Get Real! How Can I Stick to the Promise I’ve Made to Myself to Wait?

Heather Corinna

Like any celibate  person would admit, sometimes I get these truly surreal urges for  sex.  I want to stay true to my decision to stay  premaritally celibate. Any suggestions?

IthilienDude asks:

I’m a Christian, and I have decided to save myself till marriage. I’m perfectly fine with that. My boyfriend is fine with that too (we’ve been together a month), and respects my decision. However, like any celibate person would admit, sometimes I get these truly surreal urges for sex: I catch myself thinking that maybe even a little bit of touching while kissing would be fine, or I just think about what it would be like if we ever got married and ended up sleeping together. I have said nothing to my boyfriend, in case he misconstrues it as an invitation, but it has recently been very, very difficult to resist, especially with all these hormones making me want sex. I want to stay true to my decision to stay premaritally celibate, and I will pride myself on not being tempted, however my urges make the battle all the harder sometimes. Any suggestions?

Heather Corinna replies:

For starters, I think staying silent about this with a romantic partner isn’t likely to help you out, especially one you’re physical with. Unless you feel like your relationship is too new to be talking about sexuality at all yet, I also don’t think keeping how you’re feeling to yourself is going to help cultivate a relationship in which the other person can really get to know you, which is kind of the point of relationships, right?

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You say he’s supportive of your decision to save sexual contact for marriage. You say sticking with this choice is important to you. If both of these things are true, I don’t think you’re doing either of you any favors by not giving him the chance to really be supportive and yourself the chance to be who you really are, which includes your feelings and desires and the choices you want to make with them. In healthy, close relationships, we should be able to talk about the things that are most important to us and also about things we struggle with.

Talking about anything sexual shouldn’t ever be construed as an invitation unless we are extending an invitation, such as “I’ve been thinking about X a lot. Would you like to do X with me?” or “I’m in the mood for X and would like to do it with you. You wanna?” Those are invitations. Something like “I’ve been thinking about X, but I don’t want to do it, I just want to voice it and talk about it,” is clearly not an invitation to do anything but talk. In a healthy relationship where we are earnestly respected, partners will respect the fact that sometimes we may want things or think about things that, for whatever reason, we don’t actually want to do or don’t feel right about doing at a given time.

If you are with someone who cares about you and respects you, I don’t think you need to worry that voicing this will result in your boyfriend doing something that you don’t want or pressuring you. If you truly think talking about this would result in that kind of response, I’d advise you to get away from this person, no matter what your values were, because that would be an indication he isn’t a safe person to be close to.

If you two are going to keep seeing each other, especially long-term, radio silence about anything that feels big is not your friend. You’re going to need to talk about things like this from time to time. And when you keep this stuff to yourself, it’s more likely to make you feel like a corked bottle about to pop. Giving it voice is likely to help you feel a lot better.

So, first things first: start talking. You’ve made the decision to wait because your values are such that you want to choose to only do certain things with these feelings in certain situations, not because you don’t have these feelings. You don’t need to pretend you don’t have desires, because having those desires, even if he shares them, doesn’t mean you need to do things you don’t want to or that anyone’s actions will be outside their control. You can talk about this and brainstorm together to think of ways to manage it. Maybe that will involve spending less time making out and more time doing things together that aren’t physical; maybe you can come up with creative ways to explore these feelings that aren’t physical, like by writing them down and sharing them that way. Maybe you can come up with ways to be physically affectionate that feel less sexual. Think creatively together, especially since chances are, he’s also feeling like you are, and could also use some help.

Talking about this can also provide an excellent opportunity to be clear on your limits and boundaries. Sex means a lot of different things to different people, so you’ll want to figure out what “saving sex until marriage” means to you and then make that clear to anyone you’re dating. That way, they can be sure they really can agree to what you’re asking of them and you get to worry a whole lot less about misunderstandings, which should be a big chunk of stress you’ll get to ditch.

It might help to recognize your sexual desires aren’t surreal. The desires you’re having are anything but surreal: they’re real. They’re common, and most people have them, including people who — again, for whatever reason — choose not to enact them. You talk about them being all about hormones, but those desires aren’t just about hormones, even though many people talk about them that way, especially when they talk about young people. Even people whose levels of sex hormones and other chemicals that play a part in sexuality and interpersonal relationships are different than yours, or who have had decades to get used to the chemicals that play a part in our sexual desires will feel desires to be sexual or otherwise physically close to people.

You say you want to pride yourself on having never been tempted. I’d suggest you make more room for yourself to simply be human in that. Unless you’re choosing to be celibate because you have never felt any sexual desires or don’t ever expect to, I think it’s very unrealistic to ask that of yourself.

I’m going to assume that for you, the value of this particular intention — choosing to save sex for marriage — is based in that intent and action, not about thoughts or feelings to the contrary. I hope so, because while you can control your actions and intentions, you can’t control your thoughts or feelings. They happen and are what they are even if and when people try and exert control over them. I assume, too, that it’s probably a more meaningful or powerful intention in your mind if you’re choosing it despite it not being easy, and that if it were totally easy and just anyone could do it, it wouldn’t be very meaningful to you.

Instead, what I’d suggest is that you just accept those feelings of being “tempted” when you have them. Let them be, don’t judge them, don’t invest pride in having them or not having them. Heck, I’d suggest not even investing pride in what you do or don’t do with them: this isn’t about pride after all, it’s about your faith, which is likely bigger, more meaningful, and richer than pride. Desires tend to come and go if we just let them float in and out. If someone wants to do something about them that feels right and is right for anyone else involved, that’s okay. But if someone doesn’t want to, or has something else they want that those actions would be in conflict with, they can let them be there and then just let them go.

