"We want our wedding night to be special." This is a sentence you'll hear over and over by couples who explain their choice to wait to have sex until marriage. It's also used by preachers, youth leaders, and purity speakers to incentivize and threaten young people: "You want your wedding night to be special, don't you?" The strong implication being that your wedding night will not be special at all if you have done the deed prior. And if you take that logic one step further, it means that sex is the only thing that makes a marriage special. And in Christianity, marriage must be special. It is sacred and needs to be protected. Therefore, keeping sex within marriage alone is of utmost importance.
I have a few problems with this. One is that I think there are other things that make a marriage special. Another is that I think too many Christians are idolizing the wedding night. And most importantly, I believe that this idea that your wedding and wedding night must be special, or a cataclysmic shift of some kind, is fundamentally flawed.
Here's an example of the typical line of thinking in purity culture (emphasis are mine, and you can read more of his long-winded post here):
Sadly, I think one reason many marriages fall apart is because the couple "acts married" -- to put it delicately -- before they are married. Then when they are married, they find that it's not much different. It reminds me of people who have opened their Christmas presents early, played with them a while, but then, just to be official, they re-wrap them and stick them back under the tree. When Christmas comes, they re-open the presents and may ask themselves, "This is it? Why do people make such a big deal out of Christmas?" If the privileges of marriage are permitted outside of marriage, then I think it takes away the incentive to stay married. If marriage wasn't something to be respected and revered before the wedding, why should it be afterwards?
I want our wedding to be more than an exchange of rings and an excuse to have a party. I want it to have real meaning, real significance. I want it to be a fiery line, a solemn passage, that brings real changes to our lives. I want it to be clear that the altar alters us.
I want there to be a big difference between the unmarried us and the married us. On that day, we go from being two separate people -- a boyfriend and a girlfriend, a fiance and a fiancee -- to one married couple who will completely melt into each other. When I carry her across the threshold, I want it to be more than a formality. I want it to be a fiery line we cross, one that forever welds us together, and makes us inseparable because of it.
Clearly, it is very important to him that there be a very significant change happening on the wedding day--in their relationship and in their lives. My question is, why? Why is that necessary? Assuming the couple fell in love with each other for who the other person is, and that their relationship is working well enough to progress to a lifelong commitment, why should it have to change significantly in order to be successful into the future? I personally don't want my future marriage to change us much. I love my boyfriend the way he is and I love our life together. Marriage, to me, is a commitment, and a wedding is a recognition and celebration of that commitment. It's not an "excuse to have a party," but a really good reason to celebrate!
I have to address the idea that "If the privileges of marriage are permitted outside of marriage, then I think it takes away the incentive to stay married." What he's revealing here is that his own incentive to stay married primarily involves getting to have sex. There are other privileges of marriage of course, but none of them are what he's writing about, and neither are they any more nobler reasons for keeping a marriage together than sex is, in my opinion. I personally believe the incentive to stay married should be love for each other and the commitment you've made, though each person is entitled to their own view because not all relationships are the same and that's okay. What I don't like about his sentence there is that it reminds me of the hurtful environment that is created from separating the privileged marrieds from the unprivileged singles in Christian communities, that I explained here. And it saddens me to think that these arbitrary privileges assigned to marriage should be the sole incentives to stay married. Assuming people can't stay married or have a healthy marriage without waiting to have sex or to live together until an appointed time does not put much faith in people or in love. It puts faith in rules and fear.
There may be people who expect marriage to be one thing and are disappointed to find it wasn't different enough. But whereas the writer above blames the couple's actions for not making it different enough, I blame the culture that creates unnecessary expectations. There's nothing wrong with wanting the beginning of your marriage to be special. I'd say it will be, regardless of circumstances, because taking the time to commit to another person is always a special thing. And the specialness of your wedding night is what you make of it. Just because you've had sex before doesn't mean it can't be special. Yes, having sex for the first time is usually very special. But it's not the only thing that can make a wedding special.
I'm done with fearing and needing my wedding to be special, and I'm done with thinking sex is the only thing that can make it special. My relationship is better than that and stronger than that. And I am special apart from who has touched my body and when.