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I grew up believing that I would wait to have sex until I was married. What I didn’t realize was truly how hard that would be. I wasn’t taught tools (or if I was, I didn’t hear them) of how to navigate that as an adult. When I lost my virginity in a blackout my sophomore year of college to someone that I didn’t actually know, it sent me on a long journey of discovering how boundaries actually set me free to date and help me to stay true to myself.

It’s not just the influence of alcohol that makes sticking to your guns difficult when it comes to sex. Dating guys who are not on the same page as you also makes holding off on sex really hard.

After losing my virginity, I hoped the next man I would have sex with would be my husband. But I have since dated men who pressured me so much that I have given in (which by the way, led quickly to the end of that relationship).

I have also dated many men who respect me for my beliefs. Still, when he is following your lead and your lead is a little confusing (let’s face it, just because you are waiting for marriage doesn’t mean you wouldn’t totally love to have sex in certain moments!), your willpower can get a little shaky.

You might correctly point out that it is obviously ideal to date someone who has the same belief as you, so things are simple. But it’s also completely possible to meet good men who haven’t held out for the "I dos," and navigating whether that's a deal breaker can be difficult.

Boundaries are a powerful tool to help you date with intention. It took me a few missteps to realize just how much. Knowing what I do now, these are things I wish I’d known before I started dating.

01. Know the difference between a guy who truly respects your decision and a guy who doesn’t.

It is possible for a guy to not feel strongly about holding off on sex before marriage but to respect your decision and not pressure you in any way. Honestly, many people these days just take sex at a certain point in the relationship as a given—and don’t really give too much thought to whether they would ever do it another way. Presented with this more alternative way of dating, a guy who likes you may totally be willing to give it a try.

A guy who respects your decision to hold off on sex will accept your explanation without question, ask you how he can be the most helpful in this regard, and encourage you to let him know if he is crossing any lines or making things difficult for you.

A guy who is just hoping he can wear you down and get what he wants behaves differently. In my experience, if he is overly shocked or surprised that sex isn’t in the forecast for date two, three, or four, this could be a sign that he isn’t going to be super-supportive.

Pressure can be subtle, too. For example, if he is constantly asking you to explain yourself or defend your decision, that’s a red flag. Even if he is just joking, this subtle pressure doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship.

02. Don’t wait until you are already in a horizontal position to tell him.

Probably the biggest mistake I’ve made over the years, especially early on in dating, was not telling the guy that I was waiting for marriage until things had already gotten heated and we were in a horizontal position on the couch or in a bed. Men get excited, and while you may only be cuddling, he is surely already thinking about what’s next. What’s even worse (and I am guilty of doing this) is stopping mid-heated-kiss to tell him you’re abstaining.

This creates a lot of frustration, and I’ve seen far too often that men feel defeated. They take it personally and react much more negatively than if I share my feelings when we are at dinner one evening. Talking about sex in a nonsexual environment allows him (and you) to think properly with his head rather than his body.

03. Learn to articulate yourself with confidence. 

For those who choose to wait, the rationale of this conviction can feel almost obvious. But for others it can be a really foreign concept. If you are dating a guy who isn’t necessarily on the same page as you, it helps if you can clearly articulate your conviction, without judging the guy who doesn’t feel the same way.

I have a unique perspective, which I admit makes it a little bit easier to explain, in that I’ve been on both sides of the argument. Rather than talking about what I can’t do, I prefer to talk about the freedom that holding off on sex provides by keeping me physically and emotionally safe and why I value fostering friendship and emotional intimacy before physical intimacy. Whatever your reasons are, don’t be ashamed of them, and be open with your guy about why you are going against the grain on this one.

04. Don’t play dumb.

I don’t know about you, but I love a good cuddle and kiss. Recently, I was going over a list of all the men that I had dated and looking at what went well and what ultimately went wrong. I read the list to someone I trust, and at the end she said to me, “It sounds like you really just like cuddling.” I replied, “Well, yes, I do. My love language is physical touch.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have come away from a compromising situation feeling frustrated and thinking something like, “But I just wanted to cuddle.” My mentor helped me to see that I am no longer a little girl whose cuddles are innocent and childlike. I am a fully grown woman, and while cuddling is enough for me, a man—especially a man who has no intent on waiting for marriage—will get another message from what I assume is a simple cuddle. I can no longer pull the card of “I just wanted to cuddle,” and I really have to think of the consequences of my innocent actions.

05. Get physical touch from other outlets, such as going for a massage or practicing yoga regularly.

I crave physical touch. But my love for it can send mixed messages when I am trying not to lead a guy on. If your love language is physical touch, don’t go to your new boyfriend for a back rub. Massages are a time-tested form of foreplay, and you don’t want to put yourself in the situation of having to keep saying no.

Recently I’ve found that paying for massages helps alleviate my need. I also practice yoga most days of the week. Not only does it help me be in tune with my own body, but I also secretly love when the teacher touches me to adjust my form.

06. Discover his love language to show him how much you love him in other ways.

Our society tends to make us believe that sex is the only way to show someone we truly, deeply love them. But the truth is, it can be so easy to fall into bed together because our bodies crave it so much. It takes more effort to show love in other ways, and this ultimately sets us up for a deeper and richer experience. Oftentimes I have found that a man just wants to feel loved, and if you want his body, he feels that. He may have never had someone love him in a different way.

Getting familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages as a couple is a great starting point. As Chapman explains in his time-tested book, your partner may feel most loved though acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, or physical touch—but there is so much more to physical touch than just sex.

I think every man believes his love language is physical touch, but if he takes the test, he might be surprised to see that he really feels love when you notice the trash can is full and take it out for him. Or maybe he actually feels loved when you make him a silly card and drop off coffee at his work.

There are so many ways to show love, and you would be doing yourself and your guy a favor if you explored all the possibilities.

Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro