Waiting for sex

Dear Nancy:

I've been dating my boyfriend for almost a year. We are both 23 and very fond of each other. We plan to be married when we finish our college studies. To be very honest with you, we've had sex several times. I never thought I'd go this far before I married him. But we are so much in love. I don't want to do this, but I feel trapped. Please help me!

Dear Nancy:

I've read your previous articles in Dialogue and really appreciate them. You've explained the stopping points in the pair bonding process, but how can a couple who is really in love keep from going too far too soon? That's what I need to know.

Is it possible in today's sex-saturated society for young adults who possess real sex drive and who are very much in love to put the brakes on physical affection? Most young adults have never set limits on their conduct, especially not their sexual conduct. Phrases like "I never really thought about it" are commonly used. Such "go-with-the-flow" attitudes create opportunities for sexual situations to develop.

One of the smartest things you can do to achieve abstinence is to think through your standards and develop a criteria for physical intimacy based on your personal values and God's Word. Take time for a thoughtful self-inventory and decide what limits you will put on your behavior to obtain the goals you have for your future. Decide at what point in the steps to pair bonding (see my previous article on the steps to pair bonding in Dialogue Vol. 13, No. 2 ) you will stop. Recall the number of the pair-bonding step which is your stopping point before marriage. This should be a number/step you would be proud to discuss with your parents or a trusted friend or pastor.

Young women must recognize that when they allow intimate kissing and hugging, when they allow a man to touch and fondle their breasts, he assumes that she wants to go further. When she has allowed him to go this far, he takes this as a signal that he can go even farther. This is why it is safest and wisest to stop at step 6 or 7. But even a couple in a formal engagement should never proceed past step 9. The stopping lines beyond step 7 get very slippery and blurred and move frightfully fast since all sexual motors are turned on. Staying on the safe side of step 7 can save countless couples many a heartache.

Babe Ruth, the American baseball legend, once played before a hostile stadium. Amid the boos and hissing, he pointed his bat to the exact spot in the grandstand where he intended to hit the next ball. Then he hit the ball to precisely where he had pointed for a home run. When you are setting up rules for your conduct, think of Babe Ruth. Carefully think through and set your standards, planning how to maintain them. Develop a specific plan to follow so that you can continue in a healthy, growing love relationship without compromising your principles.

Everyone else might tell you can't do it, but your standards can never be too high. The more clearly your standards are defined, the more likely you are to achieve them. Just keep thinking about where the bat is pointed.

Some may question whether total abstinence till marriage is realistic or even possible in today's sex-driven society. Is it possible for single adults, those who are very much in love, to practice abstinence? I not only think it's possible, but in the days of rampant sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and AIDS, it is imperative. Here are some steps to follow:

1. Be clear about your values.

Tell dating partners about your standards. This doesn't mean that you introduce yourself by saying, "Hello, I'm Kristin, and I don't sleep with anyone." You can be both forthright and tactful in letting the other person know your limits. Those who are candid with a partner usually receive a positive response.

An easy way of bringing up the subject might be to talk about the standards you have just set for yourself. "It's only fair to tell you about the values I have chosen for my life. I want to develop dating relationships that do not include sex until marriage. I hope you will respect these values and join me in keeping them."

To be so up front about your no-sex policy with someone who may not even have approached you sexually, may be a bit stressful early in a relationship. But once out in the open, you will notice it eliminates stress and uncertainty. Once it's out there, you can both relax and get to know each other as friends.

Open communication between dating partners regarding their sexual ideals and values is an excellent way of preventing arousing situations. It isn't fair to invite someone to the airport without saying whether it's for a plane ride or a parachute jump.

2. Have a clear plan in case of emergencies.

Develop an action plan, should you ever be faced with a "close encounter." You've developed your standards and are trying to live by them, but at some point, you will likely be with someone who will try to force you beyond those limits. How will you react? What will you do? Or say? Some advance planning now could save you heartache later on.

Let's look at this in three stages:

If it is only a light threat to your standards, you can say "No" and mean it. Begin telling a long, involved dramatic story. Talk about Christ. Get up, change the activity and say: "I'm starved. Let's go get something to eat." Tell a joke: "Do you know why the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years? Because even then men wouldn't stop and ask for directions." When there is no serious threat to your standards, any one of these ideas may take care of the situation.

A medium threat to your standards is a little more serious. A simple "No" hasn't worked. You may need to use a firmer "No" through an I-statement: "I feel very threatened when you pressure me in this manner because you show no respect for my wishes." Or, "What part of No is it that you do not understand?" You may need to leave so you are around other people. Young women need to carry a cellular phone, and money for a phone call or possibly even a taxi.

If you feel seriously threatened or scared, trust your instincts. Escape any way you can. Use whatever resources necessary to get away. Scream. Fight. Slap and run. But don't wait for a real threat to occur; develop a plan of action before it happens. Think of it as a practice fire drill. The time to find the exit is before the flames are singeing your feet.

3. Be accountable to someone.

Choosing an accountability partner is a powerful deterrent to sex play. An accountability partner is someone to whom you will be responsible for your conduct. A trusted friend, pastor, counselor, or teacher is a good choice.

