How Much Do I Need to Know About My Potential Spouse's Sexual Past? My Response

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Below is a “Questions and Ethics” letter I posted a while back. Here are some of your responses to this query. Below is my response to the writer.

Dear Dr. Moore,

I am a young single Christian woman. I made a commitment at a very young age to remain sexually chaste, and I’ve done so. I have dated other boys, but always just in groups in a very casual setting. Now, however, I am seeing a young Christian man who seems great in every way. We have dated for about a month, and I really like him. He treats my family (my father is deceased but my mother and sisters live near me) great, and all my friends like him.

Here’s my question. I am wondering what his sexual past looks like, in order to know what I’m getting into. Has he been with other women, sexually? If so, how many and in what way? Has he ever had a problem with pornography? With every week that goes by, I’m more and more in love with him, and I’m afraid to keep getting my hopes up only to have them dashed when we’re right at the point of marriage.

I’m not saying that any particular information would necessarily kill the relationship, but I’d sure like to know something about this to know what I’m getting myself into. It sure seems awkward, though, to say, “So tell me about your sex life?” Would that be forcing too much intimacy too soon? Is it right for a woman to be so forward with a man who’s not her husband? Do I ever need to know this?

My question: should I ask him about his past? If so, how should I ask it, and at what point in the relationship?

True Love Waiting

Dear True,

First of all, I agree with you that this is something important for you to know, should this man become your husband. His body and his sexuality, the Bible says, will belong to you (1 Cor. 7:4). Moreover, the sexual union is not, whatever our broken culture might try to think, simply a neurological or even emotional response. The sexual union, mysteriously, forms a personal union (1 Cor. 6:16). Your husband’s “past” will, in a very real sense, become part of your story too.

Having said that, though, this question can be very dangerous for you, at this point. As you seem to recognize, dating is about discerning whether someone would be a good prospect for marriage. I’ve seen several budding relationships wrecked by a “DTR” (“define the relationship” talk) about such matters that formed, prematurely, an inappropriate emotional intimacy.

I do not think, at this time, you need to delve into the details (or lack thereof) of his past. What’s important for you to know is how he views sexual immorality. A man who will brush off past fornication as “no big deal” from which he’s “moved on” is a man with a conscience trained to do the same thing with future adultery.

I would recommend asking this man what his convictions are about protecting himself, and his future marriage, from sexual immorality. You might ask him how he would counsel his son to flee pornography or other forms of immorality. I think you’ll be able to gauge a lot from the wisdom and gravity (or lack thereof) he displays.

As the discernment process continues, though, your need to know further will expand. By that time, you will know more about the character and trajectory of this man.

There’s a really critical peril here though.

On the one hand, a man who glibly dismisses his past immorality is dangerous, for your future marriage and your future children.

On the other hand, your dismissing him automatically on the basis of immorality is also dangerous. If he is repentant, seeing his past sin as hell-deserving but crucified, then you should receive him (all else being equal), just as you have been received.

You are not “owed” a virgin because you are. Your sexual purity wasn’t part of a quid pro quo in which God would guarantee you a sexually unbroken man. Your sexual purity is your obligation as a creature of God. And you have rebelled at other points, and been forgiven. If you believe the gospel, you believe the gospel for everyone, and not just for yourself.

If your future husband is repentant, and forgiven, and yet you are “tortured” by the thoughts of his past, then the issue for you is one of personal pride and a refusal to see oneself as a gospel-forgiven sinner.

The issue for you with your future husband is discerning whether there are ongoing patterns, whether he agrees with God about the severity of this sin, and whether he has been cleansed from it by Golgotha Hill blood and Garden Tomb power.

Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasn’t. He loved us anyway.

Do you have an ethical question? Send it to me at [email protected]. I’ll keep it anonymous and change all the identifying details.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).