Jett V., 31, and her husband were exhausted on their wedding night. But after six years of being together sans sex because of their Christian faith, they were excited to experience something that had been tempting them throughout their relationship. Unfortunately, the pain was too much for Jett to handle, and they fell asleep without consummating their new bond. “There was nothing to prepare us for how painful it would be,” Jett says. “It caught us so off-guard.” The next day, they gave it another, much more successful, try. “It was still crazy painful, but afterwards, we were laughing and cheering,” says Jett. “We started off our marriage feeling like champions, like we’d climbed Mount Everest.”
On average, American women first have intercourse at 17.2 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent available data shows that as of 2013, 89.1 percent of married women had engaged in premarital sex. That means that, like Jett V., more than 10 percent of married women waited to have sex until after they’d said “I do.” What’s more, millennials are delaying marriage for longer than any previous generation, so some of those who wait have to call upon extra willpower. According to stats from a Pew Research Center survey, only 26 percent of people then aged 18 to 33 were married in 2014. Thirty six percent of Generation Xers were already married by that age, as were 48 percent of Baby Boomers.
Waiting to have sex till marriage is a valid, commendable choice. I’m all for women choosing what they do with their bodies, whether that’s abstaining or engaging in (smart, safe) casual sex. But whenever the topic of waiting until marriage comes up with my friends, the conversation revolves around one main subject: What if, like pieces from different jigsaw puzzles, your parts don’t quite mesh? Or the chemistry is missing? What if you’re stuck for eternity without that flame?
“Everything was off,” Heather M., 29, says about the first time she had sex with her husband. “Our rhythms were not in sync, things didn’t fit, and my nervousness made it more awkward and less enjoyable than I expected.” She’s content with her decision to wait till marriage, but she hadn’t imagined dealing with that level of discomfort. She’s not the only one.
“Sex was pretty underwhelming for the first week,” Rebecca K., 39, says. The act took some getting used to, even though she read Sex for Dummies. “It was about a month before I started to enjoy it,” she says. Overall, she’s glad she waited, but sometimes she wonders about what could have been. “I regret waiting to some degree. Part of me wishes I had tried sex before so that I knew what worked and what I liked,” she says.
Early sexual fumbling with a spouse can just make the relationship stronger. “The learning process is the beauty of it. Because we waited, we had this full security of knowing that we had our entire lives to learn how to be intimate and that the other person wasn’t going anywhere,” says Jett, who adds that she wishes “the Christian world were more upfront about the realities of sex being challenging and messy even within marriage” and that movies didn’t often display sex as “this unbelievably pleasurable act where you both experience ecstasy at once.”
Like Jett, Krista M., 37, is sure that waiting to have sex until marriage will add something invaluable to her relationship. “I come from a home where sex was spoken of as natural, exciting, and totally important within marriage,” she says. She knows there will be a learning curve when she and her fiancé get intimate, but they’ve already discussed some key elements. “I’m confident in my fiancé’s total devotion to me, to foreplay, and to making my orgasm more important than his. I have no doubt the sex will be amazing,” she says.
And it certainly can be! Some people find that the sex they have on their wedding nights goes beyond everything they’d hoped for. April H., 28, abstained after a devastating breakup as a teenager. That relationship had involved sex, and she didn’t want to be hurt like that again. What’s more, she decided she wasn’t going to kiss her now-husband until they were married. It all went beautifully, even though they walked to their hotel room in silence because they were both so nervous. “We sat on the bed, prayed, then had an incredible night together. We had so much fun exploring and touching each other’s bodies for the first time,” April says.
Although waiting to have sex until marriage can come with unforeseen difficulties and unexpected emotions, many women who did so would do it all over again. “We were a young couple in our twenties who had every impulse to not wait, to not keep our hands off each other,” says Jett. “But after marriage, I can say it’s one of the most worthwhile decisions I’ve ever made.”