Premarital dating and sex

How far is it acceptable to go, sexually, with a Christian partner? I have been dating my boyfriend several years, and though we are not officially engaged, we plan on getting married. We both believe strongly that sex should be reserved until marriage, but what about more physical acts, if done purely out of love for each other and not just for physical gratification?

Competent pastoral counsel normally requires that the person offering counsel knows personally the people being counseled. In a question like yours, this is especially true. You and your boyfriend should be speaking with your pastor. Here I can only share general information that should be of some help to you, but cannot take the place of face-to-face pastoral counseling.

Attitude is everything, as they say, and aside from your shared reliance on Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord (the highest attitude), you do yourselves a favor by pondering passages like these very seriously and discussing them very straightforwardly: Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5,6; Hebrews 13:4,5; and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5. God has high standards for his dearly loved people, quite different from the standards of our culture.

Here are additional observations to consider:

The Bible does not explicitly answer your “How far is it acceptable to go?” kind of question largely because our culture’s style of courtship was not prevalent in Bible times. Back then, the normal marriage age, parental involvement in spouse selection, more consistent mores in society, and more firm civil penalties helped to safeguard young people from inappropriate external behavior to a greater degree than the customs that prevail today. So don’t expect the Bible to give you an explicit answer in so many words.

There are so many dividends to premarital chastity. These include (1) maintaining a clear conscience before God, (2) fostering a mutual respect with each other, (3) developing a stronger relationship, and (4) avoiding or minimizing potential spiritual offense to others. All of these inevitably point to being content and seeing the wisdom of less sexual activity rather than more. A Christian conscience should be actively testifying to this as well.

To maintain an appropriate level of ethical premarital activity, the following points may be useful:

  • Consciously and openly discuss and express the degree of commitment/propriety.
  • Communicate and maintain agreed on limits that reflect a high view of love, respect, and responsibility.
  • Seek out and plan situations and company to prevent undue difficulties and temptations (Remember the “flee” word in 1 Corinthians 6:18 and 2 Timothy 2:22).
  • “Foreplay” is just that, so don’t do it. Recall the principle of diminishing returns.
  • Upon engagement, set a realistic wedding date. Avoid what will soon be regretted.
  • Do not forget the enduring gifts of grace: repentance and forgiveness, prayer and new resolve to a life of holiness, perseverance and character through trials.
  • If a moral lapse occurs, repentance and forgiveness remain as divine gifts. Do not assume that marriage must follow for this reason. Do not let the sin fester for years; it will.