When you have sexual integrity, your sexual life aligns with your morals, values, community standards, and relationship obligations. The definition of sexual integrity is unique to each person, colored by that individual’s background, beliefs, and life situation. This means that nobody, not even a sex and relationship expert like me, can tell you what your version of sexual integrity should look like. I can, however, tell you that if you are currently unhappy with your sexual and/or your romantic life, defining and establishing what sexual integrity means to you can help you get back on track.
There are two basic components of sexual integrity: honesty and transparency.
If you can be honest and open with yourself and other important people in your life about what you are doing and/or hoping to do sexually, then you probably have sexual integrity. The best part of sexual integrity is that when you are honest and open about your sexual life, risking vulnerability by revealing your deepest desires and hopes, you are much more likely to feel accepted, intimately connected, and valued—and, in turn, to have a more rewarding sex life.
To define what sexual integrity looks like for you, consider the following:
- What did your family of origin teach you about sex? If your mother and father were strict in their opinions about sexual behavior, that will probably play into your thinking. If, however, your parents espoused a looser, more accepting version of sex, your definition of sexual integrity is likely to reflect this.
- What is the doctrine espoused by your religion? If you are part of a conservative religion and you believe strongly in its doctrine, then premarital sex and pornography will probably not fit into your vision of sexual integrity.
- What does your community (in general) believe? Even if your family and your religion don’t have much influence on you, social mores probably will. So if you’re in college and your friends are all hooking up regularly, casual sex will probably seem OK. But if you are married and living in an upscale suburb where infidelity is frowned upon, casual sex might seem like a bad idea.
- Is your behavior safe? Most obviously, there is the threat of STDs. Less obviously, you need to understand that not everyone you meet is safe and sane. If your behavior scares you sometimes, you are probably not living within your sexual integrity boundaries.
- Are you harming anyone else with your behavior?If you’re in a committed relationship, any form of infidelity could be hurtful to your partner, including things like porn use and Facebook flirting. It is wise to discuss your desires with your partner, who might be perfectly OK with you looking at porn and chatting with your ex on social media. Or not. If you’re willing to be honest and transparent, at least you will know.
- Do you know the boundaries and expectations of your partner(s)? As part of your version of sexual integrity, you should consider other people’s versions of sexual integrity. For instance, casual sex may be fine for you, but for others it might not be. They may want/expect an emotional commitment in addition to sex. This sort of thing needs to be discussed before you hop into bed.
Once again, sexual integrity is different for everyone. A plan that works for your best pal could be totally wrong for you and vice versa. The trick, when developing your definition of sexual integrity, is figuring out what works and makes sense for you (and the people around you). Once you have established a workable set of boundaries, you are much less likely to experience negative consequences if/when you are sexual.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the five things couples who stay together do every day and the ways your sex life can show you what's wrong in your relationship.
This article is based on research conducted for the books, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction.