Can a couple who committed fornication manage to have a good marriage?



First of all, thank you for your site. It seems to have good advice on many issues.

I have read your article "Dealing with the Effects of Pre-Marital Sex." I have a question relating to the article, but which is not covered directly in the article: How should a couple, who are planning to get married and both want to honor God with their lives and with their relationship, deal with having committed premarital sexual sin with each other? Is it very unusual for a couple who have committed premarital sexual sin to have a good marriage? If so, how does one approach going into marriage with the knowledge that you may have doomed it already?

My girlfriend and I have been dating for somewhat over a year. We are both Christians. I am not a very good one, and she is not a very mature one, I don't think. Neither of us has been in a dating relationship before. We have been planning to get married as soon as we get out of college, and I have promised her that I will stick with her no matter what. She has promised the same to me.

For most of our relationship, I largely tried to follow Christian principles in how I relate to her: we made it clear from the beginning that we were each seeking a spouse, that we wanted to wait until marriage for sex, and that we each wanted to live lives which honored God. I believed that God was proud of our actions, and that our marriage would be blessed. However, we failed to put in appropriate boundaries on our behavior together. We engaged in much kissing, cuddling, and the like.

My sexual sin caught up to us. I have been trying to quit masturbation, and I rationalized (incorrectly, I believe) that it would somehow be less of a sin if my girlfriend and I would occasionally mutually masturbate each other. I knew that this was not perfect, but we did this a number of times. I made half-hearted efforts to stop this practice, but each time we ended up doing it again. I rationalized (incorrectly, I believe) that since there was no penetration there was no sex. In any case about a month ago after a day filled with much sexual teasing we impulsively did this and for reasons I will not detail this felt much more intimate. I realized that what we had been doing was definitely a form of sex.

I have been very angry with myself, as I had promised myself and her that we would not have premarital sex. I felt that I had tricked myself and her into doing evil, and possibly jeopardizing our relationship. We have repented of our sin, and turned from our ways -- neither of us are allowed to be alone indoors with the other any more. Yet while before I was able to look into her eyes with my head held high and confidence that I was leading her in a good way, now I worry constantly about what I have done, and the long-term repercussions it may have in both of our lives.

I believe that I have authentically repented for my sin, and that therefore Christ has forgiven me. I have asked for my girlfriend to forgive me and she says she has. However I feel shame when I meet with her family and even when I am with her, and think about this constantly.

While your article has good advice for individuals on how to repent and deal with sexual sin, my question is geared more towards couples who have sinned sexually together, but who want to stick together. Is there much hope for couples who have committed sexual sin with each other? Is there any action such couples can take to rebuild trust? Is premarital counseling a good idea? Do you know of Christian couples who committed premarital sex with each other who were able to turn things around and have contented, peaceful marriages?

My apologies if any of my question was written in an inappropriate tone or with inappropriate content.

Thank you for any response.


It is all too common for people to think that intercourse is the big sin that needs to be avoided and in doing so completely miss all the other sins that were taking place on the way to intercourse. They forget Jesus' warning: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23). Sin doesn't start with the act, it begins when it is first contemplated, accepted, and excused.

I hope you won't mind, but let me review what went wrong and then we can tackle your actual questions.

Having sex without marriage is the word porneia in the original Greek of the New Testament. It is translated as "fornication," but many of the newer translations use "sexual immorality" or just plain "immorality" because the translators think "fornication" is too old of a word and not often used. Unfortunately, "sexual immorality" and "immorality" are too vague. They don't capture the meaning of the word well. For a list of sexual terms in the Bible and their meaning, see: Sex. You were correct in concluding that mutual masturbation is included under the term porneia.

Now that we understand the meaning of the term, we can see whether it is bad. In this, we'll let God answer:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).

The word "bed" in Hebrews 13:4 is translating the Greek word koite. It literally means "bed" and it is were we get our English word "cot" from, but the Greeks used the word the same we say "Jack was sleeping was Jane." You know that Jack and Jane were having sex. By the way, we get our word "coitus" from this same word. "Coitus" is the act of intercourse.

Now this should lead to the question of why God said it is wrong. God doesn't make arbitrary rules. The laws He gives are there to make life better. Therefore, there are things about having sex without marriage that makes life bad. For an answer see:

One of the problems when sex enters a relationship is that it dominates it. Everything revolves around sex and the relationship stops developing. Ultimately the relationship fall apart because sex is not enough to hold it together.

If you understand that you may not have intercourse before marriage, the next question is what about the things done prior to intercourse. Can you do anything so long as there is no penetration?

