Why Making Men Stay Abstinent Until Marriage Actually Makes Sex Worse

Celibacy has a downside.

couple wedding laying down popovartem.com / Shutterstock

In 2015, when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a model of modern masculinity, and his now-wife Ciara made a mutual agreement to stay sexually abstinent until marriage, the two made the decision after God spoke to him.

They were married in 2016, a few months after meeting.

In an interview with San Diego's Rock Church, Wilson said God told him "I need you to 'lead her.'" The conversation continued and Wilson was able to clarify exactly what he would ask of Ciara and himself — refraining from having sex until they were married. 


However, Wilson's pre-marriage celibacy pledge might not be the healthiest decision for everyone.

According to a 2015 articleSarah Diefendorf, a writer and sociology graduate student at the University of Washington, argued that her own research suggests that men who make a commitment to refrain from premarital sex may not easily transition into married sexual life, largely due to certain beliefs about sexuality and gender.

RELATED: Utah Public High School Sent These Abstinence-Only Contracts To Students


"Sexual purity and pledging abstinence are most commonly thought of as feminine, something girls and young women promise before marriage," Diefendorf said in an interview with the University of Washington. "But I wanted to look at this from the men's point of view."

In 2008, Diefendorf began studying an "abstinent until marriage" support group called The River, which consisted of 15 Caucasian male members of an Evangelical church in the Southwest. All the members of the support group were single or casually dating.

The men of The River viewed sex as something sacred, a gift from God intended to be enjoyed within the sanctity of marriage. The River's members also had challenges dealing with what they called "the beastly elements or temptations of sex."

Further challenges to their virginity pledges were things such as pornography use, self-pleasuring, any kind of carnal urges, and same-sex desire.


As with any support group, the members were there for each other and became accountability partners to help each other control their actions. The members would do things like text each other, "Are you behaving?" or they'd just listen when another member's celibacy encountered an especially tough temptation.

"People think that evangelical support groups are just about suppressing men's natural urges, but really they're caring, supportive, and safe spaces that allow men to have remarkably open and frank discussions about sexual desire," Diefendorf said.

In 2011 and 2012, Diefendorf followed up with the men. Fourteen of them had gotten married, and she wanted to find how the men's views of sex and masculinity had altered since then.

RELATED: What Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Does To Parents, Kids And Teen Pregnancy Rates


Although marriage had promised the enjoyment of their sacred gift from God, the gift wasn't without complications.

The members of The River still struggled with sexuality, and now they had the added worry of extramarital affairs. The worst part was that they no longer had a support group to help them through these temptations because it was taboo to speak about sex as it disrespected their wives.

"After marriage, the church culture assumes that couples become each other's support, regardless of the issue at hand," Diefendorf said. "There's little support in figuring out sexuality in married life, and these men don't know how to talk to their wives about it."

The men had been told that women were nonsexual but still available for their pleasure. It's a double standard keeping with old-fashioned ideals of the relationship between femininity and purity because it prevented the men from opening up to the women they're sleeping with.


The men could no longer reach out to their support networks. They had been promised a sexually active, happy marriage; yet, many still weren't satisfied and they had no one to help them with their struggles of continuing to think of sex as beastly and wrong.

The research suggests that a pledge of sexual abstinence works to uphold an ideal of masculinity that hurts both men and women.

After being indoctrinated with the idea that sex is a dangerous beast that needs to be controlled, the transition to a married and sexual life is challenging at best, especially when men don't have any support, and are left confused to figure things out on their own.


RELATED: 9 Great Things That Happened When I Stopped Having Sex —​ On Purpose

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in October 2015 and was updated with the latest information.

Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.