God’s design for sexual intimacy is pretty clear: one man, one woman in lifelong covenant marriage experiencing pleasure, intimacy, and, more than likely, reproduction.
But many of us didn’t get to our wedding day with our virginity intact. Premarital sex is a part of our history, even if we have repented and received God’s full forgiveness (see 1 Corinthians 6:11). Others are in a second or third marriage, meaning that other partners were sexually involved before. And some, sadly, have experienced infidelity in their marriage.
Thus, it’s quite possible that some of your marriages are contending with a sexually transmitted disease. Which can seriously impact your marital intimacy.
STDs are probably more common than you realize. For instance, check out the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics for the following:
Chlamydia: 1,412,791 cases reported in 2011; annual estimate of 2.86 million cases
Gonorrhea: 321,849 cases of gonorrhea reported in 2011; annual estimate of 820,000
Genital Herpes: inflicts 16.2%, or about 1 out of 6, people aged 14 to 49 years
Trichomoniasis: Estimated 3.7 million in U.S. infected; only 30% experience symptoms
Most STDs can be cured or treated in one way or another, but untreated infections can cause problems with pregnancy and complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease. The purpose of my post, however, is not to do a medical breakdown of the diseases, their symptoms, and treatments. That’s better left to medical websites such as the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, or WebMD.
My concern, rather, is how an STD can affect your marriage. When your partner brings an STD into the marriage, you are at risk. These diseases can spread through oral, genital, or anal contact. While condoms are helpful barriers, they aren’t a surefire method of preventing the spread of diseases when you engage regularly and fully with your mate.
The good news is that several STDs can be cured. For instance, chlamydia and trichomoniasis can both be knocked out with antibiotics. Others, like genital herpes, remain in the body. Herpes can continue to cause problems for a married couple each time an infected partner experiences an “outbreak.”
So what do you as a married couple need to know about STDs?
If either has had prior sexual partners, or if infidelity has impacted your marriage, you should get tested. You may not think that you’re carrying an STD, but some infected persons do not experience symptoms. They are unaware that they are carrying a disease and could infect their mate. So ask your doctor about testing you for STDs. Once you know you’re both clear, then you can relax and engage in full sexual activity.
If you have an STD, you have to remain abstinent during the infection or outbreak. Which, yeah, totally sucks. But forgiven, redeemed, and sanctified, we still sometimes carry the consequences of our bad decisions — and may be impacted by the bad decisions of our spouse (two become one, you know). The difficult-yet-loving thing to do is to avoid oral, genital, and anal contact when you are getting well from an infection or outbreak. Once you’re better, make up for lost time in lovemaking. Knock yourselves out!
Your sexual health can hurt your relational health. While you’re waiting for an infection to clear up, it can be very frustrating. You may have to go weeks without sexual contact with your mate.
You’ll need to focus on your relationship in other ways, spending more recreational time together, sharing affection, communicating, and anticipating when you can come together again. The infected mate may feel guilty and apologetic, while the infected mate may be particularly frustrated and angry. How could you bring this STD into our marriage?!
Remember that if this STD was part of your sexual past, the sex part needs to remain in the past. It’s not beneficial to keep reliving the mistakes of your past; as the Apostle Paul set the example, acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them, and then live into the forgiveness and wisdom you now have. And, like it or not, you promised “in sickness and in health,” and that sickness may include your mate having to deal with an annoying STD. Work together to get past it and find that “health” part of the deal.
God’s design for sexual intimacy prevents STDs. If you married as virgins, good for you! Seriously, I’d like to stand up and applaud. Only about 3% of Americans successfully hold out until their wedding night (although about 20% in highly religious groups wait) (see 4 Cool Statistics about Abstinence in the USA). You are among the few, the proud, the STD-free. Hey, the reason these are called sexually transmitted diseases is because they require sexual contact to spread. If a husband and wife only ever have sexual contact with each other, they aren’t going to contract or spread an STD (at least not without some very odd occurrence, like a blood transfusion, etc.).
If you’re among those who didn’t wait but are experiencing God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage now, keep it that way. Taking on other partners, even a one-night stand, can introduce STDs into your body and your marriage. Bad, bad idea. Stick with God’s design of Him + Her 4 Life.
Even secular sources admit that marital monogamy is ideal for preventing STDs. From the CDC: “The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases . . . is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.”
We parents need to warn our kids, so their marriages aren’t negatively affected by STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases disproportionately affect young people — teenagers to young adults. We parents need to talk honestly with our kids about all of the risks of premarital sexual activity — spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical. Only avoiding intercourse doesn’t keep a young person from contracting an STD, and condoms are not a completely sufficient method of avoiding infection. The way is God’s way: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4 — yep, three times). See related posts on Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One and Done; Is Don’t Have Sex Enough for Teens? and How to Talk to a Teen about Sex.
Has your marriage been affected by an STD? How have you coped? What advice do you have for others who may be in the same situation?