I started writing this followup to my previous post Kissing is Not Sex.
A couple thousands words later (that is no exaggeration), I realized a few things:
1. I was still nowhere near making my point
2. Thousands of words is far too long for a blog post
All of that to say that this topic is probably not succinctly covered in two little (or not so little) blog posts. Whenever we look at anything regarding relationships, there are variables and lots of them. One size simply does not fit all. A relationship between two people with past sexual experiences will look different than a relationship between two virgins in their mid-30s. Both relationships can have radically different guidelines but both can honor God.
So, how do we develop these guidelines of maintaining purity? If they are not one-size-fits-all, how do we know what is ‘good’?
Well, we need to think and we need to be encouraging people to think. It is not enough to slap them with a list of what they should not do.
Boys can’t touch girls. Why?
Boys can’t sit near girls. Why?
You should not hold hands. Why?
Do not hug boys. Why?
Do you see where I am going with this? Don’t just hit me with a list of rules and regulations; give me a reason.
Our approach to purity is one of behavior-management. We base our conclusions on a faulty premise that left to our own devices we would all lose our minds.
Why do we have all of these rules about touching, kissing, and whatnot? Well, because we feel like one or both parties will lose control. That is why we have them, not because kissing, touching, and being alone is inherently wrong. Essentially, we are trying to think for people. We are trying to save them from themselves. We are trying to give (not teach, give) them self-control.
But self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, not a house of cards you build with rules or a wild beast you tame with fear. Self-control is about surrender. It begins with a sober mind surrendered to and being renewed by Christ (Romans 12:2). It centers on wisdom, not fear. It moves forward in freedom, not guilt. You cannot impart it upon someone; God has to fashion it within them.
We try to legislate self-control and just hang in there until we send her down the aisle in white. Mission accomplished. But what about after the altar?
Is the purity we are teaching one that makes a difference after marriage or does it have an end-goal of a wedding night?
Purity is about self-control.
We make it all about sex, but it is not. We make sex all about the physical, but it is not.
Please understand: Rules are important. I am not sending out a message to all parents to just cut your kids loose and wish them the best of luck. I can assure you that the only reason I graduated high school a virgin is because my mother would have killed me otherwise. Even the most intelligent teenagers can lack discretion. So I am thankful for that protection. I hated it then, but I am thankful for it in hindsight.
So, then how do we do this? How do we set up guidelines and boundaries that work for us as individual people when it comes to our relationships?
The Triangle Principle
Sex, as I said before, is the height of physical intimacy. It is the most intimate physical act that can take place between two people. But, we are not simply physical beings. We are also emotional and spiritual beings, which means that intimacy is actually three-fold with us. All of our ‘rules’ guard against one.
Imagine if you had a flock of sheep in a triangle shaped pen. Two sides of the pen are made with small pieces of cardboard. The other side of the fence is made of wood, with posts driven five feet into the ground plus some electrically charged barbed wire, land mines, and a moat filled with alligators. That would be ridiculous. You have done all you can to protect only one side of the pen. The sheep are going to get out the other sides and then they are going to get eaten by the alligators.
Do I need to draw the conclusion here?
When women write me asking about how to set up guidelines and boundaries in a relationship, here is what I tell them:
Physical guidelines protect physical boundaries. Spiritual guidelines protect spiritual boundaries. Emotional guidelines protect emotional boundaries. It is important to recognize that.
I encourage women to think of those three aspects of intimacy- physical, emotional, and spiritual- and how they see those playing out in marriage. Physical intimacy would obviously include sex. Emotional intimacy would include sharing of hopes, dreams, and even past failures. Spiritual intimacy would include things like praying together or going to him for spiritual encouragement and direction.
1. Figure out what you want to be exclusive to marriage in each of those areas.
Do you only want to ever kiss your husband? That’s fine; that is an aspect of physical intimacy you are choosing to reserve for marriage for whatever reason. These ‘reserves’ are your boundaries. They are the things you are not willing to compromise.
2. Work backwards in a timeline.
Many of us stop after step 1. We say “Don’t have sex until you’re married” so then any form of physical intimacy gets thrown out or we do everything but have sex. This is the lie I bought into as a teenager. Watching porn was OK because I was not having sex (this is a common belief).
