Why I Wish I’d Kissed Him Sooner

My man and I have been through a lot together. Including a hands-off, touch-less pre-marital relationship.

Sixteen years later, we’re still living with the consequences of our choices.

Oh yes. I know, that sort of talk usually refers to the choice of “too much, too soon,” and I don’t disagree that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. But for some of us, more needs to be said about the dangers of overly-prohibitive romances.

Nathan and I fell in love over our guitars. My first memory of him is a long-haired, earring-bedecked, goatee-trimmed Minnesota boy lazily strumming a guitar, sitting at the church missions fair behind his booth about his recent travels in Romania. I was hooked. He doesn’t remember much about the first time he met me, but he says he fell hard for me when I pulled out my guitar and sang a song I had recently written.

The summer of ’96 was one long conversation, deep into the night, punctuated with music and, I assume, eating and sleeping too.

But not touching. We had both been in previous relationships with a strong core of making out, and, doing our best to protect ourselves and one another from the dangers of sexual sin, about which we had heard plenty throughout our years in church youth groups, we agreed to a hands-off policy.

No, really. Hands-off. In premarital counseling with our pastor, when the subject of sex came up and he somehow discovered that we didn’t even hold hands, he looked concerned. He said something about light switches and wedding nights, akin to the idea of 0-60 in 10 seconds flat, and that maybe this wasn’t the healthiest way to go about building a marriage.

Considering his advice, we agreed to hold hands before our wedding.

The big day came, and soon enough, that first kiss. Of which I remember hardly anything. Shy and public are good descriptors. Hundreds of people observed this model couple’s first kiss, and I’m sad to say that we heard from more than one family afterwards, how our kissing decision was held up as a standard for their own children.

Listen, kids. Life is a struggle. We try things and fail, then try again, and sometimes we succeed. But always we grow, if we are willing to. That includes the decision my love and I made about touching each other. We have grown. But because we chose not to touch before our wedding, even while building profoundly deep emotional and cerebral bonds, we’ve had a little trouble connecting our sex life with the rest of our relationship.

The first few months, we were the stereotypical 1950’s newlyweds, exploring and enjoying sex like hungry adolescents. But if sex has been forbidden for most of your life, especially if you are a girl and are told you are responsible for protecting boys from temptation, then you can’t just jump right into it one day and feel that everything is good now. A subtle sense of self-loathing built up in me, which I began to vent by verbally abusing my husband, along with petty arguments, dramatic cry-fests over small disagreements, all of which seemed to come from a basic feeling that I was not lovable.

I wonder if a woman who has been told that sex makes her dirty, premarital sex makes her “damaged goods,” feels some sense of that consequence even after she has supposedly done everything right, secured the marriage license and kept all the rules.

And maybe it isn’t any easier for those couples who did kiss or – gasp – go further before their wedding, but felt compelled to hide this part of their relationship from that same church-induced sense of shame.

(And I am only beginning to listen to – and still far from truly understanding – the pain and shame heaped on anyone identifying beyond assumed heterosexual norms who grew up in church youth groups like mine.)

“It is not good for the [hu]man to be alone.” That’s fundamentally what sex is about – companionship, partnership, intimacy. As we parent our children, as we encourage the young ones – and really, everyone – in our midst, we must give one another space and grace to fail and grow in our reaching out for companionship, partnership, intimacy.

Go on. Kiss him. I’m talking to you, woman married twenty years who still habitually fends off the “temptation” to touch your husband.

A rough draft of this post has been in my drafts folder for nearly two months. Thanks to TC Larson for posting on this topic today and inspiring me to do the same.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks so much, Julia, for sharing your story to the depth and specificity to which you have gone here. I really believe it is this kind of courage and divulging of our stories with each other that can help us process, by grabbing hold of our tangible circumstances, issues, conditions, and mindsets, leading to a nudge toward healthier relationships.

  2. My husband and I were the exact opposite in our marriage, and now we’re experiencing what y’all had before you got married. It’s like we’re falling in love for the first time and we’ve been married for almost 14 years. We’re finding out things about each other that we’ve never known before. It’s a beautiful thing, whether it’s before marriage or 14 years down the road. I’ve learned to accept all of it, just the way it happened, “good” or “bad.” All of it has made me who I am today. Thanks for sharing, Julia. Always inspired by your writing.

