Pastor John, several listeners have emailed to ask this question: How far is too far for an engaged couple to go sexually before marriage?
This is a really important question. Our culture is awash in sexual titillation. You can hardly open your internet without some advertising on the side awakening some sexual desire. You can hardly watch an advertisement between TV programs or go to any movie without some kind of titillation. It is really amazing what we are having to deal with these days. So, I think it is crucial to ask, when a young man and a young woman (or an older man and an older woman for that matter) begin to hang out together, what should they do physically?
The Bible is our guide and our authority. It does not have a single sentence somewhere that says, “Ok, engaged couples, or couples that are starting to date, here is what you can and can’t do.” The way we have to approach it is by putting together truths from the Bible which lead to some conclusions. Let me try to put together a few of those.
Sex is Good
Number one, sex is good. I don’t want to start with mainly bad or watch out. Sex is good. The days are coming, according to 1 Timothy 4:3, when people are going to forbid certain things including marriage because marriage has that ugly stuff called sex. And Paul says, “No,” he explains in 1 Timothy 4:5, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
“Sex is good, and only to be enjoyed in marriage.”
Surprisingly, this says good sex is for Christians. It is for people who will give thanks for it. 1 Corinthians 7:3 goes on to say, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:5 goes on to warn only to abstain from this sexual thing briefly, lest Satan tempt you, which means, by the way, that it is not just for having babies.
God put sex in our lives for other deeper, personal, and satisfaction reasons. And, of course, the amazing text that all men love from Proverbs 5:18–19, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” So clearly sexual touching is a good thing, biblically. That is number one.
Sex is for Marriage
Number two, sex is to be enjoyed only in marriage. 1 Corinthians 6:18a says “Flee from * πορνείαν,” — that is from fornication, from sexual immorality. There is a difference between πορνείαν and μοιχεία. Μοιχεία*is adultery and *πορνείαν is fornication. There is illicit sex in marriage; it is called adultery. And there is illicit sex before marriage; it is called fornication. Don’t go there. “Flee from it,” says Paul. Or in 1 Corinthians 7:9, Paul says, if they can’t exercise self-control, they should marry, because this phenomenon — this wonderful thing called sex — is designed to be satisfied in marriage.
One of the reasons for is that the physical union of sexual intercourse is meant to be the physical capstone of an emotional, spiritual union in a lasting covenant. We are not animals. Sex has roots and branches penetrating all our being, and it affects all our being. We have tried to abstract sex from the covenantal, deep, personal, emotional, spiritual union of a man and a woman in our movies and in our literature and our advertising. It is wreaking havoc all over the world.
“Avoid sexually awakening touching and kissing. They are designed as foreplay, not play.”
Women are more whole than men in this regard. Women are wired to want more plainly than men the holistic dimensions of sexuality. They don’t want to be treated like mere animals for men’s animalistic satisfaction. They want a relationship. They want this thing to have personal dimensions and covenantal commitment dimensions.
It is sad to watch so many women in the media be drawn by the demands of men into a more animalistic way of treating sex than in this holistic, personal way. So, marriage is where God means for that beautiful, whole commitment and covenantal, deep, personal, spiritual, reality with a capstone of sexual intercourse to happen.
A Place for Sexual Thoughts
The third observation is that mental sex is meant for marriage. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This means that doing sex in your mind — looking at a woman and thinking through some fantasy where you get into bed with her or take off her clothes — is not supposed to happen. You are supposed to gouge out your eye rather than let that happen because that is meant for marriage. You are supposed to have mental sex in marriage as well as physical sex.
Those are the first three biblical observations. Now here is an experience observation to put with those before we draw some conclusions. Sexual touching is designed by God and experienced by most healthy people as prelude to sexual intercourse. That is what it is for. It is extremely frustrating to start touching sexually and have to break it off as the passions become strong. Those touchings and that passion is meant to take you all the way. God designed it that way. It is called foreplay for a reason.
Now here is some implications. My big therefore. Don’t put yourself in the situation where touching is sexual before you can biblically go all the way. That is, don’t put yourself in a situation where there is an awakening of the desire to go further and further. So my principle would be: Avoid sexually awakening touching and kissing. They are designed as foreplay, not play.
I think, to be specific, that would mean touching breasts or touching genitals is in that category. I can’t imagine any normal person saying, “Oh, touching breasts and touching genitals is just not sexual for us. It is not going anywhere.” That is just crazy. It was designed to go somewhere, and it is a beautiful thing if you are in the situation of marriage where it can go somewhere.
So, when the symphony is for marriage the part of the symphony called prelude is for marriage. I would suggest that men and women getting into a relationship that they think is going to be serious talk about this with each other. They need to decide for themselves how they are not going not tempt each other to have sexually awakening touching and kissing.
I would plead with men. Be strong here, and set a pure and holy pattern. Don’t make her be the one to bring it up or to put on the brakes. Lead her in purity. She will love you for it. In due time, she will give herself to you in a more complete and beautiful and whole way because you have prized her enough not to use her in an unbiblical sinful way.
“Women, if you can only keep a man by letting him touch you, he’s not worth keeping.”
And I would say to the women. Don’t entice a man to touch you thinking that this is the way to keep a man. He is not worth keeping if that is the way he is kept. And feel free to say to any man, “No. Don’t. Please, don’t take us there.” You can discern what kind of a man you are dealing with by how sensitive he is to that dimension of purity.
Blessed are the pure in heart. They will see God. That is what we want. We want to see God. And we want to see him in our beautiful, sexual relations in marriage. I think married couples who have been the purest also can have the sweetest and best experience of each other and experience of God in marriage.
One last word. If a single person is listening to this saying, “Oh, all very nice. I am not married. There is nobody on the horizon. What am I supposed to do?” I want to say one thing. Don’t feel second class. Jesus Christ is the most complete human being who ever lived, and he never had sex. Not to be married and not to have sex is not to be an incomplete human being. One can be the completest and most fruitful and whole human being, like Jesus, without having sex.