When a woman and man commit to marriage, it mirrors God’s eternal, exclusive, united-together relationship with his people (Ephesians 5:25-33). The unique one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:24) of marriage refers to a concept broader than sexual intimacy. Marriage involves two people becoming one in sharing all of life, and of an intimate knowing of each other.
What happens, though, when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Of course, engaged and newlywed couples can’t possibly know each other to the degree they will after years of marriage. Wise pre-marital counseling usually addresses important issues like family history, faith, finances, children, sex, roles, etc. However, often people marry having avoided a critical component of their story: sexual history.
Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, with self, mediated through technology, sexual fantasy, etc. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what the struggle has looked like as far as length of time, frequency of giving in to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are many reasons people avoid discussing their sexual history: fear, shame, and feeling intimidated by tough topics are just a few. Private sins like porn and masturbation sometimes seem to fade out when a dating relationship is going well. Some unwisely say things like, “Let the past be the past; move on into the future with this person you love and start fresh!”
Why it’s wise to discuss sexual history before you get engaged.
Most brides begin wedding preparation within days of getting engaged. It’s an exciting time as engagement communicates, I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, I know your strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins, and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you knowing what I know.
When dating and engaged couples hide the real deal of their sexual history and current struggles from their loved one, they set the stage for broken trust, and future broken hearts.
Jesus strengthens and comforts you in the process of sharing your sexual history.
This may feel scary, but you’re not alone as you consider honest conversations with the person you’re dating or engaged to. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide or avoid.
Secondly, God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” His mercy comes through forgiveness, redemption, and providing friends to walk with you through this process.
Finally, Jesus is your eternal companion and spouse. He is with you for all of time and will never abandon you! Your relationship may or may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past but Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.
General principles for sharing sexual history.
Here are some general ideas to help you think through this process:
- Remember, the goal is to be known as someone who needs God’s grace in this area, not to vent or dump all the nitty gritty details of sexual behaviors. Ask a wise friend or mentor to pray for you and help you discern what you need to share.
- Next, remember that this will be an ongoing conversation, not an intense, one time ‘tell all.’ Cultivating patient listening and transparent sharing will set your relationship on a healthy trajectory for marriage, if you move forward.
- When is the best time to begin these conversations? There isn’t a spiritual formula to figure out the exact moment when a couple should share with one another about their sexual history. Each relationship is unique. However, if both of you are seriously considering marriage, then it’s important to begin revealing parts of your sexual past.
- If you’re on the receiving end of hearing a dating partner’s sexual past, here are the important things you want to find out. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for perfection but integrity and commitment to walk in repentance.
- How is he/she seeking to walk in faith and repentance? Is it ‘all out’ or half-hearted?
- Does this person have solid friendships in his/her life, people who both love and ask the hard questions in light of knowing him/her?
- If sexual sin is a present tense reality, what is the trajectory of the struggle? Is there a decrease in giving way to temptation and an increasing strength to resist and flee?
If your partner is half-hearted, casual, and/or doesn’t see any of this as a big deal, STOP. Do not proceed forward in this relationship. Words of affection, promises to love you, and even a commitment to pray more are not enough! You need to see ongoing, intentional steps to flee sin and grow in Christ before you take one more relational step with this person.
Sexual history is an important and significant topic to discuss in dating relationships, especially if you are considering marriage. But remember, such history does not define or identify any of us; Jesus does! He’s the king of his kingdom and so as we trust him, rest in his love and grace, we’ll have the wisdom we need for our relationships.
 Jesus affirms this in Matthew 19:5.
About the Author:
Ellen received her MA in Biblical Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1999 and serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. New Life Presbyterian in Dresher, PA, is her home church.