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In the previous article in this series, I introduced the concept of chastity. What can we learn through practicing sexual chastity before marriage?
First and foremost, we can learn trust. Couples build trust around the fact that even though they each have sexual desires, they can control them.
Second, chastity leads us into a communicative, spiritual relationship from the start, instead of a physical one. When my husband and I were courting, our conversation became so open and honest that we would even say out loud, “I’m feeling sexually frustrated.” Yes, we said those things to each other—and guess what? It made the tension vanish into thin air. We grew very close through this open communication. This actually enhanced our physical and spiritual desire for each other.
Then, an unexpected realization emerged: these physical desires we naturally felt for each other created a certain level of stress. This was an amazing opportunity to see how we react under stress! Tests in the courtship phase will give you an insight into your partner’s character—and into married life.
Third, we each felt respected. Because some days one partner feels more willing to break the rule, but the other can be steadfast, helping the other one out. Every day I learned something new. I felt I received much more than what I was searching for.
Have you ever thought about your local culture in terms of sex and chastity? How is society not helping you find a lasting, happy relationship? The culture I grew up in has normalized sex:
Sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education, and reducing the human being to an object. It is no longer merely a part of life but has become the defining element of a person’s identity. Thus, our civilization has exalted sex and sexuality to a level of importance far beyond its proper place in our lives. – The Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 April 2017.
How do the Baha’i teachings help us in a culture that doesn’t? I’m proposing the following three options:
First, court, don’t date. Explore each other’s character by doing various activities in different settings, meeting each other’s friends and family, and even meeting strangers together:
A couple should study each other’s character and spend time getting to know each other before they decide to marry, and when they do marry it should be with the intention of establishing an eternal bond. – The Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 378.
Second, have a short engagement period if you can. Baha’u’llah ordained that a Baha'i engagement should not exceed 95 days. Can we also have a short courtship? Without question you do not want to rush into a marriage if you’re not ready to commit. However, a long, drawn-out courtship will lead to enhanced physical desires toward your partner. And as you know, the sun has to set. Otherwise it might start to feel like starvation.
Finally, get parental consent. Baha’is all seek parental consent before marriage, and I encourage you, whether you’re a Baha'i or not, to speak with your parents about their role in parental consent early. This is an important role that must be taken very seriously by both the parents and the children wanting to get married. Obtaining parental consent will unite not only the couple but the families, too—and will make for a much smoother and happier marriage.
I remember hearing someone say that humility kills shame and guilt. So be humble with yourself, communicate with your partner what it means to you to be chaste before marriage, how it’s important, to what degree you’re wanting to practice it. You may slip up, and always learn from your life experiences (I do not call them mistakes). Focus on what you can do as partners, not what you cannot. Chastity may feel harder some days than others. If you are open to receive the hidden wisdom in it, I think you’ll benefit greatly.