"But He (or She) Isn't a Virgin"

Sexual history isn't everything. Here's how to pursue purity together as a couple.

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.


William Jorden


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Joseph Dear


Joseph Dear commented…

I wrote some thoughts on this a little while after this article was published (I only stumbled upon the article today).

In a nutshell:
- Premarital sex is a sin, but if the other person did it before you were dating, then it was a sin against God, and it's not your sin to forgive in the first place.
- If we hold past sexual sins against someone we would otherwise want to date and potentially marry, then what about other sins? What about other past sins that we have repented of? What about our own sexual impurity. I wrote this as a virgin (still am, as I am not yet married), but it's not like I haven't lusted or sinned with my heart and mind. Who among us really is pure outside the blood of Jesus?
- Ultimately, if you really don't think you can get past the fact that the other person (who has repented of their past sins) is not a virgin, then you should break up. The other person deserves better.


(And again, I'm a virgin; I don't have a dog in the race)

David Williams


David Williams commented…

Thank you for this article. I have been looking for support and a Biblical perspective other than my own on this subject. God has blessed me with an amazing women. I have had trouble accepting her past at times but one thought always stops me from judging her. I have sinned in God's eyes, she has done the same.

It seems impossible at times to wrap my mind around what happened in her past, especially because I am a virgin, but when you see that God sees our hearts rather than the pit He pulled us out of, it becomes easier and keeps going.

We as followers of Christ are called to love like He does. That means "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead"(Philippians 3:13).

To the issue of pride being the issue of unforgiveness, that couldn't be more true. So many Christians get sucked into that hole. I'm one of them. My biggest fear is that I will end up like Saul. That God will take His hands off of my life and leave me to destroy myself. That is one of Satan's oldest tricks. Using scripture against us and out of context.

Franc Werner


Franc Werner replied to David Williams's comment

If your partner isnt a virgin he or she will always be more commited to the person he or she had first sex with and you will always be second. You either make up your mind and live with that or, Next! (if you arent maried, of course. But if you knew that from the start and it was a red light for you, why did you get married? Did she hide it from you until then? (which ladies with a past tend to do out of fear of not getting married) no offence here, but its your own fault if you knew it, but if you didnt its hers. So take the responsibility for your choice and be a man, and forgive her, because the person that forgives is above the situation, and in the end the bigger person, which is an important emotion because you always fear subconsciously that she will compare you to others and that hurts your self esteem. forgiveness is a gift which rewards the giver more than the recipient. She may wont see a difference but you will have peace of mind. Heres how it works: formulate the situation, accept the situation, rofgive the person, heal, Ive learned that from the sanctuary, confess your sins, receive forgiveness, heal, thats the way God wants us to deal with relationship issues.



Brett commented…

Excellent post Debra, thank you - stuff like this needs to be shared more...



Brett replied to Brett's comment

Actually have two stories on my blog related to the same thing - one was a repost of a Jamie the Very Worst Missionary post she said i could use: http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/taboo-topics-sex-before-marria... and the other was linked to a sex in marriage married couple wrote for me, sharing something of their pasts: http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/taboo-topics-sex-in-marriage-i... - both very helpful reads...

keep on
all the best
brett fish

Franc Werner


Franc Werner commented…

If your partner isnt a virgin he or she will always be more commited to the person he or she had first sex with and you will always be second. You either make up your mind and live with that or, Next!

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