Keeping your virginity until your wedding night may not be the norm these days, but there are far more people taking a vow of chastity than you may have realised, and it's not always down to religious beliefs.
For many, holding back from sex isn't just about preventing sexually transmitted infections or the fear of producing a sprog, but to make sure their bodies really are a temple and will be treated with love and respect.
We've even been influenced by America's campaign for teenage chastity, with university courses in the UK encouraging students to remain celibate until they marry. Yet, according to research by Harvard University, just over half the teenagers in the USA who made a pledge to remain a virgin changed their mind within a year.
Who says you can't have sex before marriage?
The idea of not having sex before marriage stems from various religious beliefs. Many of us can't imagine the idea of waiting until our wedding night to pop our cherry or sleeping with one person for the rest of our lives. It's not like we live in the days when an engagement comes shortly after the first of a few snogs on our doorstep. 'Living in sin' is becoming far more acceptable to couples who want to make sure they're compatible in every way, before making a life-long commitment. If you have a satisfying sex life before you get married it could be a big step towards securing yourselves a long and happy marriage, just as long as you manage to keep the fire burning, that is.
On the other hand, if you love someone unconditionally, even without sex, you've a good chance of eventually enjoying a great sex life, and the added benefit of learning about sex together. Not many people can say that sex with a new partner is perfect at the beginning, however much you convince yourself that there were fireworks and had multiple orgasms. It takes time to get to know each other's bodies and grow in confidence. If you have that spark, mutual respect and understanding at the beginning, then you should be off to a pretty good start.
Finding someone who accepts your belief
Caroline is 23-years-old and has vowed to stay a virgin until she marries, not simply because of her religion, but because she's been brought up that way.
"Initially I wanted sex to be something I shared with my husband - the religion aspect came later on. I had a long-term boyfriend who wasn't a Christian or a virgin, yet he was amazing and accepted it fully. In some ways he was stricter about it than I was because he knew how important it was to me."
I'm a Christian, and although I'm fine with foreplay, I don't want to have sex until I'm with someone that I love and trust. But, this is more a matter of my personal opinion than the fact I'm a Christian. Sex is for love.
But Caroline's boyfriends weren't always as understanding. "I told one guy I was dating after a couple of weeks and he basically said 'well that's it then'. I was horrified at his reaction. He said that because he was a rower and trained hard that he needed that 'release'. Two months later he called me up to say sorry and that he loved me! Needless to say, we didn't get back together."
Is oral acceptable?
There's much confusion about whether it's OK to dabble with oral sex if you want to stay pure until you meet 'the one'. Some say oral sex is a form of sex in itself and if you wish to stay a virgin until you marry you should abstain from all sexual frivolities. Others argue that as long as you remain a virgin and don't go for full penetration then you've nothing to worry about.
"I'm a Christian, and although I'm fine with foreplay, I don't want to have sex until I'm with someone that I love and trust. But, this is more a matter of my personal opinion than the fact I'm a Christian. Sex is for love," says 18-year-old Bethany.
Many people who decide against sex before marriage also choose not to have oral sex, not just because they feel it is wrong, but also because it could lead to full sex.
Mark, 22, has a friend who went out with a Catholic girl who was willing to do 'anything but'. "It was very difficult because he respected her choices, but found her very contradictory because they'd end up naked together, rubbing genitals and having oral sex. He didn't enjoy the teasing aspect of it and the relationship ended pretty quickly."
Ultimately it's up to you what rules you make and whether you want to have oral sex with your partner and stop at that. If you've decided to wait, It may be easier not to do anything at all to avoid any temptation, but for many couples oral sex can be just as fulfilling as intercourse, but without the guilt.
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