It’s important to be completely honest with one another before you walk down the aisle, as uncomfortable as it may be.
As much as you may prefer to focus on shopping for wedding dresses (and there’s nothing wrong with being delighted about that!), it’s crucial that you also set aside time to focus on the lifelong commitment you’re about to make, even outside of your premarital counseling sessions. That’s because after all the cake is eaten, there are some real, wonderful, and complicated consequences of saying “I do.” You’re not saying yes to a day; you’re saying yes to a lifetime with someone. And that includes sexual matters.
This engagement period is a time when you should both strive to be honest with each other. Easier said than done, right? Talking about sex with a partner can feel taboo even in the most committed of relationships. But all you really need are a few painless talking points to get you past the awkwardness and into a meaningful conversation.
Teresa Violette, therapist associate at the CatholicPsych Institute in New York, says there are three sex questions every engaged couple must ask each other before they get married. Discussing these questions will help strengthen the bond of your marriage, so try not to wiggle out of them due to embarrassment, guilt, or even being pressed for time. These questions lay the groundwork for the kind of trust and understanding you want to cultivate in your marriage.
1. What is the meaning and purpose of sex for you?
This sounds like a big question, but take it slow, and think for a moment about how you define sex personally. Between religious upbringings, life experiences, and secular influences, you and your fiancé might not exactly see eye to eye when it comes to sex. So finding out what you truly believe, and what he truly believes, is the first step to negotiating, and aligning those beliefs for a happy, healthy marriage.
“Reflect and process together and go to marital prep programs,” says Violette. “It’s always a free choice to make a full and fruitful commitment to each other. Often in this day and age, sex is very much about your own selfish pleasure.” But sex shouldn’t be selfish, and it touches on the meaning of marriage, as well as about being open to life as a couple, and how sex is integrated into your whole relationship as you learn and grow together.
So it’s important to talk about this before marriage, and to really listen to what each other has to say. Your individual needs are equally important, with the idea that you’re in this marriage together.
2. What are your medical concerns or issues?
Marital sex is grounded in spiritual realties, but we are embodied spirits and our bodies are every bit part of it. That’s why Violette recommends making appointments with a physician to determine that you’re both physically fit and not suffering from any sexual issues.
“Especially if there’s impotency,” she says, noting that physical health is about more than STDs. “That would mean the inability to engage in the marital union. It’s good to be pursued by a medical doctor to find out the underlying cause and get medical intervention [if your husband needs it].”
Similarly, Violette says it should be assessed if you’re able to have children. If either you or your fiancé has had a medical procedure in the past “with the goal of infertility,” do you still abide by that decision? Is there a way to reverse it if you want to have children? These and other matters are ones you must bring to each other, and to your doctor, so you have a full picture of each other’s physical capabilities and limitations as husband and wife.
3. What should I know about your sexual history?
Regardless of religious beliefs, the reality is that many people today don’t wait until marriage before they are sexually active. That doesn’t mean remaining a virgin until marriage is impossible, or that an engaged couple hasn’t waited for each other, but what it does mean is that every person’s sexual history is unique and your fiancé should know yours and vice-versa. This part of the discussion may be especially sensitive, so keep in mind that the intent is not to incite shame or jealousy.
“Answering this question is about growing in unity, in connection, and in understanding of the other person,” says Violette. When you marry someone, you are embracing the whole of who that person is.
What and how much you reveal is up to you. The point is to form what Violette calls an “open-line of communication.”
“I really don’t think that there’s much that shouldn’t be discussed as long as there’s reverence,” she says. “Any kind of shaming of sexual history would be very inappropriate. The goal is unity. [Talking things through will help lessen] obstacles to unity in your marriage.”
What Violette does caution against is going into too many details.
“I don’t think those memories need to be relived,” she says, adding that that is especially the case for survivors of sexual assault.
On that note, if either you or your fiancé has experienced sexual assault, Violette urges you to get psychological and post-traumatic counseling to help yourself heal and ameliorate potential problems in your marriage. It’s no easy thing to overcome, and there’s no shame in needing outside help.
You should also consider seeking professional help if you or your fiancé are addicted to pornography, which is a very real and serious issue for some people today and can deeply affect your marriage.
“Relationships can be very powerful for emotional healing,” she says. “But [if you encounter a medical or deeply emotional problem], get the professional care of a therapist first and foremost.”
Addressing sexual matters may not be a stroll in the park, but it will help prevent major misunderstandings from fraying your bond down the road, and can bring you and your fiancé closer together both now and for years to come.