to love your partner by covering them in grace, then purity of body has taken priority over purity of heart. If I remember correctly, Jesus always looks at the heart (John 8:1-11).
Our sexual history will always affect us, though it doesn’t always have to haunt us. I don’t want to make it sound like those who have had a sexual past will be dismissed of all consequences, because that is simply untrue. Ask any Christ-centered married couple in which one or both partners have dabbled sexually outside of marriage and they will be able to point to the consequences of that behavior. We who have purposely and deliberately awakened our sexual desires to any extent before marriage will bring an additional component to matrimony that will undoubtedly be added to the list of “things to work through.” That said, anyone who enters into marriage brings their own list of things to work through, whether it be a sexual past, family problems, past sins, spending habits, communication deficits and on and on and on ... Who of us is perfect when it comes to purity of the mind, body and soul? Though these things may have an effect on our relationship, it is up to us whether or not we allow these effects to bring us into relational blessings or relational struggles.
When it comes to purity, it would do us all good to remind ourselves to look at the big picture. There is no doubt that Jesus calls us to live a life of sexual purity. He loves relationships, and He wants us to go into them with as little baggage as possible because He knows the difficulties that come when two flawed human beings are made to become one. With that in mind, knowing our flaws and knowing the nature of our flesh, He loves us anyway, takes us back again and again and empowers us to live holy and righteous lives in the here and now. Look for that kind of purity in your pursuit of relationships: a purity that permeates every part of your partner's life, a purity that is dictated by who they are in Christ today, not just by where they have come from; a purity that has room for grace, mercy and forgiveness.