Thanks to you all, last month's post on dealing with wedding night nerves has become my most viewed post ever! So humbled by your responses and emails. I asked my friend Rebecca to share another side of preparing for your wedding night: how can you deal with starting over after you've already had a sexual relationship? Rebecca and her husband dragged Andrew and I out of our shells when we moved to our area and encouraged us to become NFP teachers. I'm incredibly proud to share her story with you!
Stephanie so beautifully and honestly shared some advice for those of you preparing for your wedding night who are approaching the altar as virgins. One commenter called her post “bold holiness” and I couldn’t agree more. It is with humility that I accept Stephanie’s request to write from another perspective.I was not a virgin on my wedding night. That is just one of many things that leads to me being asked occasionally if I regret the many choices I’ve made, as my life looks very different today than it did almost 9 years ago when we were married. The answer that seems the most honest is this: No. I do not regret our past choices because without each one, made at precisely the time it was, we wouldn't be where we are today. We never set out to make a bad choice. Each choice was made with good intention and based on the information we had at the time.
I also do not regret our past choices because they give me a voice to share and to reach others faced with similar choices; to offer experience from a life lived differently and to share the joys and struggles that resulted from those choices. As with so much of our Christian life, there is pain and beauty. It all must be held in the proper balance. If we place too much focus on the pain, we miss the beauty. And if we focus too much on the beauty, pain loses its value. Just as with the Cross and Resurrection. For every Easter Sunday, there must be a Good Friday and for every Good Friday, there must be an Easter Sunday. That is the challenge of the Christian life.
So, it is with caution I proceed, carefully walking the balance between honoring our journey and our choices and encouraging others who walk a similar path, as well as suggesting to those still deciding to choose a different path.
Eleven years ago, heck, right up until the hotel door closed behind us on our wedding night, I would have laughed at the idea of being a born-again virgin. I would have said you either are or you aren’t. Period.
And yet, a decision. A seemingly unrelated decision led me to understand things so differently. Once. And then again, 5 years later.
The first decision: My husband and I, although sexually involved from early on in our dating relationship, spent almost our entire 2 year engagement abstaining. I was using the Pill as contraception and became very worried that it was going to fail and I was going to get pregnant before our wedding, disappointing my parents beyond measure. So, for 2 years we abstained --well, we abstained from intercourse, but we were not chaste. And yet, the excitement of our wedding day. Of knowing we would be together again, finally. The giggles of uncertainty as we left our friends and family to continue the party well into the night. The laughter as we removed over 100 hairpins from my hair because I couldn’t lay down with them. And the joy of rediscovering one another, only this time, it wasn’t something we weren’t supposed to be doing. It wasn’t something “sinful” or “naughty” or “bad” or “dirty.” It was exactly what we were supposed to be doing. It was beautiful and there were tears as we lay together afterwards, tears of joy; of love; of hope in the life that lay before us. And in that moment, in those moments, I understood what being a born-again virgin was all about. As we got to know one another again in the coming months, we found things to be easier, less about pleasure and more about connecting than they had been prior to marriage.
But. Two things slowly began to cause problems. I only realize them now in hindsight. As with so much, we can only see our errors when we look back. One, after 4 years of a sexual relationship that was about pleasure and had nothing to do with babies and was something I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing, it was harder than I realized to break that pattern of thought. Unfortunately, deep inside sex was still something I wasn’t supposed to do. Two, we were using hormonal contraception. It would take 5 years, many tears, and many damages to my health and our relationship to realize this one. Yet, it was that second thing that led to a second time of being a born again virgin. I’m not sure I can find the right words, but that led to truly losing my virginity for the first time, 5 years into marriage. That led to truly giving myself fully, freely and without reservation and to receiving my husband fully, freely and without reservation.
The Second Decision: It was 5 years of marriage before we learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP). When we did, much like with our abstinence before our wedding, our decision was one of practicality as we tried to improve my health and our relationship, not a sudden desire to follow Church teaching. This decision led to four months of abstinence, this time coupled with chastity, within our marriage. We had no idea what was waiting for us at the end of this time, and unlike our engagement, this time, we had no idea how long it would last. We were skeptical and scared to death of getting pregnant. But after 3 months of charting and consulting with our teaching couple, who assured us that we were at an infertile phase, we finally re-consummated our marriage. And this time, with new knowledge of what our physical union stood for, of how sacred an act we were undertaking, and with total appreciation of and acceptance for our fertility, we finally lost our virginity for real. And once again, the following months were spent getting reacquainted and learning all about one another in new ways.
I will end this with my pieces of unsolicited advice for those of you who are not approaching the altar as virgins:
If you are sexually active with your current boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance, make the choice to embrace chastity, which for the time-being means abstinence. It will not be easy. It will serve you well in so many ways later on in your relationship, the least of which will be on your wedding night.
If one or both of you has been with someone else, it will take an act of will and prayer to remove that person from your memory. Sexual intercourse, on many levels - spiritual, relational, emotional, biological - is meant to be with one person only, forever. It takes effort to break ties that are formed, ties that you have buried deep. Be patient and gentle with yourself and your fiance.
If you are on contraception, go off it. Learn Natural Family Planning. Embrace it and the gift that God gives us by inviting us to co-create life with him. This was the single saving moment for my marriage. If you’ve been prescribed the Pill as treatment for a medical condition, seek a second opinion from a Catholic doctor.
Go to confession. I didn’t do this until years later. It was one of the single most healing moments of my life. It was the final impediment to the grace of our sacrament and it was so worth it. Find a kind, understanding priest (a good litmus test is to simply ask: how do you feel about the Church’s teaching on contraception? if the answer isn’t fully supportive, find another priest) and invite the healing power of Christ’s Love into your life.
Regardless of how you approach the altar, virgin or experienced, it is your decision how you build your marriage. With Christ at the center and your eyes fixed on your beloved, you have the best foundation possible.
A reader recently asked me how to deal with one of Rebecca's points; she asked for advice on embracing your purity, truly forgiving your fiance, and adjusting to a new sexual relationship when one of you is a virgin and the other is not. Share your wisdom, won't you? I love hearing your thoughts!