Couple holding hands

How far is too far before marriage?

Although I got a lot of things wrong when I was dating, I had one general policy I still do not regret: I felt it was best to keep my hands off the women I dated.

It’s not that I didn’t want to get physical with my dates. I just didn’t want to create all kinds of connections that would give false momentum to a relationship that might not be going anywhere. And frankly, most of my relationships only lasted a couple of dates or a few months. So the chances seemed pretty high that getting physical would either unnaturally prolong relationships or make it really awkward when I saw a woman after a breakup.

I didn’t always abide by this policy, but I’m glad I did most of the time, and here’s why: Every woman I ever dated ended up getting married to another man. Some of these couples I only see on Facebook these days, but there are plenty of others whom I still see in person. In fact, I’m actually friends with the husbands of several of the women I dated.

Those men do not have to wonder what I know about their wife’s body, because I don’t really know anything. I mean, sometimes it’s awkward enough that I dated their wife — how much more awkward would it be for that man to know I had gotten physical with his wife at some point?

I realize there are some folks who have been dating for much longer or who are engaged and feel like it’s probably OK to get somewhat physical before marriage. I mean, many of our non-Christian friends take sex as a given in dating. So we figure that it can’t hurt a Christian couple to explore a little bit without having sex.

You know, I might agree if I had actually met a couple who could successfully put the breaks on before things started to get out of hand; but after all these years, I still haven’t. The thing is, whether it’s kissing or groping or removing an article of clothing, it’s all foreplay. And once that party gets started, your hormones don’t hear your conscience’s weakened efforts to remind you about honoring God with your body. So yeah, it makes sense in theory, but in practice, it’s practically impossible.

The Struggle for My Wife and Me

My wife and I had a short dating relationship, and our engagement only lasted five months. Thank God, because we certainly had a strong physical attraction to each other, and every time we were alone, temptation was often right there with us.

I still remember the premarital counseling session with our pastor, Mark Booker, when he asked us whether we were walking in physical purity. I said something like, “Well, we’re struggling a little bit.”

Mark said, “Yeah, that’s what you said in the last two times we met. You know, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: You two need to completely discontinue all physical contact until your wedding day.”

We were taken aback – I mean, we weren’t completely out of control (yet). But we knew he was right. We wanted to honor God and each other before marriage, and it wasn’t helping anything for us to see how far we could go without feeling too guilty.

Where the Line Is

If you’re looking for some bright line rule for how far is too far before marriage, you’re going be disappointed. Other than the absolute prohibition on sex before marriage, the Bible only tells us that lust is a sin and that we should “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22, Matthew 5:28, Job 31:11-12). However, this much is safe to say: Sexual desire, which is a good thing, is like hunger — it is meant to be satisfied. But just as a healthy diet requires restraint, so does a healthy sex life.

Sexual passion is like partaking of a feast, and love-making is the tantalizing entrée that is only to be eaten after marriage. I suppose you could stand on the sidelines and sample the hors d’ oeuvres as you dream about having a full meal. But if you’ve been fasting for several years, please understand that there’s a very good chance you’re not going to be able to stop until you’ve had your fill. And for most people, that means consuming the entrée before the dinner bell has actually rung, so perhaps it would be wiser to simply stay out of the dining room until then.

I know self-restraint isn’t a popular virtue to cultivate. But nonetheless, it’s a gift to your future marriage, and in the context of dating, it is a gift you may very well give to someone else’s marriage as well.

This article was originally posted on on 30 March 2015.

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