Courtship and Sexual Baggage

Dear Darla,

So it is very good that your father is putting Trent through his paces. I take it that apart from the central question of your last letter, everything appears to be going swimmingly? So let’s get to it. As to that central question, you raised the issue of his past porn use generally and, as it happens, your dad filled me in a little bit more on the phone last night. Your question is “does porn use in the past disqualify a suitor?” That was your father’s question also—and the answer is “no, it doesn’t.” At the same time, another answer would have to be “sometimes it can.”

There are two issues involved in this. One is the question of repentance, forgiveness, and sanctification in the Christian life. The second has to do with whether the past behavior is any indication of likely future behavior. A woman has every right to stay far away from the kind of man whose enslavement to porn would be dragged into the marriage. Nobody needs that.

How you settle this will come down to what kind of man you believe Trent is. Most young Christian men believe that the Christian life consists of getting victory over sexual temptations. For many of them, that is the only temptation they are even really aware of. When they get married, and are given the great gift of sexual intimacy with their wife, they are greatly helped. It is not like temptation goes away entirely, but for most men, everything gets a lot more manageable. And this is precisely what Paul teaches. Marriage can be a great aid when it comes to godly contingency (1 Cor. 7:9). But this is not the case for all men. Some men (five percent, say) have deeper character issues that show up in the sexual realm—like contempt for women, or radical laziness, or hyper-competitiveness—and this shows up in bondage to porn, even though he has an active sex life with his wife.

The forgiveness issue has to do with sins in the past committed by the kind of guy who is in the ninety-five percent. Trust has to do with determining whether or not your suitor is in that five percent. Fortunately, most of the red flags that would indicate that problem can be seen outside the question of sexual history. Contempt for women, laziness, and hyper-competitiveness are all generally visible.

So let’s deal with the forgiveness issue first, and then move on to the deal breaker aspect of it. All of us are sinners, and we all sin in various ways. As it happens, we live in pornified times, and the temptations for young men are ubiquitous. It used to be the case that to get your hands on porn you had to be seriously dedicated to that pursuit, and that included a willingness to head over to the seedy side of town. Now virtually every teen owns a portal to vast porn libraries, a portal they can carry around in their pocket or purse. I say “purse” because this is an increasing problem with young women, which is certainly not how it used to be. Almost always, the young men who get trapped by it are driven by lust, pure and simple. When women get trapped by it (not nearly as many as the men, but some), the issues are lust, insecurity about what they are supposed to be like, or curiosity about the competition. But it is a snare either way.

This being the case, it is not surprising that few young people today grow up without having had some scrape or other with pornography. And that is the situation Trent is in. From what your father tells me, he was snared by it when he was thirteen, had a couple of bad years, busted himself to his parents, and his father has helped him stay clean since, which has been about seven years give or take. So with those facts on the table before us, the question as to whether or not he should be disqualified as a potential husband should answer itself. Of course he should not be.

This is because he has an established pattern of victory over this temptation, and he has that pattern despite not having had any lawful sexual outlet. So when the question arises whether he could be a faithful husband, staying free of porn while married, once he does have a lawful sexual outlet, the answer would be “of course.”

The only reason for saying no to him, in my view, would be the result of having an overly fastidious view of past sexual sins. Does Christ forgive us, or not? So this should not be a deal-breaker, not at all. You don’t want to be in the position of a bank, only willing to give a loan to customers who can prove that they don’t need a loan.

But, as I am sure you know, forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. If another young man were showing interest in you, and your dad asked him about his prior porn use, and he replied that he “used to” have a problem “in the past,” and your father then asked him how far in the past it was, and the answer was “up until about three weeks ago,” the situation is different. But it would not be different on the forgiveness front. Christ can and does forgive the sins of three weeks ago as readily and as willingly as He forgives the sins of seven years ago. So forgiveness is not the issue. The issue would be trust. You do not yet know from this whether or not that young man has learned the lessons he needs to have learned in order to be a faithful husband. Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing at all—and lack of trust does not mean that there is a lack of forgiveness.

Because Trent has proven himself trustworthy on this issue, over the course of years, it is the most sensible thing in the world to trust him. So if his past use of porn remained an issue to you, that would mean that you were struggling with an unbiblical view of forgiveness. Christ has cleansed him, and yet you are regarding him as not yet fully cleansed.

The fact that it would be an unbiblical view of forgiveness can be readily illustrated with a thought experiment. Suppose a young man came around, showing interest in one of your close friends, one of your roommates. They began to date, and everyone who knew them thought they were perfect for each other.

After a time, the relationship grew serious enough that they had to have “the talk,” the one in which sexual histories were discussed. Now suppose that your friend had lost her virginity during high school, during a short stretch when she was backslidden, and in rebellion against her parents (who were godly Christian folks). She was a professing, baptized Christian during this time, but not at all serious about her faith. Then there was a crisis during her senior year which God used to wake her up spiritually, and she repented, fully and completely. She believes that she was actually converted, regenerated, at that time. And all that was seven years ago, say. But however forgiven she is now, she is still not a virgin. Forgiveness removes the sting of the law, but does not alter natural consequences. If she had gotten pregnant, however forgiven she was, she would still be a mother in the present. The kid wouldn’t disappear.

But although your friend didn’t get pregnant, she did sleep with her boyfriend a handful of times, and that is now seven years in the past, long repented. Now suppose her current boyfriend really stumbles over this information. Suppose it has always been very important to him that he marry a virgin, and so this news throws him for a loop. He has not made any decision yet, but he is struggling mightily with it. Now this is just a thought experiment, but let me rush to the happy ending so that nobody gets too upset with this hypothetical guy. They do get together, and live happily ever after. Don’t be angry at him any more.

But while he is making up his mind, what is the attitude of all the girls in your apartment toward him? What do all the roomies think of him? “Jerk. Pig. A la-di-dah suitor. She’s way too good for him anyhow. Pharisee.” But the thing he is dealing with is the exact same question we are dealing with regarding Trent. And we don’t think we are being jerks simply we want to take this information into account. It should be factored in.

Our culture makes it easy to weigh such things with unequal weights and measures on sexual matters because we live in a time when women must be forgiven all manner of wrongs, or can do no wrong, and men are considered guilty of all things sexual by definition. And so then, when the men actually have been guilty of a sexual trespass, it is easy to just hang the spirit of the age around their necks. Everybody would think this guy was being harsh with your roommate, but nobody would think that you are being harsh with Trent.

So with all of that said, on the basis of what you wrote, and what your father told me, I don’t think that this information should even slow you down. I pray that it hasn’t slowed him down. If you think it has, just wink at him.

Your uncle,

Douglas

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