Have you ever heard the expressions, to save oneself for marriage? The idea here, I think, is you live a life of sexual integrity before you get married, so that you can have the best possible marriage when the time comes. It’s a fact that people who make wise sexual choices early in life fare better in future relationships. They have fewer heartbreaks, sexual memories, and unhealthy attachments that can make future relationships more challenging. That said, I think the idea of “saving oneself for marriage” is in desperate need of nuance, which I set out to supply in my response to the following three questions.
1.) What if I never get married or never enjoy a happy marriage?
Marriage is not a guarantee in life, and not everyone will get married. Marriage can be a healthy aspiration, but if you’re saving yourself for marriage, does that mean you change course if and when your marital prospects dwindle? Is your pursuit of sexual integrity merely transactional?
Nor is anyone who gets married promised a happy marriage; it takes two to tango! If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be, does that mean your investment in sexual integrity was a waste?
Aspire to get married, and aspire to have a happy one, but pursue sexual integrity for its own sake.
2.) What about obedience for the glory of God?
If you are a believer in God, do you do the right thing only so you can one day benefit, or do you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do? To be sure, there are primary and secondary motivations for doing the right thing.
A secondary motivation has to do with the effects of our decisions. Someone with a secondary motivation thinks, “I will tell the truth and love others because these are the habits that will make me a happier person in the long run.”
A primary motivation, on the other hand, is intrinsic to the act itself. Someone with a primary motivation thinks, “I will tell the truth and love others because it is the right thing to do, even if it may cost me something in the short run.” Immediate personal gain does not factor into primary motivation.
It’s important to have primary and secondary motivations in life. I know I’m glad God designed the universe such that there are blessings for doing the right thing and consequences for doing the wrong thing; otherwise, integrity would feel like mission impossible! However, the primary motivation of doing the right thing and pleasing God should always come first. Even if the probability is very high that you will get married one day, it is better to cultivate a primary motivation, which isn’t liable to being disappointed.
3.) What about my own self-interest in the present?
The need to save ourselves for a future institution or relationship is silly when you think about the shorter-term effects of our actions. Do we think bad choices in the sexual area will only begin to affect us after we get married? The answer, of course, is no. Our choices have both immediate and long-term consequences.
This reminds me of diet and nutrition. Sure, eating trash food makes us more likely to get sick when we’re older, but the effects of eating bad take place the same day. You sleep less deep, your mood suffers, you feel worse, etc. The effect may be small and subtle at first, but the process begins to take place right away, and the same is true of sexual integrity.
There are also long-term affects of eating trash food, including illness and increased mortality, but let’s not miss the trees for the forest. We have enough motivation right in front of us to live a life of sexual integrity, for the sake of our physical and mental health, capacity to love others, and spiritual and emotional well-being.
It’s important to have a why in life, which is a purpose greater than ourselves that motivates us to action. However, let’s not forget that while others may be affected by our choices, no one will be affected more than ourselves.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.Proverbs 9:12
I’m not saying anyone reading this should retire the phrase “saving myself for marriage.” Your language, your choice.
What I am suggesting is that motivation is best based on something solid that is likely to withstand the test of time and lead to fulfillment, not disappointment, in the long run.
What I am striving to do is make wise choices today that will benefit my life, my relationships, and everyone with whom I’m connected.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this one.