I’m pretty sure our Christmas wrapping paper was still sitting in the garbage can at the end of the driveway the day I saw my first Valentine’s decorations on sale at Hobby Lobby.

VALENTINE’S DAY: What is meant to be one day a year (February 14th) when one remembers and honors those whom they love, but is really a solid month of expectations tied up in ribbon including, but not limited to: chocolate, wine, roses, candlelight dinners, lingerie, and sex.

There are exceptions to every scenario I spin in my mind. Let’s start with men and how they see Valentine’s Day. Some men are hopeless romantics who spend weeks planning how they will shower their woman with love. Others don’t give Valentine’s Day a thought until the clerk at the gas station asks if they have big plans for this evening (Valentine’s evening) and suggests that they might pick up one of the Cellophane-wrapped, single, red roses tucked in with the bananas at the check-out. (Yes, that’s why those roses are there.) You can find men at every point on the spectrum between these two examples.  Many men are also facing a greater challenge in the area of purity because of the increase of suggestive ads on TV, the radio, mailings, and billboards. (A big shout out to the advertisers who market sex regardless of the products they represent … Would you stop already?!)

Women are also multi-faceted and approach Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways. The first half of February, single women often dream of Mr. Right surprising her with the chocolate, wine, roses … you get the idea. Young married women wonder how the one their souls love will celebrate their mutual love even as she makes plans to love on her man in return. Women who have been married a long time might hope their men DO stop to get gas and happen to pick up a Cellophane-wrapped single rose.

It all sounds so romantic, but what about the pressure that comes along with the ‘love month’? What is the single or dating woman (who lives in this sexually permissive culture of ours) to do with all the Sex + Love messages that bombard us in February?

If you’re single…

It is so easy to get caught up in all the romance, love, and chocolate that you fail to remember that the sexual experiences you participate in as an unmarried person will play a significant role in the health and longevity of your future marriage, not to mention the role it plays in determining whether fidelity or infidelity mark your marriage. (Note: It doesn’t matter if the person you are sharing intimacy with will one day be your spouse or not.) If you are single and dating and you haven’t maintained purity, please know that with Christ it is never too late. Stop now and ask Him to help you change your behaviors.

As a single or dating person you may feel extra pressure to do or be something sexual. Is revealing lingerie expected? Is sex meant to be a given because if you don’t do it, someone else will?

Don’t do it. That may sound easier to say than it is to do, but the truth is that the things you view, the way you think, and the people with whom you choose to have relationships will stick with you and you’ll take them into your future marriage with you. Though it may seem prudish for me to say it (and it’s certainly counter-cultural), waiting until you are married to be intimate will result in a greater, more satisfying sex life when you are married.

If you’re married…

So what about those of us who are married? How do we contend with the messages that create pressure for us to do or be something sexual? We certainly get the same advertising messages that the single people receive. The reality is that when we are married, we do have greater sexual license. That’s something we should enjoy. Sex, however, isn’t just about physical intimacy; it’s also about spiritual and emotional intimacy.

Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Those are God’s words, including the part about “becoming one flesh,” which is talking about sexual union, but also includes spiritual and emotional union.

Where does that leave the couple for whom pornography is or has been an issue, because let’s face it, pornography is a game changer as it breaks all of God’s rules. In my book, When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart, I wrote:

“Marriage is intended to echo the union of Christ and his “bride,” the church. I want you to hold this truth close to your heart. You see, until you and your husband can enjoy spiritual intimacy, you can’t enjoy sexual intimacy as God designed it. The first step in healing sexual intimacy in your marriage is to work toward emotional and spiritual healing.” (Page 116)

Purity rings are a common gift for parents to give their sons and daughters after going through some sort of purity training or sexual education. The suggestion is that the ring is a symbol of the teen’s decision to remain “pure” until he or she marries. I’m going to suggest that purity must be carried into marriage too. As a married man or woman, you still have a responsibility to guard your thoughts. Be mindful about what you watch on TV or in the theater as a family, with your spouse, or when you are all by yourself. (Ladies, don’t even get me started on soap operas. I’ll be honest, I’ve watched soaps for more of my life than I have not, but it doesn’t take 2 minutes before a soap episode is sending messages that directly contradict God’s Word. Turn. It. Off.) Don’t allow yourself to think in sexual ways about anyone other than your spouse. Don’t allow coarse jokes or language and if others use it in front of you, remove yourself.

When we understand what genuine love looks like (where actions are more important than passing feelings, and commitment is more important than romance) in the context of marriage, then SEX + LOVE ≠ Pressure to do or be something sexual, because it can’t equal anything other than the beautiful gift that God created it to be.

Vicki Tiede is the author of WHEN YOUR HUSBAND IS ADDICTED TO PORNOGRAPHY Healing Your Wounded Heart, New Growth Press, 2012. www.vickitiede.com