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Dear Dr. H,

What are the benefits of waiting to have sex until marriage?

Dear student,

The benefits of waiting until marriage to have sex really depend on your perspective of sex and the value it holds for you. I’m not saying that people who have sex prior to marriage devalue sex, but I am saying that sex holds different meanings for different people.

Sex is a healthy part of the human experience that some wish to explore as a way of getting to know themselves, what they enjoy sexually and to experience pleasure. Some people wait to experience those things, with one person only, in the context of a marriage.

I think any conversation about “sex before marriage” necessitates a consideration of how we define sex. From a public health standpoint, I consider “sex” to include oral, anal and vaginal sex. Culturally, we tend to only view penis-and-vagina penetration as sex, and this is problematic for many reasons.

First, oral and anal sex are no less “intimate” acts. Second, you can get STIs through oral and anal sex. Third, not everyone engages in sex that includes one penis and one vagina. Our queer friends are often left out of the discussion of “waiting until marriage” because the sex they have isn’t always considered the type of sex you wait until marriage for, and until recently, waiting until marriage wasn’t an option because marriage wasn’t an option.

If you’re considering waiting until marriage to have sex, consider how you define sex – if you’re having oral and or anal sex, but not engaging in vaginal sex, is it because you think those are less intimate or “safer” forms of sex? Because I would argue they aren’t.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that you should just have sex before marriage if you’re already engaging in other types of sex. People are getting married later and sex-before-marriage is less stigmatized, so waiting until marriage to have sex is less common than in our parents’ time.

Still, many people wait to have sex until after they are married, largely due to religious reasons. If this is the case for you, what meaning does your faith prescribe to waiting until marriage? Are there older siblings, cousins or family friends who you know waited until marriage to speak with about what they perceived to be the benefits?

While this may sound like an awkward conversation, if you’re questioning waiting, maybe talking to those who did and hearing their experiences can help you understand your motivation to wait. The research on this topic is somewhat mixed – the “benefits” of waiting are subjective. That is, people who did and did not wait will perceive benefits based on their own experience and cannot compare to any other path.

If you wait until marriage, you may be at less risk of contracting an STI, but that’s only if your husband or wife-to-be is STI-free.

Sex can cause a lot of stress for young people in their dating life, so knowing that you’re waiting may decrease your experience of that.

If you’re dating someone that also wants to wait (which I would highly recommend), you may have more opportunities to explore each other in meaningful, non-sexual ways and work together to respect and maintain that boundary you have set in the relationship. If the relationship isn’t working, you may be more readily able to break it off because you don’t feel pressured or obligated to stay with someone you’ve that shared physical intimacy with.

The benefits of waiting may be more tangible when you have a deep connection to the reason for waiting – something only you can determine. Sex is a healthy part of living, and if you want to wait until you’re married, you’re entitled to that decision. Knowing the hows and whys of your decision will likely make it easier for you to do so.

I encourage you to talk to others in your community who share that perspective to help you articulate your reasons for doing so and supporting you in that decision.

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