I get this question all the time. Some believe you should reveal every detail of all previous sexual acts to your soon-to-be spouse; some believe you should not. I fall into the latter category. It is my conviction and preference that you do not need to reveal everything to your spouse. Let me to tell you why.
Psalm 51 portrays the words of a man who was caught in a sinful sexual act. Historically most of us already know this story. David committed adultery with the woman Bathsheba; Bathsheba gets pregnant; David had her husband placed on the front lines of war only to be killed; and did his best to cover up his entire sin. What a string of events! In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan the prophet came to David with an illustration of two men in a certain city – a rich man and a poor man; this story contained a similar structure of the act that David had recently committed. During the story, David showed anger toward the rich man for giving away the poor man’s lamb to a passing traveler instead of his own. The Bible says that “David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.'” Nathan then turns to David and says, “You are the man!”
When we read Psalm 51, we read the words of a man who was caught in sin and became utterly repentant for his action. We read of a man whom before God laid bare his soul.
I believe the issue here is repentance. Are you repentant of your past sexual sin? First and foremost, have you confessed your sexual sin before God?
Practically speaking, I do believe that your past sexual history should be confessed to your spouse or soon-to-be spouse, but I do not think you have to be detailed about it and give a roladex account. It should be more of a helicopter view instead of a detailed magnifying glass approach. For instance, if you have had sexual partners in your past then obviously your spouse needs to know this, but they do not need to know who, how many times, which positions you used, where you were at, etc. If you’ve had oral sex, then your spouse does not need to know how many times and with you whom you participated in this act with, but they should know that you haven’t been completely sexually pure and that you have been completely repentant of this. What if you were a past practicing homosexual? The same concept applies (although the greater the act then the greater the time of repentance, restoration, and potential counseling may be). If you have kissed 721 girls then your spouse doesn’t need a list or even a number… what they need is humble confession and repentance.
The key factor here is not the details of each account laid bare to your spouse, but it is the ultimate foundation of which ground the both of you stand upon. If you are believers in Jesus then his blood has covered all of your sexual sins. Jesus has taken your sin upon himself at the cross and has “purged you with hyssop, washed you, and made you whiter than snow.” He has created in you a “new heart and renewed a right spirit in you.”
I know this isn’t a detailed account of the approaches you should take in beginning to have these conversations together, but I hope that it gives you a good starting point as you begin to understand the concept is found in repentance and confession and not in the details. I pray you have a heart like David, but use the wisdom of Solomon in how you choose to share these things together.