I remember the first time I held Amber’s hand. It was after a date, and we were walking on the sidewalks of New York City. We had started talking about our dreams and hopes for what we wanted to do in life, and I guess it felt like we were walking in the same direction in life. So taking her hand seemed like the natural next step.
I also remember the time that we first kissed. We were with my family at a cabin in the mountains. It was late, and dark, and the credits were rolling for the Fiddler on the Roof, which we had just watched together. My younger brother had fallen asleep on the floor in front of the couch on which we sat. And we kissed. It was a pathetic little peck, barely worthy of the title “kiss,” but for us, it was magical.
So what about sex: when should that come in? The first meeting, or the first month, or the first year—or after the wedding? To answer this question, it’s helpful to ask ourselves: what is the point of sex? There are at least three common ways people think about sex, which I think can be summed up into three schools of thought:
1.“Sex Is Just Sex.” In this version, having sex with another person doesn’t have to be a big deal; sex is for fun. As long as two people have the urge and both consent to sex (the thinking goes), then it’s fine, even if no relationship comes from it. Sex is just sex, a way of exchanging pleasure.
2. “Sex Is About Love.” In the second school of thought, sex is a way of showing love for another person, and making sure that what you think is love is really love. If two people get to know each other and want to show their growing love for each other, sex is a natural way to do that—much like holding hands and kissing. Besides (this way of thinking goes), it’s important that you get to know the person in all facets of life—including in bed—before committing to the person for a lifetime.
3. “Sex Is Radical.” In this version, sex is pleasurable, and sex is a way of showing love—but not just any love: radical love. In this version, sex is radical because it’s a way of saying with your bodies, “I love you, and all that I am is yours, for as long as we both shall live.” Sex is not just an act of the moment, but an act that promises a lifetime of moments. A couple says, “We are a family, and we are a family that stays together.”
My friend Tyler once said that getting married is a way of saying, “The world I want to live in is where I am hers, and she is mine. We are one.” That’s also what sex is saying. That’s why it’s so radical.
The idea is that the physical act of joining our bodies points to the reality that we are also meant to join our hearts and minds together. Sex is the body’s way of repeating what a couple says with their lips on their wedding day: “for better or worse, for richer or poorer…until death do us part.” Every time a couple has sex they are renewing their marriage vows. That body-talk makes a bond of total and radical love, and to undo that bond, except through death, is to break a sacred bond.
You might be willing to guess by this point that I’m of the I agree with the Sex is Radical school of thought. Think about it: if sex was just supposed to be about what feels good to you, why could kids come from it? And if sex was just showing that you love this man or this woman at least for now, why could kids—who last way longer than now!—come from it?
The fact that sex can make babies says something important about what sex is for. Pleasure comes and goes, boyfriends and girlfriends change, but children are a lifetime of commitment. So if kids live until death, surely the love that created those kids is also meant to live until death.
Sure, you can manipulate the body to prevent conception of a baby (such as through contraception). But contraception sometimes fails. And yes, you can lose touch with your child, you can act as if they’re not yours, or the child can act as if you’re not the parent, but that doesn’t change the fact that blood is blood.
There were plenty of times during our dating years when my hormones told me that sex was the natural next step in our relationship. But I knew that if sex is radical, I had to become a radical: I wanted to be a radical lover, and that meant waiting to have sex until marriage.
Because marriage is the only act in the world where you announce to the world that you will love this person come what may. It is amazingly heroic for anyone to do, and if I wanted to experience sex with Amber for all it should be, I wanted first to give all of myself to her forever.