One young woman went monthly to visit her boyfriend, who was a student at a college located some 500 miles away. Since he lived in an apartment off campus, and they planned to be married, they slept in the same bed but tried to refrain from having sex. Their tries were as successful as are ropes of sand until this couple chose an accountability partner, and she found another place to stay when she came for her visits.

A couple who really want to maintain the standards they have set will report weekly in person to their accountability partner. While looking this person in the eyes, the couple must give a full account of their time, activities, and conduct. Powerful! I recommend it!

4. Plan carefully.

Plan your dates carefully in advance. Before going out, know where you are going, who will be present, what activities are available, how you will get there, and what time you will return home. If a date can't provide this information or hesitates when asked--beware!

Dating should include a variety of interesting activities. Time spent participating in activities should far outweigh time spent in spectator dates where you are being entertained. Plan a variety of fun activities where you will get to know your date's likes and dislikes, total personality, values, goals, and beliefs.

In the early stages of a relationship, group dates are best. Although two of you are together, there is less stress. This allows you to observe how your date interacts with others and his or her sense of humor. In a group you can size up your date faster than you ever could on 10 formal dates alone. Among friends, your date will relax and be himself or herself. It cuts out "masking." Group dating leaves room for friendship to grow, and makes it easier to maintain moral standards and prevent many dangerous "close encounters."

5. Choose your dates with care.

Your relationships should be with those who are about your age, who have similar interests, ideals, and values. Your best partners are likely to come from the circle of friends you have already established, those you know something about. Avoid a blind date with someone you do not know or have never met unless it is arranged by a trusted friend.

And never date married persons, those whose divorce is pending (they are still married), anyone who is drinking or drunk, drug users, and anyone not in a position to date you openly. Don't be so desperate that you would date twice someone who doesn't measure up to your standards.

6. Avoid stimulating situations.

Avoid situations designed to stimulate sexual pleasure. I am constantly amazed by the daring and calculated risks to their moral standards young adults take without counting the end results. Examples include couples spending hours at the beach cuddling on a blanket while necking and fondling; couples sleeping together without having sex; those who lie down together just wanting to "hold" each other; and those who fondle each other to orgasm without going further. These are all great risks! No one can continue to take such risks and beat the odds.

Single adults who live on their own must lay down strict guidelines regarding their deportment when entertaining opposite-sex partners. Periods of cuddling and cooing in front of a cozy fire can lead to sexual intimacy as can candlelight dinners for two with romantic music and nothing else to do. Entertaining the opposite sex should always include another person or a group of people--just to be on the safe side. Avoid settings that are sexually tempting, but also movies, TV, and videos that would encourage sinful desires and fantasies.

Some think they can travel together and share a motel room or go camping and share a tent. Such game playing is foolish. No one can play with sexual fire for long without getting burned. God would have us flee the "appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV). We are not to flirt with temptation.

Once your limits are defined, stick to your guns. Regardless of how magic the moment, the mood, and the music, remind yourself of your chosen standards. Permit renegotiation only in broad daylight, when passion has cooled, your accountability partner is present, and you have both the time and rationale to rethink your position.

Not only will this help you translate temptation into rational behavior, but it also allows you to keep intact a very precious commodity--your self-esteem. Having positive feelings about yourself is the most important factor in avoiding sexual involvement prior to marriage. If you live up to your values, others will think highly of you, and inner conflicts will not tear you up inside. You will respond to others' opinions of you with personal integrity and self-confidence. Your appearance, abilities, or social acceptance will not unduly worry you, leaving you freer to love, study, work, and play.

A. C. Green, one of America's great all-star basketball players, says that as a professional athlete, he is constantly confronted by women who want to meet him and spend time with him. From the time he arrives in a city until he leaves, young women pursue him. Professional athletes often have a larger-than-life image, and women-in-pursuit are everywhere, he says--in the airports, hotel lobbies, restaurants, and sports arenas--all trying to catch his eye.

A. C. isn't blind. He recognizes the kind when he sees one. Furthermore he hears the locker-room talk about the sexual conquests of other players. Yet he has chosen to remain sexually pure until marriage, to follow God's standards rather than secular mores. This has been verbalized to his teammates. He has told them about his stand on sex before marriage and that he believes God has reserved sex for marriage. His teammates don't all agree with his stand, but they respect him for taking it and standing up for it. A. C. is proud to be a virgin. "I have to respect myself before I can respect others," he says. Right on, A. C.!

If you are going to practice abstinence from this day forward, you must first improve your feelings of worth. When you truly see yourself as a valued child of God for whom Christ died, you will feel more capable of making hard choices that will benefit your future instead of weakening it.

An important part of your commitment to abstinence is relying on divine power. Ask your heavenly Father for His help to remain pure. If you and your date discuss and pray about your commitment to abstinence, it will produce a bond of conscience between you that can serve as a barrier against temptation. Discuss your relationship in terms of "We three--God, you, and I."

Not having sex outside of marriage is abstinence. And it's 100 percent guaranteed to work. You won't get hurt, get a sexually transmitted disease (STD), get pregnant, or suffer a host of other ills. You can choose abstinence any time, even when you've previously been sexually active.

Abstinence. It works! And it pays great dividends!

Nancy L. Van Pelt is a family-life professional and seminar presenter who has authored more than 20 books and many articles on relationships. For more on this topic, see her book Smart Love--A field guide for single adults (Fleming H. Revell, 1997). E-mail: nancy@heartnhome.com