For the most part of my Christian life, all I heard about physical boundaries was this: no sex before marriage. However, once I got into a relationship, I quickly realised that there are a lot of things that can happen between ‘nothing’ and ‘sex’! Is holding hands okay? Is kissing okay? Is french-kissing okay? Is it okay to lie down on the same bed and cuddle as long as we don’t have sex?
You see my point.
The first guy I dated had one simple rule — no physical contact other than handshakes! I still laugh when I think about how innocent we were back then, but in any case, when the relationship ended (not due to this rule, of course!), I set about thinking more carefully about the boundaries I wanted to establish and why I needed them.
Once during sexuality education class years ago, my teacher pulled out a chart showing the various stages of physical intimacy a couple could go through, from hugging, to kissing, and finally, sexual intercourse.
“So as you can see, holding hands will lead to hugging, hugging will lead to kissing, kissing will lead to petting, and petting will lead to sex! So what is the moral of the story? If you don’t want to have sex before marriage … Don’t hold hands!”
A roar of laughter erupted from the class and I don’t think she regained control of the class after that.
As I look back on that lesson, I can’t help but see some truth in what she was saying. It’s not that holding hands will inevitably lead to sex, but the hidden gem in her lesson is the importance of establishing physical boundaries in a relationship — if you know where you don’t want to end up, establish from the beginning which lines, if crossed, will lead you there.
BUT FIRST, A DISCLAIMER
I must make clear that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to physical boundaries.
For one couple, kissing and hugging is not a problem, but for another couple, even holding hands may lead to too much. Each person and each couple has to work out where that line is for them.
That said, for Christians, there are some things that are clearly out of bounds and indisputably wrong outside of marriage. For example, touching each other’s private parts, seeing each other naked, or watching pornography together — all of these simulate the sex act and do not have a place in our relationships before marriage. Remember, avoiding intercourse itself is not our aim (1 Thess 4:3-8)! Instead, our aim is to respect each another and live holy lives that glorify God. Yes, each relationship is different, but our goal remains the same — to be above reproach and be blameless before God (2 Tim 1:9; Heb 12:14).
AVOIDING INTERCOURSE ITSELF IS NOT OUR AIM!
SO HOW DO WE DO IT?
Pursuing purity and creating boundaries as a couple do not happen by chance. It takes time, courage, and serious intentionality to make it work. Here’s how you can get started!
Individually, take the time to figure out what’s the ‘furthest’ you can go before it becomes too much. In other words, what leads you into temptation? Avoid going there! Decide for yourself before sharing it; you don’t want to influence each other yet! For me, holding hands and hugs are perfectly fine, but I know that once my fiancé and I start kissing, I’ll probably be tempted to take it even further, so that’s where my boundary lies.
Talk about it
Take time to talk through each of your boundaries. Take my word for it: it will be awkward, but it’s also so worth it to get it in the open and find out whether you’re on the same page.
Take the lowest common denominator
If you’re comfortable with hugs and kisses, but he’s only comfortable with holding hands, then that’s the standard for both of you.
Keep the conversation going
The conversation isn’t closed after the first ‘boundary talk’. Chances are, more things will come up along the way, and you’ll have to keep refining your boundaries as you go along. Be honest if something you thought you were comfortable with ends up being more tempting than you expected it to be.
A WAY BACK
Perhaps as you have been reading this article, you feel convicted that the current level of intimacy you share with your significant other has crossed a line. Here’s the good news — it’s possible to go back. It’ll definitely be more difficult than never having crossed the line to begin with, but rest assured that God honours your desire to live a pure and holy life.
Share your conviction with your boyfriend and pray that God will convict his heart too. Repent together and ask God for forgiveness; you can be sure that He forgives (1 John 1:9). When that is done, don’t struggle alone! Seek godly counsel and find people you can be accountable to. It may not be an easy journey, but it’s one that you won’t regret.
WHEN IT COMES TO PHYSICAL AFFECTION BEFORE MARRIAGE, LESS IS MORE
IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE
I’ll let you in on a little secret — when it comes to physical affection before marriage, often times, less is more. Each time you choose to refrain from doing something that might hurt your conscience, you are showing love to your significant other in a much nobler way than the instant but possibly empty gratification of the flesh. Take courage and do what is right even if it is difficult, because someday, you’ll enjoy the rewards of your patience and obedience to Christ.