3 brides explain how celibacy tested their relationships leading up to their weddings
- Insider spoke to brides who got married in the pandemic and waited to have
sexuntil they were wed.
- They wanted to get married sooner rather than later so they could start their lives together.
- One said she felt shame and resentment after being intimate with her husband before they were married.
Sarah got engaged and married in the same week in 2020.
Love was, of course, the reason Sarah, 25, and her fiancé decided to tie the knot. But their
Sarah and her husband waited until they were married to have sex, which wasn't a problem until the pandemic hit. As the virus spread, they decided it was best for them to live together so they could see each other without putting anyone else at risk. That made not having sex more challenging.
"We knew if we lived in the same house we would sleep in the same bed, and that temptation would be a lot greater to be intimate," Sarah, who asked to omit her last name for privacy reasons, told Insider. Sarah said her decision to wait stemmed from her faith; she said she didn't want to share her "intimate self" with her partner until she shared everything with him.
Instead of living together unwed and risking unplanned sex, the couple put together a wedding in a matter of days, saying their vows in an intimate backyard ceremony.
Their marriage was as motivated by practicality as it was by love, as they weren't willing to sacrifice their values even amid the pandemic.
Sarah and her husband aren't alone in their commitment to abstinence before marriage.
The pandemic weakened some marriages - experts have predicted a divorce boom - and pushed engaged couples to reconsider the importance of American wedding culture. Many couples who'd planned to wed in 2020 postponed their dream nuptials for safer times. But
Couples who waited until after they said "I do" during the pandemic were forced to reconsider the significance of weddings, sex, and marriage and to prioritize accordingly.
Many couples remained committed to celibacy in 2020 - though the pandemic made it more complicated
Emily, 26, was a June bride. She and her husband agreed when they started dating in 2018 that they wouldn't have sex until they were married.
Emily, who also asked that her last name not be included in this article, said she and her husband wanted to wait because of their faith and because it felt like the right decision for them.
Their wedding was originally scheduled for May 2020. They ended up postponing it just a month, deciding to have a wedding during the pandemic rather than waiting until 2021 or later.
They were looking forward to being intimate once they were married, but the prospect of having sex wasn't the reason they went forward with a pandemic wedding, Emily told Insider.
"I could have waited longer," she said.
Emily's and her husband's leases were ending around the time of their original wedding date, so they would have had to move in together before they were married - and sexually active - if they had pushed their nuptials back further.
She said she thought they could have kept waiting to have sex even if they had started sharing a home - but for her, getting married would have felt anticlimactic if they had already been living together.
According to Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, it makes sense that celibate couples would value a more expeditious wedding than their non-celibate counterparts.
Overall, the number of couples waiting until marriage to have sex has declined in recent years, Wilcox said, and many who value celibacy or abstinence do so in response to modern dating culture and its dating apps, casual hookups, and indecisive singles.
There are "folks who I think become disillusioned with the character of romantic relationships and sexual relationships today and rethink their whole approach to love and sex and marriage," Wilcox told Insider. "They've experienced one approach to dating, and they're now looking to forge a different path, and they want to make their entry into marriage special."
The decision to wait is also often rooted in religion. According to Wilcox, religious couples who abstain from sex can view it as an act of restraint that heightens the value of sex, and their relationship, once they're married.
Additionally, many religions suggest there are grave consequences for having sex before marriage, making fear a driving factor in abstinence.
For couples like Emily and her husband, intimate acts like sex and living together are reserved for marriage, and the pandemic didn't shift centuries of thought on the matter.
When sex becomes about more than just sex, it can mess with your relationship
For Holly, 25, who got married in October, staying celibate in the months leading up to her wedding had a negative effect on her relationship. Holly asked that her name be changed to protect her anonymity, but Insider is aware of her identity.
Holly and her husband were intimate before he proposed in the summer of 2019. Holly wanted to wait until they were married to have sex again, as she thought it would make the wedding night more special.
Her husband was supportive when she first shared what she wanted, but staying abstinent proved difficult for the couple during their 15-month engagement - and the pandemic only made things worse.
The couple moved into a house in February 2020, and soon after they isolated themselves to ensure they didn't spread or contract the virus.
With only each other for company, Holly's husband grew impatient about their sex life, particularly because they shared a bed. He was laid off for part of the year, and Holly was furloughed, giving them fewer distractions from the lack of sex.
Holly said that her husband made her feel "guilty" for not being intimate with him and that it ultimately led her to go back on her word during their engagement.
According to Rachel Wright, a sex therapist, couples who wait until marriage to have sex don't have to be religious to feel shame around the topic.
Treating sex as currency or something to give and take rather than as a shared experience of pleasure can harm your dynamic, Wright told Insider.
"It becomes this gift that you're giving to somebody, which is not a healthy way to view sexuality," Wright said. "When you are sharing an intimate sexual experience with someone, you are sharing your sexuality with them. You're not giving them anything."
According to Wright, that sex-as-a-gift mentality can lead to resentment between partners and kick-start a cycle of miscommunication.
Holly and her husband had sex a few times throughout their engagement. She regretted it, saying she felt resentful of both him and herself.
"I was so frustrated that I felt like he wasn't taking me seriously," Holly told Insider. "I felt like I had to compromise my intrinsic values just to sustain the relationship that we had.
"I felt guilted into being intimate, and I felt guilty after the fact," she said, adding that she struggled to find "a balance between meeting my partner's needs and holding my own ground."
Celibacy is a personal choice, but navigating conversations about it can still be tricky
For Holly, saying her vows freed her of the shame and resentment she had been feeling toward her husband during their engagement.
"It was like, once the wedding happened, I didn't feel anything anymore," she said. "Any feelings of resentment I had were because I wanted those moments to have been saved for our marriage.
"Once I lifted those constructs, I felt so much more free and so much better," she added.
It's possible for people who wait until marriage to have fulfilling sex lives once they tie the knot, Wright said.
People who have spent time exploring their own sexualities through masturbation, for example, are better equipped to discuss their needs, boundaries, and sexual preferences with a partner than people who remain completely closed off from sex until marriage.
"That's beautiful because then when you get into that relationship you're bringing your full self. You can learn how to communicate about it. You can learn about the other person's body, but we can't learn about ourselves from someone else," Wright said.
Now Holly feels comfortable initiating
But she still wishes her husband had been more respectful of her sexual needs when they were engaged.
"I wish someone had told me to have a genuine, transparent conversation with my partner and to not feel the guilt and to just feel more comfortable with my own values and to expect my partner to as well," she said.
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