By Rabbi Dovid Markel
A response regarding the question of “does premarital sex enhance a person’s future relationship, or detract from it?”
While this is usually a discussion that is best had in private the Talmud (Berakhot 63a) states on the verse (Tehillim 119:126) “A time to do for the Lord; they have made void Your Torah,” that:
“It is time to work for the Lord. Why? Because they have made void your law.” At times when there is a problem that is rampant, matters not usually expressed, should be.
The Talmud there goes on to say: “Hillel the Elder said: When the scholars keep in [the teaching of] the Torah, you should disseminate it, and when they disseminate it you should keep it in.”
The Talmud (Pesachim 112a) addresses this question somewhat in its discussion of a couple where each has had previous sexual encounters:
“Do not cook in a pot in which your neighbour has cooked.’ What does that mean? [Do not marry] a divorced woman during her husband’s lifetime. When a divorced man marries a divorced woman, there are four minds in the bed. Alternatively, [it refers] even to a widow, for not all “fingers” are alike.”
The essential point is that when one has previous experiences they are always comparing somewhat. This number obviously grows depending on the amount of encounters each of the parties had.
Pertinent to this discussion as well is the conversation of the “paradox of choice” that often less is more.
While often we view abondance of choice as a positive thing, often the opposite is the case. Having a single modality of self-expression causes a person to grow with a single person, and develop of healthy and trusted relationship, rather than what that they are constantly comparing their experience to previous ones.
The difference between the Talmud’s initial thought that this applies only to a divorcee and not to a widow is due to a question in human psychology which affects the Talmudic reasoning:
Do people compare one experience to the previous one, *only* when the other individual is technically available, but when the person has passed away, they stop harping on what they could have had, or do people continue comparing even when the article that they enjoyed more is no longer there?
In the first understanding, there is no issue with a widow, as her previous husband is not alive, she will be more settled in living in the moment, and being satisfied with what she has instead of comparing the experience she has now with her departed husband.
In the second understanding, comparing one experience to another is something that a person innately does, and will do so, even when it is impossible to be had.
Surely, someone who has had many premarital experiences will be in a situation where they will constantly be comparing their present relationship, with their previous ones. Rather than it being conducive to enhancing the experience within marriage, it can have a long lasting detrimental effect.
The logic of ” four minds in the bed,” is exacerbated when dealing with premarital sex.
For while in the case of a divorcee, her previous husband is not halachically available (remarrying your divorced spouse is forbidden after she has remarried), and in the case of a widow, her husband has passed away, in many instances of premarital sex, the previous partner is still “available.”
I assume there have been statistics done on this, but I would not at all be surprised if individuals who engaged in premarital sex are more likely to have extramarital affairs than those that have not. It would not be at all shocking if those that have become accustomed to the hookup culture, have trouble settling with monogamy that ties them to only one partner.
Another point that has relevance on the question of whether to engage in premarital sex for the purpose of gaining “experience” is that while someone who has engaged in premarital sex may have gained experience in the sexual act, they have not necessarily gained experience in marital intimacy, which is arguably a totally different enterprise.
Intimacy within the framework of marriage is predicated on the verse (Bereishit 2:24) “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become *one* flesh.”
It is not merely one of carnal pleasure, but more importantly in its ideal form one where the couple are completely vulnerable to one another and at that moment connect – in ultimate unity – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
It is supposed to be a meshing of two individuals that thoroughly trust and love each other coming together to form an experience of tremendous unity.
Engaging in sexuality merely within the context of carnal pleasure devalues an act that should be “expensive” rather than “cheap.” If the act is cheapened prior to marriage, it is difficult to view it as precious within marriage.
It is indeed incredibly sad that our society has taken an act that once held incredible meaning and has reduced it to a casual encounter of “chilling,” not too much more valuable than enjoying some food.
The Talmud (Kesubos 48a) remarks that if a husband says “‘I will not [perform relations] unless she wears her clothes and I mine’, must divorce her and give her also her kesubah.”
While the Talmud is expressing a practical halacha, there is also an allegorical message, that intimacy should be the act of two people connecting on an extremely vulnerable level. If they are still “clothed” covering a certain aspect of their identity, they do not create a space within which they can be truly one.
It is for this reason that Judaic law has essentially three aspects of relations: 1) when there hate the act is forbidden, 2) when there is no particular affection it is permitted but not suggested, and 3) the suggested level where there is deep affection.
This is because the hope of marital relations is to be one that is expressive of oneness (See Ramban, Igeret HaKedusha,) not merely one of carnal pleasure.
This oneness is something that can only take place within the context of marriage, as when they are not at the stage of commitment to one another, it cannot be said that they are truly giving themselves completely in the act of intimacy. In fact, it is difficult to call the act “intimate” at all, and is more appropriately corporeal pleasure and lust, rather than love, unity and connection.
While the intimate experience within marriage is one that grows over time, it is from the onset in a different league entirely with a hookup that is primarily one of fleshy pleasure, than an emotional bond.
Even when the individuals that engage in premarital sex do indeed have some love and affection for each other, beyond the carnal, the fact that they are not yet ready to commit to one another, or that they may have no qualms of engaging in the same experience with another person, indicates, that they are not *truly one* with the person within the experience.
Frankly, it seems to me that the experience is not only more shallow, but less pleasurable and rich. For there is something awesome about two people being completely vulnerable at all levels melding into one entity. One that one squanders when they engage in premarital relations.
(While surely, not every couple experiences this *all* the time, the general experience is firstly a deeper one off the bat and secondly one that has the proper framework to grow into such an experience.)