Premarital Relations

I’ve been dating a man for the past six months and he says “it is time to get serious.” I agree, except that we differ in how we define that. In my mind, “getting serious: means to talk about marriage. In his mind, it means getting intimate. I am starting to feel pressure to follow his lead. What do you think?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Unlike other religions, Jewish religious leaders are not celibate. Judaism believes that intimacy is one of the highest forms of spiritual expression, and accepts the notion that God gave us this intense drive to direct in a positive manner.

In Jewish thought, physical intimacy contains within it the highest potential for spirituality. It is one of the greatest means a married couple is given to express holiness. Like any other means, however, its use depends completely on the expression given to it by the individuals involved. This union is like a canvas in the control of the artists – husband and wife – and the spiritual message they produce can be meaningless, or it can be a masterpiece.

The longing one has for intimacy is really an expression of the longing for completion, to be intimately joined with our "other half." Through this relationship, we express this by becoming bound together as one.

Through marriage, a man and woman are committed for a lifetime. They are totally given over to one another, and intimacy becomes a way of expressing and actualizing this total oneness.

Outside of marriage, relations are ultimately frustrating because "oneness" can never be fully achieved. This is obviously true in regard to a short-term encounter. But even in a long-term setting, without the commitment of marriage, there is always the option of leaving the relationship. As a result, the degree of connectedness reaches a barrier.

Naturally a person has to get to know the person they are going to marry by talking about life goals, personal preferences, etc. It is also important that the couple find each other physically attractive. But you don't have to sleep together for that.

Ironically, studies have shown that couples who lived together before marriage are more likely to get divorced early in marriage. There is a simple reason for this. When a man and woman live together, they approach their relationship very differently than they would as a married couple. Finances, personal interests, household chores, social lives, major decisions, minor decisions, resolving conflict, family and children, and expectations about the future are all dealt with from the perspective of two individuals who lack a common lifetime goal. When they get married, expectations often change, the rules are different, and the resulting tension is something that the couple may be unable to overcome.

Here's a list of "10 Reasons Not to Have Pre-Marital Relations":

1) It clouds one's objectivity. Pleasurable physical contact creates a bond: a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bond. You're already "committed" without focusing on important issues. Once the physical aspect takes off, you're so drawn in that you'll stay in the relationship even though you don't like the person. It becomes a relationship of convenience, not love. The real danger is in getting comfortable and then getting married.

2) It focuses away from developing communication in the relationship. Imagine that you have a little fight. Should we hug and make up in bed, or learn other non-physical ways of affection? Without the smoke-screen of physical intimacy, there will be a greater need to communicate verbally and emotionally.

3) It cheapens your self-worth. If you give intimacy to just anyone, you cheapen your sense of self. The more selective you are, the more valued you are.

4) It makes you prone to getting hurt. In pre-marital relations, a person is emotionally exposed and vulnerable. When they fail to receive the expected emotional reciprocation in return, the result is hurt. A marital commitment demonstrates that the man sees his wife as whole human being and not as an object of physical desire. Many women get confused about a man's intentions and are hurt when they later find out the truth afterwards. And they regret it.

5) You become cynical about relationships. Repeated hurt makes you stop believing that real commitment is possible. Remember your optimism about the "first one?" Now you will carry the baggage of shattered illusions into marriage.

6) You become desensitized to the special experience. What is the power of a hand-hold? A gentle kiss? We live in a society in which people treat sexuality casually. We have lost the sense of the specialness of intimate behavior by which people express their love. In Jewish consciousness, a married couple expresses the intimacy between them in a whole range of ways: The way they look at each other, the way they speak to each other, the way they behave in front of each other. If you use loving language for casual encounters, then when you want to use it later in marriage, it will ring hollow.

7) You will compare your spouse to others. After many partners, a person has experienced different physical features and activities. They now have a "composite picture" of the ultimate partner. But who will ever be able to match up to that fantasy? It is a primary rule in marriage: Don't ever compare your spouse to someone else (e.g. "My mother cooked it this way"). Since every experience stays in your subconscious, it will be that much harder to forge a total bond with your spouse.

8) The myth of sexual compatibility. Surprisingly, incompatibility is less likely when a couple has no experience to begin with. They each have a "clean slate" and are not comparing their spouse to a past lover. They can grow together in their intimacy, just as they grow together in their emotional and spiritual lives. Any initial "incompatibility" is usually just shyness or lack of familiarity. As the couple gets to know each other better – as trust grows – they become naturally compatible. Marital counselors say they have never seen a couple break up solely on the issue of relations. Problems of intimacy are merely a symptom of other problems.

9) It removes then incentive to commit. When you agree to pre-marital relations, you’ve already given away much of what you have to give. If one side is pressuring the other, by saying, "If you really loved me, you'd be intimate with me" you can respond: "If you really love me, you wouldn't pressure me."

10) You are attached for eternity. The verse in Genesis 39:10 speaks about a sexual relationship, and uses the words, "to sleep with her, to be with her." The Talmud (Sotah 3b) explains that "to sleep with her" refers to the intimate bond created by the experience – and "to be with her" refers to the afterlife. Intimacy creates a deep soul bond, and whether you are together for one night or a few years, you will experience that bond in the eternal spiritual world.

Finally, from the standpoint of Jewish law, Maimonides cites Deuteronomy 22:13 as a prohibition against pre-marital relations. (See also Leviticus 18:6.) Additionally, since single women do not immerse in the Mikveh, having pre-marital relations would involve another prohibition as discussed in Leviticus 18:19.

For a better understanding of what love is read this important article What is Love?

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