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Waiting Until Marriage: Gay Christians Navigate Faith and Sexuality

(L-R) David and Constantino Khalaf on their wedding day Lehua Noelle / lehuanoelle.pixieset.com

They met on OkCupid. At the time, Constantino Khalaf, now 37, lived in New York City, and David Khalaf, now 39, lived in Los Angeles. But the distance didn't faze them. The couple, now married, had found two shared traits in each other: They were both Christian, and they were both waiting until marriage to have sex.

"You can use sex to control someone or denigrate a person. Or you can use sex to say something beautiful like 'I love you,'" Constantino Khalaf said. "Sex can be used to say 'I am yours, you are mine' -- the idea of a marriage covenant."

Their beliefs in sex are rooted in a theology of marriage that reserves sexual intimacy until they make that sacred covenant. In a traditional evangelical sexual ethic, virginity is meant to be a gift for your partner after the sacred marriage covenant -- a belief that is interpreted to be a biblical directive.

The couple talked online for a few months before deciding to meet at a West Coast gathering of the Gay Christian Network. The organization, which hosts an annual gathering of LGBTQ Christians, works at the intersections of Christianity, sexuality and gender identity. More than a thousand people arrive from all around the country and the world for a weekend of fellowship and worship, in addition to regional functions for individuals throughout the year.

Although not a dating service, the Gay Christian Network's gatherings provide a unique opportunity for individuals like David and Constantino Khalaf. The events are among the few safe spaces for LGBTQ Christians, predominantly those from evangelical traditions, to find community and worship. But they also bring together a group of LGBTQ Christians who hold a traditional sexual ethic commonly known as "waiting until marriage" (WUM).

LGBTQ Christians who are waiting until marriage navigate their faith and sexuality in a unique ways. While finding an affirming theological interpretation of their sexual identities, many still adhere to a conservative sexual ethic. It may seem surprising since this sexual ethic has historically excluded LGBTQ identities. Yet their sexuality doesn't change that they are people of faith, nor does it dismiss a long-held Christian sexual ethic of chastity until marriage.

While neither of the Khalafs were virgins when they began dating, they made the commitment to stay chaste until marriage, choosing to reserve sexual intimacy until they made a permanent, lifelong, spiritual bond. For them, sex is a form of communication, a language they only want to speak with each other.

"Is sex outside of marriage, or at least outside of relationship, edifying?" David Khalaf said. "I didn't find it to be edifying outside of a committed relationship. I've used it as a tool. I've used it for gratification, and I've used it in ways that are selfish."

The couple said they were far from chaste before marriage. They discussed their sexual likes and dislikes candidly. They were unafraid to be physical with each other and described their relationship as "hot, intimate and sensual"-- just without the act of sexual penetration.

Unlike David and Constantino Khalaf, 24-year-old Chang Xia made the decision to wait until marriage prior to losing her virginity. She came out to herself as bisexual only a few years ago, and she plans to remain chaste until she weds. Although currently single, her theology on sex is the same as that of the Khalafs, regardless of the gender of her partner.

"Intimacy is predominantly born out of vulnerability," Xia said. "I think certain types of intimacy need to be bound by commitment, whether it be a relational or emotional connection."

Masturbation has long been a contentious theological issue for those who uphold these traditional sexual ethics. In mainstream evangelical culture, to which many WUM'ers subscribe, masturbation is taboo, often viewed as sinful, and sometimes seen as a form of homosexuality. For LGBTQ Christians waiting until marriage, masturbation can add a layer of shame rooted in internalized homophobia.

"Masturbation is a sexual ethic I had to develop through experience," Xia said. "When I was much younger and a much more conservative Christian, I saw masturbation as bad … I've moved into a place where I see masturbation has been an unhealthy fixation for myself personally -- a way that I escape, or use it as a coping mechanism. I think that is problematic at times, but I no longer feel guilt or shame for masturbating at all."

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Gilbert Gonzalez, 35, is also a virgin and is currently "courting" someone. A minister in a non-denominational group that works with LGBTQ Christians, he is committed to chastity until marriage for both theological and personal reasons.

"I started my sexual ethic when I was an atheist. My deciding to wait until marriage for most of my life had nothing to do with God," he said. "It was just me being a selfish diva, wanting the ultimate fairytale of: I'm going to fall in love and marry my Prince Charming, and we together are going to discover everything about each other's bodies, and we can get as sexually experimental as we want, freely, with no negative consequences. I don't have to compare myself to their past and they won't have to compare themselves to my past."

Gonzalez ministers to LGBTQ Christians who hold a range of theological positions on sexual ethics. "Most people in our ministry are not virgins, and I don't see them any differently as myself. I don't think waiting for marriage makes you any more spiritual or better than anyone else," he said.

However, if he had to answer whether or not sex before marriage is sinful, his answer is still somewhat affirmative. "I don't like to use the word 'sin,' but maybe I would say it's not God's ideal."

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Michelle, 26, and Rhea, 27 -- who asked that their surnames not be included -- came to similar conclusions. After being in previous relationships in which they were sexually active, together they decided waiting until marriage would benefit their relationship. Finding the parameters to their intimacy was an important first step, they said.

"We had the conversation about being celibate, and we asked ourselves what that looked like in everyday life," Michelle explained. "How do we protect ourselves and remain true to ourselves when we are attracted to each other? We didn't want to be hermits and wear turtlenecks like we didn't want to see anything."

Michelle and Rhea are unable to share their love for one another with their families just yet. Because of that, they're not certain when they will be able to become sexually intimate with one another.

"We are in the process of coming out to our families. A lot of our family doesn't know about us," Rhea said. "We want to get married, but our families are really important to both of us. So we are in this kind of waiting period where we've chosen to honor God in celibacy until we get married."

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Constantino and David Khalaf married recently, and with marriage came sex. "I think you're pretty tired after the wedding; I think most people are pretty tired after the longest day of their lives. But we were still determined to have a good time!" David Khalaf said.

"The wedding night is never going to be the best sex of your life," Constantino Khalaf added. "The best sex comes after. Like your honeymoon, when you're well rested." Rest assured, they said, their three-week honeymoon was eventful.

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