Students
Jesse and Elizabeth have been together for one year. Photo UKrant

No sex before marriage

Touching is allowed, but the clothes stay on

Jesse and Elizabeth have been together for one year. Photo UKrant
Christian students often still live by the doctrine that sex can only happen between married people. But that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to do anything else until then. ‘There’s a lot you can do that isn’t holding hands or having real sex.’
By Denise Overkleeft and Remco van Veluwen
14 September om 11:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 19 September 2022
om 15:16 uur.
September 14 at 11:24 AM.
Last modified on September 19, 2022
at 15:16 PM.

As a teenager, Fleur (23) never really thought about sex: it wasn’t something people around her talked about. But then she started university. ‘When I found out that some Christian students were actually doing it, it just felt wrong to me. I was like: but you can’t!’ 

But in her second year, she entered a serious relationship, which got her thinking about sex before marriage for the first time. 

‘My boyfriend did have sex in a previous relationship and he told me how nice it was’, she says. ‘I talked to him about it during our first six months together. My body wants to, but my mind doesn’t. He respects that I don’t want to have sex yet and adapts to what I want. Fortunately, we communicate really well and openly.’

Taboo

In 2022, sex before marriage is still a taboo in the Christian community, says Hans van Dijk, associate professor at Tilburg University. Together with Daphne van de Bongardt, who works at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, he studied relationships and sexuality among Christian students. 

My body wants to, but my mind doesn’t

Van Dijk realised that students who were having sex often struggled with feelings of guilt. ‘They think that what they’re doing is wrong, and they don’t want to be wrong. It can really mess them up.’ At the same time, however, it’s become easier to have sex again.

In order to create a healthy environment for these students, it’s important that sex becomes something they’re allowed to talk about, which currently isn’t the case. ‘Christian student associations will organise a single evening to discuss sex, but stay silent on the topic the rest of the year’, says Van Dijk 

In the Bible 

So why is sex before marriage not allowed? Elizabeth and Jesse (both 21) have been together for a year. They’re both Reformed. Together, they decided not to have sex as long as they’re not married, no matter how tempting it may be. 

‘Our biggest reason is not because that’s what we’re supposed to do or because our parents want it, but because of how we feel the Bible explains it’, says Jesse. ‘Even though the Bible doesn’t give an explicit reason, it does clearly state that sex is something that should only happen between married people.’

In the Bible, marriage is equal to having sex, Van Dijk explains. ‘When you’re married, you have sex. When you’re single, you’re a virgin.’ The idea is that marriage is a reflection of people’s relationship with God: just as they’re faithful to God, they promise each other eternal fidelity. 

Fleur also thinks sex should be part of a loving relationship. ‘Because it’s so intimate, I think you should only have sex with that special person, someone you love. I think marriage safeguards that’, she says. ‘I feel comfortable with my choice. I also think it’s a good thing to wait, to look forward to it.’ 

Grey area

Elizabeth says that not having sex can be very educational. ‘I’m learning patience, and I know that being touched on my neck or my hands is also very nice. That’s something we actually discovered about each other much sooner than we would have otherwise. We’ve got a good thing going now, and we’ll be able to enjoy each other much more later.’

I know that being touched on my neck or hands is also very nice

Fleur agrees. ‘I think those small things are nice too. Everyone defines sex differently. It’s a grey area, which makes it tricky, but the Bible doesn’t say anything about it and no one in the safe Christian bubble I grew up in said much if anything about it’, she explains. 

She thinks society is too focused on penetrative sex. ‘As though penetration is the main course and the rest are just unimportant entrées. But the body is so much more than that, is capable of so much more. It’s more like tapas, all these different little snacks.

Rules

Elizabeth and Jesse agreed on boundaries together. They stick to them, although the boundaries can shift. How do they navigate this? What is allowed and what isn’t? ‘There’s a lot you can do that isn’t as chaste as holding hands but also isn’t real sex. People interpret that differently’, says Elizabeth. 

She and Jesse have one strict boundary they’ll never cross: they keep their clothes on and they never sleep in the same bed. ‘But we do touch each other while fully clothed. Those rules might seem a bit silly, but it helps us achieve our goals’, says Elizabeth. ‘The good thing about there being two of us is that if one person is going too fast, the other one can stop them’, says Jesse. 

Fleur also agreed on boundaries that are constantly shifting. She and her boyfriend also keep their clothes on. ‘At first, we wouldn’t even lie down in the same bed together. Now we do, but we keep our clothes on. It’s also fine if you both agree on changing earlier boundaries.’

More liberal

Nevertheless, Van Dijk’s study showed that an increasing number of Christian students sleep with someone before they’re married. ‘Sexuality is changing in so many ways, and Christianity is getting more liberal in that sense’, he says. 

It takes a lot of patience, effort, and communication

It’s important to note that these students are all in committed relationships: they think they’ve found ‘the one’. ‘Christian students don’t really have one-night stands’, says Van Dijk. 70 percent of respondents said they disapprove of men and women having sex when they’re not in a relationship. Students may not feel marriage is a necessary requirement for sex, but they do still see a relationship as one. 

Difficult

Fleur admits that she occasionally struggles with her decision. ‘Of course I do. It’s not like I don’t feel desire. I can see myself marrying my boyfriend. But we remind each other of our boundaries, and he would never cross mine.’

Jesse and Elizabeth also struggle from time to time. ‘There are definitely times where I would like to do it’, says Jesse. ‘Having sex before marriage seems a lot easier than not having it.’ Elizabeth concurs: ‘It takes a lot of patience, effort, and communication.’ 

But Jesse isn’t sorry that he and Elizabeth aren’t having sex. ‘It makes me excited for the future. I’m really looking forward to being married.’

Nederlands