There is a certain kind of bonding which ought to take place in a relationship; cementing on various levels of intimacy. Spending time together, holding hands, hugging, kissing and so on, ideally until the day of marriage. When we skip past the other things and don't allow those small moments of intimacy to settle in, we miss out on a number of benefits and often find our relational and intimacy cravings only satisfied by sex.
Building Foundations for the Future
As a teen, I wasn't very future minded. The future that I envisioned looked like the one I wanted to have but I didn't have a great plan on getting there. Most of us want to have a great marriage, but we don't think about the foundations for making that happen early in the relationship.
Our minds are wired to create new pathways. Even when we aren't trying to, we are laying a new neural network. When we are not intentional about this, we tend to develop bad habits. Comfort and ease become both the objective and the reward, so we eat poorly, sleep in, veg out, etc. The same happens in a relationship. We want to get close so we move as quickly as we can to the sexual. But, in doing so we miss out on the opportunities to lay down and strengthen the neural pathways for the enjoyment of non-sexualy touch and interactions.
Strengthening the Foundations
You likely already know that the more often you use a particular pathway in the brain, the stronger those connections become. It literally becomes the path of least resistance which makes it easier to follow again. This is how we form good habits. The more time we spend in those earlier stages of intimacy, the more we travel those pathways to pleasure and the stronger they become. Dating for a period of time and setting a barrier for sex until after marriage, actually helps us create those moments and stay in them for a longer period of time.
Pleasure by Comparison
You may be thinking, "What's the big deal? We can still hold hands and kiss even after having sex, right?" Here's the thing: our brain understands the world in which we live and experience based solely on comparison to things previously learned or experienced. So, when we experience sexual intimacy - which is the highest form of physical pleasure - holding hands and kissing are not quite as satisfying. We often see them as foreplay rather than the thing in itself. But, this isn't just about pleasure, it's about connection.
Connection Over Pleasure
When sex and orgasm become the objective, we miss out on the connection aspect of relational and physical intimacy. When we engage in this activity too soon, we often have an immature view of sex. We tend to think, "You make me feel good" rather than, "Let's have an experience, together". This can lead to a relationship based upon how the other person "makes you feel" rather than a true, intimate connection.
Rebuilding the Foundations
If you are like me and missed out on the early stages of physical intimacy, you can begin shoring up those foundations, but it is going to take some work. Essentially, put sex on hold for a period of time. Maybe 3 months, maybe 6. Define the stages for physical intimacy that you will go through. Week 1-2 may be holding hands and non-sexual cuddling. Week 3-4 may be kissing/making out. Work your way back to sex, but take your time. Remember, you are laying the foundations which should have been in place before you said "I do."