First of all I have to, with humility, recommend Arms of Love to you. It really seems to touch young women and reinforce their convictions of chastity. I've had young men who told me this book changed their lives, as well! So I believe a good starting point for both you and your fiancé would be Arms of Love.
I hear and understand your struggle. You are not alone. Many Christians face a similar struggle in this day and age. I am going to address your concerns with chastity in both philosophical and practical ways. Please bear with me, for I believe an in-depth understanding of sexuality is important for a young couple considering marriage.
Sex is incredible, but not merely because of the pleasure associated with it. We need to understand the full meaning of our sexuality. Chris West does a beautiful job explaining the Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul II's work). I'll take my ideas primarily from there. For more info on the "Good News About Sex and Marriage" (the title of Chris' book which I highly recommend to you) — go to his website called The Gift Foundation — promoting chastity and Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. www.giftfoundation.org
Sexuality is the very aspect of our nature which images God's love in a unique and profound way. In Genesis we read: "Let us make man in the image and likeness of ourselves . . . " And what was this image and likeness? It goes on to say ". . . male and female he created them." There is something in our being created male and female that images God! How can this be, since God is not sexual?
God is LOVE! In order for love to be complete it must be given and received. God therefore must be a communion of persons — in order for the nature of God to be love. From all eternity, God the Father initiates the gift of love to the Son. The Son, from all eternity, receives that love and returns it to the Father. This exchange of love becomes so real, that it is life-giving — and so comes forth the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son. All three persons of God are equally God — and equally part of the nature of God which is love.
Where do we see humanity most reflected in this eternally, life-giving love that is the inner life of the Trinity? In marriage! The husband initiates the love which the wife receives and returns. And that love is so real that sometimes it becomes a third person (and nine months later you have to give it a name!) Marital love reflects the inner life of God! What a holy and profound mystery. What a noble and beautiful call to love. What a sacred and holy gift from God!!!
God created us to love! That is the vocation of every human being. Yet what does it mean to love? Love is a gift of self. And that love is meant to be received and returned. While this happens at many levels of our human reality — parent to child, sibling to sibling, friend to friend — it is no where else more profound than in the total gift of self in marital love: the expression of which is sexual intercourse, the act of marriage.
Sex is good, holy and beautiful. It is sacred and blessed by God to be a foretaste of heavenly delight. The nuptial meaning of our bodies, stamped into us as male and female, ultimately points to our desire to be reunited with God. It is a reminder of God's eternal plan to of salvation — to marry us, His bride, and bring us into full communion with Him. That is why He sent Christ, the eternal Bridegroom — who initiates the love which is received by His Bride, the Church, who conceives and brings forth new life in the waters of Baptism!
Amazing! Beautiful! Profound! Mind-boggling!
Sex is that foretaste of heaven. It is no wonder that the pleasures of it are so incredible! Yet sex, taken out of the context of what it was intended for (the bonding of a man and woman in marriage) is an abuse of that gift. It is a lie when it is given outside of marriage.
True love, God's love, which is to be reflected in our nature as male and female in marriage — is meant to be FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL and FRUITFUL. This is because God's love is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL and FRUITFUL. Only in the sanctuary of marriage can love be given freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Only in marriage can the total gift of self be made freely, without reservation, permanently for life, faithfully until death do they part and fruitfully open to receiving children from God. These are the vows we make in marriage. The act of marriage, expressed in the bodies of the husband and wife, is meant to be a renewal of these vows. Where these vows do not exist — outside of the covenant of marriage — sex becomes a lie.
Through fornication, adultery and acts of homosexuality and masturbation and other sexual sin, we have distorted the meaning and nature of sex. When we buy into the lies of Satan, who attacks us at the very point of our nature where we come closest to the inner life of God, we become slaves to Satan and we damage our dignity as children of God. This is why sexual sin is so very dangerous — yet deceptively alluring. Satan has put a great deal of effort into destroying our understanding of sexuality — in order to lure our souls away from God. Satan could not create anything so good and powerful and beautiful — for he can not create at all. All he can do is lie and distort that which God has created to be good and powerful and beautiful.
The greatest lie we buy into regarding sex is that the only meaning of sex is pleasure. Once we buy into this philosophy, any act of sexual distortion is acceptable — if it makes us feel good, do it!
As Christians, we must see past the lies and know that there is a purpose to our embracing chastity! Through chaste living (which we embrace before and during marriage) we are saying "yes" to God's plan, we are saying "yes" to our dignity as children of God, we are saying "yes" to being servants and vessels of the Holy Spirit. We live free of the emotional, physical and spiritual pain which comes from sexual sin.
We must hold this value if we are going to embrace chastity. Yet — even with that, it might not be easy.
Chastity can not be a value in isolation in our lives. We have to make a plan to live out chastity. If we don't remain attentive to it, Satan will lure us into his deceptions and we will hand over our precious gift of purity with little opposition.
I believe it is very important for a couple who is dating, contemplating marriage or engaged to guard their purity with great diligence. Make a plan for yourselves to reserve physical affection. If you find kissing increases your desire for more physical intimacy, don't kiss. Save it for marriage. A kiss has the power to unleash all kinds of desires which want to be consummated in the act of marriage. For a couple struggling in this area, letting go of kissing and long embraces will help to relieve some of that pressure!
Even though you've been sexually active in the past — you can embrace a second-virginity which says that you have decided to save yourself from this point on for marriage. Remember that each sacrifice you make as a couple to save yourselves for marriage and to preserve your purity, is a treasure that you are building up for yourselves in marriage. That treasure, when shared in marriage, will be beyond all your expectations and desires!
Not only will you find sex in marriage to be incredibly pleasurable, it will be holy and pure and true. You will find that marital love will truly lift you, as a couple, to the threshold of heavenly pleasures. Your married love, expressed in the body, will be a living sacrament and testimony to the self-giving, self-sacrificing and totally self-less love of Christ for His Bride, the Church.
So, choose to make a plan as a couple to live out chastity.
I also cannot recommend highly enough I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, both books by Joshua Harris. His website is www.joshharris.com. His work is full of practical insights and information on embracing and living out chastity in a truly Christian way.
Though I know I have gone into real depth in my answer, I believe any couple who believes that they are ready for marriage, can and should be able to understand the depth and beauty and meaning of sexuality. I also believe that if a Christian couple is truly on-fire for the Lord and trying to embrace the life of faith, they will find the way to become masters over their bodies and lay down these desires for the love of the Lord and for the love of each other.
I'm not saying that Christians won't and can't struggle with sexual sin. I'll guarantee you that they will! But Christians living a life of grace have the means, the power and the purpose to overcome that struggle. In defeating Satan in this battle for your soul, you will grow as a strong and virtuous man and woman of God and will be led to new and deeper levels of faith. As a couple, your love with be blessed both now and later in marriage. Your children will be blessed abundantly for your sacrifices. You will change the world by bringing glory to God in and through your the example of your lives!
One more practical tip — just as an after-thought. I could be wrong, but I challenge you to assess whether or not you are still clinging to a fond memory of the pleasures of sexual intimacy with past lovers. Love making is incredible — but when it has come in the package of sin, we have to work hard to purify our hearts from the after-effects of that sin. Unchecked, it could destroy your marriage later on. I really encourage you to seek healing, through the graces of the Sacraments (confession and Eucharist) to be released of these past memories. Memories of sexual encounters can hold us in a certain and real bondage of sin.
Be blessed and know that I am committing myself to praying for you in a real and special way. Please keep me, my family and this ministry of promoting purity in your prayers.
Keep pure — In His Most Holy Name,