You Are Not Damaged Goods
On Dating with a Sexual History
Talking about sexual history with the person you’re dating can go wrong very quickly. It can turn a healthy dating relationship into a game of manipulation and control in a millisecond. When sexual history is revealed, both parties may feel betrayed for different reasons. Every sentence takes on the cadence of a threat — an ultimatum. Every question can land like a left hook.
“I thought you loved me.”
“It’s dealt with in Christ, so why is this so hard for you?”
“What grief or concerns am I allowed to express?”
Dealing with sexual history can turn intimacy into a battlefield, and affection into a tangled web of recorded wrongs — of power plays and sharpened blades. I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I allowed insecurity to take the driving seat. I allowed my ego to become the thing I protected and cherished, rather than the valuable and vulnerable image of God in front of me.
Rarely do two Christians have the proper tools to defuse the conversation. Dating is an unstable kind of relationship — it either ends in a marriage or a breakup. A sexual history only complicates matters. It can make us nervous, cautious, withholding, unsparing, unforgiving, and bludgeoning. But, by God’s infinite and mysterious grace, it can also be an event for mending, for excavating, for cherishing, for learning — if we have the courage.
The twin emotions of dating with a sexual history are embarrassment and impatience. Embarrassment, because you feel exposed and judged as you feel the weight of the other person’s purity. Impatience, because you want to let the past be the past, and refuse to be rejected and discarded for a past with which you’ve dealt diligently with the Lord and the church.
“I can’t tell him.”
“What if she breaks up with me?”
There are a few practical things to remember for those embarrassed by their sexual history. First, don’t play the comparison game. Lack of a sexual history does not equal purity of heart. That’s just not the way the heart works (Matthew 5:28). Nor does lack of sexual history bring relational security. To seek the person with the “cleanest” story is an attempt to control a future — it’s not a search for holiness, but a divine coup d’état, striving to micro-manage our own safety and power. It can also belittle the sovereign and sanctifying grace of God. Your history says less about you than an accuser might have you believe. If you’ve truly put your hope in Jesus Christ, and given yourself to a lifelong pursuit of his holiness, your history cannot condemn you anymore.
Second, guard your own heart against another’s manipulation. Your past sins were not against your partner in a way that allows them to coerce you into more sexual immorality. Yes, your sin has real-time implications for them, and you may eventually need to apologize for it. But David insists of God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). That means: don’t let embarrassment over your sexual history give your partner the power to take advantage of you — perhaps even in a sexual way, to “make up” for the deficit they feel they have measured against your past relationships. You do not owe them anything. To insist on anything more is the work of the Liar (Proverbs 19:22). Often, shame can be a seedbed of further sin. It is essential to be aware of that.
Third, your sin has been canceled and covered in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:13). The violent and irreversible victory that Jesus Christ wins over death and guilt speaks the final word on your sin: “Little children . . . Forgiven” (1 John 2:12). Let that be the lens through which you understand yourself and your past. Any other voice, even one that has been hurt or offended or threatened, does not get the final word. You are deeply loved and cherished (Ephesians 5:1). God has a plan for you, no less than for any other (1 Timothy 1:16). You are not a second-class citizen in the kingdom. You are not a second rate option for a Christian spouse. You are a child of God, and he does not punish past sins with circumstantial hardship. He punished your sins, sexual or otherwise, on the cross. “He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
“This is my past. Deal with it.”
“Why can’t you just get over this?”
“It’s not a big deal. Just trust me.”
Your partner has a reaction to your past: they’re hurt and insecure, and they’re asking an overwhelming number of questions. Their hurt feels resentful, bitter, judgmental, dismissive, and unwarranted. Embarrassment can make you feel cornered and enraged. Their insecurity feels like a prophet of your rejection and humiliation. Fear lies at the root of the worst sorts of frustration and impatience. There are a few things to keep in mind.
First, previous reactions people have had to your sexual history don’t dictate how the next boyfriend or girlfriend will receive it. Give them the very benefit of the doubt that you want from them (Luke 6:31; 1 Corinthians 13:7).
