Monday, June 29, 2009
Rob and Celia are in the middle
of a conversation about sex, with Rob wanting clarification from Celia on her
reasons for wanting to wait until marriage.
noted that the more she opened up about her reasons for waiting to have sex,
the more Rob, who was driving them back to Columbus from her mother’s house,
what is your religious belief about sex, then?” he asked.
knew she was supposed to believe that sex before marriage was wrong, but she
was no longer sure about that.
Perhaps sex with multiple partners is wrong, or maybe sex with someone
you don’t care about is wrong, and certainly sex that is irresponsible about
birth control and STDs is wrong.
But sex with the man you are marrying shortly? It was hard to work that one out morally.
sighed. She wanted to answer Rob
honestly but she feared he would use any hesitancy she conveyed to logic her
into agreeing with him.
never understood what changes the day the girl walks down the aisle in a white
dress, that now sex is OK,” Rob continued.
know. Neither did I,” Celia said,
and laughed. She and Rob had
different religious upbringings.
Rob’s family belonged to a church, but more often than not his parents
played golf on Sundays in good weather and read the paper and drank coffee in
bad. Unlike Celia, Rob had never
attended bible school and youth groups and retreats, so while he was respectful
of her beliefs he did not profess a personal faith as Celia did. Because Celia worked as the choir
director at a church, church was her “job” and therefore the fact that Rob did
not attend with her had never been an issue.
church attendance and professed faith beliefs had not prevented her parents’
divorce. Further, Sundays on the
golf course seemed to be foundational to Rob’s parents’ togetherness. They just enjoyed being with one
another, all the time. That was
something Celia aspired to, after a childhood during which her parents’
relationship seemed to come in only two flavors: Moody or Angry.
what do you think?” Rob said.
am thinking that we should have been talking about faith issues long before
now,” Celia said. She wondered why
it did not bother her that she and Rob didn’t have a similar commitment to
Rob sighed. She could tell he thought
she was trying to divert him from the sex conversation.
not trying to change the subject,” Celia said. “This is important, too.”
does Celia take the conversation from here?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Waiting to Exhale (Harold’s response)
If you follow these posts regularly, you probably notice something of a difference in the way Joanne and I think about relationship matters. This difference is actually an important reason for our collaboration. Joanne and I hope that our differences in gender, ethnicity, and perspective provide meaningful insight to couples who sometimes (or always) differ as they grapple with important relationship issues.
Joanne is an excellent marriage and family therapist (MFT). What makes her so is her ability to stay relatively unbiased and allow the couple to guide the course--while still being a validating presence, a source of positive encouragement, and sometimes an interpreter.
Though trained as an MFT, I am not one. I am a marriage educator. I approach this role with a measure of idealism. While I tend to see myself as a pragmatist, I often find myself being critical of the temporal nature of cultural preferences. As a Christian, I use my interpretation of scripture to guide this cultural critique.
So what does this all have to do with Rob and Celia and the current issues surrounding their decision-making about premarital sex? I tend to agree with Joanne about the need for conversation about needs and desires. However, I suspect this is a very difficult conversation for most couples to have. And, because it is difficult, it is highly unlikely to happen. What is more common is couples simply reacting to the moment. They simply progress (slowly or quickly) from less intimate (e.g., the good night kiss to which Rob referred) to more intimate (e.g., the sexual intercourse that Rob desires) driven more by libido or some desire to placate the spoken or unspoken expectations of a partner rather than a thoughtful exchange of needs and desires.
Rob thinks that the lack of sexual intercourse is going to "kill" him. Well, I doubt it. I don't think I've ever heard of that happening. While I certainly think that Celia should be sensitive to his feelings on the matter, I think they both should use this next three months to invest in the spiritual direction of their relationship--which really has gotten little attention. As they do so, I believe that the sexual desire of each of them will be enhanced. And, I personally feel like the sensuality and eroticism fueled by this anticipation for the next three months will be something that they will talk about and cherish for the rest of their lives. Will the next three months be tough without sex? Yes! But, it will be a memory that lasts forever simply because of that.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Waiting to Exhale (Joanne’s response)
Premarital couples I've worked with have run the gamut about sex. There have been those who resist even reading a book on sex for fear they'll be tempted to "do it" too soon. Conversely, there have been those who have been having intercourse since their first date. These approaches, amazingly, tend to have something in common -- on both ends of the spectrum, the couple seems to have defaulted into uncritical acceptance of a cultural expectation. For those whose religious beliefs prohibit sexual expression outside of marriage, realistic discussion of real human needs and wants can fall by the wayside of legalism. Similarly, for those for whom sex has been little more than another form of entertainment, what would be the point of discussing how to incorporate a healthy sex life into a growing relationship?
