Premarital abstinence

An open letter to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow — about virginity and other important matters by Stephen Snyder, MD

Tim, first of all let me say I’m really sorry about your team’s loss to the Patriots. What can I say? They were the better team. I’m sure you’d agree.

But now that the season’s over, let’s talk about more important things. Let’s talk about sex.

I understand that like many religious young people, you’ve decided to remain a virgin until marriage. This is clearly no one’s business but yours.

But being a celebrity, you’re a role model for other young people. And this letter is intended for them as well as you.

There’s a belief that’s common to many religious young people today — they believe that premarital abstinence, in addition to being a religious requirement, will serve another important goal as well:

That it will make sex much more special after marriage.

I’m sure this is sometimes true. But it’s not true automatically. In my work as a sex therapist, I’ve encountered too many religious couples who’ve been bitterly disappointed when the sex they’d been earnestly saving themselves for fell far short of this ideal.

The erotic impulse is anarchic, infantile. It resists being told to have sex for a higher purpose. Or because it’s religiously sanctioned. Or to have a baby. Eros knows no such goals.

Impose social or religious goals on eros, and you risk trouble. Sometimes it’s trouble with the practical aspects of sex. And sometimes it’s sex that’s mechanically successful — but doesn’t take either of you anyplace very special.

Such negative experiences can lead to the biggest risks of all — disillusionment about sex, disappointment in yourself or your spouse, and sometimes even loss of religious faith.

There are as many causes of sexual trouble as there are couples. But if there’s a common element in disappointed religious couples I’ve seen, it’s this one thing:

It’s hurrying to have sex on one’s wedding night — because you’re now religiously authorized to do so — even though you’re not yet ready in spirit as well as in body.

Just because you’re in a state of physical arousal — that doesn’t mean you’re ready to have sex. If a couple wants to make sex good and make it special, more than physical readiness is required.

As I discussed elsewhere in “Some open secrets about sexual arousal,” one needs genuine psychological arousal as well. One needs real eros. Eros can’t be put on a schedule and told when to show up.

Education in eros comes naturally when a couple is free to dabble at leisure in love’s domain. Ordinarily such an education involves long hours of kissing, holding each other, gazing into each others’ eyes, speaking softly together. Then undressing together and repeating all of the above while plugged into the electricity of full nakedness.

Then, and only then — when two people are entirely lost in wonder — when eros has made a couple so dumb and happy that it’s almost an afterthought really – perhaps finally having intercourse.

Some religious couples — the lucky ones — despite being virgins, know all about eros already. So it’s not such a huge step for them to finally have sex in the Biblical sense.

But many have had no erotic education at all. For these couples, erotically speaking, it can be a big mistake to perform the sacrament in a hurry — just to get it over with.

Tim, I hope that when your time comes you’ll give yourself and your new bride some time to enjoy each other fully. Let eros enjoy you. Enjoy being plugged into the power of G-d’s own electricity, for its own sake. Then sex will be a reward, rather than a goal.

To you and to all the religious young people who look up to you — I applaud your willingness to be true to your own beliefs. I hope you’ll save this letter and remember it for your wedding night, whenever that may be.

When that time comes, I know you and your spouse will have saved yourselves for marriage.

I hope that you’ll save yourselves for eros as well.

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