Second, be patient with them (1 Corinthians 13:4). It will be hard. If it wasn’t hard at all, that would be just as alarming. They are confronting a lot of thoughts, fears, and imaginings in their own heart that will be difficult to wrestle through. Again, this can make you feel judged, afraid of being left, and trigger old feelings and fears. Love them by giving them space and time to wrestle. Work against letting the conversation become a me-versus-you conversation. Don’t try to win a fight. Try to win your brother or sister in Christ: “A gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches” (Proverbs 11:16). Get honor.
Third, guard yourself from pushing the envelope physically in order to level the playing field — that is, to give them a sexual past that you can hang over their head. This is epitome of selfishness, and the height of sin’s deceit, attempting to deal with your own guilt by drawing others’ into sin with you. Do not repay “anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Don’t let the haze of shame or pain or insecurity become the ground for walking into more sin.
Fourth, be sure that your past really is your past. Are you still indulging daydreams about past sexual encounters? Are you justifying flirtatious encounters with other women while courting your current partner — favoriting on Twitter, messaging on Facebook, intentionally going to their favorite coffee shop? If so, the woman you’re dating has every right to the uncertainty and insecurity she’s expressing.
You don’t have to be perfect to date. Perfection is not a qualification for love. But integrity is. Make sure that you are experiencing real victory and progress in your personal purity before you begin dating and try to have these difficult conversations with someone. Duplicity at the outset or foundation of a marriage is a road to destruction: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Proverbs 11:3).
Fifth, pray for your partner (1 Timothy 2:8) — that God would give them gracious words to say (Luke 4:22), that God would give them a sober understanding of their own sin (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 1:10), and that the love between a brother and sister in Christ would be strengthened and more deeply glorifying to God (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
Love Without Expectation of Return
At the end of the day, the person you’re dating may not be able to handle your sexual history. They may walk away, and that would be perfectly within their Christian freedom. You could pout and ponder their shortcomings, but the cold concrete reality is simply this: You are facing the real-time consequences of your past sins. God is not judging you. He is not implementing a law of karma in your case. David Powlison puts it well: “God builds reap-what-you-sow into the inner workings of how He runs His universe” (“Innocent Pleasures”).
You’re going to be okay. It hurts badly. But God walks us through things like this for our good. If he allowed us to be twisted without reprecussions, we would all have spiritual nerve damage — getting burned and bruised because we can never feel the pain of dangerous choices. Against all the awful things we might feel about ourselves, God gives us three things when we are rejected because of sexual history. He gives us honor, healing, and hope.
He gives us honor, because we choose to love out of the love that we have received, and not for selfish gain. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46) To love without reciprocation is to feel the pangs of Jesus whom we rejected. To trust God enough to love and not be loved in return is to be counted with Christ, and there is honor in that kind of faith.
God gives us healing, because he does his best work in brokenness. At any moment, God can weed out thorns of impurity that choke the life within you: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). God is doing that in you (Philippians 2:12–13). When you ask, “What is God up to in my life? Why is he ripping this relationship away from me?” The answer is clear. He is healing you and cleansing you. He has not placed a verdict of lifelong guilt on you. No condemnation (Romans 8:1). For now, and just for now, he is simply (and painfully) healing you.
He gives us hope because, with each new day, God charges himself with our care: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). No mourning is outside the scope of God’s good plan for you. If you get married, it is by the hand of the same God who called you from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. If you get married, it is by the same kind of decree that created the universe. If it’s God’s will for you to be married, then you are on an unstoppable crash course for marriage. And if you’re rejected by another person, that, too, is within God’s loving and merciful will for you.
Trust God today, and recognize that because he created time, that time is on your side. If you are rejected because of your sexual history, trust that it is not some arbitrary wound, but that it is a cog in God’s very orderly and detailed plan for your joy-filled life. May God grant us, the guilty, mercy to receive his good gifts as from a Father who loves us.
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