The most mature couples I have worked with struggle in the wide gray area between complete chastity and fullblown licentiousness. Expecting sexual expression to be an important part of their shared life, they are capable of frank conversation, before marriage, about their sexual needs, wants, hopes and expectations. Further, if they are choosing to wait or are having sex now, they know why -- they can talk about what their choice means.
I am less concerned about what Rob and Celia decide than that they understand why, as a couple, they make the decision they do.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Waiting to Exhale
Rob asked Celia if she would be
willing to have sex now, three months before the wedding, when they had
previously decided to wait. They
still had another hour on the drive home to Columbus so there was no better
time than the present to talk this out.
wasn’t the conversation Rob wanted to have right now. He knew Celia’s reticence wasn’t because she hadn’t started
birth control pills yet.
sighed. “I’m not sure you want to
have sex with me at all, Celia.
Even when we are married.” He didn’t want to sound mad at her, but
he could hear the edge in his voice.
who had just awakened from a nap, let go of Rob’s hand and straightened up,
checked her face in the visor mirror, and picked up the paper coffee cup from
the cup holder to see if it had anything left. Apparently it did not, since Celia put it back in the holder
without drinking anything. She
sighed too and turned back to Rob.
do you think that?” she asked.
it doesn’t seem to cost you anything to wait. I’m dying over here and it all seems the same to you either
took his eyes from the road long enough to see that Celia looked
surprised. When he turned back,
she said, “I didn’t know it was that difficult for you.”
it is. I mean, it’s getting more
difficult all the time.” He
paused. “We don’t have to do the whole
thing. Just something besides a good night kiss.”
was quiet again, and Rob was beginning to fear he was going to have to carry
out both sides of this conversation for them when Celia spoke again.
think at first I wanted to wait because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Which, I believe, is a good enough
reason to wait,” she started. Rob
nodded; it had been a tough autumn for him when Celia had refused to get
engaged. “Then, once we did
get engaged in February, I was no longer sure I wanted to wait. I do want to have sex with you, Rob,
although it may not be as hard for me to wait as for you. I get that.”
Rob felt he was getting the conversation he wanted.
parents were pregnant with Catherine when they got married. It’s the reason they got married at
all. Mom told me this weekend that
she doesn’t think they would have if not for that. Catherine was a mistake, and they did the right thing by
getting married, but it didn’t work out.”
Celia paused, thinking. “I
don’t want to walk any part of that path.
I want our marriage to work.”
was new information for Rob, and intriguing. “Thanks for telling me that,” he said, genuinely
appreciative but also aware that there was no black-and-white religious
argument in there at all.
does Rob say next to Celia?
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sex—Now or Later? (Joanne’s response)
I am concerned about an entirely different angle on this situation than Harold is. Whatever reasons Celia has on the rational level for her choice to wait, I don't see conviction about her beliefs as critical. I don't get the impression that sex-or-no-sex is that big a deal to her. I am more worried that Celia doesn't have any desire for sex at all, at least not yet. If this is true, are they wondering about it? Lack of sexual desire may be helpful to Celia as she sticks to her guns about waiting, but the wedding night may be a huge disappointment to both of them if there is something here to address. Further, Celia may have no idea just how difficult it is for Rob to wait, which makes it difficult for her to validate his struggle now. Ii am less interested in the sex-or-no-sex decision than I am in how she and Rob continue to take both of their positions into account as they discuss it.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Sex—Now or Later? (Harold’s response)
In a previous post I've admitted my own conservative bias when it comes to premarital sex. Based on Celia's response in this week's episode, I feel that she shares my conservatism. I don't have a sense that she is being prudish or playing "hard to get" with Rob. I think she has a conviction that premarital sex isn't something that she desires for their relationship. And, it probably would never have come up without Rob's prompting.
Rob admits his own hopes that Celia's desires have changed. But, we all can sense that they really haven't. Now the question is whether Celia feels that she "needs" to do this for Rob. As I've suggested in previous posts, should we as Christians allow our biological urges to dictate our behavior. I certainly hope not. I think there is plenty of evidence in Scripture to suggest that we need to have control over our bodies rather than allowing our bodies to have control over us.
