Although I’d like to think that I got married for all of the “right” reasons, the bottom line is that I married for sex.
I mean, I did marry me a good man: an RM with smarts and ambition.
But if I had made my marriage decision based on practicalities–financial and otherwise–the wedding would have been held years later. But it wasn’t. Because I wanted very much to sleep with this man that I loved and I knew IT (meaning sex) would happen soon rather than later.
So we bumped up that wedding date and found ourselves temple married within four months of engagement. And, of course, we entered our 2-week honeymoon with great expectations, anticipating the pleasures of sexual freedom that we’d been pining for during those four very long months that we were engaged.
So we had the wedding night. And the honeymoon. And those first few weeks of crazy newlywed freedom after so many months and years of waiting. But we were simultaneously saddled with the enormous responsibilitites and pressures of making our way in an expensive and competitive world with incomplete college degrees, little money, and within a few months there was a baby on the way.
I know this pattern isn’t atypical in LDS marriages. We tend to marry young and fast to avoid any ‘mistakes.’ But at what price? Many friends have discovered huge sexual incompatibilities after their marriage. Others’ decisions were so eclipsed by their surging hormones that they don’t choose their spouse wisely.
When I was all set to marry young and fast, my parents did all they could to talk me out of it even as they showed their support for my righteous choice. They had married later in life when they were more established and encouraged me to do the same. But I was faced with a difficult choice: to marry young and stay chaste, or delay the wedding and risk the chance of not having a temple marriage. I chose the young marriage path. And while it’s worked out, the years of poverty and the emotional struggles of taking on such responsibilities so young…well, it’s not really a path I would recommend.
Now that I’m a parent of teens, I’m thinking a lot about how I’ll offer my kids advice about marriage and sexuality. And as heretical as it sounds, I think I’d rather have them experience sex before marriage than have an improvident wedding because of their surging hormones. Yes, I know the consequences of irresponsible sexual activity are legion, but so are those of marrying too young.
On the recommendation of a friend, I’ve been reading a book called Sex for Christians, which offers practical advice on sexuality for both married and non-married stages of life. Much of the material in this book goes right along with Mormon beliefs about the sacredness of sexuality, but there are a few significant deviations, one of which is a chapter titled “Responsible Petting.” The author, Lewis Smedes, acknowledges that it is good for followers of Christ to save sex for marriage, but at the same time acknowledges that it can be healthy for young people to explore their sexuality in safe relationships prior to the time that they are ready for marriage. So by his definition, “responsible petting” (RP) is sexual behavior that doesn’t lead to sex, whereas “foreplay” is–even though both RP and foreplay may involve the same activities, he suggests a distinction between them could be helpful because RP “can be a delicately tuned means of mutual discovery. It need not be a cheap way of having thrills without the derring-do to finish it….it can be an end in itself.” (151).
“Realistic awareness of what happens to young people in the actual process of petting is what prompts moralists to judge petting as part of a package with coitus. This is why they apply the morality of law to petting. But, of course, this will not really do: the dynamics of sexual relations are too complex to put them all into the category of natural passages to the bedroom. Moreover, it is psychologically important to insist that sexual relationships are not all stages en route to penetration. The importance comes to this: the more we believe that all sexual relationships have only the bed as their terminus the more people involved in sexual relationships will act on this premise. Their action will take one of several forms. Out of fear, they may needlessly cheat themselves of the creative experience in personal growth that can come from innocent sexual relationships; or they may indulge in innocent sexual relationships with a burden of false guilt; or they may get into the habit of experiencing every bit of sexually interesting communication as an inner push to sexual promiscuity, and then act accordingly.” (153)
So my question to you is this: Do you agree, at all, with Smedes that responsible petting can be a good option for young people who are attempting to wait for marriage but continue to value chastity? Do you think that stressing a distinction between RP and foreplay might help young people to act on their sexual feelings without going all the way? And do you agree with his assertion that believing all sexual relationships ultimately lead to the bedroom creates a mindset that pushes our young people into premature marriages simply because they desire sex?