March 22, 2012
Tim — First of all, congratulations on your upcoming move to New York City. It’s a great town, and I’m sure you’ll love it here.
As an athlete and a religious man, you will be a role model to many young people here. So I’m writing to you today in the hopes of reaching them as well. I’m hoping we can spread the word together about an important subject.
It’s about sex.
Like yourself, many religious young people have decided to remain virgins until marriage. That’s clearly no one’s business but their own.
But here’s the problem:
Many of them have been led to believe that premarital abstinence, in addition to being a religious requirement, will serve another important goal too:
That it will make sex much more special after marriage.
I’m sure this is sometimes true. But it’s not true automatically. In my work as a New York City sex therapist, I’ve encountered too many religious couples who’ve been bitterly disappointed when the sex they’d been earnestly saving themselves for fell far short of this ideal.
The erotic impulse is anarchic, infantile. It resists being told to have sex for a higher purpose. Or because it’s religiously sanctioned. Or to have a baby. Eros knows no such goals.
Impose social or religious goals on eros, and you risk trouble. Sometimes it’s trouble with the practical aspects of sex. And sometimes it’s sex that’s mechanically successful — but doesn’t take either of you anyplace very special.
Such negative experiences can lead to the biggest risks of all — disillusionment about sex, disappointment in yourself or your spouse, and sometimes even loss of religious faith.
There are as many causes of sexual trouble as there are couples. But if there’s a common element in disappointed religious couples I’ve seen, it’s this one thing:
It’s hurrying to have sex on one’s wedding night — because you’re now religiously authorized to do so — even though you’re not yet ready in spirit as well as in body.
Just because you’re in a state of physical arousal — that doesn’t mean you’re ready to have sex. If a couple wants to make sex good and make it special, more than physical readiness is required.
As I discussed elsewhere in “Some open secrets about sexual arousal,” one needs genuine psychological arousal as well. One needs real eros. Eros can’t be put on a schedule and told when to show up.
Education in eros comes naturally when a couple is free to dabble at leisure in love’s domain. Ordinarily such an education involves long hours of kissing, holding each other, gazing into each others’ eyes, speaking softly together. Then undressing together and repeating all of the above while plugged into the electricity of full nakedness.
Then, and only then — when two people are entirely lost in wonder — when eros has made a couple so dumb and happy that it’s almost an afterthought really — perhaps finally having intercourse.
Some religious couples — the lucky ones — despite being virgins, know all about eros already. So it’s not such a huge step for them to finally have sex in the Biblical sense.
But many have had no erotic education at all. For these couples, erotically speaking, it can be a big mistake to perform the sacrament in a hurry — just to get it over with.
Tim, I’m asking your help. For all the religious young people who look up to you.
Tell them not to hurry. Tell them to take time after the wedding — to enjoy each other fully. Enjoy being plugged into the power of G-d’s own electricity, for its own sake. Then sex will be a reward, rather than a goal.
Tim, tell them you’re proud that they stayed true to their beliefs. Proud that they saved themselves for marriage.
But tell them to save themselves for eros as well.
Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2012
New York City