Realistically, will it be the end of the world if Rob and Celia mutually agree to a sexual interlude. I don't think so. I doubt that it will have any direct negative impact on the relationship. However, I also doubt that it will add anything to their intimacy.
I suspect that the impact will be most evident in Celia's own dashed hopes for a consummation of their love on their honeymoon night. Have any of us looked back and wished that we had waited? In retrospect, how many of people would say their subsequent marriage was improved because they had sex before marriage.
In the question of "sex--now or later?", I'm hoping that this couple jointly decides that "later" is better. I think that this sense of anticipation only enhances the upcoming wedding and their subsequent life together. For me, that is a reward worth waiting for. What do you think?
Monday, June 15, 2009
Sex—Now or Later?
It had been a watershed weekend
for Celia. She confronted Mom about wanting Dad to attend the wedding; she
learned that her parents, who are divorced from one another, had been
communicating via email about Celia’s upcoming wedding to Rob; and she and Mom had
a significant heart-to-heart about Mom’s perspective on her own marriage and
was still groggy from a heavy nap in the passenger seat as Rob drove them back
to Columbus. Holding his hand, she
rewound his last comment in her mind, to be certain she had heard him
home with you?” she said tentatively.
nodded, slowly and with a meaning she understood. Three months’ out from the wedding, Rob was asking her if
she was willing to have sex with him now, rather than waiting, as they had
much had changed since they had first made the decision to wait, for reasons
that now seemed long ago and far away. Celia worked at a church as a choir director, and she
had been concerned about the message she would be sending parishioners and
colleagues if she and Rob eschewed the traditional approach to premarital sex
(not that they have to know, Rob had said at the time). Celia wasn’t sure she agreed with her
church’s position, but she chose to trust and honor it, believing that perhaps
someone else knew what was best when she didn’t. Besides, she definitely wasn’t ready to put herself at risk
for pregnancy (she knew sexually-transmitted diseases were not an issue, since
Rob had been checked), and she had not yet been interested in tackling birth
control. It just seemed so much
simpler to wait, and in her bleary-eyed state now, even more so. She was confused.
are you changing your mind on this now?” she asked quietly.
thought as he continued to keep his eyes on the road. Celia was glad he was driving, because she wasn’t sure she
wanted him to be looking directly at her right now.
not really changing my mind, Celia.
I never wanted to wait for me – I was doing it for you.”
he is going to guilt me, she thought.
“So why are you changing your mind about doing this for me?”
not changing my mind about doing this for you, Celia. I guess I’m hoping maybe you’ve changed your mind. I mean, we’re getting closer and our
relationship is growing stronger every day, and I just feel so drawn to you…”
He turned and looked at her again, and Celia saw that he was looking at her
with genuine love, not with the pressure of guilt.
not on the pill yet, Rob,” Celia heard herself saying. “I’m going to start next month.” This was true but it was a red herring
in the conversation. Birth control
was hardly the reason she was hesitating.
Rob responded predictably that they could pick up condoms on the way,
even on Sunday in Ohio, he added jokingly.
found herself respecting that Rob was staying in this conversation and owning
what he wanted, even as she felt herself avoiding.
is Celia’s primary reason for not wanting to have sex now?
Friday, June 12, 2009
The Waiting Game (Harold’s response)
Western society is bombarded with sex. Media outlets promote everything with sex because "sex sells." In fact, sexuality and sensuality are so prominently promoted that it has become more of a commodity than an expression of unity (physical and emotional) that God designed it to be. So what happens when sex becomes commoditized?
I will avoid pontificating for too long on my own moral stance about premarital sex--which is quite conservative. I will, however, point out the trail of tears often left after a young girl or lady loses her virginity to a guy who gave her empty promises. Or, maybe the problem is the marriage proposal that is hinted at but never actually comes because the one party feels no justification for getting "bogged down" when all of the sexual benefits are available for "free."
Let's face it, sex is a motivator. The mantra is generally (though not always) true. Women see sex as the means to intimacy. Men see intimacy as the means to sex. For many men, if they can get sex without intimacy they will. And, they certainly aren't going to be pressed for marriage if sex is readily available without it.
Joanne talked about some of the trends in society. I see the pragmatic view in her thinking. As an African-American, however, who is sick of this absurd teenage and out of wedlock pregnancy rate in the urban contexts, I'm not comfortable talking pragmatically. I want something to change from more than half of births in some African-American communities being to unwed teenage mothers-setting off a cycle of social malaise. And, where are the fathers?
