“Ask a Priest: Too engaged… What should I do now?”

Q: I have been with my boyfriend a year and a half. We are both Catholic, in our mid-20s, and go to church every week. From the very beginning I said that I wanted to wait until getting married to have sex, and he agreed that he felt this way too. This is his first long-term relationship. He said it had been a problem in previous relationships that girls wanted to have sex and he didn’t. This is the longest relationship I have been in, without it being long distance. But between having sleepovers and going away for weekends together, we gradually got more and more intimate. Recently we slept together, and now I am feeling that I’ve crossed the point of no return. I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway, multiple times. I think I was able to justify it to myself because I am 99% sure we are going to get married, and I love him and didn’t want to keep making him wait. I am ready right now to get married, but he seems scared by the big step. I told him I would like to be engaged by the summer and he has said okay. Before we slept together I said a little prayer and told God that I knew we both wanted to get married and it was just a matter of waiting for the money, and I asked that He bless us as a husband and wife. I know that this was not official, and since my boyfriend has no idea — didn’t consent — it’s not really valid, I guess, although I know he intends to marry me, so at the time I felt it was OK. Of course, I feel the need to go to confession. But my question is, did we commit a mortal sin by sleeping together when we knew it was wrong? And what if he won’t go to confession? Is it enough that I pray for him to be forgiven? I am worried now that I helped him fall into this sin that he might not confess. He thinks that if he really loves someone it is OK to have sex before getting married. And I know he will keep wanting to do it, and if we aren’t going to do it again, I’m going to have to be the one to keep saying no, which I’m finding really hard to do. Also, how do I know if I’m truly repentant? I regret what I did because I can understand that it is wrong, but I also really love my boyfriend and I don’t know that I have the willpower to keep saying no every time we are together until we finally tie the knot. My other question is that I know some men are so afraid of commitment that they can never take the next step and get married. It is very important for me to get married and have a family. If that is the case and my boyfriend does not propose, is it going to be OK now if I break things off with him and look for someone else, even after we have already had sex? I would feel so horrible doing that now, but I know I want to get married. I’m sorry this is so long, but any advice you can give me is greatly appreciated! -B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You have learned the hard way how premarital sex can complicate a relationship and take away peace from the heart and soul.

The first thing you want to remember is that there is hope. God’s mercy is never lacking for a soul who repents. So, first, by all means, go to confession. You show your repentance by making a sincere confession and resolving here-and-now to avoid sin in the future. You ask whether what you did (and have been doing) is a mortal sin — you probably already know the answer to that in your heart.

You also need to take other steps. You need to understand why God created sex in the first place. God created us in his image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26), and part of his design was to give man and woman the chance to share in the Almighty’s plan to raise up new human lives in the world, and to image God’s own Trinitarian love through their mutual, spousal self-giving. God created sex and it is his right to decide how that gift should be used. He intends it to be used within the sacred bonds of marriage. Used properly, sex becomes a great source of joy and unity between spouses. Used improperly, it becomes a source of tension and anxiety and puts one’s salvation at risk. This is one reason why God gives us his commandments: They are like guardrails and stop signs that keep us from having serious accidents.

From your e-mail, it seems as if you and your boyfriend understood that truth about sex. That is why you initially wanted to save it for marriage. But now you and he have fallen. Part of the remedy is to repent and try to go back to living what God wants. His commandments haven’t changed.

If you are determined to continue the courtship in a healthy way, you have to avoid the situations that can lead you and your boyfriend into sin again. This would seem to rule out sleepovers and extended times together alone. So plan your time together. Choose activities that keep you around other people. Volunteer work might be a nice opportunity to do this. And learn the art of expressing affection in non-physical ways — use this time of your lives to forge a true friendship that can serve as a solid foundation for the future.

If you really love him, you will want to help him make a good confession and recommit to a life of chastity. Your prayers for him and your insistence that you both live chastely can help, but ultimately the onus is on him to get back into a state of grace.

Let me insist on this next point: You need to see progress in your boyfriend. If he really loves you and really wants a happy marriage, he needs to work on his own spiritual life. And he needs to respect boundaries with you — if not, then he might not be the right man for you.

You rightly point out that some men are afraid of the commitment of marriage. Unfortunately, premarital sex tends to make a man less prone to commitment. “Why take on the responsibility of marriage,” he might ask himself, “when I already enjoy its pleasures?”

Premarital sex is, in fact, a very poor preparation for wedlock. Couples who sleep together before marriage are more likely to divorce. The reasons for this are varied, but let’s focus on two here. First, within marriage spouses have a special grace that enables them to help each other get to heaven. So leading each other into habitual serious sin is hardly a way to prepare for marriage. Second, courtship is ideally the time when a man and woman learn about each other and become the best of friends. They should be focusing on a range of things: how to deal with personality differences, how to deal with each other’s family, how to work out difficulties, how to deal with money, how to see eye-to-eye on child rearing. Instead, if they are sleeping together, sex can easily become the “all” of their relationship. Instead of maturing as a couple and learning to deal with deep issues, their time revolves around sex: either waiting to have it, or finding excuses to avoid it.

If you don’t see progress in your boyfriend — and that means sooner than later — you need to seriously consider breaking off the relationship. That you have already made mistakes with him doesn’t mean you have to keep on making mistakes.

Online you could find helpful reading at Mary Beth Bonacci’s website. Father John Bartunek’s article on

Straight Talk About Courtship and Engagement” might help too.

You need to find a good confessor or spiritual director or a mentor (maybe an older married woman) who can help you to decide whether your present relationship is salvageable. Rest assured of my prayers for you and your boyfriend. God bless.

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