I am twenty-two, and I do not have sex. Though I find it quite difficult, I strive to avoid all lustful thoughts and actions. In honor of Harvard’s Sex Week, I have written a few thoughts on why lust is a tricky vice to conquer, along with tips for preventing sexual sin for anyone — dating or single — who actively attempts not to engage in lustful thoughts or activities. Please read along whether you strive to contain all sexual activity within marriage or simply have an interest in the difficulties of abstinence and celibacy.
What Causes Me to Sin?
1. Sensual Desire. It is beyond me why God ordained that humans would yearn for physical intimacy with such intense desire as they do or so frequently, even when they do not enjoy a relationship status that would make it good and right for them to engage in sex acts. So often in my life, I have wanted just to sit and read a book or do my homework but feel compelled to sate my carnal pleasures. A few practical lifestyle changes have lessened the frequency of this temptation, and years of abstinent living have shown me that I am never actually so tempted as to not be able to control which sexual activities I choose to indulge in or forego. That said, I often still feel overwhelmed by desire.
2. Willful Disobedience. My sense of helplessness in the face of my sexual sin for a long time blinded me to the fact that sometimes I simply do not feel like following the rules. When your daily experience is that you sin despite your best efforts, you lose the drive to curtail yourself. “I’m going to sin anyway,” you figure. Now that I know I can avoid sin if I try, the only way for me to enjoy the sensations of giving into lustful desires is to choose lust in cold blood, so to speak. This indifference to following God’s will on any given day is the more insidious cause of my sin between the two. It is symptomatic of a deep-rooted hatred I have for God that frightens and saddens me. I pray for God’s intervention in my heart, that He would remove my impulse to scoff at His precepts.
Having now identified two temptations that cause me to sin, I have written a few practical tips for those who strive to honor God with their bedroom activities. The goal in all of this is to limit sexual activity to the confines of marriage, to use the procreative and unifying act of lovemaking to bless and honor only the person to whom you commit your full self.
For Dating Couples
1. Respect the physical boundaries you and your partner establish, and then respect the logical para-boundaries on top of those. Do you have a rule against lying down on a bed together? Don’t make a habit of sitting on beds together. Do you have a rule against taking either party’s shirt off? Don’t put your hands underneath that person’s shirt. If you have crossed a physical boundary, you probably breezed past your para-boundaries along the way.
2. If you get the sense that neither of you is in the mood to make good decisions before the night begins, promise each other that there are only three directions the night can go from there: call it a night and go to sleep in separate beds, spend thirty minutes devoted to God together as a couple, or start doing homework in a public space like your house library.
3. There’s a point in every night when you get too tired to make good decisions. For me personally, it’s something like midnight on weeknights and maybe a little later after that on weekends. Set an alarm on your phone and don’t be physical with your significant other after your alarm goes off.
4. Strive never to go farther than you’ve already gone together. Even if your sexual history is not as sterling as you would like it to be, maintaining a sex-free relationship now still honors God, your partner, and any future spouse you may have.
5. Do non-physical things together at least as much as you spend time being intimate. Go for runs. Do homework together. Get meals with friends. Go on dates out in public. Pray together. Serve together.
For My Single Brothers and Sisters
1. Take heart! God made humans for more than just marriage. There are many things that only single people get to do (e.g., deciding where they will be living and what they will be doing without having to accommodate a partner’s life goals, spending more time with God Himself, cultivating more friendships than you could otherwise, paying more attention to the people on the fringes of society, etc.) There are huge advantages to singleness. I used to laugh when people talked about “the gift of singleness,” and now one of my most serious reservations about getting married is that I am scared of tearing up my ticket to the deepest possible relationship I could have with God Himself. It does not matter if you never have sex or if you never have sex again. That is only one perk to only one calling. Other callings have real perks that married life does not have. You can never have it all.
2. Avoid lustful encounters. Don’t go to that Don’t text that friend. Don’t visit that website. Don’t read that book. You may not fall into sin in choosing to engage with provocative material, but you are putting yourself at risk.
3. Find an accountability partner, especially someone who will help you prevent your sin in the first place. Having someone to tell when you slip up is hugely valuable. Having someone to call when you think you’re about to make a bad decision is even better. Only do this with someone you trust not to think less of you for being tempted, or it will take a toll on your friendship.
4. Go outside. If you don’t think you can stop yourself from watching porn, masturbating, or indulging in lustful thoughts, go for a walk. Go to a library and work. Go to the gym. You are highly unlikely to indulge in most varieties of lustful indulgence in the middle of Harvard Square.
Embrace God’s forgiveness and love for you. If you have noticed that you can’t make it a day or a week or a month or a year without falling into a particularly insidious habit of lust, look for ways to remind yourself of God’s forgiveness. Whether that’s going to confession, reading Scripture, or talking with friends, continue to remind yourself that God will never think you are too sinful to redeem.
Veronica Wickline ’16 is a senior in Kirkland House studying Ancient History.