One thing that can happen, though, which you’re probably experiencing, is that those feelings can feel way more intense when we choose not to enact them or when we can’t enact them. Having something that we want be forbidden — even if we are the ones making it so, and even if it’s forbidden because we want something else more — is a powerful thing, especially sexually. That doesn’t mean you have no choice but to have any kind of sex you don’t want to, just that you want to recognize that putting a kibbosh on putting those feelings into action is probably making them feel bigger than they actually are. While knowing that doesn’t change the situation, sometimes being aware of some of why something feels a certain way can make it easier to deal with, and in this case, you can probably ground yourself some by recognizing some of the bigness of those desires is about you not pursuing them, and if you did pursue them, they may well feel less big than they do now.

I don’t know how you feel about masturbation , but that can give you an outlet for these feelings and desires without going against what you want in terms of saving sex with a partner until marriage. Masturbation can be a satisfying outlet for sexual feelings, whether we’re choosing to have sex with partners or not. It’s not being with a partner, so it can’t provide the social and interpersonal part of sex, but it can create a feeling of physical and chemical sexual release (the parts that are more about hormones) and give you a place to explore your sexuality that doesn’t involve a partner. If that’s not something you want to do, that’s okay. It’s one option, that’s all.

I want to make sure you know that something else that’s very normal and typical is to ask questions of our values and beliefs, even when we feel very strongly about them. That’s how we tend to clarify them, and either check in and get stronger in knowing they are want we want and believe, or adjust them if they ever don’t feel like a good fit anymore, whether that’s developing a different understanding of the same values or changing those values.

I don’t think any of us needs to be scared to ask questions of our value or belief systems, because the goal is to discover and live by whatever values and beliefs are right for us as individuals. The right set for us will stand up to questions. And if we’ve got a set that’s wrong for us, or even just not quite right, it’s important to make adjustments so that we and our lives feel right, and so we can always be engaging in and moving towards what is right for us, uniquely, and what we feel best about. If you haven’t yet met people in your life who feel they must stick to a set of values that really doesn’t fit them, or won’t fully include who they are, trust me when I tell you that those folks are typically very unhappy people who ultimately not only don’t stick to those values, but who sometimes wind up using them to keep themselves and other people feeling really terrible.

I know it can feel scary to have doubts about values, especially if you have the idea that any one value system is always absolutely right and everything else is wrong. But I hope you have the wisdom to know that’s not true, especially knowing how many wonderful people there are in the world who have done wonderful things who have different belief systems. The Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi aren’t Christian; Ghandi, Elie Wiesel, Malcolm X and even Mary, Moses and Jesus weren’t Christian, but you probably recognize those are or were all people who’ve done things with their lives very much in alignment with the core of what your values probably are. There are also people who have shared your values and religion that I think you and I would agree have done terrible things, some that have even hurt millions of people. Clearly, being a wonderful person who does good for themselves and others is more about simply investing care, energy and intention in doing good for yourself and others than it is about one system of values or beliefs.

You might find some extra support in finding others to talk to who share your values and also share some of your struggles around this. I’d say that’s even more important if this relationship feels too new for you to talk to this guy about this. I bet you can find someone around your age who feels the same way or similar to the way you feel, who is struggling with what you are: we hear from young people here in a similar spot often. Those other-you’s are out there, I assure you. Self-constructed support groups can be such a big help with anything we need some help with in our lives. If you’ve had trouble finding peers who share your beliefs, you could ask other people in your religious community to help you make those connections.

One last thing I’d suggest is that you think about what you need in terms of dating and what’s likely to be and feel best for you. Is dating a sound choice for you right now at all, especially if it involves being physical in any way? It may not be. If you think it is and you can manage it with your goals around sex, what about what kind of partner is a best choice for you? A partner who is only “fine with” your values and these choices, especially if they’re only reluctantly okay, may not work out very well, especially when you’ve not been dating a month, but months or years, as this is likely to get more challenging with time, especially if the other person doesn’t want what you do. What may be a better fit is dating people who aren’t just okay with your values, but who share them.

If this guy doesn’t turn out to be a person who this works with over time, that doesn’t mean you have to change what you want or believe or do anything you don’t feel good about. If this guy isn’t that person, know that person — probably more than just one, too — is out there, it just may take time to find them, as it often does for any of us to find people with whom we have real affinity.

I’ll confess that talking about what you are is sometimes challenging for me, especially in a world where not everyone is even given the right to get married when that’s something they want and where some of the history around these kinds of ideals makes me uncomfortable. But just like you have a strong intention to save sex until marriage, I have a strong intention to support everyone in whatever they feel is or is not right and best for them in their sexual choices, even when I don’t share the same values and wants, even when I don’t understand them, because I don’t always understand.

That said, I want to make sure you know that just like I support you in this now, I’d be supportive if at any point in your life, you decided you wanted to make different choices that felt right for you then. I’d be supportive if you didn’t decide you felt differently, but did something outside your boundaries because you thought, in the moment, you might feel differently, or wanted to see how you felt if you tried something. We’re all human, and sometimes that means that we’re not always clear on what we want, or that we do something because we think it’ll be okay for us, only to find out that it wasn’t. We’re human, and so we tend to often learn by making mistakes or by trying different things to find out how we feel more tangibly. If that ever happens, I hope you won’t lose pride in yourself, respect for yourself or feel you have lost a “battle.” I hope if any of those things ever does happen, you can be just as kind to you and supportive of you as I’d be.

I also hope that whatever you decide is the right path for you in this, now or later, you can find a way for it to feel less like a battle and more like a positive challenge to get what you want and to be whoever it is you want to be.

I’m leaving you with a few links I think might give you some additional help:

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.