  3. Thanks for writing this, I agree with your thoughts.
    Another area I feel we as “Christians” excel is in fostering the idea that we are sinning and ‘dirty’ if we as women enjoy having sex with our husband. Apparently the men are suppose to enjoy it, and women are suppose to endure it.
    Tom and I kissed the first time when he asked me and I said yes. Since then we had 11 months to practice kissing before the wedding day. It did make kissing him in front of 200 people way easier 🙂

  4. I, too, admire your bravery in broaching this, Julia. Many friends who first kissed on their wedding day have made me feel secretly ashamed of my past choices. After my mother divorced my dad when I was 16, I decided I would only ever date or kiss someone I was convinced I could marry, a vow I kept but can hardly expect anyone else to make! But I was a couple weeks pregnant with our daughter on our (long-anticipated) wedding day, and I still have not fully forgiven myself for my lack of self-control which caused the pregnancy I keenly wanted and wholly loved. The fact that it was my only pregnancy makes it all the more sweeter in retrospect, yet I’m all too often haunted by “what ifs”… What if we had waited til we were married, would God have granted us more children by now? Am I being punished for my past impatience? I know God forgave all in Christ; some days I feel His forgiveness more strongly. I long to see His redemption in the life of my little girl.
    I agree with Anne, too. Contrary to anything I’ve ever read, my sex drive is stronger than my husband’s. If it was up to him we’d do it once a month or less! Lucky for me, I have a say!

  5. Thanks for your interesting story. Kids raised in the born again youth group sometimes sexually blow up as well. My wife believed her mother was either going to arrange her marriage, or outright forbid it. The repression was immense. She was terrified of being an “old maid,” and when I came along, all her moral lessons crumbled and our daughter was conceived. Then, shotgun wedding, though in my case it was me pointing the shotgun at myself, not her parents. I think if we had been raised in such a way that sex was neither titillating nor terrifying, we would have had a more normal courtship, one that would have involved physical contact, maybe sex, maybe not, but in any case, perhaps we would not have been so reckless. It seems to me that to evangelicals, “marriage” is often a synonym for sex. Thus young people, hot and bothered, make life long commitments way before they are ready. They marry for sex. Then, years later, after the novelty of sex is gone, they are stuck with a stranger.

  6. I have been struggling with this as a pastor. I am not sure that all of the “teachings” that the church does about sex and particularly about sex before marriage are influenced by the Bible or by our own anxieties. As a premarital “counselor” I am more interested in the health of your relationship, the ideals you have around sexuality than when you did the deed first. I just don’t think we are doing our best as people of faith for each other or our younger people. Thank you for writing this and stay strong.

  7. This is so brave, my friend. Thank you for sharing so candidly about a personal topic that is often so wrought with misunderstanding and judgment.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if some of the shame around sex in Christianity is because of actual Biblical teachings about it or the culture that has been built up, brick by brick. It is something I’m trying to examine, but I’m curious — what scriptures did you use to inform your decision about “no-touching” before you got married? I’m familiar with the Biblical idea of fleeing sexual immorality/impurity but I’ve wondered about tracing back this emphasis in Christian culture, comparing it to its roots in Judaism, and then checking into current Jewish attitudes. It could be an interesting study.

    I’m so glad you pulled this out of the drafts folder and put it out into the world.

    • Thanks for your comment – and again, thanks for your own blog post that spurred me to put this one out there!

      We didn’t use any scriptural basis for our choice. It’s ironic, actually. Speaking officially only for myself but also in my memory of Nathan at that time, we would have self-assessed as being “beyond” fundamentalism and legalism, including things like proof-texting, rules against dancing/drinking/movie-going/rock music, etc.

      My guess is that the fear and repression around sex that we grew up in was still mostly invisible to us, like the air we breathed, even as we were actively questioning and shedding a lot of other church-related baggage.

  8. Thank you to everyone who read and commented on this post! This topic really hit a nerve – for two days in a row it broke all previous records for number of views on my blog. Obviously a huge issue worth our continued thought and conversation.

    I don’t want my post to leave readers with the feeling that my marriage or my self has been ruined because of one choice, however significant it was. In fact, life is richer – not solely because of this particular “problem,” but because I (and my beloved life partner) have faced it and continue to honestly work through the challenges it has created.

    Life and love deepen through pain and struggle – but also through pleasure and celebration – and we are getting better at that!

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