My first kiss was some time during elementary school. While our class was on our way out to recess, two snot-nosed boys were arguing over which of them was my ‘boyfriend.’ Mind you, I was completely oblivious to the apparent importance of this conversation. We were about ten feet outside the school doors when one of them turned around, grabbed both sides of my face and planted one right on my lips.
I stood there stunned, while Ashley, my arch nemesis (yes, you can have those in third grade), ran to tell the teacher that I had kissed a boy. The boy and myself spent all recess sitting on a bench in the middle of the playground. It was our punishment for ‘kissing’ even though I had informed her that this was not my fault.
I was so mad.
Innocent playground kisses aside, let’s take a minute to talk about kissing and the questions young women ask me about whether or not they should kiss before marriage.
It is important to understand here, that we are talking about things I label as boundaries and guidelines. There is a difference between the two. A boundary is a line that you will not cross. A guideline helps direct you away from crossing that boundary.
The important thing to note is that guidelines can be different for different people.
As Christians, we can be really bad about taking what are actually guidelines and making them into boundaries for everyone. For ourselves, that is fine. A girl may decide that she does not want to kiss before marriage- that can become a boundary for her. It does not mean it has to be a boundary for everyone else.
About a year ago, I wrote about a hike I with a group of men from my church. I was the only woman with a group of 6 men, hiking a popular trail on a beautiful Fall day. I wrote about that here and, would you believe, people were mad. People I don’t even know were telling me I was wrong to go hiking with a bunch of guys. Wrong because people could get the wrong impression and I was not ‘avoiding all appearance of evil.’
Let me ask you a question: Who in their right mind looks at a group of people going hiking, on a public trail, in the middle of the day, and automatically assumes that they are going out into the woods to engage in immoral behavior? If I were walking into the woods with a group of women no one would assume that we were there for sexual purposes.
Now, I understand kissing is different, so before you get upset, let me explain the totality of my thought process here.
As a single adult in her late-20s (it makes me feel so old to write that!), I have had quite a bit of time to think about this. I grew up in a church with the basic ‘rules.’ Girls could not touch boys. They could not swim with boys. They could not sit with boys, walk with boys, talk with boys… you get the idea.
There were six-inch rules and a general understanding that you were not allowed to spend any time alone with a boy at all, because being alone with a boy could lead to compromising situations. Rephrase: being alone with a boy could lead people to assume you compromised.
A lot of our guidelines are based on other people’s assumptions of what we may or may not be doing.
This probably comes as no shock to you but I am a bit of a rebel. I am all about challenging ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules. One of the closest friends I have ever had in my life is a man. Lest you think I am referring to one of my snot-nosed classmates, I met this man when he was 14; I was 16.
He is now married, expecting his second son, but before he met his wife, he and I were close. We would eat meals together. We would go for walks together. He played with my hair. We went swimming (with a group of friends). We would walk down to the local coffee shop and chat for three hours. And I am sure my youth pastor would have killed me.
We were breaking all of the ‘rules, but he and I both maintained our integrity. Guy-girl friendships were common in our group of friends. Some of them ended in marriage but many of them never even went down that road. I have enjoyed many close friendships with guys since and none of them were compromising. Why? Because we don’t allow other people’s assumptions determine our guidelines.
That is where we get this wrong, I think, and where we get into trouble. We need to stop equating everything with sex. Sitting within six inches of a boy is not sex. Hugging a boy- not sex. Having coffee with a boy- not sex. Going hiking with a group of boys- not sex. Talking with a boy on the phone- not sex. Swimming with a boy- not sex. Kissing a boy- not sex.
I have no problem with guidelines, and I certainly have no problem with accountability. I think having accountability is important. There needs to be an understanding, though, that not all guidelines are universal and that breaking a guideline is not sin.
I have mentioned before that this is the problem Eve ran into with that tree in the Garden. You might remember when she was asked about the rules regarding the tree, she said that she could not eat it or touch it. Well, that last part was an addition to what the actual ‘rules’ were. The actual rules were that she should not eat it. If she and Adam wanted to build a treehouse in it and use the fruit as decoration, they could have.
The problem we run into here is that if Eve is lying or if Adam lied to Eve, then the first sin was already committed. So, I have concluded that Eve was throwing in a guideline. They were not supposed to eat it, so, obviously, it would be a good idea not to touch it. I often wonder:
when Eve wrapped her hand around that fruit to pick it, did she expect something to happen? When it didn’t, did she figure God was wrong?
Can we have the same approach when it comes to physical relationships with the opposite sex?
If you listen to some teachings today it would seem as if letting a man wrap his arm around you is just as bad as letting him sleep with you. It would seem that being alone with a man will automatically lead to fogged windows out on Lover’s Lane.
What happens when we take young women from this sex-obsessed approach to purity (because that is exactly what this is), and we brush them up against a guy and nothing happens? When holding his hand does not lead to petting or when having coffee does not lead to a slumber party? If a girl has grown up believing these are boundaries and that all roads lead to sex, the temptation is going to be to throw all of her ‘boundaries’ out the window.
Nothing happened when she held his hand, so why should anything happen when they snuggle? Nothing happened when they were alone for coffee, so what’s the big deal if she rides in his car? She starts thinking, “What’s the big deal?” and that is the last thing you want her thinking! What we need to be doing, instead, is encouraging young women to establish their boundaries and to come up with guidelines that help them.
We need to be encouraging a purity that looks ahead and looks toward the long-term instead of one that lives in fear of immediate consequences.
Customize don’t compromise.
For instance, what is the boundary we are trying to maintain in when we talk about purity? Well, the ultimate boundary is sex. That is the boundary and the reason why we have cooked up all of these extra rules. We are trying to keep people from having premarital sex (for the record, this includes oral sex). Since sex is the high point of physical union, we draw physical guidelines starting at sex and working our way out, depending on how conservative we are. All of the rules are like ‘checkpoints’ along the path of physical intimacy. Each act is more intimate than the former- being alone, sitting close, holding hands, wrapping arms, snuggling, kissing.
We often neglect the emotional and spiritual aspects that come with and create intimacy. This is one of the reasons why I strongly caution against women seeking out men to help them with their struggle with pornography.
We fail to see that some women might be just fine riding alone with a man but would stumble if he prayed with her.
Kissing may not be sex, but it can lead to sex, just like holding hands can lead to sex, just like looking at each other can lead to sex, just like washing dishes can lead to sex, just like praying can lead to sex, just like breathing can lead to sex.
It is time that we rethink our approach to purity, sex, and the boundaries we put in place. We need to come up with a strategy that helps women (and men) be honest about their own weaknesses, and frees them to love the opposite gender as brothers or sisters in Christ. We need a path built on freedom and the love of Christ, not shame and fear. I will share that strategy in the next post.