The fact of the matter is that a relationship can’t go from “hi, what’s your name?” to “hey, will you marry me?” without some sort of growth in all three areas of intimacy. Map out a basic idea of that growth. This is especially helpful with emotional intimacy.
When would you be comfortable holding hands, hugging, goodnight kissing, being alone, etc? Emotionally, when are you going to have the discussion about kids, futures, dreams? Obviously you are not going to have those the day after you meet. If you have a sexual past, when do you think you will tell him that? When are you going to say “I love you?” What needs to happen before you will talk about marrying him?
3. Lay down guidelines.
Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make sure that I don’t go off-track.” If physical touch is a thing for you and you want to wait until you are engaged to kiss, then you might need to consider limiting your time alone with him.
For me, physical touch is not an issue. I am just not a touchy feely person. My. own. mother. has to ask me to hug her because it is just not something I even think about. If someone touches me without my permission, they do so at risk of life and limb. So, being alone with a man is not an issue for me. My weakness is having very intense conversation (emotional). If I have an honest heart-to-heart with a man, that is ‘sexy.’
Sheila Wray Gregoire is an author in Canada, and she and I are apparently on the same wavelength this week. Before I came back to do the final edits of this post, I read hers on Intimacy Before Marriage. She shares that her ‘weakness’ is when her husband prays for their daughters. Seeing his heart for God is sexy to her.
For lack of better wording, only you know what turns you on. That is going to be the weak side of your ‘fence’ and that is going to be the side you need to be careful with. You should have guidelines for all three aspects of intimacy, but you will have heightened ones for your ‘weakness.’
4. Share this plan with a friend.
Talk it out with them and get their feedback. Accountability is hugely important in any relationship. Let someone know the approach you are hoping to take and see if they have anything to add. It is honestly a discussion just like this that inspired these posts.
5. Be willing to customize; not compromise.
Your little plan is fine well and good, but when you meet Mr. Maybe, he might have a different plan. You need to stick to yours (in other words, do not disregard it entirely) but be willing to work with his. Understand that he might have been raised differently or might have different ideas about how to approach this. Your weakness might be emotional, but his might be physical. You might be fine alone in a car with him, but it may be a struggle for him.
He may be fine sharing his deepest secrets with you, but you might not feel comfortable with that. He believes in courting; you are a ‘dater.’ He was not planning to take you home until you were engaged; you would like to meet his family before you make that decision.
Your plan together will reflect who you are together. Customize it, but do not compromise (if he does not respect your boundaries– get rid of him).
In my own life, I was raised to never ever ever be alone in a car with a guy. Ever. So, the first date I went on, we drove separately. Well, that worked for various reasons: it was a blind date and we lived about 45 minutes apart. I still nearly freaked out when he offered to drive me over to where I parked my car. I have no idea what I thought was going to happen, but for the two minutes we were in the car together, I was plastered against my window in awkward silence as far away from him as possible.
The next guy that came around asked if he could come pick me up for our second date. I was indignant. How dare he suggest such a thing as to come and pick me up from my house and take me on a date with him alone in his car!? My response completely confused him.
“Well, I’m not exactly comfortable leaving a girl to ride home alone on the Metro, either.” I realized that the choices we had were either I ride alone with a man I knew, or walk home alone, in the dark from the Metro stop. His offer to drive me was actually his expression of chivalry, and he told me so. Well, since the physical is not a major weakness for me, my ‘Never ride alone in a car with a man’ rule changed after that date.
It’s a strategy, not a formula (and I am almost to 2000 words, yet again). The idea is to stop making purity about a list of what you can and cannot do and instead into an understanding of how relationships grow when metered by self-control.
Kissing is not sex, but it can lead to sex, just like praying can lead to sex, just like long talks on the phone can lead to sex, just like breathing can lead to sex. The things that keep kissing from leading to sex are self-control, boundaries, and a plan.
I have been so inspired and challenged by these posts, I plan on expounding on this idea in a book entitled, “Kissing is Not Sex.” To stay up-to-date on that progress follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the blog (by e-mail or through Networked Blogs- links in the sidebar)
Recommended Reads on This Topic
Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is) by Joshua Harris
The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Wray Gregoire
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