I know. I know. This is supposed to be about Rob and Celia. Well, it is in my mind. As a society, we need Christians to take a different stand on premarital sex than those who are not people of faith. We need to model to society another way. Rob and Celia have come so close to having a tremendous testimony for other young couples, if they can wait. For example, I am still amazed when people hear my own testimony. When I tell people that my wife and I were virgins when we got married in our early twenties, I get several responses. Sometimes, people just stare in disbelief. Others say that is amazing and congratulate me. I understand that some people make different decisions. But, I hope that Rob and Celia can have this testimony too because ultimately it is a testimony about the power of God to give us faith that we can have our spiritual pleasure in Him until the point where we can also have sexual pleasure in another.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Waiting Game (Joanne’s response)
Few couples wait for marriage to have sex these days (in fact, the United States is rare among Western democracies in that a majority of couples get married at all). Historically, marriage afforded a sexually active couple certain protections, especially around childbearing: if sex led to pregnancy, then the child and mother were protected (legally, anyway) from abandonment by the father and the father was guaranteed parental rights. While this remains true to a degree, times change. Birth control and equal rights for women in education and the workplace have given women more control over the consequences of pregnancy, intended or unintended, within or without marriage, and laws give fathers broad rights outside of marriage. Though a pregnant woman or nursing mother and infant are still vulnerable, they are much less vulnerable than in other times and places. The institution of marriage is no longer the only protector of women, children, and fathers, and procreation is nowadays considered only one aspect of sexuality.
I tend to be practical about sex. Three months out, have Rob and Celia discussed birth control? Are they prepared for the consequences, physically and emotionally? The chapter does not mention their reasons for choosing to wait, but I wonder, have those reasons changed? If they are in agreement that they have, then perhaps it's time to change their minds. If the reasons for waiting remain, then why now?
Monday, June 08, 2009
The Waiting Game
Celia and Rob paid a weekend visit to Celia’s mom in order to break the news that Celia had invited her father, from whom her mother was divorced, to the wedding. Celia’s anxiety about this conversation was off the charts and Rob’s support had been critical to her follow through. In fact, their relationship had grown through the stress. Imagine their shock when they discovered Mom had been emailing with Dad about the wedding for weeks.
On the drive back to Canton, while Celia slept in the passenger seat, Rob reflected that the weekend had turned out better than expected and he was therefore not exhausted to face the week. Celia and her mom had spent time together on Saturday, taking a long walk together and having what Celia had reported as good conversation about things they had never discussed: her parents’ marriage and divorce. Celia returned from this walk looking at once lighter, as if a long-carried burden had been lifted; and more settled, as if frazzled threads of her life had been woven into its fabric. She looked like a woman, and he knew more than ever he wanted to marry her.
Saturday evening, Celia, Rob, her sister Catherine and her mother grilled steaks and made ice cream sundaes. When their cookout was rained out, they took cover indoors and watched old episodes of Saturday Night Live from the seventies that the three “youngsters” had never seen. Rob had never seen Celia or her family laugh so much, and he had a grand time being a part of it.
On Sunday morning, while Rob took a long jog and spent a couple hours on the patio with the newspaper and coffee, Celia and Catherine took Mom’s wedding dress apart and sketched a new design out of the remnants. Catherine had always been a seamstress and embraced the idea of recycling something old into something new. At some point Rob thought he remembered Celia overtly rejecting wearing her mother’s dress; claiming it was “some shiny fabric nightmare from the early MTV years,” which had made no sense to him, but now that some family issues seemed resolved Celia made no complaint when Mom offered it. He supposed he could appreciate a tasteless wedding dress from a failed marriage reworked into a symbol of hope, now that Celia seemed strong enough to shoulder it. It was part of the heritage they were taking into their own marriage, after all.
Celia shifted next to him and he turned his head to look at her. Their wedding was only three months away, but suddenly he was certain he could not wait any longer. Rob and Celia had chosen not to have sex before they were married – another reason Rob had been frankly distressed when Celia had refused his proposal in the fall. Perhaps tonight, rather than dropping Celia off at her apartment, she would be willing to come home with him. Marriage was only three months away, and they had waited so long...
Celia awoke and sat up, and turned to look at Rob. She smiled at him.
Rob reached over and took her hand, alternating keeping his eyes on the road and on Celia. He was watching the road when he spoke.
“Celia. Will you come home with me tonight?” he asked. Rob knew she would know what he meant.
How does Celia answer Rob?
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