Save Yourself Till Marriage?

Adapted from The Friendly Atheist

For Humanist Network News  
Nov. 11, 2010

Sexie Sadie has a lot to say about the problems with abstinence-only sex education, but in the process, she raises an important question about why some people “save themselves” for marriage:

I’ve never understood the concept of “saving yourself for marriage”. What exactly is one “saving” by waiting until the blessed wedding night to have sexual intercourse? An unbroken hymen? And what does one expect to accomplish by doing so? Moral fortitude? The rhetoric itself implies that proprietorship thing that bothers me so much about many relationships, and this phrase in particular tends to be fairly gender focused — a girl is told that if she saves herself until the right man comes along, then she can give herself (as if a prize) to him once he has demonstrated his love for her enough that he might marry her. Really? Is this a message girls should receive? That they are part of a purchase contract, the bargaining chip in an antiquated marriage negotiation? I just can’t get on board with that. I don’t think I could have been on board with that in 1910. I sure can’t understand how that scenario regularly plays itself out 100 years later, and during a time (and in a place) where gender equality is at it’s most immutable.

And what about the boys who are saving themselves? How many of them are rushing into these marriage contracts simply for the sake of winning that coveted prize of shameless, church-approved sex?

Someone told me the other day that he had met a 21 year-old woman who wore a purity ring. What did I think of that? He wanted to know.

I said, I think she’ll make someone a frustrated husband some day.

Outside of religion, the most common reason I’ve heard for why people say they’re waiting for marriage to have sex is that it’s somehow more special at that time. You’re “officially” committed to each other and you’re sharing something with your significant other you’ve never shared with anyone else.

Sadie makes a good point that experience can be a wonderful thing. You don’t love the person you’re with any less if you’ve had another relationship in the past. And the experience you bring to the table — knowing what (generally) makes you and the other person feel good — can give your relationship a head start in that area.

But some people don’t want a head start. They want to run the whole race together. Is that such a bad thing?

I once read a story about a Christian couple that waited until their wedding day for their first kiss. I wouldn’t want to wait until my wedding day for that moment, but if they do, I don’t really care either way. Hell, it’s kinda cute.

But I don’t get anyone who’s opposed to that couple waiting just because they would never do it themselves.

We hate it when Christians rail against gay sex as if it’s a bad thing. We say: If you are opposed to it, then just don’t have it. If two gay people want to sleep with each other, who gives a damn what you think?

Yet, I get the feeling a lot of liberals would mock a couple that says they’ve saving themselves for marriage or waiting to have their first kiss. (At least privately.) Those aren’t exactly parallel situations — we’re not trying to pass laws against waiting to have sex — but it would be a little hypocritical to tell another couple what they should or shouldn’t do with their sex lives.

Was your first reaction to the couple-waiting-to-kiss story to scoff at them? To roll your eyes? To shake your head? To accept it and move on?

I’d save any anger for the moment they act like they’re any better than me because they waited till marriage to do anything sexual. No one deserves the holier-than-thou attitude from them.

There’s nothing wrong with waiting.

But there’s nothing wrong with having safe sex before marriage, either.


Hemant Mehta is the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Board of Directors. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry and also is an SSA representative to the Secular Coalition for America. Hemant received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the “eBay Atheist.” Hemant’s blog can be read at, and his book, I Sold My Soul on eBay, (WaterBrook Press) is now available on He currently works as a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.