Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions
As a young Catholic woman who dated all through college, I have dealt with enough temptations against chastity to last me a lifetime.
Now, though, in my state of marital bliss, far fewer sinful temptations plague me in general. While I wish I could say that Joshua and I learned how to navigate chastity issues perfectly while we were dating, sadly we did not figure out the secret to a perfectly stable, beautiful, virtuous relationship until after we were married.
Instead, during our three years of dating and engagement, we often discussed the three terrible questions that every couple striving for chastity will eventually ask:
- How far is too far?
- How much should we do x, y, z?
- How often should we do x, y, z?
We always knew when we were dating that the questions far, much, and often did not solve our problems. One of the reasons is that, as I’ve become painfully aware, men are different than women. What’s perfectly chaste for a woman is not necessarily chaste for a man. What’s fine for one person isn’t the same for another.
Before we were married, I could not see Joshua without his shirt. If we went to the pool, I would ask him to wear a swim shirt. I did this because I knew that for me, this was a specific area I would struggle in. I did not have confidence that I would continue to think about him purely if I saw more of his body.
For his part, before we were married Joshua asked me not to put my hand on his leg. If we were watching a movie and sitting on the couch together and he crossed one leg over the other, it was not good for him to have my hand on him. It didn’t matter if my hand rested below or above his knee. Having my hand on his leg was a specific behavior that triggered his sexual desires.
Maybe those “rules” sound prudish. But I don’t care. We made it through our pre-marital relationship purely. It was hard, but it was more than worth it.
Relationships Go Through Seasons
When you’re first falling in love, you want to be together all the time. You want to enjoy your new relationship, to kiss and cuddle as much as possible, and to delay saying goodnight. Eventually, you scale it back. You mature. You maybe start spending time in larger groups of people instead of just one-on-one, and your friends have more fun around the two of you.
Then you deepen your relationship. You go through trials, spend time long-distance, and begin to talk about marriage. The passion reignites.
And so you get engaged, start planning a wedding, looking for houses, and talking about children. You enter the most horrible phase of any relationship, when you are so close to marriage, but are not yet husband and wife.
All these seasons will carry new challenges and struggles with chastity. Every step of union will bring more desire for unity. That is a beautiful thing. It is exactly what God intended for us.
Chastity Is Hard
Temptations against chastity are natural, and that’s why they’re so hard to fight. Sex is not a horrible, forbidden treasure that becomes a mere obligation or necessity in marriage. Instead, it is always a supreme good, set aside for the service of God and unity of spouses in marriage. The questions of far, much, and often do not do justice to the beauty of sex, and they honestly don’t seem to be doing couples any favors with navigating their relationships.
Men and women are different. Joshua and I didn’t figure out until after we were married that the reason the questions far, much, and often never truly helped us when we were dating was because our needs and temptations were different. Men and women are perfect partners, but we are not in the same place. We don’t have the same triggers or reactions to intimacy, so what’s sweet and cuddly to one person could be extremely sexually charging for another.
The Right Question About Intimacy
So, here’s the secret. Get ready. Here’s the right question to ask about intimacy, in any season of a relationship. Including marriage.
How can I die to myself for you, today?
This question encompasses everything. Every struggle you’ll ever have. Why? Because it calls us to true love. As Jesus says in John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Asking how to die to yourself for your friend is exactly how we are called to love another, as Christ loved us. Before marriage, the perfect way to die to ourselves is to protect each other’s souls. Love does not ask for a set of rules to follow, or for boundaries to run into. Instead, it asks what we need, when we need it, how we need it. Love says, I am so passionate for you tonight that we should go for a drive instead of staying home and cuddling. Love says, I want you, but I love you more. Love says, I will not use you. And I will not let you use me.
Love says, I die to myself for you, in whatever way you need, today.