The first problem is restraint. Most young people discount too heavily the strength of their sexual instinct. This is why I constantly get notes from people saying, "I didn't mean for it to go this far," or "I don't know what happened," or "It was an accident." Such aren't lame excuses. They are the responses of someone who didn't have a healthy respect for the strength of his sexual instinct.

Solomon points out the problem when he asked, "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27). You can show a hot coal all the affection you want. You can cuddle it and dote on it and it will still burn you. Your kindness to it doesn't change its nature. How often do you hear someone say, "But I love her!" Solomon's point is that your feelings toward your girlfriend won't change the fact that both of you have built-in desires and capabilities for sex. Trigger them and they follow the instincts built into you.

Solomon also asked, "Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?" (Proverbs 6:28). Using the same example of a hot coal, if you walk on it, it will burn you. You can apologize and say you didn't mean to step on it, but you'll still be hurt because your intentions doesn't change what it is. Thus, the excuse, "But I didn't mean for it to go this far!" becomes an empty one because your intentions doesn't change your body's drive.

That is why Solomon concludes, "So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:29). Though he is talking directly about adultery, the same point is true about fornication. When you start stirring up sexual feelings, you are never innocent when thing go further than you wanted.

That is why we are told not to make room for lust and lewdness. "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14). Lust is those thoughts and desires you keep battling about taking things even further. Lewdness is engaging in sexual foreplay that gets the body ready for intercourse. The Christian must recognize the danger and not start a sequence of events that can't be legitimately completed. It was these two things that kept breaking down your intentions to stop the fornication.

Rules, then, are needed so that you don't start down a sinful path. No touching each others private areas. No stroking skin to get you or her sexually aroused. No long passionate kisses that leave you out of your mind. You have to treat each other with respect and not as sexual objects. "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (I Corinthians 7:1).

With that comes not talking dirty or showing nude or semi-nude pictures to each other. "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them" (Ephesians 5:3-7). You don't stay pure by sexually arousing the other person.

Yes, you feel close to her when your sexual passion is aroused. Instinct drives you to focus on her and your feelings. But at this point in time your focus should be on your friendship. The sexual stuff will come after you commit yourself in marriage to her.

Now you've already gone too far, but it doesn't mean everything is ruined for the two of you as a couple. You did the proper thing put in place the proper boundaries that should have been there from the start.

The initial problem couples who had been sexual face is suddenly realizing that they need to find something else to do. Sex dominated the relationship for so long that things like getting to know each other and doing non-sexual things together seems boring. A lot of relationship break because the two people are no longer best friends.

Temptation to revert to old practices remain strong. The excuse, "It won't change anything. We've already sinned," keeps surfacing. If you two do decide to get married, it will get accompanied by "We're going to get married soon, so it won't matter." It is harder to deal with sexual temptation when things are open-ended. If you know that in, say six months you'll be married and can have sex then, it makes waiting a bit easier to deal with because you know there is a goal. You only have to hold out for so long.

One of the harder things to rebuild is trust. You both broke God's laws and that introduces doubt. How can you know the other person will respect God's laws later, after marriage? It is the time that spend refusing to get involved in sexual sin between now and then that will rebuild that confidence.

While I'm on this topic, let me make a small side point. One of the mistakes you made is promising yourself that you would not have pre-marital sex. Don't get me wrong. Being committed to be faithful to each other is excellent, but the reason for doing so is off. The reason fornication and related sexual sins are wrong is because God said it was wrong. Our aim should be pleasing God and not ourselves. When I do things because it pleases me, well, I might be tempted to compromise with myself because sex also pleases me. But when I see that sex before marriage is wrong because God said so, then I don't need promises to anyone. Those sins are off the table and what I want is not a factor.

Basically there is nothing here that cannot be recovered with old-fashioned effort and commitment.

In your worries about the long term consequences of your actions, you failed to realize that when God says He forgives, it is total. "For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). God won't hold your past sins against you when you turn away from them. He won't remove the consequences, such as the guilt or the extra temptations -- those remain as incentives to not return your former evil. However, He isn't going destroy your relationship now that you are doing what is right. And, yes, I do know several couples who had sexually sinned, but managed to overcome and have wonderful marriages. All of them would tell you that they wished they hadn't gotten involved in sex before marriage, but they still were able to build a great life together.

Even if you hadn't committed sexual sins, I would still strongly recommend pre-marital counseling. There are numerous issues that need to be considered before you get married and few people can think of them all before the time comes. Pre-marriage counseling gives you a chance to discuss and resolve issues before they become major burdens.

Mr. Hamilton,

I just wanted to thank you for your wise advice and say that this really meant a lot to me. It really, really meant a lot to me for you to explain what I need to do from a biblical perspective.