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Waiting Until Marriage to Have Sex? Here's What to Know

If you and your future spouse plan to wait until marriage to have sex, this expert advice is a must-read.

two pairs of feet tangled on a bed
Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock

two pairs of feet tangled on a bed
Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock

Every relationship is different and there's no "right way" to be intimate with your partner. Some find that their journey to a committed relationship and marriage started from what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Then there are others decide on waiting for marriage to have sex and get engaged before ever being physically intimate with each other. 

But "waiting for marriage" to have sex can mean something different to each couple. That's because some couples have mutually decided to wait until marriage before having sexual intercourse while others have made a commitment at some point in their relationship to change up their sex life and put a pause on it until their wedding day. And for others, one partner has been sexually active in past relationships while the other has not, but has agreed to wait until marriage for their first time together. 

For those couples who decide to wait until their wedding night instead of having premarital sex, there can be a variety of reasons why they made this decision. "For some, it’s ingrained through culture, religion, or life experience," explained Megan Harrison, LMFT, founder of Couples Candy. "But for others, it’s a personal choice, and many believe that by abstaining from sex until marriage, you’ll build a stronger foundation for the relationship."

What to Know About Waiting Until Marriage to Have Sex

Although this a controversial topic with both sides tending to have passionate—and often polarizing points of view—you do not need a sexual relationship in order to determine compatibility or to build a strong partnership, explained Harrison. Instead, she says that a successful partnership is built on the foundation of shared values and vision.

"Of course, sex is a part of a relationship, but it’s not the foundation," she said. "When you take sex off the table, you can more clearly see if the two of you are truly compatible."

She also feels that waiting until marriage to have sex for the first time can also be an excellent practice of self-control. "It requires lots of conviction. Conviction is about being self-assured and doing what you feel is the right thing for yourself," she said. "Ultimately, people choose to wait until marriage in the hopes that it will strengthen the relationship as a whole, and will also make the intimacy even more meaningful when the time comes."

Some to-be-weds may have made this decision independently, based on religious reasons long before ever meeting his or her spouse-to-be while others may have come to this choice together. However, Harrison notes that it’s important to understand that waiting until marriage doesn’t mean someone is necessarily a virgin. "They may have had sex previously but regardless have made a decision to wait until marriage in subsequent relationships," she said. "Some look back on their past and see destructive elements of sex, whether it was in previous relationships or promiscuity, and want to change their behaviors to cultivate an enriching and meaningful relationship for the future."

What to Consider Before Deciding to Be Abstinent

Some celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Kevin Jonas, Sean Lowe, and Adriana Lima have been vocal about their personal decisions to remain celibate until their wedding nights. Some have based this on their religious beliefs, promises they have made to god, or a purity ring they proudly started wearing from a young age in high school. However for others, the reason was as simple as not finding who they felt was the right person until later in life and now simply want to wait and not have sex before marriage. But whatever the personal reason is, there are both perks and misconceptions about what deciding on celibacy means and whether it is worth it for each individual. 

Harrison advises that each person keep these in mind:

Not every person who tries abstaining from sex successfully makes it until marriage. 

And for those who don't make it—whether a person succumbs to peer pressure, or gives in to their own desires—there can be negative feelings surrounding the experience.

You may regret waiting until marriage. 

These people simply wish that they'd made a different decision. "After all, it’s important to remember that it’s a huge decision to remain a virgin, and this immense pressure can potentially take its toll over time," she said.

There are no guarantees that you will actually enjoy the sex with the person you have chosen to wait for. 

The eventual sex may be a little underwhelming and awkward, and might not meet your expectations. "But nonetheless, it also doesn’t need to be perfect right away, there can be a learning process to it," she added.

"Research suggests that those who wait to have sex until marriage report significantly higher relationship satisfaction, better communication patterns, less consideration of divorce, and even better quality sex," according to Harrison. "Contrary to popular opinion, individuals who delayed sex until after marriage usually discovered they were sexually compatible with their spouses – or grew to feel that way over time."

However, a major misconception is that people who are abstinent always make this decision for religious reasons and Harrison explained that it's important not to assume this. "For many, it’s a personal choice that will help to lay down the foundations for a long-lasting and meaningful marriage," she added. "Although the decision can come with unforeseen difficulties and unexpected emotions, the majority of those who wait until marriage say it was the right decision for them and have fulfilling marriages."

Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and host of the How Can I Help? podcast, reminds that forgoing premarital sex and only expanding your sexual relationship until after your wedding day isn't for everyone. "I encourage all to consider that value of sexual attraction and chemistry in a relationship," she said. "Not knowing if you are compatible in the bedroom until after you get married can be extremely problematic."

How to Talk to Your Partner About Waiting Until Marriage

If not having premarital sex is something that is important to you, whether you've come to this decision long before getting engaged, or only recently since agreeing to get married, Harrison advises bringing it up before you are in a "physical" moment.

"If you have to tell your date to stop their advances, they will experience rejection there in the moment, and this can trigger negative emotional responses," she said. 

She also reminds those who are passionate about waiting until their wedding night, not to feel pressured or the need to disclose this on the first date if it's not something you want to. Although she notes it's always better to do it face-to-face, and never over text, "you don’t need to bring it up as a topic of conversation if it feels forced or uncomfortable," she added. "Just remember that you can’t control your date’s reaction to this news."

The person you want to date or decide to spend the rest of your life with might not be on the same premarital sex page as you. And that's something you want to find out sooner rather than later to see if it's something you can work together on as a couple. "Just as you have the right to wait, they have the right to walk away if they know they can’t join you in that endeavor," she added. "Ultimately though, having very different views on sex and intimacy suggests you may simply not be compatible." 

Michael Tobin, clinical psychologist and author, also suggests being clear from the start with your intentions and how you define premarital intimacy as well as how your reasons for being abstinent will impact the the relationship. "Are they planning on total abstinence prior to marriage or everything other than intercourse? It’s a slippery slope that might be difficult to navigate," he said. "To succeed, you need a very well-thought philosophy and system of values to swim against the prevailing cultural norms and your own desires."